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, after years of classical and blues piano and punk-rock drumming, he now sits on his front porch and attempts to play the fiddle.

Is the Washington Post Shilling for the Pentagon?

| Fri Jul. 2, 2010 4:46 PM EDT

If you need evidence of media complicity in support of what author Andrew Bacevich calls the "Washington Rules"—aka the national security consensus that justifies our militarism around the globe—look no further than today's Washington Post.

Here you'll find a fawning A-1 article by Laura Blumenfeld—apparently a big fan of 24—about the brave men and women of the Obama administration who stay up nights keeping America safe. Here's her summary:

With two wars, multiple crises abroad and growing terrorism activity at home, these national security officials do not sleep in peace. For them, the night is a public vigil. It is also a time of private reckoning with their own tensions and doubts. They read the highest classification of intelligence. They pursue the details of plots that realize the nation's vague, yet primal, fears.

Now check out this bit on Robert M. Gates—human being—who sacrifices his peace of mind for our safety:

The secretary of defense must be reachable at all hours. He transmits orders from the White House to the Pentagon in an era when troops operate in every time zone. If North Korea tests a nuclear weapon or Iran tests a new missile, Gates needs to know now. "I don't feel like I'm ever really off," he said earlier. "I have security and communications people in the basement of my house. They come up and rap on the basement door."

Next to his bedroom at home, he confers in a sound-proof, vault-lock space. He calls it "The Batcave."

Gates smiles. He radiates control: individual white hairs lie combed into place; a crack in his lips is smoothed repeatedly by ChapStick. But even this confident cabinet secretary—the slightly feared Republican, whose status others covet by day—slips, at night, into the shadows of doubt.

At his compound in Washington, he'll change into jeans and a baseball cap and take a walk after 11 p.m. He'll count the number of surveillance cameras watching him and look out into the dark and reflect on the "persistent threat. You know, and you wonder, what more can you be doing? What have we missed?"

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The Coolest CD Ever, and Less Than Two Bits!

| Mon Jun. 28, 2010 6:10 AM EDT

Hey, look what arrived in the mail!

Look closely: This isn't a CD. It's actual circuitry embedded in a jewel case. Awesome! If you're a musical artist struggling to grab the notice of busy reviewers, here's one way to do it—so long as the postal authorities don't mistake your thing for a bomb.

Now I must admit to having a small issue—literally—with the actual music. There are severe limitations when you're composing 1-bit ditties. By necessity, it's pretty cold, spare stuff: nitrous music for robot videos. (What's nitrous music? It's what I call stuff like this.)

Sure, 1-bit is kinda neat—even nostalgic for those of us who once ran out and bought the 8-bit Casiotone-VL1. (Here's a blurry 15-year-old me holding one—wish I still had it.) But despite the brief success of German band Trio, even 8-bit doesn't encourage repeat listening—and 1-bit can be downright harsh. Just compare Fischerspooner's original "Just Let Go" with Tristan Perich's 1-bit rendition. (You might want to lower the volume just a tad.)

I do love the concept, though. Perich has been experimenting with the form for a number of years now. This particular—uh, what to call it?—circuit is billed "1-bit Symphony." It will be offered in August by Cantaloupe Music, a New York label that puts out what was once called "experimental" and has been rebranded "new music": acts like Matmos, which plays on found objects including—wow—cow uteruses. (Where does one even find a cow uterus?)

How Much of the Gulf is Leased?

| Thu Jun. 10, 2010 4:34 PM EDT

A BoingBoing commenter on my "Who Really Owns the Gulf of Mexico" post points out that there are plenty of non-leased cells in the map highlighted in that piece, and suggests that people check out the following map, too. This is just a detail; you can download the larger version here. But I think it just further underscores the notion of a corporate feeding frenzy around our Gulf resources. The leased areas are denoted in green. There are 6,652 of them, covering 35,637,392 acres--more than 22 percent of the leaseable Gulf.

Most active parts of the Gulf: Leased areas are green.Most active parts of the Gulf: Leased areas are green.

Quiz: What Do BP and Kurt Cobain Have in Common?

| Tue Jun. 8, 2010 2:34 PM EDT

Fossil-fuel extraction is pretty much a boy's club. As such, it can be tough to distinguish the names of oil or gas fields from those of, say, downhill ski runs, weapons, and rock bands. BP, for instance, has Gulf fields named Nirvana, Stones, and Supertramp.

Browsing Offshore magazine's 2009 survey of Gulf deepwater discoveries, you'll also find Greek mythology (Atlas, Cyclops, Dionysius, Mars, Medusa, Triton), mountains (Matterhorn, Fuji, K2), Bond references (Q, Goldfinger), royal titles (King, Prince, Princess), Biblical stuff (Genesis, Lost Ark), now-doomed animals (Manatee, Marlin, Swordfish, Tortuga), and cartoon characters (Spiderman, Bullwinkle). The long list of whimsical names feel somewhat jarring in the spill context—a reminder, perhaps, that the energy industry is like a bunch of overgrown boys playing with matches. And, at least most of the time, they don't burn the house down.

So, just for the hell of it—and I do mean the hell of it—take this little quiz. Some items have more than one answer. Answers below the jump.

For each of the following, indicate whether it's a…
A.    downhill ski run
B.    hard rock/heavy metal band
C.    weapon
D.    oil/gas field in the Gulf of Mexico
E.    all of the above

(Extra credit: Identify the two BP fields.)

1. Bermuda Triangle
2. Black Widow
3. The Blow Hole
4. Brutus
5. Claymore
6. Devil's Island
7. Fastball
8. Firebird
9. Gunflint
10. Genghis Kahn
11. Great White
12. Hornet
13. King Kong
14. Longhorn
15. Mad Dog
16. Morgus
17. Morpeth
18. Mother In Law
19. Orion
20. Raptor
21. Red Hawk
22. Shale Slope
23. Tomahawk
24. Thor
25. Vortex

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