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.

Sondre Lerche: An Auditory Antidote

| Mon Jun. 6, 2011 5:30 AM EDT

Sondre Lerche
Self-titled
Mona

God knows there are too many damned singer-songwriters about. Or, rather, too many who try to make a go of it beyond the open-mic circuit. So whenever someone truly outstanding comes along, it's like, Thank You! As it happens, two singer-songwriters very much worth your while are releasing new albums tomorrow.

Exhibit A is the new self-titled CD by Sondre Lerche, a Norwegian-born Brooklynite with an impressive vocal range, whose earnest, intelligent lyrics and mellifluous voice feel like an antidote to our jaded and skeptical culture.

This young gent has been putting out music for some time. This is his sixth album to date, and he features prominently on the soundtrack for the 2007 Steve Carell film, Dan in Real Life. He's performed on Letterman (see below). He collaborates with members of Animal Collective and Spoon, and the likes of Regina Spektor (who collaborates with a wide variety of people, but still).

Lerche has a keen melodic sense and is careful to avoid clichés—or perhaps he just does it without thinking. Classically trained and schooled in Bossa Nova (among other things) he varies his rhythyms and instrumentation (guitar, strings, piano, percussion, vocal choruses) between songs and within, always keeping things interesting. His sound, alternately upbeat and brooding on this album, is nonetheless suffused with his happy-go-lucky Beatles-y vibe, and psychedelic hints of, say, a band like Sunny Day Real Estate.

The new songs are, as we say in Oakland, hella catchy—like "Private Caller," whose opening evokes early REM, and the uber-poppy "Go Right Ahead." Other standouts include "Domino" and "Living Dangerously." But there are numerous others. This is an album I will listen to over and over.

I'll leave you now with this 2007 clip of Lerche playing the Letterman show. Don't forget to check out Exhibit B: England Keep My Bones, by the talented young Brit, Frank Turner.

Click here for more music features from Mother Jones.

 

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Must-See: Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit

| Mon May 16, 2011 5:50 AM EDT

This past November, when the wonderfully talented Brit-folk troubadour Johnny Flynn told me he was set to have a baby in March with his longtime girlfriend, I sent a onesie to his London address, and resigned myself to the fact that we probably wouldn't be seeing him for quite a while.

At the time, Flynn, who is in his late twenties, was touring solo because it was too expensive to bring his band, the Sussex Wit, all the way to America, where he's still relatively unknown. So I was pleased to learn that not only was he embarking on his third tour of the States—but the full band would be in tow this time around. 

I first came across Flynn's debut album, A Larum, in the Dog Pile, the collection of books and CDs sent to the magazine from people we have never heard of, and where you can make a great discovery on occasion—like A Larum. I was pretty much smitten after listening to it twice, and Flynn's followup EP, Sweet William, and recent full-length CD, Been Listening, proved that his first effort was no fluke.

Does Energy Efficiency Matter?

| Tue Mar. 29, 2011 6:00 AM EDT

It's a reversal of the old fallacy, "spend more and you'll save more." When it comes to household energy use, we're saving more and then using our savings to buy more stuff. At least that's one way to interpret the latest figures from the Energy Information Administration's Residential Energy Consumption Survey.  

Since 1978, household appliances have gotten way better. Most notablly, heating used to account for 66 percent of our collective residential energy use. Nowadays, thanks to cleaner-burning furnaces and energy-efficient construction and window design, that number is closer to 40 percent. Not only that, the total energy devoted to heating houses has dropped by 38 percent, even though we have 45 percent more houses to heat. Hey, impressive!

Yeeeeah, but the thing is, we're now buying so many of these very-efficient appliances that we suck up as much power as we used to. In other words, we're channeling all that efficiency into better lifestyles. Behold some EIA stats...

  • The number of US households grew by 34.5 million from 1978 to 2009
  • The share of households with central air conditioning nearly tripled, from 23 percent in 1978 to 61 percent in 2009
  • The share of households with clothes washers increased from 74 percent to 82 percent
  • The share of households with dishwashers increased from 35 percent to 59 percent

Here's a chart illustrating the trend. (Being a clunky government agency, the EIA is still using 2005 data, but it's close enough.)

Not that I would begrudge anyone a washer. But unless you've been living in a Faraday cage for the past decade, you're aware that rechargable gadgets and big-screen TVs have proliferated as well—and I might actually begrudge you a few of those. The EIA breaks it down...

  • In 1978, personal computers were expensive and not typically used by US households. In 2009, 76 percent of US homes had at least one computer, eight percentage points more than just four years prior, and 35 percent had multiple computers.
  • In 1978, most households had only one television. In 2009, the average household had 2.5 televisions. Over 45 percent of homes have at least one television with a screen size of 37 inches or larger. Screen size and average energy consumption per television have continued to grow over time.
  • DVD players and Digital Video Recorders (DVRs), which did not exist 15 years ago, are now widespread. As of 2009, 79 percent of homes had a DVD player, and 43 percent had a DVR. Nearly a third of all households also had at least four electronic devices, such as cell phones, plugged in and charging at home.

Hey, I want five-plus televisions, too! (One for the cat!) Now children, don't forget to tweet this item from your smartphones as you stream The Social Network via your Wii consoles to your personal Sony wide-screens.

Bernie Sanders' Top 10 Tax Avoiders

| Tue Mar. 29, 2011 5:30 AM EDT

In a Sunday press release calling on wealthy individuals and corporations to pay their share, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont offered a list of what he calls "some of the 10 worst corporate income tax avoiders."

Sanders, you'll recall, made headlines for his epic 8.5-hour speech/filibuster this past December, dealing with how Obama's pending tax-cut deal with the GOP would be bad for America. The speech—published this month as a paperback simply titled The Speech—was in vain: Congress passed the deal, extending tax breaks not merely to the poor and middle-class, but to America's richest people.

It also slashed the estate tax from 55 percent to 35 percent and exempted the first $5 million of an estate's value ($10 million for a couple)—up from $1 million pre-Bush. In his speech, Sanders warned against this change, noting, "Let us be very clear: This tax applies only—only—to the top three-tenths of 1 percent of American families; 99.7 percent of American families will not pay one nickel in an estate tax. This is not a tax on the rich, this is a tax on the very, very, very rich. (Click here for our blockbuster charts showing just how rich the very, very, very rich actually are.)

If the estate tax—which Republicans have cleverly rebranded the "death tax"—were to be eliminated entirely (another GOP goal), Sanders says it would cost US taxpayers $1 trillion over 10 years. "Families such as the Walton family, of Walmart fame, would have received, just this one family, about a $30 billion tax break," he said in the speech.

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