David Berg has been an attorney for more than four decades, becoming an internationally renowned specialist in white-collar crimes. But as he became more successful legally, he found himself reflecting more on the death of his brother, which occurred when he was a fledgeling Houston attorney in 1968. Alan Berg was killed, according to David, by Charles Harrelson (the father of Woody Harrelson) but never convicted.
David revisited the events leading up to the murder in his non-fiction book, “Run, Brother, Run,” which received very favorable reviews by the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, NPR, and others. He also dropped by SHSU to discuss the book and the murder with SHSU faculty, staff, students, and local citizens.
Berg mixed his presentation with a discussion of crime, law, family relationships, and boom days of Houston, Texas, providing substance for everyone in the audience. Many in the crowd had their own recollections of Harrelson, who spent time in Trinity and Huntsville (in and out of prison). Eventually, Harrelson was convicted of murdering Judge John Wood in San Antonio in 1979. It was the first assassination of a federal judge in the 20th century.
Afterward, Berg spent time speaking with the crowd, giving encouragement to pre-law students…
We started our day in Independence, Missouri, with hot chocolate, mocha, coffee, and various pastries at Home Sweet Home Bakery in town. The hostess was welcoming, had an interesting haircut, and was very helpful.
Following breakfast, we headed to the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library, starting with a short movie that introduced us to how Truman came to be, from his life in Independence as a young boy up until his career as 33rd President of the United States.
The Library features various exhibits, including parts of his personal diary, and pictures from his presidency.
One favorite picture of the group was the famous “Dewey Defeats Truman” news headline in which Truman holds the Chicago Daily Tribune with an erroneous headline that indicated Dewey had defeated Truman in the 1948 election. Truman is laughing in the picture, clearly celebrating his victory and ready to begin his second term. The Library also features an original of the newspaper that was published in 1948.
The Library’s largest exhibit is “The Presidential Years,” featuring videos, Truman’s personal diary, newspaper covers, and other artifacts depicting his presidential years. One interesting feature of the Library was the replica of the Oval Office during Truman’s presidency. Also interesting was a documentary on the Cold War, which was very informative.
Another favorite exhibit, also of the newspaper variety, included a display of enlarged newspaper covers, presented in chronological order, and featuring headlines such as “ROOSEVELT IS DEAD: TRUMAN TAKES OATH,” and “FIRST ATOMIC BOMB DROPPED ON JAPAN.” Finally, we took pictures with Truman’s statue…
…and we visited the graves of him and his wife, Bess Wallace.
After visiting the Library, we headed to the Truman Home. Even though the Trumans were not wealthy, the house is far from modest. In fact, the house belonged to Bess’s family, which was wealthy. A wraparound porch surrounds most of the house, and stained glass windows front the house.
The guide led us into the kitchen, which is very modest, with furniture and wallpaper that reflect 1950s style. The chairs, counters, table, and cupboards are all painted apple green, a popular color at the time.
The rest of the house is filled with wooden furniture and golden interiors. The second floor is closed to the public, so we only visited the dining room, Truman’s studio, the two living rooms, and the main hallway. In the larger living room, used for special occasions and guests, is a portrait of Harry, while in the family living room hangs a portrait of Bess. The portrait liked most was in the main hallway, of Margaret Truman, their daughter and only child. At the end of the tour, more pictures in front of the house, and then on to our next destination, Kansas City.
It was lunchtime, and we had to eat Kansas City style barbecue! Our research led us to try Oklahoma Joe’s Kansas City Barbecue, rated the number one place for barbecue in KC. We arrived at a very long line outside the restaurant and decided to utilize our backup plan. We headed to Fiorella’s Jack Shack.
Fiorella’s Jack Shack was voted by The Zagat to be one of the best places to eat in Kansas City; but, we were not impressed. We faced a wait of 30 minutes, at least that was the story according to the waittress. An hour and fifteen minutes later, and after some slight vocalization of our displeasure, we were seated. Overall, the food was average. The sliced pork was above average and the beans were good, but the bulk of the meats were no better than you can find in Huntsville.
We had a negative experience at lunch, but we would not let lunch defeat us! We headed over to the World War I Museum with full stomachs, armed with curiosity. The Museum was beautiful and showcased the Monument in a spectacular way.
The inside of the Museum had a glass floor that led from the main entrance to the museum exhibits, showcasing poppies commemorating those fallen in World War I. Each of the 9,000 poppies in the display represented 1,000 fallen soldiers. Walking across the glass floor and seeing the poppies below really demonstrated the vastness and destruction of World War I.
There were several great exhibits. One of the most interesting and informative was on wartime weapons development. The war started with very basic weapons; however, many developments were made in terms of weaponry and battle strategy. One particularly effective strategy was camouflage. The British would paint their ships in various patterns that they pulled from Cubist paintings to confuse enemies and make it harder to track the ship’s speed and course.
In terms of weaponry, countries were still in the early development stages. The first machine guns were poorly designed and very slow – but the Germans developed the German Maxim machine gun that performed fast, concise and very well. Grenades were also introduced in World War I and made trench warfare brutal. Various gases were used as well, making World War I a chemical war. Other developments such as tanks and submarines changed transportation for troops during the war and helped improve reconnaissance efforts.
We closed down the World War I Museum and continued our exploration of KC starting from the top of the museum, which is the bottom of the 265-foot tall Liberty Memorial. We walked up the stairs to the Liberty Memorial and were astonished at the view: the entire skyline of Kansas City.
After taking several pictures of the skyline (selfies and groupies), we walked the several blocks to Union Station. On our walk, we encountered a large field of grass with an American Flag in the middle: the perfect place for a race. We had tried a race the night before, but because Professor Yawn left Silvia in the dust, he agreed to run backwards against her this time. It was much closer this time, and Silvia edged out Yawn in a photo finish.
During the race, though, we stumbled upon a beautiful tree in full fall foliage, displaying red, orange and brown leaves like a proud peacock. The tree served as a perfect backdrop for more pictures of us as a group…
We finished our stroll in the brisk Kansas City air at Union Station, an historic train station. Built in 1914, the train hub is home to Amtrak, museum exhibits like Science City, and theaters. Awed by the extravagant architecture and design of the interior, it was interesting to learn that after being closed in 1985, $20M was spent on restoration of the building to recover it from its solitude and dilapidation. Intriguingly, it’s still an active train station.
Historically, the KC Union Station was the second to be built in the country and followed Second Empire Style and Gothic Revival. After consuming all available space in the 1878 location and eventually flooding, the decision was made to move the station to its current location. Designed by Jarvis Hunt, the great hall with three massive chandeliers and ornate ceiling adornments is what we see today.
We were fortunate enough to be spectators to all the 100th year celebrations the Saturday evening held for Union Station. Drinking our coffee, we watched patron after patron stroll past, determination in their eyes, dressed in authentic 1920’s regalia. Unsure of what was happening, we followed a few to find, to our surprise, swing dance lessons going on. We watched, thankful for such perfect timing for something so entertaining.
With the sun setting…
…we hightailed it out of the enormous train station and headed back to the car in search of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. Sighting a Chihuly, we knew we had arrived at the home to many inspiring pieces of modern art.
We wandered through the museum, admiring exhibits such as Summoning Ghosts: The Art of Hung Liu, full of poignant, politically vocal pieces about communistic China, and Miss Your Mark, which sought to allow artists to make their mark using the manipulation of different materials.
We even explored the museum’s café, full of art by Frederick James Brown, which paid tribute to many artists throughout time. Our artistic appetite not quite satisfied, we left the Kemper and walked to the Donald J. Hall Sculpture Park, to appreciate the pieces by moonlight. Among those seen, our favorites included Shuttlecocks by Claes Oldenburg and Rodin’s Thinker. Although we had filled one appetite, our hunger made an appearance, so we left in search of sustenance.
An all-time favorite of our own Professor Yawn, we walked into Grunauer’s, not knowing what to expect. We quickly learned of the many Austrian delicacies available but had trouble narrowing it down to just a few. We began the meal with an assortment of sampler appetizers, including different kinds of cheeses, bratwursts, meats, and breads. Some of the unusual choices included currywurst, liverwurst, and brie. We downed the wonderful, new foods in preparation for the main course. Among some of the delectable entrees we enjoyed were Hungarian Beef Goulash, Cordon Bleu, Kasespatzle (noodles and cheese), and Fisch im Strudelteig-a fish baked in pastry adorned with spinach and mushrooms.
Stuffed to the gills, we surprisingly found room for apple strudel, chocolate cake, and nutella crepes for dessert, much to our full bellies’ dismay. Such an enjoyable end to an exciting day, we loaded up in the car to make our way to Bentonville, Arkansas for our final day of the Midwestern Tour.
Our Midwestern Trip second day was especially busy. After a short night and a hearty breakfast, we headed to the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site, located in Webster, Missouri.
First, we watched a short video that covered Grant’s life and career, emphasizing the loving relationship between him and his wife Julia, as well as covering his military and presidential careers.
Grant was originally from Ohio, and later graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he met his roommate and future brother-in-law, Fred Dent. He actually resigned from the military to be closer to his family but re-entered when the Civil War began. He rose to prominence with excellent military skills and led the Union to victory. A few years later, he was elected President of the United States.
The National Historic Site features White Haven—his residence—which, incidentally, is green.
It was Julia’s childhood home, and home to Ulysses and Julia for many years of their marriage. Julia’s father, Fredrick Dent, named it White Haven in honor of another property he had; subsequent caretakers of the house during Grant’s ownership painted it green. Inside, as we walked through the halls and rooms filled with pictures and quotes from the Grant family, we imagined how life was over a century ago.
After lunch we ventured deep into St. Louis to tour the Gateway Arch. The closer we got to the Arch, the more intimidating the monument became – it was stunning, elegant. The panes reflected the light so as to make it look iridescent.
We made our way underground to the visitor’s center where we bought our tickets to ride to the top. The Gateway Arch was designed by the Finnish architect Eero Saarinen; it took $13M and a little over three years to complete. Comprised of stainless steel, it reaches a staggering 630 feet high, making it the world’s tallest arch. To get to the top of the Arch – and the spectacular views – we traveled in a small pod (emphasis on small) that offered a rocky trip up the arch.
After checking out the beautiful views…
…it was, back down to the visitor’s center to begin our next adventure to the Old Courthouse.
The Courthouse looked much like a capitol in that it had a large dome and several levels that were separated by beautiful spiraling staircases.
On a more substantive level, this is the building in which Dred Scott sued for his freedom, winning in state court, but losing when his case made it to the Taney-led Supreme Court.
This much we knew going into the building, but what we didn’t know is that Mr. Scott was granted his freedom by his “owner” and, although he died a short year later, he died a free man.
Feeling rather free and adventurous ourselves, we walked through several local parks, took a picture with the “running man…”
…and, of course, took selfies…
…and then ventured through several historical buildings. We saw the Wainwright Building, which was constructed in 1981 by Ellis Wainwright and designed by Louis H. Sullivan, who would go on to mentor Frank Lloyd Wright. The Wainwright Building became the father of the contemporary skyscraper and was a turning point in architectural history.
We learned about the difference between modernism, which has an accompanying slogan that “less is more,” and post-modernism, with the slogan that “less is a bore.” Modern buildings consist largely of glass windows and steel, whereas post-modern buildings have unique designs and shapes—often incorporating many styles from the past—that make the buildings one-of-a-kind.
Regaining energy with a Starbucks break, we left to further our learning in the state of Illinois. We arrived in Springfield just in time to eat and take a nighttime tour. We mollified our hunger at Lake Pointe Grill where, according to Silvia, there is such a thing as too much arugula on a pizza. Lake Pointe Grill boasts the only wood-burning grill in Springfield, clearly showcased by the delicious fare we enjoyed. We did not dally at dinner, as the Capitol was drawing us in, in all its glory.
Our first night stop was in front of the Capitol building, where our architecture lessons continued. Showcasing a French Renaissance style, the building lit at night seemed spectacularly imposing. The current capitol building happens to be the sixth Capitol building since Illinois became a state. Designed by Cochrane and Garnsey out of Chicago, the immensity of the building begged exploration. Even though we were not able to enter, we were successful in taking a photograph with Abe Lincoln before making a regrettable leave to our next stop.
Lincoln’s influence in his hometown does not end at the Capitol. Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln’s home sits smack in the middle of town. After searching the park full of many historical homes, we finally found the former President’s home on the corner of Eighth Street. The home clearly fit the spacial needs of the Lincoln family, compared to its original (smaller) size when they bought it from Rev. Charles Dresser.
To finish our nighttime explorations of Springfield, Illinois, we juxtaposed the very proportionate and grand architecture of the state house with a Frank Lloyd Wright home. Mr. Wright built the early 1900s home for Dana Thomas, with imposing walls and sunken bricks representing the change from the open, trusting social life to the more guarded, private lives of the early 1900s. Even though it was dark, we could clearly make out his trademark hidden front door, taunting us with what is inside. So different from the vertically enhanced capitol building, Wright’s horizontal home seemed to sink into the ground and succeeded in representing the plains of America.
Back in the van, we headed to Chicago to continue our journey in the “Windy City.” As we ended another long day, we anticipated a chilly, activity-packed day –to hopefully fulfill our goal to learn more about the art and architecture the White City has to offer.
To round out the weekend of legislators and legacies, we started at the LBJ Presidential Library & Museum. The Library is located on the grounds of the University of Texas at Austin, a scant distance from the Texas capitol, an appropriate sort of geographical as well as biographical tribute to a Texas politician and 36th President of the United States, Lyndon Baines Johnson.
The Library “reopened” in late December 2012 following a yearlong renovation effort, and that effort paid off in terms of developing a contemporary look and feel for a large slice of Texas and US history.
The exhibits have been updated, modernized, and expanded to highlight more of LBJ’s presidency, particularizing on timely issues. One favorite new item was the “display” of several of LBJ’s private phone conversations the President – phones were interspersed through multiple exhibits, inviting visitors to “please hold for the President,” to listen in on conversations with anyone from other legislators to the press, pertinent to the exhibits. There were several theaters for short films…
dozens of pens used by LBJ to sign bills into law;
a talking LBJ mannequin;
the Oval Office…
and a favorite for poses: a cardboard LBJ giving the “Johnson Treatment.”
One small difference, discovered at the front door, is that the LBJ is no longer a free museum. However, the low cost of admission was well worth the updated exhibits. Even if you’ve been before, is definitely worth a return trip.
After several hours wandering the Library, we headed back to Huntsville, via the northern route, in order to stop for a late lunch at Meyer’s Texas BBQ in Elgin, Texas. Despite being a large group, there wasn’t a lot of talking until we had all wrapped up our lunches, which everyone agreed was well worth the wait.
It was a long weekend of touring the capitol, meeting with and getting an in-depth glimpse of a legislative office’s inner workings, touring LBJ’s multiple shrines, and experiencing Austin in a whole new way. But for the students, who range from graduating this May to just starting this year, it was an experience they agreed they won’t forget. During the return trip, we usually recap the excursion’s events and discuss lessons learned and favorite stops and sights, and this trip was no exception. For our regular readers, though, we thought that with eight students, compiling one list seemed an efficient way to present favorites:
The Johnson Treatment Audio Tapes: The photo backdrop in the LBJ Library gift shop was almost as big a hit as the audio tapes found throughout the museum.
The pens LBJ used to sign bills into law: The Great Society to be furthered by the next generation…
The Johnsons’ bedrooms: The Johnsons’ clothes of the day and closet space in the Texas White House was the point of much speculation.
It was a great trip. We had the chance to meet legislative staff and expand our networks; meet a very interesting artist; sample some good food; do a Segway Tour of Austin; and meet with SHSU alumni. We can’t wait for the next trip.
“The goal of the CIA is to learn other nations’ secrets,” noted General Michael Hayden, and he should know. Hayden was the Director of both the CIA (2006-2009) and the National Security Agency (1999-2005) and, most recently, a “guest lecturer” to a group SHSU students who traveled to Houston, Texas to learn more about intelligence operations. The lecture, hosted by the World Affairs Council, covered wiretapping, prioritizing threats, presidential performance, and balancing work and family.The most pressing question from students focused on wiretapping, a topic that General Hayden seemed to anticipate. Hayden ensured students that the government did not record their calls, but acknowledged that the government did document the calls, taking note of who called whom and how long each call lasted—logging, as General Hayden referred to it, some 3 billion “phone events” per day.
This massive data collection comes in handy when other information falls into place. Hayden provided the example of the government capturing “Ali Bin Badguy” and confiscating “Mr. Badguy’s” phone which, in turn, allows them to locate his calls off the “phone-event” database and identify other potential terrorist connections. Hayden emphasized, however, that the government did not record calls made by citizens, at least not without a warrant.
SHSU Senior Coby Steele veered away from the popular wire-tapping issue and asked about operational management. “How,” he wanted to know, “do the multiple acronym agencies work together to prioritize threats?” General Hayden acknowledged that it was a problem, but not for the reasons people think. “The problem,” he noted, “is that we have so much data. It’s difficult to ‘connect the dots’ when there are so many dots that the page is black. But that’s because we are good at collecting data and working together.”
Hayden, who worked directly for Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama, noted that it wasn’t just the intelligence agencies working together. He praised President Bush and Obama for putting aside their differences and maintaining a consistent policy on intelligence: “There were fewer changes in 2009 when the Obama administration took over from Bush than there were in 2005, when Bush transitioned from his first term to his second.”
Brian King, a senior at SHSU, moved away from policy issues altogether and asked about the personal life of a CIA employee. “How,” asked King, “do you balance a family while running the CIA?” Hayden acknowledged the difficulties but said that he and his wife took “vacations together and traveled together for work,” unless he was heading into a war zone, in which case he traveled alone.
Although the SHSU students had almost an hour with General Hayden, not all of the SHSU students asked questions. Ashley Richardson, an Accounting major and first-semester freshman from Magnolia, Texas, learned through listening. “This is an amazing real-world educational experience with the former CIA Director,” noted Richardson. “You just don’t get these types of experiences in high school.”
King agreed, noting, “I’m not sure you get these opportunities at any other college. The CIA Director can listen to our conversations whenever he wants,” King added, tongue-in-cheek, “but how often can students listen to his conversations—let alone participate in them?”
The opportunity to interact directly with General Hayden was coordinated between the World Affairs Council and SHSU’s Center for Law, Engagement, And Politics (LEAP), which promotes learning across diverse disciplines. In the past month, students have met the former President of Mexico, Felipe Calderon; discussed career paths with a half dozen Texas legislators; and attended a presentation by former Senior Advisor to President Obama, David Axelrod; met former White House Chief of Staff Andy Card—while also attending law-school related activities and engaging in volunteer service across the community.
“Our goal,” noted Mike Yawn, Director of the LEAP Center, “is to provide opportunities that open new worlds for the students. SHSU faculty work hard to do that in the classroom, the University provides institutional support for similar outcomes outside of the classroom, and that combination will help us produce the next generation of public leaders in the state of Texas.”