Category: rules


I feel like my thoughts are just tumbling around over and over in my head right now.  I spend way too much time listening to my own thoughts, but it’s kind of hard to get away from them, you know?

Since I can’t untangle what I’m thinking about now, I figured I would try to go back and continue something I was writing about a while ago, a response to reading Tim Keller’s book, Prodigal God.  Since my church is currently working through another of Keller’s books during adult Sunday school, some of these issues have continued to be on my mind from time to time.

As I said in my earlier post, Keller sees the two brothers in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son as representing two basic ways that people relate to God.  The younger brother rebels against his father very openly by breaking all of the rules.  The older brother keeps all of the rules, but in the end, his refusal to honor his father and come into the party shows that his obedience has really been rebellion all along.  Just like the younger brother, he wants the father’s riches but not the father himself.  In fact, at the end of the parable, the younger son is restored, but the older son’s outcome is left hanging:

“Although the sons are both wrong and both loved, the story does not end on the same note for each.  Why does Jesus construct the story so that one of them is saved, restored to a right relationship with the fathe, and one of them is not?  (At least, not before the story ends.)  It may be that Jesus is trying to say that while both forms of the self-salvation project are equally wrong, each one is not equally dangerous. […]

Because the elder brother is more blind to what is going on, being an elder-brother Pharisee is a more spiritually desperate condition.”

This is the scariest thing about the story for me– the idea that you can be deceived your whole life, thinking you are in a right relationship with God, only to find in the end that you have missed it totally.  It may not be a logical reaction to a character in a parable, but as I read Keller’s statements about the older brother, I find myself trying to defend him, asking if it is fair to judge him by one statement he made in anger.  The older brother says,

“Look!  All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders.  Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.  But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!”

Not only do these words condemn the elder brother just as surely as the younger brother’s actions did– they also reveal all of the elder brother’s obedience throughout his life to have been selfish and worthless.  It’s very scary.  Will I some day come to a point that reveals my faith in God was empty?

I am really at Jesus’ mercy.  It is not the strength of my faith that saves me– if Jesus were not upholding me every step of the way, I would have no hope.  One of the things about Jesus that can be both comforting and scary at the same time is that he knows the weaknesses of our hearts.

Once, a rich young ruler came to Jesus.  Like the elder brother in the parable, he thought that he had kept all of the rules perfectly.  Still, he wanted to be certain.  He asked Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life.  You would think that for something like eternal life, no matter what Jesus told him to do, he would at least try to do it.  But Jesus said, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”  And the man went away sad, because he was very wealthy.

That was all it took to make the rich young ruler give up on eternal life.  I’m sure there are things Jesus could say to me that would make me give up– I am not that strong.  If he wanted to, he could make me walk away.  But thankfully, he is merciful, and he has promised to keep me through to the end.  It may seem precarious from my point of view, but in fact, Jesus’ grace is the surest thing there is to rely on.

I have lots more to say about Keller’s book– the frustrating thing is that it seems to cause me to doubt, and I have to keep reminding myself that my salvation is because of what Jesus did, not anything I did.  Maybe that’s what it’s meant to do?  I don’t know.

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Every once in a while, I have an experience that drives home the fact that my mind works a bit differently from what’s considered “normal.”

I’m taking a class in marketing this quarter.  (When I was registering for classes, I thought it was a required course, but it turned out that it wasn’t!)  I wasn’t sure how well this course would go, not because I thought the work would be hard (thankfully there are no essays in this class), but because I have an antagonistic relationship with marketing in general.  Every marketing method seems to be all about manipulating people’s thoughts and actions in a way that’s often intrusive and sometimes outright deceptive.

Here’s an example.  A while ago, I was sorting through the mail.  About 50% of it is what’s considered “junk” mail, things trying to get you to buy something.  Because there was an election coming up, there was also a lot of political junk mail looking for money or votes.  There is mail that’s very important to keep track of, like bills or bank statements, and every once in a while, there’s a letter from a person.  I can usually pick those out because the address is hand written rather than printed.

Sometimes, I can tell pretty quickly which pile a piece of mail goes into.  But a lot of the creators of junk mail, political and otherwise, try to fool you.  For instance, one of them was using a printed font that was trying to look as if it was hand written; I could only tell the difference by looking very carefully at individual letters and realizing that all of the E’s looked exactly alike.

That’s marketing.  And it achieved its goal.  I looked at that envelope longer than I did any of the other junk mail, because it was harder to tell what it was.  It may be an effective strategy, and it’s far from the most intrusive thing that marketing does, but it still bothers me because it’s deceptive.  The company that printed that envelope knew that handwritten text seems more genuine and trustworthy because it implies that someone took the time to write it with a pen.  In reality, they printed thousands of envelopes just like this one, but they wanted to give a false impression.  Maybe someday soon, a computer will be able to cheaply simulate the variations of human handwriting so that all E’s will not look the same, and it will be even harder to tell the difference.

Okay, so sorry for complaining about something so minor there, but that’s one of the reasons I don’t like marketing.  I like for the labels on things to be correct.  Marketing does not seem very friendly to people with Asperger’s who like to categorize.

Anyway, I was in marketing class last week, and my teacher was talking about all of the psychological factors that go into the presentation of a product– shapes, colors, space, sound, and even smells can be used to try to grab people’s attention in ways they won’t notice.

The teacher explained that all of us have filters in our brains that are always working to allow us to concentrate on one thing while filtering out the things we’re not focusing on. He said that we usually aren’t aware of all of the things around us until they are pointed out.

I thought about the sounds I could hear in the room.  Besides my teacher speaking, I could hear the rustle of clothing from students fidgeting.  Some were picking up and setting down the plastic bottles they had brought to drink from, and some were tapping the floor or the legs of their desks with their shoes.  I could hear the more muffled sounds from out in the hall as groups of students came and went, sometimes stopping to have conversations.  Under it all was the steady hum of the projector hanging from the center of the ceiling.

“For instance,” said the teacher, “you don’t notice the noise that the thing on the ceiling is making, but now you suddenly notice it, because I pointed it out.  Isn’t that weird?  Especially those of you sitting right under it.”

Students seemed to react as if they hadn’t heard the noise until now, looking up at the projector.  A chair in one of the neighboring classrooms made a loud noise as it was scooted across the tile floor.

“Or like how a chair just made a noise there, but you didn’t notice it because you weren’t listening for it,” my teacher said.

I really wanted to tell the teacher that my filter was broken.  Then I remembered the first thing he had said about these mental filters:  “If we didn’t didn’t have them, we’d go insane.”

I wonder if this explains why I don’t like marketing very much.  Everything that’s for sale is screaming for the attention of people who filter most things out, but my filter is broken, so I hear it all (or at least more than the marketers expect me to).  I notice it the most in places like bookstores.  Every book’s cover is trying to stand out against all other books’ covers.  Some use bright colors, some use intricate designs, some are stark and minimalist, some are oddly shaped, some use disturbing images, and some use shocking titles.  The result is a garish cacophony that can be a bit dizzying from my point of view.

While I was on vacation, I read Prodigal God by Tim Keller.  It’s a short book that presents some teaching from Keller’s sermons about Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son (or, perhaps more accurately, the story of the two brothers).

I had a lot of thoughts as I was reading, and I want to try to get some of them written down, though it’s hard for me to do as my thoughts are always changing.

A lot of the teaching in the book was familiar to me; I think that Keller does a good job of stressing the significance of both brothers in the parable and of explaining how their relationships with the father in the story mirror the relationships between humans and God:

“Jesus uses the younger and elder brothers to portray the two basic ways people try to find happiness and fulfillment: the way of moral conformity and the way of self-discovery.”

“Our Western society is so deeply divided between these two approaches that hardly anyone can conceive of any other way to live.  If you criticize or distance yourself from one, everyone assumes you have chosen to follow the other, because each of these approaches tends to divide the whole world into two basic groups.”

Keller does point out that people can move from one side to the other at different points of their lives.

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In my last post, I talked about some of the things about being an “Aspie” that can be depressing.  In this one, I want to talk about one of the things that’s awesome about it– and that is the enjoyment I get out of doing something related to my “special interest.”

The past couple of weeks, I’ve been working on writing some code in Javascript for my football Web site that will generate a graphical record of every drive in a football game from a set of numbers and names.

For example, the code will create this image…

… if you enter this data:

[[“kick”, 30, “S.Hauschka”], “pit”, 14, “G.Russell”, 34, 84, 7, “3:38”, [“FG”, 34, “good”, “J.Reed”]]

The image represents a kickoff from the Baltimore 30 to the Pittsburgh 14, returned to the Pittsburgh 34.  Pittsburgh drives 50 yards in 7 plays to the Baltimore 16 using 3:38 on the game clock.  Finally, Pittsburgh tries a 34-yard field goal, which is good.

All of the data comes from the list of numbers and names.  (In case you’re wondering, the player names would show up in info boxes when you move your mouse pointer over one of the lines in the image; I didn’t demonstrate that in this example.)

There are typically 25-35 drives in a football game.  If I tried to make images like the one above manually, I could do it, but it would take me days to create the image for a single game, and I’d never be able to keep up with all the games I’d like to cover for my site.  But if I can use Javascript to generate the image automatically, all I will need are the numbers and names.
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Baseball is a team sport, but every play begins with a pitch.  The pitcher has more direct influence on the entire game than any other position, which is why baseball statistics assign wins and losses to pitchers, not to shortstops or right fielders.

It’s also why pitching can be one of the most high-pressure roles in pro sports.  All nine players take their turns trying to score runs, but it’s primarily the pitcher’s job to keep the other team’s batters from getting on base.  Managers are evaluated, criticized, and even fired over the decisions they make about when to pull a tired pitcher out of a game and who should replace him.

Phillies celebrate Halladay's perfect game

The Phillies celebrate after Roy Halladay completes the 20th perfect game in major league history.

The best possible outcome for a pitcher is a perfect game, a game in which not even one opposing batter is allowed to reach base.  This is harder to do than pitching a no-hitter, because there are several ways for a batter to get on base without getting a hit.

Nine innings, three outs in each– 27 opposing batters will come to the plate in a perfect game.  The pitcher can’t allow a single hit.  There must be no fielding errors (bad throws or misplayed balls) that allow a runner to reach base.  The pitcher must not hit a single batter with a pitch, and– perhaps hardest of all– he must not walk a single batter.

In 27 consecutive at-bats, the only acceptable outcomes are a strikeout, a ball caught in the air by a fielder, or a ball scooped up and thrown to first base before the batter can make it there.

A perfect game is certainly a testament to the pitcher’s skill, but it also requires a lot of luck– many of the things that need to happen for a perfect game to take place are outside of the pitcher’s control.  The outfielders need to anticipate where the ball is likely to be hit and be in the right place to catch it.  The infielders need to have quick reflexes and be on target with their throws.  The umpire needs to have a perfect game as well.

Needless to say, recording a perfect game is a huge accomplishment.  In the 135-year history of major league baseball, there have been only 20 perfect games.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have been around for most of that time, but the Pirates have never had a perfect game.

They just had a game that was even better.

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Roberto Clemente

Roberto Clemente

For most sports fans, the Pittsburgh Pirates have become synonymous with losing baseball.  They are currently working on their 18th consecutive season of losing more games than they have won, and there’s no indication that streak won’t continue.  I was 12 years old the last time they were good.

But I’ll still always be a Pirates fan.  How could I not be?  I’ve cheered the Steelers and Penguins on as they won championships for Pittsburgh, which is more than some die-hard sports fans get to see.  What kind of fan would I be if I gave up on the Pirates?

Historically, the Pirates have a lot of great moments to look back on.  They are one of the National League’s oldest teams, and they own 5 World Series championships.  And they’ve done some things that no other major league team has done.

One of the things that gives the sport of baseball its charm is its eclectic set of statistics.  The stats for football are measured in familiar terms like yards and seconds.  But baseball is a weird game; it has its own language with things like at-bats, earned runs, and 4-6-3 double plays.  In the oddest cases, the statistics become more important than the game itself (something that I don’t always agree with).   A batter purposely stops at first base in order to record a single because he already has a double, triple, and home run.  A crowd stays breathlessly to the end of a game that is not even close because the pitcher has a chance to record a perfect game.  It’s all because of the chance to see or do something so rare that you can list all of the players who have done it on one page.

I sometimes think my Asperger’s may have something to do with my enjoyment of watching and reading about games to see the patterns that emerge– no two games exactly alike, but some beautiful in their uniqueness.  It’s like throwing a handful of sand into the air to see the patterns that emerge as it spreads in the wind.  But I think it’s probably a human thing to find enjoyment and comfort in watching for patterns.

Anyway, the Pittsburgh Pirates have their share of unique history.  Within the space of 5 years, three players on the Pirates each accomplished a different feat that has been done only once– it had never happened before and has not happened since, even with all of the hundreds of major league baseball games played each year.

Let’s begin with a question:  What is the most impressive outcome possible for a batter in a single time at bat?

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Okay, so a couple of posts ago, I tried to give an overview of how the 4th edition of the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (or the DSM) described the various diagnoses that fell under the category of the autistic spectrum.  The DSM provides guidelines for psychiatrists, pediatricians, and other medical professionals to use in diagnosing mental conditions.

Thankfully, it shouldn’t take me as long to tell about the way the 5th edition, planned for publication in 2013, defines the traits of autism.  Where before there were five different categories of “autistic spectrum disorders,” in the DSM-V, there will just be one:

Autism spectrum disorder

Must meet criteria 1, 2, and 3:

1. Clinically significant, persistent deficits in social communication and interactions, as manifest by all of the following:

a. Marked deficits in nonverbal and verbal communication used for social interaction.

b. Lack of social reciprocity.

c. Failure to develop and maintain peer relationships appropriate to developmental level.

2. Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, and activities, as manifested by TWO of the following:

a. Stereotyped motor or verbal behaviors, or unusual sensory behaviors.

b. Excessive adherence to routines and ritualized patterns of behavior.

c. Restricted, fixated interests.

3. Symptoms must be present in early childhood (but may not become fully manifest until social demands exceed limited capacities).

(from www.dsm5.org)

It kind of looks like the criteria for autism, Asperger’s, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, and PDD-NOS have all been rolled together into one more inclusive category.  The APA’s website has some interesting comments about why they have decided to make this change:

“…distinctions among [autism spectrum] disorders have been found to be inconsistent over time, variable across sites and often associated with severity, language level or intelligence rather than features of the disorder.”

Originally, autism and Asperger’s were discovered and described separately.  It seemed for a while that Asperger’s could be considered a “mild” or “high-functioning” version of autism, but the more we have learned about them both, the more difficult it has become to draw a clear line between the two.

The APA says that “previously, the criteria were equivalent to trying to ‘cleave meatloaf at the joints.'”  The new criteria reflect this.

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I figured I would take a closer look at the proposed changes the American Psychiatric Association is talking about for the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) set to be released in May 2013.

Again, I want to stress that I don’t have any training in psychiatry, so please don’t consider me an expert!  I’m just trying to write about my own reactions as I learn and think about this myself.  The APA has a website set up that has a lot of information about these changes, and explanations for why they are making them.

The 4th edition of the DSM gives criteria for five separate diagnoses that either sometimes or always fall under the autistic spectrum:

  • Autistic Disorder
  • Asperger’s Disorder
  • Childhood Disintegrative Disorder
  • Rett’s Disorder
  • Pervasive Development Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified

(It seems that the word “syndrome” can apply just as easily to these names as the word “disorder,” by the way.  A syndrome is simply a set of traits or characteristics that appear together.)

In the new 5th edition of the DSM, the APA plans to remove these five diagnoses as separate categories, replacing them with a single diagnosis:

  • Autistic Spectrum Disorder

Why is this?  Well, let’s take a closer look at how the DSM-IV defines the five categories:

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Much Afraid

Jars of Clay - Much Afraid

Sometimes I can become frustrated with myself when it seems like I’m not making progress in my life, or not “growing up” the way I expected.  But other times I am reminded that I really have grown in a lot of ways over time.

I recently bought an old Jars of Clay album, Much Afraid (released in 1997), and I’ve really been enjoying listening to the songs I remember from years ago.  I’ve been playing the album in the car, on headphones as I work around the house– I’m listening to it right now, in fact!

I’m not that great at reviewing music, so I’m not sure if I can come up with the right words to describe what I like about the album– it’s mostly the sound of the music.  I think a lot of the songs in this album have some relatively creative chord progressions, which makes it fun to try playing them on the guitar.  (Eventually, I did get tired of playing 3- and 4-chord songs!)

In some of the songs, the guitar is accompanied by soothing strings; in others, by jazzy keyboard riffs.  Several of them make excellent use of vocal harmony.  Then you have the pensive lyrics.  A lot of them I haven’t figured out the meaning of, but it’s as if the music and the words together give me a very blurry image of what the song is about.  Does that happen for anyone else with their favorite music?  These are some of my favorite songs on the album:

  • “Fade To Grey” — I think this song could describe the moment just before God reaches in and saves someone; the voice in the song is a person who can see that they are trapped and alone, and they want to be free– maybe– they’re still scared and wavering, and they aren’t even sure if God will or can help them.  The wonderful truth is that Jesus answers prayers from people in that situation.
  • “Crazy Times” — This is one I haven’t figured out, except that it’s about someone whose life is crazy, and they don’t like it, but they’re not willing to do what it will take to address the problem.  And it has a solo in the middle that would be fun to be good enough to play.  : )
  • “Frail” — A meditation on the singer’s human frailty.  I love how this song is carried by a haunting chord progression that goes for at least a minute before the singer comes in with almost a whisper.
  • “Portrait Of An Apology” — This has to be my favorite song on the album– I only have the faintest idea of it being about someone revealing their heart to a close friend using the metaphor of a painting, and finding that the picture of their heart is shriveled and dry.  “But I remember it much redder, and I remember it much brighter,” he says.  But he still hopes that his friend will stay with him.
  • “Truce” — OK; I’m afraid I don’t understand this one at all; I just like it.  I made a custom Guitar Hero chart for it.

Let me try to get back to the original point of my post.  : )  I bought the album and am enjoying it for a couple of reasons.  One is that it is nostalgic for me to hear these songs I remember from about the time I graduated from high school; it’s like returning to a comfortable room.  Another is that I enjoy the music (though I’m not all that good at explaining why.)  I think the fact that I am enjoying the album shows a way that I have changed since it first came out– I would go so far as to say that I have grown.

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Another thing I found interesting in Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time was the character Christopher’s description of why he dislikes reading fiction.  When I posted about the theory of mind explanation of autism, I said that the description of children on the autistic spectrum as not engaging in imaginary play didn’t seem to apply to me.  I played make-believe a lot as a child, both alone and with my brothers– we would go outside and imagine that we were exploring another planet (with our pets being the aliens) or build Lego castles and mount attacks on the enemy, for instance.

But back when I was first learning about Asperger’s syndrome, I came across the idea that one of its traits is a lack of connection with fictional or imaginary things like stories.  For example, one (admittedly not rigorously scientific) online quiz for evaluating the likelihood of having Asperger’s includes the following items:

— When I’m reading a story, I can easily imagine what the characters might look like. (with the answer DISAGREE indicating that one is more likely to have Asperger’s)

— I find making up stories easy.  (expecting the answer DISAGREE from an Aspie)

— When I’m reading a story, I find it difficult to work out the characters’ intentions (expecting AGREE)

— When I was young, I used to enjoy playing games involving pretending with other children (expecting DISAGREE)

As I said, I don’t think I have much difficulty in these areas (except for “making up stories easily,” since that involves writing, and my few examples of fiction when I was assigned to write it in high school are hideous!  I hope any copies are buried somewhere deep!  🙂  )

But the character of Christopher, the narrator in the novel I read (who is, of course, himself fictional) had an interesting explanation for why he dislikes fiction in general, and it actually made me realize that I do have some hangups of my own about reading.  (I’ll get to them later.) Continue reading