Saturday, May 27, 2006

It's all about me, me, me

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As a Dan Medeiros, I share a strange bond. Within let’s say a 30-mile radius of my house, there are more Dan Medeiroses per square foot than anywhere in the world.

But from 30 miles to 50 miles, though, the Dan Medeiros count drops off significantly. This is the area of the world that can sometimes say “Medeiros” correctly on a good day. From 50 miles to 100 miles, there are much fewer Dan Medeiroses than that. “Medeiros” to people living in this area sounds something like “Madras” — like the plaid shorts. And within a 100- to 3,000-mile radius, finding a Dan Medeiros is a rare feat indeed. The word “Medeiros” is unknown to these poor, witless creatures, who pronounce it “Madernious” or “Macadamious” or (my favorite) “Merkuhhh” and a prolonged coughing noise.

People usually don’t believe me when I tell them how many damn Dans there are around here. I am not making this up! There are lots of Dan Medeiroses, I tell you! We Dan Medeiroses trip all over each other! All the time! Try heaving a clod of dirt in any direction and you’ll hit about six!

Example: The other day, a man called for me — or, I should say, called for Dan Medeiros.

“That’s me!” I said.

“I’m from [name withheld], a debt collection agency. You owe $2,238.57 to Southcoast Hospitals Group.”

I have a very strong burrowing instinct, so I squeezed myself under the couch. After my wife coaxed me back out, I spent the next 10 minutes explaining to the guy how he had the wrong Dan Medeiros. I didn’t owe anybody $2,238.57. I’ve never even been to that hospital, I said. In fact, I’ve never been to any hospital. I’m as healthy as a horse. Not that horse that just ran the Preakness and pulverized its leg. A different horse. A short, well-rested, flabby horse who likes nachos.

The whole experience wasn’t good for my paranoia. It left me wondering what sort of shenanigans other Dan Medeiroses are getting myself into. So I searched for my name online. That’s right — I gave myself a little Google! This way, if someone calls me up and tells me to get my goddam ostrich out of their yard, I’ll know they’re probably looking for the Dan Medeiros from, not me.


“Yo, wassup i’m Dan medeiros i'm in grade 7 and i love love love imports my future car (i hope) will be an mr2. And i hope u like the site. 'Peace'”

The Dan Medeiros from this Web site is obviously not me. I don’t even know what an mr2 is. He said “future car,” so I’m thinking an mr2 is a sort of spaceship. Also, I don’t think I’ve ever used “yo” except ironically.

At the top of the page, it reads, “Welcome To My Home Page this page is just the beggining of an amazing, so i hope u enjoy. And if you don’t like go to a different site!” It’s not that I didn’t like, but it’s just not my thing — so I went to a different site.


Another Dan Medeiros author! He’s one of 13 people credited to the article “Comparative Genomics Tools Applied to Bioterrorism Defense.” Sounds like a high-tech Clancy-style thriller! Here’s an excerpt:

“Collaborations with comparative genomics algorithm developers have enabled our LLNL team to make major advances in pathogen detection, since many of the existing tools simply did not scale well enough to be of practical use for this application.”

Get all that? Wait, let Dan summarize it for you.

“For example, exploration in evolution and phylogenetics, annotating gene coding regions, predicting and understanding gene function and regulation, and untangling gene networks all rely on tools for aligning multiple sequences, detecting gene rearrangements and duplications, and visualizing genomic data.”

Ah! Much clearer now. Anyway, the thing to remember is that he’s part of the LLNL team, whatever that is, and I am not. I imagine it’s some kind of crimefighting unit. Like, whenever there’s a comparative genomic crisis, the LLNL Team assembles, arrives in the LLNL-Mobile and fixes the genomic ... uh ... thing. Dan’s super power? He “has a BS in computer science and built the second-generation DNA signature pipeline.”


From a column in the Kentucky New Era of Hopkinsville, Ky. On Jan. 7, 2005, the paper published a story about people’s favorite and least favorite foods:

“Dan Medeiros, Fairview, despises Chinese food. ‘I don’t like it, the smell really bothers me,’ he said.”

OK, this one just pisses me off.

Listen, man: If boneless spareribs came in cologne form, I’d wear it. I’ve considered raising chickens just for their fingers. And if General Tso were in charge, I’d gladly invade Iraq — as long as he put me on KP.


If you’re going by Google search results, then the best-known Dan Medeiros in the world is ... ready? Dan Medeiros!

This Dan Medeiros is from Mississauga, Ontario, Canada — which is eerie, because I have family around there, too. He plays the guitar. I play the guitar, too. He has dark hair and a goatee. I have dark hair and a beard. Here’s where the differences begin:

“I’m Dan, 20, 6’1.” And he’s in two rock bands.

I’m Dan, 29, 5-foot-6. I am in zero rock bands.

My cooler doppelganger has several pages on Like most MySpace pages, they’re covered with multiple-exclamation-pointed greetings (“Crrrrazy!!!” “HEY GUYS!!!!”) and tiny pictures of girls trying to be bra models. A sampling of some of the comments:

“hey dan, remember that time you came to Ottawa and totally barfed all over my bathroom. good times, love, jen.” I have barfed in a bathroom — they’re generally the best place for it — but not at Jen’s, and not in Ottawa. I might go, though. Sounds fun.

“when the [bleep] are you guys going to throw another [bleeping] show. i want to throw my underwear up on the stage in your faces.” For the record, I’ve been writing this column for almost three years now and gotten some nice letters, but no fan has ever intentionally flung underwear at my face. Something seems wrong about that.

“DUDE! we have to get drunk and go grocery shopping! its like our destiny." I was wondering why Fate had nothing better to do than encourage plastered Canadians to restock their pantries when the story took an odd turn: "but now that i think about wat we were doing ... it was kinda dark ... so maybe we were drunk robbing a grocery store haha how lame. i just remember not being able to stand up properly and i was sitting in a shopping cart. and u were running down aisles HAHA. so much fun. too bad u werent REALLIE there.”

Um ... OK. So I think I’ve learned a valuable lesson about other Dan Medeiroses. From now on, I’ll just go their way and they’ll go mine. Wait — vice versa. Sorry. Confusing.

Friday, May 19, 2006

You can't spell "news analysis" without "anal swine": An interview with Stephen Colbert

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In August 2005, before he seized the Bush Administration's collective panties and gave them a breathtaking twist at the White House Correspondents Dinner on April 29, I interviewed Comedy Central’s professional pseudopundit Stephen Colbert. The article concerned the debut of The Colbert Report, a spin-off of The Daily Show that was at the time only a trailer and known semi-officially as The Colbert Réport, with a puckish accent-marked flavor the trailer refers to as “French—bitch.” We talked for about 10 minutes or so, much of which was spent by me giggling incomprehensibly while he chucked zingers in my direction. Afterward, I turned in a roughly hewn article to Student Advantage Magazine, slashed even further to fit onto one half-page in the October 2005 issue.

I had borrowed someone else’s tape recorder, so the actual recording of the conversation is gone. But I do have a partial transcript.

Q. One thing I was wondering about the show. Are you going to be preserving the accent aigu?

SC. That’s all still up in the air. We’re not sure how we’re going to get across the idea that you don’t pronounce anything. You don’t pronounce any of the Ts. We may not pronounce any of the Ts on the show. We’ll save them up for needy children who don’t have enough Ts.

Q. What kind of formats and segments will you have on the show?

SC. I don’t know—I’m open to suggestion at this point. The most important thing is that the show change the world. That’s my only criterion—that we change the world, but we do it in a way that keeps us out of Mallard Fillmore’s crosshairs. That guy brings too hard a hammer down.

Q. [I remember laughing a lot here, thrilled I got the Mallard Fillmore reference]

SC. Well, you know, it’s going to be like [Bill] O’Reilly, sort of—or [Joe] Scarborough, or [Sean] Hannity, or even Aaron Brown or Anderson Cooper. Highly compartmentalized, very much about the personality of the host. I’ll be debating myself in a segment we call “Worthy Opponent.” We’ll do something called “Shame Spiral,” where I look down at a camera below my desk and I shame America for its behavior. We do a section called “Who’s Looking Out For You?” and we do a segment right after it called “Who’s Looking Over Your Shoulder?” We’ll take calls. We’ll have real guests. We’ll go out to the vox populi—real people on the street. We’ll ask some questions of the day. Stuff like that. Odd essays, like I do on The Daily Show.

Q. Will there be an Alan Colmes-type wishy-washy figure?

SC. Great Onion headline was, “Alan Colmes loses argument with 6-year-old.”

Q. Are there any commentators besides Bill O’Reilly that you’re studying for inspiration?

SC. I’m a big fan of Warren Justice. I don’t know if you know his work...

Q. He sounds familiar for some reason.

SC. [long pause] Really?

Q. Well, I don’t know...

SC. Huh.

[There was a long and uncomfortable moment here. It became obvious that he'd just bullshitted me. I did not at the time and still have not yet found any references to a talk show host or news analyst or pundit named Warren Justice. I'm willing to believe I'm just ignorant, and feel free to correct me by e-mail, but my best guess is it's fake. Partly because he was sick of answering the "who are you imitating" question, and partly as a test to see if I was paying attention (note the slap-upside-the-head reference to former Chief Justice Earl Warren, which is what sounded familiar). "Warren Justice" being fake makes sense, considering it's coming from someone whose irony switch is permanently soldered in the on position—but if Colbert was making fun of me, it wasn't very nice. Pretty mean, actually. Especially considering I'd started out our conversation with a whole friendly togetherness riff on The Lord of the Rings, which I knew he was a rabid fan of, and which was so off-the-cuff and pleasant that I never bothered to transcribe it because I wouldn't need it for the article.]

SC. I like Geraldo a lot. I like Charlie Rose. I like his self-important quality. His sort of urban hipness. Still kind of regimental striped tie-y, but with a sort of intellectual hipness that he trucks in.

Q. But he’s still got that earthy Texan-type quality.

SC. Yeah, I guess so.

Q. The Daily Show is a lot of young people’s main source of news. For better or worse. Is The Colbert Réport going to be be young people’s main source of hotheaded opinion?

SC. I hope to be their number one source for poorly informed opinion.

Q. Do you have any diva requests for your dressing room?

SC. I’m a big fan of Korean masseuses. If anybody’s looking to do some pro bono work, because I don’t think it’s in the budget...

Q. How much and what kind of prep work do you do for the show?

SC. I have a couch. And I like to stay fresh for the show. So I try to get some Zs in during the day. And I’m a big fan of, like, a tall latte and a tuna sandwich around four o’clock, just to pump up the old caffeine and the protein. And then I try to keep my eyesight sharp so I can read the prompter. That pretty much covers it.

Q. Will you still be doing stuff on The Daily Show?

SC. If I can. It remains to be seen if I’ll have time to do that. I hope so.

Q. Given the wildly popular success of The Daily Show, do you feel a lot of pressure at all to make this show as successful?

SC. All I have to do is get better ratings than a rerun of The Daily Show, which is free to Comedy Central. There’s no pressure and a lot of pressure. I might be able to get better ratings. I’m not sure, but I’ll sure cost more. The fact that it’s a spinoff of The Daily Show doesn’t feel like it’s pressure to me, because we’ll still going to be playing the same game that I’ve been playing for years, so it’s not like I don’t know what I’m doing. But I’m going to cost money in a slot that they get for free right now. So I hope to do well for my masters.

Q. In the trailer, you say you give the truth a five-minute head start and then you hunt it down...

SC. Exactly. [in his canned gag voice] The truth isn’t going to get a free ride this time. ‘Kay?

Q. It’s a funny line, but I think there’s a lot going on there. [I fumbled for words a lot here, and didn’t really transcribe everything exactly. Here’s the gist:] There’s no time for the news to just happen anymore and be digested naturally. Everybody wants fast, immediate analysis without waiting for history to make its point.

SC. They analyze fast. Even in a big news story, you get the basic information out right away. “This has happened in this land, and these people.” Then, you can repeat it for the next group of people who might be tuning in, and then you might be able to repeat it again to drive that home. But after that, you’ve still got 24 hours of news to fill. And that’s when analysis starts kicking in. But analysis might kick in an hour into a news story, when before, there was the evening news, you would watch, and then the next day someone might start analysis. Analysis literally starts within the hour of the event, because they’ve got to fill up the beast, they’ve got to feed the maw of the 24-hour news cycle. And analysis is open-ended. You can do any amount of it you want. There’s nothing wrong with analysis, but it happens very quickly. There’s a sense that they have to be even-handed with it, so even on non-political stories, they have a leftie and a rightie. Even the things that need not be politicized. And they never stop the analysis, because in a way it’s easier to do. And they’re not paying these people to come on, and these people like being on TV, and so that just continues. But it’s not particularly informative, and it ends up passing for news. And people start forgetting, “Oh, that analysis is not news. That’s just opinion.” That’s really where the news has gone wayward. And so we’re going to jump on that wayward train and ride it off the rails for our own benefit.

Q. Nothing like a bandwagon for safe transportation.

SC. [laughs] Exactly. An out-of-control bandwagon, and I’m going to haul me and my children up on top of it. Careening toward success, hopefully. I’m going to pile my children, pile my future, all the eggs—I’m going to put it on the toboggan of The Colbert Report and ride it down the slippery slope of news analysis toward the oak tree of success. [pause] I hope that comes out better than it sounded.

[It might be helpful at this point to know that at the time of this writing Comedy Central has dropped the accent mark from the show's logo. The show's name was pronounced with the final T when Colbert was introduced at the Correspondents Dinner, where he manned the podium with his practiced, unctuous charm and delivered a scalding series of shots to President Bush sitting just a few feet away, ranging from the war to his vanishing popularity to accusations of domestic spying, Bush laughing along at first and then, very rapidly, not at all.]

Saturday, May 13, 2006

One Flu Over the Cuckoo's Nest

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Intrigue! Action! Drama!

This was to be stuff of my greatest writing opus yet: my script for “Fine Feathered Fiends: Murder by Bird Flu.”

For years I had been writing the world’s greatest artistic tribute to the world’s slowest and least deadly epidemic. It was, as I wrote it, a script for a four-hour Cinemascope-style epic film, a tale of poultry’s inhumanity to man. In it, the winged scoundrels conspire to wipe out everyone in the world, vegetarians included. Only one man — a mild-mannered executive city editor — stands between humanity’s salvation and its demise.

I don’t mean to oversell it, but “Fine Feathered Fiends” was a screenplay of unequaled genius. As I pecked away at it night after grueling night I pictured the success — finally! — it would bring. My name above the title in lights! The royalty of Tinseltown at the premiere! Me making a bold red-carpet fashion statement! I saw the trailer: Laugh at the highest jinks yet captured on film! Thrill to the spectacle of the world’s deadliest air attack by albatross! Cringe as you watch through your fingers an abominable display of sweaty pigeon romance!

That didn’t happen.

The jerks at the ABC network beat me to it. This week, ABC broadcast a film called “Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in America.” Starring Stacy Keach. And there went my dream.

Couldn’t watch it. Just kept throwing up.

“Maybe it’s bird flu,” my wife said, holding my hair back. “You can catch it just from writing about it, right?”

I laid my forehead on the toilet seat. “In all my minutes of Wikipedia research, nowhere did I find projectile vomiting as a bird flu symptom. No, this feels more like ambition to artistic glory going down the drain.” I flushed the toilet and leaned shakily against the medicine cabinet. “How could ABC do a bird flu movie? Now I’ll never be famous,” I said, uncapping an Aqua Velva and raising it to my lips.

“You’re already famous!” my wife said. “Don’t they recognize you at China Star? You don’t need Hollywood.”

I shrugged. “Well, they would just dumb down the plot and tame the sex to a PG-13...”

Confidence suddenly bloomed like a mentholated alcohol fire in the pit of my stomach. I set aside the aftershave and, all at once, I knew what I had to do:

What follows is my pitch for “Fine Feathered Fiends.” To hell with ABC. My film may not have a $250 million budget, it may not be eligible for any Oscars, and it may not star Stacy Keach — but it’s out there now for the world to enjoy. And so is bird flu. Beware of both.


The film opens on a mysterious island off the coast of Turkey (pun!), where several well-intentioned but deranged scientists from Purdue University are studying the effects of psychological trauma on the juiciness of chicken white meat. The poor creatures are forced to do complex math puzzles and never praised when they solve them, and often given warm gravy baths to keep them uneasy.

At night, in their cells, the chickens whisper through the bars to each other, hatching plans for revenge. (Here, I’d like to use computer-generated chickens voiced by Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman, but I may have to settle for actors in Big Bird suits…)

CHICKEN 1. Man, this dump’s a real rathole! Those Purdue jerks today? Gave me a perm. Just to see what I’d look like. It’s humiliating — and that’s all I’ll say about it. They laughed over and over. That’s all I’ll say about it. Say, what would you do if you ever busted out of here?

CHICKEN 2. (sneezing fiercely) Ugh. (feels his own forehead) Is it warm in here?

Chicken 1. (oblivious) Yeah, right on, man. That day could be sooner than you think. Some of the guys and me are planning a little chicken surprise — you in?

CHICKEN 2. I dunno. I should prob’ly get some bedrest…

CHICKEN 1. (still oblivious — he’s a chicken, for Chrissake) Seven-thirty Friday it is. To freedom!

Now we meet the Purdue U. scientists! They’re your standard baddies: British accents, mustaches all around. The main villain, Dr. Marvin von Vile, has a fake leg from where a duck bit it off some years ago. Long story. Explained in a flashback. Anyway, you can tell it’s a fake leg because he’s constantly taking it off and using it to open doors, rest his chin, crack peanut shells, etc., etc.

We pick up the story as Dr. von Vile and other scientists are forcing a group of chickens to play a complicated piece of chamber music they’ve barely had any time to learn. They’re sawing away at violins and trying desperately to get their beaks around bassoon reeds, all as the Doctor conducts off-tempo with his fake leg. Meanwhile, one scientist is looking dismayed, as played by…well, I see I’ve written in my script “a topless Jessica Alba.” It’s a breakout role.

DOCTOR. Play — play! (conducting faster) You repulsive blots on God’s creation!

JESSICA. Doctor, must you insult the chickens? Sometimes, it seems so … well, so cruel.

DOCTOR. Cruel to be kind, my dear. I must find out how much angst these birds can take before their breast meat gets stringy. Man has long endeavored to discover their secrets! And soon they shall be in my grasp and mine alone!

He cackles malevolently until Chicken 2 finally throws down his French horn in disgust.

DOCTOR. Pick that back up!

CHICKEN 2. I can’t. I think I got the flu. (sneezes) There any Advil around here?

DOCTOR. The flu? (repelled) Not the famed bird flu?

CHICKEN 2. (rubbing Vicks Vapo-Rub on his white meat) First I’m too hot, now I’m cold…

DOCTOR. Curses! The bird flu! The disease that might one day spread to humans and given enough time evolve into a strain for which we don’t yet have a flu shot! Tens of people could die! Alack! Science has been my undoing! The irony!

He spontaneously combusts from overacting, and the chickens seize the opportunity to revolt!

To summarize the rest of the story, the chickens escape from the island and news of the bird flu leaks into the world press. Striking fear into the hearts of humans everywhere, Chicken 2 nurses his flu with hot lemon tea and generous naps. But his fellow birds, corrupted by power, attempt a takeover of Earth. They mostly accomplish this by flying over people and shitting on them.

Meanwhile, Jessica Alba — who still can’t find a blouse, according to my original notes — meets up with an executive city editor of a small daily newspaper, the only media outlet still functioning in the chaos! They form a plan to save humanity from certain doom! From here on out, it’s wall to wall action, man! Exploding pet shops! Ostrich attacks on the streets of Manhattan! Grown men being pushed into Fryolators! Parrots and toucans and pelicans gumming up the treads of Army tanks! The president running from the White House, only to be carried away by a ticked-off bald eagle (metaphor)!

Somehow the war ends — I’m still fuzzy on the specifics, but it involves cracked corn laced with Sudafed — and the executive city editor and Jessica Alba bring peace to all the lands of Earth. The film closes with a legal disclaimer: “Several hundred thousand birds were harmed in the making of this film.”

This column was previously published in The Herald News in slightly edited form, and is reprinted here with permission.
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