October 28th, 2007

Chris Keeley

We Are All Larry David

In 2004, David Roberts, a second-year clinical-psychology student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, had a summer job teaching social skills to a group of schizophrenic patients at a state hospital. He had a particularly unresponsive group (“Many patients are flattened by their meds,” he explained recently) and tried in vain to interest them in role-playing everyday social situations, offering the patients rewards of points and tokens in return for not giving in to their urges to wander around, respond to phantom voices, or otherwise become disruptive—a traditional system of behavioral therapy.

During a break one day, Roberts, watching television in the hospital’s lounge, noticed that a change had come over his patients, who generally seemed immune to basic social signals. “They were laughing at the ironic commercials,” he said. “They were laughing at ‘Friends.’ They were laughing at all the places I was laughing.” Many showed a fluency in the kinds of social communication that Roberts had been struggling to teach them in therapy. “We watched a scene from ‘Monk’ where Tony Shalhoub won’t shake hands with anyone for fear of germs, and walks away awkwardly. I asked a man who’d been an inpatient for ten years, and who was generally blank, what had happened, and he shook his head and gave me a wry grin. Unspoken communication is huge for someone like that.”

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Chris Keeley

Mitt Romney’s strategies for success. by Ryan Lizza

On a recent Thursday in Derry, New Hampshire, Mitt Romney, the Republican Presidential candidate, was engaged in a conversation about milkshakes. It was early afternoon at a nineteen-fifties-themed diner called MaryAnn’s, and Romney, surrounded by cameramen and reporters, went from table to table introducing himself to voters. Before running for office in Massachusetts—unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 1994 and, successfully, for governor in 2002—Romney made a fortune as a management consultant and leveraged-buyout specialist, and, in twenty-five years in the business world, he learned to love information-gathering. “There are answers in numbers—gold in numbers,” he wrote in “Turnaround: Crisis, Leadership, and the Olympic Games,” his 2004 memoir. “Pile the budgets on my desk and let me wallow.” His campaign manager, Beth Myers, told me recently that Romney regularly checks Mittromney.com, and sends off e-mails to aides, asking them to add more detailed information to the site.

At MaryAnn’s, Romney, his suit jacket removed and his sleeves rolled up, made his way swiftly through the restaurant, methodically quizzing the patrons. He sat down with two gray-haired women in a booth and pointed to a creamy drink on the table. “Is this a malt or is this a milkshake?” he asked.

“It’s a frappe,” one of the women replied.

“We call that a milkshake in the Midwest,” Romney, who has lived in Massachusetts for the past thirty-six years, said. “It’s a frappe here, right? This is ice cream and, and—”

“And milk,” the woman replied.

“And milk, yeah. How are you doing? I’m Mitt Romney.”

Romney is smart. He was chosen as the speaker for his graduating class at Brigham Young University. He pursued joint graduate degrees at Harvard, in law and business, graduating cum laude in law and in the top five per cent of his class at the business school. “I like smart people,” he wrote in “Turnaround.” “A lot.” But, like many smart overachievers, especially in politics, he sometimes tries a little too hard. The conversation turned from frappes to health care, and he asked, “Is it O.K. here in New Hampshire?”

“I live in Vermont,” one of the women responded.

“I live in Massachusetts,” the other said.

Undaunted, Romney cheerily pressed for their views on how to improve the health-care system. One of the women made a pitch for more government spending on care for the elderly. The poor, she argued, benefit from government programs, and the rich can afford their own care. “I think the middle people need some help.” Romney perked up and patiently explained the details of a 2004 law that provided more state assistance for home care. His new friends were smitten. “That’s a nice idea,” one of them said. Romney did not mention that the new rules applied only to the poor.

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Chris Keeley

Vintage Neil Young, Still Working for the Muse By JON PARELES

Neil Young’s “Chrome Dreams II” follows up his unreleased 1977 album, “Chrome Dreams.



REDWOOD CITY, Calif.

NEIL Young was thrilled about an old car. Over chile verde at a Mexican restaurant near the landmark Fox Theater here, where he was rehearsing for his tour, Mr. Young’s grizzled face lit up as he described his Linc-Volt.

The car is a 1959 Lincoln Continental Mark IV, a 19-foot, two-ton behemoth. It was a commercial flop in the year of the massive tail fin, and in its original configuration the car is an ecological disaster, guzzling gas and leaving giant black exhaust spots on the ground as it starts up. That’s the Linc part. Volt is because Mr. Young is converting the car to battery power, with a biodiesel engine for backup, and he plans to drive it to its birthplace in Detroit to demonstrate the viability of electric cars. He’s making a movie about the trip. The film, “is so different from everything that I’ve ever done,” he said. “It’s totally positive.”

The converted Linc-Volt will still barrel along a highway, but silently. It should get up to 100 miles per gallon of fuel, since it runs most of the time on electricity. “The car is really heavy,” Mr. Young said. “It’s got a lot of inertia. So that gives it more power.”

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Chris Keeley

W.M.D. in Iran? Q.E.D.

TIM RUSSERT: Mr. Vice President, welcome to “Meet the Press.”

VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: Good morning, Tim.

RUSSERT: How close are we to war with Iran?

CHENEY: Well, I think we are in the final stages of diplomacy, obviously. We have done virtually everything we can with respect to carrots, if you will. It’s time for squash. Not to mention mushrooms, clouds of them.

RUSSERT: But you squashed Iraq and that didn’t work out so well.

CHENEY: Iraq will be fine, Tim. It just needs a firmer hand. We learned that lesson. We’re not going to get hung up on democracy this time. (Expletive) purple thumbs.

RUSSERT: Isn’t Secretary Rice still pushing carrots for Iran?

CHENEY: The more carrots Condi feeds ’em, the better they’ll be able to see the bombs coming.

RUSSERT: First you threatened to take action if Iran built a nuclear weapon. Now you’re threatening to take action if Iran knows how to build a nuclear weapon. What’s next? You threaten to take action if Ahmadinejad dresses up as a nuclear weapon for Halloween?

CHENEY: Well, the difficulty here is, each time he has rejected what he was called upon to do by the international community. I’m not sure now, no matter what he says, that anyone would believe him. He’s pretending he doesn’t have W.M.D., just like Saddam.

RUSSERT: But Saddam didn’t have W.M.D.Collapse )