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.

Michael Chabon's Nonfiction Picks

| Tue May 11, 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 Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon's answers:

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

Michael Chabon: I don't do a lot of foisting, because when it comes to books I don’t really like to be foisted upon. But I'm always happy to find somebody else who loves the work of Lewis Hyde (Trickster Makes This World, The Gift) as much as I do. And I think I've been talking about Slavoj Zizek a little too much lately.

MJ: The work of nonfiction you've reread the most?

MC: I guess it would be Walter Benjamin's Illuminations, particularly the essays "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," "The Storyteller," and especially the "Theses on the Philosophy of History," which every time I finish it feels as if it was made out of something more evanescent than words. Also a continual rereader of John Clute's Encyclopedia of Fantasy—actually a single, immense, thrilling work of literary theory disguised as a reference book.

MJ: Nonfiction book someone gave you as a kid that left a lasting impression?

MC: That would be The Miracle of Language (Fawcett World Library, 1953), an obscure paperback history of language to be found on the TV-room shelf at my grandparents' house in Silver Spring, Maryland; clear and well-written and fascinating. I used to read it so often when I visited that eventually he gave it to me, in 1985, with the penciled inscription: "To Mike—A budding writer should know the tools of his trade. Grandpa."

MJ: As an enthusiast of the comic form, which graphic novelists make you salivate as you await their next book?

MC: Big fan of the Brits: Eddie Campbell, Warren Ellis, Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Grant Morrison. Open the door to include them along with Amis, McEwen, Rushdie, Moorcock, Byatt, Zadie Smith, David Mitchell, et al, and I think you could argue that over the past 20 years British literature has been going through one of the most vital and interesting periods in its history.

MJ: Whose nonfiction work do you find is more out there than your own fictional creations?

MC: Oh, no. Not going to get me to accept the premise of that one.

MJ: If I said, here's a million bucks, write me some long-form nonfiction, what would you first think to write about?

MC: The false history of baseball (Doubleday, Cooperstown), the real history of baseball (town ball, Cartwright), all the colorful characters and hucksters and autocrats and players of which they’re both composed, and how the interplay of the deliberate lie and the obscured truth is so emblematic of American historiography in general.

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22,673 Pixies Listens (and Counting)

| Mon May 10, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

ClintJCL is obsessed with gathering data. Personal data. He catalogues every TV series he watches, and every movie. He posts a lot on Flickr. He blogs. He compiles monthly summaries of all of his activities. And, for the past decade, he has meticulously documented his listening habits—down to the song—and charted them.

"I like to be able to reflect back on what I did," Clint explains via email. "Do most people know what they were listening to in 1982? Nope, and I don't either. But I can at least change that, moving forward, by generating one of these each year." (By one of these, he means one of these oddly bulbous listening charts: You can see the blown-up version here.)

ClintJCL won't tell me his actual last name, which is kinda incongruous, given how much he advertises about himself online. (As of last night, if you'd googled him, you'd have gotten 22,200 hits.) I know, for instance, that Clint is a 36-year-old born on January 13, 1974 (during the Super Bowl). I know the names and birth dates of his parents and his sister, Britt. I know that he leans libertarian, and that he met his wife, Carolyn, on a pre-Internet computer bulletin board service—even though they went to the same high school. I also know that Clint is 5-foot-9, 150 lbs, with hazel eyes and frizzy brown hair—and that he hails from Woodbridge, Virginia. Then again, this could all be an elaborate hoax; for all I really know, Clint is a very clever 15-year-old girl from Seattle.

Anti-Gay Crusader Just Trying to "Help" Gay Escort

| Fri May 7, 2010 2:43 PM EDT

UPDATE: Rekers said he'd been with other escorts, Lucien claims. (See end of post.)

George Rekers, cofounder of the fundamentalist Family Research Council, hired a male prostitute from a gay website called RentBoy.com in order to save him.

Or at least that's Rekers' spin attempt since Wednesday, when Miami New Times contributors Penn Bullock and Brandon K. Thorp exposed the anti-gay crusader's two-week European romp with a rent boy they dubbed "Lucien."

"I have spent much time as a mental health professional and as a Christian minister helping and lovingly caring for people identifying themselves as 'gay.' My hero is Jesus Christ who loves even the culturally despised people, including sexual sinners and prostitutes. Like Jesus Christ, I deliberately spend time with sinners with the loving goal to try to help them," Rekers wrote in a statement obtained by Joe. My. God.—a blog I'm going to have to read more often.

What Happens When You Mix Oath Keepers and AK-47s?

| Thu May 6, 2010 2:03 PM EDT

Never a dull moment with Oath Keepers, the self-styled patriot group we profiled in our March/April issue. The latest episode involved an interesting little standoff in Tennessee between state troopers and Darren Huff, a Navy vet and gung-ho member of the group. (Oath Keepers, consisting largely of current and former soldiers and police, urges members to disobey any orders they deem unconstitutional—such as orders to confiscate citizens' firearms, herd people into detention camps, or harbor foreign troops on American soil.)

In this instance, Huff wasn't exactly standing down. Talking Points Memo reports that he was pumped up over an earlier, April 1 standoff at the Monroe County courthouse in Madisonville, where Tennessean and former Navy officer Walter Fitzpatrick had tried to conduct a citizen's arrest of Grand Jury foreman Gary Pettway. Fitzpatrick is a leading member of the Birther group American Grand Jury, which seeks to have President Obama indicted for treason, arguing that he is not a US citizen and is thus serving illegally as commander in chief. (Obama was also once a CIA operative, AGJ claims.)

So anyway, Fitz showed up, more or less made a nuisance of himself, and got himself arrested—which was probably unnecessary on all parts. But to fellow AGJ leader Carl Swensson, the authorities had crossed the proverbial line in the sand. In the video below, he calls upon all who took an oath to uphold the Constitution to march on the courthouse. "This man put his life, his honor, his fortune on the line for us in very much the same fashion as our founding fathers did," Swensson implores. "And this is it. This is the moment in time that you who have been on the fence must get off of that fence. Please, go to the courthouse en masse.…I ask you right now to honor [[your oath]]. Get down there. Get him out of jail."

Everybody Draw Mohammed...Oops!

| Wed Apr. 28, 2010 4:00 AM EDT

Cartoonist Molly Norris took a principled, tongue-in-cheek stand, and now she's getting some rather cold feet.

The Seattle artist was irked by Comedy Central's recent refusal to air a South Park episode depicting the prophet Mohammed—a big no-no in Islamic circles. The censorship came in response to threats against South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone by the website Revolution Muslim, which according to the Internet rumor mill is run by an Israeli Jew named Joseph Cohen.

Actually, South Park has depicted the prophet in the past with little fanfare—see Boing Boing's interview with Parker and Stone—but that was before the European cartoon-contest uproar, and before Dutch film director Theo Van Gogh was murdered for his work on the short film Submission.

By Molly NorrisIn any case, to protest the censorship, Norris created the satirical poster at left (which needs some copyediting) and put it on her website. She then sent it to Dan Savage, the always-provocative editor of Seattle alt-weekly The Stranger, who posted it without comment last Friday on the paper's Slog blog.

Somehow, Norris thought it would remain local.

Savage told me he agreed with the sentiment, so he posted the artwork. "Now it's all over the world," he said.By Molly Norris "She was trying to start something, but now she's running scared and freaked out."

That's in part because her work—yes—depicts the prophet. As a cup of tea, a domino, a box of pasta, and—hey, you have eyes, read it yourself! (UPDATE: Norris writes that these figures don't depict Mohammed; they just claim to.) This probably didn't win her many Muslim fans—Islam forbids any representations of Allah and Mohammed, especially as a dog-shaped purse. (Then again, some Muslims weren't too happy about the threats against Parker and Stone.)

Norris' poster went viral, even inspiring a Facebook group and counter-group. And Reason magazine promptly joined in, asking readers to submit drawings of the prophet, which it promised to publish on May 20.

All this attention left Morris feeling, well, pretty damn nervous. She joined the group "Ban Everyone Draw Mohammed Day," took the poster down from her website—a move akin to trying to put toothpaste back in its tube—and replaced it with an explanatory cartoon:

"I have hit some kind of gigantic nerve!...I have let people down!...I am so freaked out that I am not even drinking my regular 4 pots of coffee a day...Good think I'm married to a sumo wrestler!"

And so on.

She may find some solace in the fact that America is on her side. While I was writing this post, the results of a new Zogby poll appeared in my inbox. (Me just loves this Interweb thing!) And here's what Zogby found:

Generally speaking, do you agree or disagree with Comedy Central's decision to censor parts of a South Park episode deemed offensive to some Muslims?

Overall: 19%
Democrats: 27%
Republicans: 9%
Independents: 19%

Overall: 71%
Dems: 60%
Republicans: 87%
Indies: 68%

Sorry, but I'm so with the the Republicans and the South Park guys on this one. Muslims and Christians and Jews—and, for that matter, unbelievers—have every right to be angry, to carry picket signs, to write letters to the editor, rant in the blog comments, or change the channel when somebody disrespects their object of reverence.

But free speech, when tested, is never pretty. It pays to remember that Supreme Court free-speech cases don't involve polite Midwesterners and the like, but rather people like Hustler's Larry Flynt or Westboro Baptist's Reverend Fred Phelps—people who say and do and print extremely offensive things. And if they offend you, well, don't buy their magazines—or try and sue them if you like. But nobody should be allowed to use religion to take away other peoples' right to self-expression. Least of all here. Because, you know, in addition to Yahweh and Jesus and Allah, we Americans also worship a 223-year-old document that strongly implies something to this effect.

UPDATE: Norris has added a quote to her home page that I couldn't agree with more, and that also applies perfectly to things like flag-burning: "Fight for the right to draw Mohammed, but then decline doing so."

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