Sunday, November 16, 2008

White Castles, White Wine, Another Saturday Night -- I'm Such a Douchebag!

Make You Crazy feat. Femi Kuti - Brett Dennen

I don't know where it came from, but my loneliness anxiety was acting up this evening. Sometime around 7 pm, I headed out to get a bite to eat, but there was nothing that sounded good. I wound up burning an hour or two at two bookstores, perusing the computer and philosophy books and leaving empty handed. I settled for dinner at the White Castle next to the second bookstore I visited.

I came home, sifted through aging e-mails, and caught up on IM with a recently made friend who had a harrowing week. I met her via one of the online dating services, and we have yet to meet in person. Our situations are similar in that we live in that space between marriage and divorce, and we both work in the software field, but so far this has proved to be a good friendship, and I'm OK with that.

I'm currently sipping the remains of a bottle of 2006 Australian Riesling that doesn't have the same character that the bottle I polished off a couple months ago has, but the buzz is nice nonetheless.

This was a week that blew by and put my nerves to the test both on the personal and professional fronts.

First, on Thursday, the STBX IMed me to let me know that it was official, her employer would be terminating her position on the 13th of December. She said she had talked with one of her friends back over in the Land of Lincoln, who was a onetime employee of the same company and keeps in touch with several coworkers.

One employee, who had been there even longer than STBX by a couple years, had her annual salary chopped by $6K. Another longtime stalwart up and left. There are a couple of others whose status is still unknown. It sounds like they are really trying to purge some of the long time employees who are at the top of their payscale.

Her plans after the termination are undecided. She talked about drawing unemployment for a few months so that our younger daughter can continue to attend the preschool co-op.

She is eyeing a certification program for physician medical coding. It's a once-weekly evening class that meets for a few months at the beginning of the year with a certification test offered in late April. It would cost her on the order of $2,700 for tuition and testing fees. She said she might ask my dad and stepmom to loan her the money, which seems a bit weird given the circumstances.

As for me, the big news was that we delayed pushing the new release of our application to production not once, but twice. What should have gone out Wednesday this past week will go out instead early this coming Tuesday. The reasons for the delay were based on some observations made while I was testing a new content recommendation system for our application.

To help bloggers overcome writer's block, we thought it would be nice to fetch search results based on their focus keywords and display links to the results on the page where they write their posts. Well, it turns out that one of the search engine services we used turned up inappropriate results for a seemingly innocent combination of keywords. In case you were curious, the link title contained the word douchebag.

This required a rework of the user interface, complete with legal disclaimer warning the user that the results did not reflect the views of the company. Moreover, I got the job of writing a simple filter that would scan search results for bad words and cull them from the list returned to the user. Compiling a good list of naughty words is a bit more challenging than you think.

I spent Thursday night and Friday morning implementing the new filter. The list of bad words got generated on Friday afternoon and wired into the filter. I spent the afternoon and evening reviewing the results for 25 customers that we consider very important. In addition to the filter, we decided to omit one of the two data sources we had planned on using because the results were just too unreliable.

The end product should be nice, and I've learned a thing or two about the wiley ways of RSS feeds and distributed caching systems, so that is the bright side. Yet the downside is that this past week looked like a blur.

But as Arlo Guthrie would say, that's not what I came to talk about. I wanted to talk a bit on the notion of unity among Christians. Writing on his Unsolicited Advice (Wordpress) blog, Digger Jones offers up a video clip of a fight between Armenian and Greek Christians in Jerusalem as a reason he believes that unity is a fool's errand.

(2:41 am takes a break to jam out to "Tainted Love" on WTTS-FM)

Digger's case-in-point is what I was referring to in my comment on Therese's blog almost two years ago, asking what sort of unity should one pray for. It is the inherent paradox of unshared truths.

Faith is the unwavering belief that there exists a set of truths that are as non-negotiable as they are beyond proof, and that you have knowledge of them. What happens when someone claims a similar affiliation but has a similar level of confidence in a set of beliefs that are not fully compatible.

To abstract further, let there be two people who have belief systems which we call C and P. Both lay claim that they are members of a superset of E. The member of C believes that the set of propositions {BC,1, BC,2, ...} are indisputably, but unprovably, true. The member of P believes in his own set of propositions {BP,1, BP,2, ...}.

Now let's assume, without loss of generality, that both sets of propositions are identical save for the first propositions, BC,1 and BP,1. Moreover, let us assume that BC,1 and BP,1 are mutually exclusive. In other words, if BC,1 is true, then BP,1 cannot be true and vice versa. What does unity mean here?

The naive approach, which takes the union of the two sets of propositions, results in a system of propositions that have a contradiction. In order to maintain consistency, one of three things must happen:

  1. Remove BC,1 from the set.

  2. Remove BP,1 from the set.

  3. Remove both propositions from the set.

While the third item may be the most symmetric in terms of sacrifice, both sides are going to prefer that their belief makes the cut. To agree to do away with one's own belief sets up the fear of further disillusionment because that raises doubts over just how unshakable those beliefs are.

At this point, it is east to see why fights break out. Members of C and P are called to stand unwaveringly for their beliefs. In the presence of the other's doubt, what is to be done? When a believer concludes that the defense of Truth is a military calling, the probability of violence grows because the believer sees him or herself the agent of the Almighty's wrath.

The anxiety that animates the conflict can be mitigated with self soothing, an understanding that we are in essence separate beings with differences in thought processes and assumptions. The ability to accept separateness in the pursuit of togetherness is a larger form of the process of differentiation that takes place in the microverse of monogamous relationships.

A couple years ago, when I read Schnarch, I could see how this dynamic played itself in the ideological and cultural wars. At this point, I found myself decoupling from the political assumptions I had held for the past 25 years and moving into a space where those I might have once considered enemies were now friends.

Coming to terms with this paradox is an offshoot of the question of existential loneliness -- our separateness as individuals makes it impossible for each of us to be in universal agreement with one another. Like loving, to believe is to be lonely.

Schnarch touches on these themes in the closing chapter of Passionate Marriage. He speaks of a spiritual axis orthogonal to the relationship axis, where one must balance self-transcendence and self dissolution.

I was reminded of this as I read a post by Andrew Revkin on the New York Times blog Dot Earth that cited the writings of Charles Darwin and Vaclav Havel on the idea of self-transcendence. The passage the blogger quotes from Havel's 1994 speech seems remarkably farsighted.
[I]n today’s multicultural world, the truly reliable path to coexistence, to peaceful coexistence and creative cooperation, must start from what is at the root of all cultures and what lies infinitely deeper in human hearts and minds than political opinion, convictions, antipathies, or sympathies - it must be rooted in self-transcendence:

Transcendence as a hand reached out to those close to us, to foreigners, to the human community, to all living creatures, to nature, to the universe.

Transcendence as a deeply and joyously experienced need to be in harmony even with what we ourselves are not, what we do not understand, what seems distant from us in time and space, but with which we are nevertheless mysteriously linked because, together with us, all this constitutes a single world.

Transcendence as the only real alternative to extinction.

The whole post is worth reading.

It's 3:42 am, and I need to get some rest. As if with some sense of dramatic coincidence, I just heard WTTS-FM play Semisonic's song "closing time", which brings us back to that theme of loneliness anxiety.
So gather up your jackets,
and move it to the exits -
I hope you have found a friend.
Closing time -
every new beginning comes from
some other beginning's end.

Tonight I will sleep alone, but I will live through this.

The Waiting - Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers
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