Archive for the ‘oil’ tag
I don’t write many film reviews on this site because most have limited or no real-world relevance. Some of my favorite movies, like “Agora” and “Doubt,” tend to be those that have something to say beyond the rudimentary goal of presenting an entertaining plot and compelling acting.
The 2005 film, “Syriana,” seems to have so much to say that it becomes a bit difficult to digest it all on a first viewing. The movie is a geopolitical drama that explores, through numerous subplots, the economic and political implications behind the global dependence on oil in the Middle East and the often devious risks that oil companies and governments take in securing a share of oil resources in Asia and the Middle East.
The plot generally centers around two characters, veteran CIA officer, Bob Barnes (George Clooney), and energy analyst Bryan Woodman (Matt Damon), whose paths largely take different routes through much of the movie until the final scene.
Barnes, who is known for his operations in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War in the mid-1980s, is in Tehran, Iran, at the beginning of the film attempting to thwart illegal arms trafficking by killing a pair of arms dealers. While there, he witnesses piece of weaponry being diverted to an Egyptian source. After a brief stint back in Washington, he is again sent to the Middle East with the purpose of assassinating Prince Nassir, who was believed to be behind an arms deal with Egypt. We later learn, however, that Nassir, unlike his younger brother and father, is a reform-minded leader who hopes to bring wealth to his country and the Middle East at large by selling oil to China and funneling an oil pipeline directly from the Middle East to Europe. Woodman becomes Nassir’s top economic adviser in these endeavors after advising Nassir begin thinking about such a pipeline.
Nassir’s father and brother, in contrast, toe a friendly line with the United States government, while Nassir’s goals run counter to American interests, with the implicit message that it’s in America’s interest to keep parts of the Middle East poor, uneducated and undeveloped so that the we can remain the control of oil reserves, not the other way around, thus Barnes’ initial mission to kill Nassir.
The other major plot line involves a shady merger of American oil companies Connex and a smaller organization, Killen, the latter of which surprisingly secures a major deal to drill in Kazakhstan. Bennett Holiday, an attorney with a Washington law firm, is charged with smoothing out the merger and giving the appearance of due diligence in the process. Meanwhile, Holiday is certain that a Killen officially committed bribery in securing the oil deal.
One of the main subplots follows the family life of Woodman, whose young son is killed while visiting Nassir’s family at their resort in Spain. Woodman’s son jumped into a pool of electrically charged water prior to a faulty pool light being discovered. This, along with Woodman’s globe-jumping travels, puts a strain on his relationship with his wife.
Another minor plot traces the life of a young Middle Eastern worker and his father, both of whom are laid off when Connex is outbid by a Chinese company for drilling rights in the region. Nassir, as we later learn, was behind China winning the bid, rather than Connex, and it’s here that we see the clash between American interests and Nassir’s desire to see a prosperous and developed Middle East.
Yet another plot follows Barnes and the torn relationship between his wife, who also works overseas, and his son, who calls both his father and mother “professional liars” because of the “classified” nature of their jobs.
That’s all I will divulge of the plot. Needless to say, these elements come to a dramatic conclusion in the final scene.
Superb acting carries the film, from Clooney and Damon, down through the supporting cast. Clooney was particularly at the top of his game during one torture scene in which a character named Mussawi attempts to get information from Clooney by pulling out his fingernails one-by-one. I can imagine it takes a large measure of acting acumen to make a moviegoer wince when the actor himself is likely in little if any real pain, yet fains immense suffering.
I also enjoyed the camera work. At times, the view is a touch jittery, which gives a grittier impression that the camera man is actually holding the camera, and this also puts the viewer right in the middle of the dialog and on-screen action. For instance, in an elevator scene in which Clooney was supposed to have Nassir assassinated (He is kidnapped by Mussawi’s men instead), Clooney gets on an elevator, which also holds Nassir and Damon. The camera is looking at the back of Clooney’s head and the image of his face is reflected back through the elevator door. This, of course, gives the effect that the movie viewer is actually in the elevator. I think that added a nice effect.
Finally, that the director followed closely the individual lives of the main and secondary characters so closely certainly supplies a personal element. It makes the statement that, not only does the subject matter have huge implications for the U.S., the Middle East and the world, but that real people are and will be affected by the decisions of men of power. Thus, monolithic institutions like oil companies and governments stand in sharp contrast to the individual lives they implicate.
The nature of the plot makes the movie a touch hard to fully follow on a first viewing and becomes more concrete on a second watch, but I don’t think the complicated plot is a drawback. Life is complicated, all the more the functions and duties of giant corporations and governments. This movie vividly captures the complexities and ethical implications pregnant, not just in capitalism itself, but in attempts to bring largely undeveloped nations into a more modern era whilst sometimes being left behind in the power grab for their resources.
Columnist Kathleen Parker said it best:
Summing up, let me just say that I reject, repudiate, renounce, denounce, dismiss and utterly regret 2008.
Better late than never, I suppose. Having taken a few days break away from the blogosphere over the holidays, I have continued this weekend, hoping my muse will return happy and foretelling more blessings in 2009 than we got in 2008.
With, perhaps, the exception of Barack Obama’s election, ending the eight-year long spiral down toward hitting rock bottom with the international community on our imperialistic foreign policy, it has by all accounts been the most dismal year news-wise in recent memory. Time’s top 10, with the exception of the top two, wasn’t even close in my book. Instead, here’s what I consider to be the top stories of the last year, in order:
- Economic turmoil — From Lehman Brothers, AIG, Morgan Stanley, to the auto industry’s near collapse to the stock market’s latest trend downward, this story was so huge it could have been broken into three separate stories within the list. From the standpoint of the banks, it’s frustrating that they received all that cash and refused to tell the public how the money was being used. I write about that here. What’s more, we have no guarantee the auto industry will handle the situation any better or will institute the barebones, leadership changes needed to right the industry and make it more sustainable for the long haul. As for stocks, the numbers speak for themselves. A quick glance at the 1-year graph at the bottom of this page will show the Dow Jones has slipped from a 52-week high of 13,136.69 to a low of 7,449.38. When folks start mentioning the Great Depression in the same sentence as 2008, you know it’s time to say, “Good Riddance.”
- Obama’s election — The Sacramento Bee led its post-Election Day paper with the headline: “Change has come to America,” on the heels of the election of the first black (more accurately, mixed) president in our history. But the president-elect scarce had time to revel in the victory before he had to get busy appointing members to his cabinet and preparing his administration to be able to hit the ground running come Jan. 20. And we barely had time to consider what his election means to the social conscious of the country before residents were again labored with the bad news of the auto industries failure, Gaza and other troubling news. Of course, the election could help improve our shredded PR around the world and help to further make this union a more perfect one. Obama’s Speech on Race in Philadelphia, though in context, was a refutation of Jeremiah Wright’s more bombastic comments against America, should and no doubt will be studied in school’s as one of the greatest speeches delivered in this century or any other. And for a brief little while, the president-elect helped us think about a kind of hope that had all but been snuffed out since the Civil Rights movement. His ability to inspire and communicate good ideas, coupled with folks’ general disdain for the current administration and its policies were enough to win the election. Now, it’s time to see what he’s truly made of in the face of a recession, two wars and the conflict in Gaza.
- Disaster in Myanmar — About 150,000 dead and 95 percent of all buildings in the affected area were destroyed.
- China earthquake — More than 85,000 dead in the massive earthquake hitting southwest China’s Sichuan province.
- Russian forces in Georgia — In a modern version of what could be a rebirth of Russia’s more imperialistic and communist tendencies, after Georgia launched a smaller attack of South Ossetia, Russia then pushed into Georgian territory before an agreement was eventually reached.
- An aging Castro releases power to his brother, Raul.
- Oil prices go up an up and up after a hurricane strikes Gulf Coast, then through the late fall and early winter, they take a dip.
- Mumbia shootings
- Pirates hijack cargo ships off the coast of Africa
- The Rod Blagojevich scandal (obviously still unresolved)
Disclaimer: If you work for an insurance company, my apologies.
Let me explain the high wire act that people with medical conditions and people of modest means must perform to a) earn a living and b) be able to pay medical bills. I require an immune system medicine that costs between $1,000-$1,500 every three weeks. If I don’t have it, I’ll wind up in the hospital within 3-6 months. I make enough for a family of three to pay the bills, especially if the other spouse works, which my wife does. Long before I got married and before I was earning any significant amount of income, I was enrolled in Medicaid to help pay for this medicine. The program covered all of it and almost all of any other medical bills, prescriptions, etc. I also received a check every month of about $550, as I recall. The caveat to this, however, was that if one actually wanted to get a full-time job, that job must be a menial one. The Social Security Administration put a cap on what a person could make each month and still receive benefits. I think the cap was about $1,100 per month at that time. But say a person actually wanted a real career and had the opportunity to make quite a bit more. This was certainly possible, but one would lose not only the check, but the medical coverage. So, say one gets a job making $1,500 per month at a place that doesn’t offer employee benefits … or if that person was technically part-time, but still made more than $1,500. Nothing changed about their medical condition. Other than needing the expensive medicine, they are otherwise fairly healthy. They simple desire to work to try to make a better way for themselves.
Obviously, I am referring to myself and others caught in this go-between. To such people, Social Security leaves you out in the cold. If you make over their set amount, you are cut off regardless of whether you can afford medical coverage some other way (which you likely can’t because of your dire need for the expensive medicine.) So, in essence, Medicaid rewards people who are resolved to sit at home, bring in a check and not get out and try to work, when in fact, it’s the people who get out and try to work that Medicaid should reward for attempting to make an honest living by continuing coverage up to a certain earning level (which should be much, much more than $1,100 per month. How can anyone making under $50,000 or even $100,000 per year afford $1,000-$1,500 every three weeks?
This brings us to health insurance. At my former position, I was able to cover myself and my wife for about $160 per paycheck. This was somewhat reasonable, and for a period, we were both able to go to the doctor using my insurance. I recently got a new job, and since I have been there three months, I was eligible to apply for insurance. At the meeting, I found out that insurance for just myself would be $76 and to add my wife, another $226, which amounts to about $400 per paycheck. That’s $800 per month. I was astounded when I learned how much it would be. Tack on vision and dental and add $40 more to the equation. Not to reveal what I earn per month, but suffice it to say that, not only would I not be able to afford to pay the bills, we would probably have to fold up shop, quit my job, leave town and stay with my parents until we figured out what to do.
I admit, I was angry when I found out how much it would cost. And what’s more, the medicine that I require every three weeks is not covered on this $400 per paycheck insurance. So I’m resolved to the fact that insurance companies of all creeds are nothing but scavengers. Luckily, I can stay on my father’s insurance for now, but that by itself does not cover nearly the entire amount of this medicine per treatment.
I’ve been thinking about something else. Folks can decry the trappings of universal health care all they want, about how it would raise taxes, would be run poorly, etc. but at least alternative methods to tackling pharmaceutical and insurance companies are being developed. Republicans can mention “God” in every other breath as much as they want, but the truth is, people in this country are hurting financially, physically and in other ways, and the current leadership has taken steps to contribute to that hurt. The administration has overseen the mishandling of billions in war that could have been better used elsewhere and gas prices, largely because of that war, have risen dramatically: so much so that people are being forced to make life decisions at the pump.
There is something very un-Christian about what is happening. Make no mistake. I’m familiar with the rhetoric. Republicans say: Let’s have limited national government and let’s let local government and individual communities take care and minister to each other. This way, government will stay out of your way and allow churches, civic organizations and individuals to care for those in their own communities. Well, here we are: eight years into that ideology. Are people in their individual communities reaching out to others, caring for the sick and helping the poor? Some are; more aren’t. I’m quite familiar with the potential for government programs to be inept (see above), but perhaps a sound leadership can help fix the ineptness, weed out the erroneous policies and let the government stop mismanaging money and help people who are hurting here at home, instead of spending billions on a people who would rather have us out of their country in the first place.
Sorry this was terribly long. If you got this far, thanks. If you didn’t, I understand.