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.

Die Antwoord on "Evil Boy," Their Risqué New Video

Prior to February, Afrikaner "zef" rappers Die Antwoord were virtually unknown outside of South Africa. Then, practically overnight, their video for "Enter the Ninja" became an internet sensation (nearly 8 million YouTube views to date), launching a bidding war by major labels. The most common reaction to the video may well have been, What the fok? (Read my initial reaction here.) Bumping a South African ghetto style known as zef—which is sort of like a downscale version of "bling"—rappers Ninja and Yo-Landi Vi$$er have created an insanely weird, high-energy chemistry. They push the creative envelope with an absurdist gangsta sexuality, laden with heavy doses of profane slang in their native tongue.

Die Antwoord arrives in America next week to tour in support of $O$ (SOS), their new debut CD on Interscope, which, fittingly, is also home to Lady Gaga and Eminem. Just yesterday, Die Antwoord released the video for their song "Evil Boy." Watch it below, but make sure your boss isn't looking, because it may well be one of the most risqué music videos ever recorded. This morning, I spoke with Ninja, who was chilling with Yo-Landi at a friend's place in Johannesburg prior to the tour. In part one, we talk about Die Antwoord's roller-coaster ride, the Interscope deal, and the surprising story behind "Evil Boy." (Click here for part two of the interview.) Watch the video first, and then we'll go speak with Ninja.

 

Mother Jones: Hey, wat pomp? [Loosely translates as "What's happening?") Did I say that right?

Ninja: Ja, you said it so good! It's the best American pronunciation of it ever!

MJ: I've been checking out the "Evil Boy" video. I mean, man! It makes Lady Gaga look tame. Clearly, nobody's trampling your artistic freedom.

N: Oh, no, no, no. That's why we signed with those guys. They love us.

Unintended Consequences: Green Products Edition

My colleague Kate Sheppard just posted a funny-yet-disturbing piece about how Frito-Lay is ditching it's compostable Sun Chips bags because customers are complaining that the bags make too much noise. And maybe some of you caught this recent piece in the New York Times about how the new low-phosphate detergents are great for the environment, but don't do a very good job washing dishes. All of which reminded me of yet another amusing-yet-disheartening story I heard while camping with my kids in California's Sequoia National Park this past summer.

Besides boasting the world's biggest and oldest trees—some of them have been around for three millenia—the park is home to Crystal Cave, an impressive labyrinth of marble and limestone formations. Last year, the Sequoia Natural History Association (SNHA)—the nonprofit that runs cave tours and takes care of maintenance—teamed up with the National Park Service to rig the cave with solar power and LED lighting, thought to be less disruptive to the cave's sensitive ecosystems. In addition to other grants, SNHA applied for and received federal stimulus funding for the project, which was touted by the Fresno Bee on May 7:

Popular Crystal Cave—home to eyeless bugs and spiders with monster jaws—will be illuminated by the power of the sun starting Saturday.

For decades, Sequoia National Park visitors have toured the marble cave under the glare of incandescent lights that have drawn power from a propane generator.

On Saturday, when the cave opens for tourist season, the lighting will switch over to solar power fed into a system of light-emitting diodes, known as LEDs, which are stingy in electricity use. It is believed to be the National Park Service's first cave lit by the sun.

I'd never seen any lights in the cave. In August 2009, when we first took a tour, were were handed flashlights at the entrance. In August 2010, back for another tour, we noticed the big solar array in the parking area, but after hiking the half-mile or so down to the cave, we were again invited to grab a flashlight from the bin. When we asked our tour guide what was up with the panels, he told us about the whole solar project.

So why wasn't it up an running? Well, our guide explained, it turns out the well-intended project managers had opted for the "green" power cables—encased in soy-based insulation.

Wild animals chewed them up. Lights out.

The Carolina Chocolate Drops are gettin' hotter by the minute. This young North Carolina trio—solid multi-instrumentalists and protégés of 91-year-old African American fiddler Joe Thompson—have set out to revive the nearly extinct tradition of black old-time string bands. In their five years of existence, they've recorded five albums, toured with blues great Taj Mahal, performed on NPR's Prairie Home Companion, were the first black string band ever to play the Grand Ole Opry—not that the Opry deserves them—and have been winning over new fans at a rapid clip.

The reason why was evident Friday at Slim's in San Francisco, where I caught the Chocolate Drops the night before their debut at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass fest. Following local openers The Stairwell Sisters, a thoroughly enjoyable five-woman old-time outfit—complete with clogging by Evie Ladin, who plays a mean clawhammer banjo—the Chocolate Drops got the crowd fired up rousing renditions of "Starry Crown" and "Don't Get Trouble in Your Mind." They followed up with a lengthy set in which none other than Mr. Mahal himself joined them onstage to pinch hit on the banjo.

Conductor Michael Tilson Thomas' Free Lunch

That was a treat! How often can you leave work on your lunch break, grab a burrito, and plop your ass down 20 feet from a world-renowned symphony orchestra for a free concert led by this guy.

The San Francisco Symphony, fresh from a round of festivals in Switzerland and Italy, played an outdoor freebie for their appreciative hometown rabble Friday afternoon, the players laughing as nearby car horns and sirens worked their way into the refrains. It was delightful show, ignoring the program's admonition that "video or audio recording of today's performance is strictly prohibited" (Please! This is the iPhone generation.) Superconductor Michael Tilson Thomas took the helm, launching his talented crew of waiters (or so they appeared in their white tuxedoes) into the Roman Carnival Overture (Opus 9) by Berlioz, followed by the First Movement (Allegro con brio) from Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Opus 67. (See rant below.)

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