Sunday, February 25, 2024

God’s Purposes


Or as C.S. Lewis said in Mere Christianity, "There are only two kinds of people in the end:  Those who say 'Thy will be done' and those who say 'Thy will be done'. "
 

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Hammerfall 3.0: Week 10 Report (Final)

 Period: 17 February 2024 to 23 February 2024

Positions applied to:  I applied to 1 position during this period. Total jobs applied to/opportunities investigated are 86 unique positions.

Rejections:  I was rejected for 3 positions (26 rejections total).

Conversations

I had one conversation with the other potential job interview process.  As it turns out, they had not come to a conclusion the previous week but had this week and asked if I would be interested in advancing to the next round.  This was early Tuesday morning; later that morning I had the actual verbal offer.  I had to politely decline moving forward for the process.

And, obviously, I did get a call from the company that issued offer.

Offers:  I had (and accepted) one offer (Yay!).

Job losses:  Clade Therapeutics (no numbers) and Ring Therapeutics (19 people) both announced layoffs.

Mood:

As noted in my post on Thursday, the offer letter arrived precisely 70 days out from my initial notification of furlough.

An interesting note is that the position that ended up being the one that I received an offer for was the one that represented the "lowest" level position I had applied for.  I did it as something both of a lark and a gamble that for a large company, my chances of being hired in at my current level were low, but my chances of being hired as a lower level employee were greater due to my experience.  For better or worse, it appears that the gamble paid off.

As indicated in the announcement post, I continue to remain grateful to all who prayed and/or had good thoughts.  Even though I have job now, a heck of a lot of people still do not. If you have the occasion to offer a similar prayer or good wish once in a while for those folks as well, I am sure it would be appreciated.

Friday, February 23, 2024

Training 2024: Sengaku-ji And The 47 Ronin

 Sengaku-ji (Sengaku Temple) is a temple located in the greater Tokyo metropolitan area .  Original founded in 1612 by Tokugawa Ieyasu, it became famous as the final resting place of The 47 Ronin.

Outer gateway to Sengaku-ji

The Ako Icident (as it is formerly referred to in the history of the time) started in 1701, when a daimyo, Asano Naganori, was forced to commit seppuku (ritual suicide, literally "cutting of the stomach") after he attacked a high court official, Kira Yoshinaka, in the palace of the Shogun.  To draw a sword inside the castle was strictly forbidden, to attack even more so.  Asano had felt deeply insulted as Kira has degraded and insulted him in the course of instructing him in court etiquette (popular rumor was it was because Kira was hoping for a bribe).

Original entrance gate to Sengaku-ji
After his suicide, the Shogunate demanded the Asano family's domain of Ako be surrendered (along with its castle), its goods confisticated, and its samurai made ronin (literally "A man of the waves" or a masterless samurai, which did not find a place in the Tokugawa's Neo-Confucian social structure of warrior, merchant, farmer, and craftsman).

Enter Oishi Kuranosuke, head chamberlain of the Asano Clan.

Statue of Oishi Kuranosuke

Oisihi, having been notified of the impending forfeiture, first moved the remaining Asano family members and then, against the arguments of some of his clan, formally surrendered the castle and its domain.  He requested to re-establish the house of Asano but failed.

In the meantime, he had a second plan.

Main Temple, Senkaku-ji

Oishi began reaching out to former retainers of the Asano with a plan:  To take revenge on Lord Kira by his assassination. This would be difficult, as Kira was on the watch and carefully monitoring the movements of Oishi and many of the former Asano samurai. 

Rear view of the Main Gate

And so Oishi hatched a plot.  Reaching out to key retainers, he began to construct a plan whereby he and the retainers would ambush Kira.  This would have to be completed in secret and could not be done while Kira suspected a thing.

Bell Tower

Not only would the men have to gather; they would have to get arms and armor without raising suspicion and assemble at a given time when Kira was in a location and no longer suspicious.

Temple Buildings

The execution of the plan took 14 months.  During that time, Kira's agents tracked Oishi in Kyoto.  What they saw was a man who apparently had given himself over entirely to pleasure, visiting the pleasure quarters and drinking and carrying on with women.  All the time in the background, the team continued to work to gather arms and manufacture armor in secret and remain in contact.

Plum blossoms in February

Finally, Kira's agents gave up. Oishi had turned into a wastrel and his men the same.  There was no threat.


On 31 January 1703, Oishi and 46 other ronin, all former retainers of the Asano, stormed Kira's mansion in Edo (now Tokyo).  Splitting into two groups (Kuranosuke led one and his son, 15 year old Chikara, led the other,) they captured the porters lodge and opened the gate.

Entrance to the graves

Prior to the start of the attack, Oishi emphasized to his men that their target was Lord Kira:  women, children, and non-combatants were to be spared.  He also sent messengers to Kira's neighbors, notifying them of the attack and that they were in no danger.  And at the formal initiation of the attack, one of the 47 Ronin climbed to the roof and announced the attack to the neighborhood and that this was an act of revenge.

Tomb of Oishi Kuranosuke

The attack went on through the night.  The 47 stormed the house and began searching for Kira.  Kira's retainers, when they realized they were losing, attempted to go for aid but were cut down by Oshi's bowmen stationed on the walls.  16 retainers were killed and 22 injured, but Kira could not be found.

Graves of The 47 Ronin

Finally, in a shed for storing charcoal and firewood, a man was found.  Refusing to give his name, he was examined.  His head bore a scar, put there by the sword of Asano.  Lord Kira had been found.

Graves of The 47 Ronin
Oishi addressed Kira as a retainer would based on Kira's rank, explaining why they had come and offering Kira the chance to commit seppuku and retain his honor; Oishi would act as his kaishakuin (second) and behead him to prevent suffering.  Kira was shaken and trembling; finally, seeing there was no change, Oishi cut off Kira's head with a dagger.  

Extinguishing all lamps to prevent any risk of fire, The 47 Ronin sent one man, Terasaka Kiechiemon, to the Asano domain to announce the deed.  The now 46 Ronin began a walking retreat to Sengaku-ji, a temple favored by the Asano's.  The story spread quickly and as they marched along, they were feted and offered refreshments by passers-by.

Grave of Oishi Chikara, Oishi Kuranosuke's son
Upon arriving at Sengaku-ji, they washed Kira's head in a nearby well and presented it and the dagger that had cut it off on the grave of Lord Asano.  Praying at the temple and giving their remaining funds to the Abbott, they surrendered to the Shogunal authorities.

Graves of The 47 Ronin
The Shogunal government was in a bit of a pickle.  Lord Kira was not a popular man, and at the time the decision against Lord Asano had been wildly unpopular.  Also, The 47 Ronin had demonstrated a retainer's loyalty to one's lord, something that the Shogunal government was effectively built on.  To decry that would be to decry the very existence of the Shogunate. 

At the same time, the government could not support acts of revenge like this - there was a process for seeking revenge, but it was a defined process and included a formal declaration of the act of seeking revenge.  The 47 Ronin had done none of this.

Grave of Horibe Yahyoe.  Oldest of The 47 Ronin, he was 77 at the time of The Ako Incident

The government came to the following decision:  The 46 Ronin, who had been placed in the custody of four daimyo, were to commit seppuku, allowing them to die as warriors and retain their honor.  No revenge could be sought by Kira's family.  The matter was closed.

The Ronin had always planned this as a possible outcome.  And so, on 20 March 1703, the 46 committed seppuku.  Their remains, along with the remains of Lord Asano and his wife Yozen-in (Buddhist name), were buried at Sengaku-ji.

Overlooking the graves, with Oishi Kuranosuke's in the background

One may note only 46 died.  The 47th, Terasaka Kiechiemon, who had been sent to the Asano domain to declare the revenge, was pardoned by the Shogunate.  Accounts vary of why he was pardoned: some say it was because of his youth, others that it was "plot" by Oishi and the others by clearly stating he as not part of the action to allow his survival.  He lived until 1747 and died at the age of 87, when he was then buried with his comrades.

Another odd note:  There are 48 graves for the Ronin present.  Added in their number is Kayano Shigezane, a retainer who was forced to commit seppuku when a family member disapproved of his taking part in the act.

A final note:  The Asano were restored to their status, but not as the Lords of Ako domain.

A festival for The 47 Ronin is celebrated at the temple on 14 December.

Entrance to the graves, with Oishi Chikara's in the background

One climbs the stairs above, where a monk and/or a volunteer will take 300 Yen and offer you lighted incense sticks, which are placed on the stone alters in front of each grave.

This was my second time in Sengaku-ji.  It is a humbling and haunting experience.

Head Washing Well - The well where the head of Kira was washed before being presented on the tomb of Lord Asano.

Further information:  If one wants to learn more, the Wikipedia link above is a great start.  Do not - and I mean DO NOT - by any means watch the more recent movie starring Keanu Reeves (whom otherwise I enjoy as an actor) - it has almost nothing to do with the actual story except there may be a revenge and 47 Ronin may be involved.  If you have a long period of time, there was a 1941 movie produced which, while not having the fighting, is probably more true to the actual events (located at archive.org). There have been more recent (1950's to 1970's) adaptations.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, it instantly became a classic in the samurai culture and remains so to this day.

For written works, I cannot recommend highly enough Donald Keene's translation of  Kandehon Chushingura (more colloquially known as "The Chushingura)".  Originally developed as a bunraku (puppet play), it had to recast the events to an earlier period due to Shogunal censorship but retains the spirit of the events (especially Oishi's deception).


The 47 Roinin (Source)
The 47 Ronin on their way to Sengaku-ji, stopped by locals for refreshment (Source)

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Hammerfall 3.0: A Job Offer

 (We interrupt the normally planned Thursday post for a special job-related announcement.  Seneca has been notified of this change and approves this message.)

I have a job offer.

It is for one of the two jobs that I was interviewing for - the lower level position.  The pay is at the lower end of what I had requested, but there are a few things that still make this a better deal:

1)  They genuinely seem to want me and took the trouble to let me know they are aware of the level versus experience discrepancy.

2)  This is for a reputable large company that has a great deal of opportunity.

3)  The relocation package, as I had mentioned, is spectacular.

4)  The benefits package is also spectacular.

5)  As a lower level position, I can look forward to being an individual contributor. I have not be an individual contributor in Quality in 25 years.  The ability to focus on my work is welcome.

The start date is the middle March, assuming all goes well with the background check.

So a confused lot of activity in the meantime.  Sadly, Produce (A)Isle will have to be left.  My iaijutsu training will go on a short hiatus (although I am informed there is a dojo of my style in the new location).  My time at the rabbit shelter will also be on hiatus, until I join another one (there are three where I am going).

Oh.  And moving myself, deciding when The Ravishing Mrs. TB can or should join me, deciding what to do with the house, finding a living location, and getting our belongings moved.

And, of course,  figuring out what the name of the new location shall be (as I did not have enough foresight to realize that "New Home" might have to be more than one).

Of note, I was notified of the offer the past Tuesday, precisely 70 days or 10 weeks from the notification of my layoff.  In terms of the current market, that appears to be the equivalent of Warp Factor 7 (in the Original Star Trek of course, the speed where everything fails).  I remain the only one from the recent downsizing I know of to have secured a position.

It is a bit terrifying to think I will have to essentially uproot my life and restart it in my mid-50's, but there is some exhilaration as well in the opportunity to get a fresh crack at so many things.  Also, it is nice to start out on the foot that the company real wants you.

As ever, thanks for all of your prayers and well wishes during this time.  If would not be too much difficulty, I will need to ask you for them again as we get this all sorted out and start moving towards a new adventure.

I remain your most Obedient Servant,

Toirdhealbheach Beucail

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Training 2024: Yasukuni Shrine

 Yasukuni Jinja ("Peaceful Country Shrine", located in Tokyo) is a Shinto Shrine created by the Meiji Emperor in 1869 to commemorate the spirits of those who died for the restoration of the Imperial Monarchy.  Since that time, it was expanded to include all who died in the service of Japan, which includes the Boshin War (1868-1869), the Sino-Japanese Wars (both 1894-1895 and 1947-1945), and the first Indochina War (1946-1954).  Over those years, it has been expanded to include all conflicts during the Meiji, Taisho, and early Showa reign (1868 to 1945), Koreans and Taiwanese killed in the service of Japan, and all those killed by World War II, regardless of nationality.  This includes Class A war criminals, which has lead to no Japanese Emperor attending the shrine since the 1970's.  

(Note:  Sakamoto Ryoma, a personal hero of the Bakamatsu period, is enshrined there.)

The first torii, the traditional Japanese gateway indicating the entrance into a holy precinct:


Statue of Omura Masujiro, founder of the Imperial Japanese Army (died 1869 by assassination):


A view towards another torii and the Outer Shrine:


Stone lantern:


The Outer Shrine, where anyone can visit.  Beyond this is the Inner Shrine and the area housing the kami (we went into it in 2020 as part of our demonstration):


Buttressed tree:

Area of the Outer Shrine:


As part of a display, each province of Japan contributed an artistic cherry blossom (sakura), which was to somehow represent that province:







Statue of War Widow with Children:  Donated in 1974, it was set in place to honor widows who raised their children after the War.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Training 2024: Vending Machines

 One of the great joys of going to train in Japan is the vending machines (yes, I know that I am shallow that way).


Japanese vending machines are a wonder.  Above and below, please find examples of the vending machines at the training facilities.  These magical devices dispense drinks - both hot and cold from the same machine (denoted in the "red" or "blue" color scheme below, which somehow the US has failed to figure out yet).  For the cost of something like $1.00 to $1.50 (120 to 180 Yen), one has a plethora of options.


My go to favorite.  Kind of a combination between a citrus drink and an energy drink:


How we get coffee in the morning.  A little surprisingly, most of this (which does come hot) is with sugar and/or milk.


A different kind of coffee (you have to try everything):


A lemon style vitamin C water.  This was surprisingly good:


This also a energy drink, which may be my new favorite.  Note it is from Asahi, a Japanese beer company:


Another sports style drink.  This one had the weak taste of raspberry.  Not recommended:


And it is not just drinks!  Once upon a time there was an alcohol machine with beer and whiskey (sadly, now gone) - but the ice cream machine is still there:


A very passible vanilla waffle flavor:


Monday, February 19, 2024

The Age Of Indifference

 In what has become a running tradition, I attended Ash Wednesday (equally known this year as "Valentine's Day With A Twist" with Uisdean Ruadh -  I had asked him if I, not being Catholic, could get "marked".  His response was simply "Unlike Communion, Ash Wednesday is a come-one come-all event".  Relieved of not re-fighting The 30 Years War, I duly walked up and received my cross of ashes.

During the course of the homily, which was (I suspect) a typical sort of presentation - what is Lent, why do we give things up, looking towards Easter, etc. - the priest made a comment that   "The last stage of hate is indifference."

As I thought through it over the course of the next couple days, the truth of the statement struck me deeply.

We tend to think of indifference at that point as not hatred but simply a sort of normal outgrowth of the process.  First we are bothered, then perhaps angered, then hateful.  After hate?  I never really thought of that before.

Using the word "hate" itself is a bit jarring, and perhaps something that (as I a Christian) I should not be approaching as familiarly as I do.  But replace hate with "anger" or "offended" or "turned off" and it is simply a different word to address the underlying feeling.

As I continued to think on it, I realized how dangerous such an outcome was - not to those that have reached that point, but those who have created the situation.

"Not caring" could be used as a synonym in this case.  When I become indifferent to something - an intellectual property, a business, a philosophy, a company, a state - I do not just no longer have strong feelings against the thing.  I no longer have any feelings about the thing at all.  Its success - or its failure - is no longer something which I pay attention to or care about the outcome.

The thought was remarkable because it explained how in the last three or four years I had changed in my opinions of so many things.  It was not that I had somehow forgotten about them, I had simply reached my limit of bother/anger/frustration and simply stopped caring about it.

The danger, of course, is to those who continue support the thing in question.

In the back of their mind, there always remains the thought "Well, when push comes to shove, we can count on folks to rally around the intellectual property/business/philosophy/company/state because at their core, they will remember the value of the thing. They always come back." And then they will stand in shock when those people do not come to support the thing in question, and it simply fails.

The supporters of the thing will, of course, rail against those that let it fail. "Uncaring, selfish" will be the call.  But their words will have no impact; the indifferent will simply have moved on to things that they actually care about and are engaged with.

The great danger in indifference, of course, is that it is usually only realized long after any remediation could take effect, leaving the true believers in shock as the things slowly slips beneath the water towards the bottom of history.