Maddie writes and edits stories about food, health, the environment, and culture. She oversees Mother Jones' research department and manages its Ben Bagdikian Fellowship Program. Email tips to moatman [at] motherjones [dot] com.
Hip-hop artist Dessa's new album "Parts of Speech" hit shelves on June 25.
The word "music" traces back to Greek's mousike, or "art of the Muses," those seven goddesses presiding over song, literature, and dance. The muse Euterpe, "giver of delight," embodied music and lyric poetry; she'd have approved of the following contemporary songbirds, for whom timeless Greek tales inspire and enrich songs about modern life and love.
Minneapolis-based Dessa might not fit your stereotype of a rapper: Poised and contemplative, you might find her lecturing on creative writing or feminism in a college classroom, cozying up to a David Foster Wallace novel, or jotting down lyrics in the tattered Moleskine she keeps in her backpack. But that doesn't mean her latest album, Parts of Speech, is tame. Released June 25, the album offers a potent blend of pop, R&B, and hip-hop strung together by Dessa's sultry voice and explosive songwriting. ("Call Off Your Ghost," which you can listen to below, is a case in point.)
Dessa is a poet and former philosophy major, so it's no wonder Greek characters pop up in some of her songs, such as the the haunting "Beekeeper," where she sings: "Sweet Prometheus come home / they took away our fire / and all that this scarcity promotes / is desperate men and tyrants." (In Greek mythology, the cunning Prometheus stole fire from the gods to give to humans). "I think I go to myths because you get to import a tiny piece of the poetic tradition that you reference," Dessa says.
A chemical common in food packaging—Bisphenol-A (BPA)—has for years been scrutinized for potential links to reproductive problems, heart disease, cancer, and even anxiety. And now new research suggests BPA, which leeches out from things like aluminum cans, drink straws, plastic packaging, and even cashier's receipts, could increase the risk for obesity in preteen girls.
A Kaiser Permanente study, published this week in PLOS ONE, examined obesity and BPA levels in a group of Chinese school children. While most of the kids were not significantly effected by the chemical, 9-12 year-old girls with high BPA levels in their urine were found to be twice as likely to be obese than other girls their age. In girls with especially high levels (more than 10 micrograms per liter) the risk of obesity was five times as great.
One day in late February, I met up with journalist Jon Mooallem for a stroll up Bernal Hill, a gentle dome bordering the southern end of San Francisco that turns a brilliant lime at that time of year. I was eager to hear about Wild Ones, his new book, which comes out on May 16, but our small talk quickly turned to a coyote rumored to live on the hill. It would have had to weave its way through a sea of houses and busy streets to reach this blip of habitat. And while it had become quite a neighborhood character, "it wasn't until really recently that I heard of someone seeing it," Mooallem told me. "These stories about animals become local legends, almost like the underground noodle place with no sign that people talk about."
A strain of Lactobacillus plantarum (with false color)
A few years ago, after a gnarly bout of giardia earned from a few months studying in India, and the ensuing rounds of antibiotics prescribed to kill the bugs, I began to take a probiotic supplement to recoup. I was hoping for something to help me digest, and for some new microorganisms to repopulate my intestine and fend off bad bacteria. The regimen was easy—right before breakfast, I'd down one or two small capsules with some water. And it seemed to work; within a few months, my digestion was back on track. But it's a little hard to say: Did the probiotics cure my turbulent gut, or was it just the passage of time and a return to normal food and sanitation?
The human GI tract contains more than 500 species of bacteria that help break down food, strengthen immunity, and ward off pathogens. This community of trillions of microbes together weighs up to 2.2 pounds and its cells outnumber human cells 10-to-1. "There's a war going on in your gut," says gastroenterologist Dr. Shekhar Challa, author of Probiotics for Dummies and coproducer of Microwarriors: The Battle Within, a video game about probiotics. When the ratio of good to bad bacteria gets out of whack, he says, adding a probiotic—a beneficial bacteria—can help refuel the good guys. Lactobacillus acidophilus, found in some yogurt, is probably the best-known strain. These microbes bind to the lining of the gut, help you digest, battle toxic intruders, and can stimulate the immune system. They've also been credited—though with varying levels of evidence—with preventing or curing diarrhea, gastrointestinal diseases, yeast infections, and allergies.
One recent study even indicates that probiotics could be used to regulate emotions and mitigate depression via their effect on neurotransmitters. (Radiolab fans might remember this from the episode "Guts.") Researchers in Ireland found that mice treated with Lactobacillus rhamnosus suffered less stress, anxiety, and depression-related behavior, suggesting that certain strains of probiotics could one day be used to treat those symptoms in humans.
Steve Martin and Edie Brickell Love Has Come For You Rounder Records
When Steve Martin played singer Edie Brickell a banjo tune he'd been working on, lyrics flooded into her mind as if she were recalling a preexisting song. She recorded the melody and sent it back to Martin, who began emailing her file after file of his banjo compositions, sometimes two a week, over which she'd quickly layer stories. "I'd just hear the tune and there were all these images and pictures," says Brickell of Martin's picking. "All you had to do was pull the lyrics out of the air."
From the alchemy of Martin's inventive five-string banjo strumming and Brickell's breezy and timeless twang emerged Love Has Come For You, out Tuesday, an intimate and stripped down album that centers on family lore, small-town gossip, and scorned love.
"I'd just hear the tune and there were all these images and pictures," Brickell says. "All you had to do was pull the lyrics out of the air."
Actor and comedian Steve Martin likely needs no introduction—he's starred in classic comedies like Roxane, Three Amigos, Parenthood, and Father of the Bride—but his musical accomplishments still might catch you by surprise. He's played banjo since age 17, won Grammys in 2001 and 2009 for his instrumentals, and began touring with the bluegrass band the Steep Canyon Rangers in 2009. Edie Brickell shot to fame in the late 1980s as the frontwoman for the New Bohemians, with hits like the indignant "What I Am" and "Circle of Friends," followed by a marriage to Paul Simon and successful solo career (though she never repeated such a genius album name as Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars).
Brickell, who says she and Martin met at a dinner party in 1992, told me a little more via email about Love Has Come For You:
About two years ago, as we were exiting a restaurant, he asked me if I had ever considered singing in a group without drums. Our conversation was interrupted by the bustle of everyone leaving and saying their goodbyes, but it got me thinking. I saw him at a birthday party months later and felt brave enough to tell him how much I loved his music and if he ever wanted to make up a song together, it was my favorite thing to do.
Excited to work on a country album for the first time, Brickell tapped into her family history: