Michael Mechanic

Michael Mechanic

Senior Editor

Michael has been a senior editor at Mother Jones for eight years, after spending the previous six as an award-winning features editor at the weekly East Bay Express. In addition to editing stories for print and web, he is in charge of the magazine's Mixed Media section. His writing has appeared in a range of newspapers and magazines including Wired, The Industry Standard, and the Los Angeles Times. He lives in Oakland, California, with his wife, two kids, three chickens, striped cat, and too many musical instruments to master.

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Michael has been a senior editor at Mother Jones for eight years, after spending the previous six as an award-winning features editor at the weekly East Bay Express. In addition to editing stories for print and web, he is in charge of the magazine's Mixed Media section. His writing has appeared in a range of newspapers and magazines including Wired, The Industry Standard, and the Los Angeles Times. He originally 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 also earned a masters degree in cellular and developmental biology from Harvard University and a masters in journalism from Cal. In 2009, he was named a finalist for a National Magazine Award for his contribution to 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 Kind of Like Slavery," a photoessay with photographer Nina Berman. Michael lives with his family in Oakland, California, where he sits on his front porch and attempts to play the fiddle.

Check Out My Daughter's Sexist Homework

One day last week, our five-year-old brought home the evening's first-grade homework—"decodables" books 29 and 30 from the Open Court Reading series—and my wife and I were like, huh?

Had the textbook publishers failed to make progress on gender roles since the Dick and Jane books of our childhood? Open Court is a phonics program published by SRA/McGraw-Hill and used to teach reading in elementary schools across America, including California, where we send our kids to the Oakland public schools.

To be fair, it's possible we may encounter instances of women in the workplace and men doing housework elsewhere in the series. But having these two books come home simultaneously brought me back to the days of feathered hair, puka shells, and John Travolta in a white disco suit.

Just look at these pages from "Best Mom" and "Jeff's Job."

In November 2009, MoJo reporter Andy Kroll received a tip about a little-known yet powerful firm, the Law Offices of David J. Stern, which handled staggering numbers of foreclosures in southeastern Florida—the throbbing heart of nation's housing crisis. Among the allegations, the tipster had it from insiders that Stern employees were routinely falsifying legal paperwork in an effort to push borrowers out of their homes as quickly—and profitably—as possible.

Intrigued, Kroll started tracking down and interviewing people who'd worked for Stern. He pulled every public record he could find related to Stern's operation, and he called every foreclosure-defense attorney within the lawyer's Sunshine State empire. Taken together, the stories they told seemed unbelievable. Falsified evidence? Contests to see which employee could push a foreclosure case through the courts fastest? Court documents rubber stamped by rookie attorneys who hadn't even read them? Judges so swamped that they overlooked missing court filings? Foreclosures initiated on homeowners who had paid their mortgage bills on time? Lewd shenanigans by the boss? Each person Kroll contacted "gave me some new awful detail I hadn't heard yet," he says. "It just got worse and worse."

This is Greil Marcus' Brain on "Shuffle"

Author and critic's critic Greil Marcus takes a scholarly approach to writing about pop music. He's covered all the greats of rock 'n' roll for a variety of publications over the years, including Rolling Stone, where he was the magazine's first reviews editor. Among the 18 or so books he's written or edited is 1975's acclaimed Mystery Train, in which he hones in on a handful of musicians in his quest to cement rock 'n' roll within a larger American cultural context. Marcus has paid special attention to the likes of Elvis Presley, Van Morrison—the subject of a book earlier this year—and particularly Bob Dylan. His new collection, out this month, is called Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus: Writings 1968-2010. I reached out to Marcus with a few questions on his current and all-time music faves, new surprises, and, of course, His Royal Bobness.

Mother Jones: What's your favorite new release this year within your usual realm?

Greil Marcus: Carolina Chocolate Drops, Genuine Negro Jig (Nonesuch). Very educated people who somehow get inside the blackface minstrel music of 150 years ago, and come out the other side.

Music Appreciation With Rancid's Matt Freeman

Matt Freeman has played bass in some ridiculous number of rock 'n' roll outfits over the years. One of my old bandmates introduced me to him way back when outside Berkeley's famed punk clubhouse 924 Gilman Street. That was in the pre-Rancid days, and I'd recently scored a fun little 7-inch vinyl record of Freeman playing bass with Kamala and the Karnivores. (I still have it somewhere.) He'd also played in the Dance Hall Crashers, Downfall, and various other acts he helped put together. But his real street cred came with his "former" status in Operation Ivy, a band on the Gilman scene that was the first to combine ska and punk rock into a high-intensity sound that spawned thousands of imitators. Even after the band split up, the now-defunct Lookout Records sold enough copies of Energy, Op Ivy's one and only full-length, that its members were able to quit their day jobs.

Rancid—formed a few years later by Freeman and Op Ivy guitarist Tim "Lint" Armstrong, and joined by guitarist Lars Fredericksen and lefty drummer Brett Reed—picked up where Op Ivy had left off. They recorded a series of successful albums on Epitaph records and toured relentlessly, indulging in various side projects when they grew restless. During a Rancid hiatus in 2004, Freeman also did a temporary stint with the seminal Southern California punk band Social Distortion. The boys have since grown into middle-aged men, but Rancid plays on, and Freeman has a new album out with Devil's Brigade, his psychobilly side project with Armstrong and drummer DJ Bonebrake from X—one of my favorite bands of all time. Last month, just prior to the CD's release on Epitaph, Freeman was kind enough to reply to a few questions about his own listening preferences, aging gracefully, and the TV series Breaking Bad.

Last week, I posted the first part of my interview with South African rave-rappers Die Antwoord, which means "the answer." Talented and profane, Ninja (né Waddy Jones) and Yo-Landi Vi$$er—who have a daughter together, although they aren't a couple—have concocted a surreal musical chemistry, tag-teaming in a hypercharged mix of English, Afrikaans, and even tribal languages.

They were largely unknown outside of South Africa until this past February, when their video for "Enter the Ninja" suddenly went viral. This launched a bidding war that culminated in a record deal and the release, this week, of $O$, their much-anticipated debut on Interscope. In the first part of our interview, which you should read, Ninja discusses the record deal and the story behind the group's startling new "Evil Boy" video. In part two, I talked to Ninja and Yo-Landi about the meaning of zef, the documentary that changed their lives, and why they plan to kill Die Antwoord after five albums. 

Mother Jones: You guys like to say that you represent South African culture. How do you view that culture?

Ninja: We like to absorb all the different elements of South Africa that we find interesting and attractive and unique. We're like sponges. There's things about the Xhosa culture that we love, and we love things about the Afrikaans culture; that's very amusing and interesting to us. And then there's the colored culture, which is a whole other thing.

MJ: That's mixed-race?

N: Ja. They refer to themselves as coloreds, not "blacks." The PC-version people try and promote this image of South Africa as a rainbow nation and make it all like pretty and stuff. But it's actually like this fokked-up, kind of broken fruit salad. 'Cause all those things don't mix that well together in the real world. But for us it does mix. That's why we say it's, like, "fokked into one person." 'Cause that's how we feel on a certain level. Like we absorb all these things, but they're not harmoniously flowing together through the air in this pretty rainbow picture.

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