Asperger’s Rom-Com

Well, this is interesting:

Gabe at Videogum seems pretty viscerally offended by this, and thinks it’s just a cynical way to add a twist to a standard romantic comedy plot line. Which is true, and I’m sure that’s why Fox Searchlight gave it the go-ahead.

But I can’t help but think the impact will be positive. After all, even the short trailer paints a much more benign picture of Asperger’s than most other cultural forces. Adam is socially awkward, yes, but he’s also incredibly knowledgeable about astronomy and ultimately decent, and the latter two aspects of the syndrome are (a) never emphasized in popular media and (b) probably going to be the crux of the film, if the standard romantic comedy formula holds. And while we can debate the usefulness of speculating about historical figures on the spectrum, most people haven’t even heard that there are solid cases made by serious scholars that Jefferson, Einstein, and Mozart (and Newton and Wittgenstein and Turing and Cavendish) had Asperger’s or some other level of autism.

I’ll reserve full judgment until I see the movie, but I’m cautiously optimistic that viewers will leave the theater thinking “Asperger’s can be a blessing, not a curse” instead of “people with Asperger’s are really weird.”

P.S. Also, I’d be remiss in not mentioning that Ervin Burrell is in this, which automatically raises its stock in my book.

Better (for) Ezra

It’s official: Ezra Klein, associate editor at The American Prospect, blogger extraordinaire and a good friend and mentor of mine, will be heading to the business section of The Washington Post.

Obviously, this is everyone’s win. Ezra gets a (richly-deserved) bigger soapboax, the Washington Post gets one of the best blogs currently being written, and a wide swath of new readers (business readers, no less!) will encounter intelligently argued labor-liberalism. And while as someone who loves TAP to death I’m sorry that they’re losing such a great writer, Matt is right that this only speaks well of the Prospect. What the Washington Monthly was to young journalists in the 1970s, TAP is to young writers now. Josh Marshall, Jon Cohn, Jon Chait, Nick Confessore, Garance Franke-Ruta, Matt Yglesias, Mark Goldberg, Ezra Klein – if someone’s a major reporter or opinion journalist in their 20s or 30s, chances are they cut their teeth at TAP. It’s uniquely well set-up to train people; in barely a month and a half there, I learned more about journalism than I had in my entire life to that point.

In any case, congratulations to the Post for such a smart hire, to TAP for helping get Ezra to where he is, and to Ezra for being his usual awesome self. I can’t wait to see what he does at his new perch.

An Honest Question…


To Todd Zywicki, The Washington Times editorial board, and anyone else who sees it as worth their time to bash Harvard’s ban on ROTC (why a national newspaper like the Times is commenting on a single school’s policy is beyond me, but that’s a different point):

Q: McKinsey & Co. is one of the largest employers of recent Harvard graduates. If it decided that it would begin rejecting applications from gay Harvard graduates sight unseen, should Harvard boot its recruiters from campus?

If yes: Why should the military be any different?

If no: Why do you fail at life?

No Layoffs

If I had to pick one thing I hate about Harvard, it would be the profound class consciousness that develops among its students. This being Harvard, it’s a bourgeois class consciousness, built around the interests of rich kids and aspiring rich kids, around the needs of wannabe financiers and management consultants. Of course, choosing to use the privilege of a Harvard education not to make the world a better place but to personally enrich oneself is despicable, and students who do so should be ashamed of themselves and their life choices. But the fact remains that much of Harvard culture is built around defending the interests of greedy people, which can make this an incredibly frustrating place to go to school.

A good case study of this class consciousness at work is the debate on layoffs at Harvard. For the normal people reading this, allow me to explain the situation. Harvard has tens of billions of dollars. How many tens of billions they won’t say, but it’s in that ballpark. However, because they’re slightly less obscenely wealthy than they were before the economy went to hell, the Harvard administration has started laying people off without cause. Some students, like the Student Labor Action Movement (SLAM) and its supporters (like me and Perspective), think that this is uncalled for. We think that Harvard should be more forthcoming about its financial situation, so that students and other members of the community can evaluate whether we really need to lay off workers to weather the recession. And until Harvard releases the information that would allow such a debate to take place, it should stop cutting jobs and find other ways to make up the shortfall. After all, if they’re going to cut the jobs of valued members of our community, we have a right to know why that’s happening, and how necessary or unnecessary that is. I, for one, kind of doubt that a university that can pay for massive concerts/carnivals can’t cough up the cash necessary to pay its workers.

Others, like my ever administration-friendly colleagues at the Crimson editorial page, think that, given that Harvard’s mission is primarily educational, it should have no qualms about screwing over its workers. “We’re a school, not a welfare agency,” the saying goes. I always found that argument a little funny; by that logic, we really ought to cancel this whole financial aid thing. If Harvard is just another business providing just another service, what on Earth is it doing subsidizing its customers?

And therein lies the rub. No, Harvard isn’t a welfare agency, but it isn’t a for-profit firm either. It’s a nonprofit institution, and an incredibly wealthy one at that. And the purpose of nonprofit institutions, and the reason our government doesn’t tax them, is that they supposedly serve a higher purpose, one that benefits society as a whole. I don’t think it serves a higher good to subordinate the interests of blue-collar workers to those of the massively privileged student body of Harvard College. In fact, I think that’s incredibly perverse, and a choice only capable of being made by actors who’ve lost their moral compass.

To a distressing degree, my classmates object. Because they identify with each other, and not the people who sweep their floors and cook their meals. They want a university that doesn’t serve its community, but greedy bastards like themselves. I try not to be fatalistic, and the fact that this petition has as many signatures as it does is immensely encouraging. But the pursuit of Wall Street jobs has meant too much to this school and its students for too long for a mentality that stretches beyond greed to take hold. Class consciousness is a powerful thing.

But as David Simon once reminded us in a Yglesias comment thread long ago, “Camus rightly argues that to commit to a just cause against overwhelming odds is absurd. He further argues that not to commit is equally absurd. Only one choice, however, offers the slightest chance for dignity. And dignity matters.” And fighting for workers like Bedardo Sola, and for people like Bedardo Sola’s daughter is a just cause. The odds are fairly overwhelming, but that hardly matters.

No layoffs. Not because it’s easy, but because it’s right.


Every once in a while, I read a story that renews my faith in journalism as a form of public service. Jeff Stein’s latest is one of those pieces. Read:

Rep. Jane Harman , the California Democrat with a longtime involvement in intelligence issues, was overheard on an NSA wiretap telling a suspected Israeli agent that she would lobby the Justice Department reduce espionage-related charges against two officials of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, the most powerful pro-Israel organization in Washington.

Harman was recorded saying she would “waddle into” the AIPAC case “if you think it’ll make a difference,” according to two former senior national security officials familiar with the NSA transcript.

In exchange for Harman’s help, the sources said, the suspected Israeli agent pledged to help lobby Nancy Pelosi , D-Calif., then-House minority leader, to appoint Harman chair of the Intelligence Committee after the 2006 elections, which the Democrats were heavily favored to win.

Seemingly wary of what she had just agreed to, according to an official who read the NSA transcript, Harman hung up after saying, “This conversation doesn’t exist.”

Read on; it only gets seedier (and more impressive as a feat of reporting). Via Josh Marshall.

Mueller on Afghanistan


Read. This, in particular, is critical:

The very notion that al Qaeda needs a secure geographic base to carry out its terrorist operations, moreover, is questionable. After all, the operational base for 9/11 was in Hamburg, Germany. Conspiracies involving small numbers of people require communication, money, and planning — but not a major protected base camp.

At present, al Qaeda consists of a few hundred people running around in Pakistan, seeking to avoid detection and helping the Taliban when possible. It also has a disjointed network of fellow travelers around the globe who communicate over the Internet. Over the last decade, the group has almost completely discredited itself in the Muslim world due to the fallout from the 9/11 attacks and subsequent counterproductive terrorism, much of it directed against Muslims. No convincing evidence has been offered publicly to show that al Qaeda Central has put together a single full operation anywhere in the world since 9/11. And, outside of war zones, the violence perpetrated by al Qaeda affiliates, wannabes, and lookalikes combined has resulted in the deaths of some 200 to 300 people per year, and may be declining. That is 200 to 300 too many, of course, but it scarcely suggests that “the safety of people around the world is at stake,” as Obama dramatically puts it.

Read the whole thing, as the kids say. The only thing I’d add is that by trying to paint al-Qaeda as some epically powerful actor and a big enough threat to justify a nationwide occupation, the Obama administration is playing into the group’s PR message and making it a whole lot more attractive to form one of the wannabe/lookalike groups that contributes to that 200 to 300 figure. I’d wager anything that if we were to begin a gradual replacement of military forces with development officers, governance experts, and other state-building staffers from multilateral institutions and NGOs, and more importantly if Obama stopped making speeches painting al-Qaeda as some kind of existential threat, the casualty figures would be considerably smaller than 200 to 300.

On Incentives and Results, Or “I Was Wrong”


“Obama Calls for Thaw in U.S. Relations With Cuba.” That’s a headline I would have expected in July 2007, or October 2005. Hell, it wouldn’t even be news in 2003. But coming from a US president? A “thaw” with Cuba being proposed by a US president? This is really happening, I guess.

You know, I came out hard against Obama’s national security team when it was announced. I’ve had beef with Hillary for a while, and Gates had his baggage, but fundamentally I thought that slightly bolder, more controversial people (say, Brzezinski and Danzig respectively) had earned them by sticking their necks out, and that rejecting that was a betrayal. And to a certain extent I still believe that. It would have increased incentives for risk-taking among the wonk class if Zbig and Danzig were picked, and that would be a good thing.

But damned if keeping Bush’s SecDef didn’t end the F-22. And damned if picking the most right-leaning on foreign policy of your primary opponents as SecState doesn’t result in the beginning of the end of the Cuban embargo. While I have no doubt that a Secretary Danzig would want to cut idiotic programs like the Raptor, I’m not sure he’d have the standing to do it that Gates has. And while I’m sure Zbig wants to normalize relations with Cuba, he’d almost certainly be too radioactive a figure to lead the charge. It’s moments like these when I wish we had a non-clichéd expression to replace “Nixon in China”, because as overdone as that comparison is, the same mechanism seems to be at work here, and paying off splendidly.

So I was wrong. Whatever havoc their appointments wreaked on the future Brookings fellows’ willingness to take political risks, they have given cover for the most substantive progressive foreign policy achievements since the end of the Cold War. That’s a pretty easy tradeoff to accept.