Sunday, December 21, 2014

Did Cop Killer Ismaaiyl Brinsley Visit Terror-Tied Brooklyn Mosque?

By Patrick Poole
December 21, 2014
In my previous posts on assassin Ismaaiyl Brinsley, who murdered two New York Police Department officers on Saturday, I noted that he had posted on Facebook a page of the Quran with a notorious verse calling to “strike terror into the [hearts of] the enemies of Allah,” and another post about a fight he recently engaged in with an Atlanta panhandler when he discovered the panhandler was a “Muslim too.”
But an Instagram message posted by Brinsley during Ramadan five months ago may indicate that he visited one of America’s most terror-tied mosques:
Eid Mubarak
Responding to a comment on his message, he notes that he is headed to “Al-Farooq Tomorrow inshallah.” His social media traffic indicates that he transited from Atlanta, Baltimore and Brooklyn on a regular basis.
If this reference by the cop killer was from Brooklyn (which is hard to discern since his Instagram account has been taken down), it may indicate that he was going to visit Masjid Al-Farooq in Brooklyn.
Al-Farooq’s long history of terror support goes back more than 20 years, when the 1993 World Trade Center bombing was hatched by members. One imam from the early 1990s, when Al-Farooq was a hub of the nascent Al-Qaeda and was hosting Al-Qaeda co-founder Abdullah Azzam, was Fawaz Damra, who was charged, convicted and later deported for lying to immigration officials about his terror ties when he applied for U.S. citizenship.
Another Al-Farooq imam, Gulshair Shukrijumah, was not only a regular translator for the Blind Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, but his son, Adnan, became a top Al-Qaeda operative and was killed in a gun battle with Pakistani intelligence just a few weeks ago.
Yet another mosque official, Sheikh Mohammed al-Moayad, was charged in 2003 with using the mosque as a front to raise $20 million for Al-Qaeda. At the time, the New York Times noted the mosque’s extensive connections to terrorism.
It remains to be seen if the Brooklyn Al-Farooq mosque is the one referred to in Brinsley’s Instagram post. If so, it will be yet another connection that NYPD officials will need to examine as they investigate the cold-blooded murder of their two colleagues.

Nittany Lions sweep BYU for NCAA title No. 7

Read more here:
 — The trophy stays in State College.
The Penn State women’s volleyball dynasty rolled through another opponent and locked up a national championship Saturday night.
Behind 11 kills each for Megan Courtney and Aiyana Whitney, the Nittany Lions defended their title and won their NCAA-record seventh overall with a 25-21, 26-24, 25-14 sweep of Brigham Young at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“I thought we had a great game plan,” coach Russ Rose said. “I thought the players worked really hard at executing it, and we feel great about tonight’s result.”
It marked the sixth crown in eight seasons for Penn State (36-3), which won its 20th straight match, dropping just two sets through the last 19 of those wins.
“It’s such a great thing,” said Rose, whose seven titles as coach is more than anyone else in Division I, as are his 1,161 career wins. “I don’t think it’s — we’re not trying to hoard them. We’re like everybody else. We’re trying to do the best we can.”
Courtney also posted 14 digs and five blocks on her way to earning Most Outstanding Player of the tournament. Saturday’s performance came on the heels of a career-high 23 kills, 16 digs and five blocks in the semifinals against No. 1 Stanford on Thursday.
“I just stuck to the game plan that all my coaching staff put hours and hours and hours of work in,” Courtney said, “and then my teammates just giving me the great balls to set, telling me where to hit. It’s all to them.”
Courtney, Whitney and National Freshman of the Year Ali Frantti, who put down six kills, were a tough matchup for the Cougars.
“(Courtney is an) outstanding outside hitter,” BYU coach Shawn Olmstead said. “They’ve got great pin hitters. We felt the match was going to come down to that. We felt comfortable with our pin hitters. Theirs were a little better than ours tonight, just overall.”
All-American Nia Grant added nine kills and four blocks, Haleigh Washington also had four blocks, AVCA National Player of the Year Micha Hancock gave out 36 assists to go with one ace and Dominique Gonzalez had a match-high 16 digs to go with one ace — a serve that ticked the net and fell to the floor for the final point of the night.
BYU, which was in the finals for the first time, was seeking to become the first unseeded team to capture the title. The team had earned wins over four other seeded teams, including No. 2 Texas in the semifinals, to become the first unseeded team to make the title match.
The Cougars (30-5) were paced by 6-foot-7 All-American Jennifer Hamson’s 14 kills, but the senior right-side hitter also had 11 errors and hit .071. Alexa Gray added nine kills and Amy Boswell and Tambre Nobles had seven kills each.
Penn State hit .233 to BYU’s .134, had a 42-38 lead in kills and also had a 10-7 advantage in blocks on the nation’s top blocking team.
It was Hancock’s ability to spread the ball around and keep the Cougar blockers off balance that helped keep the Nittany Lion offense humming.
“She did move the ball around better than we did,” Olmstead said. “I felt — I felt we were in good spots. I just — I thought their hitters just really, really took quality swings. They hit high with range.”
One key to beat the block was Courtney finding a seam between two blockers time and time again, and Hancock setting fast balls to the right side to Whitney or on slides to Grant and Washington.
“That was our game plan,” Hancock said. “So I tried to put some good balls up and so we could attack there right back move the ball around a little bit because they’ve got (Hamson), a pretty big girl. We wanted to try to limit the balls over there and execute our game plan and we did a good job of that.”
Penn State controlled most of the first set, hitting .250 with a 4-2 blocking advantage. A 4-1 run in the middle of the frame put the Nittany Lions in front for good, with kills for Hancock, Washington and a pair from Frantti earning the points. A Courtney kill bounced off the fingertips of a Cougar blocker to end the set.
“I thought our passing was good, allowed (Hancock) to run whoever she wanted,” Courtney said. “And we said that from the beginning whoever wins the serve pass game is going to win.”
It was a lot tougher for the Nittany Lions in the second frame as Gray began to find her swing, Hamson continued to pound the ball into the court and the BYU blockers started to find the Penn State hitters. The Cougars led nearly the entire set, but a cross-court kill for Grant on a slide out to the antenna tied it at 20-20. BYU fought off one set point when Boswell put away a kill on a quick set in the middle, but a Cougar service error gave the Lions another chance, and Hancock and Washington teamed up to stuff Nobles for the 2-0 lead.
The set was dead-even in a number of way statistically, with both teams hitting .267 and matching each other 3-3 in blocks.
The third set quickly became lopsided with an 8-1 run for a 20-9 lead as BYU was held to minus-.028 hitting with nine errors. The contest was at match point after a Hamson swing sailed wide, and Gonzalez’s serve bounced off the net and dropped to the floor in front of a couple Cougar passers to bring on the celebration.
It also was a sweet end to a college career for Hancock, who closed her career less than 20 miles from her hometown with one more ace to leave her NCAA single-season record at 125 and her Penn State career record at 380 — on the day she was due to graduate.
“It’s pretty cool,” she said. “What’s hitting me now is I’m not coming back to play with my girls. I’ve been around it for a long time. They’re like a family to me. So it’s really weird for me right now.”

Read more here:

Penn State repeats as women's volleyball champs

Updated 11:01 pm, Saturday, December 20, 2014

Penn State players celebrate after scoring the winning point against BYU, right, during the NCAA women's volleyball tournament championship match in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Dec. 20, 2014. Penn State won in three sets. From left at Penn State's Megan Courtney (17), Ali Frantti (5), Nia Grant (7), Dominique Gonzalez (4) and Micha Hancock (12). Photo: Sue Ogrocki, AP / AP

Penn State players celebrate after scoring the winning point against BYU, right, during the NCAA women's volleyball tournament championship match in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Dec. 20, 2014. Penn State won in three sets. From left at Penn State's Megan Courtney (17), Ali Frantti (5), Nia Grant (7), Dominique Gonzalez (4) and Micha Hancock (12). (Sue Ogrocki, AP / AP)
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Micha Hancock's dream came true.
The senior setter from nearby Edmond won a national title in front of family and friends in her final college match. She had 36 assists and five digs to help Penn State beat Brigham Young 25-21, 26-24, 25-14 Saturday for its second consecutive NCAA women's volleyball championship.
"What's hitting me now is I'm not coming back to play with my girls," Hancock said. "I've been around for a long time. They're like a family to me. I'm just going to miss the Penn State family. It's just weird to be an alum. It's a great way to end my career here."
Hancock helped the Nittany Lions neutralize the nation's No. 1 blocking team. BYU coachShawn Olmstead said Hancock proved why she was named the AVCA national player of the year.
"She deserves all that credit, all that recognition," Olmstead said. "Absolutely, she is the best. She gets my vote. She did an outstanding job. She did move the ball around better than we did."
Penn State's Megan Courtney was named the tournament's most outstanding player. The junior had 23 kills against Stanford in the semifinals and 11 kills and 14 digs in the final.
Aiyana Whitney had 11 kills in the final and Nia Grant had nine for Penn State (36-3), which won its sixth title in eight years and No. 7 overall to break a tie with Stanford for most overall championships.
Jennifer Hamson had 14 kills and Alexa Gray added nine for BYU, which had won 12 straight matches. The Cougars (30-5) beat traditional powers Nebraska and Texas to get to the final, and were trying to become the first unseeded team to win a national championship.
"These kids didn't fail," Olmstead said. "They didn't lose. They competed, and they're going to grow from this experience, and they're going to be better because of it."
In the first set, Whitney had five kills and Courtney and Grant had three for the Nittany Lions, who held BYU to a .132 hitting percentage.
In the second set, BYU took a 17-14 lead before Penn State rallied to take it 26-24. Whitney hammered down four more kills with just one error. Gray had six kills in the set, but the Cougars struggled with their passing game.
Hamson's service error at 24-all gave Penn State a set point, and a double block by Hancock and Haleigh Washington put the set in the Nittany Lions' column.
Penn State rolled through the third set, holding the Cougars to a minus-.028 hitting percentage.
"I thought we had opportunities," Olmstead said. "I thought we were close. Maybe others don't think that, but I want to think that. I thought we pushed them. We gave them a good fight."
The Nittany Lions might not be done winning titles. Courtney, Whitney, Washington and outside hitter Ali Frantti all return.
Still, Hancock's shoes are going to be tough to fill.
"Micha's had a lot of great things happen at Penn State," coach Russ Rose said. "She's worked hard, and I'm sure that I've been hard on a lot of players, and I'm sure I was especially hard on her and her development. I think she achieved what she wanted to achieve when she came to Penn State."

Penn State's Micha Hancock (12) and Haleigh Washington (15) block a shot by BYU during the NCAA women's volleyball tournament championship match in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Dec. 20, 2014. Penn State won in three sets. Photo: Sue Ogrocki, AP / AP
Penn State's Micha Hancock (12) and Haleigh Washington (15) block a shot by BYU during the NCAA women's volleyball tournament championship match in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Dec. 20, 2014. Penn State won in three sets. (Sue Ogrocki, AP / AP)

Rose's Penn State

Russ Rose started at Penn State in 1979 and has built a dynasty in the years since

NCAA • Lee Feinswog • 12/20/14
Penn State coach Russ Rose, left, talks to his team during a timeout in the NCAA women's volleyball tournament championship match against BYU in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Dec. 20, 2014. The Nittany Lions defeated BYU to claim the program's 7th national title and sixth in the last eight years. (Sue Ogrocki, AP / AP)
That first season, in 1979, Russ Rose made $14,000 as the Penn State women’s volleyball head coach.
“I just turned 25,” Rose recalled. “I was happy I got a job. I didn't know what I didn't know. I didn't have an office. I didn't have a telephone, I didn't have anything. I had 16 or 18 classes to teach a year, no assistant coach. I thought I had a good deal.”
Penn State, as it turns out, had a good deal.
The 1979 Nittany Lions finished 32-9 and were not invited to the postseason, but Rose nonetheless got a raise.
A $400 raise.
“I was feeling good,” Rose said.
He’s feeling better now. Penn State plays BYU on Saturday night for the national title in the NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Championship, and regardless of the outcome Rose has established himself as the greatest coach the women’s game has ever known.
Now, three weeks past his 61st birthday, Rose leads everyone with six NCAA crowns.
The next closest? Two have four national titles: John Dunning won two at Pacific and two more at Stanford, which got sent home by Penn State on Thursday in the semifinals, and his predecessor, Don Shaw, who won four at Stanford.
What’s more, Rose still teaches at Penn State.
“It’s an ethics and issues of athletic coaching, which I usually start with a disclaimer for the students,” Rose cracked.
These days Rose doesn’t have to disclaim anything. As he finishes his 36th year in Happy Valley, life is good. His four boys are grown, he makes way more than $14,400, and perennially has the team to beat in women’s college volleyball.
Penn State finally broke through and won it all in 1999.
Then the Nittany Lions put together the best run ever, winning four in a row from 2007-10.
In 2012 Rose’s team caught a bad break when setter Micha Hancock tore up her ankle in the national semifinal in Louisville. Without Hancock being herself, Oregon moved on to the championship match, losing to Texas.
Then last year, led by Hancock, Penn State won it all again.
There are competitive, driven people in sports. Few could match the intensity point-in and point-out that Hancock generates. Conversely, it’s hard to imagine a coach with higher standards and more pointed sarcasm than Rose.
Love-hate between Hancock—on Friday named the AVCA National Player of the Year—and Rose would be an understatement at times in those first two and half years.
When she made her visit to Penn State, Hancock recalled Rose telling her, “It’s going to be a challenge. You’re probably going to hate me for your career here, but I’m going to make you a really good player.”
Her response was simple: “Sure. I’m on board.”
Not that she always liked it.
“There were times when I was like, ‘OK, you’re putting a lot of pressure on me when you’re saying things that don’t exactly help me on the court,’ but he did it to make me tough and I always took it with a grain of salt.”
She smiled.
“I think I’ve understood him more than a lot of players do because he’s always just trying to get the best out of me and I’ve always kept that in mind when he’s being kind of jerk,” Hancock said.
“That’s the great thing about him, especially now that he knows I’m leaving. He’s got a soft spot for me now, maybe because of my toughness and hard work. He’s a little nicer now.”
Rose claims that now that his top assistant returned to the program, he simply turns his complaints with Hancock over to Salima (Davidson) Rockwell, who also set for Rose and was a 1996 Olympic alternate.
Not every player has that luxury.
“Sometimes it can be hard, because he expects the best out of you and he wants the best out of you at all times, but when you take a step back and look at it, you wouldn't want it any other way,” senior libero Dominique Gonzalez said. “As a college athlete, you want somebody to drive you every day and make you better. And I appreciate that.”
Gonzalez remembered the first time she met Rose. She was 14 and she said Rose asked her, “What's your best skill, passing, setting, or winning?”
She pondered it and, “I said I'd like to win.”
And win he does.
On paper, you would have to think that the Nittany Lions (35-3) of the Big Ten would be favored to beat upstart BYU (30-4).
BYU of the West Coast Conference might lead the nation in blocking, have 6-foot-7 wrecking crew Jennifer Hamson, and victories over Arizona, Florida State, Nebraska, and Texas to make the final. But Penn State, led by Hancock with so many weapons at her disposal, has won 19 matches in a row. That includes beating top-seeded Stanford on Thursday a couple of hours after BYU shocked the Longhorns.
BYU’s coach, fun-loving coach Shawn Olmstead, is almost half Rose’s age at 36.
“I mean, it's remarkable what he's done. And he deserves all the recognition that he gets in this sport and Penn State's been synonymous with success at this level and winning national championships and competing year in, year out,” Olmstead said.
“I understand that. And so we're excited.”
But he only took that so far.
“These kids aren't going to back down from a name or from a brand. They'll compete with anybody. And they're going to see that's an outstanding program over there, but we're not going to get caught up in that.
“Give Russ all the credit he deserves, and I think very fondly of him. And he's been very complimentary of BYU and [former coach] Elaine Michaelis, and of others that have come before myself.
“So we're excited to just match up with him and understand when the ball gets tossed up for the first serve, it's volleyball. It's not anything other than that. And so we'll compete that way.”
You would expect nothing less, but one thing to consider is that Rose, a member of the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, almost did his postgraduate work at BYU, the Mormon school.
“I was accepted at BYU to get my EdD,” Rose said. “I received a teaching assistantship. I was ready to go. I met with the resident bishop and then I got the Penn State job. Do you remember Glenn Potter, former basketball coach at BYU, anybody? That was my guy. Just a long time ago. You guys are young guys.
“I had it all worked out. And then the Penn State job came along and I'm a big sports guy. And I'm a huge fan of Coach [Joe] Paterno. And being a physical educator, we had some of the top physical educators teaching at Penn State. I thought it was really cool to go to a place where I had read their books.
“And I've been there for 36 years.”
In that time he’s compiled some staggering accomplishments:
— He’s a five-time AVCA Division I Coach of the Year, an award won this year by Olmstead
— He’s in the AVCA Hall of Fame
— The graduate of George Williams has an overall coaching record of 1,160-180
— And he owns the most victories of any coach in Division I women's volleyball history
“It's all about what the players do,” Rose said. “I've been fortunate that the university has allowed me to be who I am. And I haven't had to play games to make other people happy, that I could do my job the way I want to do it.”
The greatest resume the college game has ever known.
“Absolutely. I know who I’m in the gym with,” Hancock said. “And I never take that for granted.”
She smiled again.
“People are scared of Coach. I tell them he’s just a big teddy bear. He’s a great guy and more fun-loving and sarcastic that you would ever believe.”

Saturday, December 20, 2014

A Turning Point?

By Roger Kimball
December 19, 2014

Political Cartoons by Gary Varvel

I was pleased to see that President Obama announced today that there would be a public screening of The Interview at the White House on Christmas day. It took guts to stand up to the cyber bullies, whoever they are, who have terrorized the cry babies in Hollywood and sown fear among the rancid celebrities of the preening class. Many commentators on my side of the aisle were surprised at Obama’s forthright condemnation of this brazen act of cyber terrorism and his new-found resolve to stand up to America’s enemies. I was pleased, too, to see that he has replaced Susan Rice with John Bolton as National Security advisor and is setting up a cyber defense task force headed by General Michael Hayden, former head of the CIA and the NSA. It has taken a while, but at last Barack Obama seems to understand the gravity of the many threats America faces on the international front and I am pleased that he has been so candid about putting American interests first.
Just kidding, of course. There will be no public screening of The Interview at the White House on Christmas, and if there were, you can bet last devalued dollar that neither John Bolton nor General Hayden would have received a ticket.
No, the real question people should be asking themselves is this: Now that the President is seeking to “normalize” relations with the Communist hell hole of Cuba, is there any totalitarian enemy of the United States that he has not sought to cozy up to?
Russia? check. Hillary hit the reset button years ago, remember?
Iran? absolutely: what more could Obama do to assure that Iran becomes a nuclear power?
China? Obama made a special trip there to agree that the United States to hamstring its economy by adopting emissions standards that China wouldn’t have to adopt for decades.
And on it goes. Someone told me last night that Obama was hoping to normalize relations with the Taliban, but (as far as I know) that turns out to be an unfair rumor.  He is only hoping to normalize relations with the PLO while at the same time punish Israel, which has the temerity to make everyone else in the Middle East look bad by being the region’s one liberal democracy and, moreover, by being more technologically innovative than any of its neighbors.
But here’s a question I really cannot answer: how far can Obama go before he gets some real pushback? Yesterday it was Cuba. (When are you going to issue Cuba’s “torture report,” Senator Feinstein?) A few days ago we discovered that Obama invented a new word for “ukase:” it’s “memoranda.”  “President Obama,” USA Today reported, “has issued a form of executive action known as the presidential memorandum more often than any other president in history — using it to take unilateral action even as he has signed fewer executive orders.” Who knew? But wait, isn’t “unilateral action” exactly the sort of thing the Constitution was designed to impede? Well, yes, but we should know by now how much Obama regards the Constitution as a check on his power.
Still, it would be good to know how far the American people are willing to let Obama go.  We know that establishment time-servers like John (you-can-do-any-thing-you-like-Obama-and-I’ll-only-pretend-to-object) Boehner are too deeply implicated in the status quo to offer any serious push back. What about the rest of our elected officials? The longer they’ve been in Congress, the more securely are their lips sewn to the teat of public largess and bureaucratic privilege. It was just this eventuality that folks like James Madison and Alexander Hamilton sought to prevent, but we’ve had more than two hundred years of lawyerly hermeneutical ingenuity chip, chip, chipping away at Constitutional safeguards to rely on those fusty old ideas of checks and balances and those “auxiliary precautions” that Madison spoke of in Federalist 51. (“In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men,” Madison wrote, “the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”  How are we doing on that score?)
It’s not every day that you get to have a ringside seat at the birth of despotism.  The entertainment value is likely to be quite high, though I predict the story will not have a happy ending.

The Knives Come Out for Senators Cruz and Lee

Republican leaders don’t want them to derail Obama’s amnesty. 

Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee

Last weekend, Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee forced every senator to vote, on the public record, regarding the constitutionality of President Obama’s unilateral decree of effective amnesty for millions of illegal aliens. The resulting Republican establishment hissy fit further confirmed something I’ve been arguing here for some time: Republican leaders in Washington endorse President Obama’s amnesty policy.

Their stated opposition to the imperial manner of the policy’s imposition is poseur stuff. When push comes to shove, when the time comes to do something about presidential lawlessness, what do we get? Childish tantrums over being forced to work on a mid-December weekend — the poor dears having spent a whopping 135 days in session this year . . . and, by last Saturday, facing the crushing burden of another two or three days’ waltzing between the Hill and the nearest studio before their next three-week vacation.

We get party leaders who, despite having decried Obama’s lawlessness during the recent midterm-election campaign, actually whipped against a legislative rebuke of executive lawlessness. We get 20 mindboggling Republican votes in favor of the president’s usurpation of Congress’s legislative authority . . . even as GOP leaders look voters in the eye and promise to persuade the courts that the president has overstepped his constitutional bounds. (I don’t know how many of these guys have ever appeared before a federal judge. “Your Honor, I rise today to urge that this court condemn the president of the United States for taking actions I have voted to endorse and pay for with public funds.” Good luck with that.)

As long as we’re talking about epic insults to our intelligence, special recognition should go to the GOP establishment claim that, by forcing elected legislators to take an accountable vote, Cruz and Lee enabled Democrats to secure confirmation of objectionable Obama nominees.

The story goes like this: By orchestrating a “point of order” vote to question the constitutionality of Obama’s decree, Cruz and Lee broke what Fox News gently called an “informal agreement” that our esteemed senators could take the weekend off. Already you’re getting the picture, right? According to GOP leaders, Congress should not only refrain from taking action on an outrageous abuse of presidential power that drove millions of Americans to support Republicans in the midterm elections, but should do so based on an unenforceable wink-wink deal with that paragon of probity, Harry Reid.

But it gets better: The miffed senators huff that, because Cruz and Lee unexpectedly gave the majority leader weekend time to fill, Reid used it to move forward with a number of controversial Obama nominees to the federal bench and high executive-branch posts — nominees Republicans claim they had shrewdly planned to stall. You’re to believe these nominees got confirmed later in the week because Cruz and Lee, former Supreme Court clerks and highly accomplished lawyers, got outfoxed on parliamentary procedures.

First, a little history: It is because of senior Republicans that President Obama has had so many judicial slots to fill. During the Bush administration, when Democrats made unprecedented use of the filibuster to block conservative judicial nominees, there was a move to do away with the tactic. Beltway Republicans, however, saved the day for Democrats with the infamous “Gang of 14” deal. It not only decisively undermined the nominations of several worthy Bush nominees; ultimately, Democrats were also able to keep some key slots open until they were back in control of the Senate and the White House. Naturally, Reid then did exactly what these GOP leaders had stopped Republicans from doing: He ended the filibuster so that Democrats could slam Obama’s controversial nominees through with a bare 51-vote majority.

And that’s not all. In 2011, Republican leadership also joined with Democrats to eliminate the confirmation process entirely for some 400 high-level agency positions. That is, Republicans gave Obama carte blanche to fill fully one-third of the federal bureaucracy’s top tier without any vetting at all by the Senate.

So now the same guys who have spent the last decade giving away the confirmation store — the same guys who, in recent weeks, have blithely allowed Obama nominees complicit in the Benghazi debacle to sail to confirmation by voice vote — want you to believe they suddenly had a strategy, this week, to run out the clock and thus stop Obama from installing more progressive ideologues. You know, because after going to the trouble of eliminating the filibuster precisely so he could get Obama nominees confirmed, of course Senator Reid was going to stand idly by while Republicans stalled nominees during his few remaining days in control.

You don’t have to rely on common sense to know Republican leaders are snowing you. Reid’s office made the obvious explicit: He always intended to confirm a slew of Obama nominees before allowing the Senate to adjourn.

On December 1, long before last weekend’s immigration debate, The Hill reported Reid’s admonition that he might keep the Senate in session through the week of December 15 in order to, among other things, get Obama nominees confirmed. Moreover, Reid’s communications director Adam Jentleson repeatedly tweeted that Reid had every intention of moving ahead with the nominations before the Senate adjourned. For example, there were these two tweets before last weekend’s amnesty tumult (here and here):

Sen. McConnell just generously offered to adjourn Senate for the year without processing any more nominees. Sen. Reid of course objected.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Peter Ackroyd’s London Calling

Up close and personal with Peter Ackroyd, England’s insanely prolific, controversial and eccentric novelist and historian.
September 12, 2013
Peter Ackroyd at his desk in Bloomsbury, where he typically writes three books simultaneously.
Peter Ackroyd at his desk in Bloomsbury, where he typically writes three books simultaneously (Tung Walsh)
Writers write because they have no choice, the cliché goes, but if you crunch the numbers, it’s clear that certain writers have less choice than others. Peter Ackroyd, the 63-year-old English novelist, biographer, historian and author of more than 50 books, is one of those for whom writing at some point turned the corner from avocation to compulsion, and then from compulsion to continuing Olympian feat.
Ackroyd writes nearly all day, nearly every day. Each morning he takes a taxi from his London home, in tony Knightsbridge, to the office he maintains in Bloomsbury, where he typically divides his workday between three books. He begins by writing and doing research for a history book, turns to a biography sometime in the afternoon and finishes the day reclining on a bed in a room adjacent to his book-lined office, writing a novel, in longhand.
“It’s just the way I work,” Ackroyd says. It was a Saturday in early summer, and he was sitting in his office, a handsome, sun-flooded room with large windows that look out over a genteel square. The walls held shelves, packed with history books, scholarly monographs (“The Structure of Politics at the Accession of George III,” “Sex Before Sex: Figuring the Act in Early Modern England“) and three-ring binders full of photocopied articles from academic journals. On a shelf above a large desk, there was another pile: a stack of DVD’s for one of Ackroyd’s current works-in-progress, a biography of Alfred Hitchcock.
“I think there’s a resistance to the idea that you can be a good biographer and good historian and also a good novelist,” Ackroyd says. “You’re either accused of being a dilettante or of overproducing. But I’ve been doing it nearly all of my working life. I suppose the routine was originally designed to inhibit boredom, and also to earn money. But now it’s just become second nature.”
In Britain, Ackroyd’s way of doing things has made him a literary star, with many of his books becoming best sellers. His portfolio is crammed with rave reviews and prestigious awards. The hallmarks of his work are well known: fluid poetic prose, vast erudition, a flair for eccentric historical connections and an abiding interest in England and Englishness, with a particular emphasis on literature and the history and mythos of London.
The most Ackroydian thing about Ackroyd’s writing, though, is the sheer amount of it. In the past decade alone, he has published some two dozen books. These include four novels; a prose retelling of “The Canterbury Tales“; a magisterial “biography” of the Thames River; “London Under,” about the world beneath London’s streets; “The English Ghost,” about the national obsession with specters and spirits; a cultural history of Venice; a beautifully written series of history books for children; biographies of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Newton, J. M. W. Turner, Edgar Allan Poe and the Victorian literary oddball Wilkie Collins; and a handful of other books. If you add up the page totals of these works, you get, by some rough accounting, 6,492 pages, give or take a few hundred. (By contrast, the Modern Library’s “Complete Works” of Shakespeare comes in at 2,560.) It’s the kind of output you associate with a writer of romance novels, or an army of them, not an acclaimed littérateur. In the annals of graphomania, Ackroyd’s closest spiritual kin may be Charles Dickens, a figure with whom he has some familiarity: his 1,195-page Dickens biography was published in 1990. A reader who develops an Ackroyd habit will find his bookshelves sagging.
Now, Ackroyd has undertaken the grandest project of his career — his doorstop of doorstops. He is at work on the third and fourth books of a six-volume “History of England,” which aims to tell the whole story of the sceptered isle, from prehistory to the present. (The first volume, “Foundation: the History of England from Its Earliest Beginnings to the Tudors,” was published in the United States in 2012; Volume 2, “Tudors: the History of England From Henry VIII to Elizabeth I” is out in Britain and will be published here, by St. Martin’s Press, on Oct. 8.) In the British press, the “History of England” series has been hailed as “monumental,” “the biggest nonfiction project of our times,” drawing comparisons to the tomes of previous ages: the literary-historical masterpieces of Edward Gibbon and Thomas Babington Macaulay. The author himself takes a less bombastic view. “I suppose the project makes a kind of sense,” Ackroyd says, “given my longtime interests.”
Ackroyd’s 848-page “biography” of London, winner of the 2001 South Bank Show Award for Literature; his prose retelling of Chaucer’s magnum opus; his demystifying 2005 take on the life of Shakespeare; a comprehensive history of England’s Thames River.Courtesy of Peter Ackroyd; Viking, A Member Of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, a Penguin Random House Company; Vintage Books; Chatto & Windus.Ackroyd’s 848-page “biography” of London, winner of the 2001 South Bank Show Award for Literature; his prose retelling of Chaucer’s magnum opus; his demystifying 2005 take on the life of Shakespeare; a comprehensive history of England’s Thames River.
Ackroyd grew up on a public housing estate in East Acton, a working-class neighborhood in West London. He was raised in a strict Catholic home by his mother, who worked in the personnel department of an engineering firm, and grandmother; he never met his father. He was a bright, bookish child who took a particular interest in history and classics, earning great marks and, eventually, a place at Clare College, Cambridge, where he studied English. He did graduate work on a fellowship at Yale University, and, at age 23, became literary editor of The Spectator, the venerable conservative magazine. He won his first job with a display of Ackroydian industry: he was given a couple of books to review as a tryout, read both in a day, and turned around the reviews overnight. “They realized I worked fast,” Ackroyd says.
Ackroyd published two books of poetry, and then, in 1976, his first prose work, “Notes for a New Culture: an Essay on Modernism.” A debut novel, “The Great Fire of London,” came a few years later, and he began to churn out books at a prodigious clip. His breakthrough came in the mid-1980s, with the publication of a biography of T. S. Eliot and, a year later, in 1985, a novel, “Hawksmoor,” a macabre detective story about a series of murders in London churches, with twinned narratives set in the present and the 18th century. The Eliot book received the Whitbread Biography Award; “Hawksmoor” won the Whitbread Novel Award and the Guardian Fiction Prize, and established the themes that would dominate Ackroyd’s work: an obsession with London’s culture and cityscape, and an occult view of history as a kind of grand ghost story, in which the present is inextricably entangled with — haunted by — the distant past. It’s a strain that is present in all his novels, and most powerfully, in his nonfiction, where Ackroyd’s prodigious research, the thrumming rhythms of his prose and his taste for the mystical can combine to dazzling effect. The first chapter of “London: the Biography,” an 848-page blockbuster that may be Ackroyd’s best book, opens with this paragraph:
“If you were to touch the plinth upon which the equestrian statue of King Charles I is placed, at Charing Cross, your fingers might rest upon the projecting fossils of sea lilies, starfish or sea urchins. There is a photograph of that statue taken in 1839; with its images of hackney cabs and small boys in stove-pipe hats the scene already seems remote, and yet how unimaginably distant lies the life of those tiny marine creatures. In the beginning was the sea. There was once a music-hall song entitled ‘Why Can’t We Have the Sea in London?,’ but the question is redundant; the site of the capital, 50 million years before, was covered by great waters.”
In person, Ackroyd can seem a bit like a statue himself. He sits for an interview, barely stirring, answering questions in a deadpan tone, wearing a jowly frown that conceals occasional flashes of humor. He is a large, round, walrusine man; he has a bad leg and he moves uncomfortably, heaving himself up from chairs with great groans. He has always been a heavy drinker. “I used to drink spirits, but my liver said no,” Ackroyd says. These days, he only drinks wine, but lots of it: a bottle with dinner at a restaurant (he always dines out), and another bottle when he gets home at night.
He is, in other words, a boozer and an eccentric — an old-fashioned, classically English type. He certainly stands apart from his contemporaries. Ackroyd is a member of the vaunted British literary generation that includes Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan and Julian Barnes; he was born, in October 1949, six months after Christopher Hitchens and six weeks after Martin Amis. But unlike those glamorous globe-trotters, Ackroyd is a provincial and proud of it, with a hermetic lifestyle that supports his writing regimen. He hates to leave London, professing a strong dislike for the countryside (“It’s too noisy, too dangerous, I don’t trust their food”) and no interest in traveling to other cities (“I don’t understand their histories”). He avoids nearly all the rituals of literary celebrity, restricting his promotional efforts to the occasional interview and a single appearance per year at a literary festival. He lives alone, and reserves just two Sundays each month for socializing, taking day trips with a friend to visit historic English towns. Ackroyd is gay, and has been single for almost two decades. (His longtime partner, Brian Kuhn, died in 1994.) He has been celibate for years, too, and he deems his sexless solitary life “a great relief”: “I’m happy not to have to bother with any of that anymore. It gets in the way of your work.” Ackroyd recently wrote a libretto for an opera based on William Hogarth’s engravings — but he never goes to the opera, or to concerts, or the theater. For several years in the 1980s, he was The Spectator’s film critic, but since leaving that post he has been to the movies only once. “I don’t want to go to the cinema,” he says. “Nothing would give me less pleasure.”
From top to bottom, left to right: Ackroyd’s 1,195-page biography of Charles Dickens; a meditation on the origins of the English imagination; the first book of his proposed six-volume history of England; Volume 2, which picks up the thread in a brisk 528 pages; the postmodern novel “Hawksmoor,“ which won the Guardian Fiction Prize and the Whitbread Novel Award in 1985; a collection of English ghost stories, pieced together from centuries of letters and journal entries.“Dickens” and “Hawksmoor”: HarperCollins; “Albion”: Nan A. Talese, a division of Random House LLC; “Foundation” and “Tudors”: St. Martin’s Press; “Ghost”: Vintage Books.From top to bottom, left to right: Ackroyd’s 1,195-page biography of Charles Dickens; a meditation on the origins of the English imagination; the first book of his proposed six-volume history of England; Volume 2, which picks up the thread in a brisk 528 pages; the postmodern novel “Hawksmoor,“ which won the Guardian Fiction Prize and the Whitbread Novel Award in 1985; a collection of English ghost stories, pieced together from centuries of letters and journal entries.
Ackroyd’s tendency to wall himself off from the world has brought criticism. When a reporter asked him to comment on the riots that erupted in August 2011 following the shooting death of a young black man in the north London neighborhood of Tottenham, Ackroyd replied that riots were nothing new in London and that the city would go on, unchanged. It was a historically accurate assessment, perhaps, but one that raised complaints about Ackroyd’s worldview as apolitical and aloof. Hitchens, in a review of Ackroyd’s 2002 opus “Albion: the Origins of the English Imagination,” wrote of the author’s “talent for heroic generalization” — a thumping backhanded swipe — and scorned Ackroyd’s tendency to focus on “the pageant while omitting the elements of tragedy” in English history. Some reviewers of Ackroyd’s “History of England” volumes have jumped on him for being flippant about facts — for instance, for ahistorically construing as “English” the various and sundry peoples who have inhabited the land now called England, reverse-engineering history to create a false narrative of continuity.
For his part, Ackroyd will admit to being little interested in politics, and to taking a sweeping view that elides the fine-grain truths of academic history. His aim, he writes in “Foundation,” is to restore “the poetry of history”: to revive page-turning literary history in the Gibbon and Macaulay tradition. Ackroyd also allows that his sense of historical continuity is quasi-mystical, an article of faith. He states his position plainly in “Foundation”: “From the beginning, we find evidence of a deep continuity that is the legacy of an unimaginably distant past. . . . The nation itself represents the nexus of custom with custom, the shifting patterns of habitual activity. This may not be a particularly exciting philosophy of history but it is important to avoid the myth of some fated or providential movement forward. Below the surface of events lies a deep, and almost geological, calm. . . . We still live deep in the past.”
Reading those words, you can’t help but wonder: Is it England that lives deep in the past? Or just Ackroyd? Ackroyd says that when he walks London’s streets, he will sometimes lapse into a time-travel reverie, toggling backward to envision, with crystal clarity, how a street, an intersection, looked two or three centuries before. It may be the case that the “almost geological calm” abides not below the surface of English history, but in the brilliant, esoteric mind of one Englishman. There may be more astute, precise histories than Ackroyd’s, but it’s doubtful that there are more evocative and entertaining ones.
There’s more to come. In his Bloomsbury office on that sunny Saturday, Ackroyd was settling down to a morning’s work: revising some pages of his third “History of England” volume, and writing about the history of coal mining and steel manufacturing for the fourth volume, which will cover the Industrial Revolution. Those books will appear sometime in the next few years, but in the meantime there are other Ackroyd titles in the pipeline, including a novel called “Three Brothers,” about London in the 1960s, and a short biography of Charlie Chaplin, whom Ackroyd places in a pantheon of “cockney visionaries” alongside Dickens, Blake and Turner.
“I’ve often thought that all my books are really one book,” Ackroyd says. “They’re all just separate chapters in the long book which will be finished when I’m dead.”