Saturday, July 31, 2021

Mimi--a story about Surrogacy

 Although the word is out there, most of us have little knowledge about surrogacy and certainly not about the emotional turmoil that sometimes envelopes it.  "Mimi" (2021) gives a scenario that brings out a lot of emotions.  Recently added to the Netflix lineup.

 Set in India, Mimi is a young woman who dreams of making it to Bollywood, but realizes she does not have enough money to make a serious effort.  Instead she is a popular dance girl at a local club.  Bhanu, a taxi driver through some misunderstandings learns of an American couple, John and Summer who are looking for a healthy woman to be a surrogate and have a lot of money to spend on the effort.  Of course there are a few comical misunderstandings while he tries to explain the opportunity to Mimi, but she eventually sees it as her chance to get some cash for a serious assault on Bollywood.  Through her ignorance we learn a little about how surrogacy works and she agrees.  A little subterfuge is necessary to hide a pregnancy from her parents, but arrangements are made with some help from Bhanu.  She and Bhanu are getting paid and the pregnancy seems to be going smoothly.

The American couple visit the doctor in charge and are told that tests have revealed that the baby is likely to be mentally challenged.  Summer is very upset and wants out to the point she walks away from the deal suggesting an abortion would be appropriate.  Mimi is stunned and not sure what to do. She ends up going back to her parents who are upset.  They had been lied to and were humiliated at their daughter's condition.  When asked who the father is she points to Bhanu and says they are married.  Bhanu is already married and his wife and mother find him and more of the true story comes out.  In due time the baby arrives appearing fairer skinned than some expected and normal but Mimi's family is happy and supportive including Bhanu.  

Time whizzes by and a Facebook posting of Mimi dancing with her son catches the attention of John and Summer in America who promptly show up and want their son back, four years after they had abandoned him.   Mimi and her family are very upset and offering to sell cars and houses for a legal battle.  You know enough of the story.  There is a cutesy solution to the dilemma that makes an unexpected point.

Some may well feel it is too cutesy, but I feel it not only makes a few points, but will have most viewers feeling the emotional tensions at different points.  It is well done which enhances the effect.

"Mimi" is a remake of an award winning Marathi film "Mala Aai Vhaaychayl" (2011).  Another remake in the Telegu language was "Welcome Obama" (2013).

Dinesh Vijan was the producer.  Some of his productions include "Agent Vinod" (2012),  "Finding Fanny" (2012), "Badlapur" (2015)  and "Bala" (2019).  An earlier post covering "Bala" and its theme:

Laxman Uteker, the director and co-writer had been a cinematographer including "English Vinglish" (2012) and "Dear Zindagi" (2016.)  He had some experience as a director, but this effort was his first script.

Akash Agrawal was the cinematographer.  He has been involved in such films as "2 States" (2014) and "Dangal" (2016),  A post on "2 States"

A R Rahman, Oscar winning composer wrote a few songs to help support the mood.

The casting director, Vaibhav Vishant has participated in a number of interesting casting decisions for such films as "Kai Po Che" (2013), "Highway" (2014), "Haider" (2014), "PK" (2014),  "Mom" (2017), "Super 30" (2019, "Chhichhore" (2019) and "She" (2020).  Some posts reflecting these movies:   These are links to some very good movies and I would add that anyone involved with casting decisions has both contributed and learned.

Kriti Sanon plays Mimi who ranges from a flighty woman to a woman who has to make a serious decision and then has to deal with someone wanting to take away her son.  Kriti actually has an engineering degree and got into modeling and tv. commercials.  Some of her films include "Dilwale" (2015) and "Bareilly Ki Barfi" (2017).

Pankaj Tripathi plays Bhanu, a taxi driver who gets involved with Mimi who is mystified why he sticks it out and he replies a driver doesn't abandon his passengers.  Pankaj has appeared in such films as "Agneepath" (201)"Diwale" (2015), "Newton" (2017) and "Super 30" (2020).  

Evelyn Edwards played Summer, the woman who couldn't conceive a baby herself with a range from joy to disappointment.  She was given a lot of lines in Hindi which may have been dubbed, but seemed very natural.  Her first credit was ten episodes of "Mad Men"(2007-2008), but was uncredited.  She has appeared in a number of films such as "Her" (2013).

Aidan Whytock played John.  He was born in South Africa, but had spent much of his life also in Singapore and England.  He was headhunted as a brewery salesman, but a love of theatre helped him get film jobs, at first in South Africa.  He had a leading part in one season of "Homeland" (2014). 

Amardeep Jha had a minor role as an older relative of Mimi's.  She is very good at playing fragile older women in such films as "Amal" (2007) "3 Idiots" (2009) and "PK" (2014).  

During the end credits they posted that if all the orphaned children could be put together in one country it would be the ninth largest in the world.  There are a lot of angles to surrogacy, but if you haven't given it much thought this film will make you aware and more understanding.

Note:  I have bolded titles of films I have seen. 

Sunday, July 25, 2021

The Code Breaker

 Walter Isaccson has been enabled to study and write about some great thinkers.  Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs are ones that spring to mind.  With "The Code Breaker" (2021) he was able to have many conversations with his subject, Jennifer Doudna, but also many colleagues and even competitors.  While finishing up his material, the Covid 19 pandemic took over science.  In the midst of all that that, Jennifer along with her colleague Emmanuelle Charpentier was awarded the Nobel Prize, announced October 9, 2020. 

 Isaacson, as a respected science writer was given the opportunity to write about gene editing that he identified as the most important scientific breakthrough of current times and how it impacted the search for solutions to Covid-19 pandemic.

Isaacson had the story start on March 12, 2020 as she and her husband, Jamie Cafe decided to pull their son out of a robotics camp, a three hour drive away tied to how his main character, Jennifer Doudna and her husband anticipated a lockdown which did occur the next day due to yet unnamed Covid-19 pandemic.  The previous narrative was a history of Jennifer, her collaborators, her competitors and the process of breaking the gene code.

Gene Editing was not an individual effort, but was driven by countless science workers from dozens of countries.  Jennifer Doudna grew up in Hawaii where she came across "The Double Helix," the book describing the format of DNA by by Thomas Watson, Francis Crick and the uncredited Rosalind Franklin.  This helped inspire young Jennifer who went on to study at Pomona College in California and then Harvard where she studied under Jack Szosak, a Nobel Prize winner who directed Jennifer to the role of RNA.  She worked with Thomas Cech (who was a Nobel Prize winner) at the University of Colorado where the two further developed the concept that RNA plays an important role with the better understood DNA.  From there she became an assistant professor at Yale and later at the University of California in Berkley where she continued to do experiments that deepened science's view of manipulating genes.

There were many other people involved in collaboration and competition.  In 2020 she was awarded her own Nobel Prize in association with the French scientist  Emmanuelle Charpentier as the two had worked together on the mysteries of the gene.

The Covid-19 pandemic re focused some of their efforts.  Berkely became the site of work on testing and identifying the virus and some efforts to establishing a vaccine.  They realized that research is too often tied up with legal concerns and broke down some of the obstacles.  One item that was remarked on was the reluctance of African Americans to take blood tests was due to experiences when they had been treated as guinea pigs.  The vaccines that have been developed were the first to be genetic works.

Isaacson, I would say more than with previous books was able to have extended conversations not only with Jennifer, but also many of her collaborators and even competitors, notably Feng Zhang.  Isaacson was allowed to split genes to see how easy it now is.  He also recalled talking with Steve Jobs after he was asked what was the best product and Jobs replied that it was assembling a team that could continually develop new products. 

There was a lot of discussion on bio ethics.  In effect scientists were making decisions that many thought were reserved for God.  The first concern was to avoid rare diseases, but then it became obvious that a wide range of human characteristics could be improved for the benefit of some, but that could have unexpected and perhaps undesirable side effects.  One side effect might be the lessening of diversity as everyone tries to emphasize the most ideal characteristics.  Darwin once pointed that nature could be very cruel.

It seems likely that our legal and moral views will evolve, but with our current resources there is still a lot of concern.  In my previous reading Yuval Noah Hariri seemed to accept that mankind has reached the point of playing God and had his own concerns.  An earlier blog.

The world is still adjusting to ever evolving science knowledge.  The computer has spread to effect all of humanity and now bio-chemistry promises even more advances for the human condition.

Links to blog posts on some of Walter Isaacson's other books.

On Albert Einstein:

On Leonardo da Vinci:

 On Steve Jobs:  (8th paragraph): 

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Live Up to your name

 It was not my intention to blabber on about another Korean mini-series, but it is so easy to find interesting ones.  "Live up to your name" is different.  It involves time travel a little differently and in this case is well done.  It also involves acupuncture which had never drawn much attention.  In modern Seoul, Korea the real Dr. Heo Im had written texts that were still considered masterpieces for acupuncture, but in the series Dr. Heo goes back and forth between the two times and appears as a man with human frailities and I don't recall him settling down to write his experience.  There are character changes that seem natural and commendable.


With those elements it was not hard to find an interesting, captivating story.  The essential story is a man from a poor background who becomes an expert in acupuncture 400 years ago.  Somehow (we later figure out he has to die first) he finds himself in modern Korea and of course mystified by all the strange happenings.  Soon he proves himself as having superior medical skills, but not modern. As an acupuncturist in mediavel Korea he was respected by patients, but poor, while higher class people snubbed him until they needed his skills. There are lots of miraculous cures, but also social and political intrigues

Of course there is romantic interest, although it takes quite awhile to develop.  She is a modern doctor skilled in open heart surgery and we learn with a grandfather who is a traditional acupuncturist.  To complicate things there is a modern acupuncture clinic and one of the men there is also pursuing the heroinne.  The grandfather has a interesting and relevant history.

If you watch a lot of medical tv. shows and movies you will not be disturbed with stitching, or needle penetrations or open heart surgery, but if not, you might need once in awhile to steel yourself.  It really is amazing.  Along the way with many medical stories there are moral dilemmas.  There is a twist ending.

Perhaps some of you are more familiar with acupuncture than me, but how they showed it was revealing for me.  We see all sorts of pins being inserted into various parts of the body, but more interesting they show animated views on the under side of the skin.  We learn that in fact the hero had written medical texts that were still being used in modern times.  They don't claim to deal with every malady, but do cover a lot of interesting ones.

Jong-Chan Hong was the director and has worked in the television series business for a few years.

Eun-hee Kim wrote the script which actually was a year after another time travel series, "The Signal"  2016) that differed mainly as there was only 15 years difference between the two eras and each change in the past had immediate repercussions in the future.   Check for more details.   He had two national awards for that series.

Nam-gil Kim plays the lead character who adjusts from living in medieval Korea that comes under attack by Japanese and into the modern world where his skills are at first overshadowed by modern medicine including open heart surgery.  He swings between serious mode to happy go lucky and few moods in between.  Nam-gil has won national awards.

 Kim Ah-Jung was in "200 pounds beauty" in which she played a singer who was overweight as a hidden backup for an attractive women who was a terrible singer.  Through some interesting interventions she is missing for a year and loses a lot of weight and has a few more adjustments to make her more attractive.  She is very shy about singing in public, but she is terrific.   She did her own singing, one of the numbers is a frequently played on my iTunes.   She is very charming in "Live up to Your name."

Unable to find out who wrote the music, but bought one item which is now a favorite.  Here it is:

Another English version of the title is "Live up to Your name, Dr. Heo."  I interpret this to mean when he came to the modern world he had a reputation to live up to as some characters had access to a book of his, but in fact he had not yet written any of the documents that he became famous for.  Acupuncture is not so much explained as demonstrated.

Friday, July 16, 2021


 Price and Value seem almost like synonyms.  Mariana Mazzucato feels there have been distortions that are not in our best interests.   Spotted her on Steve Paikin with a new book.  Previously learned of her first book on the same show:

What the market determines is the price of any commodity is generally considered its value.  Mariana feels this is not always reliable.  As she points out once value was thought to be the time and effort required to produce an object, but as markets are imperfect prices and wages are often set by the powerful and paid by the weak.

There is a lot more meat in the book than I can convey in a short post, but below are some random thoughts gleaned.

Gold was considered value and that anything could be valued by how much gold could be exchanged.  Spain brought back huge amounts of gold stolen from the New World, but in reality did not make Spain more productive.

Conservatives feel government is an impediment to business, perhaps because they are focused on profits more than the environment they help create.  Productivity has increased since the 1960's in industrial countries, but the standard of living for most has not improved as much. 

Financialization has crept into our economy, not only through expansion of financial institutions, but also by the productive sector.   For example Ford in the 2000s made more money from selling loans to buy cars than from selling the actual cars.  

Another practice that distorts value is the practice of buying back shares which in effect increase price of shares, but without putting money into production.  Too often other stakeholders, such as employees, municipalities and taxpayers receive at best secondary consideration, even though they are crucial to the economy.

John Maynard Keynes is one who understood that the government is the spender of last resort.  He advocated for more spending (even it means borrowing) during economic down times, while in "normal" times to accumulate surpluses for the inevitable downturns.  More information on his thinking:

One sobering thought: if you find something free online, you are not the customer, you are the product.  A closing thought from the author: "The question of growth must thus focus less on the rate of growth and more on its direction."

The thinking expressed in this book should be of concern to everyone concerned about the future.  What do you value?

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race

 A provocative title and cover, but not entirely true.  At one time she despaired of getting white people to understand racism.  But in fact she does present a good case and even suggests how you (if you are a white person) might alleviate your guilt feelings.

 I finished this book on the same day of the aftermath of England's loss in the Euro Cup.  Some will be forgotten by the time this post is read.  The game was an even match through regulation time and then through extra time until the shootout.  Shootouts are notoriously unpredictable.  There is a guessing game between the shooter and the goalie and shots have been known to hit the goal post or fly way above and many capable players have failed.  But three English black players failed.  This was too much for many English "fans" who berated the three black players on Twitter and vandalized billboards.  The three had all helped England to reach the finals

Most of what has reached my attention on racism has been based in United States and Canada.  In fact, the English were the ones that brought Africans to British North American plantations as well as throughout the Caribbean.  The English supported the slave trade, but mostly in their colonies.  Surprised to learn that captured slaves (I suppose like any other "commodity") could be insured while being transported, although dead bodies were thrown overboard.

In 1833 it is sometimes boasted the English outlawed slavery, but they paid compensation to 46,000 British slaveholders.  After WWII Britain needed more cheap manpower and invited many from their Commonwealth base.  Many blacks from the Caribbean heeded the call.  Resistance was both individualistic and organized. 

To satisfy complaints of discrimination, governments have set up quotas to favor certain groups such as minority races or women.  Reni contends that although quotas are often viewed as an unfair leg up, it is really being "white" that has given many an unfair leg up.  Those hoping to achieve higher political office slyly draw attention to the many immigrants and avoid drawing attention to the concentration of wealth that in reality is what holds back native Britons. 

Immigration is upsetting to many citizens.  Unfortunately there are many forces that cause an increase.  Underlying is probably the uneven distribution of wealth, but also of resources and of freedom.  Brexit was in large part a reaction to immigration.  The Arab spring sparked a big movement, particularly from Syria.  Most European nations had some sort of resistance while Germany opened its doors.  The author pointed out a political movement in Finland that wanted women to turn from education to being home makers producing more young Finns so there would be no need for immigrants.

When this book was first published 2017 it created a stir with many people criticizing the title and content, without actually reading it.  The soft cover version came out in 2019 and recounted some of the initial reaction.  Similar to how the Republicans are stirring up hatred against Critical Race Theory without actually understanding what it refers to.   

While attempting to polish this post I also watched "I Am Not Your Negro" (1960)   Director Raoul Peck decided to pick up on a James Baldwin unfinished book, "Remember This House" which was intended to discuss the struggles of blacks in America.  James Baldwin speaks from a number of film clips.  Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr started with opposite views on violence, but modified  before each of them was assassinated.  Medgar Evers as another black man who was assassinated.   We were shown lynched victims and opposition to blacks entering previously all white schools.  Apparently Robert Kennedy was invited to take part, but thought his participation would be meaningless.  Raoul and James thought otherwise.  A common refrain from segregationists was that black rights could be equated with Communism.   Samuel L. Jackson did some of the narration and an extra revealed him to be a lot more that how he is generally depicted in his movie roles.  The film had been nominated for an Oscar and does provide interesting insights that are still relevant today. 

Another post on racism:

Friday, July 9, 2021

The Mauritanian

"The Mauritanian" (2021) is an important film with a message that is well presented.  During the Covid lockdowns, the local library keep access to books and DVDs, etc.  DVD special features help one apprciate some of the finer points  of a movie.

Guantanamo was created  to avoid legal restrictions by a government determined to impress their intention to defeat terrorism.  They needed information, but after awhile whatever information might have been usable was diminished in value.  They felt only by bypassing long established domestic and international practices could they deal with terrorism. 

One of the tactics was to smear any legal defenders as terrorist lovers.  Nancy Hollander pointed out that although she had defended rapists and murderers she had never been tainted as a rapist or murderer.  Her point was that everyone deserved legal counsel and that the rule of law needed to be adhered to.

The two lawyers heard Mohamedu say he did nothing criminal, but later they were confronted with some confessions.  Still later they realized he had been tortured.  That meant that any such confessions could not be used, but still the American authorities felt he had to be detained.  An earlier post on torture explains my attitude towards the issue.

 Tahar Rahim struck me as over acting as he seemed jovial, very articulate, not at all how foreign terrorists are perceived to be.  However during the credits and also with special features the real Mohamedou Ould Slagh turned out to be very jovial, articulate and informed. 

In the end, despite winning some legal concessions Slahi spent 15 years in prison and was never charged.  He expressed forgiveness for his tormentors, moved back to Mauritania and got married.  He actually sang along with a Bob Dylan song.

Kevin Macdonald, born Scottish mostly directed, produced and wrote for documentaries.  In 1999 he won best documentary feature Oscar for "One Day in September."   He also directed fictional features including "The Last King of Scotland" (2006) guiding Forest Whitaker to best actor Oscar and "State of Play" (2009).  Recently he completed a film on the Covid Pandemic, "2020: The Story of Us" (2021).

Michael Bronner, a producer and writer had been award winning broadcast journalist.  He had been a staff producer at CBS News and 60 Minutes while writing features articles for Vanity Fair and Foreign Policy.  He was involved in producing, "United 93" (2006) and "Green Zone" (2010) and "Captain Philips" (2013)

Music provided by Tom Hodge, cinematography under Alwin H. Kuchler and was edited by Justine Clark.

Tahar Rahim  played Mohamedou, the central character who maintained his sanity through torture.  Tahar was born in France of Algerian parents and is fluent in French, Arabic and English.  He burst to international fame with "A Prophet" (2009) for which he earned numerous awards.   In 2013 he starred in "The Past" under director Asghar Farhadi.  Also appeared in "Samba" (2014),

Jodie Foster played Nancy Hollander, the lawyer who defended Mohmedou.  She has been in films since age 3.  She was in commercials and many television series.  Playing a 12 year old prostitute in "Taxi Driver" (1976) she was nominated for her first Oscar.  Her films include "Silence of the Lambs" (1991), "Sommersby" (1993), "Maverick" (1994), "Anna and the King" (1999),  "A Very Long Engagement" (French 2004) "Inside Man" (2006) and "Elysium" (2013).  She has also directed and produced a number of films.  She spoke fluent French, but ironically another character in "The Mauritanian" had been asked to translate a French document.

Shailene Woodley played Teri Duncan, the assistant lawyer.  She also started  young as a model and soon involved with tv series.  A big breakthrough was with " The Descendants" (2010).  She then went on lead in such films "The Fault in our Stars" (2014) "Snowden" (2016) and "Adrift" (2018).

Benedict Cumberbatch plays Stuart Couch, a prosecutor who has a change of heart.  He also was one of the producers for this film.  After a year teaching at Tibet in Darjeeling India Cumberbatch got serious about acting by studying at Manchester University and the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.  He was able to keep himself busy with stage, television, film and radio.  He played Stephen Hawking in "Hawking" (2004). Some of his many films include "Atonement" (2007), "The Whistleblower" (2010),  "Tinker Tailor Soldiere Spy" (2011), "War Horse" (2011),  "Twelve Years a Slave" (2013), "The Imitation Game" (2014), 'Brexit" (2019), and "1917" (2019).  He has been a voice on "The Simpson's" (2013-2021). 

Of course it took many other actors and crew members assembled for this presentation.

 The rule of law is one of the necessities for civilization.  There will always be rule breakers and evil doers.  It will often be difficult to sort out complications fairly.  Unfairness causes resentments and disobedience.  Americans (for that matter Westerners) do not really understand their complicity in the resentments felt by Arabs and Muslims.  Through ignorance and greed, much undeserved suffering was inflicted.  Respect for the rule of law cold mitigate much of this suffering.  If "The Mauritanian" can help in this cause it is well worth it.

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Is Israel such a bad example for proportional representation?

Those of us who advocate for proportional representation have been criticized that Israel was a bad case for the concept.  To me that is mixing up results with a tool.  Proportional representation is presented as a solution to a problem and although it has many benefits it cannot by itself solve all the perceived problems of the world.  It is an important tool that all reasonable voters should consider if they really want to solve many of the iniquities in society.

 Israel's relationship with the Palestinian people is an abomination that is a problem with a global reach.  Unfortunately the Israeli voters with a proportional system have given support to restrictive laws and practices. The Israeli rulers have set up laws that are very restrictive to Palestinians, almost certainly out of fear mixed in with some ignorance.  How the rest of the world deals with this issue is much like how we deal with the Chinese persecution of Uighers.  The main difference is there is much sympathy for Jews, but not much for the Chinese autocrats.  Although we abhor perceived unfairness most nations respect the sovereignty of other nations for practical reasons.

Each Israeli election draws a fair amount of attention and for many it is the closest they are aware of proportional representation.  We understand there are political rivals who try to establish political alliances in order to get enough power to make decisions.  Netanyahu has been very prominent for over a decade and those who follow the news are aware that by allying himself with some Orthodox elements he has been able to gain power.  For the last several years the alliances have been very fragile.   Giving power to what are considered extremist minorities is one of the charges against proportional representation.

Two developments (I am sure there are many others) have been significant.  Netanyahu has been tainted with corruption charges and many voters have become leery of supporting him.  The other development is among the Arabs who have their own factions.  Some are reluctant to co-operate  with Jewish parties that are openly anti-Palestinian.  Others have looked for opportunities to gain some leverage.  With this last election balancing efforts have opened up one such opportunity.  As has been pointed out the head of the new alliance is actually more extreme than Netanyahu, but there have been slight changes with four Arab electors essential to maintaining the current balance.  If they choose to not support any new legislation the government will fall and a new election will ensue.  They of course need to be careful to maintain the current alliance if and until something better presents itself.

One example brought to my attention by Juan Cole in his Informed Comment occurred recently:   Essentially the Israeli Parliament failed to renew a restrictive law against Palestinians.  Many of those who automatically would have renewed this law abstained realizing otherwise they would face another election.

There may not be too many more examples of the power of the few as it is a delicate balance that allows any leverage and there are many pressures that could disrupt it.  As in any democracy there are always many factions with their own priorities, but under proportional representation they have to consider the priorities of other parties.  Hopefully enough voters will see the results have been positive and the politicians will realize their best interest lies in respecting all the voters.

Under First Past the Post system the hard line parties would not have to pay attention to 20% of the population that Arabs represent in Israel.  We may be fortunate that corruption concerns forced voters and politicians to re-evaluate their priorities.

The bottom line is that proportional representation is a tool that can help solve a lot of problems, but other tools are necessary to solve such problems as climate change, nuclear war risks, refugees, hatred, violence, crime, etc.  Some of those other tools might be balanced education and media support.  It is reasonable that when more people are paid attention through proportional representation that society can move towards solving global problems before it is too late.

Both voters and politicians need to work together instead of maneuvering to gain disproportionate power.  More will get done, but it does require a joint effort which is something lacking today.  Proportional representation is a step in the right direction.