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 Amazon.com.

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.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Forgetting Oliver

I’m watching with great interest what’s going on in the European Union. The EU Court of Justice has ruled in favor of the Right to be Forgotten, a concept I discuss in my book, Issues in Internet Law: Society, Technology, and the Law. Europeans have a profound commitment to individual privacy, considering it a fundamental human right, whereas Americans value free speech as a core principle of a democratic society. When the two values conflict, the winner will depend upon the locale.

Europeans believe individual privacy is a matter of dignity. They believe personal information about one’s life is, to put it simply, no one else’s damn business. They think everyone should have the right to remove information about himself or herself from the Internet. That embarrassing drunken photo, your bankruptcy record, your divorce proceedings, your DUI record, your misdemeanor mugshot, the decade-old news report of your sexual abuse by a parent, or the details of your rape are likely to come up on the first page of search engine results when a neighbor, a date, or a potential employer searches for your name. Europeans have a quaint idea that an individual should be allowed to assert a Right to be Forgotten – to make search engines de-link from the offensive material upon request.

Americans take the position free speech should trump individual privacy. After all, this is a nation of reality television that loves to gossip about the titillating details of other people’s lives. America is a “tell-all” nation, while Europe is a “tell none” union.

I have to side with Europeans on this one.

When I was a boy, the president of the United States was the most admired and important man in the world. Especially in the wake of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, like any other patriotic American boy, I wouldn't have hesitated to take a bullet for the president. Any president. Democrat or Republican; young, like JFK or old, like LBJ; it didn't matter. The president was the president, and we were taught to be patriotic: every morning, we stood beneath the American flag and a framed photograph of the president, and recited the Pledge of Allegiance. We knew we might one day be called to give our lives in defense of our country, and stood ready to give our lives in defense of our president, however unlikely the latter might be.

Oliver Sipple was ready the day fate called upon him. He was in a crowd outside a San Francisco hotel, waiting to catch a glimpse of President Gerald R. Ford emerging, when he saw a woman aiming a .38 caliber pistol at the president. Oliver lunged at Sara Jane Moore as she squeezed the trigger, causing her to miss her target. Oliver became a national hero. He also became a public figure which, in American jurisprudence, effectively meant he no longer had a right to privacy. The press found out Oliver was gay. He begged them not to reveal that portion of his life to the public. Being outted in 1975 meant social ostracism, loss of family and friends, and potential job loss. Although it had nothing to do with the news story, it made for a salacious second day lead.

When his family found out, Oliver’s mother disowned him. Oliver sued the San Francisco Chronicle and the reporter for invasion of privacy. He lost. Oliver Sipple, the American hero who had saved a president’s life, just wanted his privacy and a bit of dignity. He wanted the right to be forgotten. Instead, his private life in San Francisco became public fodder for the news media and titillating gossip for the neighbors of his Midwestern family. Ultimately, Oliver committed suicide.

Europeans believe individual privacy is a matter of dignity. The Right to be Forgotten is a concept we should also adopt in America. I've even got a name for: The Oliver Sipple Act.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

No, It’s Not OK Cupid

Popular dating Website OkCupid revealed today it has been perpetrating a fraud on its users. Until now, OkCupid stood apart from its rivals because of its unique matching algorithm based on users’ answers to questions posed by other users. The seemingly innocuous questions actually revealed a great deal about the individual, depending on how he or she answered them. The answers were weighted, based on their importance to the user reviewing them. They were then scored into percentiles, and users were categorized by percentage as “matches”, “friends”, and “enemies”. Thus, two individuals with a high match percentage would likely share similar values, while someone with a high enemy percentage had probably given the wrong answer to questions the user considered important. The algorithm served to weed out incompatible potential dates.

Or so OkCupid users thought. Christian Rudder, OkCupid’s president, publicly bragged that the dating Website had been experimenting on its users. Apparently, Rudder believes his paying customers are little more than lab rats who exists only for his amusement. He proudly boasted the OkCupid staff hides some of its users’ profile text and photos, and tells some users they have scored highly, when in reality, the opposite is true. Rudder wrote: “But guess what, everybody: if you use the Internet, you’re the subject of hundreds of experiments at any given time, on every site. That’s how Websites work.”

Um, no Christian. That’s not how Websites work. Nor is it how legitimate businesses work. That’s how lying, fraudulent, unethical scumbags work. It’s called deception, as in the sort of unlawful practices that the Federal Trade Commission, under Section 5 of the FTC Act, declares to be unfair or deceptive acts or practices. Also, by changing users’ personal information on their profiles, OkCupid has raised some data protection issues. I predict a class-action lawsuit in the offing. As an attorney, my first question would be, Does OkCupid employ any lawyers on its staff?

I’m not sure which amazes me more: Rudder’s betrayal of his customers or his utter chutzpah (shameless audacity) in blogging about what he’s done. “We told users something that wasn’t true. I’m definitely not hiding from that fact,” The New York Times quoted Rudder. From a business standpoint, it’s mind-boggling. He has taken his company’s main selling point – the proprietary compatibility algorithm – and destroyed its credibility. It’s like expecting customers to go to a gas station after it has bragged about filling half its tanks with water instead of gasoline. How likely are you to go back to fill up your tank at that station? Not only has OkCupid killed the goose that laid the golden egg, but it also has risked, or jettisoned, the trust its users had placed in it. Business is about a relationship between a seller of a good or service and a customer, and the crux of that relationship is mutual trust. That’s Business 101. As an MBA, my first question would be, Does anyone on OkCupid’s staff have a business degree? Or did they all major in monkey business?

In his blog post, entitled “We Experiments on Human Beings,” Rudder wrote, “OkCupid doesn’t really know what it’s doing.” That may be the first honest thing he’s said. But Rudder goes on in an attempt to justify his actions; he contends experimenting on humans without their consent is necessary for scientific advancement. Didn’t Dr. Josef Mengele make that same argument 60 years ago?

eStorybooks

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



Click on the logo to jump to Softcover and Hardcover book descriptions at the bottom of the page.

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