Michael Mechanic

Michael Mechanic

Senior Editor

Michael has been a senior editor at MoJo for seven years, after spending nearly as long as an award-winning features editor at the alt-weekly East Bay Express. He edits (and occasionally writes) features, as well as being in charge of the magazine's Mixed Media section. His writing has appeared in a range of alt-weeklies, newspapers, and magazines including Wired, The Industry Standard, and the Los Angeles Times. He lives in Oakland, California, with his wife, two kids, four chickens, striped cat, and way too many musical instruments to master.

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Michael has been a senior editor at MoJo for seven years, after spending nearly as long as an award-winning features editor at the alt-weekly East Bay Express. He edits (and occasionally writes) features, as well as being in charge of the magazine's Mixed Media section. His writing has appeared in a range of alt-weeklies, newspapers, and magazines including Wired, The Industry Standard, and the Los Angeles Times. He set out to be a scientist, and as an undergrad spent a year in an organic chemistry lab at UC-Berkeley, where he was a biochemistry major, trying to synthesize tropical frog poisons. He later earned a masters degree in cellular and developmental biology from Harvard University and a masters in journalism from Cal. In 2009, he was a finalist for a National Magazine Award for public service as one of five writers in MoJo's "Torture Hits Home" package. (His contribution, "Voluntary Confinement," involved a reality TV show that held contestants in isolation.) He also won a 2014 Society for Professional Journalists award for "It Was Something Like Slavery," a photoessay he wrote with photographer Nina Berman. The father of two preteens and caretaker of a surly cat named Phelps, Michael lives in Oakland, California, where, after years of classical piano and raucous punk-rock drumming (and releasing more than a dozen CDs on his former DIY label, Bad Monkey Records), he has retired to old-time fiddling. But you never know.

More (Stronger) Evidence Linking Sugar to Diabetes

| Thu Feb. 28, 2013 1:36 PM EST

A new study published in the open-access science journal PLoS One offers some of the strongest evidence yet associating sugar, independent of other diet and lifestyle factors, with type 2 diabetes—a link that the sugar industry has sought for decades to debunk.

The study's four authors, including Robert Lustig of the University of California-San Francisco, examined data on sugar intake and diabetes prevalence in 175 countries "controlling for other food types (including fibers, meats, fruits, oils, cereals), total calories, overweight and obesity, period-effects, and several socioeconomic variables such as aging, urbanization and income."

For each bump in sugar "availability" (consumption plus waste) equivalent to about a can of soda per day, they observed a 1 percent rise in diabetes prevalence. This is a correlation, of course, and correlation does not necessarily equal causation. On the other hand, as the authors note in a lay summary, this "is far stronger than a typical point-in-time medical correlation study."

"No other food types yielded significant individual associations with diabetes prevalence after controlling for obesity and other confounders," the PLoS article states. "Differences in sugar availability statistically explain variations in diabetes prevalence rates at a population level that are not explained by physical activity, overweight or obesity."

The correlation, the authors also reported, was "independent of other changes in economic and social change such as urbanization, aging, changes to household income, sedentary lifestyles, and tobacco or alcohol use. We found that obesity appeared to exacerbate, but not confound, the impact of sugar availability on diabetes prevalence, strengthening the argument for targeted public health approaches to excessive sugar consumption."

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Charts: The Staggering Cost of Death Row for California Taxpayers

| Tue Feb. 19, 2013 6:02 AM EST

I recently came across an ambitious infographic created by the California Innocence Project following the failure of state Proposition 34, which, had it passed last November, would have abolished the death penalty in California. Voters weren't quite ready to go there—they rejected Prop. 34 by a 52-48 margin. Yet nearly 6 million Californians voted to do away with capital punishment, the administration of which has been fraught with problems, and which has huge budget implications in a state struggling mightily to fund essentials like public education.

The infographic is worth revisiting in light of California's policy on capital punishment remaining status quo. The Innocence Project, a program of California Western Law School that aims to identify wrongfully convicted prisoners and work toward their release, presents the facts here as they apply to California, whose death row population even dwarfs that of Texas. (Although Texas executes more people by far than any other state.) The numbers are stark, to say the least:

What sentencing people to death costs California taxpayers:

How much more it costs to keep someone on death row:

How much Californians pay per execution, and how long it takes:

The number of people California sentences to death:

The skewed racial makeup of the condemned:

The relative size of California's death row population:

The number of people wrongfully sentenced to death in California and elsewhere—that we know of…

…in many cases because of racism, incompetence, and/or official misconduct:

There's even more interesting stuff in the original infographic, which you can view or download from the California Innocence Project's website.

Laugh Your Shorts off With Buster Keaton in San Francisco

| Thu Feb. 14, 2013 7:07 PM EST
Buster Keaton and Sybil Seely in 1920's "One Week."

Silence. Silence? From a roomful of six young children? And then, without warning, peals of laughter and exclamations and a frenzy of competing comments. Repeat.

Across the room, I was trying to socialize with the grown-ups and not be rude, but my attention kept straying over to the TV, where we were previewing a series of rare and hilarious Buster Keaton shorts that Bay Area residents can catch on Saturday at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival's "Silent Winter"—a one-day program at the Castro Theatre.

The coolest thing is that the whole program will be scored live—no tUne-yArds, alas, but still you get to hear Donald Sosin on grand piano, Chris Elliot on the Mighty Wurlitzer, and the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.

We loved all the Keaton shorts, including One Week, from 1920, where a jilted suitor sets out to foil the construction of a newlywed couple's new home. The Play House, from 1921, includes various theater foibles and fiascos. One self-referential gag that reminded me of Being John Malkovich involves a theater program where Buster Keaton appears on screen as more than one character simultaneously—a visual trick that was a lot harder to pull off in those days. But our favorite was 1920's The Scarecrow, which had everybody in hysterics. Housemate buddies compete for the same girl, while a stern father and a mad dog do their best to thwart the transaction.

The NRA in 1905: More Mustaches, Less Politics

| Thu Jan. 24, 2013 6:06 AM EST

A look through the National Rifle Association's 1905 annual report (price: 10 cents) shows how vastly the gun group has changed since it was merely "A Patriotic Organization...Organized in 1871 for the purpose of promoting and encouraging rifle shooting among the citizens throughout the United States," as the title page explains.

Unlike the leadership of today's NRA—whose board of directors includes has-been actors, a loudmouth rocker, America's most zealous anti-tax activist, and a former GOP senator who fell from grace following a 2007 escapade in an airport men's room—the 1905-1906 board consisted overwhelmingly of former or active-duty members of official state militias. (Only 30 percent of the current NRA board has served in the military.) You'll see a similar contrast between the NRA's officers and executive committee then and now. Check out the 1905 officers' titles (and 'staches!) below.

 

I daresay the chaplain has been downsized. In any case, this vintage report is little more than a voluminous shooting-club newsletter, portraying the activities of men consumed with target practice, marksmanship, and competitions held by NRA-affiliated shooting clubs across the nation. You'll find therein endless names, scores, and stats, plus plenty of photos of uniformed gentlemen with funny facial hair shooting or standing around in fields.

 

What you won't find is a hint of today's politics and fearmongering. The only controversies you're likely to encounter are of a sporting nature. From one dispatch: "Under such circumstances, the conditions which prevented the finish of a range on one day by all was manifestly unfair to many contestants, as some of them had to shoot during a heavy rain and wind storm, while others had favorable conditions over the same range another day."

It seems that if you were an NRA member back then, you were most likely an active, engaged member, not just someone who got a free membership because you bought a gun or a ticket to a gun show. And the 1905 NRA, of course, had no wine club. But some things haven't changed. The NRA's grass-roots shooter-members were always viewed as a customer base for the makers of rifles, uniforms, and related gear. The NRA acknowleges these special "Life Members" in its report.

Over the years, the NRA has expanded its symbiotic ties with gunmakers to the point that it seems to have lost sight of its founding mission. It vehemently fights even the most reasonable proposals to curb runaway gun violence, makes outlandish proposals when confronted, and engages in tasteless and misleading political attacks. It doles out leadership positions to the CEO of Bushmaster (which made the rifle used in the Newtown massacre) and the founder of Barrett Firearms Manufacturing (who invented the very unsportsmanlike .50 caliber sniper rifle).

Nowadays, in the magazines that the NRA gives away free with every membership, its corporate sponsors—$1 million-plus recently from Smith & Wesson!—advertise advanced killing machines. It makes you yearn for the days when the group's trade members proffered their simple wares to a group of dedicated sportsmen, minus the machismo. I'll leave you with some of the ads from the annual report. Forget Walmart—check out these low prices!

 

 

 

 

Happy Birthday to Roe v. Wade—What's Left of It

| Wed Jan. 16, 2013 6:06 AM EST

The Guttmacher Institute has released some handy infographics for the upcoming 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade ruling, which made abortion legal nationwide and sparked a relentless campaign by religious conservatives to chip away at a women's ability to obtain one. Consider, for example, Kate Sheppard's recent profile of Americans United for Life, the anti-abortion group perhaps most responsible for a barrage of new state laws that have thrown up fresh obstacles for women seeking an abortion. Next slide, please.

 

Mother Jones has been way out front on the story of how the pro-life crowd has circumvented Roe v. Wade with a state-by-state approach. Sarah Blustain delivered this award-winning profile of pro-life lawyer Harold Cassidy, who has successfully promoted state-level legislation by arguing, counterintuitively, that abortion violates women's rights. These interactive maps of state abortion restrictions were quickly made obsolete thanks to a torrent of new legislation in 2011 and 2012 in Virginia, Michigan, Mississippi, Arizona, and many other states. So over the top were some of the laws passed or proposed during those two years that Democratic legislators responded with farcical bills—like a proposal requiring rectal exams for men seeking Viagra prescriptions. But these laws are no joke. Women in at least a couple of states—Kansas and Mississippi—faced losing access to abortion services simply because nearly all of the providers have been run out of town. As it stands, if you don't live near a population center (see above), you'll have to hit the road to find a clinic.

 

The question of who pays—both for abortion and birth control—was a huge issue during this past election year. Because politicians have failed to stand up to the pro-life crusade, most women have to cover the procedure themselves. If you're poor, tough. As Guttmacher notes above, federal Medicaid funds can only be used for abortions resulting from rape and incest, or if having the baby is likely to endanger your health—only 17 states will step in to help women on Medicaid pay for abortions. Birth control is more widely covered, but that still doesn't mean it's cheap (see our birth control calculator) or easy to get. And judging from the nutty rhetoric of the GOP and its candidates during this past election cycle, they would probably prefer that women go back to this method—or Lysol perhaps?

 

It's no surprise that women who live in poverty, and who tend to be less educated, would have more than their share of unwanted pregnancies. Yet they are the ones most profoundly affected by this bevy of new abortion restrictions. So maybe you don't have the $500 it's going to cost because Medicaid in most states cover most abortions. Or maybe you are stuck in the sort of shit job where you can't get time off without getting fired. Maybe you don't have a car to drive 50 miles to the nearest clinic. Guttmacher notes above that 7 in 10 low-income abortion patients wanted to terminate their pregnancy earlier than they did, but one way or another couldn't afford it. This past February, Virginia legislators even passed a bill that would have eliminated funding for poor women to abort a fetus with a "gross and totally incapacitating physical deformity or with a gross and totally incapacitating mental deficiency." (It made it through the Virginia House and a state Senate committee before stalling.)

So, uh, happy anniversary! And be sure and keep an especially close watch on these five states in 2013.

Click here to browse all of our coverage related to reproductive health.

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