My Partner the Ghost

Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased)When I was perhaps 8 years old, I saw a television show one Sunday evening. It was called, My Partner the Ghost.

Basically, it was a show about two private investigators. The twist was — What a surprise! — one them was a ghost. So it was basically like The Rockford Files, but it was funny and British. I loved it. Really. I was so excited — it was the best thing I had ever seen. So I tuned in the next week… But it wasn’t on. So I showed up the week after… Nope. It never reappeared.

Television in the 1970s

Now for you youngins out there, this was in 1972 or 1973. All we had to guide us through the entertainment bonanza that was network television was a weekly magazine called TV Guide. It contained all the local listings.

I supposed that I could have gone through it line by line and looked for My Partner the Ghost. But I didn’t. Or maybe I did. I don’t remember. I do remember my profound sadness in missing out on what was the best show ever.

In general, I have a really bad memory. But some information has stuck in my brain with a tenacity that makes no sense. And over all these years — Four decades! — the title of the teasing television show stayed with me.

Rediscovering My Partner the Ghost

For no reason that I can explain, the show came back into my mind. I thought, “At the very least, the entertainment overdose that is the internet must offer a Wikipedia page and some clips from the show.” Indeed. It offered that and more!

When I searched for “My Partner the Ghost,” Google offered me a Wikipedia page to Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased). I quickly found that this was the original name of the series.

It was changed to the “ghost” title for distribution in America. I think that was a good choice. I can appreciate the original title now, but as a kid, it wouldn’t have made any sense. Plus, it doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue. And “Hopkirk”? What the hell?! I’ve never heard that name in my life. Anyway, “My Partner the Ghost” has the exact same sound as “My Mother the Car” — a very American title for a very American show.

I can’t tell if the show was a success or not. It only ran for one season, which in those days meant 26 episodes. But it may have just been intended that way. It is certainly the case that it has been shown a lot since. What’s more, I wonder that a failed series would have been exported to the United States.

Regardless, it seems to be popular to this day. It has, for example, a fan site. And the Wikipedia page has a complete listing of episodes with full summaries — something you can’t say for My mother the Car.[1]

As Charming as Ever

Last night, I found the first episode — “My Late Lamented Friend and Partner” — so I watched it. It isn’t great, but it is a solid show — especially for the time.

What’s more, I know why 8-year-old Frank loved it. Marty Hopkirk (the ghost) is very much like me: a bit too excitable, bordering on childish, persistent to the point of annoyance. It’s kind of funny, actually. Not many boys would look at the character and think, “That’s what a man should be!”

Regardless, I found the show to be charming. And I’m very curious to see where the show goes from the pilot, which you can see in the following video:


My Mother the Car is renowned for being one of the worst television shows ever made. I’ve never seen it, but I assume this is not a correct appraisal.

There is a tendency for some authority to announce that, for example, “MacArthur Park” or “A Horse With No Name” is the worst song ever. And then people parrot that back. In the early 80s, I remember reading in some magazine that My Mother the Car was the worst television show ever. It just became a thing.

I will admit, I don’t think much of Jerry Van Dyke. But the show was created by Chris Hayward and Allan Burns who created The Munsters and Dudley Do-Right from The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. What’s more, Burns went on to create The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Rhoda with My Mother the Car writer James L Brooks.

Regardless, maybe the show was terrible. But even so, that would also make a certain group of people love it. So I think there is genuine affection for My Partner the Ghost.

The Only Founding Father Who Matters

Correction: Thomas Paine was not born on this day in the modern calendar. His actual birthday is 9 February 1737.

Thomas PaineOn this day in 1923, the great screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky was born. I don’t generally think that we can look to the Academy to spot great work. But in Chayefsky’s case, they probably did pick his three best films for Best Screenplay: Marty, The Hospital, and Network. They are all great films and that is mostly due to the scripts. Actually, I always thought the casting was bad in Marty. Betsy Blair is too plain for Ernest Borgnine?! Borgnine should be happy that dogs don’t run from him in fear!

Other birthdays: philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg (1688); opera composer Daniel Auber (1782); great composer Frederick Delius (1862); painter Julio Peris Brell (1866); composer Havergal Brian (1876); actor W C Fields (1880); surrealist painter Colin Middleton (1910); stained glass artist Marcelle Ferron (1924); writer Edward Abbey (1927); the great Motown bass player James Jamerson (1936); actor Katherine Ross (73); puppeteer Paul Fusco (61); actor Oprah Winfrey (60); diver Greg Louganis (54); actor Heather Graham (44); and actor Sara Gilbert (39).

The day, however, belongs to the great writer and political theorist Thomas Paine who was born on this day in 1737. He is best know for having written Common Sense, which remains the biggest selling book in American history relative to the size of the population. But it isn’t for this that we ought to remember him. The Age of Reason, his attack against organized religion, and Christianity specifically, is even more relevant today than it was then. It is especially because of his article “Agrarian Justice” that I most admire him. In it, he argues for a guaranteed income—an idea so radical that even today it is considered beyond the pale. Nonetheless, I now see it is a necessary salve to the institutional inequality of modern economies.

Another thing I like about him is that he was so good at getting into trouble. Even Common Sense had its domestic detractors. John Adams, who agreed with the conclusions of the pamphlet, said it was “without any restraint or even an attempt at any equilibrium or counter poise, that it must produce confusion and every evil work.” Rights of Man was largely an attack on Edmund Burke and the very idea of hereditary rule. It would have gotten Paine hanged had ever returned to England. And then after narrowly escaping getting his head chopped off in France, he only made it back into America thanks to then President Jefferson. By that time, the religious people hated him for obvious reasons and now the Federalists hated him for Common Sense, even though the existence of the country was doubtful if not for how the book galvanized the people.

It bothers me that conservatives try to appropriate Paine. Glenn Beck even published his own version of Common Sense (Glenn Beck’s Common Sense), with the subtitle, “The Case Against an Out-of-Control Government, Inspired by Thomas Paine.” This is nonsense. Paine wasn’t against government; he was against government that didn’t work for the people. He would have been appalled at the conservative view of government where its only purpose is to help the rich. That wasn’t Paine.

Of course, mostly Paine is just ignored. In grammar school, I was taught about Common Sense and then Paine was never mentioned again. Now all we know are the the presidents: Washington, Adams, Jefferson. Not one of them was the man that Paine was. Two of them were major slave owners. And the other was a royalist. It’s almost as though we were an aristocracy, the way we honor only men who had such ostentation power. No person from the Revolutionary War era stands as such a great example of our country’s ideas. There ought to be a day named after him.

Happy birthday Thomas Paine!

The Rich Know Less Than You Do

Peter SchiffLast night on The Daily Show, Samantha Bee did a segment on the minimum wage. In it, she talked to investment banker Peter Schiff. He perfectly captures the essence of the patient aristocrat explaining the way the world works to the silly commoner. You could almost hear him sigh as he laid out the conservative narrative against the minimum wage, “There’s a law in economics—supply and demand—that’s something that you learn in Econ 101. If you increase the price of something you decrease the demand. And wages, that’s the price of labor. The higher you make the minimum wage, the more jobs are going to be destroyed.” You see, it’s a law! Except, it isn’t. Our economy is far more complex than that. The actual data indicate that it would at most cause minor job losses and at best create jobs.

Schiff goes on to imply that if you doubled the minimum wage, it would double the price of a hamburger. In the past, I would just pass off what he says to his keen desire to believe the fairy tales that support his ideology. But more and more I think the real problem is that rich people just aren’t that smart. Or maybe it is more accurate to say that they don’t think deeply about these issues. They grab onto a very simplistic narrative that happens to tell them that they deserve their $70 million net worth, and that is the end of their thinking.

Matt Yglesias wrote a great article following on the stupid Tom Perkins letter to The Wall Street Journal, Stop Listening to Rich People. He says:

But the larger issue here is simply that the letter is extraordinarily stupid. Its author, successful as he was in business, was still perfectly capable of writing an extremely stupid letter to the editor. The political and historical analysis contained in the letter is stupid. But beyond that, the idea of publishing it was stupid. Anyone with the slightest sense of public opinion would recognize that the analogy is offensive and counterproductive. There is simply no viewpoint on economics or American politics from which writing this letter was anything other than stupid. And yet Tom Perkins, a very successful businessman and co-founder of one of the most important VC firms in the world, went and wrote it anyway…

Every once in a while a Perkins comes along and says something so egregiously dumb as to be mocked by everyone. But it’s not the egregious idiots who do the damage; it’s the excessive deference paid to the unremarkable mediocrities. But the next time the elite get together to discuss the affairs of state, keep Tom Perkins and his ridiculous analogy in mind.

The deference is the killer. There’s an interesting contrast. Hollywood stars also have opinions on policy. And they get a certain level of attention paid to them. But Obama never meets with them to discuss policy. And the funny thing is that since actors know that they are not experts, they are more likely to know what they’re talking about than are business people. Otherwise, there is no more reason to think a businessman would have insights into policy than an actor or, for that matter, grocery clerk.

I’m not saying that successful business people are stupid. But in my experience, they are rarely brilliant. In business, I think an over-abundance of brains can be a distinct liability. It makes a person less decisive and more easily bored. But let’s face it: economics isn’t that hard. It is not beyond any of these people to understand that the labor market is a monopsony and so simple ideas about supply and demand just aren’t valid.

But if I were drowning in cash, I might not care either. I might just latch onto any convenient theory that said that I was great because I was rich and the poor sucked. All of that is to say that I might have a much worse understanding of the macroeconomy than I do now. But if I were rich, people would listen to me and think I made sense, even though my ideas would be worse. We really are a culture in crisis and Peter Schiff (Who is pushing gold!) is a symptom.

‘Job Creation’ Means Anything to Everyone

Obama CopeI watched the State of the Union address last night. It was typical of such speeches: a hodgepodge of policies that sound more like a pep rally than a policy speech. And given the political realities, how could it be anything else? We don’t have a parliamentary system were the party in control can actually get stuff done. So what we get is a lot of pretending. It may well be why in America we don’t do things so much as we appear to do things.

A big part of this is the political rhetoric we use. Especially on the right, it is perpetually vague. My favorite example of this last night was when the president said, “But the budget compromise should leave us freer to focus on creating new jobs, not creating new crises.” I know what he means. When liberals talk about creating jobs, they mean infrastructure spending, job training, tax incentives for businesses to hire. There are all kinds of things, but they mostly cost money. When conservatives talk about creating jobs, they mean cutting taxes on the rich and regulations on business.

Of course, what the conservatives want has nothing to do with creating jobs. Tax cuts for the rich have very little effect on the economy and if they are matched by cuts to other programs, they actually have a negative impact. Cutting regulation in a depressed economy is just a way to make businesses more profitable—it doesn’t do anything to encourage hiring. A depressed economy is the perfect time to force businesses to clean up their factories and plants because it will create jobs. Cutting taxes on the rich and regulations on businesses are things conservatives always want to do because they consider them ends in themselves.

The point is that politicians of any political flavor can go around and talk about creating jobs without any sense of cognitive dissonance. Most ordinary people don’t think of tax cuts for the wealthy as a jobs program, but this is a matter of faith on the right. That’s why I think liberals are ill advised to talk in vague terms. It’s similar to the healthcare debate, where every couple of months some conservative wonk will say, “The Republicans do too have healthcare reform ideas!” And they list them and then it is clear that Republicans have no healthcare reform ideas.

None of this is to say that Obama’s speech was bad. He did mention a number of specific things that I quite liked: research funding, patent reform, the ridiculousness of $4 billion in subsidies to the oil companies each year. And it compared well to Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ speech. She said that of course the Republicans have plans to address income inequality, “Republicans have plans to close the gap—plans that focus on jobs first without more spending, government bailouts, and red tape.” So they have unstated plans that don’t cost any money and won’t require anything of the private sector. What could this be? Oh, that’s right: cutting taxes on the rich and regulations on business. You know, “Job creation!”