Saturday, March 26, 2016

Happy Easter from the Religion of Peace

By Mark Steyn
March 25, 2016

Asad Shah was a shopkeeper in Glasgow

In the spirit of the season, Asad Shah, a Glasgow newsagent and a "devout Muslim"*[see update at the foot of the page], decided to send out an Easter greeting on his Facebook page:
Let's Follow The Real Footstep Of Beloved Holy Jesus Christ (PBUH) And Get The Real Success In Both Worlds xxxx
Less than four hours after this ecumenical greeting, Mr Shah was savagely murdered outside his shopby his co-religionists:
The victim was found seriously injured on Minard Road, Glasgow, and was taken to the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital where he later died on Thursday. 
An eyewitness, who did not want to be named, told the Daily Record: "As I drove past I saw two men standing over the victim. 
"One was stamping on his head. There was a pool of blood on the ground. It was horrific."
A 32-year-old Muslim man has been arrested.

Pace Mr Shah, Scotland is not much of a "Christian nation" these days. Instead, it is "tolerant", "diverse" and "multicultural". But a "tolerant" society determined to tolerate the avowedly intolerant won't be in business for long. Men like Asad Shah's killers are everything the safe-space pansies accuse us "white privilege" types of being: It is Shah's co-religionists who cannot abide the other. They won't tolerate Christians, they won't tolerate Muslims who convert to Christianity, and they won't even tolerate a devout Muslim who commits the sin of offering neighborly greetings on a Christian holiday. And so they killed him by "stamping on his head".

Not all Muslims are like these savages. Some (albeit not enough, for understandable reasons, given his grim end) are like poor Asad Shah. But, as my late compatriot George Jonas liked to point out, what matters in any population is not the numbers but who makes the running, who has the energy, who has the wind at their backs. And in Islam (in part thanks to the supine cringe of Cameron and other western leaders) the wind is not with Mr Shah but with the blood lust of his ravenous killers, and those who killed this week in Baghdad and Brussels and beyond.

You can have pluralism or Islam, but not both. Mr Shah thought he could have both, and so they killed him.

Rest in peace, Asad Shah.

~Following the news this week, Michelle Malkin re-posted a prescient interview with yours truly from ten years ago. For Parts One, Two and Three of our fascinating conversation on Europe, Islam, jihad and demography, see here. For the final part, click below:

~On a related theme, at the end of this coming week I'll be debating the "refugee crisis" in Europe and beyond with former UN Human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbour and distinguished historian Simon Schama on one side and me and UKIP honcho Nigel Farage on the other. For more details, see here.

*UPDATE: It has since emerged that Mr Shah was an Ahmadi - that's to say, a member of a small sect of, so to speak, "moderate Muslims", and whose moderation, back in Mr Shah's ancestral home of Pakistan, is regarded as apostasy. Which makes them a frequent target of other Muslims. To reprise my point, there are too many Muslims who cannot abide the other - Christians, Jews, somnolent John Lennon-chanting Euro-secularists, Yazidi and Ahmadi.

‘Mere Christianity’ Still Gets a Global Amen

Since 2001, C.S. Lewis’s book has sold 3.5 million copies in English alone.

By George M. Marsden
March 24, 2016

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis - First Edition - The Macmillan Company 1952
During March Madness several years ago, the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s Emerging Scholars Network ran “The Best Christian Book of All Time Tournament.” Beginning with 64 entries, participants voted on a series of paired competitors through elimination rounds. C.S. Lewis’s “Mere Christianity,” a first seed, easily made the Elite Eight, where it handily defeated St. Augustine’s “City of God.” In the Final Four it beat Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “Cost of Discipleship,” but in the finals it was edged out by Augustine’s “Confessions.”
Not bad. Who else could have gone up against Augustine? And Lewis hadn’t even planned for “Mere Christianity” to be a book. During the dark days of World War II, the writer presented four sets of BBC radio talks on basic Christianity. He had these published in several paperbacks. Not until 1952 did he collect them together under the new title.
The book always sold well, but in an unusual trend, its popularity has grown with time. Since 2001, “Mere Christianity” has sold more than 3.5 million copies in English. It has been translated into at least 36 languages and is said to be the book that, next to the Bible, educated Chinese Christians are most likely to have read. Its greatest popularity is in the U.S., where it is still read by thoughtful evangelicals, along with thousands of Catholics, Orthodox and mainline Protestants.
What accounts for its lasting popularity? Lewis was determined to present only the timeless truths of Christianity rather than the latest theological or cultural fashions. In the book’s preface, he describes it as an attempt to explain and defend “the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times.”
He elsewhere criticized “chronological snobbery” or the assumption that the popular beliefs of one’s own era were superior to the “antiquated” ideas of the past. The peculiar intellectual fashions of our time, he wisely understood, will soon look quaint to later generations. It is not surprising then that Lewis’s time-proven views are still flourishing while most other mid-20th-century works are nearly neglected.
Lewis’s determination to present only timeless views also helped him avoid political temptation. He believed it divisive to emphasize “Christianity and . . . ” as in “Christianity and the New Order.” In “The Screwtape Letters,” Lewis has the senior devil tell his protégé to encourage a man to intertwine his political and religious beliefs. This eventually leads the “patient” to believe politics is paramount and that Christianity’s value derives chiefly from its support for his party’s positions. Accordingly, Lewis carefully avoided tying his presentation of Christianity to partisan politics.
The writer’s knowledge of history also helped him connect with his audiences. As a prototypical Oxford don, Lewis might have been expected to have difficulty understanding the many varieties of ordinary people who listened to wartime BBC broadcasts. In fact, he used his expertise as a student of the history of literature for the opposite effect.
Studying many eras of literature and language made Lewis acutely alert to the peculiarity of how mid-20th-century British people thought and spoke. He also had a good ear for listening to how ordinary people talked. He saw himself as a translator who worked to bring common Christian teachings into the vernacular.
“Mere Christianity” contains arguments enlivened with images, metaphors and analogies that capture the imagination. The Lewis of “Mere Christianity” is the same as the Lewis of “The Chronicles of Narnia.” Imagination, he believed, was “the organ of meaning,” even if reason was “the organ of truth.”
Lewis’s first ambition had been to be a poet. It shows in his prose, where meaning is often conveyed through vivid analogies. Lewis writes that when God enters your life, he begins “to turn the tin soldier into a live man. The part of you that does not like it is the part that is still tin.” He explains that becoming Christian isn’t an improvement but a transformation, like a horse becoming a Pegasus.
A final strength of Lewis’s book is in his ability to stand aside and point toward his subject—rather than himself. Lewis once wrote that a poet should not be saying “look at me,” but rather “look at that.” Lewis acts like a guide on the journey from unbelief to faith. He points people to see, as he has, the time-tested beauty of God’s love in Jesus Christ. Not everyone will see the beauty or be persuaded. But those who get a true glimpse will be drawn in by its power.
Mr. Marsden, a professor emeritus of history at the University of Notre Dame, is the author of “C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity: A Biography” (Princeton University Press, 2016).

Incubators of Islamic Supremacism

Surveillance in Muslim communities is indispensable for defeating terrorism.

By Andrew C. McCarthy — March 26, 2016

Imam Omar Abu Namous, right, leads a prayer service at the Islamic Center of New York in 2002.  (Joe Kohen/AP) 

With no hope of winning an argument on the facts, demagogues resort to the argument ad hominem. Too often, it works. And in the modern “progressive” West, no demagogic tactic works better than branding one’s political adversaries as racists. That is why the Muslim Brotherhood, the world’s most influential Islamic-supremacist organization, dreamed up the term “Islamophobia.” It is why Western progressives, stalwart allies of the Brotherhood, have lustily embraced the Islamophobia smear tactic — even sought to engrave it in our law, in brazen violation of the First Amendment.

It beats trying to refute the irrefutable nexus between Islamic scripture, sharia supremacism, and jihadist terror. It beats trying to rationalize the sheer idiocy of a policy, their policy, that idealizes Islam as the irenic monolith they would like it to be, rather than the complex of competing and contradictory convictions it is. Of the latter, the most dynamic is the conviction that Islam is an alternative civilization determined to conquer the West by force, by political pressure, by cultural aggression, and by exploiting Western civil liberties (liberties that are forbidden in the sharia societies Islamists would impose).

Ted Cruz found himself in the middle of this demagogic storm this week. Reacting to the latest jihadist atrocity in Brussels, in which 31 were killed and 230 wounded, Senator Cruz argued that to protect our national security against radical Islamic terror networks, it is imperative for law enforcement to conduct surveillance in Muslim communities.

Cruz was not calling for a dragnet targeting all Muslims. In his presidential campaign (to which I am an adviser), he has stressed the importance of identifying the enemy as radical Islam. That is not campaign rhetoric; it is how we figure out who warrants surveillance — and far from being anything new, it is how counterterrorism was done before President Obama came to power. Yet, as night follows day, the Islamist-leftist alliance pounced with the fury of an emperor whose lack of clothes has just been noticed.

It is simply, undeniably, a fact that some Muslim mosques and surrounding communities are hotbeds of Islamic supremacism, a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam that holds that Muslims must struggle against non-believers — by force and by all other means –- until Allah’s law (sharia) is established throughout the world. Islamic supremacism is not the only way of construing Islam, and millions of Muslims reject it. This, however, does not undo the remorseless fact that millions of Muslims accept it, that it is a mainstream construction of Islam (it is, for example, the Islam of the Muslim Brotherhood), and that it has a considerable following in the West.

Why do millions of Muslims accept it? Why do I describe it as a “fundamentalist” interpretation of Islam? Because it is drawn literally from scriptures, which are quite easy to read and grasp. That is why Islamists and leftists slander as a racist/Islamophobe anyone who points out this inconvenient fact. They want you to smile and repeat after them: “Religion of Peace!” — end of story. They are desperate that you do not pick up the Koran (which Muslims take to be the verbatim, immutable word of Allah) and read what Muslims read, such as this (from the ninth chapter, or sura):
Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor Hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the Religion of Truth, from among the People of the Book [i.e., Jews and Christians], until they pay the jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.
(The jizya is a tax imposed on dhimmis — non-Muslims who are permitted to live because they’ve submitted to the authority of an Islamic state. It is designed to remind them of their inferior status under Muslim law, so that they “feel themselves subdued.”)

Again, as I have pointed out on numerous occasions, there are modernist Muslims who embrace the Western Enlightenment and reject the fundamentalist interpretation of Islam — Islam for them truly is a faith rather than a totalitarian political ideology. But while we welcome them into our society (many of them are our fellow Americans), it makes no more sense to see them as the only true Muslims and thus absolve Islam than it would to see the fundamentalists as the only true Muslims and condemn Islam.

We have to distinguish between the two, our security requires targeting surveillance on the hostiles, and non-fundamentalist Muslims — if they are sincere — have as great an interest as anyone in the identification, marginalization, and defeat of the fundamentalists. So we also have to stop walking on eggshells about this, as if commonsense defense measures signaled the rise of the Third Reich.

The challenge we face is not merely jihadists. They constitute the forcible factions of Islamic supremacism. There are other cohorts. Islamic supremacism self-describes as a civilizational alternative to the West. It pulls every cultural and political lever to introduce and codify sharia — the same goal jihadists pursue. This means the jihadist threat arises and thrives within a larger support system of ideological sympathizers.Though not terrorists themselves, these Muslims provide moral and material support to the jihad — very much including their silent acceptance of jihadists in their midst.

This is why, in Europe, jihadists succeed in virtually hiding in plain sight for months on end, despite continent-wide manhunts. They move easily between and within communities notoriously sympathetic to fundamentalist Islam and thus hostile to Western police. The vast majority of Muslims in these communities are not terrorists, but many applaud the jihadists; others, opposed to the jihadists, are too intimidated to alert the authorities about suspicious goings-on. These communities have become safe havens. Law enforcement has ceased being a presence, much less conducting surveillance; therefore, the recruitment for and plotting of terrorist attacks proceeds apace.

This experience is not foreign to the United States. In 1995, I led the prosecution of the jihadist cell directed by the “Blind Sheikh” (Omar Abdel Rahman), which carried out the 1990 assassination of Rabbi Meir Kahane and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, besides unsuccessfully plotting to bomb other New York City landmarks, to attack U.S. military installations, and to assassinate American and other pro-Western political officials. In the nine-month trial, we proved two things of great consequence.

First, there was a straight line of causation between commands to jihadist violence in Islamic scripture; the exploitation of those scriptures by a renowned Islamic scholar in order to urge jihadist attacks against America, Israel, and the West; and the execution of jihadist strikes by young Muslims against Western targets. Second, the hubs of jihadist activity were the mosques and Islamic community centers in Muslim communities where fundamentalist Islam was mainstream. Mosques and community centers were used to store and transfer weapons, raise funds, recruit young Muslims to jihad, propose attack plans, and study potential targets that had been cased. This is not a theory; it happened, and we proved it.

Moreover, it happened quite strategically. Let’s nudge ourselves from our “Religion of Peace” slumbers for a moment and consider Muslim Brotherhood ideology — the main subject of my 2010 book, The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America. Not only are the writings of the Brotherhood’s founding theorists (Hassan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb, to name the most prominent) readily available; the organization’s strategy in the West was laid bare by the Justice Department in the 2007–08 Holy Land Foundation prosecution of a conspiracy to fund Hamas (the terrorist organization that is the Brotherhood’s Palestinian branch).

I did not pull the title of my book out of the sky or from the dark recesses of my Islamophobic mind. I took it from the Brotherhood’s own words, in internal memoranda seized by the FBI from a high-ranking operative of the organization. The key memo explained that the Brotherhood’s American tentacles (including CAIR, one of the outfits that attacked Senator Cruz) see their mission as:
[A] kind of grand jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and “sabotaging” its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and God’s religion is made victorious over all other religions. [Quotes in original.]
The plan for carrying out this grand jihad against Western civilization is based on Banna’s vision of a ground-up revolution, in which the use of force plays a part but is just one aspect of a multi-faceted aggression arsenal. Banna taught that, in each city and town where the Brotherhood operated, the mosque and Islamic community center must be the “axis” of the fundamentalist movement. This is reflected in the Brotherhood memoranda, which elaborate on the goal of forming:
an effective and stable Islamic Movement led by the Muslim Brotherhood, which adopts Muslims’ causes domestically and globally, and which works to expand the observant Muslim base, aims at unifying and directing Muslims’ efforts, presents Islam as a civilization alternative, and supports the global Islamic state, wherever it is.
That last part is worth pausing over: Fundamentalists see Islam as a civilization alternative to the West, and their ultimate loyalty is to a global Islamic state, not the Western state they happen to be living in. They want their communities to be Islamic enclaves where sharia principles control and where fealty to fellow Muslims — even Muslim terrorists — is prized over loyalty to the home government and its police authorities.

Following the 9/11 attacks, counterterrorism policy shifted away from the Clinton approach of treating radical Islamic terrorism as a law-enforcement challenge, which essentially meant prosecutions only after Americans had been killed. The new strategy regarded jihadism as a national-security challenge and aimed to prevent attacks from happening. Such a strategy must be intelligence-driven. It must be based on an understanding of the nature of the threat and surveillance of the places where the threat thrives.

As I’ve discussed before, Obama-style national security — “Countering Violent Extremism” — denies the Islamic ideological component of terrorism. Because it indulges a counter-reality in which there is only a single, resolutely peaceful Islam, it denies that jihadists have a support system of ideological sympathizers in Muslim communities. Terrorists, instead, are imagined as non-Islamic (indeed, anti-Islamic) “violent extremists” who kill because . . . uh . . . well . . . don’t ask us why — all we know is that it has nothing to do with Islam, and don’t go quoting the Koran at us, you haters!

This week we continued to watch Europe disintegrate precisely because its swelling fifth column of non-assimilable fundamentalist Muslim communities are abetting the jihadist war against the West. Ted Cruz seized on the moment to urge that we not follow Europe down the Obama path, that we return to the intelligence-driven counterterrorism strategy that targets surveillance at communities where fundamentalist ideology is prevalent — under circumstances where we know, from hard experience, that our enemies intentionally use mosques and Islamic community centers as their operations base.

If that makes him an Islamophobe, we should all be Islamophobes.

— Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior policy fellow at the National Review Institute and a contributing editor of National Review.

Twinkle-toes Obama might be a demon at the tango but when it comes to reading the public mood he’s tone-deaf

24 March 2016

President Barack Obama danced the tango Wednesday during a state dinner held in his honor in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

What the hell is wrong with Barack Obama?

Why does he not seem to have a clue how to behave when major atrocities happen around the world?

The ISIS terror attacks on Brussels were Belgium’s 9/11.

Belgium is a long-time loyal U.S. ally and fellow member of NATO.

Obama, in his capacity as President of the United States, is supposed to be ‘leader of the free world’ and therefore, de facto, leader of NATO.

That alone should have demanded he immediately abandon his jolly in Cuba, where he is cosying up to a dictatorship, and return to Washington to lead the global response with a powerful statement from the Oval Office.

Particularly as up to a dozen Americans were wounded in Brussels, and for all he knew, possibly dead. One U.S. couple is still missing and unaccounted for.

But Obama had other ideas.

He stayed in Cuba, made a cursory 1-minute statement about the Brussels bombings, then went to the baseball at Havana’s Latinoamericano stadium.

Even more extraordinarily, once he was there he allowed himself to be filmed laughing and joking with Raul Castro, the pair of them raising their arms in a joyful crowd wave.

This, surely, was outrageously insensitive to the grieving people of Belgium, not to mention the families of those wounded and missing Americans?

As former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani put it: ‘You don’t send a picture of yourself laughing while people have just been blown up at a level that is the equivalent of September 11 to one of our allies.’

When asked what difference it would have made if Obama had cancelled his South American tour, Giuliani explained: ‘The difference is that it would have made people feel that he’s a leader, that he’s in charge. This would be like Franklin Roosevelt remaining at Warm Springs when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour.’


‘It’s very important not to respond with fear,’ Obama blustered, trying to explain his bizarre behaviour as fury erupted.

Yes, Mr President.

But it’s even more important for the most powerful man in the world to show some damn respect.

Just imagine what Americans would have thought if within hours of 9/11, the then British Prime Minister Tony Blair had gone to a football match and been seen giggling and clowning around with some dodgy communist despot.

All hell would have broken loose, and rightly so.

It’s also vital in this situation for a U.S. president to let the perpetrators of such evil know America means business when it, or one of its allies, is attacked.

Yesterday, Obama merely reiterated that his strategy to defeat ISIS remains airstrikes, intelligence and arrests. Tactics which have so far proved singularly unsuccessful in stopping them.

Retired 4-star general and former Director of National Security, Michael Hayden condemned Obama’s plan as ‘under-resourced and over-regulated.’

‘The United States is dropping 20 bombs a day on ISIS,’ he said, ‘that is not a relentless campaign.’

As with so much of Obama’s foreign policy, it smacks of his infamous reputation for ‘leading from behind’.

Obama insisted yesterday that getting on with normal life is the best answer to terrorism. He said, ‘a lot of it is also going to be to say: You do not have power over us. We are strong, our values are right. You offer nothing, except death.’

Wow. I bet those murderous medieval monsters are trembling in their suicide bomber vests at those stirring words, Mr Obama!


The truth is that ISIS increasingly DOES have power over us because its own ultra-violent campaign has made many people now deeply fearful of going about their normal lives in the way Obama suggests.

What I suspect the terrorists are really thinking is that if the U.S. president is so relaxed about them blowing up Brussels that he can go to watch baseball immediately afterwards, then they have nothing to worry about and can continue, with impunity, committing massacres on people also ‘going about their normal lives’.

He even partook in The Wave - despite the fact it appeared is wife and daughters declined

I am reminded of Obama’s reaction when ISIS beheaded American journalist James Foley.
He made a quick speech saying how dreadful it all was, then, just seven minutes later, he was filmed teeing off on the golf course and laughing with some mates.

That was a disgrace, and so is this.

By stark contrast, France’s Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, declared; ‘We are at war. We have been subjected for the last few months in Europe to acts of war.’

Absolutely right.

It IS war, a particularly evil war being waged directly at innocent civilians and it’s a war that we are currently losing.

Paris was hit hard twice within a few months, in concert halls, restaurants and football stadiums.

After the first attack, at the offices of the Charlie Hebdo cartoon, the world’s leaders gathered together in Paris to march in solidarity.

All except President Obama, who stayed at home and watched TV.

It looked terrible, like he didn’t care.

And to be harshly frank, I don’t think he did much.

The president has always seemed disturbingly detached from the true scale of the threat which ISIS poses to the world, quietly believing it to be ‘not America’s problem’.

From the early days of the terror group’s surging growth, he dismissed them as a bunch of amateurs.

Specifically, he said this days after ISIS overtook the Iraq city of Fallujah in January 2014: ‘The analogy we use around here sometimes, and I think it’s accurate, is if a jayvee (junior varsity) team puts on Lakers uniforms, that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant.’

That shocking complacency means that his administration has never really had a proper plan for destroying ISIS.

I genuinely think Obama hoped and assumed they’d just gradually wither and disintegrate.
Instead, they’ve grown steadily stronger, richer, deadlier and more popular to recruitment from disenfranchised, poor, angry young Muslims.

And a major part of their ability to do this has been America’s refusal to properly engage with them.

When a head teacher lets unruly kids run amok in a school, they get emboldened to behave even worse and get others to join them. With great power comes great responsibility and I think this president is failing us all when it comes to the so-called Islamic State.

Last night, to compound his ineptitude, Obama was seen awkwardly strutting the Tango in Buenos Aires with some hot female Argentinian dancer. He even looked like he’d been having lessons, so laboured and precise were his deliberate moves.

One again, the optics were appalling.

What kind of message does this send to ISIS, other than this outgoing U.S. President is now so demob happy that he’s got time to practice and perform the Tango as they wreak their hideous acts of violence?

It’s pretty obvious that Obama’s now mentally checked out. He clearly just wants to stick any big problems in the next president’s in-tray and focus instead on how history will now record his own legacy.

From a very selfish personal standpoint, Obama knows that ending the cold war with Cuba is a more easily achievable tick on his CV then trying to defeat a very formidable terror group which can’t be beaten in his tenure.

Rudy Giuliani, in his passionate attack on the president, said the attacks in Brussels, a NATO ally, were ‘just like an attack on us.’

Yes they were.

And history will now forever remember that when Belgium was knocked to its knees, Barack Obama went to a ball game and danced the Tango.

Shame on you, Mr President. 

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Friday, March 25, 2016

How Garry Shandling became the godfather of spoof sitcoms

The comedian, actor and talk-show host Garry Shandling died yesterday of a heart attack at the age of 66. Here Jonathan Bernstein salutes Shandling's pioneering role as the father of the spoof sitcom and arguably, the man who inspired The Office
25 March 2016

Peter Tolan, left, and Garry Shandling pose with their Emmy awards for outstanding writing for a comedy series award for The Larry Sanders Show at the 50th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles
Peter Tolan, left, and Garry Shandling pose with their Emmy awards for outstanding writing for a comedy series award for The Larry Sanders Show at the 50th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles CREDIT: AP
In the 1980s, the BBC was haphazard in its scheduling of American imports. Sometimes shows would appear in the dead of night, sometimes in early evening, only to vanish mid-run, never to be seen again. The cult sitcom, It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, which BBC Two aired in 1986, suffered a typical fate. But for the small, devoted audience who made the effort to follow its unpredictable movements, the rewards were monumental.

Most UK viewers were unaware Chicago-born Shandling had been, by the age of 27, a seasoned sitcom writer with Sanford & Son and Welcome Back Kotter among his credits. We didn’t know about his regular stint as guest host when Johnny Carson took one of his hiatuses from The Tonight Show. Shandling was considered a shoo-in to make over the job on a permanent basis when Carson finally bowed out.
We just knew Shandling from his playing an exaggerated, self-parodying version of himself as the neurotic, narcissistic star of a sitcom about being in a sitcom. The tone of the show was set by its cheery title song: “This is the theme to Garry’s show, the opening theme to Garry’s show, this is the music that they play when they run the credits…”
Shandling's spoof version of himself evolved into a seperate but ultimately very similar standalone character – Larry Sanders – who was the central role in 1992’s HBO comedy The Larry Sanders Show. Sanders was still neurotic, still worried about his hair and still desperate for the audience’s love. But by now, Shandling, who had rejected several offers for his own talk show and was intimately familiar with what the profession did to the soul of its most famous practitioners, was determined to dig deeper into this comic persona by playing Sanders.
Shandling’s creation was an emotionally stunted, capricious, charismatic monster, only fully alive when sitting behind his desk: the only sustainable relationship in his life with the audience that guffawed at his jokes.
During the series' six-year run, Shandling was relentless in portraying Sanders in as candid and unflattering fashion as possible while always showing his vulnerability and pain. The show, which had hit a creative resurgence during a story arc in which Sanders feared being replaced by the younger, more demographically desirable Jon Stewart, ended prematurely due to a legal dispute between Shandling and producer Brad Grey.
While the cultural references that pepper every episode of The Larry Sanders Show may have dated, the anxiety and ambivalence Shandling brought to the character remain hugely influential. Certainly, it’s hard to imagine Ricky Gervais penning as much as a comma without prolonged exposure to a Sanders box-set. (Gervais interviewed Shandling for a 2006 Channel 4 special in which Shandling’s disdain for Gervais was so palpable it was virtually a third participant.)
Shandling’s post-Sanders work – the unloved What Planet Are You From?; supporting parts in buddy Warren Beatty’s movies; turning up as Senator Stern in Marvel's Iron Man 2 and Captain America: The Winter Soldier – didn’t diminish his stature, so much as they increased the appetite for Shandling’s eventual third act.
During an appearance earlier this year on Jerry Seinfeld’s web series Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee, Shandling revealed that he had been struggling with health issues, specifically a hyper parathyroid gland that had gone undiagnosed. He died yesterday at age 66 from a massive heart attack.
Following his death yesterday, among the massed ranks of comedy luminaries eulogising Shandling, his protégé, Trainwreck and Knocked Up director Judd Apatow, found a pitch perfect way to address the loss: “Garry would see the ridiculousness of me being asked to sum up his life five minutes after being told of his passing. It is a perfect, ridiculous Larry Sanders moment.”

Garry Shandling Was an Artist of Subtle Sadness

March 24, 2016
Garry Shandling, who died Thursday at 66, was one of TV’s master underplayers. On The Larry Sanders Show, the HBO sitcom on which Shandling played a second-tier talk-show host, Shandling was perpetually the least dynamic performer onscreen. On-air, his hypeman (Jeffrey Tambor) was subservient, but off- he was fueled by jealousy and hunger for the spotlight. All the while, frenetically encouraging producer (Rip Torn) made every episode a roiling psychodrama. And then, of course, there were all those stars: Actual 1990s celebrities, like Sharon Stone and David Duchovny, who used Sanders’s talk show as a backdrop for their own manias and who didn’t stop their acts once the talk-show cameras stopped rolling.
That’s precisely what made Shandling’s Larry Sanders Show so extraordinary. As an actor, he didn’t just play a host; he inhabited the role, unassumingly allowing chaos to reign all around him as he simply smirked. Sanders was, on his show, about as dull a man as one could imagine, the epitome of a certain Leno-ish vacuous charm. Backstage, he was consumed by neuroses about his weight, his place in the talk-show pecking order, and his turbulent love life, but always in a manner less volcanic than anything else about him. His emotions weren’t loud. Sanders was as complicated as anyone in his orbit of painfully human performers; he’d just trained himself to keep his nerve endings tamped down. His guests’ feelings may not have been more interesting than his own, but they were where the money was. It was a brilliant depiction of repression, and made one of TV’s most-coveted jobs seem like a plight.
It’s hard, when writing about Shandling and Sanders, not to confuse the two very similar names. Part of that comes from the names’ purposeful assonance, sure, but Shandling also allowed his public little sense of him beyond Sanders. He was a remote presence when hosting awards shows (nothing like the ultra-empathic Girl Scout Cookie salesmen or selfie-snappers of today) and limited his major work to Sanders and the earlier It’s Garry Shandling’s Show. In recent years, he worked relatively infrequently; recently, he made cameos as a U.S. Senator in Marvel’s superhero movies, but his last credited TV appearance was in 2006. He’d already had his perfect role, on a show that made a point of emphasizing the differences between life on- and offstage, but also played up the pathologies that didn’t change. Sanders had a tumultuous inner life that his audience could never see—but only because, onstage, he gave them next-to-nothing at all.
The Larry Sanders Show was the perfect show for the 1990s; Shandling’s default comic move of defaulting to irony caught the wave of the culture in the way few shows are lucky enough to do. But its central performance, one around which fizzier aspects rotate gleefully and obscuring the sadness, ought to be more-widely-known today. The emptiness at the heart of stardom hasn’t gone anywhere since the ’90s—indeed, it’s only grown more entrenched in the realm of cliché—but rarely has it been rendered quite so artfully.

Today's Laugh Track: Norm MacDonald on 'The Larry Sanders Show'

Obama’s ideological holiday in Havana

 March 24, 2016
The split screen told the story: on one side, images of the terror bombing in Brussels; on the other, Barack Obama doing the wave with Raúl Castro at a baseball game in Havana.
On one side, the real world of rising global terrorism. On the other, the Obama fantasy world in which romancing a geopolitically insignificant Cuba —without an ounce of democracy or human rights yielded in return — is considered a seminal achievement of American diplomacy.
Cuba wasn’t so much a legacy trip as a vanity trip, vindicating the dorm-room enthusiasms of one’s student days when the Sandinistas were cool, revolution was king and every other friend had a dog named Che.
When Brussels intervened, some argued that Obama should have cut short his trip and come back home. I disagree. You don’t let three suicide bombers control the itinerary of the American president. Moreover, Obama’s next stop, Argentina, is actually important and had just elected a friendly government that broke from its long and corrupt Peronist past.
Nonetheless, Obama could have done without the baseball. What kind of message does it send to be yukking it up with Raúl even as Belgian authorities are picking body parts off the floor of the Brussels airport?
Obama came into office believing that we had vastly exaggerated the threat of terrorism and allowed it to pervert both our values and our foreign policy. He declared a unilateral end to the global war on terror and has downplayed the threat ever since. He frequently reminds aides, reports Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic, that more Americans die annually of bathtub accidents.
It’s now been seven years. The real world has stubbornly refused to accommodate Obama’s pacific dreams. The Islamic State has grown from JV team to worldwide threat, operating from Libya to Afghanistan, Sinai to Belgium. It is well into the infiltration phase of its European campaign, with 500 trained and hardened cadres in place among the estimated 5,000 jihadists returned from the Middle East. The increasing tempo and sophistication of its operations suggest that it may be poised for a continent-wide guerrilla campaign.
In the face of this, Obama remains inert, unmoved, displaying a neglect and insouciance that borders on denial. His nonreaction to the Belgian massacre — his 34-minute speech in Havana devoted 51 seconds to Brussels — left the world as stunned as it was after the Paris massacre, when Obama did nothing. Worse, at his now notorious November news conference in Turkey, his only show of passion regarding Paris was to berate Islamophobes.
David Axelrod called Obama’s response “tone-deaf.” But that misses the point. This is more than a mere mistake of presentation. Remember his reaction to the beheading of the American journalist James Foley? Obama made a statement expressing his sympathies — and then jumped onto his golf cart for a round of 18.
He later told Chuck Todd that this was a mistake. “Part of this job is also the theater of it,” he explained, “it’s not something that always comes naturally to me.” As if postponing a bucolic recreation was a required piece of political playacting rather than a president’s natural reaction — a mixture of shock and sorrow — to the terrible death of a citizen he could not save.
It’s not as if Obama is so super cool that he never shows emotion. Just a few months ago, he teared up when speaking about the Sandy Hook school shooting. That was the work of a psychotic. But when speaking about the work of Islamist terrorists, he offers flat perfunctory words.
I cannot fathom why. Perhaps having long seen himself uniquely qualified by background and history to make peace between Islam and the West, to now recognize how badly things have gone on his watch is to admit both failure and the impossible grandiosity of his original pretensions.
Whatever the reason, he seems genuinely unmoved by a menace the rest of the world views, correctly, with horror and increasing apprehension. He’s been in office seven years, yet seems utterly fixed on his campaign promises and pre-presidential obsessions: shutting down Gitmo, rapprochement with Iran, engagement with tyrants (hence Havana), making the oceans recede (hence the Paris climate trip). Next we’ll see yet another useless Washington “summit” on yet another Obama idee fixe : eliminating nuclear materials.
With the world on fire, the American president goes on ideological holiday. As was said of the Bourbons: “They have learned nothing and have forgotten nothing.”