Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
August 27, 2015
First appeared in print in The Rhino Times
, Greensboro, NC.
Vigilante Hackers, Social Security
When the news first hit about how hackers calling themselves "The Impact
Team" had broken into the Ashley Madison website, I had no idea that such
a website even existed.
I knew that plenty of marriages had been broken up by websites like
Facebook, when "old flames" and "high school sweethearts" reconnected and
decided that their current spouses could be discarded in favor of a recovery of
lost youth. Or other such nonsense.
But Ashley Madison was a website for people who wanted to get some on the
side without breaking up their marriages. Their slogan was: "Life is short.
Have an affair."
To which my answer would have to be: Life is short. Keep your promises.
But apparently there were a lot of guys on the site whose marriage vows meant
nothing. When The Impact Team broke in, they took information belonging to
up to 38 million members.
Now, those weren't all real people. The hackers discovered that a significant
number of the "women" posting profiles on the site were fakes -- put there
to give the illusion that there were more married women wanting no-strings sex
with some idiot from online than exist in the real world.
Something like 95 percent of the real subscribers to the site were men. Which
corresponds with what you might expect, because (a) men are more likely to
have a powerful genetic predisposition toward variety in sexual partners, and
(b) a woman who wants an affair doesn't have to go to some website to find
an eager partner.
The "double standard" (that men are expected to be unfaithful, while unfaithful
women are looked down on) exists biologically as well as culturally.
Promiscuity makes more sense, in evolutionary terms, for primate males, who
can theoretically sire thousands of offspring, while fidelity makes sense for
primate females, who can have only a few offspring in their breeding life.
However, the most successful cultures -- that is, the ones that rise to the level
of "civilizations" -- tend to be those that have a strict expectation of faithful
monogamy for all but the richest and most powerful males.
Since history usually deals with males in the rich-and-powerful category, we
can get a false impression that fidelity is rare. But there are reasons to believe
that no matter how much some or even most men might have a "roving eye,"
we've had hundreds of generations of mostly faithful monogamy.
Even in our sex-mad society, where the Idioticists rejoice in having "no rules"
and even young teenagers are embarrassed to admit to virginity, a large
number of males and females claim, on anonymous surveys, never to have had
sex outside of marriage.
If 36 million males (about 95% of 38 million) were on Ashley Madison, however,
that represents more than ten percent of the entire US population.
Considering that half the US population is female, about 23 percent are under
eighteen, and 105 million Americans age eighteen and older are unmarried and
therefore have no particular reason to use Ashley Madison, that leaves us with
a married adult male population of just over 70 million.
Which implies that more than half the married men in America are sweating
bullets because of the Ashley Madison hack.
Of course that's not true. I dare say that a vast proportion of those Ashley
Madison male profiles were multiples -- the same guy upping his chances by
making new profiles.
And there were probably a lot of men who signed on "without the slightest
intention of ever actually going through with an affair." They were only
"testing the waters to see if anybody would be interested." Sort of a vanity
Since only five percent of the site's participants were actual living women, we
can guess that even if those women were very very busy (or professionals,
because why wouldn't Ashley Madison become a virtual pimp or madam for
"working girls" who only had to pretend to be married, and find a way to
charge money on their own?), most men who signed on did not find the illicit
romance of their dreams.
So "try, try again" seems likely to play a role in the number of profiles a would-be cheater would create.
(By the way, while Ashley Madison probably claimed to have a no-hookers
policy, it's hard to believe they really meant it, since prostitutes would vastly
increase the number of "successes" their male customers scored. As long as
the hookers changed their profiles frequently, it was a financial win-win for
them and for the website.)
It's hard to guess how many actual men are now petrified that their wife will
find out that they were on the Ashley Madison site. But it's also hard to work
up even the slightest concern for them.
A guy who divorces his wife in order to take on a younger model is worthy of
our disdain, but at least he proceeds with a degree of honesty, letting his
ex-wife know exactly where she stands.
The Ashley Madison site was designed for cheaters -- guys who wanted nooky
on the side without having any consequences in their marriage. They wanted
to keep the rewards of fidelity, without actually being faithful.
So exposure is justice, don't you think? Let them try out their "I was just
seeing whether anybody would want me" story on their wives and see how that
Here's the irony. Avid Life Media, the company that owns Ashley Madison, has
accused the Impact Team of trying to blackmail their "innocent" customers.
But the Impact Team says that this is the opposite of the truth.
When the Impact Team announced their hack, they threatened to release user
details unless Ashley Madison shut down their site. That's not blackmailing
the site's users. It's not really "blackmailing" Avid Life Media -- because it
wasn't asking for money.
It was, instead, a vigilante cease-and-desist order. Stop facilitating marital
cheating, or we'll make it impossible for you to stay in business by breaking
your supposed confidentiality.
The irony is that, in a way, Ashley Madison has been blackmailing their users
all along -- because they demanded a fee for a "Paid Delete" function. That is,
if you wanted to have your data permanently and completely removed from the
site, you had to pay.
The Impact Team hackers claim that Ashley Madison collected more than $100
million for providing this service -- but they did not deliver. The fact that
"many" who had paid for complete deletion were still there among the
records proves that the $100 million in deletion fees were fraudulently
In fact, even though Ashley Madison claimed to be "the last truly secure space
on the internet," the hackers said that there was "no security.... You could use
Pass1234 from the internet to VPN to root on all servers."
Which is techspeak for saying that Ashley Madison didn't give a rat's petoot
about protecting its data. It was like bringing your lock picks and explosives to
break into a safe, only to find that it opened with a pull.
The Impact Team is not releasing low level employees' emails -- though the
Ashley Madison executives have no such promise. And they won't display on
the internet any of the pogs (pictures of genitalia) that make up about a third of
the images from the site.
That's kind of them, but it does nothing for security. Unless something's
serious wrong with a man's toolkit, it's hard to confirm his identity from a
Here's what I like about the Impact Team: They didn't set themselves up as
superior to governments, stealing government secrets and releasing them
without regard to the damage it might do to individuals and the nation as a
Instead, they went after a site that was pandering to cheaters, and their goal
was to shut them down. I imagine that they have succeeded, since a man
seeking a no-consequences affair would have to be too moronic to unzip his fly
if he used Ashley Madison now.
The Impact Team has made it clear that they have other targets in mind --
other companies that make their money from exploiting people's
addictions or by defrauding them. And since they claim they were rummaging
around, undetected, inside Ashley Madison's data for years, they may already
have a huge collection of data from other such companies.
So far, at least, I like these guys. And for anyone who hates them because
their lives may be ruined by their disclosures, I say this: Nobody pointed a gun
at your head and made you sign on to Ashley Madison.
You have no right to expect other people to keep contracts with you,
when you can't keep a promise you made to your own wife.
I turned 64 this month, which means I'm a year away from the magical age
which used to mean mandatory retirement in most businesses.
The trouble is that I can't actually retire from my current jobs. Since I don't
get paid for teaching or for writing this column, I'm not sure that "retiring" from
those jobs would mean anything.
And I can't afford to retire from writing fiction, because the people who buy my
books pay me more, for the present, than Social Security will. So I can't retire
from writing till I gomer out too much to write anymore.
I remembered that there used to be rules forbidding you from collecting Social
Security while working full time. Which is fine with me. But now that the
magic age approaches, I really ought to find out.
Then again, I have always had contempt for the AARP when they raised a hue
and cry every time people suggested something rational to keep Social Security
solvent -- like taxing the Social Security payments received by people who
make more than $100,000 from other sources.
You'd think they were proposing that we allow millions of babies to be killed
(oh, wait; we do allow that, don't we ...). "We paid into the system! That's our
money! We're entitled!"
Yeah, yeah. You don't need it. The system is going broke. You can afford to
let the government take some of it back to help sustain the system for those
who do need it. But no, you're entitled.
There was a meme recently going around Facebook, stating that people who get
veterans' benefits and Social Security are "entitled," but welfare payments,
being unearned, should not be called "entitlements."
The truth is that once there's a law setting the rules for receiving a government
benefit, that benefit is an "entitlement" to those who comply with those rules.
You know, like the "entitlement" to a mortgage-interest tax deduction --
the biggest flat-out dole in the tax system, which benefits most the people with
the biggest mortgages. But I bet you that the very people who want to make
welfare recipients ashamed because they haven't "earned" their entitlement
payments would scream if some politician dared to touch their precious
mortgage-interest tax deduction.
Another tax dole is the fact that the amount your employer pays for your health
insurance is not counted or taxed as income. That's right -- you're getting a
free pass from the government for a perk that is money right into your pocket.
I know, because I'm self-employed and therefore I don't get that tax deduction.
The employer-provided health-care benefit exempts $785 billion the IRS
would collect if Congress made those benefits taxable.
And the tax break on mortgage interest on first homes alone costs the Treasury
$405 billion. Please explain to me how that has been earned by those who
receive it. In fact, I think it's the opposite -- since it never maxes out, it
provides the most benefit to people so rich they buy huge mansions. And
the benefit also extends to people who pay mortgage interest on a second
residence (which can be a boat or RV).
(The source I used for these numbers was ambiguous about whether the $785
billion and $405 billion figures were per year or over a four-year period. It's a
lot of money either way.)
There are other exemptions and deductions that provide the most benefit to
high earners, like capital gains taxes on profits on the sale of a primary
residence that go unpaid if you invest in another house within a given period of
And benefits that go primarily to the rich, not just high earners: The fact that
capital gains and dividends from stock ownership are taxed at the rate of
15 or 20 percent, far lower than the rates on earned income.
So let's not tolerate people getting smug about how welfare recipients aren't
"entitled." Our tax code includes plenty of tax breaks worth billions of dollars,
but because they come in the form of lower taxes, most people feel perfectly all
right about receiving those entitlements.
But if those tax breaks were removed, then taxes could go down for everybody
instead of giving preferential treatment to those who qualify for the entitlement.
Therefore, those tax breaks are being subsidized by other taxpayers who don't
receive those benefits.
That's why I have contempt for people who complain about welfare for the poor,
while receiving far more money themselves in the form of tax breaks for doing
what they would do anyway.
You would buy a house and pay for health care no matter what, right? Why
are other taxpayers subsidizing that for you? Why is that different from
"Oh, I'm only talking about cheaters," they say when I mention their hypocrisy
and uncharitability. But the memes I've seen don't make such nice
distinctions -- it's all welfare that's condemned as not being a true entitlement
because it isn't earned.
Here's the principle that I think applies. When we're born into this world, air is
free ... and nothing else. Somebody else's work and effort provides us with
water, food, shelter, clothing, education, and protection.
But what if you're a child born to somebody who can't provide all of that? Even
if you have lazy parents, or they're debilitated by their own bad choices, is that
your fault? In a decent society, some kind of collective effort must make
up for the shortfall for children whose parents can't provide for them
Because we no longer live in small villages, where we can easily spot hungry
children and feed them, we have delegated the welfare responsibility to
governments. They set up rules and then do an imperfect job of enforcing
them. Big deal. They do an imperfect job of collecting taxes legitimately owed
by wage-earners, too. There are cheaters wherever there's money. But that
doesn't void the legitimacy of the effort.
Zoning laws make it so the middle class never has to see the poor. It's easy to
make false assumptions about people you don't know. But I have known too
many people who had no choice but to accept public assistance for a while,
and shame on anyone who makes them ashamed of having done so.
And yes, I've known people who have spent their entire lives on welfare and
never qualified themselves for any kind of employment. When they no longer
qualify for public assistance, what do we do? Take them out and shoot them,
the way we euthanize ex-pets in animal shelters? Or do we compassionately
provide for them whether they deserve it or not?
Personally, it's the latter society I prefer to live in. And it's people who don't
bitch about it that I prefer to associate with.
And that now brings me back to Social Security. First, let me be clear: We
have a good tax accountant who knows all the breaks we are legitimately
entitled to. We take advantage of those breaks in calculating our taxes --
because that's all the law asks us to pay. If the law changes, we'll calculate
our taxes according to the new law. That's citizenship.
But Social Security feels different to me. Yes, I've paid FICA -- and I've had
no help from employers through most of my career, so I've paid a higher
percentage than most people. But the Social Security system is in trouble, and
at the present moment I don't need to collect Social Security.
At some future time, that might change. But for now, I would feel like I was
tapping into somebody else's aquifer if I started drinking from that well. I
would be part of the problem, since I'm one of the baby boomers who are now
swelling the ranks of Social Security recipients.
Not only that, but the fact that my Social Security would be untaxed would
make me a beneficiary of the very policy that makes me loathe the AARP
-- the selfish, short-sighted refusal to allow our government to tax the Social
Security payments of those who make plenty of money without it.
So at this moment, I don't think I'm going to apply for Social Security when I
become eligible. I may learn more information that leads me to change my
mind -- I'm not entering into a contract here -- but at present, that's an
entitlement that I intend to pass up.
That will put me in the same class as another very large group of people who
never collect the Social Security benefits they're entitled to: People who died
before they ever received a penny of Social Security, and people who died before
they had earned back as much as they paid in.
I'm glad I can afford to receive the same Social Security benefits as those
people -- without having to endure the other restrictions and difficulties
faced by the dead.
And I offer this as a suggestion to other people who don't actually need their
Social Security payments. Since the Social Security system has never
functioned properly, any benefits we receive are coming out of the pockets of
younger wage earners today. We don't need that money as much as they do.
So if, by not taking Social Security, those of us who don't need it can make it
possible for Social Security to remain solvent without raising FICA or other
taxes, then that's a worthy contribution to society.
It is, in fact, an act of social conscience.
If you need Social Security, for heaven's sake, collect it! It's yours!
But if you're one of the fortunate few who don't need it, let's give the younger
generation a hand by not putting our hands in their pockets.