Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Inexorable Weed

I saw a lovely display of outdoor plants at the supermarket, today. I imagined how nice they would look on my patio and was tempted to buy them, until I remembered I have a black thumb. Some people are born with green thumbs, that nurture and nourish whatever flora they touch. My hands, however, are anathema to my chlorophyll producing friends that share the planet with me. Besides, I have a lovely weed at home.

Over the years, I made many attempts to populate my patio with greenery. My patio still displays a scattering of empty pottery filled only with soil, vestigial remains that stand as ceramic monuments to my fruitless endeavors at gardening. Except for one pot. As if to defy Persephone, the goddess of springtime, or more likely merely to mock me, something did take root in the potting soil in this one planter – a weed.

It began as a small weed, but quickly grew, as weeds are wont to do. It covered the surface of the rather large planter, and one day I stepped out on the patio and pulled out the weed by its roots, leaving my planter barren again. A few weeks later, I noticed a small weed sprouting from beneath the planter’s soil. In time, it grew … and spread. Eventually, I yanked it out and assumed I was done with it.

The weed was resilient. It returned with a vengeance. It spread across the circumference of the ceramic planter, and then, to my surprise, grew skyward. More and more, my weed came to resemble a plant. It was green. It looked full. And it had appendages resembling leaves. Visitors would comment on what a lovely plant I had. At first, I would correct them. “No, it’s not a plant; it’s a weed.” I soon tired of that. I learned to nod and mutter a quiet “Thank you.”

Now, whenever I step onto the patio, I’m greeted by the lush greenery spilling forth from the once barren pot. It actually looks rather nice. I can see where people might think it was a plant. I water it, and take undeserved pride in its colorful appearance. I’m uncertain if I've accepted the weed or been co-opted by it.

I came to see the weed as an allegory for aging. Each generation enters the world filled with energy and the irrefutable belief that it will change the world. Yet, as the years turn to decades, that youthful energy fades as entropy sets in, and those once hopeful in their callow, optimistic naïveté realize, despite all their well-meaning intentions and efforts, the world has not changed. Poverty, disease, crime, war – the scourges of humanity – are inexorable weeds in our garden. Eden, like the lovely display of flora at my supermarket, is not the garden to which we come home. Aging, you see, is the process of learning to accept the inexorable, that which we cannot change.

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Voyage of Discovery

With a new school year approaching, this is an appropriate excerpt from my new book, Collected Essays of a Reluctant Blogger:

When we gaze into a classroom, we see the faces of 30 young students endowed with differing innate abilities and skills. They were not all designed to work the same way. Our educational system teaches them as if they were monolithic, or at least fungible entities. But they are not. One might be good with his hands, capable of creating fine pottery or crafts; a second might be a thinker; a third, a strategic planner; yet another, an artist or poet. One might be good with numbers, while another able to conceptualize complex theories.

It is distressing to see our leaders place their entire educational emphasis on science and math, ignoring the importance of history, writing (communication and expression), philosophy, and the arts (art, music, and literature). A society needs citizens grounded in a sense of history, for those ignorant of the past are doomed to repeat its errors. Those citizens need the ability to communicate and express their thoughts and ideas in an articulate, cogent manner, free from emotional argument ad hominem. And as we have learned from the relics of all great civilizations -- from Ancient Greece, Egypt, and Rome forward -- societies need beauty. From the Great Pyramids, to Michelangelo’s “The David”, to William Shakespeare’s oeuvre, a civilization is inspired by, and defined by, its art.

Science and math have their place. Societies have always needed ship builders and navigators, be it the Greeks to design and pilot their penteconters; the Spanish, their galleons; or the Chinese, their junks. From galleys to spacecrafts, math and science have played an integral role in man’s ability to free himself from landlocked constraints and set forth on voyages of exploration. But while important, science and math are not the only disciplines our children must be taught.

Civilizations need thinkers. Philosophers. Individuals who contemplate, as well as those who plan. The de-emphasis of the disciplines of philosophy, history, and the arts, in both our schools and our culture, explains the sorry state of our society today and the Weltschmerz that permeates us. We live in a culture of corporate greed, where individualistic selfishness has replaced altruism, idealism, and principles. But now more than ever, we need thinkers and philosophers to express their thoughts and communicate their ideas, as much or more than we need a nation of scientists and mathematicians, because while it’s important to build the ships that will take us across vast oceans or galaxies, it's more important to know where we're going and why.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Back in the USA!!!

I'm pleased to announce my new book, Collected Essays of a Reluctant Blogger, published in June in the the European Union, is now available for purchase in the United States! Caving in to unprecedented demand, Amber Book Company will distribute Collected Essays of a Reluctant Blogger exclusively through

But don't fret if you're located outside the good ole US of A! Collected Essays of a Reluctant Blogger can still be ordered from Amazon in the United KingdomGermanyItalyFrance, and Spain.

Collected Essays of a Reluctant Blogger is 332 pages of social commentary and humor, featuring a selection of my best blog columns from the past three years. Order your copy today!

Yes, Collected Essays of a Reluctant Blogger is Back in the USA!

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Death Doctors

Corporations aren't people. That’s good news for Johnson & Johnson, because if corporations were people, then J&J would be locked away in a jail cell charged with murder.

One of America’s largest corporations is responsible for the deaths of many of our fellow Americans. Another one may be dying as you read this. This is a tale of corporate greed and money; of the most helpless members of our communities and families; and of the callous death dealers who masquerade as pillars of our society.

Whisper. Can you hear it? That’s the hushed sound of death. No, not whisper. Risperdal. Risperdal is manufactured by Johnson & Johnson, and  was one of the first medicines to be approved for treatment of schizophrenia in adults and teenagers 13 years of age and older. Later, it was approved for use for bipolar disorder, and for autism and behavior problems in children ages five-to-16. But there’s one group of people who should never use Risperdal: old people. Simply put, it kills them.

Risperdal (also called Risperidone) is NOT approved by the FDA for the treatment of behavior problems in older adults with dementia. They have an increased risk of death during treatment. They also have a greater chance of stroke or mini stroke. That’s why the FDA has put a black box warning on Risperdal stating it is not to be used on older adults with dementia. Risperdal can cause agitation, anxiety, confusion, disorientation, and death in these people.

When a drug is used for purposes other than what the FDA has approved its use for, such unapproved use is called “off-label” use. It’s not surprising that businesses are always seeking to find new ways for customers to use their products, and thus expand their market and therefore their sales. Old people with dementia can behave erratically and overburdened caretakers would certainly appreciate a magic pill to make them docile.

In November, 2013, Johnson & Johnson paid $2.2 billion to settle lawsuits for trying to push Risperdal for anxiety problems and for dementia in the elderly when the drug is not approved for such use and has been proven to be deadly when used off-label. The U.S. Justice Department called it “one of the largest health care fraud settlements in U.S. history.” The AARP Bulletin (August 2014) stated: “Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries were fined more than $2.2 billion to resolve criminal and civil charges because of their aggressive marketing of drugs, including antipsychotics, to nursing homes, when they knew the drugs had not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as safe and effective for a general elderly population. The corporation also allegedly paid kickbacks to physicians, as well as to Omnicare, the nation’s largest long-term care pharmacy provider. Omnicare pharmacists were recommending Johnson & Johnson’s drugs, including the antipsychotic Risperdal, for use by nursing home residents.”

A source told the AARP Bulletin, “There was a push by drug manufacturers, claiming these medications work for seniors when they knew, in fact, that it doubled their risk of death.”

More than 400 lawsuits were filed against Johnson & Johnson. The federal government in 45 states accused Johnson & Johnson of illegally marketing Risperdal for off-label purposes. But it isn't just the 60-to-70% of nursing home residents with dementia who are at risk. Doctors and pharmacists are being misled into believing it’s safe to prescribe Risperdal to the elderly. Many caregivers tending to the needs of their elderly parents or grandparents in their homes have relied on, and trusted, the word of their doctor or pharmacist and given their loved ones this magic pill, unaware of the deadly risk it carries.

I know all too well the horror of Risperdal. Two weeks after it was prescribed for my 103-year-old grandmother, I saw her become lethargic and not recognize members of her own family, as well as exhibiting some of the known side effects of the drug. When I learned the truth about Risperdal, we weaned her off it (the insidious pill cannot be stopped cold turkey) and she returned to normal. Her experience occurred after the $2.2 billion settlement: Risperdal is still being marketed for off-label use, despite the FDA black box warning that it will kill elderly patients. Most caregivers are unaware of its danger and trust their doctors and pharmacists, who in turn trust Johnson & Johnson. And every day, the corporation grows richer, the cemeteries fill more plots, and the prison cells remain empty because you can’t put a corporation in jail, even if it’s getting away with murder.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Just Published! The Halos & Horns Omnibus – In Color!

Halos and Horns: The Omnibus Edition has just been published in a deluxe paperback edition and I cannot recommend any book more highly than this one. Readers of this blog already know my passion for the Halos and Horns fantasy saga, which I have spent four years crafting. I've often compared this work of episodic fiction to television, likening each chapter to a TV episode, and each book to an entire TV season. Continuing that analogy, Halos and Horns: The Omnibus Edition is the boxed DVD set.

An omnibus is a volume containing several novels previously published separately. That means you can expect it to be a big book. A very big book. Obviously, an omnibus will be a lot heavier than a single book and carry a larger price tag (though cheaper than buying the individual books). Its sheer size can be intimidating. Imagine the complete works of Shakespeare, or Dickens, or whomever your favorite author might be, sandwiched between the covers of a single book. It’s like buying a DVD set of your favorite TV series or movie trilogy. While potentially overwhelming, there’s something magical about that sense of completeness you get by knowing you hold an entire creative work within your hands.

All four books in the saga are included in the omnibus, along with never before published essays on the series, an interview with the author, and a massive Guide to the Halos and Horns Multiverse. The omnibus also includes the novelette, The Pandora Chronicles, a sneak peak at the forthcoming Fangs and Fur fantasy series, a spin-off devoted to the vampires and werewolves of the Halos & Horns multiverse. But what really makes this 904-page book stand out are the 61 stunning illustration that accompany the stories, in breathtaking color.

For the first time, you can read the entire story, from beginning to end, in one book. All the pieces come together as the saga unfolds, the color illustrations vividly bring the characters and settings to life, and the essays and guide take you backstage, behind the scenes, providing essential background for the saga. What’s it about? I’m glad you asked. I proudly present, Halos and Horns: The Omnibus Edition:

There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." - Hamlet (Act 1, Scene 5). A naïve angel and amoral demon discover the truth of Shakespeare's words, when a wager between God and the Devil lands them on Earth. In the guise of Las Vegas private eyes "Gabe Horn" and "Lou Cypher", the archangel Gabriel and trickster demon Lucifer embark on personal quests of their own in search of their humanity. Their personal journey is also a physical one, spanning both time and dimensions, through the centuries to Camelot and 17th century Salem, exploring the seven Heavens, the nine levels of Hell, the Dark Dimension of the ancient Dark Gods, Thenesia – an ancient land of swords and sorcery, the somnolent realm of the Dreamscape, the Otherworld – home of the Fae, and the eerie emptiness of Limbo.

Beneath the prosaic veneer of urban life, mortal humans live in blissful ignorance alongside preternatural and supernatural creatures: warlocks and witches, vampires, werewolves, the Fae, kitsune, and creatures whispered of in myths of African, Irish, and Japanese cultures. Seers gaze at the Sands of Time as the golden grains tumble through the mystical hourglass, seeking to divine what the Fates have woven. Through these memorable characters and exotic settings, the author explores the nature of good and evil, free will versus predetermination, man's inhumanity to man, universal versus moral relativism, nature versus nurture, loss of innocence, coming of age, death, love and friendship, the quest for power, individualism, sacrifice, and faith versus doubt, among other literary themes. This Omnibus Edition collects all four volumes in the Halos & Horns fantasy saga, replete with 61 new color illustrations; the "Guide to the Halos & Horns Multiverse" detailing each character, place, and object; previously unpublished essays by the author; and the novelette The Pandora Chronicles, a preview of the forthcoming spin-off trilogy, Fangs & Fur.

Halos & Horns: The Omnibus Edition

Available online from Barnes & Noble and Amazon.


Author Keith B. Darrell has coined the phrase “eStorybook” for individual short stories published in eBook format.

Sometimes you want a full-course dinner; and other times you just want a candy bar. For those times when you can't squeeze in a novel, you can still fit in an eStorybook ... on your smartphone, during a cigarette break, or on the train ride home, you get a complete entertainment experience in a bite-sized portion timed for your busy lifestyle.

Keith's eStorybooks cross multiple genres and are written for varying ages.The stories come in all different lengths - as long as 15,000 words or as brief as 2,000 or less. The wonderful thing about short stories is length is not important (that's why they're called short stories); it's the beauty of the prose and the impact of the story that readers value. And what a value! Every Kindle eStorybook will be priced at 99 cents - the lowest price Kindle allows.

Click on any book cover to download the eStorybook from Amazon's Kindle store. For less than the price of a candy bar!

Click here to see Keith's selection of eStorybooks

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