Monday, January 14, 2019

From the Top of the Hill # 12: January 8, 1948

Another installment of John D MacDonald’s early Clinton (NY) Courier newspaper column From the Top of the Hill. Here he reacts to the then-recent Senate testimony of President Harry Truman’s personal physician, who was being investigated for having a discretionary brokerage account that traded in commodities. Then he writes about a radio show he had become “addicted to,” Youth Opportunity Program, a Major Bowes-like talent show hosted by bandleader Horace Heidt, and which ran from December 1947 to August 1949. Finally he presents a MacDonald family problem that probably occurred all too often given his chosen line of work.


Why All the Wrist-Slapping?

We are completely baffled by the governmental fingers wagged in a threatening fashion at the so-called "speculators" in grain and such.

It would be a criminal sort of activity if any member of the government speculated on the basis of inside information he obtained by reason of his government job. We doubt if the president's physician had any pipeline to the inside information. Thus we assume that the man was talking his chances.

All the recent fuss seems to ignore two very basic factors:

A. This so-called "speculation" is a basic and indispensable part of our economic system. It is the means by which price levels are ascertained. Stock prices are found by a lot of people buying and a lot of people selling, all of them hoping to make a dollar.

B. Also, the greater the risk, the greater the profit. The government apparently feels that speculation is some sort of synonym for making money. It is easier to lose than to make money.

President Truman apparently feels disturbed because this "speculation" is artificially raising the price levels to the ultimate consumers. Speculation can make periodic artificial increases or reductions in price levels, but ultimately supply and demand will determine the base price.

It seems almost stupid that in complaining about a basic device in our economic system, people should shout, "Nasty!" Nasty!" about the people who participate, in spite of the fact that they have a perfect legal right and, for our money, moral right to do so.

We are forced to assume that the government has placed itself in the position of saying, "All this speculation is a Bad Thing, and anybody who indulges is a Bad Person, but it does perform some kind of a function we think, and leave us alone long enough and maybe we'll find something which will do just as well."

Why shouldn't a man who works for the government use his own funds as he sees fit? Our economic system is based, for its controls and checks, on a lot of people trying to make a quick buck.

Now they are making it look as though the president's physician was going around shutting children's fingers in car doors.

* * *

For Your Listening Pleasure...

Usually we avoid a radio dial with the same care that an old line Democrat avoids Henry Wallace.

It's not that we are in any way proud of not being addicted to the narcotic which is merchandised over the air. We'd like to listen.

We do listen to some music now and again, but the risk is too great. You can be hunting for a program of music and, if you aren't quick enough, you can get a jolt of oily commercial, or a series of ragged puns which will curdle your day.

As a rule, we grasp the radio dial firmly and turn it sharply to the left. That starts the record turntable.

"Eminent physicians recommend..." Sixty-three percent of all housewives prefer..." You, too, can be free from..."

But five weeks ago last Sunday night at ten thirty the radio was on and we were too weary to walk over and turn it off. We heard a variation of the old "amateur night" stuff, all tied up into a brand new package.

Horace Heidt, travelling for P. Morris, hits a new city each week and carries with him the winner to the next city to compete with local talent.

The winner the first week, Dick Cantino, accordionist, has successfully defended himself against all comers for five weeks.

So now it is like taking drugs. Each Sunday night we have to find out if this Cantino character has run into someone better. We'd like to quit listening. We think of the carefree Sundays when the program didn't exist.

Now we're trapped. The advertising on the program is as objectionable as anybody's. The whole setup is as fraudulently commercial as can be imagined. And yet there is the Cantino kid from a Fresno butcher shop, knocking them over each week with an instrument we never cared for anyway. We keep asking ourselves why we should care one way of the other. But it seems that we do.

So we put this in here in hopes of trapping others. "You, too, can be an addict! Radio is one of the simplest, most effective drugs ever devised! Fifty-one percent of all practicing psychiatrists say: (New voice, heavy and impressive) 'In my long experience I have never found a more effective narcotic than modern American radio'"

* * *

Winter Scene

Setting: Warm house. Outside the sunshine is brilliant on the deep snow. Inside children run gaily back and forth making sound like herd of buffalo. Also heard -- feeble clicking of typewriter.

Male Voice: (Plaintively) Why don't those kids play outside?

Female Voice: (Forced cheerfulness) It's a lovely day, children. Why don't you play outside for a while?

Little Voices: (Yammering) Nah! We like it in here. We dowanna go out!

Male Voice: Don't ask 'em. Tell 'em!

Female Voice: Get your things, children. You're going out.

(Sound of bitter complaint and grumbling, then numerous grunting noises as feet are poked into leggings, overshoes are stomped on.)

Little Voices: Where's my other mitten? I can't find my hat. I can't get this zipper undone. Who took my other ski-pole? You seen my overshoes?

Female Voice: Look on the radiator in the hall. Have you looked in the front hall closet? How about the cellar stairs?

(Period of silence while noise of tramping buffalo fills the house and typewriter makes two small clicking noise.)

Little Voices: We dowanna go out. Do we hafta go out, huh? We dowanna.

Male Voice: Are they all dressed for the outdoors?

Female Voice: Yes, dear.

(Sound of heavy and determined male footsteps. Small bleating noise from children. Outside door opens. Swishing noises. Outside door slams shut. In the distance there is a faint sound like that which would be made by children head-down in thick snow. More heavy male footsteps. The house is silent. The typewriter begins, hesitantly at first, then confidently, almost joyously.)

* * *

See you next week.

Monday, January 7, 2019

JDM and GHWB

The recent passing of President George H.W. Bush brought to mind a long-ago magazine article I once read in The Washingtonian magazine. It was the April 1982 issue and the piece -- written by Jack Germond and Jules Witcover -- was titled “Why Do Conservatives Hate Bush?” The authors postulated that although Bush was a loyal VP to President Ronald Reagan, he was viewed as “Nelson Rockefeller in sheep’s clothing” by something they called “The New Right,” a nebulous entity that included long-forgotten “masterminds” such as Terry Dolan and Richard Viguerie. Alongside the article was an info box titled “Facts and Figures: The Inside Stuff,” which listed birthdate, religion and a list of favorites. Here it is:



I was working with JDM Bibliographer Walter Shine at the time, helping him chase down some loose ends for a second edition of his Bibliography - Biography (which, sadly, was never published) and I sent a copy of the article to him as material for his column in the JDM Bibliophile. He wrote back a thank you, along with some fiery adjectives about the article's subject, proving that Bush, moderate Republican though he may have been, had no friends on the left either. (People who think things are overly partisan now have very short memories.)

Anyway, Bush was a good man, a war hero, a citizen who dedicated his life to the service of his country. And, I might add, a man with impeccable literary tastes.