Jack Ryan (TV series)

tcjr1Jack Ryan is an action-thriller series, produced by Amazon Prime. The characters originate from “Ryan” series authored by Tom Clancy, and have been through numerous film adaptations in the past.

The show stars John Krasinski as the titular character. He is a former marine turned CIA analyst whose instincts and intellect place him at the tip of the anti-terrorism sword in the US. In season one, he travels all over the world trying to identify and pre-empt Yemen-born Syrian terrorists.

I just binge watched season one on Amazon Prime in a couple of days. There are eight episodes in the first season, and I am assuming there will be roughly the same number of episodes in season 2, which releases on November 2nd.

Jack Ryan is an excellent show, that I would highly recommend to anyone interested in political/military/action/thriller entertainment. Although it is American-based and draws story from current flash zones and news headlines, the characters are fictional – you are not going to see a Donald Trump look alike in the Oval Office. And unlike typical military dramas such as Seal Team Six, The Unit, or 24, I don’t find it to vomit American patriotism all over the audience, a huge turn-off to most non-American viewers, like moi.

A second aspect that helps set this show apart from other counter-terrorism entertainment is that Ryan is a reluctant hero. He has flashbacks to his Marine deployment which ended in a fiery helicopter crash that he blames himself for, and comments multiple times that he prefers when he is behind the desk, not gunning down terrorists in crowded plazas. Jason Bourne he is not.

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Finally, the producers have dedicated screen time to developing backstories and relationships for the terrorists, and explaining how and why they were radicalized. The picture isn’t as black and white as one might think, and it really drives home what a mess the whole system is. Trying to eliminate one threat has repercussions that last generations and often just spur on a whole new crop of terrorists.

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I highly recommend this show, and am eagerly awaiting season two. I thought it was already out when I started watching, so now I will have to find something else to entertain myself while sick.

Season one trailer

Season two trailer

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Fear: Trump in the White House

fear - trump in the white house

With authoritative reporting honed through eight presidencies from Nixon to Obama, author Bob Woodward reveals in unprecedented detail the harrowing life inside President Donald Trump’s White House and precisely how he makes decisions on major foreign and domestic policies. Woodward draws from hundreds of hours of interviews with firsthand sources, meeting notes, personal diaries, files and documents. The focus is on the explosive debates and the decision-making in the Oval Office, the Situation Room, Air Force One and the White House residence.

Fear is the most intimate portrait of a sitting president ever published during the president’s first years in office.

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I have read several political memoirs and biographies over the last few months and enjoyed all of them. There is always so much drama in American politics that it truly gives rise to the term “politi-tainment”. Fear, Trump in the White House appealed to me specifically because it was written by Bob Woodward, who has a long history of writing presidential biographies and is a respected investigative journalist. I figured that this would potentially be the most neutral book yet out of all the “tell-alls” to have hit the bestseller shelves in the last two years.

I learned a few new things about the Trump administration, and about Donald Trump himself, in this book. Some sections reinforced my negative impressions of him as a person and as a leader, while other points softened my judgement.

One point that comes across more clearly than anything else is this. Donald Trump is bull-headed and emphatically does not care about logic, truth, or the consequences. He regularly is quoted as responding “I don’t care” to aides and advisors, when their arguments conflict with his intentions. And while President Trump experiences extreme tunnel-vision on some topics, he is usually easily distracted in the short-term, much like a small child.

Trump does seem to care about his campaign promises more than anything else, and is dedicated to ramrodding them through in order to pacify his base. This is peculiar to me, as he regularly pivots and changes his mind on the fly about a vast variety of issues, and even conservative Republicans in Congress are reported to have begged him to let certain points go. But for whatever reason, Trump is committed to achieving those points that he was elected on and that dedication is to be commended, even if I don’t agree with his political views.

Generally, I believe that Trump cares more about being famous and being perceived as powerful, than anything else. He certainly isn’t a martyr, nor is he interested in governing to improve his country.

Woodward’s book is very factual and dense at times. There isn’t a strong narrative like other recent political memoirs I have read, such as Becoming by Michelle Obama or A Higher Loyalty by James Comey. Mainly for this reason, I didn’t enjoy Fear nearly as much.

Fear tends to jump between news highlight reels at times, a symptom of the the vast quantity of news Trump’s team generates. He even addresses the notion that Trump and his team purposely flooded news agencies with so many juicy stories during the campaign and early days of the Presidency, both so that they would dominate the news cycle and so that otherwise major stories would be quickly pushed aside for the next headline, rather than receiving more thorough coverage and deeper journalistic investigation.

Touching upon Trump’s personal life, Woodward confirms the President and First Lady sleep in separate bedrooms, long a suspected belief of many, and also describes Trump – though briefly – as a terrible father. There is extremely limited mention of Baron, Donald Jr and Ivanka Trump, as well as quite a bit of talk of Jared Kushner throughout the book. There is no mentioned of the President’s other children.

Another point that surprised me through Fear, was the significant amount of cooperation between Trump’s lawyers and the Special Counsel’s office in the first year of Muller’s investigation. I did not anticipate this and wish that I knew the behind the scenes status today.

Overall, I feel that the book finished in a weird place. It covers the campaign and approximately the first 18 months of presidency in the White House. However, it ends there. I just naturally assumed that this type of book would either cover the campaign and/or cover the entirety of Trump’s first term of office.

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Becoming (Michelle Obama)

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In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America—the first African-American to serve in that role—she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments.

Along the way, she showed us a few dance moves, crushed Carpool Karaoke, and raised two down-to-earth daughters under an unforgiving media glare. In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it—in her own words and on her own terms. Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations—and whose story inspires us to do the same.

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I listened to the audiobook, which is read by Michelle Obama herself.

I have always been a fan of Michelle and Barack and family. I liked that they appeared to stand above many political pundits, as evidenced by Michelle’s “when they go low, we go high” slogan. I was also a fan of her political and social movements, championing health and fitness for children.

Listening to this book made me feel closer to her. That is a weird idea, considering that we have never met, but I felt like I gained a much deeper understanding of her as an individual – not just FLOTUS – and appreciated what I learned. She comes across as more of the high-achieving girl next door, rather than as the “elite” I always pictured her as.

She is relateable.

She is the epitome of the American Dream.

I am a Canadian citizen. I agreed with a lot of the policies and values that were championed by the Obamas but I think I was granted some emotional distance from the political drama that always seems to unfold in the USA, by nature of my geographical distance. I remember thinking about the insane and unrealistic expectations everyone seemed to have of Barack Obama when he was first elected. He was optimistic and a talented politician, but he was still just one man who was forced to work within the same political machine as each of his predecessors and successors.

Becoming obviously tells Michelle’s personal history, as well as chronicling many of the key points in her journey through the White House. It is very informative. It also put certain things into perspective.

I am white. Michelle is black. I am Canadian. She is American. I grew up in a small town, she grew up in the inner city of Chicago. We are a lot alike though.

History that seems to have occurred so long ago – like Jim Crow laws – isn’t so long ago when you think of them in terms of generations. To have grown up knowing people who were oppressed by those laws. To know that their grandparents – your great great grandparents – were slaves…. that is a heady realization. It makes you realize that those periods of history weren’t so long ago after all. I have greater awareness for the lingering affects of this history today.

As I mentioned, I was easily able to relate to Michelle at times. I never would have imagined that she was burned out by school. That she trained to get a prestigious degree in a career that she quickly discovered she had no love for. To feel burdened down by school debt, expectations, and difficulty conceiving. I was extremely emotional listening to her talk about her Dad’s death. And incredibly impressed over her career trajectory, and professional self-confidence.

One thing I learned about her husband is that President Obama always had to have something to attain and reach for. I couldn’t help but wonder, when you have held the highest office in the country for 8 years, what else is left to do afterwards?

On a more technical note, I did find that the recording of the book dragged. The narrative itself was great, but I sped up the playback to 1.5x, very unusual for me. Most of the word count is devoted to Michelle aged 5-30, with less than I expected devoted to the Obama Family’s time in the White House.

I particularly loved the stories related to her experiences with Queen E.

One lingering question I still have, silly though it may be, is how much freedom does the first family have to redecorate the private residence? Like, did Sasha have a pretty pink bedroom when they first moved in and she was still a young girl? If I ever had a chance to meet Mrs Obama, that would definitely be a question I asked!

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A Higher Loyalty by James Comey

Former FBI Director James Comey shares his never-before-told experiences from some of the highest-stakes situations of his career in the past two decades of American government, exploring what good, ethical leadership looks like, and how it drives sound decisions. His journey provides an unprecedented entry into the corridors of power, and a remarkable lesson in what makes an effective leader.

Mr. Comey served as Director of the FBI from 2013 to 2017, appointed to the post by President Barack Obama. He previously served as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, and the U.S. deputy attorney general in the administration of President George W. Bush. From prosecuting the Mafia and Martha Stewart to helping change the Bush administration’s policies on torture and electronic surveillance, overseeing the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation as well as ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, Comey has been involved in some of the most consequential cases and policies of recent history.

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I LOVED this book!

I listened to the audiobook during my commute this week and found myself lingering in the car in my driveway, or sitting in the parking lot at work to eat my lunch, just so that I could keep listening.

There is so much information and misinformation out there right now, especially in the realm of American politics, that I didn’t know how I felt about the firing of Director Comey. I knew I didn’t respect how it was done, but then Trump can always be counted on to show little to no class. But as to the substance behind the firing? I just didn’t know what to think.

This book has completely made up my mind.

Admittedly, I am only receiving one opinion – that of James Comey. However, his arguments are clear, concise and logical. In his book, he comes across as confident but still possessing of humility. He admits when he was wrong, and when he could see another person in his position making a different call, and still find it justified.

In the end, Director Comey was caught in the middle of the nasty crossfire of partisan politics in the lead-in to – and following – 2016’s election. There really was no win there.

Listening to this book makes me hope that in the near future, after the Russia investigation is completed, Robert Mueller will also write a book. And that it will be read by Mr. Comey. All else aside, the former FBI director has a very soothing voice and is a great companion during the daily commute.

I highly recommend this book and have just passed it over to my Mum to read, as she and my Dad were both interested when I told them about it 🙂

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