Thugs and Intolerance

Most of the friends I made in graduate school would probably be placed on the liberal wing of the American political spectrum. They’re awesome people and I like them a lot.

But I often struck by how intolerant and hate-filled many liberals are. Certainly, more so than conservatives that I meet, or see on the news.

For instance, take this thug, Mona Eltahwy. After seeing speech she disliked, Mona’s response was to vandalize it. When someone attempted to place her own body between Mona’s spray-paint and the speech Mona despised, Mona sprayed her too.

And now on CNN, there is a puff piece support Mona, talking about how she “brought attention” to an important issue, blah blah blah.

So why are so many liberals hate-filled and intolerant, when explicit rejection of hate and intolerance is generally seen as a “liberal” virtue?

My assumption is that people generally self-select friends, co-workers, and opinion leaders who they are already politically agree with. So political intellectual diversity is rare in almost everyone’s life. But the high-visibility media clearly shares more of the world-view, perspective, and priorities of “liberals” than “conservatives.” This means that it’s rare for liberals to hear any serious voice with a fundamentally different perspective (outside the existing liberal political coalition). It’s very common for conservatives to do so.

Therefore, when a thug like Mona Eltahwy encounters speech she disagrees with, of course she reacts violently. And her friends in the media likewise are very sympathetic: who wouldn’t censor speech they dislike?

Review of “Takedown” by Tsutomu Shimomura and John Markoff

Several weeks ago I read Ghost in the Wires, Kevin Mitnick’s autobiographical accounts of his hacking exploits, discovery by security researcher Tsutomu Shimomura, and reformation. Yesterday I finished Takedown, Tsutomo’s book about tracking down Mitnick.

Generally the accounts agree. The framing or emphasis, however, changes. So, for instance, Shimomura (who had the time worked at the San Diego Supercomputer Center, emphasis his own personal skills and generally dismisses Mitnick as copying others or using trial-and-error techniques. Mitnick’s book actually agrees with this, where he is dismissive of the press’s wilder claims, and instead emphasizes the greatest tool he had was social engineering — that is, being a con-man.

This pattern — both books largely agreeing on facts, but differeing in the interpretation of facts — even extends to Hollywood. Both Shimomura and Mitnick have mentioned Mitnick’s fascination with the 1992 Phil Alden Robinson film, Sneakers, starring Robert Redford, Dan Akroyd, Ben Kingsley, River Phoenix, and Sidney Poitier.

Shimomura chalks this up to Mitnick’s fixation on Robert Redford. Mitnick, in a talk to my employer, described Sneakers as the most realistic movie about hacking every filmed. After re-watching it, I agree. The protagonists of Sneakers are not especially amazing when it comes to technology. They are great at social engineering — being con men.

The whole topic of “social engineering” lets me talk about one of the most disorienting things about reading these two books. Kevin Mitnick was a social engineer — a con man — but one who did not seek to profit from his work. So he writes in a friendly (if manipulative) way that makes you sympathize with him. Shimomura, by contrast, is a jerk. The book is filled with criticisms of anyone who has helped him or any place that was good to him. Reading Takedown is an emotionally exhausting experience, while reading Ghost in the Wires approaches the experience of having a massage — you’re no longer observing the world quite as objectively, but that’s not the point.

To illustrate, here’s an example. Mitnick is an intelligent and well spoken individual. But pay attention to use his use of words:

I had seen some of the security bugs that Shimmy [Tsutomu Shimomura] had reported to Sun and DEC and been impressed with his bug-finding skills. In time I would learn that he had shoulder-length straight black hair, a preference for showing up at work wearing sandals and “raggady-ass jeans,” and a passion for cross-country skiing. He sounded every bit the kind of Californian conjured by the term “dude” — as in, “Hey dude, howz it hangin’?”

Mitnick is manipulating the reader by adopting several traits associated with a stereotype of the loveable hackers, including
1. An admiration for technical skill
2. An admiration for California generally
3. An admiration for non-conformists
4. An almost child-like view of the world, especially in the last sentence. [See my review of Veins for the power of his imagery]

Now, here’s a passage from Shimomura’s book

“I have no idea why Andrew [Shimomura’s mentee] told you to start cleaning up,” I said, incredulous.

Seiden, who is a computer security pro, was angry at having been misled at such an error. “Last time I take orders from Andrew,” he muttered. His task was no, we agreed would be to resume monitoring Mitnick’s activities on Internex for indication of how deep his supsicions now ran. Seiden was still fuming with indignation as we ended our call.

I punched in Andrew’s numbers. “What the hell’s going on?”

A good leader makes others great. Even cantankerous perfectionists like Steve Jobs can get excited in people. Shimomura instead criticizes and denigrates those close to him, to make himself appear brighter.

In keeping with this trend, Mitnick even gives Andrew’s family name twice, while in Tsutomu it is only given once, in Tsutomu’s co-author‘s acknowledgements.

I’m glad I read both books, but Ghost in the Wires is both more up to date and less grating.

Impression of “Life of Muhammad” Trailer

So this seems to be the trailer of the film — supported by the controversial Terry Jones — that rioters in Egypt and Libya used as justification to attack the United States, and kill our Ambassador.

Watch if you want, but it’s not well edited or well directed. The quality is below the quality of the Full Motion Video that was common on computer games in the 1990s. “Triumph of the Will” this is not.

The film’s purpose appears to be to defame Islam — Jack Chick style — rather than be informative, so the trailer appears to make a number of novel and false accusations against him. This is puzzling, given that Muhammad was definitely a pedophile by the modern definition (which may not have been that rare for the time and placed he lived in), and was arguably a genocidier, one would have thought it was pointless to make up facts about him or his religion, when there are so many laying around ready to spin!

If the purpose of the film is to lower Americans’ view of Islam, the riots in Egypt and Libya probably mean that the director succeeded. Unlike other artists who labor to bring beauty to the ghastly (Leni Reifenstahl, Zhang Yimou, and Jack Chick himself) there seems to be no sense of artistry or beauty in this film. As ghastly as National-Socialism, Chinese imperial fascism, and general bigotry may be, Reifenstahl, Zhang, and Chick all use the gift of art to make that view seem — if only for an instant — beautiful. The trailer for Life of Muhammad never reaches this level.

Now compare Life of Muhammad to Life of L. Ron Hubbard The Master, a film trailer that attacks the founder of a religion that also is beautiful:

What a better world we would live in if the Arab street would riot for bad taste!