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.

How to Talk to Your Teen Headbanger

| Mon May 31, 2010 6:00 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.

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Another Affordable Housing Default

| Thu May 27, 2010 4:06 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."

Nick Hornby's Nonfiction Picks

| Tue May 25, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

For a special section in our May/June issue, we asked some of our favorite writers about their favorite nonfiction books. Here are novelist and essayist Nick Hornby's answers:

Mother Jones: What nonfiction book do you foist on friends and relatives?

Nick Hornby: Historically: Tobias Wolff's This Boy's Life. It was one of the books that taught me how to write—not that this should be of any interest to friends and relatives. I give it to them because it's beautiful, funny, and tough. More recently: Mark Harris' Pictures at a Revolution, which is the best, and most enjoyable, book about movies I've read for years, and maybe ever.

MJ: What work of nonfiction have you reread the most, and what's the allure.

NH: I'm really not a big rereader—I'm too aware of my own ignorance. I've read Greil Marcus' chapter on The Band in Mystery Train more than twice, however. It's one of the pieces of writing that made me such an Americophile—and it's just so smart and fizzy.

MJ: Can you think of a nonfiction book someone handed you as a kid that left a lasting impression?

NH: I can only recall being given dictionaries and encyclopedias. I can remember my father gave me a huge history of football for my 12th birthday—I used to read that a lot. I can remember thinking it was cool that something I was interested in even had a history. Most things I loved didn't.

MJ: What are the best music-related memoirs you've ever read?

NH: Dylan's Chronicles is easily the best rock 'n' roll memoir ever written, as far as I'm concerned. There aren't many stories in there, but if you want to know where an artist came from, and why he thinks the way he does, then that's the one. For stories you need The Dirt, the book about Motley Crue.

MJ: Who's your Tucker Crowe? Not trying to suggest that you're an obsessive, pathetic music nerd, but is there any (obscure?) musical figure you find endlessly intriguing? [In Hornby's latest novel—Juliet, Naked—a key character is unhealthily obsessed with Crowe, a reclusive ex-musician.]

NH: I'm not even sure I was writing about music—I was thinking about writers as much as I was thinking about musicians, but more people are interested in music than they are in literature. Salinger was still alive then.

MJ: Which living nonfiction writer would you most like to share a pint with? What would you most like to ask them? Ditto for living musician.

NH: David Kynaston, author of the recent, and astoundingly good, Austerity Britain and Family Britain. He's writing a sequence of books that will
take us up to 1979, and it seems to me that he knows more about the recent history of this country than anyone alive. I'd like to ask him where we're going. Living musicians: Bobby Womack must have some stories. He embodies almost the entire history of R&B.

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MetaFilter Saved My Pals From Sex Traffickers—Exclusive Interview

| Fri May 21, 2010 7:54 PM EDT

The message thread reads like the play-by-play from an alternate reality game, wherein complete strangers work together to solve a complex mystery. But the drama that played out on MetaFilter this week was no game. If not for the intrepid members of this 11-year-old digital forum, a couple of young Russian women might possibly have fallen prey to sexual slavery.

Dan Reetz's post appeared Wednesday evening at Ask MetaFilter, a portion of the site where people seek help from the crowd. Mostly it's mundane—someone needs suggestions for a good pet store in their area, that kind of thing.

But this post stood out: "A Russian friend of mine may be in a dangerous situation in Washington, DC," it began.

Reetz, a 28-year-old who goes by the online handle Fake, joined MetaFilter in 2004 and is a trusted user, according to Jessamyn West, the site's community manager. In 2006, he spent a year teaching English in Russia, and became close friends with one of his students, whom we'll call "K." "We used to walk around and talk about music and everything," Reetz told me. "I learned most of my Russian from her, so I have bad street Russian—and she learned most of her English from me, so she knows all the English swear words! We've been in touch ever since."

Breaking: Oil Makes Landfall, Cops Blocking Beaches, MoJo on the Scene [Video and Photos]

| Thu May 20, 2010 3:34 PM EDT

MoJo reporter Mac McClelland is getting one hell of a chilling story in Louisiana right now. This morning she headed down to the area where, according to online maps, oil from the BP fiasco was headed. Wherever she turned, she found sheriff's deputies blocking the beach access roads—until she hit a beach at Grand Isle, and literally stepped into the mess. (Follow Mac on Twitter here.)

Here's what unfolded in her tweetstream:

Has oil made landfall in port fourchon, LA? Can't look, bc cops turned us around at bridge to beach. about 3 hours ago

Oil just hit land in grand isle. Blobs completely covering this shore. about 2 hours ago

Governor's helicopters are flying overhead. about 1 hour ago

All these spots are blobs of oil. about 1 hour ago

All these spots are blobs of oil.  on Twitpic

Crude all over my fingers. about 1 hour ago

Crude all over my fingers. on Twitpic

These vacationers say there was no oil earlier today; this shit all just started washing up, and it's already everywhere. about 1 hour ago

This was when I realized oil arrived; when I stepped in crude. 42 minutes ago

This was when I realized oil arrived; when I stepped in crude. on Twitpic

5 sheriff's cars have arrived. No pics allowed, no more access to elmer's island. 27 minutes ago

The gov's office has arrived. 10 minutes ago

The gov's office has arrived on Twitpic

Mac says the sheriff's deputies who arrived at Grand Isle told her she couldn't take pictures of them, but didn't keep her away from the beach—yet. She's headed back to New Orleans as we write, but will be back in Grand Isle later tonight. (Here's some more background from the local media, and more pix.) UPDATE: Mac just called and noted that there are still kids on the beach, "splashing around in this huge sheen."

Yesterday families vacayed among oil blobs (see all those bro... on Twitpic

This begs many questions, such as:

Why is law enforcement trying to stifle coverage of this horror? And, as our own Kate Sheppard (follow her on Twitter here) asks: Why is BP still in charge? Kate has also been following developments intensely, live tweeting the BP hearings, and breaking the latest news—ranging from concerns over these so-called chemical dispersants to the rig owner's efforts to weasel out of responsibility. She's covered BP's fumbling containment efforts, its second Gulf rig, and its shameless attempts to downplay the problem: 5,000 barrels a day indeed! That's how much BP says it is now recovering, and this thing is so far from being over.

You can keep on top of Kate's and Mac's dispatches on our home page, Facebook page, and by following their Twitter streams.

UPDATE: Here's a video showing how sticky the stuff really is:

UPDATE 2: Check out these photos from Gov. Bobby Jindal's tour of the fouled marshes.

(If you appreciate our ongoing BP coverage, please consider making a
tax-deductible donation.)

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