Reading the Globe #009: A fortune on infrastructure, Durst faces the music, O. Henry joins the canon
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The Senate, by a vote of 50 to 49, conferred its approval on a $3.5 trillion budget resolution that paves the way for the hugely ambitious economic package Biden has long promised to make a reality. As Clare Foran and Ali Zaslev detail in article on CNN, Senate Democrats cast their vote in favor of the package after a long series of so-called amendment votes. It is now up to the House to pass the budget resolution. Pillars of the resolution include massive spending on infrastructure, job creation, aid to families, and environmental programs. It is easily one of the most sweeping and ambitious domestic spending programs in American history, establishing a Civilian Climate Corps, implementing universal pre-K for three- and four-year-olds, and making community college tuition free for two years, among other provisions. It appears that in the view of CNN’s authors, the liberal Democrat viewpoint is the only one that truly matters here. This package is what “people” want. Only fuddy-duddies with eccentric views would stop and ask what part of the Constitution says that government is to pay for community college or universal pre-K. Not very many people today would cite or even know the text of the Tenth Amendment, which explicitly delimits the functions and prerogatives of the federal government and stipulates that any powers not specifically granted to it under the Constitution belong to the states, or the people. Who cares about such nit-picking legal and Constitutional issues when the mobs to which Democrat politicians are beholden are clamoring for more of this and more of that. The Constitution is just a scrap of paper written by dead white men.
Americans can never get enough of true crime, and the persistence of the Covid pandemic has not denied them the spectacle of seeing the notorious Robert Durst, heir to the Durst real estate fortune, put on trial in Los Angeles for the murder of friend Susan Berman. An August 10 Reuters article reminds readers how police in 2000 found the body of 55-year-old Berman in her Beverly Hills home shortly after the reopening of an investigation into the disappearance and presumed murder of Durst’s wife, Kathleen McCormack Durst, in 1982. Durst is also the prime suspect in the killing of Morris Black, a neighbor in Texas, in 2001.
The article dusts off the theory that Durst wanted Berman out of the picture because of what she might have been able to tell police about the fate of Kathleen. The Reuters article details how Durst’s attorneys have taken a somewhat unusual step in putting the wheelchair-bound 78-year-old, who suffers from many ailments including bladder and esophageal cancer, kidney disease, high blood pressure, neuropathy, and osteoporosis, on the stand to answer tough and probing questions about his alleged role in Berman’s death.
No discussion of the iconoclast in American literature can get very far without mention of William Sydney Porter, a.k.a. O. Henry, who was just 47 when cirrhosis of the liver cut short his troubled life on June 5, 1910. As I discussed in my article for Book and Film Globe, the inclusion of O. Henry in the Library of America canonizes a vast body of work in which a certain type of story shines. Not surprisingly for such a prolific writer, some of O. Henry’s fictions succeed better than others. But those in the former category have all the wit and dark irony of Ambrose Bierce, and their surprise endings pack as much of a wallop as anything Guy de Maupassant or Agatha Christie put to paper, and O. Henry’s sensibility is distinctly that of a writer at modernism’s threshold. His style is neither too formal nor too loose. He likes to slather on the descriptive detail, yet never wastes a word.
O. Henry wrote at a furious pace throughout much of his career and produced a body of tales that puts writers with much greater longevity to shame. Given the escapades that filled his life, it is no surprise that his fictional personae so often are people on the edge, namely struggling writers, alcoholics, drifters, runaways, jilted lovers, desperadoes, and outlaws. Sometimes his protagonists are lawmen with a thankless job to do. Not seldom was O. Henry himself on the wrong side of the law. After his arrest on charges of having embezzled money from a bank in Austin, Texas, where he worked as a teller, in 1894, O. Henry made a sudden decision to forego a court appearance and flee to Honduras, which had no extradition treaty with the U.S.