The first stars, and dark matter

Scientist recently announced that they've discovered "fingerprints" of the earliest stars. These aren't your garden variety neutron, red giants, or yellow dwarfs (shout-out to my favorite ball of hydrogen and helium eight light minutes away). These were the pioneers of "today's" stars, big, blue, fast-living and fast-dying.

This is amazing. These stars were around only about 180 million years after the Big Bang, which occurred 13.8 billion years ago. When they collapsed and exploded, the universe welcomed its first heavy matter (everything other than hydrogen, helium and a smattering of lithium). These stars were really the first baby steps of what makes us possible. Most people aren't aware that somewhere in the neighborhood of 90 percent of our bodies is made from elements created in an exploding star.

Now these puppies apparently acted a little weird and one scientist has proposed that it's because their hydrogen interacted with dark matter. This is getting beyond me, but it seems until now dark matter was believed to only interact with normal matter through gravity. I'm not touching this one.

Isn't science great?

A sexual assault turning point?

Nothing made me happier back in January than the influx of pussy hats flooding the country (and indeed much of the world), that and the women's marches. I can't imagine what it would have been like to be a woman watching the rise of a sexual assaulter and misogynist to the highest office in the world knowing that we put him in that position with the confirmed knowledge that that's what he was like. And as might have been expected, he pretty well ignored the single largest march (four times larger than the nearest sized march according to Wikipedia) in the history of this country. He did, of course, berate it.

If there's a bright spot to his ascension, I think it's that women are feeling more compelled to call a spade a spade. Hollywood has rightly been thrust into the international spotlight for men being allowed to be assholes without any consequences for far too long and I'm not sure it would have happened without the Trumpster. (But unlike seemingly the entire elected republican clan, we denounce those on our side who cross the line; we don't elect them president.)

Until fairly recently, I hadn't ever forced myself to consider the plight of women or men's attitudes toward them and I surely hadn't ever tried to put myself in their shoes. But events in recent years have made the topic far more important to me and have created an empathy that was sorely lacking before. I've come to believe that our culture, and many, many others across the world are at fault for teaching boys that their job is to be the aggressor, but perhaps more significantly, we have failed to educate them about what it's like to be in other people's shoes.

And how much courage does it take for women to accuse powerful men of wrong doings? At least 16 women have accused Trump of sexual misconduct and the official response from the White House? They're all lying. This is after the entire world has watched video footage of the assaulter in chief bragging about doing exactly what these women are saying. And absolutely the most amazing part is that a pretty high percentage of people believe the women are all lying. WTF? I can't imagine being one of Harvey Weinstein's accusers, or Bill Cosby's, or Kevin Spacey's. I can only hope that some of these people were so outraged by Trump that they said, "No, I'm not standing for this shit anymore. I'm not turning a blind eye to yet another jerk." This isn't about men being men, it's about men getting away with murder for the history of humanity and women finally calling them out on it (or in Spacey's case, boys and men). Bravo!

Is this a turning point for sexual assault victims? I think the road has just barely begun to be traveled. Not only is one of the most clear offenders in charge of everything, but he has stacked the deck against victims for a while to come. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has put the onus back on the accusers, which will clearly dissuade many women from reporting assaults in the first place. In addition, Trump's cabinet seems to be filled with the definition of "the old boys' club."

And yet I remain optimistic in the long run. I think there's a big enough blowback from people who see the whole situation as I do. The democrats have won the presidential popular vote all but once in the last seven elections (and that was for W.'s second term during a war). I believe that clearly means the country is moving in a progressive direction. Unfortunately, we've had two out of three presidents in a row become president lacking the popular vote and this current one is stacking the judicial branch with hard right-wingers, which will seriously skew the country away from the direction the people apparently are leaning. And don't even get me going on Gerrymandering . . . Call me back in 50 years.

A plea for more eclipse mania!

The eclipse furor that swept America this past week did my heart some good. I’ve been a science nut for a long while—whether it be gut bacteria, climate change, subatomic particles, astronomy or just about anything else—and to see so many people get excited about it helped to restore some of my faith in humanity after the political dumpster fire that is the current administration. And maybe it’s because, for me, astronomy is the most fascinating study of them all (and slightly more graspable than string theory).

I often stare at the night sky in amazement contemplating our little solar system with its variety of orbs and oddly shaped rocks spinning around the sun. I read somewhere that the light that bounces off us goes on essentially forever so that in a couple million years, it’s possible that an alien a couple million light years away with a good enough telescope will be watching me walk to the store. That stopped my brain in its tracks and I wondered why there weren’t more people excited about thinking things like that.

I figure one of the problems is the utter lack of scientific knowledge held by John and Jane Doe. According to a survey by the National Science Foundation, 74 percent of Americans say the earth revolves around the sun (that leaves 26 percent who think it’s the other way around or don’t know) and less than half of Americans know that humans evolved from earlier species of animals. This flummoxes me. And there’s a percentage of people who seem to think of science as something you can choose not to believe. As an atheist, it’s particularly beguiling to hear someone hold up the Bible as the purveyor of truth while casting doubt upon science.

Before the advent of the lightning rod, Christians were taught, and believed, that the air was full of devils, tempests and witches and it was they who caused storms and lightning. It was all part of God’s will and it wasn’t the worst notion until the 18th century when the churches kept burning down even during heavy bouts of prayer while the brothels and gambling houses equipped with lightning rods, were left untouched. Thank you Ben Franklin.

Anyway, I’m not against people having beliefs. I can’t join them, but I can urge them to accept science too. Climate change is real and humans are responsible for at least a lot of it. The universe was not created 10,000 years ago. The sun is a star, a type that’s quite prevalent in our galaxy and elsewhere in the universe.

Consider: A teaspoon of a neutron star would weigh six billion tons. Light is really, really fast, and yet, it still takes over eight minutes for it to travel from the sun to earth. If you took all the space out of our atoms, the human race could fit in the volume of a sugar cube. Thanks to time-space and gravity, time passes quicker on a plane than at sea level. Humans contain 10 times more bacterial cells than human cells.

That’s a drop in the bucket of amazing discoveries thanks to science. And while science has made mistakes through the centuries, we’ve gotten extremely good at it. So when 97 percent of scientists say we’re responsible for global warming, we’re responsible for global warming. Can I personally prove it? No. But when I see hoof prints, I think horses, not zebras. And a global conspiracy apparently to con the United States out of money makes a lot less sense than the world’s scientists agreeing about climate change because that’s what the data says.

Scientists told us the moon was going to pass between the earth and the sun this past week. And they’ve been trying to save our asses for the last several decades. Maybe we ought to listen.

Time to enjoy the good things

It’s quite likely that I’ll never be “on the road” again, and I’m content with that. Playing music is one of the most enjoyable careers there is, but don’t be fooled, a lot of it is a pain in the rump. The traveling will kill you. I dreaded airports more than most people probably do. It was just such a huge task packing up instruments, lugging everything through overcrowded terminals, hoping no one in our party would get bumped from the flight, waiting in interminable lines of irritated fellow travelers, many of whom were just plain rude and then nestling into the middle seat on every leg of a journey. Then you had to hope your instruments all came out the other end and that they were all in one piece.

Driving was a whole other experience. A bunch of men in a van for twenty hours can be fun when you’re young, but after two decades of it, it wore a little thin. We’d often travel for an entire weekend to play for a half hour or forty minutes. The shows were generally full of merriment and jollification. Generally. When the crowd’s with you, there’s nothing like performing on stage, but when they aren’t, it can be downright painful. I’ll admit there were a few times I couldn’t wait to be finished.

I’m still playing music, getting out to the occasional session here and there and singing around the old apartment, but it’s all on my terms now, which is a great stress reliever. It’s really put a lot of the joy back into music. There was a time when my life was completely upside down that I wondered if I’d ever enjoy it again. I guess I figured I eventually would again, but it didn’t always feel that way, if that makes any sense. I’ve also hit the airports a few times over the last couple years and let me tell you, it’s a lot easier traveling with just two people and backpacks. I take back roads instead of highways whenever I can now, even if it makes the trip a lot longer, and that, as Robert Frost might say, makes all the difference.

So I guess what I’m saying is that life throws everyone curve balls. I never thought I was capable of depression, but I discovered it a few years back. And then things got better.

Good craic for a great cause

A few songs all together

I spent Wednesday night with the better half at the Port Tavern in Newburyport, Mass. at a benefit for Irish performer extraordinaire Patsy Whelan. Patsy wasn’t there, but my good friend Tom O’Carroll (who was with his lovely wife Debbie) hosted the evening’s performances and I was thrilled that he asked me to sing a few songs.

The joint was packed with Patsy well-wishers, and a number of fellow musical performers joined in to complete the festive atmosphere. I played three or four songs, as did the rest of the musicians and singers and Tom kept the night moving like everyone’s favorite uncle. Much appreciation to the folks who cheered me on and to the other singers and players for helping out Patsy when he needed it, including, above clockwise from left, EJ Ouelette, Debbie O’Carroll, Frank Landford, Tom O’Carroll, Shay Walker, Tommy Courtney and me. Missing from the photo was the kindly and talented Brian Corcoran.

Conor singing a few


I’m not sure there could be a better way for me to open this website than with sincere apologies for mistakes I have made. And so I am sorry to those I have wronged. My regrets have much less to do with the ramifications on my own life than they do with the effects they’ve had on others.

I’ve acted unquestionably selfishly in the past and that disappoints me. I failed people, some of whom I don’t know, others for whom I deeply care. It reveals a flawed individual and for what it’s worth I have drawn lessons from those experiences. As I move forward, I can’t say that I will always make selfless decisions, but I will strive to.

I now embrace the goal of leading a more healthy life. There’s nothing I can do to change the past; I can only learn from it and advance in a new direction. I am a more open person than I was and I believe that honesty is part of being healthier.

My thoughts and beliefs will flow through these pages in the coming months and years. I fully expect that I will change as I grow into a new life, but my plan is to remain honest. If comments offend, please know it was unintentional. If the lessons I’ve learned inspire others to change their lives, so much the better.
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