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.

Don't Call Me Madoff!

| Thu Feb. 25, 2010 2:30 PM EST

Citing safety concerns, Bernie Madoff's daughter-in-law Stephanie has legally petitioned to change her name—and those of her young children—to "Morgan," the New York Post reports. It's unlikely, of course, that anyone would hurt a couple of toddlers (the children are one and three). But more than a few who lost their life savings to history's biggest swindler probably fantasize about taking a broken bottle to Stephanie's husband, Mark Madoff, who filed an affadavit in support of the name change.

In our January/February issue, reporter Erin Arvedlund, the first non-trade journalist to question Madoff's unusually consistent returns, provided a still-current update on the status—legally and otherwise—of Madoff's inner circle, including his two boys, Mark and Andrew. Here's one snippet from our report, "Meet the Madoff Minions." (Picard is Irving Picard, the court-appointed trustee in the Madoff bankruptcy case.)

Papa Madoff claimed his boys, who codirected trading at the firm, learned of the fraud only when he told them, days before his arrest. Alternate theory: Madoff knew the jig was up and took the fall to protect his family. Mark Madoff withdrew nearly $67 million from company accounts over the years, trustee Picard alleges, and divides his time between a $5.6 million Manhattan apartment, a $6.6 million Nantucket home, and a $2.2 million pad in Greenwich, Connecticut. All told, Mark got more than $29 million in salary and bonuses, and racked up $797,000 in personal expenses on the corporate AmEx. Andrew Madoff received more than $31 million in compensation, Picard claims, and used another $32 mil to cover expenses such as a $300,000 investment in Blow Styling Salon, LLC, and a $75,000 payment to Lock and Hackle, a members-only fly-fishing and hunting club. And waiter beware: After dropping more than a grand on the corporate card at Manhattan's swank Per Se, Andrew left a miserly $60 tip. Picard is suing Mark and Andrew, along with Bernie's brother Peter and his niece Shana, to recover some $199 million. But their assets are not frozen, and none of them has yet been charged with any crime.

Arvedlund, whose book about the Madoff affair is titled, Too Good to Be True, similarly details the exploits of Bernie's wife, older brother, niece, right-hand man, and key enablers—including the keystone cops at the SEC who ignored enough red flags to supply a Soviet political rally. As for the grandchildren, the Madoff name isn't so much a safety issue as one of shameful notoriety. If you happen to live in New York City and your name happens to be Madoff, well, best of luck in your future prospects.

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Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit's Sweet William EP

| Mon Feb. 15, 2010 9:00 AM EST

Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit
Sweet William EP

Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit will never again end up in the MoJo Dog Pile.

That’s what I call the cache of unsolicited media that for one reason or another never caught the attention of our reviewers. It's also where I discovered Flynn's debut CD, A Larum, and by the time I managed to listen to it and get myself hooked—I mean, I pretty much played it to death—it felt too late for a review. So last Thanksgiving I included A Larum in our (partial) staff list of Music We’re Thankful For, and moved on.

That very month, as if to extend my addiction, singer-guitarist Flynn released Sweet William, a stand-alone EP recorded at his home in London—he emigrated to the UK from South Africa at an early age. It's a sweet little four-song effort complete with more lush instrumentation from the Sussex Wit (horns, cello, piano, percussion), complementing Flynn’s Appalachian-tinged flat picking and adding depth to his timeless sound. (Flynn is also handy with a fiddle and a banjo.) The EP is also a friggin’ tease for the group’s second full-length, due out this spring. That record will be produced by Ryan Hadlock, who worked on A Larum and has assisted the likes of Blonde Redhead, the Strokes, and former Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus. (Permanent reunion, please?)

Unpacking Kraft Lunchables

| Wed Feb. 10, 2010 5:41 PM EST

Product: Kraft Oscar Mayer-brand Turkey + Cheddar Sub Sandwich Lunchables

Online product description: Turkey made with 100% turkey breast, Kraft 2% Cheddar and bread made with whole grain, these tasty subs come with Tree Top® Applesauce, Mini Nilla Wafers, spring water and Tropical Punch Kool-Aid Singles.

Pieces of packaging: ~9 (judging from photo)

Rosa Parks Had a Dream—and Claudette Colvin Made It a Reality.

| Mon Jan. 18, 2010 7:42 PM EST

I originally put up this book review the day before President Obama's inaugural, and today seemed like a fitting one to call readers' attention to it. Every great moment in history has a backstory you don't get from your grade-school textbooks, and the Rosa Parks' story is one of them. Since that January post, Twice Toward Justice has won a National Book Award, and garnered this nice write-up in the New York Times. (Although we did it nine months earlier.)

Happy MLK Day!

Jonathan Mann's 365 Songs in 365 Days

| Mon Jan. 4, 2010 7:30 AM EST

Jonathan Mann, a.k.a. the Song A Day guy, has more than a little musical chutzpah. Not only did the Berkeley, California, songwriter compose a new ditty every single friggin' day during 2009, rain or shine, in sickness or health, but he also created daily music videos to post on his website, called (WTF?) RockCookieBottom.com. Some are simple, some reasonably ambitious; a handful are truly inspired while another handful are shameless ploys to win contests or get media attention—and he's gotten his share, particularly on MSNBC. When you write a song every day, as Mann intimated to Rachel Maddow—who'd invited him on her show to perform his ode to economist Paul Krugman—a few of them are bound to be pretty lame. But occasionally you'll get a gem.

Rather than go back and listen to all 365 songs Mann wrote in 2009, I invited him to sum up the year for Music Monday, giving us his best and worst for each of the past 12 months. By the by, what began as a motivational experiment begat a lifestyle. Logging into my email on New Year's Day, I found a message from Mann in my inbox. Subject: "Song A Day #366!" In the past year, Mann also formed a band—the Rock Cookie Bottoms—with whom he performed his best creations live at an Oakland club. Recently the group went into the studio to record a five-song EP titled Barefoot in the Family Tree. You can download any of his songs, and will soon be able to purchase the EP, through his other website. And now, heeeere's Jonny….

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