Eva Kor: Holocaust Forgiveness

“I could forgive everyone who had ever hurt me and I could have power over that pain.”

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Eva Kor is a Holocaust survivor and forgiveness advocate. She writes about life in Auschwitz concentration camp, where she and her twin sister were subjected to the experimentation of Dr. Mengele.

Forgiveness is the tool she uses to overcome the pain which haunted her through most of her life. This is a crucial lesson: if Eva has healed from such a hellish scenario through forgiveness, anyone who is having trouble overcoming their own pain should consider trying it themselves.

Why does forgiveness have such incredible power?

“This is what happens to human beings. When we get hurt, we have a tendency to want to reach out and hurt back. The tragedy of it is that by hurting the people who hurt us does not make our pain go away. That is what I find that is amazing. People think that by subjecting the perpetrator to pain, it will make our pain lesson.”

“I asked myself many years ago: if every single Nazi would have been killed after I had been liberated, would my life have changed one iota? The answer is no. I still would have been an orphan, suffering from illness and malnutrition.”

Eva has forgiven Mengele, the doctor who performed horrific experiments on her while she was in the concentration camp. Her forgiveness is accompanied by pity.

“I feel sorry for him. Any person who gets up in the morning and has no human understanding of what they are doing that inflicting pain on others is what they have on their mind, is not a happy human being. The Nazis were not happy people.”

Years after the Holocaust, Eva became friends with Doctor Munsch, a Nazi doctor who had worked with Doctor Mengele. Doctor Munsch provided her with insight into what things were like for Nazis who got swept up in their role in the Holocaust, and who later were haunted with deep regret.

“All the Nazi doctors got drunk at night because they could not cope with what happened during the day. He said the only other person that did not get drunk was Dr. Mengele. Mengele tried to justify what he was doing. He was telling Dr. Munsch that these kids would have been killed eventually and he was doing them a favor by keeping them alive longer.”

“Some of the other twins looked at Dr. Mengele as a father figure. I never went that far. But it was a complex relationship, and I don’t think it has been explored much.”

“Some of them liked him and said he was kind to them. He gave them chocolate and cookies. But I was always angry with him. I never got any chocolate and cookies from Mengele but I didn’t really want any. I looked at him as an enemy. However, I was emotionally and mentally aware that he would keep us alive only as long as he wanted us alive.”

Eva was resolved to survive the experimentation which made her horribly ill. “I refused to die. I made a silent pledge to stay alive.”

After escaping the Holocaust, Eva dealt with a different set of struggles. In Israel, nobody knew how to talk abut the Holocaust. For the most part, they didn’t talk about it, and Eva felt some ostracism. Then, when she first moved to the United States, she didn’t speak English.

But gradually she learned to survive. And once she learned to forgive, she thrived.

“I believe that there is a higher level of functioning on an emotional and intellectual level. I could not changed what happened to me or my sister. But I could change how I related to it.”

“I could forgive everyone who had ever hurt me, and that I could have power over that pain, power over Mengele–it was a very interesting thought.”

“Many Jews reject me because in Jewish tradition, they are saying that the perpetrator must repent and ask for forgiveness. That is giving the perpetrator power over my life, and that to me is crazy.”

“I want people to understand that we all have power over our life. If we forgive those who hurt us, then they lose the tools to hurt me.”

Adrian Lamo: Hackers Wanted

“In trying to do anything substantive in life, you are going to have to understand that your adversaries are going to feel just as justified as you do.”

Adrian Lamo is a threat analyst and hacker, currently working with ProjectVIGILANT in Washington, DC.

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In 2010, Adrian informed the US Army that Bradley Manning had provided more than 260,000 documents to Wikileaks. “In the moment, I didn’t see it as pivotal in my life. I was focusing on the quantity of documents leaked.”

“Many people say that there is an inability to point to any direct damage or loss of human life as a result of the leaks. That’s not a result of the leaks being harmless, it’s a result of fast groundwork and action to mitigate the leaks that the United States took in the months leading up to their release.”

Why does the government need to classify some activities? What if we just open-sourced the military and declassified all documents?

“There is some information that is not readily evaluatable by the public. There are things that you have to have some experience in national security to be able to judge if something is appropriate or safe. If you are approaching it from the point of view of John Q. Public without any context into how the national security process happens, sometimes it does look bad. But the whole picture is not being seen.”

“The irony is that [the public] really can’t handle the truth. The truth is something that requires context. It requires involvement and internalization of it. You have to have a commitment to the process, to the importance of what is happening. It’s not something where you can just have a civilian review board look at it tabula rasa and say ‘let’s have some oversight of SEAL Team 6 by this collection of random activists.'”

In a past life, Adrian was a “helpful hacker”. He would find security vulnerabilities in big corporations, which were accessible via web browser, then notify the companies of their weaknesses and offer to help fix them free of charge. Several technology companies were helpful and receptive to his infiltrations. But The New York Times responded with primitive ire, pressing charges against Adrian.

“I don’t blame the New York Times. I understand the corporate mentality that led to their actions. I had always said that I knew what I was doing was illegal. The fact that it was helpful didn’t make it any less illegal.”

Our broader world is so conservative that even the icons we look to as symbolic of fast, advanced societal change often make decisions that are grounded in outdated feelings and beliefs. The New York Times is supposed to be a bastion of progressive, activist thought–they should have been able to comprehend Adrian’s helpful behavior and the motivations behind it.

“To that, all I can say is that their editorial mentality and their corporate mentality enjoy a certain cognitive dissonance.”

There is a pessimistic narrative of fear around technology. Whether Anonymous is lamenting how 1984 has become a reality, or Occupy activists are decrying financial innovation, or robot-fearing Luddites are complaining that the impending shadow of flying food delivery drones portends a future where we will all be hunted down like in Terminator, the public is sure about one thing: the future is scary.

In contrast to the usual offhanded comparison between our world and 1984, Adrian is in a position to give me a nuanced view on the topic of surveillance.

“The irony is that I can speak to that from both sides of the table. During my hacking days I lived my life under the assumption that I was never not under surveillance. During the past five years, I’ve been very conscious that my movements are closely watched by people in the hacker and activist community who would like to see revenge exercised for my actions in the Wikileaks case and the Manning case.”

“I basically behave as if the NSA is after me except its these extremely tolerant anti-surveillance people who don’t see the irony in their actions, who don’t see the way that they trivialize the value of my life through their rhetoric, saying ‘yeah, somebody should definitely put a bullet in him.’ It’s the same kind of rhetoric that trivializes the value of the life of those who are not completely with us, and so are therefore against us, the ‘terrorists'; both sides use this kind of rhetoric, that kind of trivialization of the lives of their enemies and they are unconscious of the irony that they are doing the exact same thing that they accuse the other side of doing.”

Since we were talking about the specifics of modern surveillance, I asked Adrian about  the best way to form a mental framework around the Snowden case.

“I wrote an answer on Quora that said that Snowden is essentially much more fracked than people think he is. He has most likely had far more of his secrets pried loose than he realizes. Russia has a world-class intelligence shop. He has likely been manipulated in ways that he does not even realize. I don’t think that he missed the significance of the fact that Russia is extending his asylum year by year. They don’t make any long-term commitments to him.”

“If you look at the history of the relationship between Russian and Western intelligence, when they have this sort of situation, when they have this sort of high-value target, what usually happens is that the United States gets their hands on somebody that Russia values more than Snowden, and a trade will be made, probably covered as some kind of violation of the terms of Snowden’s asylum, and that will be the end of his run as a free man.”

“The aiding the enemy charge was ridiculous in Manning’s case, but it would very much fit Snowden’s. He went to China first then Russia. You can’t go to aiding the enemy any more unless you went to some Sunni tribesman in Waziristan and tried to shop the material.”

What about the argument that these programs impact people in ways that people can’t understand or evaluate, and that the public needed to know about them in order to pass judgment on them? What if the only avenue Snowden saw to expose those programs was an avenue that coincidentally “aided the enemy”?

“The only avenue he saw was to approach a country that exercises these programs with much less restraint.”

“He didn’t try [to take steps within his job at the NSA]. He skipped straight directly to defect. That, I have very little respect for. It’s an action that requires–I hesitate to say bravery–but moral certitude. It’s not an action that shows he made a genuine effort to work within the system. By not doing so, he really denigrates all the people who have worked within the system, who have availed themselves of these outlets, who have tried to affect change within the rule of law.”

“There have been Freedom of Information Act requests about his actions, and none of them reflect an effort to work within the system.” This runs contrary to the common belief that Snowden made strong efforts to make changes from within the NSA.

“In the hacker community people assume I have the government’s interests in mind. On the government side, people assume I’m playing both sides in some way. But people listen.”

“I’ve tried to work within the system, and I feel like I’ve had some success in trying to prove that not all hackers are at the extremes of society. In the government, there is some common ground to be found if only the poisoned relationship with hackers could be fixed.”

To illustrate this point of supposed enemies working together, Adrian pointed out how after World War II, the German scientists who helped get the US get to the moon were formerly aiding the Nazis in trying to kill Americans.

Adrian has publicly disclosed his 2010 diagnosis with Asperger’s. I asked him if he thought people diagnosed with Asperger’s developed more acute symptoms after being diagnosed, because the diagnosis medically sanctifies antisocial behavior.

“When I was diagnosed, it was something of a relief. I could feel that I was no longer weird–I had an actual formal diagnosis for some of the odd aspects of my behavior. When I was young I had to learn social cues consciously in order to emulate certain reactions that came naturally to neurotypical people. I would hazard to say that the social reactions that one has to emulate consciously are more real than the ones that someone’s brain wires them into automatically without any conscious thought.”

“I certainly have never used it as an excuse for any particular behavior. We all own our actions and our behavior and much like I never felt ‘helpful hacking’ excused it as an illegal act, I haven’t felt that Asperger’s as a diagnosis excuses antisocial acts.”

Adrian once overdosed on amphetamines he had been prescribed. I was also once prescribed stimulants for ADHD. The drugs were explained to me as being very well-understood, and deterministic in how they would affect my body. But the reality is that they are more of a black box. We do understand how some of the inputs and outputs relate, but we have a weak understanding of the reasons why. This is much different than how well we understand a computer, which is a man-made, thoroughly understood system.

“Most of neuropharmacology is essentially guesswork. We know that lower levels of Serotonin are correlated with depression. We know that restricting Serotonin reuptake is associated with remission of depression. But there are many drugs that work on other receptors.”

“We’re just now coming to the point where people can take a DNA test that can help adjudicate which receptors of the brain are most in need of particular enhancements, so that they can take a particular drug instead of going through a laundry list of medications.”

What are some aspects of the world that people most commonly understand?

“The most common misunderstanding that people embrace is seeing behaviors in people that they perceive as their adversaries, which they reject and then emulate themselves, without realizing that they are doing the exact same thing that they are rejecting. One example is a discussion with a political activist type on Twitter who wanted to see all administration officials who supported surveillance programs put into prison. He had no conscious understanding that those same officials would want to see someone with those extreme views put in prison for wanting to curtail and damage programs of national security. ”

“People don’t see how similar they are to those who they perceive as their adversary.” This echoed Adrian’s previous point about feeling oppressed by the hacker-types who monitor his moves online, looking for him to pay restitution for his actions in the Manning case.

In closing, he gave me a profound piece of wisdom that I would be unlikely to hear from many other places.

“There’s a famous quote:  ‘All positions are prisons. No truth is truth.’ Indeed if you pick any particular position as your hill to die on, you are tying yourself to something that is fallible in some way. There is no absolute moral position that you can take where you are going to be unassailable.”

“In trying to do anything substantive in life, you are going to have to understand that your adversaries are going to feel just as justified as you do in opposing you, and that doesn’t mean that you are wrong, only that you inhabit a very complex system which requires that kind of stress to evolve. It’s that kind of stress, that kind of friction that brings society forward.”

Dima Korolev: Engineering, Big Data, and Entrepreneurship

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 “Carefully examine your assumptions. Many of those are not necessarily wrong, but temporarily eliminating them can expand horizons.”

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Dima Korolev is an engineer and data scientist who has built many products and worked at Google, Microsoft, and Facebook. He isn’t shy about expressing opinions that may be misunderstood or taken offensively. This interview was an opportunity to ask him about some of those opinions in detail.

“I started at about age 15 with microware. I enjoyed algorithms. My first few jobs had to do with software for microware and computer. My first real software job was in 2004.”

“I’m happy I did not grow up in the US. I think the US culture growing up-wise is more about impressing your immediate parents, teachers, and peer group. Which is essentially terrible for someone like me who tries to do their own things.

“It kills creativity quite a bit. Those spikes of people who want to grow further are rarer in the US. People are more polished, but also more demotivated.”

“The US has commercialized the idea of raising children and educating them to a huge degree. Parents assume that the more money they invest in their kids, the better the education they will have.”

Since moving to the US, Dima has moved among different cities and seen how the engineering styles and cultures differ from place to place. He compared the places he has lived in terms of lifestyle, personal productivity, and hiring employees for a software company.

“Seattle data-driven companies are more vertical. Companies in California are more things that spread, like Mongo or Redis.” Dima has considered how these native differences would affect potential users in those areas.

“If the best way to build a company in the next few years is to hire people in California, I will be in California. I’m going to be where the business requires me to be. If I need to be in Seattle, or Europe, or Asia, let’s see how that works.”

We explored some broken aspects of tech culture. Why is there a lack of women in tech? What prejudices do Indians suffer in Silicon Valley? Why are there so few Mexicans in tech? As two white males in tech, Dima and I have not suffered from much discrimination directly. But we are compelled to talk about it. Discrimination leads to weaker companies, disenfranchised employees, and a world that is less pleasant to live in that it could be.

Next, we talked about some engineering trends–Node.js and big data.

“New languages emerge every day like quantum particles. Some of them stick. I would expect a new programming language once in a while to disrupt the industry. Node happened to be one of those languages. 90% of the speculations about why this happened with Node, instead of Go or Python or Ruby–they are just speculation.”

“If I have to give my number one reason why it’s popular, it would be the paradigm of being single threaded eliminating many of the ways you could shoot yourself in the foot. It’s harder to run into concurrency issues. But Node is young enough that we have not seen the flaws of the language and the environment around it.”

Dima compared Node to the early days of Ruby on Rails, and contrasted those two frameworks with .NET’s inability to reach the same level of popularity.

How effectively are companies taking advantage of their own data? “Technologically, we are still very primitive. I hope to fix it. You cannot build an established product without data pipelines.”

“A friend of mine said a really great phrase: ‘remember those times in early 1990’s when every single brick-and-mortar store wanted a webmaster and a small website. Now they want to have a data scientist.’ It’s good for an industry when an attitude precedes the technology.”

“We are witnessing the emergence of CEOs realizing that they need to understand their data.”

To close our interview, Dima gave a broadly applicable piece of wisdom.

“Carefully examine your assumptions. Many of those are not necessarily wrong, but temporarily eliminating them can expand horizons.”

Matt Mickiewicz: Hired, 99designs, Flippa

“Two-sided marketplaces are very defensible businesses once you get the wheels spinning. You become a preferred way of clearing a transaction over time.”

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“When I was 14 years old making thousands of dollars a month it definitely got to my head a little bit. Over time I realized that money is not everything and I pulled back on it, but it definitely bred some jealousy in high school.”

“People definitely thought I got lucky, not realizing how hard I worked, that I stayed up until 3 or 4 in the morning. There was a lot of self-sacrifice. My friends were out drinking and smoking on weekends while I was behind a computer screen. It definitely didn’t come free, by any means.”

“I’ve had the unfortunate experience as being featured on the Yahoo home page as a success story. There were about 3000 comments on the post, and most of them were very negative, people taking their own personal failings and frustration on me. I stopped reading through them.”

Two-sided marketplaces are a theme across Matt’s most successful businesses.

“Everything we’ve started we’ve tried to charge money for on day 1. We’ve never tried to build consumer webapps to sell to Facebook for a billion dollars.”

“The last three businesses were all marketplaces. Two-sided marketplaces are very defensible businesses once you get the wheels spinning. You become a preferred way of clearing a transaction over time.”

“Look at eBay, it’s a very old business. But you look at their financial filings–it’s a very nice company. Look at Craigslist, it’s the #1 place to get an apartment in San Francisco. It’s not because other people haven’t built websites with better UIs and better backends. Craigslist is where all the liquidity is, so it’s hard to dislodge.”

“I like businesses that create a lot of value in the world and take a small transaction fee. At 99designs we have paid out tens of millions of dollars to designers. At Flippa we’ve helped people sell hundreds of millions of dollars worth of websites and domain names, taking only a small transaction fee. And at Hired we have helped hundreds of companies find fantastic engineers, designers, and product managers for a fraction of the fee of traditional recruiters.”

“We’re ultimately just a conduit which money flows through.”

“The genesis for Hired was our own frustrations with recruiting engineers at 99designs. As the company was scaling we were doing all the traditional things: job ads, recruiters, LinkedIn…at one point we were using thirty different recruiting agencies. I didn’t think they were earning the value they were charging.”

“I went on AngelList and went through 450 different recruiting and HR startups with the hope of finding something, anything better, but everyone was playing around the edges of the problem. There were startups doing video interviews, applicant tracking, background checks, personality and cultural quizzes, a bunch of companies selling scraped data. Nobody was saying I’m just going to get paid if I put a warm body in a seat.”

“Over $300 billion put into headhunting and recruiting fees every single year. Why isn’t there a single go-to place where I as a CEO or CTO can login and view the 400 best engineers who are interested in jobs in a given week? So we decided to create it.”