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.

In Texas, a Life Spared and a Prosecutor Exposed

| Mon Feb. 14, 2011 6:57 PM EST

It wasn't too long after the Texas Monthly ran an epic piece on the horribly flawed case against Anthony Graves that the Burleson County DA's office announced that it was clearing him on charges of capital murder and setting him free—after 18 years in prison. I wrote about that piece here ("Innocence Lost"), and have finally got around to reading Pamela Colloff's followup, which brings her story up to date and explores what happened when a badass special prosecutor sat down to look at the facts of Graves' case and decide whether to retry it. (An appeals court, finding some problems, had kicked it back to the lower court for consideration.)

The followup story, which ran in TM's January issue, is as gripping as the original. It captures the drama that unfolded when it began dawning on Kelly Siegler—the feared prosecutor who ate bleeding-heart liberals for breakfast, sent 19 men to death row, and had a rep for winning old cases based on circumstantial evidence—that Graves' trial was "a travesty" and a stain on the justice system that raised questions of borderline-criminal misconduct on the part of former district attorney Charles Sebasta.

Sebasta, Siegler told reporters at the press conference announcing Graves' release, "handled this case in a way that would best be described as a criminal justice system's nightmare." Sharing the podium was current Burleson County DA Bill Parnam, who was "absolutely convinced" of Graves' innocence. "There's not a single thing that says Anthony Graves was involved in this case," he said. "There is nothing."   

Colloff also captures Graves' humanity, and his refusal to let himself be consumed by the anger that is rightfully his. I've said enough. Go read "Innocence Found."

Update: Wow. The Texas state comptroller has denied Graves compenstation for his wrongful incarceration. As the Houston Chronicle reports, "The letter from the comptroller’s office said the court order must indicate 'on its face' that it was granted 'on the claimant’s actual innocence.'" The judge could have inserted that language, but Parnam—why? why?—didn't request it within a 15-day window provided under the law. This county, and the state of Texas need to do the right thing here.

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Gang of Four Finds Its Rare Essence

| Mon Jan. 31, 2011 7:45 AM EST

Circa 1979, on the recommendation of a nerdy record-store clerk, I bought a rust-colored LP called Entertainment!, the debut full-length from the British group Gang of Four. I was immediately intrigued. Led by the songwriting core of singer Jon King and guitarist Andy Gill, the foursome had created a sound that stood apart, even at a time of great experimentation in rock and roll. It sounded neither like the punk rock that preceded it, nor the synth-driven music emerging with bands like Devo, the B-52s, and dozens more.

Gang of Four's songs were dark, stark, and spare, the lyrics deadpan, the beats martial yet funky, the guitar lines jagged as the obliteration of a beer bottle (as Kurt Vonnegut might put it) with a ball-peen hammer. King's politics-infused-yet-metaphorical lyrics evoked images of a Western culture run amok. The band's lone love song was an anti-love song, the distortion-laden "(Love Like) Anthrax." Even the cynical album title was a perfect companion for youthful alienation. It rarely left my turntable.

Susan G. Komen Causes Cancer (and Other Pro-Life Myths)

| Thu Jan. 20, 2011 8:02 AM EST

To get a sense for the conspiratorial hogwash circulating among pro-lifers, look no further than sites like StopAbortionBreastCancer.org, which claims that the Susan G. Komen Foundation—a nonprofit that raises more than $300 million a year to battle breast cancer—is actually helping cause the disease by supporting abortion provider Planned Parenthood.

Here's the reasoning: A mother's breasts mature after delivery, making them more resistant to cancer. Abortion halts this maturation process, leaving her breasts susceptible to the carcinogenic effects of the estrogen that pregnant women produce in quantity. "Pink Money organizations" like Komen are "denying the truth about the fatal link between abortion and breast cancer in order to comply with international abortion agendas," the site claims.

The Komen-bashing is spearheaded by pro-life outfits like the Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer and the Breast Cancer Prevention Institute whose brochures call elective abortion "the single most avoidable risk factor" for cancer. The institute's Angela Lanfranchi, a New Jersey surgeon, claims that "29 out of 38 worldwide epidemiological studies show an increased risk of breast cancer of approximately 30% among women who have had an abortion." Pro-life TV show Facing Life Head-On (which won a regional Emmy in 2010) dedicated a segment last year to "Komen's Dark Side." "Is it really 'morally permissible' to cause breast cancer in one room if screening for it in the next?" opines pro-life blogger Jill Stanek.

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