Maddie Oatman

Maddie Oatman

Research Editor

Maddie worked as a travel guide in Argentina and a teacher at several educational nonprofits in San Francisco before joining Mother Jones. She’s also written for Outside, the Bay Citizen, and the Rumpus. A proud Boulder native, she makes time for mountain climbing, stargazing, and telemark skiing.

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Chris Thile's Punch Brothers at Play

| Mon Oct. 11, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

Framed by the woods of Golden Gate Park during San Francisco's Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile takes the stage alongside his band, Punch Brothers, and booming-voiced roots-rocker T-Bone Burnett. The group commences its string-laden crawl, a tense predecessor of the explosive plucking that will soon ensue. The rest of his mates stay still during the intro, but Thile can't take it any longer. He begins to prowl around like Puck on a midnight ramble, his body gyrating with his mandolin notes and a mischievous smile making its way across his face.

Though he's approaching 30, Thile's constant motion reminds me of an inexhaustible puppy. He named his band after the Mark Twain story "Punch, Brothers, Punch," sings about seafaring and barroom carousal, and spends late nights with bandmates throwing back drinks in Brooklyn. His latest album, Antifogmatic, takes its title from a 19th century drink meant to stave off the effects of stormy weather. As his tune "Rye Whiskey" might suggest, single-barrel whiskey is Thile's first choice. "I love it. I really do. That song is completely true, in all ways," he tells me earnestly. On top of all their revelry, what the Punch Brothers are doing musically blows the pants off most of their contemporaries. Thile and his Brothers have bridged classical and bluegrass traditions, melded them with pop-infused songwriting, and come up with a sound both experimental and tightly woven.

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Simon Robson's "Coalition of the Willing"

| Fri Oct. 8, 2010 5:00 AM EDT

Can you survey the entire cultural and economic history of the 20th century's last half in one 16-minute film? That's director Simon Robson's short term goal for the video "Coalition of the Willing," now up for an animation award at Saturday's Vimeo Festival in New York. His long term goal is even more ambitious: Unite people around the world in "an internet-based swarm offensive aimed at triggering a 21st century culture shift." But although Robson may be trying to incite utopia, he self-identifies as a cynic. "It sounds bleak, but as we say at the beginning of the film, industry is ruled by profit, and governments by growth." Fed up with leaders' unwillingness (or inability) to enact climate change policy, Robson and his writing partner, Tim Rayner, started toying with the idea that leaders weren't going to do anything at all, and that collective power modeled after the social revolutions of the past would have to do instead. An invocation, in the form of a script, emerged. To illustrate the message of the film, Robson employed stunning visuals by 25 different animators. The resulting patchwork of contrasting artistic styles, animated by a diverse panoply of materials—from clay to fruit to ink—effectively paints the film's collaborative calling.

After "Coalition" was released in June, it garnered attention from the likes of MTV Europe, the Guardian's environmental page, and even Ashton Kutcher (who tweeted about the film, much to Robson's joy). It also spawned an organization, CoalitionoftheWilling.org. The organization's latest project is a flash mob development party, meant to inspire people to submit ideas for "a new generation of internet platforms for the climate crisis."

Mother Jones spoke with Robson recently on the intersection of environment, art, and technology.

There's No "I" in "Undocumented Worker"

| Wed Sep. 29, 2010 6:22 PM EDT

There's a new campaign to eliminate the I-word from the public discourse, and activists don't mean "impeachment" or "incentives." The particular piece of verbiage that has prompted the "Drop the I-Word" campaign is "illegal"—as in "illegal aliens" or "illegal immigrant." Fed up with a label they say dehumanizes its subjects, campaign promoters ColorLines.com and the Applied Research Center are sending out a pledge and a tool kit to inform people on the negative connotations of the word. "The I-Word creates an environment of hate by exploiting racial fear and economic anxiety, creating an easy scapegoat for complex issues, and OK-ing violence against those labeled with the word," their site says.

The campaigners' hope is that like-minded activists will want to educate their neighbors and influence the media frame. The campaign website displays close-up shots of cherub-cheeked children and adults, overlaid with the simple message "I am not an illegal"—along with a video and the endorsements of such organizations as the Nation Institute and Feministing.

Three Burner Bands Worth Dusting Off

| Mon Sep. 13, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

Burning Man musicians have it rough. There's the omnipresent threat of dust storms, the dehydrated and disoriented spectators, and the competition for a prime location on the playa. And unlike visual artists, who can vie for grants from the Black Rock Arts Foundation to fund their massive sculptures, Burning Man musicians don't get paid. "This festival won't even give us a free ticket, and our equipment is guaranteed to be destroyed," gripes Grey Filastine, a producer based in Barcelona, Spain, who has been performing at Burning Man since the mid-1990s.

But there's no shortage of bands at the 10-day event, known for all-night performances and subwoofers so loud they masticate the ear drums. (Things are getting better, notes Grey Filastine—see below. "There have been years where I just wanted to wear earplugs the entire week; those days are gone.") Heavy on electronica and light on instruments, the nightscape pulsates from competing DJs amid seas of twinkling glow sticks. Admittedly, I thought most of the DJs and producers sounded all the same, but these performers stood out:

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