Michael Mechanic

Michael Mechanic

Senior Editor

Michael landed at MoJo after six years as an award-winning features editor at the alt-weekly East Bay Express. He's written for numerous publications, including The Industry Standard, the Los Angeles Times, and Wired. 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 landed at MoJo after six years as an award-winning feature editor at the alt-weekly East Bay Express. He's written for numerous publications, including The Industry Standard, the Los Angeles Times, and Wired. 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 natural poisons found in the skin of certain tropical frogs. He later earned a masters degree in cellular and developmental biology from Harvard University and a second masters in journalism from UC-Berkeley. 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. The father of two mostly charming kids and an only occasionally charming striped cat named Phelps, Michael lives in Oakland, California, where, after years of classical piano and raucous punk-rock drumming (and putting out more than a dozen CDs on his former DIY label, Bad Monkey Records), he has retired to old-time and traditional music, guitar finger-picking, and more recently fiddle and mandolin. He has four chickens—Lucia, Podge, Cat, and Weed Whacker—but what he really covets is a hedgehog.

Charts: 247,131 Fatal Shootings in 8 Years

| Fri Dec. 14, 2012 11:03 PM EST

The chart below, adapted from the Firearm and Injury Center at Penn's 2011 resource book, shows the breakdown of weapons used in one year of homicides in the United States. (Thanks to a lack of funding, FICAP was unable to do a 2012 resource book, but we tend to use the same weapons to kill each other year after year.) The smaller pie chart at right breaks down the firearms portion of the larger chart. While interesting to look at, this just confirms what we all kind of knew: Guns are the homicide weapon of choice—handguns in particular, since they're so easy to conceal.

 

But that hasn't stopped madmen (and they are almost invariably men) from hauling rifles into malls and theaters and elementary schools and opening fire. And because politicians don't want to offend their rural supporters, rifles are subject to even less regulation than handguns. "The risk of firearm death in very rural counties is the same as the risk for big cities," notes the FICAP report. "Rural areas have higher risks for firearm suicide and unintentional injury, while the risks for firearm homicide and assault are greater in urban areas."

In Connecticut, where the Newtown horror is still unfolding, the state requires permits for handguns but not rifles, according to the NRA—which, incidentally, has yet to acknowledge the shootings on its website or Twitter feed. The shooter reportedly used both weapon types (more details here). And sales of both have been on the rise.

 

 

A sizeable body of research shows that the more easily guns are made available, the more shootings we can expect. "The correlation between firearm availability and rates of homicide is consistent across high-income industrialized nations," FICAP notes. "In general, where there are more firearms, there are higher rates of homicide overall. The US has among the highest rates of both firearm homicide and private firearm ownership."

So if you feel strongly that unfettered access to firearms is and should be a fundamental freedom, then you should be aware of the price. And here's the price, courtesy of updated numbers from FICAP's Rose Cheney:

 

That's a lot of bodies—247,131 to be exact. A lot of blood and grief and funerals. A lot of families devastated. But the price is far higher than this, really. Because we tend to count the bodies but seldom think much of the bodies ruined, the human potential destroyed, the teenagers relegated to wheelchairs, the perpetrators who rot in jail, and the literal costs borne by American taxpayers to keep them there and nurse the wounded back to health. (A 2005 study found that hospital charges related to firearm injury cost Pennsylvania around $127 million per year, according to FICAP's resource book.) These non-fatalities affect a lot more people than the fatal ones. Here's another chart, based on the same dataset as above.

So I sincerely hope I never again have to read about a shooting as horrible as Newtown. But as it stands, chances are I will.

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Story of Stuff's Black Friday Mayhem Video

| Fri Nov. 16, 2012 4:56 PM EST

Look, it's a new Happy Black Friday PSA from the good folks at Annie Leonard's Story of Stuff Project.

I, for one, avoid shopping whenever I possibly can. I'm planning to spend my Black Friday playing soccer, practicing the fiddle, hiking with my peeps, making some killer granola, and finishing Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore.

After Sandy, a Taxpayer Bailout for Flood-Prone Developments?

| Tue Nov. 13, 2012 5:39 PM EST

From a Coast Guard flyover of Long Island after Hurricane Sandy.

The catastrophic damage left by Hurricane Sandy has once again underscored the costly shortcomings of the way we—that is, federal taxpayers—insure property owners against the monster storms that are becoming ever more predictable as the planet warms and sea levels rise.

Storms, not terrorists, present the biggest threat to the coastal cities and communities that are home to more than half of all Americans—not to mention critical conduits for international trade. And yet the FEMA-administered federal flood insurance program, which took a bath after Hurricane Katrina six years ago, is still foundering. As the New York Times reported this morning:

The federal program collects about $3.5 billion in annual premiums. But in four of the past eight years, claims will have eclipsed premiums, most glaringly in 2005—the year of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma—when claims totaled $17.7 billion. Private insurance companies have long avoided offering flood insurance to homeowners.

"It's like rat poison to them," said Tony Bullock, an insurance industry lobbyist, explaining how the risk outweighs the benefit for private insurers. "You need the federal backstop."

While Sandy's overall financial toll has yet to be tallied, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has estimated damages in New York state alone at $50 billion. No more than $20 billion of the overall cost will be covered by private insurance, says Cynthia McHale, director of the insurance program at Ceres, a sustainable-economy coalition consisting of companies, investors, and public-interest groups. This puts most of the remaining burden on state and federal governments.

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