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.

22,673 Pixies Listens (and Counting)

| Mon May 10, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

ClintJCL is obsessed with gathering data. Personal data. He catalogues every TV series he watches, and every movie. He posts a lot on Flickr. He blogs. He compiles monthly summaries of all of his activities. And, for the past decade, he has meticulously documented his listening habits—down to the song—and charted them.

"I like to be able to reflect back on what I did," Clint explains via email. "Do most people know what they were listening to in 1982? Nope, and I don't either. But I can at least change that, moving forward, by generating one of these each year." (By one of these, he means one of these oddly bulbous listening charts: You can see the blown-up version here.)

ClintJCL won't tell me his actual last name, which is kinda incongruous, given how much he advertises about himself online. (As of last night, if you'd googled him, you'd have gotten 22,200 hits.) I know, for instance, that Clint is a 36-year-old born on January 13, 1974 (during the Super Bowl). I know the names and birth dates of his parents and his sister, Britt. I know that he leans libertarian, and that he met his wife, Carolyn, on a pre-Internet computer bulletin board service—even though they went to the same high school. I also know that Clint is 5-foot-9, 150 lbs, with hazel eyes and frizzy brown hair—and that he hails from Woodbridge, Virginia. Then again, this could all be an elaborate hoax; for all I really know, Clint is a very clever 15-year-old girl from Seattle.

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Anti-Gay Crusader Just Trying to "Help" Gay Escort

| Fri May 7, 2010 2:43 PM EDT

UPDATE: Rekers said he'd been with other escorts, Lucien claims. (See end of post.)

George Rekers, cofounder of the fundamentalist Family Research Council, hired a male prostitute from a gay website called RentBoy.com in order to save him.

Or at least that's Rekers' spin attempt since Wednesday, when Miami New Times contributors Penn Bullock and Brandon K. Thorp exposed the anti-gay crusader's two-week European romp with a rent boy they dubbed "Lucien."

"I have spent much time as a mental health professional and as a Christian minister helping and lovingly caring for people identifying themselves as 'gay.' My hero is Jesus Christ who loves even the culturally despised people, including sexual sinners and prostitutes. Like Jesus Christ, I deliberately spend time with sinners with the loving goal to try to help them," Rekers wrote in a statement obtained by Joe. My. God.—a blog I'm going to have to read more often.

What Happens When You Mix Oath Keepers and AK-47s?

| Thu May 6, 2010 2:03 PM EDT

Never a dull moment with Oath Keepers, the self-styled patriot group we profiled in our March/April issue. The latest episode involved an interesting little standoff in Tennessee between state troopers and Darren Huff, a Navy vet and gung-ho member of the group. (Oath Keepers, consisting largely of current and former soldiers and police, urges members to disobey any orders they deem unconstitutional—such as orders to confiscate citizens' firearms, herd people into detention camps, or harbor foreign troops on American soil.)

In this instance, Huff wasn't exactly standing down. Talking Points Memo reports that he was pumped up over an earlier, April 1 standoff at the Monroe County courthouse in Madisonville, where Tennessean and former Navy officer Walter Fitzpatrick had tried to conduct a citizen's arrest of Grand Jury foreman Gary Pettway. Fitzpatrick is a leading member of the Birther group American Grand Jury, which seeks to have President Obama indicted for treason, arguing that he is not a US citizen and is thus serving illegally as commander in chief. (Obama was also once a CIA operative, AGJ claims.)

So anyway, Fitz showed up, more or less made a nuisance of himself, and got himself arrested—which was probably unnecessary on all parts. But to fellow AGJ leader Carl Swensson, the authorities had crossed the proverbial line in the sand. In the video below, he calls upon all who took an oath to uphold the Constitution to march on the courthouse. "This man put his life, his honor, his fortune on the line for us in very much the same fashion as our founding fathers did," Swensson implores. "And this is it. This is the moment in time that you who have been on the fence must get off of that fence. Please, go to the courthouse en masse.…I ask you right now to honor [[your oath]]. Get down there. Get him out of jail."

Everybody Draw Mohammed...Oops!

| Wed Apr. 28, 2010 4:00 AM EDT

Cartoonist Molly Norris took a principled, tongue-in-cheek stand, and now she's getting some rather cold feet.

The Seattle artist was irked by Comedy Central's recent refusal to air a South Park episode depicting the prophet Mohammed—a big no-no in Islamic circles. The censorship came in response to threats against South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone by the website Revolution Muslim, which according to the Internet rumor mill is run by an Israeli Jew named Joseph Cohen.

Actually, South Park has depicted the prophet in the past with little fanfare—see Boing Boing's interview with Parker and Stone—but that was before the European cartoon-contest uproar, and before Dutch film director Theo Van Gogh was murdered for his work on the short film Submission.

By Molly NorrisIn any case, to protest the censorship, Norris created the satirical poster at left (which needs some copyediting) and put it on her website. She then sent it to Dan Savage, the always-provocative editor of Seattle alt-weekly The Stranger, who posted it without comment last Friday on the paper's Slog blog.

Somehow, Norris thought it would remain local.

Savage told me he agreed with the sentiment, so he posted the artwork. "Now it's all over the world," he said.By Molly Norris "She was trying to start something, but now she's running scared and freaked out."

That's in part because her work—yes—depicts the prophet. As a cup of tea, a domino, a box of pasta, and—hey, you have eyes, read it yourself! (UPDATE: Norris writes that these figures don't depict Mohammed; they just claim to.) This probably didn't win her many Muslim fans—Islam forbids any representations of Allah and Mohammed, especially as a dog-shaped purse. (Then again, some Muslims weren't too happy about the threats against Parker and Stone.)

Norris' poster went viral, even inspiring a Facebook group and counter-group. And Reason magazine promptly joined in, asking readers to submit drawings of the prophet, which it promised to publish on May 20.

All this attention left Morris feeling, well, pretty damn nervous. She joined the group "Ban Everyone Draw Mohammed Day," took the poster down from her website—a move akin to trying to put toothpaste back in its tube—and replaced it with an explanatory cartoon:

"I have hit some kind of gigantic nerve!...I have let people down!...I am so freaked out that I am not even drinking my regular 4 pots of coffee a day...Good think I'm married to a sumo wrestler!"

And so on.

She may find some solace in the fact that America is on her side. While I was writing this post, the results of a new Zogby poll appeared in my inbox. (Me just loves this Interweb thing!) And here's what Zogby found:

Generally speaking, do you agree or disagree with Comedy Central's decision to censor parts of a South Park episode deemed offensive to some Muslims?

Agree
Overall: 19%
Democrats: 27%
Republicans: 9%
Independents: 19%

Disagree
Overall: 71%
Dems: 60%
Republicans: 87%
Indies: 68%

Sorry, but I'm so with the the Republicans and the South Park guys on this one. Muslims and Christians and Jews—and, for that matter, unbelievers—have every right to be angry, to carry picket signs, to write letters to the editor, rant in the blog comments, or change the channel when somebody disrespects their object of reverence.

But free speech, when tested, is never pretty. It pays to remember that Supreme Court free-speech cases don't involve polite Midwesterners and the like, but rather people like Hustler's Larry Flynt or Westboro Baptist's Reverend Fred Phelps—people who say and do and print extremely offensive things. And if they offend you, well, don't buy their magazines—or try and sue them if you like. But nobody should be allowed to use religion to take away other peoples' right to self-expression. Least of all here. Because, you know, in addition to Yahweh and Jesus and Allah, we Americans also worship a 223-year-old document that strongly implies something to this effect.

UPDATE: Norris has added a quote to her home page that I couldn't agree with more, and that also applies perfectly to things like flag-burning: "Fight for the right to draw Mohammed, but then decline doing so."

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Wall Street Watchdogs Like Teen Sluts

| Fri Apr. 23, 2010 4:42 PM EDT

File under: Abysmal Timing. Just a week after the Securities and Exchange Commission filed an audacious lawsuit against Goldman Sachs—Wall Street's most-hated casino—comes a revelation that a few dozen SEC employees, including a few lame-ass higher-ups, have been downloading porn on their government computers for years. It's probably a tempest in a teapot, given that you would likely find such misbehavior at any large agency at any time if you bothered to look. But it's still a major embarassment for an agency trying to remake it's public image after blowing it so completely on Bernie Madoff. Mary Schapiro must be pissing her pants right about now.

The Inspector General's office conducted investigations of 33 SEC employees, nearly all since 2008, according to a case summary requested by Senator Charles Grassley and obtained by the Washington Post:

A senior attorney at SEC headquarters in Washington admitted he sometimes spent as much as eight hours viewing pornography from his office computer, according to the report. The attorney’s computer ran out of space for the downloaded images, so he started storing them on CDs and DVDs that he stored in his office.

Grassley's people claimed the timing was coincidental. Right. Meanwhile, Cali Congressman Darrell Issa, the top Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee was quick to score some points for his party, which has lost a few by opposing the administration's relatively feeble attempt to reform Wall Street. "This stunning report should make everyone question the wisdom of moving forward with plans to give regulators like the SEC even more widespread authority," Issa told the Post.

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