Monday, November 20, 2006

Today is His Twentieth Birthday

Today I went to Arlington Cemetery in Virginia.

I felt compelled to go pay my respects to some of our war dead from Iraq.

As I arrived at Arlington I asked an official where they were burying our men and women from Iraq. He gave me a map and showed me the spot.

At the section with Americans killed recently I passed an old lady. She was sitting in a lawn chair at the grave of her husband, likely a WW II veteran. She was sobbing--just sitting there, broken and grief stricken. With her chair, she looked like she was going to be spending much time there today.

This side of the section, one of perhaps a hundred such sections in our national graveyard, included older men and their wives from earlier wars and earlier service to the country. At the opposite side, with thousands of headstones in between, there were around ten people, lots of fresh flowers covering fresh graves, and other evidence of recent deaths.

I headed over.

The first headstone I saw of a soldier killed in Iraq was from a man born in November 1968, 2.5 years after me. He was 37.

I saw many brand new graves that were as recent as four days old. They had temporary markers.

Four days old. A recent rain collapsed the dirt along the edges leaving a clearly demarked depression—each with a coffin below, most with flowers piled on top. These men (I saw no women) were killed in late October, less than a month ago. With over a hundred killed that month, some found Arlington as their final resting place.

I saw flowers to a father from a mother and son.

We love you. We miss you.

I saw a family visiting the grave of their son, and brother.

They obsessively arranged and rearranged flower arrangements. He was killed two months ago. What else can we do?

Then I saw a young man. He was crouched down, talking, praying, in communion with a dead man.

I continued slowly down the line. As I approached he stood up, self conscious.

I asked if he was a relative.

No, he was my friend.

I said I was sorry.

He said today is his 20th birthday.

Seeing him forlorn in his loss, hearing it was his friend’s birthday, left me speechless, and choked up.

I drifted away weaving through hundreds of graves. I counted about 300. Over 95% were killed in Iraq--a handful in Afghanistan.

I wanted to go back to get the name of the young man’s friend, but decided his private time with his lost friend was more important. I stayed away. I don’t know when he arrived or when he left, but I do know that he spent a long time today transfixed and grieving at the grave of his friend.

Today was his 20th birthday.

His 20th birthday.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Arlington National Cemetery

This is hallowed ground--the burial place of many tens of thousands of American who died for our country, for our freedom. I walked over Memorial Bridge. The majestic Lincoln Memorial sits at the D.C. end of the bridge.

Walking in to Virginia, the Potomac flowing beneath you, you’re approaching our nation’s most famous cemetery. Robert E. Lee’s home, with its neo-classical columns crowns a hill in front of you. Half way down the hill is the grave of John Kennedy and the eternal flame. Below that is a grand entrance, and immediately in front of you is the road. Statues and memorials line the road. Cars file by with traffic flowing on to a Virginia highway leading to the Pentagon less than a mile away. Other traffic brings tourists and family members to the cemetery.

After paying my respects to those who gave so much, I was picked up by a friend from graduate school and her husband. He is a retired army major. He served in Iraq during the initial invasion. Before that he served in the Gulf War and Afghanistan. He was all a military man should be: clean cut, solid, handsome, confident, calm.

We went to Georgetown and pondered the problems of the world.

Close-up of entrance in summer

The view back in to D.C.

Close-up of section 60, where I visited.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Arlington 2006

A caisson carrying the remains of Capt. Shane T. Adcock of the Army in October at Arlington as his widow, Jennifer, follows.

Never forget those who make the ultimate sacrifice. This image is a result of political decisions, yet it also transcends politics. This young man represents the best of our country. His loss is a tragedy.

During the Vietnam War President Lyndon Johnson brooded for hours, days, months, and the rest of his years on earth over the loss of life resulting from his policies. Many Johnson insiders and historians agree that at some point Johnson knew what a terrible mistake he had made by escalating the war in Vietnam.

Johnson stepped aside in 1968, as the quagmire of Vietnam became more apparent. But even LBJ found it difficult (or for whatever reason) did not change course in Vietnam. It took 5-7 more years and a different president (Nixon) to pull us out of there. Meanwhile fully one half of the American deaths in Vietnam came after Johnson left office. Will we learn from that history lesson?

Did you know that one of the main outcomes out of the Iraq War to date is the dramatic increase in the power of Iran and the reduction of American power and influence in the Middle East (because we're bogged down ineffectively in Iraq)?

Photo from The NY Times.

The Widow

Jennifer Adcock, left, widow of Captain Adcock, of Mechanicsville, Va. From The NY Times.

Sidney Dyer with her mother, Jodi, at Mr. Dyer’s burial. Mr. Dyer, 38, was from Cocoa Beach, Fla. From The NY Times.

Mourning our dead

Click on photo to enlarge, and note dates on headstones. Photo from the NY Times.

Sergeant Walsh of Cuyahoga Falls

Sergeant Walsh, of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, was wounded in Iraq and later died at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. From the NY Times.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Congresswoman-elect Gabrielle Giffords

The sweet taste of victory

On election night I was at the headquarters of Gabrielle Giffords. Gabby executed a flawless campaign and handily won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives at the age of 36.

I was the creator and have been the watchdog for her biographical entry in Wikipedia which you can read at

Wikipedia: Giffords biographical article.

I remain the principal author of this, though anyone can edit it. It's been an interesting experience for me. I created the article in June. In mid-July a young Australian and avid Wikipedian nominated it for deletion. After ten days of debate, the administrators at Wikipedia chose to keep it.

Since then a few things have happened that I found noteworthy.

Somebody thought it was important to note Giffords religion. This was interesting to me because I didn't know what her religion was, and I don't see how it is relevant for us to know the religion of our politicians. I recognize many don't share this view.

Another Wiki/Giffords issue: since her election this week, various people have called her Congressman, Senator, Junior Senator, and U.S. Representative. I keep editing these away. She is Congresswoman-elect, or U.S. Representative-elect. Only I would get stuck on such things. Well, apparently others get hung up on them too.

; )

Finally, there is an edit war going on regarding her positions on immigration reform. Nativists (most of whom strongly supported her Republican opponent) insist on calling Giffords's and Bush's idea on immigration reform "amnesty." The rest of us like to think of it as "immigration reform." I've stayed out of this one, but people keep changing the terms, back and forth, and back and . . .

I had the honor of speaking with Gabby briefly on election night. It takes an amazing person to do what she has done and to do it with such dignity and grace.

In addition to the Wiki article I raised somewhere between $1,500 and about $2,300 for her. This is not much in the broader scheme of things, but everything helps. Thanks to mis amigos that helped! We have to do this if we want to send our people to Washington. Like it or not, it takes money to run a campaign.

It's been a priveledge to have had the chance to get to know Gabby this year, to support her, and to help see her off to Washington!

I give Gabby a large amount of credit for my conversion to becoming a Democrat. Somehow it felt safe. It's strange how deeply rooted our politics can be. My Republican roots stopped feeding me by 1996 or so, I realized it and considered myself primarily an independent from that point on. My vote for Kerry in 2004 was difficult, I didn't like him but thought he was the best choice. People like Gabby and other friends in Arizona have allowed me to feel good about becoming a Democrat.

Thanks, and go Gabby!

Monday, July 31, 2006

Mountain Days

Summer in Phoenix means get out of Phoenix if at all possible. Even better, head to the mountains.

Here’s a brief log of my summer trips to date:

June 9-12--Flagstaff and Sedona. Hiked from Schultz Pass on the ninth. Just did three or four miles. Really felt the altitude. Hike began around 8,000 feet. Despite the elevation, it was even hot up there. Spent the tenth in Flag working a festival for WGU. Headed to Sedona for 1.5 days after Flag. Very hot in Sedona, too hot for my pup. Getting Jake cooled down curtailed a hike in Boynton Canyon.

June 21-July 5. Had an epic East Coast trip covering New York City to Tampa. Nice weather.

Outdoors highlights: riding through Maryland's Green Spring Hunt Country, kayaking the Pretty Boy River--days before the floods of June 2006. Also time in Florida at Sheik Island Farm with Kim and John--the birds they had on their property may have turned me in to a birder. My favorite: The sandhill cranes.

City highlights: seeing Philadelphia for the first time (other than the view from the interstate), touring Stine and ________ of Denmark around D.C., and seeing Tampa, and fireworks in honor of our nation's birthday, from a friend's very nice condo in a highrise downtown.

July 14-16--Utah. Hiked Toll Canyon out of Summit Park. Hiked Little Deaf Smith Canyon aka North Fork, Deaf Smith Canyon, this hike is one of my favorites! Mountain biked at Sundance and was reminded what it was like to mountain bike down a real mountain. Found the steep downhill difficult and scary, and the serious exposure we rode along terrifying. It dropped a thousand feet immediately next to us on one stretch. Ended the day at Sundance at my favorite bar in the world--The Owl Bar.

July 23--Santa Rita Mountains. My first time in this range between Tucson and Nogales, Mexico. Started up the Mount Wrightson trail. Did 2.5 miles with an ascent of about 2,000 feet, then returned to my car—five miles total. It was the end of the day. Very unique flora and lots of birds. Chatted with some ravens. Saw a boy scout memorial from a November 1957 tragedy. Signs of fire damage.

July 29--Hiked the Pinaleño Mountains, first time there as well. Like the Santa Ritas and Santa Catalinas (next) the Pinalenos are “sky islands” rising dramatically from the Sonoran Desert. We hiked to just over 10,000 feet through an area that had a major burn sometime in the not too distant past. Cloudy, rainy day, but no thunder or lightning while we were there. Felt like the Pacific Northwest or places I’ve been in northern California. Did not feel like late July in southern Arizona. This is a remote range that took some driving--would love to go back. The Pinalenos have the greatest relief of any Arizona range rising off the desert floor at 3,000 feet, going up to 10,700 feet.

See my article on the Pinaleño Mountains in Wikipedia.

July 30--Santa Catalinas near Tucson. Mountains were socked in just like the Pinalenos the day before. Did our hike at a lower elevation, about 5,000 feet in the transition zone between Sonoran Desert and alpine. It was scrubby, not too attractive, desert, but still a nice hike. After the hike we drove up above 8,000 feet to get a piece of pie in a mountain town called Summer Haven. At $6 per slice from a place that left a lot to be desired on the cleanliness front we chose not to buy anything. Summer Haven was worth the drive though. It too was burned in recent years and they were rebuilding. Still lots of pines survived.

The weekend saw the most rain in Arizona in probably more than a year. Northeast Tucson got more in a day than the aiport had seen year to date.

The desert was alive with streams and waterfalls. Tucson area roads were covered in flood debris. The Tanque Verde Wash was a torrent. A group of locals we met in the Pinalenos told us the rain those mountains received Friday night/Saturday morning was highly unsusual.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Ben in the Atacama Desert, Chile

Photo from Racing the Planet, 2006.

Update: Ben finished seventh out of more than a hundred.

How many deserts must young Ben cross?

. . . Before they call him a man?
The answer my friend
Is blowing in the wind
The answer is . . .

He's at it again, first the Gobi Desert, then the Saharan, now some God forsaken place in Chile!

My cousin, the family's obsessive over-achiever, is also blogging his experience at

One good quip from his blog: "Stage 3 should have had a sign posted at the start: “Abandon all hope ye who enter here.” Dante would’ve written an appendix to his Inferno if he could have witnessed today’s stage."

After stage four he's in ninth place. Seems to be consistent with his previous amazing efforts. And oh yeah, this time he sprained both ankles early on.

Ben, what did they do to you as a child?

Cheers bud.

Friday, March 31, 2006


I started a new job this week. I am working in strategic relations, marketing, and recruiting for Western Governors University. I am very excited about this opportunity. People to thank for leading me to this position include David Marler, Paula Moreira Orologos, and Phil Montgomery.

Western Governors University is a non-profit online university offering convenient and flexible education. We offer bachelor's and master's degrees in Business, Information Technology, and Education. This fall we open our College of Health.

WGU is the Yale of the adult online education world. We are fully accredited (by four accreditation bodies--more at the end RE accreditation). Compared to our top competitors (U of Phx is the biggest) we cost one half or less depending on what background the student has.

We were founded by 19 Western governors in 1997 to address the needs of working professionals or other adults wanting to advance their education but unable or unlikely to return to a traditional education institution. WGU also was created as an answer to the for-profit schools that began to flourish in the late 1990s, led by the University of Phoenix.

In addition to the governors, from our earliest days (through today) we've had strong support from top technology companies including Novell, Microsoft, Oracle, Dell, HP, Cisco, and Google. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a foundation at the cutting edge of education, is also a supporter.

Our programs are rigorous and are not for everyone. Students must self-directed, though we provide many resources that help support them as they progress through the program.

We offer competency-based education, a model that is very different from traditional education. Students earn competency units as they pass various assessments. They do not earn credit hours, though a competency unit is similar to a credit hour. One difference is they never have to sit in a classroom or log online for a specified amount of time. It's about learning and performance, not time logged.

Another unique part of our program is the guidance we provide our students from dedicated faculty mentors. A student has one mentor assisting them every step of the way. The mentors have master's or Phd's in their fields.

As I learn more about the school, and the people I meet from WGU, the more impressed I am with their programs.

***The main accreditation body for WGU is the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU). This is the regional body that accredits schools in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, and Utah. Accredited colleges and universities are all governed by regional bodies like this one. Other institutions accredited by NWCCU include: University of . . . Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Montana, and Utah. Also: Idaho State, Utah State, Oregon State, Brigham Young University, Gonzaga University. Because of our unique history and association with the states of so many governors we are also accredited by three other accrediting bodies, something that is unprecedented in higher education.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Trudi in February of 1968

Au Revoir Trudi

Early this morning in Strongsville, Ohio, my grandmother Trudi died at the age of 94.

She was born Gertrude Elizabeth Nash on October 12, 1911 in Philadelphia.

Trudi was the matriarch of her family, holding them together for decades through good times and bad. She was an elementary school teacher for over thirty years--a career she began during the Depression. For her having a job was always a privilege and an honor, and she was very good at what she did. She is a woman whose impact on hundreds and hundreds of peoples of lives was profound.

Her parents died in the early 1940s, her husband in 1959, and her eldest son (my father) in 1970.

She lived long enough to see her ten grandchildren grow into adulthood. Her last few years were rough, but being a fighter to her core, she held on long after her body began to succumb to the ravages of age.

Her surviving children--Carol, Mae, and Jim--tended to her faithfully in her final years. Their dedication to her was born out of her lifetime of dedication to them.

I began missing her a few years ago as her decline from this world began in earnest.

Au revoir Trudi.

Thanks for everything.

Ben's Video Montage

Follow this link and select " . . . home video" at top. Be sure to click play after it's had a chance to download.

From Ben: "Unless you hadn’t written in 2 months, it wasn’t like Trudi to dwell on the past. That was her way of getting through it. I was fishing through some old letters, photos and movies last night and some memories started to come back. They were good memories of playing scrabble, her sharp wit, the jumble and Poinsettia Drive on the Cape. Rather than the tough last few years, I thought it would be good to forward these on to remember the better times. So here they are: a Berea High School football star, a future triathlete getting his sea legs, a kid who ran across the desert and a grandmother who loved them all even though she refused the title. That desert runner is burying myself in the sand in the yellow sweater she made him."

From Andy Ferguson:

I never realized until I got a lot older all of the depression era influences that Trudi passed on to us.

I first noticed it with food, I never understood the judicious application of butter to a ham sandwich. I think that was an old habit from the depression when they would try to get cheap calories into it( I think I saw it in Cinderella Man). Either way it helped me. I am sure it helped boost my immune system as a youngster as I use to take that slice of the bread from my sandwich at school and scrape it against the underside of the lunch table to get the butter off before re applying the bread to the sandwich. It's a miracle I wasn't the first case of tuberculosis-pneumonia-flu ever reported. Then I use to notice it at Cape Cod and chowder, Trudi would buy one quart and then use butter, flower, and milk to cut the chowder to feed the masses.

I also remember from Run street all of the knick knacks, you never threw anything away because you might need it some day, that house was a treasure trove, especially Uncle Jim's Playboy collection in the attic. I found that when I was 12, which would explain a great deal.

I used to love watching the Master's golf tournament on Sunday's with her. Trudi would be sipping the Gin and Tonic Jim made for her to ease the nerves of having a house with 10 grandchildren coming and going.

Fall was a great time of year at Run Street also, there was the ditch out front where we would rake about three football fields of leaves into it and then run and jump into them until we were filthy. I remember that white swing in the back which use to pinch your hand the second you stopped paying attention.

The memories I could write down would clog my email system, but here's to Trudi, thanks for everything.

Andrew D. Ferguson

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Don't knock the Olympics

My favorite sports commentator Frank Deford gave an anti-Olympic diatribe this morning on his weekly NPR sports commentary. (He also writes for Sports Illustrated).

I have to concede he made some good points: NBC’s coverage is often mediocre to dreadful. Who’s the woman figure skating commentator who always has some negative, nit-picky thing to say? Deford made a point of discussing how the Olympics have just become a brand, like Nike. The Olympic flame is like the Nike swoosh, he said.

Hold on. That is being way too cynical. My favorite sports commentator has succumbed to the disease of our times: skeptical cynicism.

After working on an Olympics I am well aware of the corporate and commercial side of the games. There is no denying that aspect of our world has crept in. But I am enough of an idealist and I am still wide eyed and naïve enough to believe in the Olympic spirit. What you don’t see on TV is the vast majority of the Olympic athletes whose stories are just as compelling as the stories of the few stars that get profiled and who get all of the sponsors. I don’t begrudge these stars for either of those things. It’s just that there are so many stories that are just as compelling. The guy who comes in two or three seconds behind the leader in skeleton, luge, or bobsled, and is in anywhere from fourth to tenth place or worse--we rarely hear about him. Yet he is just seconds away from the top man in his sport.

Celebrate the gold medalists, definitely, but also celebrate those who strive for excellence and get so close. In many cases getting tenth place is after rounds of qualifying and then beating dozens of other competitors once you finally make it to the games. That’s not so bad. I’ve know a few Olympians personally (I met dozens but can’t say I know them). Those I know truly are some of the most focused and dedicated people I’ve come across.

The huge to-do that was made when the American woman did her little stunt and gave up the gold in snowboarding was just too much. She didn’t dishonor the country, she just fell and got silver. Is that so bad? Gold would have been better, but her mistake is her problem, not a sports catastrophe. NBC ran a commentary about this the night it happened saying how it was unprecedented in sports history. With that kind of hyperbole it is no wonder people like Deford get a little disgusted. Focus on the coverage, not the Olympics themselves. The Olympics are so much more than the media window we get to watch them through.

The Olympic spirit is real. When the Olympics come to town a whole city and region is transformed for a few magical weeks. Athletes put themselves in the arena and give it their best shot. Tens of thousands of volunteers help make it all happen. It is an event like no other.

Yes it has weaknesses, but the strength of the Olympics and the Olympic spirit is strong and alive.

Assistant Venue Transportation Manager
Athlete Transportation System
Salt Lake Olympic Village

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Is this offensive?

Do we believe in anything anymore?

To view more of the cartoons click here.

Last week I was talking to my aunt about the Dick Cheney shooting incident. We were in agreement that the story had moved beyond the absurd. Then to make a point about things that really matter, and that were getting far less coverage last week, I mentioned the cartoon controversy that has enraged Islamic fundamentalists.

“The what?”

She had no idea what I was talking about.

As of today at least 40 people have been killed in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Libya, Pakistan, Nigeria, Turkey, and Somalia—including the assassination of a Catholic priest. In addition, the property damage to embassies, consulates, and other buildings is now into the millions of dollars.

All of this over some cartoons. The thing is, if you actually look at the cartoons (see above), it’s hard to imagine what is so offensive. Much has been said about the need for cultural sensitivity. Others have mentioned what I believe is a more cherished value: freedom of speech.

The Wall Street Journal published an article by Amir Taheri titled “Bonfire of the Pieties.” Taheri is an Islamic scholar. He explains that the Qran has no injunction against drawing Muhammad, and the claim that this is the case is purely political. (Follow the link to Taheri’s article for more).

Clearly I am looking at these cartoons from a different perspective than a Muslim extremist. But look at them yourself. What do you think? Are they overly offensive? Are they even remotely offensive? Is the West going to be cowed by these extremists and give up not just one of our most cherished rights, but a right that is included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a declaration that every member nation of the UN has approved? If the UN or the aforementioned declaration mean anything--and they must if we ever want peace and justice--they mean that freedom of speech is now not just a Western value or right, but a global one. What is wrong with western values anyway? Why have we lost so much belief in ourselves? (If you follow the link to the declaration, see article 19).

There has been much made of Bush’s surveillance program where his administration is listening to calls from the U.S. to suspected Al Quaeda operatives. Aren't these the people who took four planes a little off course in 2001?

Where are the civil libertarians regarding this assault on a more fundamental issue: freedom of speech? The Bush surveillance program of declared enemies of all that we stand for, versus a massive assault on the natural rights of men and women--which issue deserves our attention the most?

Over the past eighteen months I’ve met and taught at least a dozen veterans of American led military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. It has been a privilege to get to know these fine young men who are far less political than me, but who have given more than I will ever give in the fight for freedom and justice in the world.

We owe it to these young men, to the oppressed people of the world, and to our most cherished values, to pay attention to what is going on in the world around us. Please look at these cartoons. Read Taheri’s article. Read other things on the topic and think about this issue yourself.

What do you believe?


Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe concluded a piece he wrote called "When fear cows the media" with the following two paragraphs (emphasis added):

Like the Nazis in the 1930s and the Soviet communists in the Cold War, the Islamofascists are emboldened by appeasement and submissiveness. Give the rampagers and book-burners a veto over artistic and editorial decisions, and you end up not with heightened sensitivity and cultural respect, but with more rampages and more books burned. You betray ideals that generations of Americans have died to defend.

And worse than that: You betray as well the dissidents and reformers within the Islamic world, the Muslim Sakharovs and Sharanskys and Havels who yearn for the free, tolerant, and democratic culture that we in the West take for granted. What they want to see from America is not appeasement and apologies and a dread of giving offense. They want to see us face down the fanatics, be unintimidated by bullies. They want to know that in the global struggle against Islamist extremism, we won't let them down.