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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3 Modern Sirens Tackle the Greek Myths

| Mon Jul. 1, 2013 5:46 AM EDT

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.

Dessa
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.

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Is BPA Making Girls Obese?

| Fri Jun. 14, 2013 3:39 PM EDT
Shutterstock

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.

This isn't the first study to reveal BPA's particular effect on girls. My colleague Jaeah Lee explored how girls exposed to the chemical as fetuses were more likely to be anxious and depressed than boys, and another study on rhesus monkeys revealed how it messes with the reproductive system. So why are women more susceptible to the chemical?

Steve Martin and Edie Brickell's Banjo Magic

| Mon Apr. 22, 2013 5:30 AM EDT

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:

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