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.

RNC "Investigating" Sex Club Romp

| Mon Mar. 29, 2010 3:49 PM EDT

The Daily Caller, as we like to say in this business, buried the lede. I mean, so what if higher-ups in the Republican National Committee may or may not have been talking about arranging for a private jet for RNC chair Michael Steele. Who would be surprised? The Tea Partiers? They already think the mainstream GOP is out of touch.

Equally unsurprising but a lot more fun was the revelation of FEC expense reports showing that the RNC had dropped cash on a bondage club where the strippers simulate real live lesbians! And this for the Party of No Gay Sex, of no gay marriage, of no gays in the military, of no sex of any kind outside marriage.

The Caller mentioned it in passing:

Once on the ground, FEC filings suggest, Steele travels in style. A February RNC trip to California, for example, included a $9,099 stop at the Beverly Hills Hotel, $6,596 dropped at the nearby Four Seasons, and $1,620.71 spent [update: the amount is actually $1,946.25] at Voyeur West Hollywood, a bondage-themed nightclub featuring topless women dancers imitating lesbian sex.

Details, man! We need details.

The Daily Beast had a few: "The RNC denies that Steele himself visited the club, saying that it was "a reimbursement made to a non-committee staffer. The RNC is also investigating the claim."

I'll bet they're investigating. In any case, the Beast also mentioned that the expense report was filed by one Erik Brown—who is about to become a little less obscure—for a couple of weeks at least.

The DNC is loving it, according to the Baltimore Sun's Maryland Politics blog:

The Democratic National Committee is having a field day Monday at the expense of its cross-town rivals at the RNC—or the "Risque National Committee," as the Dems put it in one of the blizzard of e-mailed releases they are sending out.

The RNC also claimed the Daily Caller piece was "riddled with misleading information and inaccuracies." But Steele & Co. didn't deny reimbursing the expense for "meals" at Voyeur West Hollywood. In fact, according to a Washington Post blogger, the RNC now wants its money back.

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GM's Segway Space Pod

| Fri Mar. 26, 2010 6:30 AM EDT

Well, would you check out these little bastards? Wow. As described by our friends over at ClimateProgress.org...

The EN-Vs will have a top speed of 25 miles per hour and a range of 25 miles. They are powered by lithium-ion batteries. GM hopes to outfit them with sensors, cameras and GPS devices so they can communicate with each other, avoid crashes and be operated autonomously. The communication would also let drivers talk to each other while driving, hypothetically creating a situation where two vehicles could hold a video conference while commuting to work.

Pretty friggin' nifty, to be sure. They look most excellent for navigating the Google campus. Yet somehow I just can't imagine how they would handle the potholes in my hometown. Actually, I can: Bam! Rattle! Bang! Seems like it would take some serious infrastructure upgrades for these things to be remotely practical in most urban area. Plus, they're Segways. Just sayin'.

As for autonomous control, for years we've had technology that allows cars to join up in a line and commute without the driver's help—unclogging traffic and saving gas. The problem there is a social one: Relinquishing control of the vehicle freaks people out. ClimateProgress reports that these pods might cost about one-fifth what a car does. But I can think of a cheaper, more practical alternative: the bus.

Afghanistan's Boy Sex Slaves

| Fri Mar. 19, 2010 5:49 PM EDT

Say what you will about the Taliban. They're small-minded, repressive, religious zealots who exert their power through fear and intimidation. But certain aspects of Afghan society can make the black turbans look downright righteous. Consider the ancient tradition of Bacha Bazi, which means "boy play." Banned by the Taliban, this illicit activity is on the upswing across Afghanistan. The Guardian reported on it last fall, and on April 20, Frontline is airing a special report with the same title: The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan.

Here's how the Frontline producers describe it:

Hundreds of boys, some as young as eleven, street orphans or boys bought from poor families by former warlords and powerful businessmen, are dressed in woman's clothes, taught to sing and dance for the entertainment of male audiences, and then sold to the highest bidder or traded among the men for sex.

With remarkable access inside a Bacha Bazi ring operating in Northern Afghanistan, Najibullah Quraishi, an Afghan journalist, investigates this practice, still illegal under Afghan law, talking with the boys, their families, and their masters, exposing the sexual abuse and even murders of the boys, and documenting how Afghan authorities responsible for stopping these crimes are sometimes themselves complicit in the practice.

A Setback for Geoengineering?

| Wed Mar. 17, 2010 6:07 PM EDT

Bad news this week for the cheerleaders of a carbon-capture technique known as iron fertilization. That's where you spread tiny bits of the nutritious metal over the sea surface, encouraging the birth of phytoplankton blooms. As they grow, these single-celled creatures—the bottom link in the ocean food chain—suck up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and incorporate it into their tiny little selves. When they die, the theory goes, they sink to the frigid ocean depths where they are trapped, taking the carbon out of circulation. Presto!

But that last bit is pretty speculative, and iron fertilization comes with unintended consequences. In her MoJo report on the unproven technique—which has raised the ire of, among others, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (a group best known for its salty founder and its standoffs with whaling vessels)—Melanie Haiken spoke with a number of scientists who were concerned about potential side effects:

Some computer models predict that iron fertilization could bring about the production of greenhouse gases such as nitrous oxide and methane. Other concerns: Seeding may stimulate growth of toxic species, alter the marine food chain, and lead to the depletion of deep-water oxygen. In short, toying with the world's largest ecosystem would affect the natural balance upon which larger species, including humans, depend.

Funny about those toxic species, because a study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences notes that a major species of poisonous phytoplankton—one whose toxin is dangerous to fish, birds, ocean mammals, and humans (think tainted shellfish)—produces far more of its nasty stuff after it is exposed to iron. The results are "an indication that we are not masters of nature," one of the authors told San Francisco Chronicle science reporter David Perlman.

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