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.

Full Bio | Get my RSS |

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.

Saying Goodbye to Clove Cigarettes

| Tue Sep. 22, 2009 2:47 PM EDT

Walking home from high school one day during freshman year, I ran into my sometimes friend Michel Finzi with his sidekick, a smart-ass kid named George who played in the school band. Finzi, a good-looking French kid who was always regaling me with stories of the girls and surfing at Cape Cod, a world totally foreign to me, was smoking something enticingly pungent. "What's that?" I asked.

"A Krak," Finzi said. "Wanna try?" He handed over a burning Krakatoa brand clove cigarette.

I took a drag of the sweet, heavy smoke, and after about five seconds was floating pleasantly. "Cool," I said. So Finzi, who was headed the other way, generously gave me my own to smoke. By the time I got home, I'd finished about half of it and was feeling pretty damn sick. Had to lie down a while.

Thus began my occasional affair with clove cigarettes. But never again did I smoke one alone. A complex etiquette developed among my close friends. A clove had to be shared with others. Spoken of in codes. Symbols on the package took on special meanings. One could not smoke it past a certain point. One could never ask for a lit clove, reach out for it, or even eye it furtively in the hands of another. It could only be offered. But woe befall those who would Bogart it—hold it longer than the others deemed appropriate. For that sin, you risked ignominy.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Penthouse, iPhone, and Fishing Music

| Mon Sep. 21, 2009 6:30 AM EDT

Ben Winship, David Thompson (and friends)
Fishing Music II

I haven't listened to Fishing Music I, so you won't find any comparisons here. But as a kid back in Wisconsin, I regularly scrutinized the Bass Pro Shops catalog and subscribed to a magazine called Fishing Facts. Back then at least, each issue kicked off with a Penthouse Forum-style letters section, except with fish. Typically, you'd get stuff like: "The sun had set and it was growing dark along the fringes of Lake Wingra. I was cold and discouraged; not a strike all day, and so I decided to call it quits. With one desperate last cast, I tossed my #2 Mepps minnow near the end of a submerged pine, and reeled it back, jigging slightly. When all of a sudden a tremendous yank on the line nearly pulled me out of my canoe. My Fenwick superlight nearly snapped in two as the 13-pound, 7-ounce lunker bass took off with my Mepps." (Cue heavy breathing.)

What were we talking about, again? Oh right, the fishing CD. We'll get to that. But let me tell you about the iPhone I bought my wife for her birthday. Or rather, I said, "I'm getting you an iPhone for your birthday, but you should set it up how you want it," so I only bought it for her in the abstract. The point is that she installed a little app called Flick Fishing—weird, since fishing isn't among her passions. But this thing is a patently addictive little timewaster. You choose a location, pick a lure or bait, make a casting motion with the phone, and when something strikes, you turn a reel on the screen to land it. Sometimes the line snaps or you get an old boot. More often you land a fine-looking specimen with goosed poundage. If you were impressed by that 13-pound, 7-ounce bass from above, a couple weeks back I landed a 19 pounder in the game. "This is so unrealistic!" I complained to Laura, momentarily forgetting my irony detector. "Nobody catches a 19-pound largemouth bass!" (Or maybe I was just using the wrong bait all those years.)

CNN's Off-Record Video: Obama Calls Kanye 'Jackass'

| Thu Sep. 17, 2009 1:47 PM EDT

Okay folks, here it is. You know you want it! Too bad presidents can't always be this...human. Because Kanye West was indeed being a jackass. In case you've had your head buried in the sand the past week, Obama was referring to Kanye's stage-crashing at MTV's Video Music Awards, taking the mic from Taylor Swift, winner of the Best Video category, and saying that the award should have been Beyonce's. (The incident, an instant cultural meme, has triggered any number of spinoffs, like this one, and this!) Trouble was, the comment was off-the-record, but employees at ABC, which share a feed with CNN, saw the video and promptly tweeted it. But there's more to this story. You'll note that this video is branded Politico and TPM. Well, Politico, for one, apparently acquired and posted the video but then quickly pulled it out of respect, it explained, for a fellow news organization. But CNN decided Politico's could remain on YouTube. Moral: In the Twitter age, you can never put the toothpaste back in the tube.

Follow Michael Mechanic on Twitter.

How to Get Your Future Teenager Pregnant

| Thu Sep. 17, 2009 12:32 PM EDT

Look, I'm no prude, and my Spanish is lacking, but I do get what "Hay Trampa!" means, and let's just say these grown-ups—captured in this video posted on YouTube-like site LiveLeak.com—won't make my list of potential babysitters. I'm not even sure this takes place in America. But still. Where is it okay to teach kids this young to get busy? I think the moment that struck me most is when one of the adult women presents her rear for the little boy to hump. The posting title, referring to the dance music, dissapprovingly asked: Esto es reggaeton?

Follow Michael Mechanic on Twitter.

Facebook's Public Option

| Fri Sep. 11, 2009 7:00 AM EDT

Some 23 federal agencies already have Facebook pages, according to the blog FederalComputerWeek, but we can expect still more to sign up now that the social media site has launched a new Facebook and Government page (nearly 500 friends already!) to help timid bureaucrats reach out to the public. Among its inaugural Wall postings were an unveiling of NATO's own new Facebook pages, a primer on the administration's "White House Live" app, which allows video streaming of events, and a military media link heralding 20,000 fans for US Forces Afghanistan's Facebook page—an item that was already a bit stale, since USFA boasted more than 28,500 fans as of yesterday. There was also a link to a blog post by the Army's Director of Online and Social Media, entitled "Connecting and Sharing the Army Way," and another to the Army policy for Wall comments: No graphic, obscene, explicit, abusive, hateful, or racial comments, or "comments intended to defame anyone or any organization."

Apparently some federal agencies already know precisely how to reach America's young people—well, at least until they enroll.

Follow Michael Mechanic on Twitter.
 

Wed Sep. 17, 2014 5:30 AM EDT
Mon Apr. 21, 2014 6:00 AM EDT
Mon Feb. 10, 2014 7:00 AM EST
Thu Jan. 24, 2013 7:06 AM EST
Mon Dec. 31, 2012 3:22 PM EST
Fri Dec. 14, 2012 11:03 PM EST
Fri Nov. 16, 2012 4:56 PM EST
Thu Nov. 1, 2012 4:31 PM EDT
Thu Sep. 27, 2012 2:07 PM EDT
Thu Mar. 22, 2012 3:05 PM EDT
Tue Mar. 20, 2012 6:30 AM EDT
Mon Mar. 19, 2012 2:02 PM EDT
Mon Feb. 27, 2012 7:00 AM EST
Wed Jan. 25, 2012 7:00 AM EST
Mon Dec. 5, 2011 6:00 AM EST
Thu Dec. 1, 2011 7:30 PM EST
Tue Nov. 22, 2011 6:10 PM EST
Fri Oct. 21, 2011 6:30 AM EDT
Mon Jun. 20, 2011 8:51 PM EDT
Mon Jun. 6, 2011 6:30 AM EDT
Mon Jun. 6, 2011 6:30 AM EDT
Mon May. 16, 2011 6:50 AM EDT