23 May 2018

A Cat's Long, Strange Trip Across the Pacific

'Ono Fainga'a was born in May 2015 in a feral cat colony in the Fanga district of Nuku'alofa, the capital of the Kingdom of Tonga in the South Pacific. 'Ono is the number six in the Tongan language, as she was the sixth cat to be associated with the Fainga'a family.

'Ono Fainga'a

Her close relative Nima (number five) had been removed from the same colony and given to the Fainga'a home in the Longolongo district of Nuku'alofa, and In July 2015 'Ono was removed from the colony with the intention of reuniting her with Nima in Longolongo; however, she ended up staying in the Tongilalva house in Fanga with two other cats and four dogs.

The Tongilava Pack: Denzel, Jadzia, Roxanne, and Bette

'Ono, Haisheng, and Dylan

All of these cats and dogs were flown to San Francisco on 1 February 2018, but three days later 'Ono escaped from her new residence in Sausalito. Weeks went by, and people assumed that a coyote had caught her. Then on 23 April there was a pile of feathers on the front doorstep. Could it be a message from 'Ono? She was known to be an excellent bird hunter in Tonga, and since dogs breed out of control and roam freely there, 'Ono had learned to avoid them, so it was possible that she had evaded the coyotes of Marin for three months. On 6 May a neighbor across the street reported that one of her security cameras had imaged a cat matching her description during the night: a gray cat with a white-tipped tail.

The Cat Owns the Night

The quest to bring 'Ono home began. On 8 May Marin Friends of Ferals provided a humane trap and a motion-activated camera. The camera imaged her near the trap on 11 May and on several nights thereafter, but then raccoons began visiting the trap, and within a few days a raccoon was caught in it. In the early morning hours of 18 May 'Ono ventured halfway into the trap for the first time. A raccoon was caught again that night.

Rocky Raccoon

'Ono returned to the trap about an hour after nightfall on 20 May. The food was now positioned deep inside it, but not past the trigger plate. She sniffed around for awhile and left. Finally, a little while after 01:00 hours on 21 May she went all of the way into trap for the first time. She entered the trap three more times during the next four hours. It was now time to position the food where 'Ono would spring the trap. Just has she had done the night before, 'Ono came to the trap a little more than an hour after full darkness and was promptly trapped at 22:03 hours. After 106 days of enjoying the night life of Hurricane Gulch, 'Ono Fainga'a was home.

'Ono Grounded After Being Out Way Past Curfew

01 December 2017

How Marilyn and I Joined Mensa

American Mensa just sent me an email message inviting me to renew our lapsed membership, and I figured, what the hell. As I filled in the required information, I was reminded of how we joined Mensa in the first place.

Marilyn had met a Mensa member while attending a technical conference in San Diego sponsored by the US Navy. She was employed by the China Lake Naval Weapons Center at Ridgecrest, near Mojave and Edwards. A few weeks after the conference, the Mensa member informed Marilyn that Mensa was conducting an entrance exam at Cerro Coso Community College the upcoming Saturday. That was 430 miles from where we lived in Petaluma, a nearly seven-hour drive under favorable conditions. I am quite certain that we could have found a much closer exam site had we really cared to look into it, but for us it was another excuse to be road warriors.

I put in a full day’s work in San Francisco, getting up before dawn to catch the commute bus, returning to Petaluma late that afternoon. Rather than immediate depart for Ridgecrest through Friday evening traffic, we messed around at the Petaluma Factory Outlets to do some gratuitous shopping, then hit the road in earnest in fading light. We stopped for a midnight meal somewhere in the San Joaquin Valley, and later we stopped for coffee, and we stopped for coffee, and we stopped for coffee… yeah, one of those trips. We reached Ridgecrest at first light. We crashed for a couple of hours in our host’s spare room, never really getting to sleep after being wired from doing Radar Love all frakking night. Then we grabbed a couple of breakfast burritos and a couple of large cups of orange juice at a drive-thru (Southern California spelling), arrive in the exam room, breakfasts in hand. I can only imagine how burned-out we both looked.

I smiled to the examination staff, “You’re not exactly catching us at our best.”

Marilyn nodded, “That much is certain.”

A few weeks later, we recounted this story to the bartender at Jack’s Place on Petaluma Boulevard North. “You guys don’t sound very smart to me!”

“It was perfectly logical,” I explained. “If we failed the exam, it left open the very real possibility that we might have passed had we only had a good night’s sleep. It was a no-lose scenario. And, by the way, we both passed.”

Yes, as a matter of fact, we did pass the Mensa exam in our sleep… or nearly so.

Habeas Corpus

We were all set to bury Marilyn Rebecca Dudley this morning, the thirteenth day since her passing. That's not going to happen.

I still have no death certificate, nor do I have the medical examiner's report.

Early Monday afternoon, 27 November the police came by to tell me that I could sign the transfer of custody document at the hospital in town, a 25-minute drive over a bumpy road. When we got to the place they were supposed to be at the hospital, there was no one to be found. We waited an hour, while someone phoned someone who phoned someone... then I pulled the plug and went back to Holonga.

On Thursday morning, 30 November, the local head of police came by to deliver a document which my friend Paino needed to pick up a load of sand for the grave site from a government supplier. He said that that the fee for storing Marilyn's body at the hospital morgue would be paid for by the police.

Paino and his wife Ngame finally tracked down around 10pm Friday night, 1 December, a document affirming death by natural causes. It was dated 27 November, and apparently this is a document I should have received on Monday when we were waiting to no avail in the hospital.

Earlier on Friday evening a morgue official told Paino and Ngame that they wanted $1,000 TOP for storing the body since Monday. Apparently, the police paid for storage up to the time the document was issued, which I did not see until 10:30pm on Friday. Paino told me that the morgue charges $100 TOP per day for deceased Tongans and $200 TOP per day for deceased foreigners. Tongan Rule #1: Gouge the palangi; they always have money. So, the morgue is demanding $200 TOP per day for the five days during which I could not move the body because someone couldn't do his job and hand me the document on 27 November.

I told Paino and Ngame to tell them that I would pay for half a day, from 11pm Friday night until 11am Saturday morning, 2 December, by which time we would take custody of the body and remove it from the morgue, at the $100 TOP rate for a total of $50 TOP, otherwise they should thank the morgue officials very much, and tell them that they were welcome to dispose of the body at their convenience. As "My Cousin Vinny" said, that's what we call a counteroffer. It was a lowball but justifiable opening position which I knew would insult them. They deserve to be insulted. Paino and Ngame delivered my message to a morgue official at her home around midnight. I have been given to understand that she was "furious."

So, no funeral today, Saturday, 2 December. Instead, I will work to compile a timeline of events, witnesses thereto, and documents in preparation of a legal case. Meanwhile, because Monday, 4 December, is a government holiday, Sitaleki Fainga’a, our neighbor from when Marilyn and I lived in Longolongo, and who has been a driver for Speakers of the Legislative Assembly for more than twenty years, plans to talk to someone at the Foreign Ministry on Tuesday, 5 December. I will have the timeline prepared for him so that he can explain clearly what has been happening. Sitaleki’s meeting at the Foreign Ministry is likely to be the first in a series of moves along that particular path. Transactions of this kind are based on personal connections. To get what one wants in Tonga, one needs to know someone who knows someone.

One move which I am prepared to make if necessary is lodge a complaint with the US Embassy in nearby Fiji (there is no US diplomatic mission in Tonga).

To some observers it may appear that a shabby game is being played over Marilyn’s corpse, but in my view, this is a matter of fairness and justice. Extortion abetted by incompetence cannot be tolerated. It is exactly the kind of fight which Marilyn relished. I have no doubt that if she is watching from Heaven, she is cheering me on. This is what she and I do: we fight for people's rights, no less our own. Although Marilyn has passed to another dimension of existence, we still fight together.

This is going to take time to play out, possibly even several weeks. But as Adlai Stevenson told Soviet representative in the United Nations Security Council during the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, “I am prepared to wait until Hell freezes over.”

In Memory of Marilyn Rebecca Dudley, 1 August 1953 – 19 November 2017

Marilyn Dudley’s journey through her sixty-four years was an American journey, and also a Martian journey. The eldest child of a small-town working-class family in South Carolina in the 1950s, she was the first in her family to go to college. As significant an achievement as that was for her family, this was only the beginning of her journey.

Although she now had a bachelor’s degree from Winthrop College, she chose to enlist in the United States Army toward the end of the Vietnam War, hoping to be selected to attend Officer Candidate School later. After training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, she was assigned to the 172nd Light Infantry Brigade at Fort Richardson, Alaska, where she came to the notice of then Lieutenant Colonel H. Norman Schwarzkopf, the brigade’s deputy commander. LtCol Schwarzkopf selected Private Dudley to participate in what was then a daring experiment: to train her as an arctic and mountain combat infantry soldier. Marilyn was one of the original “GI Janes,” and she wore the blue infantry rope with great pride.

Marilyn cut short her enlistment to raise a family; however, her only child had multiple birth defects and lived only a few days. These are the sorrows which only a woman can know and bear. Following this personal tragedy, she resumed her education, earning two master’s degrees from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, where she pioneered the use of aerial and satellite imagery to discover archaeological sites in Alaska and also developed public policy for the rational management of the state’s vast energy lands.

Marilyn returned to South Carolina in the late 1980s to enter the doctoral program in sociology at the University of South Carolina. Once again, she was a pioneer, developing an objective, quantitative coding method to study the incidence of social deviance in polar expeditions and space missions. Her work verified the “Third Quarter Phenomenon,” the hypothesis that acts of social deviance within a small, isolated group tend to spike just after the midpoint of an expedition. Her data also showed that the more diverse a crew was--in professional background, age, and gender--the better it got along, and the fewer and less intense the acts of social deviance the crew experienced. It was Marilyn’s belief that her findings had important implications for future long-duration expeditions into deep space, including to Mars and to asteroids.

In the late 1990s, Marilyn was selected as the primary North American female candidate to participate in a long-duration space mission simulation at the Institute for Biomedical Problems in Moscow. Dues to a scheduling conflict, she was obliged to rotate to the backup assignment in favor of a Canadian researcher. In any case, during her work on this project, she co-authored a technical note on feminine hygiene procedures aboard the Russian space station simulator, for despite having launched the first woman in to space, the Soviet/Russian space program actually had very little experience with women in space.

I met Marilyn just as she was competing her work on her PhD. We happened to be on the initial design team for a Mars surface habitat simulator, which, although the design later changed significantly, versions were deployed in the Canadian arctic and in the Great Basin of the American West. Together we worked on many symposium papers to increase the knowledge base for sending humans to Mars someday, a day which we both hoped to live to see. We were a Martian couple, not in the sense of being space aliens, of course, but in the sense that we were among a relatively small but international community working for the day when humans would not simply walk on Mars and return to Earth, but transform Mars into a new planetary home for humankind.

Yet, in another sense, and perhaps more real, Marilyn was a Martian. In Italian, marziana means not only a stranger, but the ultimate outsider. Marilyn was all of that. Even in the 21st century, to be a brilliant and well-educated woman is to be despised as a witch and to be feared, most especially by male colleagues. I have no doubt that as much as she was able to achieve in her life, she would have accomplished even more had she been a man. She could be rather mannish in her handling of confrontations, never backing down; she was scarcely a shrinking violet, and this was something that neither men nor women could easily accept. She suffered more than a few professional setbacks due to this. It was this mannish woman which I did dearly come to love, and moreover, to respect.

Emblematic of her strength of character and courage, Marilyn deployed to Afghanistan as a civilian contractor to the United States Army as an intelligence asset in 2008 at the age of 55. Here she stepped directly into the culture clash not only of being an academic in a combat zone, but also into the culture clash of being an intelligent, middle-aged woman in a quintessentially young man’s world, in which post-adolescent testosterone only valued women if they were Barbie dolls. The outcome of this combined culture clash was not only unfortunate, it poorly served the interests of the United States of America in its struggle against terrorism, for whatever our ages, our genders, or our professional backgrounds, we must be one team, one fight if we are to prevail. But young reservists called to active duty derided her as a fat old woman, unable to believe that she had once worn the same blue infantry rope, oblivious to her experience and to her wisdom. Yet again, Marilyn was the Martian, the unwelcome outsider. She had lived so long that her youthful accomplishments were denied by foolish young men who had no sense of history. As I drove to Fort Leavenworth through the “Martian weather” of mid-western winter to receive her return from the theater of operations, mindful that she might not return at all, in my mind, Sheryl Crow’s “On Borrowed Time” became our theme song.

When I met Marilyn, I had stagnated for twenty years, going nowhere in particular in my life. Simply meeting her, seeing her example, hearing and reading her ideas, inspired me to retool and to better myself. I returned to school in my late forties, earning first a master’s degree and then a doctorate. During these years we often bounced ideas off each other, sparking each other’s intellects and putting those results to text, presenting our jointly-authored papers at aerospace symposia. Marilyn was no less a valuable sounding board to me during my pursuit of these two degrees.

During the past eight years, Marilyn and I had settled in the Kingdom of Tonga in the South Pacific. We had come to teach at first, and later we had settled into semi-retirement as I continued my schooling. I sometimes referred to her as “my dearest partner of greatness,” as Shakespeare’s Macbeth saluted his lady, for whatever small greatness we might achieve, we would achieve together, even were it a barren throne which we must bequeath to others not our biological progeny. She fell ill with several mosquito-borne tropical diseases, one after another, contending with their aftereffects for three years. A few months after earning my doctorate in juridical sciences in space, cyber, and telecommunications law at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, I returned to Tonga to reunite with Marilyn. Now that I had completed the solo work of my dissertation which had consumed my efforts for two years, I was looking forward to the many works we would write together as two doctors and two Martians. As I traveled to her, on my mind was “On Borrowed Time.”

Our borrowed time had come to an end. I came home from the airport to find Marilyn sleeping, or so I thought. Having been gone for eight months, I had no idea how ill she had become during my long absence. I had spoken to her by telephone several times during my stay in the United States, but she had always assured me that her health was improving. I lay down beside her that evening, aching from a full day’s travel a quarter of the way around the world, trekking through airports on knees long past their warranty. I was determined to argue the next morning that Marilyn should go to the United States for medical care while I remained in Tonga to care for our dogs and cats, so that when she recovered her health and returned to Tonga, we could resume our work together. I had made the same suggestion by telephone several times during the past eight months, but I was now prepared to be more forceful in person. She slipped away quietly next to me that very night. We never exchanged a single word. As Macbeth said of his lady’s untimely demise, “She should have died hereafter. There would have come a time for such a word… tomorrow....”

 I will continue Marilyn’s work, the work into which she initiated me, the work of all our yesterdays, and of all our tomorrows which should have been. I will continue the mission alone to the best of my ability, while this brief candle yet flickers. I owe her my life, and only in this way can I give it to her.

While I was away in America for eight months, I completed work on a novel which I so much looked forward to sharing with Marilyn, her having had both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in English literature, as well as having been an avid fan of the science fiction genre. In that way we both lived in the future more than in the present. Set two and half centuries in the future, one of the principle characters in my novel is a man who recently has been brought back to life in interstellar space after 266 years of hibernation, to find that twelve of his companions have perished during that long sleep. The soliloquy I wrote for my fictional character a few months ago is fitting to include herein:

“My comrades, my friends, my brothers and sisters, have I come too late to mourn you? Do you excuse this tardy funeral and its pitiful attendance? I was in a timeless sleep while your last breaths slipped away only a few meters from my heedless serenity, and then I awakened light-years away to find that you had departed centuries ago for that eternal state which awaits us all, a state whose frontier is unmarked, yet which we all know is much closer than we would like. How lost in time we all are in our different ways. I would ask you now, do we ever find our way? Shall we be together again? Is there some rescue as we sink into the blackness? Is there any answer? But if you know now what you did not know when you could speak, your knowledge is a silent one, incommunicable to those who are most desperate to know it. And so here in the firmament our ancestors once imagined was the abode of gods, we have become the masters of many worlds, yet we are as ignorant as the first ape who realized that his time on Earth would someday end. This is all we understand even now: that it ends. What is the purpose of knowing this? How is it useful in any way? What unjust gods would freely impart to us this unhappy lesson and deny us learning more?”

Marilyn would have understood had she but lived to read these poor words. Born on Earth in a land where old times are not forgotten and now being laid to rest in the land where time begins, born in the twentieth and living though the early part of the twenty-first, Marilyn was a woman of centuries we have yet to see, and of worlds upon which we have yet to set foot.