Sunday, July 05, 2009

Montgomery Burns on the BBC

click photo to enlarge
The Reith Lectures is an annual series of radio lectures on the BBC given by a person of national or international standing. This year Montgomery Burns, the owner of Springfield nuclear power plant on the TV cartoon show, The Simpsons, was invited to address the nation on the subject of "A New Citizenship". If you find it hard to believe that a figment of Matt Groening's imagination is capable of fulfilling a role previously given to the likes of Bertrand Russell, Robert Oppenheimer, Nikolaus Pevsner, John K. Galbraith, A.H. Halsey and Richard Rogers, then perhaps I should explain that the speaker that Burns' character is allegedly based on was the man who recently delivered the four, 45 minute lectures.

Michael Sandel is an American academic, the Harvard Professor of Government, who teaches political philosophy. He is particularly adept at making his subject relevant to the issues of the day, and at writing in a way that engages the layman as well as a more specialist audience. Apparently he was chosen as the model for Mongomery Burns because he teaches a renowned course on Justice, and the joke is that the nuclear power magnate is the least just character in The Simpsons.

The 2009 Reith Lectures were delivered under four headings: Markets and Morals, Morality in Politics, Genetics and Morality, and A New Politics of the Common Good. All were interesting, but the first lecture appealed to me most because it spoke of a theme that I've touched on in this blog. In his talk he is sceptical of the drive to make public services emulate competitive market models, and critical of the intellectual arrogance of the pro-market lobby, pointing out the many theoretical and actual failings of the system they promote. At the centre of his critique is his exposure of the way neo-liberals try to shore up their arguments by appropriating ethical arguments that have no place in their theories. He is particularly penetrating in his analysis of how the exposure of a variety of public goods to market forces can change them and society for the worse. From my perspective it's interesting that such arguments come from someone who works in the country that, for many, embodies the views that he debunks. The lectures are available on the BBC website either as audio downloads or transcripts.

I could weave a connection between Montgomery Burns and today's photograph of a view from the bottom of a wind turbine looking upwards, but I'll spare you that conceit, and simply say that a lovely sky took me to an area where thirteen turbines stand, and I determined to find a new way to portray one of these interesting and imposing structures.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 11mm (22mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f11
Shutter Speed: 1/320 seconds
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -0.7 EV
Image Stabilisation: On