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Tuesday, 29 September 2015

The Duellists

I may have mentioned this in a previous post, at least in passing.

Is there a greatest poem, a greatest novel, a greatest painting? There will never be consensus; but there will always be contenders.

I think that Ridley Scott’s The Duellists is a contender for the greatest movie. I can think of others.

The film is based on a story by Joseph Conrad, a Polish contender for the title of greatest novelist writing in the English language.  Apocalypse Now is also based upon a work by Conrad.

I have just watched The Duellists for, possibly, the tenth time. It didn’t disappoint. It is stunningly beautiful. The French countryside is beautiful. Keith Carradine is beautiful. Diana Quick is beautiful.

The acting is impeccable. Harvey Keitel is better than impeccable. When I first encountered him, in this movie, in the 1980s, I was sure that he was a contender for ‘best actor of his generation’. Aside from Keitel, there are masterpieces from James Fox, Albert Finney, Tom Conti and half a dozen others. Nobody puts a foot wrong. Scott must have thought he had died and gone to heaven, to have a cast like this.

I once showed this film to someone I hoped would like it. She didn’t. She thought that the ‘honour code’, which obliged DuBarre to submit to Ferraud’s notion of honour, was stupid. Duh? That is what the film is about.

I hope you will watch it, if you haven’t already. Perhaps you will contend for another movie. Pulp Fiction (for me another contender) happens to feature Harvey Keitel.

Sunday, 13 September 2015


Obama has described this as the defining issue of our age. I thought the chattering classes believed it was anthropogenic global warming.

Suppose you were to inform me about some major problem in the world, say Malaria. You give me statistics about incidence of the disease, about mortality rates, about the nastiness of Malaria and I shrug and smirk, “I don’t care”. You would have reason to think that you were dealing with a pretty unpleasant person. You would be right. Likewise, if you were telling me about suicide bombings or beheadings or about people whose diet was life-threateningly bad. Your contempt for me would be entirely justified.

This isn’t going to happen – because I do care about these things.

OK, start again. Suppose you had written a best-selling book about the iniquity of inequality or even won a Nobel Prize for researching the pernicious effects of income inequality. I shrug and smirk and say, “I don’t care.” You tell me that some bosses earn more than 100 times as much as people they employ. “Don’t care.”

If you tell me that A does not earn enough to keep body and soul together, I will want to know if he is to blame, if he is too indolent to look after himself. If not, I will care. I will want a state safety net or private charity to provide for him or to help him get on his feet.

Another example: walking down Deansgate, I encounter a stunningly beautiful young woman. A few yards later I encounter another young woman; she is decidedly plain. Do I start hyperventilating about the injustice? Do I throw battery acid in the face of the beauty? Of course not. I wouldn’t do anything. I might approve of the plain girl losing some weight or being given some tips about skincare.

In other words, provided B has not robbed C, it is never right to disadvantage B simply to reduce the inequality between him and C.

Joseph Stiglitz has written a book about inequality and has won a Nobel Prize for his ‘thinking’. Wilkinson and Pickett have written a really nasty book, The Spirit Level purporting to show that more ‘equal’ societies are ‘better’ in every way than less ‘equal’ societies. And there is Thomas Picketty who also obsesses on this theme.

X and Y are unequal in some way. X is better, luckier, prettier, richer, brighter, happier, more talented than Y. It is almost always more difficult to bring Y up to X’s level than to bring X down: battery acid, a bang on the head, progressive taxation, which is always what the ‘equalists’ choose.
I am ugly and you are handsome. I am poor and you are rich. Let’s tax and mutilate you. Voila!
Leftists bang on incessantly about fairness. They have a definition of fairness which I do not understand.

In most democracies we have ‘progressive’ income tax. For me all taxes are iffy. But a tax which takes proportionately more from one group than from another is, by definition, unfair. 10% from everyone might be justified (it has scriptural support); but 10% from poor people and 40% from rich people is self-evidently wicked. Even more wicked was the ancient regime whereby the poor paid all the tax.

Income tax is bad enough but many leftists want ‘wealth’ taxes, which simply siphon money from those who have.

These nasty equalists base their political economy upon flouting the commandment against covetousness. If I have sufficient (and let’s face it, most English people have more than a sufficiency) why should it matter that my neighbour has more, even much more?