It’s the birthday of musician Jelly Roll Morton

, born Ferdinand Joseph La Menthe in New Orleans (1890). He grew up listening to French and Italian opera, hymns, ragtime, and minstrel songs. He was a great piano player, and he apprenticed in the seedy bars and brothels of New Orleans. In addition to being a talented performer, he was a pool shark, a gambler, and a pimp. He wore a turquoise coat, a Stetson hat, and tight striped pants. He said: “I was Sweet Papa Jelly Roll with the stovepipes in my hips, and all the women in town was dying to turn my damper down.”


At the age of fourteen, he began working as a piano player in a brothel (or as it was referred to then, a sporting house.) While working there, he was living with his religious church-going great-grandmother and had her convinced that he worked as a night watchman in a barrel factory.

In that atmosphere, he often sang smutty lyrics and it was at this time that he took the nickname “Jelly Roll” which at the time was black slang for the female genitalia


He traveled around the Gulf Coast, and from there moved on to the West Coast and Chicago. In the 1920s, he was one of the biggest names in jazz. He recorded major hits like “King Porter Stomp,” “Black Bottom Stomp,” “New Orleans Blues,” and the “Original Jelly Roll Blues.” He was fierce in his claim that he was the founder of jazz, and he is considered the first true jazz composer because he was the first to go beyond improvisation to write down jazz tunes. He engaged in highly publicized feuds with other musicians who claimed to be the King of Jazz, the founder of jazz or the blues, or any other title he wanted for himself. When the great jazz trumpeter Lee Collins went to record with Jelly Roll, Morton informed him: “You know you will be working for the world’s best jazz piano player … not one of the greatest — I am the Greatest.”

Beer really DOES make you happier!


A curious flurry of headlines in praise of beer appeared this week:

Beer really DOES make you happier! Key molecule boosts brain’s reward centre

Drinking Beer Makes You Really Happy, Confirms Awesome New Study

Drinking beer can make you happy, researchers claim

It was reported that scientists from Germany have discovered that a molecule in beer called hordenine activates dopamine receptors in the brain, and thus produces a positive mood.

The research in question was published back in March of this year, so I’m not sure why it only made the headlines this week – maybe Oktoberfest had something to do with it. Either way, the study did indeed find that hordenine is a dopamine D2 receptor agonist, but it’s not clear this has any relevance to beer drinkers.


The German researchers, Sommer et al., are chemists, not neuroscientists. They used computational simulations to model whether 13,000 known ‘food-derived’ molecules would bind to the D2 receptor. The hordenine molecule was predicted to fit the receptor, and follow-up experiments showed that it does indeed bind to it, suggesting possible psychoactive properties.

But Sommer et al. didn’t study whether hordenine actually exists in beer in sufficient amounts to have any effect. They didn’t consider whether it can even reach the brain after oral consumption. According to Wikipedia, some animal studies have shown that hordenine is “not orally active”, although it does have effects when injected.

Overall, Sommer et al. were engaging in pure speculation when they wrote that

Based on its presence in beer, we suggest that hordenine significantly contributes to mood-elevating effects of beer.

So I’m pretty sure that there is only one molecule in beer that makes you happy. This is the same molecule that can make you unhappy. So let’s raise a glass to ethanol, the real star of beer.

Scam Alert: Fraudsters Targeting Freelancers With Fake Job Offers


Scam Alert: Fraudsters Targeting Freelancers With Fake Job Offers

Posted: 11 Oct 2017 09:10 AM PDT

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Fraudsters are reportedly conducting a phishing scheme aimed at freelance writers.

Individuals using the names of editors and senior management for The Atlantic magazine have sent out numerous fake job and interview offers, using multiple email addresses and made-up domain names. The goal is to obtain personal information, including Social Security numbers, addresses, and other sensitive data. More than 50 writers have reported being targeted by the scheme.

From a memo sent to The Atlantic staff by General Counsel for Atlantic Media:

The perpetrators have gone so far as to conduct job interviews by phone and gchat; to require signature on employment agreements, direct deposit, and tax forms; and to mail fake checks to individuals (in the hope that these “advances” would be cashed, thereby providing the perpetrators with bank account information and/or credit card information). To date, we’ve been contacted by more than 50 would-be victims, and the names of at least six of our top editorial leaders have been used.

Unfortunately, scams like this one are very common in today’s landscape. We are actively working with law enforcement and are directing any intended victims to do the same. We are also making information available about the scam on our websites and in the magazine.

If you discover that you or any of our colleagues are being impersonated, please provide details to, which will route the information to the IT department. Likewise, if you receive any inquiries from potential victims asking you to confirm the veracity of an email purporting to have come from The Atlantic, forward those inquiries to IT will connect with any would-be victims to advise them of the scam and to refer them to law enforcement.

Be careful out there!

My Namesake — Giuseppe Verdi

It’s the birthday of Giuseppe Verdi, born in a village in Parma, Italy (1813). His parents owned a tavern and were not very well off. But his father recognized musical talent in Giuseppe and bought him a spinet (an upright harpsichord), which he kept for the rest of his life. By the age of 12, Verdi was the organist for his church. He started playing for other churches farther away from home, and then he went off to music school. He lived in the town of Busseto and boarded with a wealthy grocer who liked Verdi and wanted to support him, and whose daughter Verdi ended up marrying.

Verdi wrote marches, overtures and other pieces for the Busseto Philharmonic Society and the town marching band. But then he set his sights elsewhere and got an opera, Oberto, performed at La Scala, the most important theater in Italy, in 1839. It was a modest success. Then tragedy struck: his wife died of encephalitis. Verdi had already lost their two children in infancy. He vowed he would never write music again. But he couldn’t resist when he read the powerful libretto for Nabucco . He turned it into a stunning opera, premiering on March 9, 1842. The audience applauded for 10 minutes after the first scene, and after the chorus, the audience demanded an encore, even though they were prohibited by the Austrian government at the time. Even the stagehands, who rarely paid attention to the performance, would stop what they were doing to watch and applaud the show. Verdi used the same librettist for his next opera, Lombardi. The librettist had a procrastination problem, and Verdi had to lock him in a room in order to get him to write enough on time. Once Verdi made the mistake of sticking him in the room with his wine collection. Hours later, the librettist emerged drunk. Verdi wrote a total of 26 operas, most notably Rigoletto (1851), La Traviata(1853), Aida (1871), and Falstaff (1893).

Reposted from W.A.

The Free Speech Movement was launched in Berkeley, California, on this date in 1964 .

The Free Speech Movement was launched in Berkeley, California, on this date in 1964 . It was the first mass civil disobedience protest held on a college campus during the 1960s. The University of California at Berkeley had a policy against allowing political activity or fundraising on campus, with the exception of the established Democrat and Republican student clubs. Jack Weinberg was one of several graduate students who had been to the South to join the civil rights movement. They came back to UC Berkeley to spread the word about the movement, and they set up an information table on the steps of Sproul Hall to mobilize their fellow students. University officials asked Weinberg to stop, and he refused. They called the police, who put him in the back of a squad car when he declined to show them his identification. Students quickly surrounded the police car and staged a sit-in, keeping the car from driving off. Weinberg’s fellow student activist, Mario Savio, climbed on the police car and used it as an impromptu podium. Weinberg ended up being held in the squad car for 32 hours. A journalist interviewed him and tried to get him to admit that the students were the puppets of older agitators; Weinberg denied it, and famously said that the movement’s members didn’t trust anyone over 30.

Some of the original protestors now say that they think the movement went too far, but 50 years after the original protest, Weinberg defended it. “Democracy’s messy,” he said. “When people have the right to express themselves and organize for whatever they are, you’re always going to find some things that you find objectionable … But I think that American society is much better off today than it was in the ’50s when there was very little freedom of any kind. Unless you were dressed the right way and spoke the right way and thought the right way, you were marginalized.”

Monsanto’s poison of mass destruction

Monsanto’s poison of mass destruction

King of the BLUES

It’s the birthday of “Blind” Lemon Jefferson , born on a farm in Coutchman, Texas, in about 1893. Jefferson began playing picnics and parties in the region, and eventually he made his way to Dallas. He performed every day on the corner of Central and Elm, near a train stop where the black workers would get off at the end of their day to visit the neighborhood bars and dance halls. Stories vary, but Dallas was probably the place where he first met fellow blues musician Huddie Ledbetter, known as Lead Belly. Lead Belly later wrote “Blind Lemon’s Blues” in tribute to his friend.

In the early 1920s, Jefferson began traveling: to the Mississippi Delta, and Memphis, and maybe even farther than that. Late in 1925, he was “discovered” by a Texas talent scout, who took Jefferson to Paramount Records in Chicago; there he recorded two gospel songs under an alias. Over the next three years, he recorded nearly a hundred songs and became the first country blues musician to develop a national following. He was expected to produce one record a month, and in between recording sessions, he traveled around the South. Everybody had a story about seeing him at the local venue. He seemed to have an uncanny ability to “see” even through sightless eyes; musician Lance Lipscomb said later: “He had a tin cup, wired on the neck of his guitar. And when you pass to give him something, why he’d thank you. But he would never take no pennies. You could drop a penny in there and he’d know the sound. He’d take and throw it away.” Delta musician Ishman Bracey said: “He carried a pearl-handled .45, and he could shoot the head off a chicken. And he couldn’t see nary a lick. Just did it from the sound he heard.”

In 1929, Jefferson was buried in Wortham, Texas, in a grave that remained unmarked until 1967; in the 1990s, fans raised money to erect a granite marker engraved with Jefferson’s own lyrics: “Lord, it’s one kind favor I’ll ask of you. See that my grave is kept clean.”

Taken from Writer’s Almanac.

I’d love to write like S.K. and try. The above is my book. Not as scary as his though.

It’s the birthday of famed horror writer Stephen King (books by this author), born in Portland, Maine (1947). King is most known for his supernatural novels like Carrie, The Shining, and PetSematary . His books have sold more than 350 million copies worldwide. King often laments the fact that the genre of horror is maligned as a literary art form. He once scoffed: “Hemingway sucks. If I set out to write that way, it would have been been hollow and lifeless because it wasn’t me.”

King worked as a janitor, gas pump attendant, and high school teacher, while he wrote what would be his first published novel, Carrie (1973). He threw the first draft of the book into the trash, thinking no one would like the story of a lonely teenage girl with telekinetic powers, who ends up setting fire to her high school prom and destroying a town. But his wife saved the manuscript and he kept working. Eventually, Doubleday bought the book for $2,500. The paperback rights netted him nearly half a million dollars. The novel is one of the most frequently banned books in high schools. He wrote the book on a portable typewriter while he and his family lived in a trailer in Maine.

When asked why he writes, he said, “The answer to that is fairly simple — there was nothing else I was made to do.”

About the character of Carrie White in Carrie, King said: “For me, Carrie White is a sadly misused teenager, an example of the sort of person whose spirit is so often broken for good in that pit of man- and woman-eaters that is your normal suburban high school. But she’s also a woman, feeling her powers for the first time and, like Samson, pulling down the temple on everyone in sight […] Carrie uses her ‘wild talent’ to pull down the whole rotten society.”

The Shining (1977) was partly written from King’s struggle with alcoholism and a visit he made to the Stanley Hotel in Colorado. In the book, the character of Jack Torrance, like King, is a writer and recovering alcoholic isolated during the winter at a grand hotel with his wife and odd son. When King and his wife stayed at the hotel, they were the only guests, and he was inspired to write a book about a haunted hotel after he and his wife shared a lonely dinner in the hotel’s large restaurant. Danny, the little boy in the book, has what King termed “the shining,” which is the ability to see the hotel’s terrible past. The first draft of the book took King only four months to complete. He isn’t afraid of the macabre, or doing terrible things to people in his books. He says, “When it comes to people, mercy killing is against the law. When it comes to fiction, it is the law.”

When asked why he likes to write horror stories, Stephen King said: “It’s built in. That’s all. The first movie I ever saw was a horror movie. It was Bambi. When that little deer gets caught in a forest fire, I was terrified, but I was also exhilarated.”

reposted from Writer’s Almanac.

We’re All a Little Plastic on the Inside

You’re made of water, bone, blood, muscle, and fat; you’re also a few parts plastic.

That is, if you prefer sea salt on your meal. Or honey, shellfish, beer or tap water. Recent studies have found microplastics, tiny shards of degraded plastic, in them all. Even the air is filled with the minuscule plastic bits.

Plastic Not-So-Fantastic

Hold off on the panic though; it’s still too early for researchers to say what the effects of microplastic consumption are, although preliminary studies in animals suggest that they can certainly cause harm. In humans, though, it’s a bit harder to study because nearly everyone has microplastics in their bodies, so there’s no control group for comparison.

The pieces themselves seem relatively benign — they’re just tiny bits of plastic, looking in large quantities like so much sand, created as larger plastic objects gradually degrade. NOAA defines a microplastic as anything plastic under 5 millimeters — large enough to see easily with the human eye, although many can be microscopic. Most are small enough to pass through the digestive system without causing harm, but they can also hold on to and deliver pollutants inside our bodies, something the animal studies supported.

There’s been evidence that microplastics have been infiltrating our bodies for a few years now: A 2013 study found them in German honey and sugar, 2014 saw them pop up in some shellfish and beer, and in 2015 they were found in Chinese table salt and took to the air in Paris. The latest such research also examines salt — an April study found microplastic particles in 16 of 17 brands of sea salt, and a recent Guardian article details more work in the same vein.

Here and Gone

In most cases, the levels of microplastics were quite low — with the notable exception of shellfish. Regular and even excessive consumers of salt, beer and honey will only ingest a few thousand particles a year at most from those sources, and we’ll never notice their fleeting passage. The point though, is that these products come from very different places, which is an indication that microplastics are far more pervasive than we might think. Plastic in the air brings new concerns as well, as it can enter the lungs and spread through the environment more readily.

And those shellfish? The study found the average European could consume up to 11,000 pieces of microplastic from them annually.

Although the impact of microplastics on our health aren’t settled, their ubiquity is a growing concern. It will likely only get worse, too. A July study found that humanity has produced some 9 billion tons of plastic so far, the majority of which has ended up as trash. We’re on track to have thrown around 13 billion tons away by 2050, and that will only translate into more microplastics. An international team of researchers estimated in 2014 that there are around 5 trillion pieces of plastic floating in the ocean, weighing 250,000 tons.

Bit by bit, it will break down and make its way back to us.

Francis wrote a poem that inspired Americans. Maybe some day I will too?

It was on this day in 1814that Francis Scott Key was inspired to write the words to “The Star-Spangled Banner,”  by witnessing the British attack on Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor. It had been a dark summer for the young United States. Just three weeks previous, on August 24, British troops had set fire to much of Washington, D.C., including the Capitol, the Treasury, and the president’s house. President James Madison had been forced to flee for his safety. Americans were terrified that the British might choose to invade New York or Philadelphia or Boston and destroy those cities as well.

The British had recently begun using rockets, a new military weapon adapted from Chinese technology. Francis Scott Key was horrified as he watched these rockets raining down on Fort McHenry, at the mouth of Baltimore Harbor. He watched the bombardment all night, and he had little hope that the American fort would withstand the attack. But just after sunrise on September 14th, he saw the American flag still flying over the fort. In fact, Francis Scott Key might never have even seen the flag if the fort commander, Major Armistead, hadn’t insisted on flying one of the largest flags then in existence. The flag flying that day was 42 feet long and 30 feet high.

Francis Scott Key began writing a poem about the experience that very morning. It turned out that the battle at Baltimore was the turning point of the war. Before the war, the American flag had little sentimental significance for most Americans. It was used mainly as a way to designate military garrisons or forts. But after the publication of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” even non-military people began to treat the flag as a sacred object.

Reposted from Writer’ Almanac.