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.

Can Michael Stipe and Eddie Vedder Shut Down Gitmo?

| Thu Oct. 22, 2009 7:24 AM EDT | Scheduled to publish Thu Oct. 22, 2009 6:00 AM EDT

Does being forced to listen to Bruce Springsteen constitute torture?

In truth, the guards at Guantanamo and other US military prisons overseas could have played detainees just about anything. Turn it up loud enough, set it to repeat enough times, and any song in existence—from metal band Doom's hyper-aggressive "Die MF Die" (lyrics: Die motherfucker die motherfucker die motherfucker... etc.) to Prince's "Raspberry Beret" to Don McClean's "American Pie" would suffice to disorient prisoners, mess with them, deprive them of sleep. As part of our March 2008 special report Torture Hits Home, we published a list including these songs and numerous others—the Barney theme, the Meow Mix cat food jingle—that were used by interrogators and guards to soften up their charges.

In December 2008, then Mojo staffer Jesse Finfrock reported that British human rights organization Reprieve had launched a campaign called zero dB (decibels) to fight such abuses; artists including Massive Attack and guitarist Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine—another name on our torture playlist—got on board to demand the US military stop using their songs. "It's difficult for me to imagine anything more profoundly insulting, demeaning and enraging than discovering music you've put your heart and soul into creating has been used for purposes of torture," Nine Inch Nails singer Trent Reznor wrote on the band's website days later. (NIN's songs were reportedly among those used to torture military contractor-turned-whistleblower Donald Vance.) "If there are any legal options that can be realistically taken they will be aggressively pursued," Reznor promised.

Today, he, Morello, and other prominent musicians—including megabands R.E.M. and Pearl Jam—took a step in that direction, attaching their names to a national campaign to pressure Congress to shutter Gitmo once and for all. They are also demanding that the government declassify documents related to the use of music in interrogations—a practice the United Nations has condemned. Among the other artists signing on are Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, T-Bone Burnett, David Byrne, Rosanne Cash, the Roots, Rise Against, and popular British crooner Billy Bragg. "Guantanamo may be Dick Cheney’s idea of America, but it’s not mine," Morello said in a statement announcing the effort. "The fact that music I helped create was used in crimes against humanity sickens me."

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Another Ralph Lauren Anorexia Ad

| Thu Oct. 15, 2009 2:48 PM EDT

Does Polo Ralph Lauren find its models in a prison camp? Nope, it just alters them to look that way. (See the "before" version here.) Maybe uproar over this practice will prompt the company to express futher regrets. Geez! When supermodel Filippa Hamilton, who was fired in April for being "overweight," said that the clothier owes all women an apology, she wasn't kidding. (For the full story, read the Related Stories posts below, top to bottom.) And a hat tip to Photoshop Disasters for posting the ad.

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Ralph Lauren Model Fired: Too Fat

| Thu Oct. 15, 2009 12:29 PM EDT

Holy haute couture! Ralph Lauren really doesn't get it. First the clothier sicced its lawyers on Boing Boing, one of the Web's most popular blogs, after a Boing Boing writer reproduced an ad photoshopped by the company's graphic artists to make its model look bizarrely skinny. An indignant Boing Boing declared a culture war against the attempted censorship, and the company eventually admitted that it had done a regrettable job on the ad.

Now, just when you thought this couldn't get worse, it comes out that Polo Ralph Lauren had terminated its contract with the model, Filippa Hamilton, back in April because she was too fat. (Hamilton is 5-foot-10 and weighs 120 pounds.) "They fired me because they said I was overweight and I couldn't fit in their clothes anymore," she told the New York Daily News on Tuesday. (See Hamilton's photo on the Daily News website to see what Ralph Lauren considers "overweight.")

According to the report, the 23-year-old model has worked for Lauren since 2002 and was distraught at being fired by an employer she'd come to see as "a second family." When the altered ad blew up online, she was surprised—and not pleasantly so—to see how her image had been distorted. "I think they owe American women an apology, a big apology," she told the paper. "I'm very proud of what I look like, and I think a role model should look healthy."

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Ralph Lauren Apologizes (Sort of) for its Anorexia Ad

| Thu Oct. 8, 2009 4:53 PM EDT

I don't need to rehash the censorship feud between popular website Boing Boing and Ralph Lauren. You can read about the first part here and the second part here. But today Boing Boing reports that the clothier has owned up to its Photoshop hatchet job on model (she has a name now!) Filippa Hamilton. "After further investigation, we have learned that we are responsible for the poor imaging and retouching that resulted in a very distorted image of a woman's body," Polo Ralph Lauren admitted in a statement today, according to Extra

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