I’m a freelance interactive copywriter in Austin, TX. See my work here.
I post about whatever geeky stuff interests me. Sometimes I post funny stuff that I make up. About once a week I post videos of my cat Yeti ignoring me. I welcome reader suggestions and feedback. I seldom get any.
Oh, yeah. I’m also the recording artist currently known as ManChildATX.
And “The Good Nurse” by Charles Graeber is a good ‘un. But, hey, guess what—the title is ironic.
Because the nurse who is the subject of this book? He wasn’t good. No. Not at all.
In fact, an un-ironic title for the book could have been—SPOILER ALERT!—“The Cold-Blooded, Creepy-Ass Murderous Psychopath Nurse.”
This is the story of Charles Cullen, a registered nurse who over the course of 16 years at eight different hospitals killed an astonishing number of patients—no one, not even him, knows how many. But it was almost certainly in the hundreds.
I ripped through these 320 pages in a day and a half. Riveting stuff.
What makes this a “good” true crime book? It’s well-written and well-researched. It’s not a cut-and-paste job of reporting done by others. And, unusually, Graeber actually had the opportunity to interview his subject in prison.
Graeber is able to tell his story in straightforward compelling prose, without resorting to the suppositional narrative claptrap that drives me insane. “The air was cool and smelled of hyacinths on the fateful morning of July 23, 1997.”
I hate that stuff, and to me it’s a dead giveaway that the author doesn’t have enough solid factual information to tell the story without limning the fuzzy details around the edges, either because he or she didn’t try to get the facts, or because too much time had passed by the time the author’s research started.
Graeber didn’t have that problem. He has facts. He has contemporary witness and participant interviews. He doesn’t need to lard his story with narrative curlicues.
Almost as horrifying as the crimes themselves are the particulars of various hospital administrators playing CYA. That’s how Cullen was able to find gainful employment year after year and job after job, giving him access to an endless supply of victims.
There have been other notorious “Angel of Death” nurse-killer stories, of course. In fact, criminal profilers have classified these types of killers into two main categories, with the murderous medical workers in each category sharing the same basic motivation.
Charles Cullen did not fall into either category. His motivation was unique. That’s one of the reasons his killing career lasted as long as it did, and one of the reasons “The Good Nurse” is such a compelling read.
In this post a few days ago I mentioned the Wired story about the guys who exploited a bug in a certain kind of video poker machine to “win” around $500,000. They are being prosecuted in federal court, and I wondered, “Was it a crime? I dunno.”
Well, now I think I do know, and I shouldn’t really have had to think about it at all.
The useful analogy I thought of was the cashier who has his back turned while the cash drawer is open.
If you’re his customer, do you have the right to up and grab that cash just because the business is vulnerable right then? No. That’s stealing.
It’s the same thing with these guys. They just figured out a sneakier way to open the cash drawer when no one was looking.
It’s up for the court to decide whether they are technically guilty of violating the crimes defined in the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986. But, yeah, I think it was criminal.
Yes, even though the victims were casinos. What they do is legal, and the payouts on all their games are strictly regulated.
The only steady, legal way to make money at a casino is to own one.
Robert Downey Jr. is
Iron-poor Blood Man
“He’s sick and tired of feeling sick and tired.”
In a world where the stresses of life and work mount continuously and threaten to overwhelm him, one man, Austin, TX freelance interactive copywriter Rich Malley (Robert Downey Jr.), must conquer the forces of lassitude and drag his ass out of bed every morning, even though he, “just kinda feels pooped all the time.” But does “Geritol,” the mysterious potion he finds in his medicine cabinet, hold the key to his redemption?
Robert Downey Jr. in
“Four score and seven connections ago…”
In a world where it’s not what you know, but who you know, one man, Austin, TX freelance interactive copywriter Rich Malley (Robert Downey Jr.), attempts to click his way to into the staffing databases of the most powerful creative agencies in town. But challenges loom, and disappointment awaits. Can he gain the contacts that will help him hold the tenuous union between his balance sheet liabilities and his actual cash on hand together?
Robert Downey Jr. in
Fast and Furiously 3D
“They don’t call them ‘deadlines’ for nothing.”
In a world where my one of my client’s clients suddenly realizes, “Oh, we do have the budget to do that new mobile app in Q3 after all,” one man, Austin, TX freelance interactive copywriter Rich Malley (Robert Downey Jr.), must engage in heated battle with a batch of hastily re-purposed and partially incomplete wireframes, in an attempt to ward off a crappy user experience for thousands, and save the sanity of the overwhelmed reps of the vastly understaffed support desk. But can he do it before his head explodes and his brains fly straight toward the screen in full 3D?
Parents, it’s time to have a talk with your children about appropriate flushing. Geez. I would have totally emulated this if I had seen this ad when I was a kid.
In my post about Bangladesh garment factory disaster and what positive repercussions I hoped might come of it, I suggested that there should be an international organization to label clothing that was made under safe, humane conditions. I said that I thought consumers would probably be willing to pay more for such clothing.
This article in the Times says that many garment manufacturers are starting to do something similar on their own initiative, spurred by growing consumer demand. It also cites a survey that confirms that consumers, even consumers of budget-priced clothing, would willingly pay more for garments they knew were produced under non-sweatshop conditions.
As individuals, we consumers can feel our voices are insignificant. As a bloc, we wield enormous power. It would be great to see that power used to improve the working conditions of garment workers globally.
Beautiful video of SpaceX’s test launch of their Grasshopper rocket. It’s a VTVL (vertical take-off, vertical landing) design. Fire the retro rockets, indeed!
If you can convince me that there was an intelligent rationale for the image chosen to accompany this Facebook ad, I will pay you a dollar:
The decision was supposedly made before the much-publicized collapse of the garment factory building that killed hundreds of workers. Right, uh huh.
“After much thought and discussion, we felt this was the most responsible way to manage the challenges associated with our supply chain,” a Disney spokesman said.
This is exactly the wrong thing to do. The fact that so many Bangladeshi workers were crammed in that substandard building is testament to one thing: Bangladeshis want to work and desperately need jobs.
As Paul Krugman has noted many times, sweatshop labor is a key force for lifting workers in developing countries out of abject poverty. Even a crappy sweatshop job in the filthy big city is better than you and your children starving to death in the rural countryside.
Twenty years ago, a lot more garment manufacturing was outsourced to China. Now less and less of it is, because median wages in China are higher now. And they’re higher because as its economy has matured, China’s workers have become more highly skilled and demand higher wages. Thanks in part to sweatshop jobs, many children of Chinese garment workers have better opportunities than their parents. So now garment manufacturers outsource more work to less-developed countries like Bangladesh where wages are lower.
But here in the West, we don’t want to know that our insatiable appetite for an endless supply of new cheap clothing is enabled by people working under harsh conditions for wages that seem criminally low.
And when something bad like the Rana Plaza disaster happens, one of the first reactions is to pressure the big clothing brands to abandon countries where such worker abuses take place. So will they move the work to countries where worker protections are guaranteed? Who knows? Most of us won’t give any thought to that until the next disaster occurs.
It’s time for consumers in the West to demand change. Product boycotts and factory closures only hurt those who are already the most vulnerable.
We should demand that multinational clothing companies invest in the infrastructure of the countries they outsource to, so that these workers don’t have to sacrifice their safety and their dignity for a subsistence income. And we should be ready to pay for it.
After all, thanks to pressure from consumers and environmental groups, the tuna industry cleaned up its act. Now every can of tuna we buy has a label signifying that its contents were harvested without needlessly endangering dolphins.
No disrespect to dolphins, but what about people? Shouldn’t we be able to buy clothing with a label that lets us know that the humans who made it did so under conditions that protected their safety and respected their dignity?
Wild story on Wired about two guys (oh, and maybe some accomplices) who exploited a bug in certain video poker machines and won something like $500,000 by simply playing the machines a certain way. The key defendant’s lawyer says his client discovered the vulnerability while playing $12 million worth of video poker (and losing $1 million of it) in a year.
Yeah, I’d want to exploit me some vulnerabilities.
Unethical? Yeah, sure. But they weren’t doing anything the machines weren’t allowing them to do. And now they are facing federal charges for violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
Was it a crime? I dunno.
For those, like me, who are morbidly curious about stuff like this. Everytime I see a 747 parked on the ground at an airport, I always think, Damn, how does something that big get aloft and fly? Yet they do, thousands of times every day.
But for this cargo plane carrying military vehicles, something went very wrong shortly after takeoff, possibly a shift in the load that changed the plane’s flying characteristics. And once it stalled, well, it very quickly behaved like something too big to get aloft and fly. Seven people died.
I’m curious how the person who shot this dashcam video could remain so silent. He mutters a solitary F-bomb around 1:20, apparently because the crash is blocking his way, and then he tries to quiet his squealing dog a short time later. But other than that, he sounds pretty calm. If this had happened right in front of me, I’m pretty sure I’d still be saying, “Oh, my God,” over and over again.
After a long hiatus, I finally finished reading it. And I can’t believe the ecstatic reviews it got, if for no other reason than it was one of the most poorly edited books I think I’ve ever read.
I mean, I know Keith is a space cadet supreme, but when he makes a blanket statement on one page and then says something to the contrary on the next page, couldn’t someone have said, “Um, Keith, about your claim to have never done such-and-such ever, ever, ever again on page 313. Look, mate, you’ve gone and said something completely different on page 314. Perhaps we should reconcile that little inconsistency, what do you say?”
But no. Well, that’s OK—you don’t need to read it anyway. I’ve made up the quotes below to spare you 500+ pages of lurid drudgery. Read these, and you’ve pretty much got the measure of the man:
“OK, so you’re pregnant, but what’s that got to do with me? I’ve got a bloody tour to go on.”
“I suppose I did get a bit violent, but no one slags off Chuck Berry in front of me. Unless it’s me.”
“And I never touched it again, discounting most of the period between Exile and Some Girls.”
“Some people might see it as cruel treatment for a five-year-old, but if you want to be considered my son, you’ve gotta earn it, whether it be by telling your mum that I’m moving out, negotiating with my smack dealer, or overdubbing the guitar part on Heartbreaker.”
“She was my soulmate and I loved her dearly, but I had a bloody tour to go on. And after that, well, it’s a big world, and I can’t be expected to remember where I left a woman four months ago, can I?”
“So he died, poor little bugger, but he couldn’t really hack it outside the womb, I suppose. There’s a lesson for you.”
“When I’m working, I can go hours on end, even days. So any discussion of whether I was ‘conscious’ or not, or whether I actually ‘showed up’ or not, well, that’s all just a smokescreen, innit?”
“But what it all comes down to is that Mick’s my best mate, my lifetime pal, someone I’d do anything for. But even with people like that, you gotta be in the mood to return their phone calls, haven’t you? And so what if six months went by?”
“If it wasn’t pharmaceutical grade, I personally wouldn’t touch it. Now, my nostrils and my veins, I can’t speak for them. They’re going to do what they’re going to do. And they’re the ones what got me in such trouble.”
“Oh, yeah? We’ll see who’s got the better lawyer come sentencing time, pal.”
AUSTIN, TX The internets was permanently broken today by the discovery by me of a video (on wimp.com) of a sloth loving on a cat—which I know sounds disgusting, but, trust me, turns out to be really so freaking cute—set to the accompaniment of this hippish sounding pop song called I’m Yours, by Jason Mraz (sp? really?).
The synchronicity of over-the-top endearingly odd cuteness and harmlessly catchy song that could be from a car commercial overloaded the internets with it’s overpowering meta-memeness.
“That’s it,” said a representative at internets headquarters. “We’re done. Closed. Permanently. What the fuck more could you people want after this?”
Woot.com Tools & Garden is having an Arbor Day sale. So in typical Woot.com fashion, they don’t send out an ugly, brutally transactional email telling me to BUY! BUY! BUY!—they send out a beautifully designed parody email that portrays Arbor Day kind of as the tree lovers Valentine’s Day. (Here’s the web version.)
What’s the strategy? Be human, be funny, and pique curiosity. It worked: I clicked.
Unlike a lot of you, I’m old enough to remember when over-the-counter medicines didn’t come with a shrinkwrap tamper-evident seal on the bottle, like the one I have so artfully shown. Over the years, I’m sure that US food and drug industries have spent billions developing and using this packaging. I thought I knew why these measures were put into place, but I wasn’t exactly right.
In my memory, these product safety requirements were the direct result of the Extra Strength Tylenol (EST) murders of 1982. In September and October of that year, seven people in the Chicago area died after ingesting Extra Strength Tylenol, causing widespread alarm and massive news coverage.
Imagine the horror: people who had minor headaches and the like reached for a popular brand-name product trusted as safe and died because of it, totally at random. It was a big, big deal.
The fact that the case has never been solved and led—indirectly, as it turns out—to such a drastic change in the way products are packaged has always fascinated me. For some reason, I never took the time to read anything about it until recently. (Hey, I’m busy.—ed.)
Here are three things I thought knew about the case, but didn’t, along with links to the articles that set me straight.
•The seven people who died consumed poisoned EST from seven different bottles bought at seven different Chicago-area stores—WRONG
In fact, the seven victims consumed poisoned EST from five different bottles: in a sad and twisted tragedy, three victims were poisoned from the same bottle! In the first known deaths, one lady died early one day; later the same day, two of her relatives who had gathered at her house to grieve didn’t feel so well, so they took capsules from the same bottle that killed her, whereupon they collapsed and later died.
This was, of course, before authorities had figured out what was going on. Later, when all of the EST had been removed from store shelves from coast to coast, a couple more EST bottles removed from Chicago-area stores were found to contain poisoned capsules. Luckily, no one had bought them before they were yanked.
•We have tamper-evident packaging on everything directly because of the EST murders of 1982—WRONG
The Federal law that requires companies to use tamper-evident packaging was not a direct result of the Tylenol poisonings of 1982. It did become a Federal crime to tamper with consumer products in 1983, in the wake of the Extra Strength Tylenol murders.
It was only in 1989, after a spate of copycat crimes occurred over the years, that the Federal government enacted the requirements for tamper-evident packaging.
In two separate copycat crimes, murderers poisoned their spouses with cyanide-laced OTC medication. In both cases, the motive was insurance money. Also in both cases, the murderers placed other poisoned bottles in stores to make the poisoning of their spouse look like a random act, resulting in the deaths of three total strangers who were unlucky enough to buy and consume the planted poison pills. Killing random strangers to cover the murder of one’s spouse for money—does it get more cold-blooded than that?
•No good suspects were ever developed for the original EST murders—WRONG
In fact, almost since the very beginning, investigators have tried in vain to build a case against a man named James W. Lewis. As recently as 2009 they executed a search warrant on his home trying to find evidence that would finally lead to an indictment.
Lewis served a long prison sentence after he was convicted of sending an extortion letter to McNeil Consumer Products in the wake of the poisonings. The letter threatened more deaths if the drug maker didn’t pony up $1 million. But the crime was allegedly less of an actual shakedown and more of an attempt to pin the murders on Lewis’s wife’s ex-boss, with whom the couple had an ongoing feud.
With so much time passed, it seems very unlikely that a case will be made against Lewis, though apparently some law enforcement types are convinced of his guilt.
The fact that Lewis was charged with an earlier murder in Kansas City probably stoked these suspicions in the first place. In spite of the seemingly strong case against him, Lewis was never prosecuted for that murder thanks to sloppy police work that enabled his lawyer to get the case thrown out on technical grounds.
Lewis has always adamantly denied that he was in any way responsible for that crime, or the EST murders. Rather than keeping a low profile since his release from prison, he seems to take great delight in taunting law enforcement over their continuing fruitless focus on him. Check out his website—yes, his website—to see what I mean. You might even decide to buy his book: POISON! The Doctor’s Dilemma
HLELO NEGBHOSR!!!! WE HAVE LOT OF DITOMASHUS EARTH LEFTOVER! FROM OUR SOIL! CULTIVATION PROJECT!! LIKE A LOT OF IT!!! WE ORDERDERED A TRUCKFUL BUT THOT IT WOUL BE A PICKUP NOT A DUMP! COME GET SOM!! PLEASE!!! WERE THE HOUSEE WITH THE LARGE WHITE PILES IN FRONT!—BERTHA ON HOLMES AVE.
Someone recently posted a link for how we could help the people affected by the disaster in West, TX. I was not aware that we could use this list to help publicize our “pet causes.” I’m not saying the people in West don’t deserve our help, but for years I have been working for a group that helps emotionally disabled dogs recover from their birth trauma. So, yes, by all means help the people suffering in West, TX. But please also send a generous donation to www.nosaddogs.org. Thank you.—Mike on Lasper Ct.
In addition to the link someone posted earlier about sending donations to help out the people in West, TX, my buddy and I will be holding a big barbecue fundraiser in our backyard tonight and we need help with food and beer. Feel free to drop donations of cash through my mail slot and leave donated quality meats and seafoods in the ice chest on my porch. You’re welcome.—Jared on Hanley Dr.
I WOLD LIKE TO KNW WHO CLALED THE CITY ON ME! BECAUSE OF THIS DITACEMOUS EARTH! WHICH I HAVE TRIED TO GIVE AWAY! AND WHO IS CLALING WHO AN QUOTE “EYE” “SORE” UNQUOT.?!—BERTHA ON HOLMES AVE.
Hello, neighbors. Well, hey, if we’re going to just turn this list into a bulletin board for our favorite charities, what the hell? If you are tired of the Trilateral Commission and the IMF and the Interior Department and PB$ degrading our freedoms in pursuit of their domination of the world silver market, by all means send a check to the one publication with the guts to tell the truth about what’s really going on in the world:
The Conspiracy Clarion
c/o Daniel Enler
1415 Matilda Blvd., #C
Austin, TX 78704
Thanks, and the sooner you send your donation the better. I don’t think I have enough toner to print the next issue.—Danny on Matilda
Is something going on in west Texas? My sister and brother-in-law are camping in Big Bend and I haven’t been able to reach them for the last 45 minutes.—Carol on Elms Way
I just called 3-1-1 on the idiot frat boys renting the house next door to me. Once again, they are throwing an all-night beer bust and barbecue for all their idiot buddies. These are the kinds of guys who compete to see who can projectile vomit the farthest and yell “Yee haw!” the loudest. If you’re as sick of it as I am, please lodge your own complaints with 3-1-1 and maybe we can get something done about this.—Susan on Hanley Dr.
ENVIMORENTAL HAZZZARD?! WHO TOLD THE CITY DIMATACOUS EARTH WAS A EVINORMETAL HAZZZZARD????!!!!! ITS’ NOT!! IT’S’ JUST LITTLE FOSILS!!! NOW MY FRONT! YARD HAAS BEEN LISTEDED AS A TOXICS WAIST DUMP!! AND THIS AFTER I GENROUSLY OFERED DIMATCIOUS EARTH TO WHO EVER! WANTED IT! NOT VERY NEGBORLY!!!—BERTHA ON HOLMES AVE.