Airports and Playgrounds

June, 2013

Berlin -- Traveling to Berlin is not easy, as there are no direct flights from Washington to Berlin. When the new Berlin airport at Schönefeld is finished, perhaps there will be.

So now it is a choice of flying over London, Frankfurt, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, or even Paris, Zürich, or Vienna. I've ruled out Newark, having tried that once too often.

Arriving at the Berlin Tegel airport is often a pleasure, however. It is wonderfully out of date. The bags are delivered at the arrival gate; passport control (if there is any) is at the gate as you get off the plane. There are no televisions blaring at you, no banging music to rile the nerves.

So it is in the great old (and new) Berlin train stations. One hears only the trains and the buzz of travelers. As a traveler, I want quiet, not constant irritation.

German neighborhood parks are also respites from noise. Their playgrounds are inventive -- no standardized plastic equipment. Most equipment is built from wood and unique to the playground. Some have water pumps; the children play civil engineers, building canals, dikes, and sluices.

Germans are known for their engineering prowess. Perhaps they learn it on the playground. My children played in the Berlin parks growing up. My daughter is creative and operates a Berlin art gallery; my son studied engineering and is now a physicist in Maryland.

Fisher and Deference to Universities

June, 2013

Washington -- The U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Fisher was predictable (7-1) because the court is not about to weaken its strict scrutiny standard in matters of race. Giving universities deference does not mean they are on a such a long leash that they can avoid strict scrutiny.

I would be more sympathetic to the Ginsburg dissent if universities had a better record to justify deference toward them in matters of race. My research, and that of many others, suggests that in the past three decades, colleges and universities generally have moved away from giving financial aid to needy minorities in favor of recruiting middle and upper income students who would be going to college anyway. Higher education institutions have saddled the low income of all races and ethnicities with often unmanageable debt while using merit aid to recruit the better off and to make sure they have enough smiling faces of minorities for the campus brochures.

Because low income students are disproportionately black and Hispanic, these groups have actually taken the brunt of the blow. If universities were more sincere about helping these groups, they would be doing something about the student debt crisis and not undermining the Pell grant program. How many colleges that sponsored the New York Times ad supporting racial preferences are simultaneously undermining Pell?

I hope when strict scrutiny is applied to the remanded Fisher case, and to other future cases, that the lower courts will look not only at classroom make-up but also at dropout rates and especially debt burdens in order to determine how much deference universities should be given when it comes to race.

Reading the public opinion polls that show wide margins of blacks, Hispanics, and whites all disapprove of racial preferences at universities, I'm inclined to think that today's concept of social justice and opportunity has more to do with college affordability than with race-based admissions.

Food Shopping in Three Capitals

June, 2013

Berlin -- It's always a pleasure to be in Berlin and shop for groceries at Bio Company. Walking distance for me, the store has a good assortment of all-organic foods. My branch is located between Heinrichplatz and Kottbusser Tor, past mom-and-pop stores (Tante Emma Läden), Turkish sidewalk cafes, and hard by a small mosque with a minaret. This is Kreuzberg, after all, where Turkish, German, and English are the languages heard on the streets.

In Lincoln, we shop at Open Harvest at 17th and South Streets. It is the only locally owned organic grocery in Lincoln, carrying produce from nearby organic farms. It's located next to Meadowlark coffee house, an alternative kind of place itself. These spots are an oasis in a desert of Big Ag food domination, which has caused an epidemic of obesity and bad health. This is a most depressing side of Nebraska.

In the Washington suburbs (Rockville), the grocery of choice is My Organic Market, or MOMs. It has a better selection of organic foods than does Whole Foods, which has gone downhill in commitment to healthy foods as it has gone up in price ("Whole Paycheck" it is called in Montgomery County).

Each of these organic grocery stores is about the same size. None is a supermarket. None plays bad music.* Bio Company has no parking lot, as customers come by foot, by bike, or by U-Bahn. Bio Company is best from the standpoint that you get your exercise when you do your shopping.

*Open Harvest comes dangerously close sometimes. Remember, OH, you are an organic grocery, not a night club and certainly not a supermarket, where wailing, crying-in-the-beer music is carefully selected to make the shopper reach for all the carb and sugar-laden so-called comfort foods. Bad for the senses, bad for the pocketbook, bad for one's health.

An "Unspeakably Strange" Investigation

June, 2013

Washington -- "Unspeakably strange" was the way one college president described a recent anti-trust letter from the U.S. Department of Justice regarding the college's efforts to bring about student aid reform.

I agree. Although I work with the Justice Department to recover false claims under the Higher Education Act, this DOJ move seems to me hugely counterproductive as it will set back the cause of needed reform for years.

All this particular college, and others like it, wanted to do was discuss with other colleges ways to stop the merit-aid arms race that has resulted in runaway tuition hikes, increased aid to those who don't need it, and saddled the lower-income with unprecedented student loan debt.

And the Justice Department wants to stop discussions of reforms among the colleges that need them? What is DOJ thinking? Is DOJ oblivious to the national crisis brought about by excessive student loan debt?

Actually, there is illegal trust behavior among colleges on student aid, but it's not what DOJ is targeting. Colleges routinely violate the Student Right to Know Act by treating their student aid distribution methods and amounts as confidential and proprietary information. This is expressly prohibited by the SRTK codification at 20 USC 1092. If the amounts and methods (often contracted from enrollment management companies) were open to students and their families, as prescribed by SRTK, the transparency would lead to better informed consumers and the enhanced competition that DOJ presumably is seeking.

If DOJ persists with its investigation, colleges that want reform could turn to Congress and ask for reforms to be enforced upon them. This is not far-fetched, as many colleges have acknowledged that the current arms-race system is so entrenched that no single college or even group of colleges can break away without fearing institutional suicide. Freedom of assembly and freedom to petition the government presumably are still beyond the reach of DOJ.

NU and Wyuka Cemetery

June, 2013

Lincoln -- Wyuka Cemetery in the middle of Lincoln is the final resting place of several notable people associated closely with the University of Nebraska.

Their gravesites are worth a visit to remember their contributions to Nebraska, to the country, and to the world.

Nebraska History and the Nebraska Humanities Council provide a walking and driving tour of Wyuka that describes the cemetery and some of the notables in it. The following list supplements that tour by adding others with a strong connection to the state university. The list is presented in numerical order by cemetery section.

• Carl P. Hartley (Sec 5 Lot 133). A botanist inspired by Charles Bessey and trained by Frederic Clements, Hartley explored the Netherlands' East Indies and pursued a career in the U.S. Forest Service. He wrote the first comprehensive study of tree diseases of the Great Plains. He was the son of Lincoln pioneer, school superintendent, and orchardist E. T. Hartley and brother of university student suffragette Faye Hartley.

• Frederic E. Clements (Sec 5 Lot 486). Recognized worldwide as the founder of the discipline of plant ecology, Clements gave his name to what is now called the "Clementsian Paradigm" of ecology. An important (and controversial) figure in the history of science, he has been described as "by far the greatest individual contributor to the science of vegetation." His ashes are buried in the plot but were not not marked for many years. A new marker now commemorates his life and that of his wife, Edith Schwartz Clements, the first woman to receive a Ph.D from the University of Nebraska.

• Frank Shoemaker (Sec 7 Lot 1102). Shoemaker's career as a naturalist and photographer is newly recounted in Nebraska History. His grave is not marked, but his name adorns the Frank Shoemaker Marsh in the unique saline wetlands north of Lincoln.

• Robert H. Wolcott (Sec 7 Lot 1102). A professor of biology, Wolcott was founder, with Lawrence Bruner, of the Nebraska Ornithologists' Union. He also co-founded the Ecological Society of America.

• Lawrence Bruner (Sec 7 Lot 6034). An entomologist who traveled the world for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, saving crops from insects, Bruner was once chosen by a governor's committee as "Nebraska's most distinguished citizen."

• Charles E. Bessey (Sec 7 Lot 6026). One of the country's all-time greatest educators, botanist Bessey was both a professor and chancellor. He inspired students and was mentor to an astounding number of famous scientists and academicians. Bessey is in the Nebraska Hall of Fame.

• Don Hollenbeck (Sec-11 Lot 2323). This native of Lincoln began his career as a news reporter at the University of Nebraska and the Nebraska State Journal. At NBC, he covered WWII in Italy; at CBS he was a colleague of Edward R. Murrow, was targeted by McCarthyites and took his own life.

• Frank and Earl Eager (Sec 12 Lot 642). Frank Eager earned a Silver Star and commanded the Nebraska Regiment at the end of the Philippine American War. A populist, he was owner of The Independent, a newspaper that published the views of Thomas Tibbles and his wife Suzette LaFlesche Tibbles. As a Lincoln businessman, Frank Eager developed P Street and opposed relocating the nearby university campus, winning a statewide referendum to keep the main campus downtown. Brother Earl "Dog" Eager was an early football hero who became university athletic director and acquired the land for the current stadium.

• Marjorie Barstow (Sec 13 Lot 116). A protégé of both F.M. and A.R. Alexander after studying at NU, Marjorie Barstow returned to Lincoln and attracted thousands of students from all over the world to her Alexander technique workshops held on the Lincoln campus.

• Erwin H. Barbour (Sec 18 Lot 65). A geologist and palentologist, Barbour was curator of the State Museum. He led the Nebraska expeditions that unearthed the great prehistoric animal collection now on display at Morrill Hall, which Barbour had built for the collection.

• Edgar A. Burnett (Sec 18 Lot 118). Chancellor Burnett led the university through difficult times during the Great Depression. He came to the position after successfully heading the university's agriculture program and its experiment stations.

• Samuel Avery (Sec 22 Lot 107). A chemist, Avery was chancellor during the expansion of the city campus from 1908 to 1927. Early on, he clashed with the Eagers but much of the city campus as it exists today dates from Avery's planning and construction decisions.

• Olin J. Ferguson (Sec 22 Lot 122). Ferguson was Dean of Engineering from 1920-1945. He was know for his care and advocacy of students. He co-administered the university's military college during World War II.

• Herbert Brownell, Sr. (Sec 22 Lot 201). Professor Brownell, who taught science education at the NU Teachers College, was the father of Samuel Brownell, U.S. Commissioner of Education, and Herbert Brownell Jr., U.S. Attorney General. Professor Brownell was a cousin of Susan B(rownell) Anthony.

• Leta Stetter Hollingworth (Sec 23 Lot 47). A psychologist, this NU graduate was a pioneer in the field of gifted education and used IQ test data to establish that intelligence is independent of gender. Her husband was the noted psychologist Harry Hollingworth, a classmate at NU.

• Laura, Louise, and Olivia Pound (Sec 25 Lot 5607). Folklorist and athlete Louise Pound is the only person on this tour who is also on the more official Wyuka tour. Among her important but lesser known accomplishments is her early association with and influence on H. L. Mencken. Her mother Laura and her sister Olivia also studied at the university and were community leaders.

Readers are encouraged to add to this "NU and Wyuka" list by contacting me at Also of interest would be further discovery of the connections among these great Nebraskans. For example, Leta Stetter was a student of Louise Pound; Bessey was Clements' mentor; the Hartleys and Shoemaker were trained in ecology at Clements' Alpine Lab on Pike's Peak; Shoemaker died a pauper and is buried in the Wolcott family plot; Frank Eager and Samuel Avery tangled over the location of the university campus; in the middle of the conflict, Avery fired Earl Eager from his position in the athletic department.

They are now all neighbors at Wyuka; some are sadly in danger of being forgotten.

On Whistleblowing

June, 2013

Washington -- I am frequently asked about my experience as a whistleblower; all the more often with the case of Edward Snowden in the news. Because I am still in court, on behalf of the United States, against three student loan lenders who filed false claims against the U.S. government (six have previously settled, paying back approximately $65 million), I customarily refrain from commenting until all the cases are finished.

But now I have been asked by some in the whistleblower community to stand up and make it clear that the current, loose talk about all "whistleblowers" being, by definition, disloyal to their employers, and even traitors to their country, is irresponsible. Such talk sends a chilling message to would-be whistleblowers everywhere; rather, they should be encouraged to report fraud, waste, abuse, and illegality wherever it occurs.

I am happy to do so and let my own case serve as an example of whistleblowing that had nothing to do with disloyalty and everything to do with my oath to uphold the nation's laws and Constitution. Retaliation against me by my government employer was short lived when it became clear that I was simply acting true to my oath. Moreover, Congress quickly recognized the value of my research, as it enacted legislation in 2004 and 2006 to cut off payments of false claims. In 2007, I testified to the Senate in favor of killing the whole bank-based student loan program, citing waste and fraud. After my qui tam lawsuit was made public in 2009, Congress killed the program a few months later and used billions of dollars of savings to increase need-based grants to low income students.

Disloyalty is a loaded term often used inappropriately when discussing whistleblowers. Whistleblowing can be an act of loyalty, with a good outcome. No one points this out better than the Government Accountability Project (GAP), a charitable organization dedicated to educating the public about whistleblowers. Governments and private employers should have policies in place not only to protect whistleblowers, but to use the information they provide to improve their organizations.

The Snowden case must not become an excuse to discourage and vilify whistleblowers.

USS Rainier (AE-5)

June, 2013

Washington -- Recently I had dinner with an old shipmate from the USS Rainier, John Lutz. We had not seen or communicated with each other in about forty-five years. But memories came flooding back quickly.

I told him a story that I'll send on to our ship's reunion association newsletter, The Eruption. It describes how I undeservedly got into our Captain John Smith's good graces. (Yes, that was his name.)

Rainier, an ammunition cargo ship, was tied up at a pier in Subic Bay, The Philippines, in 1967. The pier was far away from the main base, in case any ammunition ship assigned to it blew up. Adjacent to the pier, carved out of the Bataan Peninsula jungle, was a large tarmac surface for loading and unloading ammunition.

Early one morning, Captain Smith, new to his command, had the idea he would get a look at his crew by inviting the officers and enlisted men to come out on the tarmac for calisthenics. He passed the word to his department heads and announced it over the ship's 1MC.

As the communications officer I was in the radio shack that morning, updating my registered publications accounts. In Navy Registered Publication School, we had been told that those who were sloppy with crypto publications wound up on the Navy Prison Softball Team, and a fine team it was, with lots of players.

My department head, Operations Officer Lt. Tom Stuart, stuck his head into the radio shack and suggested I participate in the Captain's calisthenics. I said I had more pressing work. He shot me a glance that wordlessly conveyed my priority that morning should be out on the tarmac.

I disguised my contempt for the idea and joined what was a meager turnout. At least I'll be in shape to play softball, I thought, as I got into the swing of jumping jacks, sit-ups, and push-ups.

Later that day, Captain Smith critiqued his officers and crew. He was sorely disappointed at the showing. He told his thirteen officers, specifically his junior officers, that they should take as their example that fine Lt(jg) Oberg.

I was red-faced, at least inside. It was not my style to get my fellow j.o.'s -- or anyone -- in trouble. I may have muttered to the Captain that credit was due to my operations officer, or maybe not. But I distinctly remember telling Tom Stuart that I really, really, owed him one for getting me off on a good note with the Captain. There were times later that I needed it.

Tom Stuart's own recollected stories are a must read in The Eruption. John Lutz and I savored them along with dinner, especially the one about our near-collision in the fog in San Diego harbor. I hope more of our shipmates weigh in with their own stories; there's a guaranteed readership.

Arnold Heights or Weaver Heights?

June, 2013

Lincoln -- The City of Lincoln should change the name of Arnold Heights to Weaver Heights.

The suburb has long since (almost five decades ago) lost its connection to Lincoln Air Force Base, which named its housing area after General H. H. Arnold. Arnold was a nineteen forties' advocate of strategic bombing warfare and mentor of General Curtis LeMay. LeMay may have had a hand in naming Arnold Heights when he was SAC commander. Originally, the base housing was called Huskerville, and some oldtimers still call it that.

It would not be the first time the name Arnold is dropped. The name was recently removed from an Arnold school for military dependents in Germany, when the Air Force departed a base in Wiesbaden. The school still exists as a dependents' school, but under a different name.

Strategic bombing as an approach to warfare has been discredited in the eyes of many military historians. In World War II, enemy war production actually increased despite widespread strategic bombing. Enemy resistance hardened. Post-war reconciliation was made more difficult because of strategic bombing, which targeted civilians and non-strategic cities. Don't mention the name of British general "Butcher" Harris in Dresden or Potsdam without expecting a hateful reaction. Even Churchill thought the firebombing of Dresden was an atrocity. Arnold's forces participated, as they did in firebombing non-strategic cities in Japan.

Before it was Arnold Heights, and before Huskerville, the area was prairie, dotted by farms. West of Oak Creek the land rises up in hills that overlook the City of Lincoln. It was here that botanist John Ernst Weaver studied the ecology of prairies in the nineteen twenties and named the nearby hills Nine Mile Prairie. Weaver wrote, with Frederic Clements, the book Plant Ecology, which became the bible of plant ecology for generations of botany and ecology students throughout the United States. Weaver was recognized as the country's foremost authority on North American prairies. Nine Mile Prairie is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The suburb of Arnold Heights today comprises more than the old base housing stock. There is a new shopping center and many businesses along Northwest 48th Street, which is soon to be widened and improved. There is a new school and a new public library in the valley below Nine Mile Prairie.

It's time to change the name. Why? If for no other reason, General Arnold appears never to have been on the site and has no connection to it. For better or worse, Arnold is honored in multiple places elsewhere. Weaver spent a career on Nine Mile Prairie and other prairies like it. Nebraska should honor its great but neglected scientists; Weaver is in the first rank of such scientists. He was president of the Ecological Society of America and a legend in his time. Renaming Arnold Heights as Weaver Heights would be a fitting change and signal that Nebraska wants to reclaim its heritage as it moves forward in science and research.