Michael Mechanic

Michael Mechanic

Senior Editor

Michael has been a senior editor at MoJo for seven years, after spending nearly as long as an award-winning features editor at the alt-weekly East Bay Express. He edits (and occasionally writes) features, as well as being in charge of the magazine's Mixed Media section. His writing has appeared in a range of alt-weeklies, newspapers, and magazines including Wired, The Industry Standard, and the Los Angeles Times. 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 has been a senior editor at MoJo for seven years, after spending nearly as long as an award-winning features editor at the alt-weekly East Bay Express. He edits (and occasionally writes) features, as well as being in charge of the magazine's Mixed Media section. His writing has appeared in a range of alt-weeklies, newspapers, and magazines including Wired, The Industry Standard, and the Los Angeles Times. 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 tropical frog poisons. He later earned a masters degree in cellular and developmental biology from Harvard University and a masters in journalism from Cal. 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. (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 Something Like Slavery," a photoessay he wrote with photographer Nina Berman. The father of two preteens and caretaker of a surly cat named Phelps, Michael lives in Oakland, California, where, after years of classical piano and raucous punk-rock drumming (and releasing more than a dozen CDs on his former DIY label, Bad Monkey Records), he has retired to old-time fiddling. But you never know.

Jonathan Mann's 365 Songs in 365 Days

| Mon Jan. 4, 2010 6:30 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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A Terry Gilliam Christmas

| Thu Dec. 24, 2009 6:34 AM EST

It's been four years since Terry Gilliam's last film—the surreal Tideland, starring Jeff Bridges. Now, for Christmas, the Monty Python animator-turned-filmmaker has given us The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, a production that was a roller coaster ride even by Gilliam standards. (Speaking of which, Gilliam is taking another crack at The Man Who Killed Don Quixote—and Robert Duvall has reportedly agreed to play the lead.) Imaginarium is very Terry, with more than a small dose of the Python vibe. It's a dark, absurdist joyride pitting imagination against apathy and an ancient protagonist (Christopher Plummer) against the Devil (Tom Waits). It's a lot of fun. Go see it.

I spoke with Gilliam about how the film was thrown into complete disarray by the death of leading man Heath Ledger. That's a familiar narrative by now, but we also talked about the director's upbringing, his neuroses, his rep as a Hollywood nemesis, and his decision to give up American citizenship—not to mention sign that controversial petition in support of Roman Polanski. And of course, we talked about the constant struggle to sell his ideas: "It's enough hard work making the movie, and then you have to go out and blow the trumpet and beat the drum and do all these things," he told me in a bit that didn't make the edited interview. "Actually this part of the selling, at the end, is just repetitious. The difficult selling is at the beginning, trying to get the money."

Why Mammograms—and Other Tests—Should Be Rationed

| Wed Dec. 16, 2009 6:30 AM EST

Predictably, the GOP has capitalized on the recent uproar over revised mammogram recommendations as proof that the federal government is trying to ration your health care. And while the US Preventive Services Task Force (the panel doing the recommending) consists of 16 doctors who review the research and conduct risk-benefit analysis—the GOP is more or less correct. The government is trying to ration health care. And it should, according to Princeton University bioethicist Peter Singer.

I’m with Singer. In seeking the status quo, do these pols really imagine that health care isn’t now rationed by private insurers? Of course not. They’re just grandstanding. Fact is, no medical rationing is more extreme than kicking someone out of your health plan. Costs do need to be controlled, for sure, but the costs are just a symptom of bad decisions and perverse incentives that have made America's health care system No. 37 in the world—even though we're No. 1 in per-capita spending. A lot of those bad decisions involve unnecessary testing, followed by treatment for conditions that are not, in the end, life-threatening. I’m not talking about withholding a lifesaving treatment from your 75-year-old mother here, but rather about approaching health—and mortality—with rational medicine rather than emotional politics.

MoJo Podcast: Viggo Mortensen

| Fri Dec. 4, 2009 9:22 PM EST

Length: 23:42 minutes (21.71 MB)

This is the weekly podcast from Mother Jones. Viggo Mortensen stars in the new movie version of Cormac McCarthy's novel, The Road. In the film, he plays a father struggling for survival in a post-apocalyptic world. The 51-year-old Mortensen is probably best known for his portrayal of Aragorn in Lord of the Rings movies. He's also a poet, painter, fine arts photographer, and publisher of high-end art books. An outspoken foe of the Iraq War, Mortensen campaigned for Dennis Kucinich in 2008.

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