Goodreads Review: “Heavy Duty” by KK Downing

Heavy Duty: Days and Nights in Judas PriestHeavy Duty: Days and Nights in Judas Priest by K.K. Downing
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m a huge Judas Priest fan and know their backstory pretty well, but this book gives some great specifics and early info. Bruce Springsteen and Moby have released terrific memoirs in the last couple of years; to be blunt, this book isn’t as well written from a prosaic point of view, but it’s fun, very British, dishy and a little bitchy.

A band is like a marriage, and a band that’s been “married” for going on 50 years is going to have its share of resentments and secrets. This book also helps capture the battle for songwriting glory as KK and Glenn Tipton fight for Rob Halford’s approval and attendant songwriting credit, as well as his fire-and-ice relationship with co-guitarist Tipton, whom he paints as an emotionally unavailable cipher with a burgeoning drinking problem who was brought in at the last minute in 1975 but ended up hijacking what started as KK’s band (along with Ian Hill). I do think KK comes off a little hypocritically in the end in that from the late 1970s on he felt he was increasingly put into a corner but Ian Hill, the band’s co-founder and sole bassist was never given songwriting credit (although KK does insist that if Ian had come forward with any ideas, they’d have given every bit as much weight as his, Glenn’s or Rob’s). Maybe I was a little touchy about that because I’m a bass player. Who knows?

I was excited when I received this book because I’m a fan, but I honestly don’t know if it will motivate anyone to seek out Priest’s music the way Springsteen’s “Born To Run” made me want to listen to “Darkness On The Edge Of Town” or Moby’s “Porcelain” made me want to check out “Play,” part of the reason being that he (IMO) overlooks their music in favor of other subjects. Still, he does a great character study of the personalities making up one of the bands that invented heavy metal as well as his own tortured childhood and his personal introspections contain real wisdom and insight. Flawed but fun and insightful.

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Donald Trump Asked Me For A Pledge…So I Gave Him One

Well, actually, it was Melania who asked me, along with five separate requests for money in oddly specific amounts of $50, $100, $150, $200, $500, $1000, or $2000:

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I briefly considered shotgunning a glass of milk and coughing up the healthiest loogy I could find to mail back to them, but I took the high road and wrote this:

Dear President Trump,

This morning, I was surprised to receive a letter from the First Lady, Melania Trump, asking me to sign a “pledge of support” for you and for the Republican Party.

I’m at a bit of a loss as to how this letter found its way to me, as I am a registered Democrat and have been openly critical of your administration and Congressional Republicans, which the First Amendment gives me absolute freedom to do.

In addition to this letter, I have also received two emails from the RNC asking for donations in your name (five requests for money in the space of three pages). Despite my requests to be unsubscribed from these emails, I still seem to be receiving them. Therefore, I am sending you a personal response in hopes this will clear up any misunderstanding regarding my personal viewpoints about your Presidency and the Republican Party.

Anyone who’s known me for more than thirty seconds can confirm I will be signing no “pledge” to your administration or to the Republican Party (obviously no donation as well). However, I would like to offer a “pledge” of my own to clear up any confusion.


First, I pledge to use my power as a voter on November 6, 2018 to thwart your corrosive agenda by ensuring that Democrats regain control of Congress. I understand this will most likely involve voting straight-ticket Democrat, which means I will be voting for candidates I am not 100% in love with and have done things I disagree with. I have made peace with this.


Going forward, I pledge to vote for and support politicians and political candidates who: 

  • Recognize that access to food, clothing, shelter and medical attention are fundamental human rights, and any nation that cannot ensure these for the least of its citizens is a failed state
  • Recognize that we are a nation of many ethnicities, faiths and abilities, and that the citizens of the United States are entitled to representation in our nation’s legal and political system by their peers
  • Pass legislation protecting the right of citizens to vote, including automatic voter registration, the institution of Election Day as a national holiday and the outlawing of voter-ID laws and other methods that have been proven to be attempts to disenfranchise a segment of American society
  • Defend Roe v. Wade and mandate that women have access to family planning and contraception regardless of socioeconomic status, and ensure that women have 100% ownership of their bodies and healthcare decisions; also place commonsense health-education programs in schools that rely on practicality instead of superstition or religious dogma. Also re-authorize the Violence Against Women Act.
  • Put robust consumer-protection measures back in place, including the strengthening of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the reinstatement of Glass-Steagall
  • Affirm that forced displays of patriotism have no place in a nation that was founded on individual freedoms and vigorously protect peaceful protest and whistleblowers
  • Unconditionally condemn Nazism, ethnic nationalism, religious bigotry and other expressions of hatred that have no place in a society founded on equality
  • Address income inequality, ensure that every able-bodied American has a job that pays the wages of a decent living, and institute tax penalties on billion-dollar corporations that refuse to pay a living wage
  • Fix our crumbling infrastructure
  • Fight to ensure that every American has access to quality healthcare, end the system of healthcare being tied to employment, and strictly forbid the gouging of Americans for life-saving treatment and medications
  • Recognize that we are a nation of immigrants, and have always and will always depend on immigrants; create a simplified path to citizenship and an immigration enforcement system that relies on commonsense, humanity and justice instead of brutality, punitiveness and xenophobia
  • Affirm that education is a fundamental right; strengthen and fund our national public schools, put extended-day programs in place for working parents and fund Head Start and school nutrition programs. Also, make college affordable for any American who desires a college education, step up funding for special education, and pay for credentials for special-ed teachers.
  • Understand that in the 21st century, “national defense” isn’t about grotesque displays of nationalistic strength, but about protecting our online and physical infrastructure from intended or unintended threats, both from other countries and within. The first step is to safeguard our elections, followed by crippling sanctions and counterattacks on foreign nations who attack our national sovereignty by interfering in our election process.
  • Take real steps to reform the electoral college or abolish it outright, as well as outlaw gerrymandering
  • Affirm that every American has the right to clean air and water; put programs in place to combat climate change, sanction corporate polluters, work for independence from fossil fuels and put transitional programs in place for those in the oil and coal industries who need new jobs
  • Demand financial transparency from political candidates with a law requiring the release of 20 prior years’ worth of federal tax returns for anyone seeking political office
  • Defend and protect the right of ALL Americans to worship the God of their choice, or to not worship at all, and to preserve freedom of, and from, religion in the public square
  • Affirm that a free press is a necessary check against tyranny, put increased penalties in place for the assault or harassment of journalists, repeal the 1996 Telecommunications Act provision that lifts the cap on the number of media outlets that can be owned by a single person or entity, and reinstate the Fairness Doctrine 
  • Enact common-sense gun reform that preserves the individual right to own and bear arms while banning weapons most commonly used in mass shootings. Ban lobbying by the NRA

Mr. President, I understand this is an ambitious list and I do not expect to see much of this achieved during my lifetime, but for now I’ll settle for seeing you out of office. Please don’t contact me again, as you’ve probably figured out by now it’s a waste of time. 


Paul H. Nemeth

PS: You’re a billionaire and you couldn’t include a postage-paid return envelope?







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Does Betsy DeVos Want Mercenaries In Schools?

So, like millions of other people, I’m watching the Trump town hall with school shooting survivors and the camera shows Betsy DeVos sitting to the side like a wooden dummy (maybe she was there to make Trump look sympathetic) and as always, my skin crawls.
There’s plenty about Betsy DeVos to make your skin crawl, but for me it isn’t her, so much as her brother, Blackwater founder and international war criminal Erik Prince.
At the height of the Iraq war, nine out of every ten tax dollars went to private military/security contractors, of which Blackwater was first and foremost. This was with the willing and gleeful participation of the Bush ’43 administration: on September 10, 2001, Donald Rumsfeld told an audience at the Pentagon that he intended to privatize as much of the US military as possible.
Rachel Maddow wisely pointed out months ago that every time the President opens his/her mouth, they set US policy. Donald Trump has announced his clear desire for guns, armed teachers and private security in US schools.
Betsy DeVos’ brother ran a “private security/military contracting/risk assessment agency” (it sounds nicer than “mercenary temp agency”) and no doubt still has extensive contacts in the private military industry. He’s currently listed as the owner of a “private equity firm”…I wonder what kind of companies he gives startup funds to, hmm?
So, the current Secretary of Education has zero ties to education, but has deep family ties to military contractors.
Blackwater did gangbusters providing soldiers for the “War On Terror,” but like all smart businessmen, Erik Prince was constantly focused on diversifying and looking for new customers in different sectors…one Blackwater training facility (of which there were several) even had a full-size mockup of a high school (dubbed “Terror High”) to help train for school shooting scenarios (all facts about Erik Prince and Blackwater in this post come from Jeremy Scahill’s excellent expose’, Blackwater). 
I guarantee you the moment Trump said the magic words “armed security in schools” a bunch of calls started being made and spreadsheets started being pored over.
This is terrifying enough once you read between the lines, but wait, there’s more: Business was booming, but the problem was that Blackwater became victims of their own success: “talent” was in such high demand that they soon ran out of US-born candidates for assignments and started recruiting mercenaries from repressive regimes like South Africa and Chile. A large percentage of the guys who were supposed to be fighting for baseball and apple pie overseas were trained thugs from totalitarian regimes who had no stake in America other than a paycheck.
There are hundreds of thousands of public schools in the US, countless more private schools, and millions of teachers and students. What happens when the supply of “qualified volunteers” dries up? I guarantee you if “guns in schools” becomes widespread national policy, we’ll exhaust our supply of “qualified volunteers” quickly…at which point the “private risk management” industry will only be too happy to step in. And, once our supply of homegrown “contractors” is exhausted, they’ll start recruiting off-campus.
The Dylan Klebolds and Eric Harrises scare me, but what scares me worse is the idea that the guy greeting my child at the school door could have been slitting throats in Central America or Nigeria a week ago…and this fox was invited into the henhouse with the gleeful endorsement of US politicians, the business community, and an increasingly frightened and cowed public.
If, in the name of “safety,” you want to give literal mercenaries access to your children...good for you. Leave me out of it.
I hope I’m wrong. I really do. 
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Why I Think Vaccines Are Safe, Part II

Are “Childhood Diseases” No Big Deal?

When I was fifteen, I got chickenpox. I believe all my siblings had it earlier, but at a much younger age-in fact, I’m not sure if they ever remember having it or not.

The first symptoms were dizziness and fever: I almost passed out during a (don’t laugh) Sunday-school puppet theater I’d been volunteered for by my mother. That afternoon, I just felt terrible: I was burning up with fever, and just stripped to my underwear and lay in bed. I thought it was a garden-variety flu until I woke up the next morning and found red spots all over my body.

They itched like hell, but other than that, I felt tolerable. That was Monday. I had scratched about ten of them off before my mom told me that scratching them would cause scars. She was right-I still have several scars on my face and forehead from itching.

The good news was, I had an automatic week off from school. The bad news was that it was Thanksgiving week and I was stuck at home while my family went to Grandma’s for turkey-I’d been banished (I think it might have even been under doctor’s orders) because they were at risk of catching shingles from me.

I had to go to the doctor every day and get my blood tested. I wasn’t sure why at the time, but I kept having to go, and the doctor got more and more concerned every time I went.

Around Tuesday, I got the worst sore throat I’ve ever had in my life, and it stayed around through the weekend. It was the sickest I’ve ever felt, and probably the sickest I’ve ever been in my life except being hospitalized for meningitis when I was a toddler. I lived on 7-Up and the little bit of food I could choke down. I couldn’t drink orange juice because the acid stung my throat. It was like swallowing razor blades. I felt so miserable that I literally at one point, said aloud, “If I’m dying, please just get it over with.”

The daily trips to the doctor continued, and he got more and more worried, but near the end of the week my immune system finally rallied and I was able to go back to school. The doctor was a friend of my mom’s, and years later, she still remarks about how worried they were about me. I was this strapping kid who ran and lifted weights-my entire life was centered around health (well, except for my diet) and a disease that people glibly lump in with colds and flu almost put me in the hospital.

The general reasoning behind vaccines is that the potential complications from the vaccine are far milder than the complications from the actual disease. According to the VAERS database, in 2014, 1,737 people reported an event (death, disability, hospitalization or adverse reaction) from a vaccine (and this is from TOTAL immunizations, not just chickenpox). Before the vaccine, according to the CDC, 10,500 people were hospitalized for chickenpox every year, and there were 150 deaths…many of which were previously healthy people. Given a 1 in 2,000 chance of suffering a (likely minor) side effect of the vaccine versus a 1 in 400 chance of being hospitalized for chickenpox complications, what’s the wise choice?


Was I “Vaccine Injured?”

At my wife’s urging, around the time of my birthday last fall, I had a full physical for the first time in almost twenty years and had my blood drawn and my numbers checked. They asked me when my last dTap (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis) booster had been, and I didn’t know, but it had probably been, well, twenty years. So, I opted to have a booster, after reviewing the three or so pages of warnings, disclaimers and advisories.

And, a curious thing happened…I got sick.

I rarely get sick-usually one or two mild colds a year, and maybe a flu or stomach bug every few years. And never one right after the other. But, last October, I got two colds, one right after the other. They were mild, sure, but for me, this was unheard of.

I stayed well until the beginning of May, and then got ANOTHER cold, a severe one. After a week, it subsided, and then I got one more, which stayed with me through a stage production I was playing for. I was coughing for almost three weeks. Again, for me, this was unheard of.

So, after getting a shot that was supposed to make me WELL, I got way sicker this winter than I usually do. A mere coincidence? Probably, and here’s why:

I teach part-time in the mornings, and my hours were tripled this year from last year, which means that I spend three times as much in school environments-and around the attendant kid germs, than I have in the past. Plus, I have a nine-year-old who is in school all the time-again with the kid germs.

The drought in California isn’t over, but it’s rained considerably more this year than last year (thank the Lord). Like most people, I suffer from occasional allergies. Not being a doctor, I can’t really tell the difference between allergy symptoms and mild colds, and in either case, there’s no point going to the doctor (unless you suffer several allergies to the point where you can’t function). And, the considerably greater rainfall brought out every pollen, mold, spore and God knows what else that was driven underground by the drought.

Plus, I’m reaching A Certain Age, and my body handles illness and stress differently than it used to.

So, maybe my dTap booster lowered my immunity and made me sick…or maybe I just spend more time around kid-germs and pollen than I used to.


Doctor’s Orders

We get our medical insurance from my wife’s job. A few years ago, our insurance plan changed and we had to find a new pediatrician for our son. Not knowing anyone or having any recommendations to go on, I just went on the Anthem/Blue Cross website and started looking up pediatricians at random.

Turns out the Anthem/Blue Cross website was a complete joke. I called several numbers that were disconnected, called another that ended up being a direct line to an OR, and then finally found the pediatric desk. I asked if any pediatricians were accepting new patients, and they found one. When they were gathering data about my son, I explained that our son was autistic, and the receptionist said this doctor might be a particularly good fit because she also had an autistic child.

A few days later, we found ourselves in the office with our son’s new pediatrician, whom I’ll call Dr. B. Dr. B. was (and is) fantastic: caring, compassionate, professional and funny.

Our son’s medical records weren’t online, and so Dr. B. didn’t have a list of our son’s vaccinations (which he’d completed). Near the end of our son’s examination, she cocked her head and asked, “What’s your stance on vaccines?”

My wife answered, “We’ve had him vaccinated.”

Dr. B. nodded. “Good.”

Call me naïve, but as far as I’m concerned, this is the last word for me on the subject: a doctor with an autistic child still recommended vaccinating our son.

The ant-vax blogosphere is full of stories about tyrannical doctors refusing to treat unvaccinated patients, but she was very mild and diplomatic about it. There were no scenes, no thunderous decrees, just “good.”

According to the prestigious Internet, in order to become a pediatrician, you have to complete four years of medical school (of course, after completing your undergrad and then being admitted to med school, which less than half of the people applying will do). Then follows a three-year pediatrics residency, then an additional two years if you’re going to combine pediatrics with another specialty. So, that’s eleven years…if you’re “just” going to be a pediatrician. Combine that with around $1 million in student loans.

I remember having someone tell me once that “drug companies put doctors through medical school-then those doctors become glorified drug salesmen to pay the debt back.” If this is the case, I’m lucky I got an honest doctor because Dr. B. made an off-hand remark about taking 25 years to pay off her student loans. Either she’s one of the rare honest ones or the drug companies dragged their feet paying for their investment.

I actually (believe it or not) used to read a lot of right-wing media, and when our son started speech therapy, I was ready for them to try to drug him, because that’s the first thing “government schools” do with problem or special-needs kids. I even informed his school psychologist during his initial evaluation that I didn’t want them to drug him. The psychologist gave me a blank look: “He eats and sleeps. There’s no reason to drug him.”

If the pharmaceutical industry really has turned doctors into drug dealers,  wouldn’t that be the final argument for taxpayer-funded education up to the MD level? You don’t trust Big Pharma? Well, then take the power out of their hands. The only “substances” Dr. B. has ever urged us to put in our son are multivitamins and sunscreen. Maybe she’s in the pocket of Big Flintstone. Or Big Hawaiian Tropic.

Maybe this is naïve, but I have to put faith in a system that requires people to complete 11 years of schooling, followed by a grueling board exam. I’m not saying that “bad doctors” can’t exist. The modern age of vaccine paranoia was STARTED by a doctor (although he’s not a doctor anymore because he was stripped of his license to practice medicine in the UK). Multiple studies have been since published finding no causal link between vaccines and autism, but, as a commentator wisely said, it’s much easier to scare people than un-scare them.

Dr. B. isn’t just a pediatrician, but a mother. Now, if it were in fact true that vaccines caused autism, certainly during her eleven years of training and decades of practice, she’d HAVE to know this. What would it take for a doctor to urge parents to vaccinate their children, even with the full knowledge she was recommending something that had caused brain damage to her own child, and she was setting up other parents for the same hardships she’d endured as the parent of a special-needs child? Dr. B. would have to be a monster, an idiot, or both. An idiot/monster who somehow managed to complete one of the most demanding training programs in the world.

I understand there are doctors at varying levels of expertise. I’m sure there are doctors who are disillusioned or burned-out and would probably be better off carving sculptures out of driftwood. And, I wouldn’t go to a neurosurgeon for a knee replacement. But, I honestly believe people who criticize doctors out of hand haven’t thought about the personal, physical and financial hell people go through to earn an MD in this day and age, or how badly controls in place would have to fail before a genuine idiot, quack or opportunist could make it through the system and into practice.

I understand doctors make mistakes. This is why they have malpractice insurance, and this is why we have courts. Nobody’s saying that doctors shouldn’t be held liable in instances of gross negligence. Again, this is why they go through eleven years of training-to minimize risk as much as possible.

In order for anti-medicine hysteria to be justified, it wouldn’t take just one bad doctor. To keep “the conspiracy” going, it would take thousands. There are around 209,000 practicing primary care physicians in the United States. They’ve all been through med school and passed their boards. They all read peer-reviewed medical journals. They know that allegations of malpractice or fraud could be the end of their careers. They have families. And, not ONE of them has an attack of conscience? (at least none without serious financial or personal conflicts in place). There shouldn’t be one Andrew Wakefield. There should be thousands.

Right now, the overwhelming majority of doctors recommend vaccines. Maybe I’ll eat these words someday, but for now, that’s good enough for me.  








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Why I Think Vaccines Are Safe, Part I


First off, the title of this is “Why I Think Vaccines Are Safe,” not “Why People Who Don’t Trust Vaccines Are Idiots” or “Why I’m Right And Everyone Else Is Wrong.” There’s enough finger-pointing and name-calling about the subject already, and I’m honestly not trying to add to it.

Like most parents of autistic children, every once in awhile, I scratch my chin and go, “did vaccines cause this?” And, the conclusion I’ve come to is no. And, it’s not because of anything I’ve been shown or not shown. If you’ve made up your mind about something, the Internet is NOT where you go to disprove it. So, here are my personal ruminations along (but not necessarily about) “chemicals,” “vaccine injury” and related topics.

What Does “Safe” Mean?

The title  of this piece is actually misleading, because I don’t think vaccines are safe. I don’t think cars are safe-do you? Cars kill over 40,000 people a year. I don’t think guns are safe. I don’t think crossing the street is safe-if you saw the way people drive around here, you wouldn’t think so, either. In fact, from the moment you get out of bed in the morning, everything you do from making breakfast to driving to work to picking up groceries has an inherent level of risk involved. In fact, chances are, whatever you’re doing as you read this, someone has been killed doing the exact same thing. If you use your phone in the bathroom and are now using your phone to read this, chances are your phone has fecal matter on it, putting you at risk of E.coli poisoning.

But, we understand all this, don’t we? I think, when we use the word “safe,” what we actually mean is “all things being equal, this activity, product or procedure is no more likely to harm or kill you than similar activities, products or procedures of its kind.” Maybe the Germans, who are great at coming up with words for things like this (my current favorites are “Weltschmerz” and “fachidiot“) have a specialized word for “reasonably safe considering external factors.”

When we learned my wife was pregnant, I spent quite a few hours assembling “baby stuff”-cribs, strollers, car-seats, you name it. And, the first thing you see when reading the instruction manual for “baby stuff” are colorful and horrifying descriptions of how you are going to maim or kill your baby if you assemble said product wrong. As somebody who’s worked with pro audio equipment their entire adult life, I can tell you that the first thing you see in any manual is the warning that misusing this product will lead to fire or electric shock. Companies are legally mandated to provide this information, and because they don’t enjoy getting sued (keeping in mind I have no great love for trans-national corporations) will warn you up-front about any possible scenario involving use or misuse of their product. Anytime anybody brings up “asking to see the inserts for vaccines,” my response (spoken or unspoken) is “It can’t be any more terrifying than looking up the insert for a stroller.”

Baby strollers, despite their inherent dangers, and potential for misuse, are a boon and a benefit to mankind. I’m sure, every year, a few babies are injured (or God forbid, killed) by parental incompetence in regard to strollers, but of all the threats to my child that have kept me up at night, his stroller was never one of them. Although maybe it should have been: an estimated 111 children every year are killed by nursery products.

Why Do We Need Experts When We Have The Internet?

My car is sporty and fun to drive, but burns oil at an heroic rate. I thought I’d save a few bucks by learning how to change my own oil (technically, I was right…I saved a few bucks. I literally saved a few bucks).

It’s a simple procedure and I was confident that, as a college-educated adult who over the years has proven to be reasonably good at following directions to put stuff together, that it would be pretty simple. So, in order to prevent costly mistakes, I resolved to “do my research.” I looked up two separate videos, one of which was professionally produced by an oil company. I watched both several times, then practiced taking the engine cover off and locating the oil drain plug and oil filter cover. I was gonna nail this!

(Disclaimer: I am NOT a mechanic, and am probably using the incorrect terminology for a lot of what follows. Flame away).

So, one bright summer morning, I drove my car up on a high curb (a technique my neighbor told me about), wormed my way under the car, and fitted the ratchet on the oil drain plug. It wouldn’t budge.

I know you have to be careful with the plug because if the threads are compromised, your car will leak oil. And, in situations like this, I’m overly careful because I don’t want to break something that will cost thousands of dollars to fix (after all, this was about saving money). So, I called a buddy of mine who happens to be a master mechanic, and told him my dilemma. His response: Make a fist around the wrench with your left hand, then with the heel of your right hand, hit the hand holding the wrench.” Worked like a charm.

The first hurdle was over. The oil was drained, the plug replaced, and I was ready to change the filter.

No, I wasn’t. The oil filter wrench, which was allegedly designed specifically for such instances, and which looked so easy to use in the videos, just slid around the oil filter canister. After about half an hour of fiddling around, I realized the pin in the center of the canister needed an Allen wrench (something not shown in either of the videos I looked up). Well, if a guitarist has anything laying around, it’s Allen wrenches. I found the correct-sized Allen wrench, unscrewed the center of the canister, and was rewarded with a gout of oil as the center pin came out. I fitted the oil-filter wrench around the canister. It still wouldn’t budge.


I called my buddy again, who, thank God, wasn’t doing anything that day and came driving up with his kids in tow. While the kids played, he unfolded his heroic frame under the front of the car, surveyed the situation, then flagged down my neighbor (whom he knew from decades before), and requisitioned a medium-sized pair of channel-lock pliers. He slid back under the front of the car and, with a combination of surgical skill and brute force that was a thing of beauty to watch, smoothly unscrewed the oil filter canister, fishing out the spent filter.

I pulled out the new filter, and he explained to me how the little gaskets fit around the filter (something that also wasn’t explained in the videos, and could have led to considerable grief). The filter was replaced, fresh oil was poured in, and I was ready to go.

Part of the problem of living in an age of anti-intellectualism is the disdaining of “experts.” We don’t need “experts” if we just “do our research.” Well, I did what I thought was a reasonable amount of research for such a simple task (draining and replacing oil and an oil filter), knew the steps backwards and forwards, and still needed to rely on someone who looks at car engines every day.  Maybe, in this day of unlimited information, we still need “experts” after all.

Are Chemicals Bad?

The first word typically thrown out during any debate about vaccines is “mercury.” Despite the fact that mercury was removed from childhood vaccines in the US in 2003 (more to assuage the fears of parents than by any evidence of Thimerosal being a health risk, and vaccine skeptics insist that childhood vaccines still contain mercury) fear about “chemicals being injected into our children” dominates the discussion.

I’m not an expert on mercury, but here’s a recent experience we had with a far more terrifying “substance”…and what I learned.

We live in an old house (by West Coast standards) and have a damp climate, and shortly after moving in, we wondered if there was anything we could do about the seemingly ever-present mustiness. We thought maybe having the house’s vents cleaned was the answer, so I called a vent-cleaning service (I forget how I found them-probably looked them up on Craigslist).

They came, hooked up the vacuum, vacuumed (blowing a fuse in the process), and then I was given some devastating news: the man in charge pointed at the white stuff covering the top of the furnace (now replaced), and said in a funereal tone, “that’s asbestos.”

Asbestos. It was a word I’d been raided with an instinctive horror of. I’d seen it on commercials for law firms since the 1970s. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew it was bad, and caused cancer (mesothelioma-another terrifying-sounding word). I also knew the main furnace vent running through the attic was covered in the same white stuff.

Well, asbestos wasn’t going to take my family down. I asked the guy in charge if they removed asbestos and what the charge would be. Why, yes, they did asbestos removal, and to remove every bit of asbestos in the house would probably cost around $10,000.

Well, we didn’t have $10,000, and after making several phone calls to various friends in the trades, along with consulting our neighbor (who has been trained in asbestos removal) and doing a little reading, my worries abated somewhat.

Asbestos is dangerous to breathe, and does cause cancer. However, asbestos is largely safe unless you break it up and breathe the dust. A friend who lives in one of the few remaining areas of San Francisco that is still being developed also told me at one point that construction had to be halted due to the fact that asbestos in the rocks was being released into the air…that’s right, asbestos is “natural” (it’s technically a mineral). In fact, OSHA estimates that 40% of the land in America and much of our drinking water contains some naturally occurring level of asbestos (more below). And, OSHA also acknowledges that chrysotile asbestos (the kind insulating your pipes) is safe unless airborne.

When our furnace needed replacing, I had just gotten off the phone with the furnace repairman when my wife made me call him back: “Does he know the furnace has asbestos on it?”

My response: “I’m sure they know how to handle it.” My wife wasn’t satisfied and I called the repairman back, explaining the potential hazard waiting for him. Without skipping a beat, he answered, “No worries. We’re trained in asbestos removal and by law are allowed to remove a small amount.”

Let me be clear: asbestos causes cancer. In no way am I suggesting that it is not dangerous for untrained personnel to handle or remove it, and it causes significant danger for first responders every year (which is why they have breathing apparatus).  But, according to OSHA, it’s not even in the top 10 causes of construction-related injury or death.

I’ve tried to avoid copious links in this article, but here’s what seems to be an excellent article from “Natural Handyman” Jerry Alonzy on the subject of asbestos. And, he raises a strong point: panicking about asbestos can be more dangerous than asbestos itself.  Removal by untrained personnel is actually much more dangerous than just letting it be.

Now, if something I’ve been raised to believe is one of the most toxic substances on Earth is actually relatively safe, is it possible the dangers of mercury have been (somewhat) exaggerated?



Next up:

Are Childhood Diseases Dangerous?

Is There A “Conspiracy?”










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The Vault: “An Unbelievable, Extraordinary Mind-Blower”

My heartfelt thanks to Glenda Bixler at Book Reader’s Heaven for the amazing review!

images (2) Normally my preference for SciFi is futuristic, having been a Trekkie since that show first appeared… But this book is quite different…and the emotional impact is far beyond most books I’ve read. It’s a powerful statement, albeit, sadly, not a surprising one, for our futureYou may think you will be able to predict what will take place. You won’t. I guarantee it! 

This is a very cool book that any sci-fi fan won’t want to miss. While the horror is hard to learn about, the overall concept cannot be matched. You’ve just got to check this one out!”

Read the full interview here.




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For The Love Of Words

20160305_095123I’m about to break one of my own rules.

Every time someone famous dies, I’m usually quick to criticize people for making the death of a celebrity “about them.” It’s okay to take a solemn moment and reflect on a world without David Bowie or Abe Vigoda, but cool it with the weeping and gnashing of teeth already.  It seems like a lot of famous people have died this year. I don’t think there’s anything ‘cursed’ about 2016: it seems reasonable to assume that when a lot of people are born at the same time, a lot of them will probably die around the same time. And, in some cases (Lemmy) you have to be amazed they lived that long in the first place.


“Sure, you’ve been alive for eight hundred years, but it ain’t the years, it’s the mileage.”

But when I got the news that Pat Conroy, author of The Prince Of Tides, The Great Santini and many other books had died, I had to make it ‘about me.’ More than any other fallen artist, his work has become an irreversible part of who I am, and has become part of my personal perspective in ways I’d never considered before his passing.

The two authors I’ve read the most are Conroy and Stephen King. As a tween/teen, King’s books were among the first “real” books I read. Their juvenile excesses are well documented, but I think he’s one of the best writers-maybe THE best-at conveying two things: how it feels to be an outsider, and how it feels to be afraid.

I haven’t read all of King’s books (all 3,569 of them), but I’ve read all of Conroy’s (except maybe a cookbook or two), most of them multiple times. And, now that I know about his personal life, it’s astonishing to see how little ‘fiction’ is in them. His characters leap off the page fully realized because they’re not characters, but real-life archetypes made larger than life through the power of description.

I think the first Conroy book I read was Prince Of Tides: I had to watch it for a college class (and boy, I’ll be damned if I can remember which class it was for, or what the justification was). There was a copy laying around at home, and I think my mother and sisters had read it so I dove in.  I found myself hooked on the language and imagery. Reading the prose on the page was a feast for the senses, like listening to Debussy, eating red velvet cake or watching Blade Runner.

I decided I was going to keep reading and my mom gifted me (for either my birthday or Christmas) with paperback copies of The Lords Of Discipline and The Great Santini and I dove into Discipline, thinking because it was visibly longer, that it was going to be the tougher read. I was wrong. It was very quick reading and it changed my life.

The Great Santini and The Water Is Wide have universal, beloved appeal because they tell universal stories: Great Santini is the story of every father/son relationship, and The Water Is Wide is the story of every teacher.

But The Lords Of Discipline was my story. I read it at the end of a college career that, while nowhere near as physically punishing as the hero’s tenure at the Carolina Military Institute (Conroy’s Citadel in all but name), carried similar personal peril for me. I read the power struggle between the grizzled, honorable Col. “Bear” Berrineau and the school’s president, the controlling, opportunistic General Bentley Durrell with astonishment, having witnessed a similar power struggle in my own college between the chancellor and my orchestra director, and feeling caught in the middle and compelled to pick a side, much like Will McLean, the novel’s protagonist. Like Will McLean, there was no question of whom had earned my loyalty. And also like Will McLean, I’d felt lied to by people I loved and betrayed by people I trusted. I remember the electric moment when I finished Discipline…overcome, I thrust it out of my hands, like the book had taken on a life of its own. I felt McLean’s triumph, and resolved then to always be the colonel, not the general…a promise I have kept.


It’s a rainy, blustery night as I write this, and I recall a similar night, decades ago, standing sopping wet in a bar in lower downtown Denver, setting up for a gig and watching gleeful cadets celebrate on TV as Shannon Faulkner was forced to leave The Citadel. I remembered seeing Conroy state in an interview earlier in the week that she had his support, but she wasn’t going to make it because the only way to survive The Citadel was to create an impenetrable brotherhood, and she was alone. He related the story in My Losing Season: he’d promised a female cadet from a nearby institute that when a woman applied for the Citadel, she’d have his support. When the favor was called in, his words were “These damn women are going to get me killed.”



I had the privilege of seeing Conroy speak at Kepler’s Books in Palo Alto during his book tour for My Losing Season. I’d never been to such an event before and didn’t know what to expect. I showed up an hour early expecting all the seats to be taken already, but only a few other people were there. The room did fill up, and I was surprised when Pat took the lectern: I’d expected a “writer,” someone gloomy and morose and brooding, but he was great, feisty and funny like a character in his books. He was a masterful speaker, and I didn’t realize until I started reading Season that a lot of his discussion had been passages from his book, memorized and seamlessly inserted into his patter with the crowd. I was surprised at how short he was (in my family, anyone under 5’10 is ‘short’). I realized I’d taken my assumptions about his height from Jack McCall, the 6’5 hero of Beach Music. One of the perks of writing idealized versions of yourself is correcting God’s mistakes, which is why all my protagonists have very good hair.

The Q&A was fun. Most of the crowd, I’m sure, considered themselves literati and aspiring novelists, some probably straying over from nearby Stanford University. At the time, I had no question to ask, but a question I’ll regret never getting to ask him (in this life) is, “How did you know D-flat major on an organ sounds serious?” Many of the participants were clearly full of themselves, but he had an amazing way of putting people in their place without being mean or condescending. One dowager asked, “How do you describe your writing process?” and he quipped with a flourish, “I go into my study, pass out, and when I come to, a book is there!”

Another asked, “WHY did you quit teaching?” His curt response: “Because I was fired, madam. I am not allowed to teach in the state of South Carolina.” He went on to relate a story about his daughter Megan student-teaching in a neighborhood in Oakland that Pat found dangerous: he begged her to come home, saying he’d pay her whatever it took to bring her home. Her Conroy-worthy response: “Oh, is the mighty Conrack worried about me? Conrack thinks my school is dangerous? The great Conrack wishes I had a more safe occupation?”

He went on to confide-I believe it was during the discussion about his “process”-that every time he wrote a novel, he had a nervous breakdown. Minutes later, an elderly lady asked, “Are we going to have to wait ten years for the next book?” and I swear I felt like screaming, “Bitch, did you not hear him? Every time he writes a book, he has a nervous breakdown!” I almost took the microphone and said, “Sir, if it will save your life, I hope you never write another book again,” but I held my tongue, probably for the best.

His answer-and the first words that echoed in my head when I read of his passing:

“Madam, I am fifty-nine years old, and one of these books is not going to get finished.”

He finished his talk with the statement, “I’m grateful for each and every one of you, and I don’t take a single one of you for granted,” a sentiment I have stolen and echoed on occasion.

I had a nice conversation with the guy who was in front of me in line; we had the option to have one book personalized, and we discussed what we wanted Pat’s “special message” to us to be. I had no idea. My companion in line told me about getting a book signed by Gore Vidal-he’d given Mr. Vidal a long postscript to write. Gore nodded at every word, murmured assent…then simply signed “Gore Vidal” and handed it back.

We got to the head of the line, where Pat sat, flanked by a petite, worried-looking fifty-something woman in a Citadel cap. My companion was an aspiring writer (like most in the crowd probably were) and Pat spoke to him at length, even giving him his agent’s phone number. Pat closed their discussion by telling him, “You are a writer. Never forget. You are a writer.”

My turn came up. I handed Pat the two copies of My Losing Season I’d purchased. He opened one, picked up a pen, then asked, “And…what do you do for a living, sir?”

“I’m a bass player.”

My answer seemed to confuse and delight him. “Huh! No kidding?” I’m not sure if much else was said, but he asked me what I wanted for the personalized copy, and I told him to write whatever he wanted. He paused for a moment, then wrote the caption in the picture above.


I am fifty-nine years old, and one of these books is not going to get finished.

Somewhere, there’s a stack of yellow legal pads sitting alone, like a dog waiting by the door after its master has passed away. The thought makes me sad, but it’s also a moment of clarity. I’m going to be fifty years old in less than half a decade. Like most people, I will leave unfinished business, but I understand-finally-that I’m not going to live forever, and whatever I’m going to do, I need to do it now.

Good night, Mr. Conroy. I’m making your death about me because you’re part of me. Thank you and sleep well.


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An Autism Parent’s Review Of “NeuroTribes”

NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of NeurodiversityNeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity by Steve Silberman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I guess, technically, I’m an “autism parent.” I’m the parent of an autistic child, but that’s kind of where it ends. My son is nine and this is the first book I’ve ever read on autism. I’m not proud of this, but not really ashamed, either.

I really got interested in this book after reading Amy Lutz’ “Please Stop Whitewashing Autism.” Read the comments to see what Silberman calls “the autism wars” in full swing:…

Silberman himself jumps in during the comments section, stating that his book is a history of the autism diagnosis, not a “how-to” manual, and he’s absolutely right. The book I think this bears the most resemblance to, in scope and tone, is Randy Shilts’ “And The Band Played On,” a sweeping history of the AIDS crisis. “NeuroTribes” is no more about living with autism than “And The Band Played On” is about living with AIDS, or “Too Big To Fail” about how to invest money.

It’s an unflinching, sometimes funny, sometimes infuriating, sometimes heartbreaking look at a much-misunderstood, unnecessarily dreaded and evolving neurological condition. I’ll admit to weeping openly during the section on Hans Asperger’s clinic in Vienna. It also gave extensive backup to information given by our son’s pediatricians and teachers during his time of assessment. I remember asking “is there an ‘autism epidemic’?” and being told “no, the diagnostic tools are just much better now.” “NeuroTribes” goes through this point in painstaking detail, from Asperger’s initial findings through the various editions of the DSM.

I also remember basically putting my son’s first pediatrician up against the wall and saying “tell me the truth about vaccines, or you’re dead.” He told me about the Wakefield study, the only study ever to establish a link between vaccines and autism, which is now (rightly) considered one of the deadliest hoaxes of the 20th and 21st centuries. Silberman spends a relatively small amount of the book’s 477 pages on this debacle, wisely avoiding the “autism wars” as much as he can (and most of the “autism wars” have had little to do with the quality of life and services for autistic people, anyway). However, his history is concise, unbiased (in my opinion) and detailed-he doesn’t shrink from the subject, either.

Like I said, I’ve only read one book on autism, but I’m glad it was this one.

View all my reviews

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How I Got The Idea For “The Vault”

Sometime around 1981, when I was eleven years old, I bought Alan Dean Foster’s novelization of the movie Alien.

It started with an interesting sequence, something not contained in the movie or in any version of the script that I’m aware of (in all honesty, I haven’t read any of the movie’s scripts): The following is the introductory paragraph of Foster’s Alien:

Seven dreamers.

You must understand that they were not professional dreamers. Professional dreamers are highly paid, respected, much sought-after talents. Like the majority of us, these seven dreamt without effort or discipline. Dreaming professionally, so that one’s dreams can be recorded or played back for the entertainment of others, is a much more demanding proposition. It requires the ability to regulate semi-conscious creative impulses and to stratify imagination, an extraordinarily difficult combination to achieve. A professional dreamer is simultaneously the most organized of all artists and the most spontaneous. A subtle weaver of speculation, not straightforward and clumsy like you or I. Or these certain seven sleepers.

Of them all, Ripley came closest to possessing that special potential…

The first three pages of Alien talk about the now-famous crew of the Nostromo and how they’d fare as professional dreamers. Foster spends so much time expanding on something not part of the Alien universe that I wonder if it was something he’d thought about on his own for a separate book.

And, it planted a seed that, thirty-some years later, motivated me to write a short story called “The Nightmare Man” which appeared in a bogus Craigslist hijack called Scary Stories, and finally in a legitimate short-story anthology, Nightscapes, from my first publisher, Stonegarden Publishing.

I thought about the type of person who could dream for a living and came up with Owen Tipton. Owen lives like a rockstar, but his inner life is much different than his public persona. In my mind, he’s Sting from the earliest era of the Police: cocky, cerebral, and haunted all at the same time. He’s a savant who doesn’t understand why he’s able to do what he does, which makes it all the more disturbing when he loses power over his dreams…which gain power until he’s almost destroyed by them.

The Vault is coming in January from Black Rose Writing. It’s a big book (94,000 words) with big images, big visuals and big concepts…and I can’t wait to share it with you.




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If I Were An Immigrant

I moved to California twenty years ago.

This is nothing like the type of immigration I’m about to talk about, but, no mistake about it, I was a stranger in a strange land. CA and CO are two very different states, with different populations and different paces.

I was alone and didn’t know how to not be around my family or the people I grew up with. I thought I liked being alone, but had no conception of what absolute solitude meant, and had no idea of what it truly meant to be cut off from your family or the people you grew up with.

Dealing with immigrant populations has been a wedge issue in American politics for a long time, but in the fifteen years or so that I’ve actually been paying attention to politics and current events, this is probably the worst it’s ever been. I keep waiting for Donald Trump to embarrass himself to the point where even the lunatic fringe refuses to take him seriously, but not only is it NOT happening, it’s triggering a fervor I honestly find frightening. A colleague of mine remarked (Godwin’s Law notwithstanding) that it reminded him of Hitler’s rise to power, and he’s right. Less than 100 years ago-a blink of the eye in the scope of human history-millions of human beings were herded up like cattle and executed as a result of rhetoric that doesn’t sound that different from Trump’s.

Months ago, I had a discussion with one of my classes about empathy. I went around the room, and told each student something I had in common with them. One of them struggled with feelings of inadequacy in my class: who hasn’t felt that way? Another one had a parent who taught in the school: every time I had a substitute teacher in choir or band, they knew my parents. If you meet someone on the street and try to find something in common with them, you usually don’t have to try that hard.

Another aspect of empathy is being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, which by all indications seems to be a dying art. Do people look at refugees on TV-regardless of their country of origin-and ever wonder what it would be like to be them?

What would it be like to be an immigrant?

And, mind you, I’m not talking about the oh, we lived in London for five years while I was a project manager for Google” kind of immigrant. I’m talking about the we fled Latin America because the local cartel was going to kill my family” kind of immigrant.

So, if I go somewhere in the multiverse where I, Paul Nemeth, am forced by war or famine to move to a different country, here’s what I think I would be like:

I’d be very angry. I’d have grudging gratitude that I’d have a country to go to, but I’d be angry. And, that anger would be palpable. I’d be angry for the chaos in my homeland, I’d be angry about dead and lost loved ones. I’d be angry because I’d most likely be at the bottom of the ladder when it came to food and housing. I’d be angry if I’d been a doctor or a lawyer or a general in some other country and was emptying bedpans or cleaning toilets for a living. Is eating better than starving, and is having a roof better than not having one? Sure, but I’d still be angry. Admit it, you’d be, too.

I’d cling to every other American expatriate I could find. We’d become insular, clannish even. We wouldn’t trust the police, and the police wouldn’t trust us. If I ran a restaurant or store, I’d do business as fairly as I could, but-let’s face it-if one of my countrymen came in the door, they’d most likely get preferential treatment. And, another American broke the law and was wanted by the authorities, I would probably prioritize their “American-ness” over whatever local law they were accused of violating.

I would still speak English whenever I could. I’d do my best to learn the local language (and probably wouldn’t have much trouble, since I pick up language pretty quickly) but would never stop speaking English. If I was with another American in a roomful of people, I’d speak English if I didn’t want the others in the room to understand what we were talking about. Even though I pick up language easily, I would speak the local language with a noticeable accent, and I’d be kind of a dick if people complained about it. Which they would-I’ve heard enough 0ld white people complain about store clerks or gas jockeys with “accents” to not have any illusions about the treatment I’d get under similar circumstances.

Would I “assimilate?” Sort of. I would accept local customs, celebrate national holidays, and otherwise follow local laws, but I wouldn’t say, “America doesn’t exist…we’re Nationality X now.” And, even if I did attempt to throw out every trace of my past nationality, who would buy it? When was the last time you saw someone from Mexico or the Middle East wearing Western-style clothing driving a Toyota and speaking perfect, unaccented English and thought, “Wow! They’re really ‘fitting in?'”

If my neighborhood ended up having a large population of people like me, I’d push for having American stuff around: statues of famous Americans, parades on American holidays and events commemorating American history. And, my new country’s version of Fox News would most likely report it as a bunch of unpatriotic, angry, suspicious-acting foreigners who refuse to assimilate and are trying to turn every country in the world into the United States.

If I felt like my culture was all I had, yes, it would become very, very important to me.

So, yeah, I’ll be the first one to admit that I wouldn’t be one of the “oh, thank you for giving me a better life,” kind of immigrants. I’d like to think that I’d behave nobly under such circumstances, but I know myself-and I know human nature.

This might piss some people off. I hope it does. Because, even if it makes people angry, it might force them to put themselves in someone else’s shoes for once.

The late KGO broadcaster Gil Gross was having a discussion about this topic, and asked, “Can we not be decent?” If I were an immigrant, I wouldn’t ask to be embraced with open arms…but I’d ask for decency. And some empathy. It’s really not a lot to ask for.



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