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.

The One Thing BP Got Right (and Other Oil Blurbs)

| Wed Jun. 2, 2010 8:48 PM EDT

While, uh, drilling for angles on the BP spill, I stumbled across the following ad in PetroMin, an oil industry trade magazine.

An ad from PetroMin magazine
This seemed somehow fitting. Just yesterday the Obama administration—desperate to cap the pipe spewing oil into the Gulf at a rate of up to 798,000 gallons per day—met with Avatar director James Cameron, whose Titanic experience made him an expert on doing stuff underwater. Shadarian, an Iranian company that makes pipeline-repair products, apparently preferred a more Avatar-esque theme. The weirdest thing, though, is the slogan: "Challenging The Perfection."

Now what the hell is that supposed to mean?

BP, for its part, has challenged the perfection that was offshore drilling's near-term prospects. Said prospects are exactly what PetroMin associate editor Vishnu Pillai gushes about in the trade rag's April-June issue, which clearly hit the presses before "blowout preventer" became a household phrase. He writes:

The search for oil and gas has, over many decades, moved from great plains of land to coastal areas and now even into deepwater areas. Yet the industry still believes that there will be no crisis in the foreseeable future. The industry faces the challenges of environmentalists who claim that the planet is being pillaged to assuage the greed of oil companies on a constant basis, faces the challenge of finding new sources of hydrocarbons and faces the challenge of being economically and operationally viable at the same time. Despite such pressing challenges there is that undeflatable air of optimism that is proudly hung across the industry like badge of defiance.

Pillai then explains why the optimism is warranted:

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Does Flying Kill Your Green Karma?

| Tue Jun. 1, 2010 5:50 PM EDT

So, you recycle. You drive a Prius. You commute by train. You buy CFLs. You line-dry your clothes and bring cloth bags to the grocery store.

And you also fly, so all those other efforts go down the tubes.

It's hard to reconcile an ecoconscious lifestyle with air travel: How can we give up flying, which those who can afford it have come to consider almost a birthright, a familial duty, the key to our freedom and even to our identity? That's what Christie Aschwanden was struggling with when she resolved—by choice, not lack of means—to spend a year within 100 miles of her home. (The year is up, and she's still within that radius.) Her story "Jet Blues" is inspiring yet also disturbing; given our selfish natures, you wonder, will we ever be able to turn the climate around? After all, if people who fancy themselves environmentalists can't make the necessary sacrifices, what hope is there for those who don't?

The piece is thought-provoking, and its commenters have raised some questions worth addressing. What about trains and buses? And what about diet? Christie's story ran with this chart, which illustrates how the carbon cost of a family's cross-country flight can wipe out steps they've taken to reduce their footprint. This, of course, was a sampling used to make a point. There are indeed other ways a family could go further to counterbalance its travel. Here's a few more:

Lower thermostat 8 degrees on winter nights: 802 lbs carbon
Replace standard forced-air gas furnace with high-efficiency model: 1,325 lbs
Switch all your windows from single pane to double pane: 2,952 lbs
Line-dry all your laundry: 1,523 lbs
Wash clothes in cold water instead of hot: 793 lbs

These annual numbers, from various sources, depend upon assumptions such as size of house (living in a smaller house is another way to save) and frequency of doing laundry. They don't account for the carbon cost of, say, manufacturing the new windows/furnace.

Adorable Hybrid Musical Animals

| Mon May 31, 2010 7:02 AM EDT

So there's this wonderful website called Worth1000.com that, consistent with its title, holds little contests encouraging people to create photo illustrations on all sorts of themes. I caught onto W1000 via this blog item, which showcased Worth1000's collection of Photoshopped animal hybrids—which I want as pets! (And you can't get mad at me for this, because they're not even real—not like ligers and zonkeys!) Anyway, while browsing W1000, I discovered a collection of animal-musical instrument hybrids and thought I'd share it with y'all. There are three Instranimal contests here. Some entries are feeble, but there are enough good ones to make it worth browsing. I pasted a few more below. (See the latest contest here, and click at the bottom for past ones.)


Trumpeter Swan: By dollyllamaTrumpeter Swan: By dollyllama



Lute Beetle: By ZTNiKrO



Froghorn: By multichannelerFroghorn: By multichanneler

 Click here for more Music Monday features from Mother Jones.

How to Talk to Your Teen Headbanger

| Mon May 31, 2010 7:00 AM EDT

So you want to communicate better with your sullen, alienated teen, whose earsplitting music just sounds like so much godawful noise? Well imagine how 16-year-old Tommy's jaw will drop to the floor when, sitting around the dinner table, you casually say, "Oh, I don't know about you, but Gorgoroth shreds so much harder than that weak death-metal stuff, you know, like Fleshrot."

"But, but what about Mastodon?" Tommy stammers, disbelieving.

"Meh," you say. "I'm not so into the progressive crap. Gimme some good thrash, you know, Kreator 'n' shit."

In three short minutes, your relationship is back on track thanks to Raz Ben Ari's recent video, which will teach you—and your mom—to recognize various metal subgenres, distinguishing glam from thrash from power metal from black metal. The takeaway message, at least for me, is that subgenres are plain stupid. Why would any band limit itself when it's so much more fun to string 10 subgenres together within one song, as RBA does here? Okay, listen and learn. Quiz after.

Okay, now it's quiz time. Name the following subgenre(s):

P.S. Don't forget to study for next week's quiz: riffs (see below). And fer Lucifer's sake, buy your kid a helmet!

Click here for more Music Monday features from Mother Jones.

Another Affordable Housing Default

| Thu May 27, 2010 5:06 PM EDT

In yet another blow to the nation's affordable-housing stock, Stellar Management, star of our July/August 2009 story "Mortage Default: Landlord Edition," announced that it will go into default on Parkmerced, a 3,000-unit San Francisco housing project that Stellar purchased a few years back with the goal of remodeling and building new market-rate units.

Earlier this month, the San Francisco Chronicle reports, Stellar's management presented a $1.3 billion long-term proposal to triple the number of units at Parkmerced—but the company also faces October debt payments estimated at more than $500 million.

"We will be facing challenges in the next couple of months," Stellar spokesman PJ Johnston told the Chron. "This may cause some anxiety to some residents. But we are reassuring them this will not impact their daily lives here. We're still committed to this project."

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