Michael Mechanic

Michael Mechanic

Senior Editor

Michael has been a senior editor at Mother Jones for eight years, after spending the previous six as an award-winning features editor at the weekly East Bay Express. In addition to editing stories for print and web, he is in charge of the magazine's Mixed Media section. His writing has appeared in a range of newspapers and magazines including Wired, The Industry Standard, and the Los Angeles Times. He lives in Oakland, California, with his wife, two kids, three chickens, striped cat, and too many musical instruments to master.

Full Bio | Get my RSS |

Michael has been a senior editor at Mother Jones for eight years, after spending the previous six as an award-winning features editor at the weekly East Bay Express. In addition to editing stories for print and web, he is in charge of the magazine's Mixed Media section. His writing has appeared in a range of newspapers and magazines including Wired, The Industry Standard, and the Los Angeles Times. He originally 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 also earned a masters degree in cellular and developmental biology from Harvard University and a masters in journalism from Cal. In 2009, he was named a finalist for a National Magazine Award for his contribution to 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 Kind of Like Slavery," a photoessay with photographer Nina Berman. Michael lives with his family in Oakland, California, where, after years of classical and blues piano and punk-rock drumming, he now sits on his front porch and attempts to play the fiddle.

This Is Not a Playlist for Margaret Thatcher's Funeral

| Mon Apr. 8, 2013 4:31 PM EDT
Margaret Thatcher at Ronald Reagan's Funeral.

For a lot of young liberals just coming of age, the 1980s were tinted by a certain malaise owning to the lingering cultural backdrop of Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who, as if you didn't already know, has died at the age of 87. Our consolation prize, of course, was that all that angst inspired a lot of great, often angry, and sometimes even danceable music (see just below) that became the soundtrack for my generation and came to define the era almost as much as the pols we put in charge. (Well, I didn't put 'em in charge: In 1984, the first election in which I was eligible to vote, I cast for Mondale, who got walloped by the incumbent Reagan.) Thatcher and Reagan alike were ideal targets for musicians, from folk to punk to reggae. I pulled out these seven notables. Why not 10? Hey, I'm no conformist! 

1. The English Beat, "Stand Down Margaret":  From the flipside of I Just Can't Stop It, the Beat's first record, which I listened to pretty much constantly in high school. I still have it on vinyl, suckers! Here's a live rendition. Wow, those clothes! I'd, like, totally forgotten.

2. Crass, "How Does It Feel (to Be the Mother of a Thousand Dead)?" — This isn't actually a video at all. The English anarcho-punk band Crass, as its fans well know, was way too anti-commercial for any of that corporate BS. But you could always depend on them for strident protest music. Because we were kids, after all, and youth is strident. This song was Crass' response to the Falklands invasion.

3. Frank Turner, "Thatcher Fucked the Kids": Okay, this isn't from the 1980s at all. Frank Turner only pretty recently passed 30 (Don't Trust Him!). No, he's totally great, so there. Here's a short profile, if you're interested. This older (2008) tune is pretty self explanatory.

4. Linton Kwesi Johnson, "It Dread Inna Inglan": On his debut LP, Dread Beat an' Blood, the dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson, who usually sets his rhyming creations to dub tracks, pressed a track of himself speaking by megaphone at a rally for George Lindo. Lindo was a black man in his 20s who was framed by police in Bradford, England, for a robbery. He was later freed and received compensation for his ordeal, according to the Guardian, which profiled Johnson. Listen to the original track here. In addition to Dread Beat an' Blood, I'd recommended Johnson's albums Bass Culture and Forces of Victory—also key parts of my high school soundtrack.

5. Pete Wylie, "The Day That Margaret Thatcher Died": So I actually never heard this one way back when, or at least I don't remember it. But you know a lot of people are going to hear it today. Here's a live supergroup version. The sound quality is pretty godawful, but you'll get the general idea:

6. The Clash, London Calling: Okay, I'll go out on a limb and say much of the Clash's later career was in some ways a response to Thatcher's England—much in the same way that X came to define 1980s Los Angeles (for me at least). London Calling came out the same year Thatcher came to power. In the clip below, frontman Joe Strummer screws up the title track's opening lyrics. (Clearly Thatcher's doing.)

7. Billy Bragg, "Thatcherites": The inimitable Billy Bragg was never one to step back from a fight. He has this knack for crafting clever protest songs that manage to be in-your-face, yet at the same time are genuinely pleasurable to listen to. That's rare. Here, Bragg takes on Thatcher's followers, speaking to them directly: "You privatize away what is ours, what is ours /  You privatize away what is ours / You privatize away and then you make us pay / Yeah, we'll take it back some day, mark my words, mark my words / We'll take it back some day, mark my words." Again, this is just audio, so don't expect anything exciting to happen.

By the way, if you know of any songs celebrating Margaret Thatcher, I'd love to hear about them in the comments. (For some reason, when people write songs about conservative heroes, they end up being stuff like Item 3 in this post.)

Click here for more music coverage from Mother Jones.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Quick Reads: "Odds Against Tomorrow" by Nathaniel Rich

| Tue Apr. 2, 2013 6:00 AM EDT
book cover

Odds Against Tomorrow

By Nathaniel Rich


Did Nathaniel Rich see Sandy coming? His protagonist did. Rich's second novel follows Mitchell Zuckor, a perpetually fearful Wall Street quant whose lucrative niche is calculating the odds of worst-case scenarios—fires, floods, power grid collapses, pandemic viruses—and helping corporate clients plan for the unthinkable. When a hurricane inundates New York City, Zuckor embarks on a post-apocalyptic adventure in an objet d'art canoe bought at a gallery for 29 grand. It's fiction, thank heaven, but fiction with an edge: Zuckor's job description and his paranoid calculations are well grounded in reality, and Odds Against Tomorrow underscores the tenuous line between order and chaos.

MoJo Photo Editor Honored for Shot of Occupy Mayhem

| Thu Mar. 21, 2013 3:06 PM EDT
Occupy protesters flee an attempt by Oakland police to entrap them.

The shot above, by our photo editor Mark Murrmann, has been selected for inclusion in American Photography 29, a highly prestigious juried competition and photo book that leans toward edgier work. "Regarded as the books of record," the competition website notes, they "are still produced in all their defiant, large-format, luxurious, hard cover glory."

The winning photo was part of his series from a January 2012 Occupy protest in downtown Oakland, California, where tensions between protestors and police were at the boiling point. Mark, who had to run from the riot cops along with everybody else, offered this play by play:

It was another prime situation in which to be kettled—narrow streets, with large condos on all sides. And this time it happened: A line of police moved in from Telegraph, not letting anyone in the crowd out. Another line moved in from the opposite direction. I got cut off from the main protest, along with a few Occupy medics. We made our way around to Telegraph, on the other side of the kettle. A block away, in the kettle, a flash grenade went off. Two girls on bikes pleaded with police to be let out. Then, a large group of protesters broke down a recently re-erected chainlink fence enclosing a vacant lot next to the park. Protesters flooded the lot, breaking free of the kettle. The march resumed up Telegraph Avenue.

In the end, he managed to avoid arrest (unlike at least one of our reporters). Murrmann enjoys shooting punk rock shows in his spare time, so he's pretty comfortable amid mayhem. He's also got a sharp eye for light, motion, and composition—the resulting work is artful, gritty, and visceral. Here's another batch he shot on the fly when a bunch of Occupy protestors decided to take over a Bank of America in San Francisco's Financial District. In any case, it's an honor well deserved.

Police respond to an Occupy protest at BofA in San Francisco.
Police respond to an Occupy protest at BofA in San Francisco, Nov. 17, 2012. Mark Murrmann

More (Stronger) Evidence Linking Sugar to Diabetes

| Thu Feb. 28, 2013 2:36 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."

Sat Apr. 18, 2015 6:00 AM EDT
Fri Nov. 14, 2014 6:30 AM EST
Wed Sep. 17, 2014 5:30 AM EDT
Mon Apr. 21, 2014 6:00 AM EDT
Mon Feb. 10, 2014 7:00 AM EST
Thu Jan. 24, 2013 7:06 AM EST
Mon Dec. 31, 2012 3:22 PM EST
Fri Dec. 14, 2012 11:03 PM EST
Fri Nov. 16, 2012 4:56 PM EST
Thu Nov. 1, 2012 4:31 PM EDT
Thu Sep. 27, 2012 2:07 PM EDT
Thu Mar. 22, 2012 3:05 PM EDT
Tue Mar. 20, 2012 6:30 AM EDT
Mon Mar. 19, 2012 2:02 PM EDT
Mon Feb. 27, 2012 7:00 AM EST
Wed Jan. 25, 2012 7:00 AM EST
Mon Dec. 5, 2011 6:00 AM EST
Thu Dec. 1, 2011 7:30 PM EST