15 December 2005

I saw Stephen Gaghan's new film Syriana last night and it is an awesome achievment.

Gaghan has aimed for an "honest reflection of the post-9/11 world" and he's achieved just that with all its contradictions, corruption and moral minefields. Multiple narratives revolve around the oil trade in the middle east - from the deals struck by oil conglomerates to the CIA's undercover operations, from the power politics of an Arab royal dynasty to the immigrant workers drawn to radical islamic teaching. Adapted from former CIA agent Robert Baer's memoir See No Evil, the film manages to pack so much in and its attention to detail is staggering. Even the fim's poster has been thought about (although Sideways would still claim my poster of the year award).

At some points I became lost in the double dealings and details of the oil trade and corporate law but felt that this was part of the experience. There are no easy answers here - no traditional character progressiosn or neat little life lessons, no simple reductionism into a Michael Moore-style observation of the 'bad' guys from the 'right' side of the fence. The judgements and moral lessons are in there but you have to think hard before extracting them from the web of lies, compromise and uncertainty.

The Clooney / Soderburgh production company Section Eight is quickly racking up a formidible catlogue of stylish and thought-provoking films, from Insomnia and Far from Heaven to the recent Good Night, and Good Luck (although it is perhaps best to ignore the awful Welcome to Collinwood).

Syriana is long and at times complicated (as well as containing an almost unwatchable torture scene) but its well worth it. Even if it's just to see a fat George Clooney (he put on 30 pounds in 30 days to play CIA agent Bob Barnes) go see this film.   

If you can't make it, check out this website, linked to the film, for the campaign to reduce our dependence on oil: www.participate.net/oilchange.



Stop the secrecy: Publish the NHS COVID data deals

To: Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

We’re calling on you to immediately release details of the secret NHS data deals struck with private companies, to deliver the NHS COVID-19 datastore.

We, the public, deserve to know exactly how our personal information has been traded in this ‘unprecedented’ deal with US tech giants like Google, and firms linked to Donald Trump (Palantir) and Vote Leave (Faculty AI).

The COVID-19 datastore will hold private, personal information about every single one of us who relies on the NHS. We don’t want our personal data falling into the wrong hands.

And we don’t want private companies – many with poor reputations for protecting privacy – using it for their own commercial purposes, or to undermine the NHS.

The datastore could be an important tool in tackling the pandemic. But for it to be a success, the public has to be able to trust it.

Today, we urgently call on you to publish all the data-sharing agreements, data-impact assessments, and details of how the private companies stand to profit from their involvement.

The NHS is a precious public institution. Any involvement from private companies should be open to public scrutiny and debate. We need more transparency during this pandemic – not less.

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