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.

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Review: Carolina Chocolate Drops' "Leaving Eden"

| Mon Feb. 27, 2012 7:00 AM EST
From left: Matta, Flemons, Giddens, Jenkins

Carolina Chocolate Drops
Leaving Eden
Nonesuch

The Carolina Chocolate Drops third album, Leaving Eden, begins with a bang, a rousing fiddle tune ("Riro's House") whose driving beat promptly had me bobbing my head and squinching up my face and generally looking rather stupid. But I didn't care. After a brief instrumental chillout—a sparse minor traditional called "Kerr's Negro Jig"—it regains momentum with a percussive rendition of an old Cousin Emmy tune, "Ruby, Are You Mad At Your Man," a fine platform for the soulful, classically trained Rhiannon Giddens to let loose a bit with her powerful pipes.

In case you're not yet familiar with the Chocolate Drops, much of their repertoire harks back to a time early in the last century when there were quite a number of uncelebrated black string bands—including their namesake, the Tennessee Chocolate Drops—playing and composing this type of music. When I checked in with her a while back, Giddens talked a bit about being inspired by the TCD's leading man, Howard Armstrong. Fiddler Joe Thompson, who died on February 20, at age 93, was a personal mentor for the band, according to the Drop' official bio

Chart: Why the GOP's Gas Price Attack on Obama Is BS

| Thu Feb. 23, 2012 7:00 AM EST

Was George W. Bush to blame for this summer 2008 peak? Source: EIA 

Driving back from the mountains this past weekend, I commented to my wife how unusual it seemed that we weren't hearing too much public bitching about $4-a-gallon gasoline, because that's what it costs right now in California. But I spoke too soon. When we returned home, there was the Sunday New York Times with an A1 story on exactly that, describing how the GOP leadership planned to attack Obama on the issue, blaming him for high gasoline prices. 

This is the sort of well-worn populist trick that gets people riled up even when there's no substance to it. I created the chart above using an Energy Information Administration data set on weekly retail gasoline prices (excluding taxes) in selected countries. I used premium unleaded because the numbers were more complete. (Click on the chart to find the raw data.*)

Okay, so what do we see here? Does it look like domestic gas prices (black line) are responding to the policies of one American president or another? Note the peak toward the right: That's the summer of 2008, when George W. Bush was in office. The price crash that follows bottoms out in late-December 2008/early-January 2009, shortly before Obama took over. 

I Created Elmo, and Here's Proof!

| Wed Jan. 25, 2012 7:00 AM EST

Ignore the blue and green paint. I was five. Sheesh.Ignore the blue and green paint.  I was five.  Sheesh!You want proof? Ta-daaa.

My nine-year-old son pulled a poster tube out from behind his bed the other day. My mom had sent it a while back, but I never looked inside.

Turns out it contained this painting, which I did in July 1970, at age five, before Elmo existed.

I hereby claim 17 percent of gross proceeds from all Elmo licensing and merchandising, retroactively and hereafter.

Hello, 1 percent!

And now, back to substantive journalism

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