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.

How Members of Congress Enrich Their Families

| Thu Mar. 22, 2012 3:05 PM EDT

The New York Times had an interesting item in this morning's paper about nepotism in Congress. Basically, a new investigative report by the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington found that hundreds of legislators use their positions to enrich family members, either directly by paying them for campaign-related activities or by earmarking funds for organizations where relatives serve as board members. According to the report, for instance, Rep. Ron Paul doled out more than $300,000 in salaries and fees to kin or in-laws. (There were payments of various kinds to Paul's wife, daughter, two sons, grandson, daughter's mother-in-law, two granddaughters, daughter-in-law, and a grandson-in-law.) CREW looked at the 2008 and 2010 election cycles and found 248 legislators worthy of inclusion in its report, which also included pols with lobbyist relatives and other sketchy stuff—see belowTo find out whether your own elected officials muck about in this ethical swamp, you can download the org's full report from the link above. But here are the summary stats: 

  • 82 members (40 Democrats and 42 Republicans) paid family members through their congressional offices, campaign committees and political action committees (PACs);
  • 44 members (20 Democrats and 24 Republicans) have family members who lobby or are employed in government affairs;
  • 90 members (42 Democrats and 48 Republicans) have paid a family business, employer, or associated nonprofit;
  • 20 members (13 Democrats and 7 Republicans) used their campaign money to contribute to a family member’s political campaign;
  • 14 members (6 Democrats and 8 Republicans) charged interest on personal loans they made to their own campaigns;
  • 38 members (24 Democrats and 14 Republicans) earmarked to a family business, employer, or associated nonprofit.

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Knit Your Congressman a Vagina

| Tue Mar. 20, 2012 6:30 AM EDT
Hey, a womb is just as good.

America's elected leaders, particularly those of the Republican male variety, have not done too well by women lately. In Congress, GOP legislators have sought to exempt religious orgs from having to offer health insurance that covers contraceptives. Mitt Romney replied lamely when confronted with Rush Limbaugh's Slutgate, and GOP lawmakers didn't exactly, ahem, rush to challenge their kingmaker. In Arizona and Kansas, Republican state legislators pushed bills allowing a doctor to lie about the health status of your fetus for fear you might opt to get an abortion. And should you make that harrowing choice, Virginia Republicans, following in the footsteps of their colleagues in a number of other states, passed a law requiring that you have an ultrasound first. They wanted it to be the kind where the doctor sticks a paddle into your vagina, but public outcry forced them to scale it back to the abdominal kind. Now, for good measure, GOP legislators are blocking the Violence Against Women Act.

We've already told you about these (pretty awesome) new laws proposed by Democratic legislators simply to mock their rivals' misogyny.

But the women behind Government Free VJJ have a different approach:

"Follow these simple steps," the website beckons...

1. Knit or crochet a vagina or uterus.
2.
Print a message to enclose.
3. Mail it to your male Senator or Congressional Representative [links provided]
4. We're in the process of arranging hand delivery to congressional offices in Washington, until then, go ahead and mail yours in!
5. Record your items in this spreadsheet so we can track which representatives still need to receive a "gift"!
6. Don't forget to thank your representative if he respects women and supports our rights.

The crochet patterns available so far include uterus and "happy uterus." For knitters, there's a vulva, a womb (pictured), felt cervixes, and (hey, why not?)—a "snatchel."

And You Wonder Why We're Broke? (Chart)

| Mon Mar. 19, 2012 2:02 PM EDT

military spending charts

The International Institute for Strategic Studies

This chart from the International Institute for Strategic Studies—part of the think tank's recent report, "Military Balance 2012," more or less speaks for itself. Supporters of American militarism will look at this and say, "Well, we're spending a smaller proportion of our GDP on warfare than some of these other countries." But look at those countries: They're tiny, and they also happen to reside in a less-than-stable Middle East.

Even if they weren't, I don't buy the whole GDP thing. So we're rich. Does that really mean our military needs to be completely out of proportion with the rest of the world's armies? Would someone care to explain the logic on that? Because this is military imbalance.

To quote the soldier-scholar Andrew Bacevich from an interview I did with him in 2008: "Rather than becoming better at waging imperial wars, we need to move to a nonimperial foreign policy. That argument is not a moral argument—although you could make a moral argument—but a pragmatic one, that the prospect of more such wars is gonna bankrupt us."

Book Review: Jonah Lehrer's "Imagine: How Creativity Works"

| Mon Mar. 12, 2012 7:00 AM EDT

Imagine: How Creativity Works

By Jonah Lehrer

HOUGHTON MIFFLIN HARCOURT

Flummoxed by an intractable problem? You probably just need to work harder, right? Actually, try taking a walk instead. Thanks to how we're hardwired, insight tends to strike suddenly—after we've stopped looking. In this entertaining Gladwellesque plunge into the science of creativity, Jonah Lehrer mingles with a wide cast of characters—inventors, educators, scientists, a Pixar cofounder, an autistic surfing savant—to deconstruct how we accomplish our great feats of imagination. Notable themes emerge: Failure is necessary. The more people you casually rub shoulders with—on and off the job—the more good ideas you'll have. And societies that unduly restrict citizens' ability to borrow from the ideas of others—see our broken patent system—do so at their peril.

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