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.

Haitian Thug Leader Toto Constant Liable for Rape, Torture, Murder

| Thu Dec. 3, 2009 10:51 AM PST

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a $19 million judgment Tuesday against Emmanuel “Toto” Constant, a former Haitian paramilitary leader who had been found liable for crimes against humanity committed under his watch—including torture, and rape as a mode of torture. As noted in “Constant Sorrow,” Bernice Yeung’s account of her jailhouse interactions with the disgraced (and deluded) thug boss, Constant had been sued by Haitian refugees after fleeing to the United States. The three women said they had suffered gang rapes and other atrocities at the hands of Constant's minions. Here are more details from the Center for Justice and Accountability, the human rights group that brought the original lawsuit:

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Johnny Cash—the Man in Black & White

| Mon Nov. 9, 2009 4:30 AM PST

Reinhard Kleist's brand-new graphic novel, Johnny Cash: I See a Darkness (Abrams Books), opens with a vintage Caddy (license plate "HELL") barreling past a neon sign on the outskirts of Reno. Without a word, its surly driver—the Man in Black himself—makes his way to the strip, where he spots a short, wealthy, sleazy-looking man walking into an alley with a prostitute and proceeds to fill him with lead. In the scene's final panel, the killer is inside an armored bus, pulling up to the gates of Folsom Prison. Get it? I shot a man in Reno / Just to watch him die.

The Berlin-based artist has fun with this concept in his well-researched biography of the late country star, segueing into pen-and-ink depictions of Cash hits like "Big River," "Cocaine Blues," and "A Boy Named Sue" (which unbeknownst to me was penned by Shel Silverstein). Kleist uses a different, faux-tribal drawing style for "The Ballad of Ira Hayes"—a choice that reflects his interest in Cash's views on soldiers and war, an interest that also emerges in a studio scene with Bob Dylan.

If you caught the 2005 Cash biopic Walk the Line, with Joaquin Phoenix (the wrong actor as far as I'm concerned), you'll recognize the basic outline: The Depression-era upbringing amid cotton fields in Arkansas, where a neighbor kid teaches young J.R. Cash to play guitar. The horrible mishap that befalls his brother Jack. The Air Force service in Germany. The courtship and marriage to Vivian Liberto. The settling down in Memphis and forming a band. The record deal, tours with Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis, leading to a devastating addiction to uppers. The public disgraces. And, of course, the forbidden love with June Carter, whom he eventually marries.

Quoth the Newspaper Maven, "Nevermore"

| Fri Oct. 30, 2009 3:30 AM PDT

Spotted outside a mystery house in Alameda, California, where local news reporters dwell, pondering their dim fates, as apparitions of former colleagues float despairingly in a fog of alcohol and memories, searching for their shrunken and canceled beats; cursing Craigslist, the blogosphere, consolidation, leveraged CEOs, shareholder expectations—all those things that would not kindly stop for the good people who put good stories on paper, nor yield to the needs of a civil democracy, but rather stumble forward: Relentless. Undead. Bloodsuckers and zombies. Happy Halloween!

(You can't tell from the photo, but the hand extending up from the grave is clutching a copy of Dean Singleton's Oakland Tribune.)

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Can Michael Stipe and Eddie Vedder Shut Down Gitmo?

| Thu Oct. 22, 2009 4:24 AM PDT | Scheduled to publish Thu Oct. 22, 2009 3:00 AM PDT

Does being forced to listen to Bruce Springsteen constitute torture?

In truth, the guards at Guantanamo and other US military prisons overseas could have played detainees just about anything. Turn it up loud enough, set it to repeat enough times, and any song in existence—from metal band Doom's hyper-aggressive "Die MF Die" (lyrics: Die motherfucker die motherfucker die motherfucker... etc.) to Prince's "Raspberry Beret" to Don McClean's "American Pie" would suffice to disorient prisoners, mess with them, deprive them of sleep. As part of our March 2008 special report Torture Hits Home, we published a list including these songs and numerous others—the Barney theme, the Meow Mix cat food jingle—that were used by interrogators and guards to soften up their charges.

In December 2008, then Mojo staffer Jesse Finfrock reported that British human rights organization Reprieve had launched a campaign called zero dB (decibels) to fight such abuses; artists including Massive Attack and guitarist Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine—another name on our torture playlist—got on board to demand the US military stop using their songs. "It's difficult for me to imagine anything more profoundly insulting, demeaning and enraging than discovering music you've put your heart and soul into creating has been used for purposes of torture," Nine Inch Nails singer Trent Reznor wrote on the band's website days later. (NIN's songs were reportedly among those used to torture military contractor-turned-whistleblower Donald Vance.) "If there are any legal options that can be realistically taken they will be aggressively pursued," Reznor promised.

Today, he, Morello, and other prominent musicians—including megabands R.E.M. and Pearl Jam—took a step in that direction, attaching their names to a national campaign to pressure Congress to shutter Gitmo once and for all. They are also demanding that the government declassify documents related to the use of music in interrogations—a practice the United Nations has condemned. Among the other artists signing on are Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, T-Bone Burnett, David Byrne, Rosanne Cash, the Roots, Rise Against, and popular British crooner Billy Bragg. "Guantanamo may be Dick Cheney’s idea of America, but it’s not mine," Morello said in a statement announcing the effort. "The fact that music I helped create was used in crimes against humanity sickens me."

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