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Gay Rights vs Guns: Orlando Front and Center


People pay tribute to Orlando during the annual Pride Parade in downtown San Francisco on Sunday, June 26, 2016. The theme for the parade this year is For Racial and Economic Justice. Photo: James Tensuan, Special To The Chronicle

Photo: James Tensuan/S.F. Chronicle

By: Winston Ross/Newsweek

Supporters of gay rights took to the streets of New York, San Francisco, Orlando, Chicago and other cities across the globe on Sunday in annual celebrations of gay rights with a brooding twist, in the wake of this month’s massacre at a gay nightclub in Florida. This year, many of the participants in annual marches demonstrated their opposition to America’s obsession with guns.

In New York City, tens of thousands of marchers paraded through Manhattan, dressed mostly in rainbow-tinged outfits per a tradition that dates to the 1969 Stonewall rebellion, a spate of demonstrations by members of the LGBT community after a police raid at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. Nearly a half-century later, LGBT supporters can celebrate a string of victories, especially last year’s Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage. But the shooting in Orlando served as a grim reminder that bigotry and hatred remain very much alive.

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 Brandon Joyce carries a sign of remembrance for mass shooting victims in Orlando at the 46th annual Los Angeles Gay Pride Parade in West Hollywood, California, on June 12.DAVID MCNEW/REUTERS

 I’ve been so heartbroken and outraged by Orlando,” said Dorothee Benz, 50, who was marching with a group called New York Supports Orlando. “We need to be out loud and proud more than ever, but it comes with mourning and anger.”

New York’s celebration included dozens of visual tributes to victims of the Orlando massacre, some as simple as an Orlando Magic jersey, others more pointed at the National Rifle Association. One marcher held a sign that read “NRA Sashay Away.” At one point in the parade, some 100 men dropped to the ground for 30 seconds, as a megaphone-wielding woman led them in a chant of “What do we want?” “Gun Control!” “When do we want it?” “Now!” Others walked silently down 5th Avenue with their faces covered in ghostly white gauze, drawing applause from the sidelines. The lead float in New York’s parade carried Pulse owner Barbara Poma and the club’s entertainment manager, Neema Bahrami.

Among the New York marchers were three men from Gays Against Guns, or GAG, a group that was formed after the Orlando shootings.

“We realized that in different facets, the gay community has been supporting common-sense gun laws for a long time, but it has never organized as a gay community,” said Chris Arruda, 50, a post-production supervisor for television.

Carrying a sign reading “NRA prepare to GAG,” a reference to the National Rifle Association, Arruda wore a pink triangle on his bare chest, an emblem that the Nazis forced gays to wear before and during World War II.

 

Hillary Clinton made a surprise appearance in the parade, which with 20,000 expected marchers was to be the largest crowd in its history. She waved while walking alongside New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. “One year ago, love triumphed in our highest court. Yet LGBT Americans still face too many barriers. Let’s keep marching until they don’t,” she tweeted. President Barack Obama designated the Stonewall Inn as a national monument on Friday. It was the first time such an honor has been bestowed in recognition of LGBT Americans’ contributions.

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Kaitlyn Camperlino of New Jersey blows bubbles while taking part in the New York City Gay Pride parade in Manhattan, New York on SundayADREES LATIF/REUTERS

Police officials stepped up security at the parades—San Francisco’s parade had security checkpoint screenings at its entrances, for example, and police in New York added helicopter and maritime patrols and an increased presence of uniformed and plainclothes officers. Authorities took similar steps in Chicago. Some departments demonstrated their support for LGBT citizens. New York City police cars had “Pride Equality Peace” painted in rainbow colors.

06_26_pride_01Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, center, waves while taking part in the New York City Gay Pride parade with Governor Andrew Cuomo, left, and Mayor Bill de Blasio in Manhattan on Sunday. Standing on the right is civil rights activist Al Sharpton and New York City’s First Lady Chirlane McCray.ADREES LATIF/REUTERS

Some 2 million spectators had been expected to line the route of New York’s parade this year, while organizers forecast a turnout of 1 million in Chicago. At the head of the Chicago parade, a group carried photos of the 49 Orlando nightclub victims. Later a contingent of marchers donned elaborate, rainbow-colored costumes constructed from hundreds of balloons and carried large letters, also formed by balloons, spelling out P-U-L-S-E.

Across the globe, authorities weren’t so supportive. In Istanbul, Turkish police detained 19 people and fired tear gas into the streets to break up a forbidden parade there.

Reuters and Newsweek reporter Lucy Westcott contributed to this article.

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Why Can’t We Enjoy A Three-Day Weekend Every Weekend?


By: David Spencer/Newsweek

As we enjoy the Labor Day weekend, it is worth reassessing the amount of time we devote to work. What if all weekends could last for three or even four days? What if the majority of the week could be given over to activities other than work? What if most of our time could be devoted to non-work activities of our own choosing?

To even pose these questions is to invite the criticism of Utopian thinking. While a fine idea in principle, working fewer hours is not feasible in practice. Indeed, its achievement would come at the expense of lower consumption and increased economic hardship.

For some advocates of the work ethic, the route to health and happiness lies with the perpetuation of work, not with its reduction. Work makes us healthier and happier. Such pro-work ideology is used to legitimate welfare reforms that seek to coerce the non-employed into work, whatever its rates of pay and qualitative features. It also offers an ideological barrier to the case for spending less time at work. Working less is presented as a threat to our health and happiness, not a means to improve it.

Yet, the idea of working less is not only feasible, it is also the basis for a better standard of life.  It is a mark of how we have come to accept work and its dominant influence in our lives that we do not grasp this idea more readily.

The costs of working more

A  growing number of studies  show the human costs of longer working hours. These include lower physical and mental health. Working long hours can add to the risk of having a stroke, coronary heart disease and developing type 2 diabetes.

By working most of the time, we also lose time with family and friends. And more than this we lose the ability to be and do things that make life valuable and worth living. Our lives are often too much tied up in the work we do that we have little time and energy to find alternative ways of living – in short, our capacity to realize our talents and potential is curtailed by the work we do. Work does not set us free, rather it hems us in and makes it more difficult to realise ourselves.

All this speaks to the need to work less. We should challenge the work ethic and promote alternative ways of living that are less work centered. And, if this reduction of time spent at work is focused on eliminating drudge work then we can also better realize the internal benefits of work itself. Working less may be a means not only to work better but also to enjoy life more.

Barriers to less work

Technological progress has advanced continuously over the past century, pushing up productivity. But not all the gains in productivity have fed through to shorter work hours. At least in modern times, these gains have been used to increase the returns of the owners of capital, often at the cost of flatlining pay for workers.

The lack of progress in reducing time spent at work in modern capitalist economies reflects instead the influence of ideology as well as of power. On the one hand, the effects of consumerism have created powerful forces in favor of longer working hours. Workers are constantly persuaded to buy more and in turn are drawn into working more, to keep up with the latest fad or fashion and to stay ahead of their peers.

On the other hand, the weakened power of labor relative to capital has created an environment that has suited the extension of work time. The recent expose of work practices at Amazon speaks to the power of capital in imposing poor working conditions, including excessive work hours, on workers. The effects of rising inequality has also fee a long work hours culture by increasing the economic necessity to work more.

David Graeber makes the provocative claim  that technology has advanced at the same time as what he calls “bullshit” or pointless jobs have multiplied. This is why we have not realized Keynes’ prediction that we’d all be working 15-hour weeks in the 21st century, as a result of technological progress.

Instead, we are living in a society where work gets created that is of no social value. The reason for this, according to Graeber, is the need of the ruling class to keep workers in work. While technology with the potential to reduce work time exists, the political challenge of a working population with time on its hands makes the ruling class unwilling to realize this potential. Working less, while feasible and desirable, is blocked by political factors.

Working for change

The costs of long work hours, as mentioned above, are poorer health and lower well-being for workers. But for employers too their are cost in terms of lower productivity and lower profitability. Yet these costs seem to go unnoticed despite evidence pointing to their existence. Here again politics may explain why shorter work time has not been embraced by many employers.

Experiments in shorter working exist, to be sure. Uniqlo, a Japanese clothing retailer, is to allow the employees to work a four day week.  This has been widely reported in a positive way. Workers will benefit from a better work-life balance, while the firm will reap the benefits of lower labour costs due to lower turnover costs.

Yet, on closer inspection, the new scheme to be introduced by Uniqlo has its downsides. In return for a four-day working week, workers will be expected to work ten-hour shifts during the days they work (a 40-hour working week will be squeezed into four days).

This is not only an extension to the normal length of the working day; it also puts at risk the potential rewards of working four days in the week. Workers may be so exhausted after working a four-day work week they need a full day to recover from their previous exertions. In this case, their quality of work and life may not be enhanced at all; indeed it may be diminished, if they suffer the ill-effects of overwork.

Ironically, schemes such as the one to be introduced by Uniqlo illustrate the obstacles that remain in achieving less work. Only a reduction in the working week to 30 hours or less can be seen as genuine progress in the achievement of shorter work time.

For us to reach–and enjoy–a three or ideally a four-day weekend, we need to reimagine society in ways that subvert the prevailing work ethic. We need to embrace the idea of working less as a means to a life well lived. We need to reject the way of living that sees work as the be all and end all of life.

So enjoy the holiday while you can. See it as a reminder of a life that could be – a life that we should seek to achieve, by resolving to overcome the barriers, economic as well as ideological and political, to working less.

The ConversationDavid Spencer is Professor of Economics and Political Economy at University of Leeds. He receives funding from, or has received funding from, the 7th Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (FP7), the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Why Do People Still Go to Dollywood?


By: Victoria Bekiempis/Newsweek.com

The main parkway through Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, population 6,036, is lined with dinner theater venues and theme-based museums. The Titanic Museum, for example, looks like the doomed ship, and Jaws, a big-box gift shop with a great-white-shaped entrance, promises LIVE SHARKS. Inside, there is indeed an aquarium where creatures that look like sharks can be seen behind the fingerprinted glass. Gatorland, meanwhile, promises LIVE GATORS, but during a recent visit a piece of lined notebook paper stuck to the gummy glass with duct tape explains: “Gatoz is sick Will come back in a week.”

Those looking for a much more authentic tourist destination need only take a short drive from this Smoky Mountains town to—Dollywood.

For the uninitiated, Dollywood is owned by Dolly Parton, and on the surface it’s simply a themed amusement park that is something of an homage to the entertainment legend. But it goes well beyond that.

Dollywood turns 30 this year, and it is already the largest employer in the county. Parton recently opened Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort, which is adjacent to the park and her Dollywood’s Splash Country water park, and that is expected to create some 2,500 jobs. The 300-room resort reportedly boasts multiple pools and waterfalls, as well as a salon and spa. The luxe accommodations make up a large part of a 10-year, $300 million capital investment plan announced in August 2013.

“The whole resort is kind of tailored towards family, with the big old front porch where families can get together, like we used to back in the old days,” Parton tells Newsweek in her trademark Appalachian twang, even though she’s speaking from Los Angeles, where she’s producing a Christmas movie for NBC. “At least half the rooms have bunk beds and little divides where the parents can have their privacy and the kids can have their area.”

Given Parton’s upbringing, her interest in family-friendly entrepreneurship isn’t surprising.

She is one of 12 children, and her father was a “dirt-poor” tobacco sharecropper. Parton routinely credits her success to her family, even though they lived in a one-room cabin that could have stifled the talent that led to numerous accolades in the country music world and well beyond.

The Wild Eagle

“I’m very family-oriented, period,” Parton says. “I’m very into kids, so you just kind of watch and see what people need and you think, ‘Well, this would be great. A family would love this.’”

Speaking of her inspiration for this atmosphere, she says, “You just keep your eyes and your heart open, and it usually comes.”

Dollywood attracts some 2.5 million visitors per year, and that number hits 4 million when combined with other Dollywood properties such as the water park. That’s almost a third of the up to 13 million people who visit the Smoky Mountains region annually.

And yet the emphasis on family doesn’t seem to fully explain Dollywood’s appeal. In fact, figuring out why Dollywood is still so popular takes a bit of work.

Thunderhead

Many people visit because they love Parton—be it her music or her feminist, LGBT-friendly “Be yourself!” persona—but most patrons do not consider themselves obsessive superfans. Even a 30-year employee couldn’t give satisfying, concrete answers as to why the place is such a draw, only a general overview of Parton’s positive qualities. “I’m old, and Dolly treats you right,” she says.

“In the summertime we get plenty of water. She wants everybody to be hydrated,” the woman, who declined to give her name, as she was not authorized to speak to the press, explained. “She’s down-to-earth. She’s just one of us. She’s probably a multimillionaire, but she don’t act like it.”

Top attractions include the Tennessee Tornado roller coaster, which simulates a Smoky Mountains natural disaster—a twister—hitting “an old Tennessee Mining Company,” and the Barnstormer, a swing ride that travels at 45 miles per hour and reaches 81 feet in the air. While fun, they also beg the question: Are these attractions really that different than those at other parks?

Dollywood’s primary appeal became apparent only after walking around for several hours and speaking with patrons. Unlike other “theme” parks with their vague or purely commercial motifs, Dollywood has a definitive theme that extends far beyond the decor and ride design: the Smoky Mountains.

Dollywood Express

Dollywood is carved from the rock of the region, nestled at the bottom of a ridge. Two creeks course through the park, and great stone shelves flank its edges. That’s why a visit to Dollywood entails meandering between somewhat hidden attractions: Rather than flatten or straighten the hills and dales, Patron and her partners built around the landscape.

This topography lays the stage for Dollywood’s unusual mix of ecotourism and NRA-friendly patriotism. Shingled placards flag regional trees like the American chestnut, explaining with a map the ecological and commercial importance of the blight-threatened breed. Eagle Mountain, billed as “the world’s largest exhibit of non-releasable American Bald Eagles,” celebrates the impressiveness of America’s national symbol with a prominent aviary and show. Equally prominent, however, is information on eagle preservation. A sign warns of the dangers that DDT poses to these birds, for example. Since opening in 1991, Eagle Mountain has released into the wild 100 bald eagles that were born to non-releasable birds in the facility.

“Dollywood is unique because it is the only theme park in the world that is themed around a woman—and not just any woman but the queen of country music, Dolly Parton,” explains Helen Morales, a classicist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and author of Pilgrimage to Dollywood: A Country Music Road Trip Through Tennessee.

She adds, “Its sense of place is extraordinary, artfully melding the natural and the cultural to create an homage to rural Tennessee and its history. The park is built into the Smoky Mountains, whose beauty can be appreciated from the steam train that chugs through it and the roller coasters that soar over it. The park makes physical what has been a repeated theme of Dolly’s songs—a love of the Appalachian countryside and its people.”

Morales adds, “The park, like the songs, celebrate the natural beauty of Tennessee, the craftsmanship and resilience of rural families, and a love of America. We are invited to reflect on what it means it be home.”

Further in keeping with this motif, the one-room Calico Falls Schoolhouse “offers visitors a view of how many schools appeared in East Tennessee during the 1890s” and “clearly reminds us all of a simpler time when slate boards took the place of pen and paper.” The tchotchkes are also Great Smoky-themed. A blacksmith and foundry, staffed by actual master craftsmen, is a nod to the material needs of regional pioneers, as is a handmade candle shop.

Even the exhibits that are supposed to be about Parton are more about the Smoky Mountains. In “Heartsong,” a 20-minute “multisensory” video experience with a Rainforest Cafe vibe, cricket audio clips chirp in the background. Tiny lightbulbs in the wings pulse to simulate fireflies. A mist descends on the audience, conveying the Smokies’ mystery through gray fog and rain. Fast-moving shots of foggy mountaintops flash across the screen, giving the sensation of flying over the range.

When Parton appears on screen, she splits her time telling her life story and singing. At one point she chants, “And now this Smoky Mountain girl has been all around the world…. But it makes no difference just how far I roam / I still cling to that part that is so dear to my heart / My faith in God and memories of home.” This makes it very apparent the Smokies are a far greater part of her identity, and the park’s, than a mere birthplace.

At other theme parks, patrons typically avoid such informative attractions, or patronize them merely to get out of the sun. At Dollywood, these attractions are packed. But Dollywood isn’t alluring because of these Smokies-themed attractions on their own. In a changing, often uncertain America, people want what these attractions provide—a steady sense of place.

MERS: What is it? AND What You Need To Know


Middle East Respiratory Syndrome

What is MERS?

From Newsweek

MERS is a serious viral respiratory illness. The virus is caused by the MERS coronavirus (MERS-CoV). Coronaviruses are a common group of viruses grouped into four types: alpha, beta, gamma and delta. As far as researchers know, humans can only be infected by alpha and beta coronaviruses. These include alpha 229E and NL63, as well as beta OC43, HKU1, SARS-CoV (the coronavirus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome, known as SARS) and MERS-CoV (the coronavirus that causes MERS).

A majority of people will contract a coronavirus at some point in their lifetime, most of which tend to be low risk and cause symptoms similar to the common cold. But MERS-CoV is likely to cause a much more severe illness.

What are the symptoms?

MERS primarily causes flu-like symptoms, including fever, cough and shortness of breath. The virus affects the upper respiratory system, but it may also cause gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. Some people who contract the virus will not show any symptoms at all but may still be contagious. At its worst, the virus can lead to severe complications such as pneumonia and kidney failure and may be fatal.

How deadly is the virus?

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately three to four people out of every 10 who contract MERS will die from the virus.

Most people who die from complications related to MERS have underlying medical problems or disorders of the immune system that make it difficult for their body to fight off the virus. This may include conditions such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, lung or kidney problems, and HIV or other problems of the immune system.

How is the virus spread?

Though the MERS virus is not completely understood, health officials believe it is spread through contact with someone else who is sick with a MERS infection. Family members, health care workers and others in close contact with someone who is sick are at highest risk since MERS appears to be spread through respiratory secretions. Most health officials agree that the general public is at relatively low risk for contracting the virus.

However, because the virus is so new in humans, some research does suggest that it may be more contagious than we suspect. A study found the virus was able to survive in air samples collected at a barn that sheltered infected camels and a MERS patient. The virus has an incubation period of five to six days, but a person can begin to show symptoms as early as two days or as long as 14 days after an initial exposure.

What is the treatment for the virus?

There is no cure for MERS, so physicians work on providing supportive medical care until the virus has run its course. This includes treatment to prevent serious complications such as pneumonia and organ failure. A patient may receive oxygen support or intravenous fluids or be placed in an intensive care unit.

How did the outbreak first begin?

MERS is believed to be related to zoonotic transmission (from animals to humans). Several studies, including one conducted by researchers at the National Institutes of Health, suggest that camels in Egypt, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are carriers of MERS-CoV and may transmit the virus to humans who come in close contact with them. DNA analysis of humans and camels carrying the virus found it was genetically similar. There are reports that while camels may be carriers of MERS-CoV, the animals may not show symptoms. It’s also possible that other animals may serve as a reservoir for the virus, though none have been identified so far.

Should I be worried if I live in the U.S.?

The CDC conducts nationwide surveillance of all infectious diseases, including MERS. Most public health experts agree that Americans are still at very low risk of contracting MERS. Only two patients in the U.S. have ever tested positive for MERS, both in May 2014. In these cases, the patients were health care workers who had lived and worked in Saudi Arabia and had contact with people who had contracted the virus there. The patients were both hospitalized in the U.S. and discharged after a full recovery. The CDC did not receive reports of any secondary infections of family members or health care workers who had contact with those patients. Additionally, more than 500 people monitored in the U.S. have tested negative for the virus, according to the CDC.

This is all to say that hypochondriacs may be best off channeling their fears toward more common viruses like influenza, which caused more than 4,000 deaths in the U.S. in 2013.

Paul Shaffer: Life After Letterman


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Paul Shaffer attends the 2011 Apollo Theater Spring Gala in New York City. For 33 years, Paul Shaffer has been the warm to David Letterman’s cool, the Ed to his Johnny and the Peaches to his Herb. So what happens when the world’s greatest sidekick has to go solo? SHAHAR AZRAN/WIREIMAGE

By Lisa Birnbach/Newsweek

It might surprise you to learn that Paul Shaffer is a morning person. We associate him with late night television, where he has made being a sidekick a cool gig for over three decades. And because he leads a rock-and-roll band (in his hip shades and outrageous suits), and we assume rock musicians are out jamming all night (and they’re not known to be Boy Scouts), it is notable that he’s invited me to breakfast. To completely shatter the image, I can state with a high degree of confidence that Shaffer is pretty damn perky before his first cup of coffee.

There he is, casually attired in black pants with many zippers and a plain black shirt, arranging a buffet for us from the nearby Gourmet Garage at his Manhattan apartment with its dazzling 200-degree views of New York and New Jersey from the 57th floor. Because it is the morning of the first night of Passover, Shaffer has opened a box of matzohs and set it next to the plate of pastries. In less than 12 hours, leavened bread will be out of both our diets for a week, so he’s covered all bases.

His living-dining room is not showbizzy, a memorabilia-free zone; there is a baby grand piano in a corner, but unlike many Manhattan apartments that have one just for show (or to display photographs), this is the instrument of an actual musician. The framed gold and platinum records, signed photographs and other souvenirs of a life spent in the business are hidden away in the den.

His most treasured objet de rock is a hat worn by famed ’60s rock-and-roll disc jockey Murray the K, “given to me by Ronnie Spector [lead singer of The Ronettes], a friend…. I am sort of a Murray the K character,” Shaffer says. “And this was the kind of hat he was seen wearing on his TV special, It’s What’s Happening, Baby.” That 1965 special featured Murray the K dancing with Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, The Ronettes, Ray Charles, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Tom Jones and many other pop stars of the day.

Shaffer adds that he has never worn the hat. He keeps it under glass.

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Then-Republican Presidential candidate Jon Huntsman performs “Johnny B. Goode” with Paul Shaffer and the CBS Orchestra as David Letterman looks on, on the set of “Late Show with David Letterman,” December 21, 2011. Shaffer’s 33-year run with David Letterman comes to an end in late May. JOHN P. FILO/CBS

Comically Reverential
We are meeting to talk about Shaffer’s 33-year run with David Letterman as it wends to its end in late May. Though we have known each other for years, neither of us is positive about when we first met. I think it was in the early 1980s, when we were both staying at the Westwood Marquis Hotel in Los Angeles: We were the only two guests sitting by the pool (which, if memory serves, was the size of a conference room table). He remembers the pool, but is pretty certain we first met when I was a guest on Late Night in 1984. Nevertheless, over the years we have been friendly, but not intimate. (Let’s pretend that was for the purposes of full disclosure.)

Shaffer says 33 years is not what anyone had in mind when he was offered his first Letterman contract. It was for six months—as was his next contract, and the next, and so on for a few years. “I had been used to long runs,” he says of that first contract. “I had just been on SNL for five years; I played in the house band, but I got into some of the comedy pieces as well.” The blend of music and comedy came easily to the Thunder Bay, Ontario, native. His dad was a jazz lover; his mother loved show tunes. “We made one critical trip to Las Vegas when I was 12. My parents adored show business, not gambling. We saw a Nat King Cole show and another with Juliet Prowse [a dancer]. It was life-changing. I never recovered.”

From that moment on, he wanted to be a performer. “I’d describe Paul’s feelings about show business as being comically reverential,” says his close friend, comedy writer Tom Leopold. “It was magic to him growing up. But even as a kid he thought it was funny that show folk called each other a genius every minute.”

Shaffer had a bar mitzvah, took piano lessons all the way through high school and ended up at his father’s alma mater, the University of Toronto, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in sociology. In 1972, he became the musical director of the Toronto production of Godspell. The cast of the musical included Victor Garber, Gilda Radner, Martin Short, Eugene Levy, Dave Thomas and Andrea Martin, who all went on to much (and many) bigger things. “Comedy was fascinating to me. My best friends from Toronto turned out to be the funniest people in the business.” Those friends helped lay the foundation of anti-establishment comedy of the ’70s, both in Toronto’s Second City troupe and TV show, and then, of course, on Saturday Night Live.

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Victoria Jackson, Jon Lovitz, Nora Dunn, Paul Shaffer, Jan Hooks, Phil Hartman, Dennis Miller during the closing on “Saturday Night Life”, January 31, 1987. Often referred to as “greatest sidekick in television,” Shaffer takes that praise humbly, and its title seriously. ALAN SINGER/NBC/NBCU PHOTO BANK/GETTY

In late 1981, Shaffer was called in for a meeting in a barren office at NBC with Barry Sand, a TV producer, and David Letterman, a weatherman-turned-comedian from Indianapolis who had been hosting an irreverent (therefore unsuccessful) morning show on NBC. Now the plan was to redirect his talents to late night television, and he needed someone to play with on the air. The meeting lasted all of 30 minutes and was followed by another meeting some weeks later at which “they asked the exact same questions,” Shaffer says. “Dave claims that he never had anyone else in mind, and I believe him, though other staff members had other ideas…like I think [director] Hal Gurnee wanted Leon Redbone.”

Often referred to as “greatest sidekick in television,” Shaffer takes that praise humbly, and its title seriously. “Being the sidekick encompasses being the straight man,” he says, “which is a venerable position in show business. I am so proud of learning how to be the straight man for Dave. He encouraged me to jump in, ‘whenever you have something.’ Obviously, I wasn’t going to do that during the monologue, but anytime after he got to the desk—even when there was a guest. Our show was reality television. We never knew what would happen. Dave made us a team.

“Unlike our friend, the great character actor—and strange man—Calvert DeForest, who played Larry ‘Bud’ Melman [on The Late Show], I had a real function. I was not just a funny character. And I got to do everything I do all at once.

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Roastmaster Paul Shaffer and dancers perform during “The New York Friars Club Roast of Chevy Chase” in New York City, September 28, 2002. Shaffer wanted to be a performer from a young age. FRANK MICELOTTA/IMAGEDIRECT/GETTY

As one who worships the Rat Pack—the posse of impossibly cool entertainers who virtually owned Las Vegas in the ’50s and ’60s: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford—Shaffer copied their cool, jazzy, jive talk. “I had a backlog of Rat Pack expressions,” he says. “The very first time I spoke on the air, I used one. David said, ‘Do more of that. That’s hilarious.

(About Shaffer’s reverence for the Rat Pack, Leopold says: “I don’t think Paul would trust a man who didn’t want to be Dean Martin. Even Jerry Lewis wants to be Dean Martin.”)

God Sits In With the Band

The template for the late night show—host, band, sidekick, monologue, guests—was, of course, created on The Tonight Show, and both Letterman and Shaffer were enormously influenced by the original host, Steve Allen, and Johnny Carson, who made it an American pop cultural touchstone in the ’60s and ’70s. “I was a combination of Doc [Severinsen, Carson’s bandleader] and Ed [McMahon, Carson’s sidekick]. I couldn’t be off [just waiting to play in the breaks]. It took me a while to learn how to focus for the whole hour.”

In six-month increments, Shaffer was renewed and grew more comfortable in his hybrid role. At a certain point, while still at NBC, Shaffer says he, “ran out of [Rat Pack] material, so then Dave said it would be great if we had aconversation. That’s when it became super interesting for me. It became spontaneous.”

But do not underestimate Shaffer’s musical talent and how important it was to the show. “Back in the ’80s, I got to be the first person with a rock-and-roll band on TV,” Shaffer says. “The artists immediately responded. We were playing the music of James Brown, and sure enough we got a phone call from James Brown, who wanted to play with that band, and that shot us into the stratosphere as far as we were concerned. James Brown was the end-all and be-all to me and the other guys in the band.”

05_15_Shaffer_06Ray Manzarek from the Doors poses with Paul Shaffer backstage on “Late Night with David Letterman” in New York City, January 25,1984. Shaffer says 33 years is not what anyone had in mind when he was offered his first Letterman contract. It was for six months—as was his next contract, and the next, and so on for a few years. EBET ROBERTS/REDFERNS/GETTY

John Helliwell of Supertramp was the first musician to “sit in” with the band. “He said, ‘I could be like those jazz cats who sit in.’ Then [Eric] Clapton said, ‘I’d like to sit in,’ and then everybody wanted to do it. And everyone did it, including iconic jazz cats like Dizzy Gillespie, the bebopper of all beboppers. My dad was a jazz fan, and I would call him and say, ‘Dad, I played with Steve Miller; he’s my favorite,’ and he’d say, ‘Everyone’s your favorite.’ The Reverend Al Green played with us many times, and Sly of the Family Stone, and Carole King, and the list goes on and on.”

When Letterman decamped to CBS in 1993, he received ownership of the Late Show With David Letterman, and as Shaffer’s employer, made sure his new contracts were for five years.

What’s their relationship like? “In a run of 33 years, you go through phases,” Shaffer says. “We would double-date in the early years, and then there was a period where we thought we should ‘save it for the air,’ and socialize less. When Dave got his place in Montana, he invited our family out every year for a week to go horseback-riding and fishing. It was always great family time.”

05_15_Shaffer_TOCPaul Shaffer performs on “Late Night with David Letterman,” July 13, 2009. What’s their relationship like? “In a run of 33 years, you go through phases,” Shaffer says JOHN P. FILO/CBS

Like Carson before him, Letterman has been in America’s living rooms for what seems like thousands of hours but is still not really known. That changed somewhat in 2000 when he left the show to have a quintuple bypass. “It was very emotional for him to return to the show,” Shaffer says. “He brought some of his doctors and nurses on the show to thank them. He loved doing the show, and it reminded us how much we loved the show too. He is well-known by the staff for being hard on himself. He watches the show and beats himself up—‘Why did I say that?’ sort of thing. Dave has never walked through the show. He cares about doing the best he can for his audience.”

Perhaps the greatest gift he gave that audience was his return to live television six days after 9/11. “Everyone else in late night was looking to him to see how to behave…. No one was coming back on the air to do comedy until David deemed it appropriate to come back,” Shaffer says of the show’s return on September 17, 2001. “We were uptown, but when we walked outside the studio, we could smell death. When we came back, it was clear we were broadcasting from a war zone.”

The birth of Letterman’s son, Harry, now 11, seemed to make the comedian much happier and more open, and Shaffer admires the way his pal (and boss) makes family time a priority for himself and his crew. “This job has afforded me the ability to have a regular family life.” Shaffer has been married for 25 years to Cathy Vasapoli, a former talent booker on Good Morning America. They have two children, Victoria, 22, an aspiring talk show host, and Will, 16, who wants to be a professional athlete when he grows up. “The life of most musicians, no matter who you are, is on a bus… if they are lucky,” Shaffer says. “I’ve been luckier.”

05_15_Shaffer_08Paul Shaffer sits on the lawn with his wife Cathy Vasapoli while she holds their daughter Lily. KIMBERLY BUTLER/THE LIFE IMAGES COLLECTION/GETTY

In addition to his Late Show gig, Shaffer has been active in many aspects of the music business, recording with everyone from Donald Fagen to Warren Zevon to Grand Funk Railroad, composing (“It’s Raining Men”), appearing as Polymer Records rep Artie Fufkin in the genre-defining This Is Spinal Tap, performing with The Blues Brothers and on sitcoms, and playing backup to all his musical heroes, including Miles Davis. (They performed “We Three Kings of Orient Are” in Bill Murray’s movie Scrooged and again on TV.) He is also the longtime musical director and producer of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s induction ceremonies. He has been a Hollywood Square, did a cameo on Law & Order: Criminal Intent and published a memoir, We’ll Be Here for the Rest of Our Lives: A Swingin’ Showbiz Saga.

Instead of bemoaning the loss of his best gig, Shaffer is busily planning the big musical numbers and surprises for the show’s wind down. “It’s tribute time,” he says, referring to the encomia that guests on the show have been breaking into lately. “People have grown up with this show, and now they want to come and say thanks for shaping their comedy personas.”

05_15_Shaffer_02Paul Shaffer and Bill Murray perform the Marty and Beyonce skit, February 15, 2015. In addition to his Late Show gig, Shaffer has been active in many aspects of the music business, recording with everyone from Donald Fagen to Warren Zevon to Grand Funk Railroad. THEO WARGO/NBC/NBCU PHOTO BANK/GETTY

It’s been a long morning of reminiscing, and it feels like I have been forcing Shaffer to be more sentimental about the end of his Letterman collaboration than he seems to want to be…at least yet. “Now I’m not focused on what I’ll do at 4:30 every day [after the show wraps for good],” he says. “What I’m feeling now is grateful. Dave has been a great boss.”

But how could he not be a little wistful? “I’m sure he will miss the show,” says Shaffer’s pal, Leopold. “Paul is the only person in show business history to have a job for 30 years. People get gold watches in factories for less time than that.”

Shaffer says he’s in no way ready to slow down or take his gold watch to play golf. He wants to do more acting, but first, “I’m going to learn to sight-read and play the bass pedals on the Hammond organ.”

He’s not kidding.

Searching for Mexico’s Disappeared


04_10_MexicoMissing_02

From left: Jovita Flores Donado, mother to a disappeared son; Marta Ramirez, aunt of a disappeared man; Rosenda Arroyo Jimenez, mother to a disappeared daughter; and Rosa Maria Ramirez Rojas, mother of a disappeared son walk in an area near the town garbage dump amidst sugar cane fields where personal belongings of some of the disappeared were found two days after they were reported missing. KEITH DANNEMILLER FOR NEWSWEEK

BY:/NEWSWEEK

Ricardo Illescas Ramírez wanted a drink. It was August 2013, and the 25-year-old clothing salesman was in Potrero Nuevo, on Mexico’s eastern Gulf coast, in Veracruz state. He had arrived earlier that afternoon to meet with buyers, and when he finished for the day, Ramírez plopped down at a rickety bar near the center of town.

Shortly after he walked in, witnesses say, a group of men in police uniforms burst through the door, dragged Ramírez and several others outside, shoved them into patrol cars and drove off. Witnesses reported similar incidents earlier that day at a nearby park and truck stop. In total, 20 people vanished in Potrero Nuevo that day. None have been seen or heard from since.

Ramírez wasn’t the first person to disappear in Mexico, and he won’t be the last. Over the past nine years, more than 20,000 people have vanished, according to government statistics. Most, analysts say, have been kidnapped or murdered by drug traffickers or “disappeared” by corrupt members of Mexican law enforcement. The real number is likely much, much higher, because crime statistics in Mexico are notoriously unreliable.

Disappearing without a trace is not uncommon in Latin America. Between 1974 and 1982, at least 10,000 Argentinians vanished during that country’s military dictatorship. In Guatemala, an estimated 70,000 people were killed or disappeared in 1982 and 1983 during dictator Efraín Ríos Montt’s rule. Mexico, of course, is far from a despotic police state, but over the past six months, the issue of forced disappearance has roiled the country because of the incestuous relationship between Mexican law enforcement and its main adversaries, the country’s vicious and powerful narco gangs. As the outrage has escalated, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has promised to restore law and order and bring a sense of closure to the families of those who have vanished.

Yet critics say the government has little to show for its efforts. Eighteen months after those 20 people vanished in Potrero Nuevo, the victims’ families still don’t know who kidnapped them or why. More important, they don’t know if they’re dead or alive. “We still have no answers,” says Rosa Maria Ramírez Rojas, 48, Ramírez’s mother. “No one can tell us anything.”

The Saddest Part

It wasn’t supposed to be this way for Peña Nieto. Once lauded by the Western press for his attempts to create jobs, the young, telegenic leader came to power in 2012, vowing to move past the drug war, which has claimed the lives of 100,000 people since 2006. For a while, Mexico’s murder rate slid to its lowest level in years, and Peña Nieto drove a series of economic reforms through the country’s fractious legislature.

But in September 2014, a new national crisis emerged. More than 40 students in Iguala, a city in southern Mexico, disappeared as they tried to commandeer buses to take them to a political rally in Mexico City. Federal investigators swooped in. What they found was disturbing: The city’s mayor had allegedly ordered the police to kidnap the students and hand them over to a local drug gang. The reason: The student protesters had been vocal critics of his wife.

The authorities quickly arrested the mayor, his wife and scores of police officers, along with members of the drug gang. But tens of thousands of Mexicans took to the streets across the country, calling for the police to find the missing students. Many demanded Peña Nieto’s resignation. The president responded by stepping up his efforts to find the disappeared, or at least their remains.

So far, the government has made little headway. One major reason: forensics. More than a decade ago, Mexican authorities set up a national DNA bank, intended to solve a variety of crimes, from rape to human trafficking. The bank has collected more than 25,000 genetic profiles, but as the Mexican government, along with the army, the police and a host of forensic investigators, continues the search in Iguala and elsewhere, fewer than 600 genetic samples have been reportedly matched with their remains.

“The Mexican government has the money and the technology, but it lacks transparency and the will to tackle the problem of forced disappearance,” says Ernesto Schwartz, a geneticist and the founder of Citizen Forensic Science, a nonprofit created with grant money to help Mexicans find their missing loved ones. “The saddest part is that the institutions have information, they have DNA samples, but they handle them poorly and don’t share their information with others. We are trying to end the monopoly that the state has on the truth and allow the citizens themselves to have control.”

Other citizen groups have tried to do the same, and the result has led to further embarrassment for Mexican authorities. Last fall, as frustration mounted against the government’s efforts in Iguala, volunteers flooded the countryside, hoping to find the missing students. They didn’t succeed, but they did uncover dozens of secret graves, many of which belonged to other victims of drug-related violence. The problem of forced disappearance, the volunteers showed, was far greater than most Mexicans had imagined.

‘A Brutal Drug Gang’

Over the past six months, volunteers and government investigators have turned up more and more clandestine graves across the country. But their work has offered little comfort to the relatives of those who vanished in Potrero Nuevo.

 

The town is surrounded by lush mountains and vast fields of sugarcane. It’s also on a lucrative drug-trafficking route connecting Mexico’s northern border to the Caribbean south. Controlling these routes: a brutal drug gang called Los Zetas. “They dominate everything and have deeply infiltrated local police forces, who are very capable of carrying out disappearances,” says José Reveles, a veteran crime journalist and drug war expert.

It remains unclear if Los Zetas, along with help from local law enforcement, kidnapped Ramírez and 19 others on that fateful night in August. Several days after the disappearances, the state prosecutor’s office issued a short statement saying it was investigating the matter but denying there had been a police operation that day. According to the victims’ families, the prosecutor’s office has no arrest record for any of those who disappeared. Nearby prisons don’t list any of them as inmates, and the authorities haven’t responded to numerous requests to see video footage taken near the scenes of the abductions.

Jovita Flores Donado, left, and Rosa Maria Ramirez Rojas sit outside the bar ‘La Potra Zaina’ wher each of their sons were disappeared at the same time.

“We had meeting after meeting with the prosecutors,” says Ramírez’s mother. “It felt like they were only keeping us busy. What angers us most is that they reacted way too late when we reported the disappearances and that the ensuing investigation ground to a halt from the start.”

The Bar ‘La Potra Zeina‘ sits beside a railroad line running through Potrero and was the site of numerous disappearances on that August night in 2013

I asked Veracruz’s state prosecutor’s office, the state human rights committee and the office of Veracruz’s governor, Javier Duarte, for comment. No one responded. However, not long after my inquiries, the families of the victims say, the authorities contacted them last month, the first time they had done so in nearly a year. They were happy to hear from someone, but they still feel nothing is being done. “We feel abandoned by everyone,” says 43-year-old Alicia Hernández Garcia, whose son Kevin, 20, was abducted in Potrero. “I’ve told my story so many times to so many people, and it hasn’t helped one bit.”

Does Facebook Know You Better Than Your Mother? Or Roommate?


By: Stav Ziv/Newsweek

In the 2013 sci-fi romance Her, a writer falls in love with his computer’s operating system. Theodore Twombly, played by Joaquin Phoenix, begins to feel as if his Samantha—the female identity of his OS, voiced by Scarlett Johansson—knows him better than his closest friends do.

After Wu You and Michal Kosinski saw Her, they started discussing whether it was possible for a computer in the real world to judge someone’s personality better than other humans.

Wu, a Ph.D. candidate in social psychology at the University of Cambridge, and Kosinski, a postdoctoral fellow in computer science at Stanford, are co-lead authors of a study, published online Monday in the journal PNAS (the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), that asks how well someone’s digital footprint can predict his or her personality—and how that compares with the judgment of friends, family, roommates or a spouse.

In his previous research,  Kosinski found that Facebook likes can be used to accurately predict a range of attributes, including sexual orientation, ethnicity, religious and political views, personality traits, intelligence, happiness, use of addictive substances, parental separation, age and gender.

He says that one common comment he and his colleagues received about that paper, published in PNAS in March 2013, was “OK, this is really cool that [Facebook likes] can predict all of those things, but how does it compare with how humans can predict?” In other words, he says, how impressive is it that the computer can make such accurate predictions?

Wu and Kosinski, along with David Stillwell, a researcher at Cambridge, found that the computer’s average accuracy predicting personality was higher than the average accuracy of all human judges, except for a spouse. But a spouse’s judgment, too, could be beat with a larger quantity of data.

1-13-15 FB study graphThis is a graph showing accuracy of computer model’s personality judgement compared with humans. WU YOUYOU AND MICHAL KOSINSKI

The researchers used a sample of more than 80,000 volunteers, who answered 100 questions on an app called myPersonality. The questionnaire, based on the commonly used OCEAN model, evaluates respondents for five major personality traits: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. The participants also gave researchers access to their Facebook likes, which served as the digital footprint used to compare computer judgment with human judgment of personality in the study.

The researchers had the computer try to find patterns that linked the personality traits uncovered in the OCEAN survey with Facebook likes by building linear regressions models on a portion of the sample data they had collected and generating a formula for each trait based on likes.

For example, in evaluating openness, likes such as Buddhism, The Daily Show, Salvador Dali and William Shakespeare were linked with a liberal and artistic personality on the survey, whereas How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, George W. Bush, Rush Limbaugh, and rap and hip-hop were linked with a conservative and conventional personality. On the extraversion scale, Snookie, partying, Gucci and beer pong indicated an outgoing and active personality, while The Matrix, programming, Doctor Who and thinking indicated a shy and reserved personality.

The researchers then fed in the remaining sample data so the computer could predict a user’s traits based on the patterns it had previously established. They repeated the process to generate predictions for each participant. The more Facebook likes a study participant had, the more accurate the computer’s prediction (at least up to a few hundred likes—Kosinski expects there would be diminishing returns at a certain point).

They then had friends and family members of participants fill out a short survey about the latter group’s personalities, and compared the results with the computer’s judgments.

With just 10 likes, the computer did a better job predicting someone’s personality than a co-worker did; with 70 likes, it beat friends’ and roommates’ judgments; with 150 likes, it superseded that of family members; and with 300 likes, it was even better than a spouse.

1-13-15 FB study Fig 2Computer-based personality judgment accuracy (y axis), plotted against the number of Likes available for prediction (x axis). The red line represents the average accuracy (correlation) of computers’ judgment across the five personality traits. The five-trait average accuracy of human judgments is positioned onto the computer accuracy curve. PNAS

It’s important to keep in mind that the study focused on one type of personality assessment related to five specific traits. There are other observations and judgments a computer might not handle as well, says Wu, such as emotional intelligence.

“Humans do have an advantage given their ability to capture cues that…might not be as visible in a digital environment,” she says. “Maybe likes are not indicative of how socially skilled someone is,” whereas humans can determine whether someone is socially awkward or doesn’t have empathy from observations of things like facial expression and body language.

The researchers chose to use likes as their digital footprint “because this is a very generic type of digital signal,” says Kosinski, “curated by people and maintained in a public environment.” He and his colleagues predict that the “results should generalize to other environments like Spotify playlists, web browsing logs, Amazon Kindle logs.”

However, Kosinski says that in previous tests, he has found that other footprints, like Web browsing logs, are even more accurate than Facebook likes. People are less aware of their browsing history, he says, and don’t censor it in the same way they do with public Facebook likes. In the future, Facebook likes could be mixed in with other information, such as status updates, songs listened to, browsing logs and data that can be collected by a mobile phone (tone of voice, how often you talk, heartbeat) to predict personality traits more accurately, as well as to track (and even predict) current and changing states of mind.

This, Wu says, has lots of practical applications. “Recruiters could better match candidates with jobs based on their personality; products and services could adjust their behavior to best match their users’ characters and changing moods,” she says. “People may choose to augment their own intuitions and judgments with this kind of data analysis when making important life decisions, such as choosing activities, career paths or even romantic partners.”

But there are also dangers to having machines that can judge people’s personalities and emotional states, says Kosinski. “Like any other technology, this technology is morally neutral, but it can be used for a bad purpose,” he says. “For example, knowledge of psychological traits can help me exert influence over you.” The risk, he says, is that people will lose trust in cellphones and online environments, which is why he believes people should be given control over their own data and the authority to decide whether it will be shared with certain companies.

Nevertheless, says Kosinski, there is a type of “magic” in the paper: “a very vanilla, very standard, very generic statistical model can predict something that was so far considered to be kind of a deeply human skill.”

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