Category Archives: Off Topic

Jerry Seinfeld — Autistic?

Jerry Seinfeld, universally beloved comedian, has created a bit of an uproar in the autism community. He’s claimed that he believes he’s on the spectrum:

Williams notes that at 60, Seinfeld is still “figuring out who he is. For example: in recent years as he’s learned about autism spectrum disorders, he sees it in himself.”

Seinfeld confirms that, saying, “I think, on a very drawn-out scale, I think I’m on the spectrum.”

“Why? What are the markers?” asks Williams.

“You know, never paying attention to the right things,” says Seinfeld. “Basic social engagement is really a struggle.”

Seinfeld goes on to explain, “I’m very literal. When people talk to me and they use expressions, sometimes I don’t know what they’re saying. But I don’t see it as dysfunctional. I just think of it as an alternate mindset.”

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This is a bit of a pet issue for me, as for years–as soon as I figured out what it was–I’ve believed I have Asperger’s Syndrome*. I’ve never put in the effort to seek an official diagnosis (although I’m getting closer to doing so for several reasons), but knowing the heredity nature of ASD, and then having a son with autism, I’m pretty sure of my self-diagnosis.

Seinfeld sparked a nerve. Several people have suggested that a self-diagnosis isn’t really sufficient (although quite a few autism advocates point out that self-diagnosis is usually the method for diagnosis in adults–usually it is what spurs someone to seek an official diagnosis). Others suggest that a millionaire comedian can’t possibly be autistic. Others are concerned that fitting someone who is as successful as Jerry Seinfeld into the spectrum, with what assuredly must be a relatively mild form of autism, devalues the much more severe autism that many of their children face.

I know. I get it. It’s hard to see someone as funny as Jerry Seinfeld, and think that he has issues with social communication. After all, how can someone who connects with so many people through his art be considered autistic?

But really, it’s not all that far-fetched. I know this won’t sound like something that you’ve heard before, but comedy is possibly one of the most natural places for some folks with high-functioning autism. I say this for two reasons:

  • Comedy, for many people who are considered “misfits”, is a defense mechanism. It’s the “if I make them laugh they won’t beat me up” mentality. This is NOT a new statement about comedians.
  • Comedy is usually predicated on seeing things differently than most people. Most people don’t find regular life funny. They just find it to be regular life. But our human experience in society is riddled with absurdities. I firmly believe that people on the spectrum, who can be over-literal and don’t often understand the subtlety of social interaction, can take an “outsider’s” view of regular life.

For me, comedy is a highly intellectual affair. I love looking at jokes and trying to pick apart why they’re funny. I’ve worked hard to develop my sense of humor, largely through understanding other people, not through the normal method of picking things up naturally. As such, I absolutely hold that “outsider’s view” of comedy. The old Seinfeld trope, “What, is the deal, with that?” is the “outsider’s view” in a nutshell. He’s looking at everything we see every day, but through a completely different prism than we’re used to.

Nor is autism a sign that someone cannot be successful. There are autism success stories all through society. Recently someone had suggested that Bill Gates fits many of the symptoms of autism, and he’s certainly no slouch. In fact, I like to think I’m one of those success stories. I honestly have trouble with social interaction. Yet I have a job that absolutely requires social interaction and relationship-building. In fact, I’m a manager of other people in my career. Many autistics don’t have successful romantic relationships. I’m married to a beautiful woman who is WAY out of my league.

But it’s hard. Really hard, sometimes. I am where I am because I challenge the hell out of myself. I try to take those things where I know I’m not good at something and brute-force my way into making myself good at them. There are instances where it’s terrifying. At a recent conference, I knew I needed to approach a woman who was a marketing manager for a company we work with to discuss something that my company needed. I had to summon the courage to start a conversation with her, completely unprompted and without an introduction (EEK!!!). I forced myself to do it.

For most people, that isn’t an existential victory. The fact that it is, for me, is a sign of my Asperger’s.

As for that beautiful wife who is WAY out of my league? If she hadn’t approached me at a bar 13 years ago, I could very well still be single. In fact, one of the most important developments of our marriage has been my realization that I’m on the spectrum, and her acknowledgment of it. It’s extremely difficult for her to relate to me on several levels, but at least we both understand now where some of those blind spots are for me. It can still be difficult, but at least we’re now on the same page about the fact that we’re completely not on the same page!

My success, or Jerry Seinfeld’s much larger success, shouldn’t be taken as devaluing the much more severe autism that many people face. What we’ve faced is an uphill climb, not a roadblock. I understand the concern of parents who have children with more severe autism, because I’m one of them too. My son, at 5, would still likely be considered non-verbal, even though he’s making progress. I desperately want him to have a chance in his life for the success I’ve had, but the largest fear I have in my entire life is that his autism will be a roadblock, not an uphill climb. A parent who hasn’t had to face that fear is a parent that I envy.

I view Jerry Seinfeld as a welcome addition to the wide range of the autism spectrum. There’s a saying in our ranks that if you’ve known one person with autism, you’ve known one person with autism. We’re all different. Jerry may or may not be autistic. But I have a sneaking suspicion that if he thinks he’s one, he probably is. A millionaire comedian isn’t typical when it comes to autism. But the key is that when you’re talking about autism, typical goes out the window. That may be why we call it a spectrum
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Brad’s Beer Review: Alpine Brewing Company – Duet

Weekends tend to be a slow time for political blogs, so it’s a perfect time to get into another passion. So I’m happy to announce a new weekend off-topic feature here: Brad’s Beer Review.

As many of you already know, I’m a homebrewer and a beer geek. What’s a beer “geek”, you [probably don’t] ask, and how is it different from a beer snob? Well, it’s simple:

A beer geek cares what he drinks. A beer snob cares what you drink.

Alpine Brewing Company - Duet

Alpine Brewing Company – Duet


I’m a beer geek. I don’t care what you drink. Unlike the folks from the Washington Post, I’m not going to deride you for what you drink, whether it’s Bud Light or Smirnoff Ice.

That said, if you’re looking for a beer sherpa on the path to enlightenment, I’m happy to show you the way. So to start off this new feature, I decided to reach into the beer fridge for something a little special. In future instances, the feature may not be a beer, rather it may be a beer bar, brew pub, or craft beer centric restaurant. I travel quite a bit for work, so I’ll do my best to keep it varied. And it may not be a commercial beer. As a homebrewer, I might offer my own brews up from time to time (with recipe, of course).

Alpine Brewing Company is located in Alpine, CA, a tiny town well east of San Diego. They’re well known in the craft beer community, but even living in SoCal I didn’t get the chance to taste their wares until a few weeks ago. Mostly because Alpine CA is in the middle of freaking nowhere. They’re well known for their signature Double IPA, Pure Hoppiness. They didn’t have it available in bottles when a friend was in the area, so he brought me a few bottles of Duet, an IPA.

Duet is so named because of the use of Simcoe and Amarillo hops, and the first impression of the beer is the aroma. You can smell the Simcoe. Simcoe is well known as one of the key hops in another highly-touted beer, Pliny the Elder from Russian River. The Simcoe is offset by the Amarillo, which is known for a strong citrus aroma.

Visually, although my picture shows it a bit dark, the beer pours a nice pale gold. Great clarity.

On the tongue, this hits the mark. Any west-coast IPA should be hop-forward, an it is. Poor examples of the style are all hops, without any malt backbone to back it up. Duet has enough malt to give a great foundation for the hops, and let them shine. It’s got malt without being sweet (Dogfish Head, I’m looking at you!), and while it’s not quite as dry and crisp as I like my IPAs, it still makes me want more. You taste this beer and you know why everyone goes nuts over Alpine.

Then you come to the question in the craft beer world of drinkability. Which is really the question “does this taste like this beer will mess me up as much as it will mess me up?” On that metric, this beer is highly drinkable. The Alpine web site says this is a 7% ABV beer. Taste wise, I’d guess much lower. This beer carries zero alcohol warmth, and you’re left feeling like you could pound these away until you’ve forgotten that you’re at a brewery that’s closer (as the crow flies) to Mexico than it is to San Diego and you don’t have a ride home.

In short, I’m impressed by this beer. Alpine has absolutely nailed it. You’ll find as this feature continues that this is not all that common when it comes to me and beer. So if you can find some Alpine (you can’t… sorry.), buy it!

Love Objectively

At most every wedding I have ever attended, 1 Corinthians 13:5 is the selected Bible verse: “Love is not rude, is not selfish…”

This overly used quotation notwithstanding, the Objectivist’s view of love is that love necessarily is selfish. Gary Hull explains:

Imagine a Valentine’s Day card which takes this premise seriously. Imagine receiving a card with the following message: “I get no pleasure from your existence. I obtain no personal enjoyment from the way you look, dress, move, act or think. Our relationship profits me not. You satisfy no sexual, emotional or intellectual needs of mine. You’re a charity case, and I’m with you only out of pity. Love, XXX.”

Needless to say, you would be indignant to learn that you are being “loved,” not for anything positive you offer your lover, but–like any recipient of alms–for what you lack. Yet that is the perverse view of love entailed in the belief that it is self-sacrificial.”

[…]

The nature of love places certain demands on those who wish to enjoy it. You must regard yourself as worthy of being loved. Those who expect to be loved, not because they offer some positive value, but because they don’t–i.e., those who demand love as altruistic duty–are parasites. Someone who says “Love me just because I need it” seeks an unearned spiritual value–in the same way that a thief seeks unearned wealth. To quote a famous line from The Fountainhead: “To say ‘I love you,’ one must know first how to say the ‘I.’

On a lighter note, here’s the Top 10 Libertarian Pickup Lines

Happiness Is A Choice

I’m not an old or wise man. I’m assuredly not qualified to dole out advice — particularly to people I’ve never met. I was raised in a family where one didn’t readily admit the existence of ones feelings much less talk about them. For everything I’ve learned, I’m still filled with more dysfunctions than I can count. But in my limited 33 years on this planet, I feel like I’ve learned more than my fair share about human emotion, and more than a few times through the painful prism of experience. So the post I’m writing is something that’s been germinating in the nether reaches of my brain for several years, and something that I’m only writing in the hopes that some people out there — a few in particular — might find something useful in my experience that they can apply to their own existence.

This post was brought to the surface by a couple of events. First, an acquaintance of mine revealed that he’s suffering from depression. The tone of the reveal suggested almost that diagnosing his own depression was itself a revelation — he could finally explain that maybe his life wasn’t causing depression, but rather his depression would be his response to anything that happened in life. It was time to treat the depression, rather than the supposed “causes” thereof. Second, in the span of about 5 weeks, both of my remaining grandmothers passed away. Now, both were already in their mid-nineties, so their passings were neither unexpected nor particularly [in the grand scheme of death] tragic. So, rather than the passing itself, it was my own response to it that suggested I might want to finally write this post.

Like my acquaintance, I’ve dealt with depression in my life. Sadly, I think that statement is likely true of anyone that grew up a nerd in teenage America. My story isn’t one of physical bullying — being bigger than most of the other kids, that wasn’t as common an option as it might have been for other kids. Nor was it, like many kids, due to actual shortcomings — I was smart, moderately athletic, lacked glasses, etc. Rather, it was borne of the father of most bullying — poor self-confidence and an inability to properly understand how to deal with the social rules of childhood. I didn’t learn it until later, but kids are cruel, and they’ll pick at weakness and demean others in a screwy attempt to make themselves feel worth. And I didn’t understand until much later that adults will do the exact same crap.

So I dealt with depression in the way most teenagers do: listening to Nine Inch Nails and Rammstein, thoughts of suicide, and being full of such rage that it ate away at my very soul. I vacillating between the fear that something was seriously wrong with me and the certain knowledge that everyone else was horrible and depraved. It was a miserable existence.

But I was lucky.

During those teenage years, I was involved in martial arts. Now, before my fellow nerds get too excited, I should point out that this story doesn’t end with me mercilessly pummeling a tormentor, on behalf of myself or others. But it involved two very important things: teaching and public demonstration. The school at which I studied had a policy that at brown belt, students were expected to be assistant instructors in classes for the lower ranks. At black belt, one was expected to be capable of mostly leading a class. And as much as it might be meaningless to most people to be referred to as “Mr. Warbiany” at the age of 16 by ones temporal elders, at the time and place I was at in my life, that little show of respect helped me build a bit of self-worth. The demonstration team was a group that went out to public events to put on martial arts demonstrations, and I was lucky enough to play a prominent role. As a very large individual, I played a good “fall guy” — everyone likes to see the big guy lose. But again, it helped me develop a sense of self-worth that I might not have otherwise had. Those experiences gave me a level of confidence in public speaking opportunities that helps me in my career to this day.

The second formative experience that changed my understanding of the world occurred in college. I chose to join a fraternity, and a house full of 50 college males is not exactly a bastion of sympathy and concern for others’ feelings. I fell back into a state of low confidence, and the more cruel of the brothers there [as I mentioned, these personality traits don’t always disappear with age] were more than willing to engage in the same sort of bullying behavior that schoolkids will engage in. My first year or so living in the house was torture. But at some point in there I learned to accept the normal slights and criticism inherent in fraternity life, roll with it with a smile on my face, and occasionally dish it right back rather than sulking in offense. And I learned a critical fact: the people who had previously been busting my chops stopped, because they knew I couldn’t handle it before and now I could. And the people who hadn’t busted my chops started, because they realized that I could take it in stride and wouldn’t be offended. The cruel ones had nothing to feed on, and the non-cruel ones realized that I could start having fun. But the biggest thing I learned from that experience was this:

We can define our selves not by what happens to us, but by how we respond to it.

At that point, a lot changed. A life spent in opposition to most of normal society lends itself to introspection. A newfound understanding of mastery over ones own mental state gives one the tools to apply that introspection. I’ve used the intervening years to better understand myself, my happiness, and how I can work to improve both. And it led to realization #2:

Happiness is a choice.

I realize I have a lot in life to be happy about. The advantage of growing up a nerd is that it often leads to careers that the “normals” aren’t interested in. For me, I went down the engineering path, and my particular career path makes use of the public speaking and presentation skills I picked up. I managed to meet a wonderful woman who — although she doesn’t understand me as a nerd — is social enough to ensure our children are far more socially well-adjusted than I ever was. The conscious decision to respond positively to situations I face both personally and professionally not only makes me happier, but people around me respond to it as well.

But there’s a lot in life that’s difficult as well. As I revealed not long ago, one of my sons was diagnosed with autism back in October. And as I’m not one to “talk about my feelings”, it’s gone into the well inside where such things fester. Likewise with the passing of my grandmother 5 weeks ago. I had to tell my boss and coworkers, of course, since I needed to fly to Chicago to attend the funeral. With all my dysfunctions, I found myself unable to accept peoples’ condolences, not wanting anyone to worry about me and pointing out that she was 93, had Parkinson’s, and was deteriorating, so it was expected. I’ve never understood why I must deflect someone’s polite concern in such a way. Then, to lose my other grandmother 5 weeks later, and not even be able to fly back to attend the funeral (due to cost, my own nasty cold, etc) to say goodbye and spend time letting it set in with my family. And while I am always appreciative of my job, it’s a particularly defeating kind of stress to be working closely with a customer testing and qualifying a new product, and then to find out 3 weeks before release that the product has been cancelled. Even worse when the replacement then gets delayed by 5 months. Watching your hard work be made irrelevant by forces outside your control will really take the wind out of your sails.

But as I said, how we define ourselves is not in what happens around us, but how we respond to it. I’m not much of a Kenny Chesney fan, but one song of late has somewhat seemed to fit the mood:

The first half of the song is about responding to the negative. The second half is about recognizing and enjoying the positive. Both are equally important.

Life throws curves at all of us. We deal with them. Some rely on God — I can’t as I don’t believe. Some people choose to wallow in the negative. I don’t have time for that. Only I can control my happiness, I’m not going to let it be defined by what life throws at me.

When my son was diagnosed with autism, I said that while it certainly isn’t something we wanted to hear, the very diagnosis gives us a roadmap. We know he’s going to develop differently than neurotypical children, but we can anticipate the troubles he’ll face and prepare him for them. Many parents have to deal with issues that they can’t diagnose or define. When my grandmother passed away, I looked on the bright side — it resulted in the first time that I’d be in the same room with all of my siblings at once in over 3 years. It was my first opportunity to meet two of my newly-born nieces, one who was 14 months old at the time. And while it was sad to see my grandmother go, I know that she’d been in terrible pain for a long time, and the fact that she was freed from that pain was itself a blessing. As a nonbeliever I don’t think she had some “better place” to go, but I can be consoled in the fact that she’d managed to spend 93 years on this rock; many of us won’t be so lucky. Some of what I learned simply from hearing others speak of her younger days reminded me of her not as a feebled old woman with Parkinson’s but as a young and vibrant woman with a zest for life. When my other grandmother passed, it was terrible to know that I couldn’t make it back to Chicago for a funeral, but I was lucky enough that I’d been able to see her and spend several hours with her at the previous funeral. While I couldn’t mourn her with my family, I at least got to see her before she went. Setbacks at work are no fun for anyone, but they happen. I can focus on the positive lessons learned through those setbacks — there are always lessons to be learned. I can focus on how those lessons will help us improve practices and products going forward.

Happiness is a choice. It’s a choice that resides inside you. You can’t control the world around you. Sometimes it’s going to treat you well, and sometimes it’s going to deal you a shit sandwich. If you respond negatively to the world, I honestly believe that you’re going to have trouble even enjoying your success. Dwelling on failure makes you difficult to be around and creates the self-fulfilling prophecy for failure. If you respond positively, setbacks become minor. You set yourself up to maximize profit from the positive events you encounter, and you start to focus turning crisis into opportunity rather than a pity party.

Happiness is a choice. Own your choice.

My Take [So Far] On Google+

Having “grown up” online — a bit more than most of my contemporaries, as I had the techno-geek life of BBS’ing and AOHell in the early days of the internet — I’ve always had as much of an “online” presence as off. Today, this means that many of my personal hobbies, whether it be making/drinking beer, watching Purdue sports, arguing about politics, and making offensive jokes are activities coordinated and tailored to specific online forums as well. Homebrewing, Boilermaker football, and arcane anarcho-libertarian musings quickly bore the snot out of my friends and family in the offline world, and I’ve gotten in trouble with my wife more than once for those jokes.

In fact, it was the jokes that both largely made me effectively leave Facebook, and to be excited about the “Circles” feature in G+. Facebook has an inherently flat structure that ensures that if someone is your “Friend”, they can see essentially everything you post. This has two downsides:

1. It causes you to avoid friending certain people that you may not WANT to see every little thing about you.
2. It makes it bothersome to write about something that a small subset of your friends might be interested in, but others won’t care about.

I know that my beer friends don’t care about my political rants. My political friends don’t care about the status of my latest homebrew creations. I might occasionally want to highlight something I’ve written politically to my friends/family, but they certainly don’t want to be inundated with it. And my mother-in-law DOESN’T need to hear most of my jokes. And I’ve actively avoided friending many people in the political realm, many Purdue folks I know *only* through online sites, because I had no way to filter out the topics they wouldn’t be interested in. And I’ve especially never wanted to include coworkers or business contacts on Facebook, of course, because some of the discussions I get into would be completely inappropriate for a professional working relationship.

Circles changes that, and allows one to make a much LARGER social network that is more properly segmented based on common interests. And since people can reside within multiple circles at once, I don’t have to decide whether someone goes in “Friends” or “Beer”; they can be in both if we have that interest in common.

For that reason, I think G+ is a far better platform — for me — than Facebook.

However, Circles and “following” also allows a bit of Twitter-like asymmetric information dissemination that becomes very interesting. In essence, it’s like having your G+ account be both your Facebook social network and a more interactive Twitter account. With Twitter, the people who want to see my public status updates and the people who I choose to see don’t have to be the same. Ezra Klein has been talking about this quite a bit as G+ largely replacing Twitter for him, as he can reach the same sort of people, have more substantive discussions that can be more easily followed, but doesn’t have to necessarily subject his incoming stream to the rants of libertarian crackpots like myself.

Unfortunately, this becomes worlds less useful to me. The reason is simple — I have to tag posts as “Public” for those who are “following” me to see them. Most people who choose to “follow” me that I might not want to add to circles and have them appear in my timeline are in the political realm. I don’t particularly want to make my political posts “Public”, as that means anyone in my “Friends”, “Family”, “Beer”, or “Coworker” circles can automatically see them — creating the very annoyance factor that Circles are meant to avoid. This may be acceptable for Ezra Klein, who is a public figure due to his prominence as a political journalist, but not something that my non-political friends want to be subjected to from me.

For me, then, I’m left with a dilemma. Twitter is designed to be a broadcast medium, and it’s generally understood that you take the good with the bad if you choose to follow someone. Those who want to hear about my beer or politics know to ignore me during Purdue football games, just as I ignore many of them during specific things they tweet about that I don’t particularly care about. The etiquette of the medium is different than it is on Facebook, and people who will be annoyed by seeing more than three Facebook status updates a day from one person find that to be a slow day on Twitter.

I believe that the etiquette of G+ will more closely echo that of Facebook, which is why the different circles allow you at least filter certain people out of certain subjects. Thus, I can’t see myself sending many things out as “Public”. As a result, the very benefit of an asymmetric network is lost. What I’d really like is the ability to filter certain circles out of my ‘standard’ timeline — that way I can put all my asymmetric follows into a circle, and only go and have that circle show up in my timeline on demand. Otherwise, I simply won’t add those people to any circles, and since I essentially avoid “Public” posts most of the time, they won’t be able to see almost anything I write.

Google+ has the built-in structure to fundamentally change the way that we structure social networks. People I’d never have friended on Facebook previously (i.e. work colleagues, acquaintances, people I *only* know online, etc) now have a place and I can segment my message based on the audience likely to see it. That seems like it might be a game-changer, but needs a bit of tweaking before it’ll be 100% there so that people can figure out the new etiquette of the medium.

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