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.

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.

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My Big Fat Private Government

| Tue Sep. 8, 2009 4:08 PM EDT

One day after sharing Dan Schulman's "Embassy Guards Gone Wild" blog item with my Facebook friends, I ran into one of them at our kids' grade-school playground. He was still tripping over the graphic photos, and said something along the lines of, "Aren't we supposed to have Marines to guard the embassies, who are well-trained and paid less and …

"… don't eat potato chips out of each other's asses?" I finished.

One would hope. But as Tim Shorrock explains in our current issue, the federal government has outsourced itself into a state of ineptitude. At last count, there were more federal contract workers than civil service employees, and contractors conduct some of the most sensitive (even illegal) tasks the US government performs—and do so at a higher cost to you and me. Operating spy satellites? Check. Flying predator drones over Pakistan? Check. Running covert assassination programs? Check. Shorrock reports:

Free Torture Trading Cards!

| Wed Sep. 2, 2009 7:00 AM EDT

It was only a matter of time. Remember those Operation Enduring Freedom trading cards that Topps put out in 2001? And who could forget those Iraq's Most Wanted trading cards released by the Pentagon back in the halcyon days of 2003. There's a card for everything nowadays. During the Clinton years, I even wrote a little piece for Mother Jones on colorful infectious disease trading cards the CDC was handing out to children—ebola, plague, meningitis and all of that fun stuff. (Sorry, it's not online.) So it comes as little surprise that the Center for Constitutional Rights has come up with its own Torture Team collectibles.

You can order up hard copies of the Torture Team cards—10 for free; all 20 for $5—but if you're just browsing, CCR has created a neat Flash widget to display them online. Check out George W. and Condi, along with Cheney and his evil sidekick David "the Shadow" Addington, arguably the most ruthless driver of Bush-era torture policies and, according to a media quote on the card, "the most powerful man you've never heard of." Don't forget White House legal pariahs like John Yoo and Jay Bybee. Or the brass—former Pentagon top dogs like Don Rumsfeld, Guantanamo CO Geoffrey Miller (who helped involve doctors in torture) and the Iraq-bungling Douglas Feith. You can click to flip the cards and reveal each player's basic stats, along with fun tidbits and quotes in their own words. (Feith: "Removal of clothing doesn't mean naked.")

Best of all, if you want to add your two cents, the site lets you sign up as part of "Team Justice" and create your own card, complete with your photo and whatever you care to say about the patriotic activities of the Torture Team. The mind reels with the possibilities. Somehow, though, I don't think Topps is gonna greelight this one. It doesn't package well enough with bubble gum.

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Physicians' Group Seeks Criminal Investigation of Torture Docs

| Mon Aug. 31, 2009 3:52 PM EDT

Doctors, nurses, psychologists, and other health care professionals complicit in the US torture program should be subject to an independent investigation, and those found to have violated professional ethics or the law should be prosecuted and/or lose their license and professional society memberships. That sentiment, from the nonprofit Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), may well mark the first time a doctors' group has demanded true accountability of its professional peers.

Back in 1986, PHR was founded on the idea that health care professionals—given "their specialized skills, ethical commitments, and credible voices, are uniquely positioned to investigate the health consequences of human rights violations and work to stop them." Little did the founders realize they would one day be looking into the activities of their own government and colleagues.

The MoJo Back-to-School Playlist

| Mon Aug. 31, 2009 7:00 AM EDT

In the interest of ending family iPod wars, we asked some of our staff breeders to kick down with songs, artists, and albums that they and their young kids both like. We encourage readers to chime in in the comments section with mini-reviews of your own kids' songs that grownups dig and gr'up songs that they enjoy.

Toy Dolls, "Nellie the Elephant"—In 1984, these rowdy Brit-punks re-popularized a ditty first recorded by child actress Mandy Miller in 1956 about a circus elephant that escapes back to the jungle. Huge buildup to a frenzied chorus that makes my 4- and 7-year-old dance like mad; their inevitable refrain: "AGAIN!" (Check out the video here.)
M.I.A., ArularMaya Arulpragasam's 2005 debut has its risqué bits, but they'll fly over the head of anyone under 10. My kids dig the Sri Lanka-born British popstar's vocal quirks and super-catchy, funky beats (even if I’d give Kala, her follow-up record, a C+). In addition to the obvious kid-magnet ("Banana Skit"), my 4-year-old Ruby requests "Pull Up the People" and what she calls the "Bucky" song ("Bucky Done Gun").
Dan Zanes—Suppose I have to acknowledge the guy who repopularized the kids-music-that-grownups-can-stand genre, even if I never want to listen to another Dan Zanes tune until I'm a granddad. A father himself—that’s how he got into this—Zanes mines traditional tunes from around the world for his family-friendly repertoire, bringing on guests like John Doe, Lou Reed, and Aimee Mann for cameos. Pretty cool. But it's also gotten to be quite the earnest empire, with eight albums, compilations and spinoffs, books, a DVD, t-shirts, onesies, stuffed animals, and tote bags. ('m holding out for the action figure.) In short, if you're anything like my family, you will inevitably reach a Dan Zanes burnout point. Say, by age 5. And yes, I am just jealous.
Pete Seeger, Birds, Beasts, Bugs & Fishes (Little & Big)—The title says it. If you can stomach Seeger's earnestness, you won't go wrong with his epic collection of traditional American tunes about critters, first released back in 1955. A majority of these 28 tracks are more pleasurable than annoying, with the exception of the vastly overexposed ditties like "I Know an Old Lady" and "Teency Weency Spider." A little creative iTunes editing will do wonders for your sanity.
Mississippi John Hurt, 1928 Sessions—My first baby adored this, it's quiet enough to put kids to bed by, and it's just a damn fine listen, evocative of simpler times. Although from ages three to five I had to skip over a few tunes due to occasionally violent imagery, as in "Ain't No Tellin'" (Don't you let my good girl catch you here/ She might shoot you, may cut and starve you too/Ain't no tellin' what she might do.) But now that Nikko is 7 and enjoys cutting off my metaphorical limbs with metaphorical swords, he can once again enjoy Hurt's sublimely soulful, scratchy, old-time-blues fingerpicking. Besides, it's only a matter of time before he discovers my Straight Outta Compton LP. —Michael Mechanic, senior editor

S.E. Rogie, Dead Men Don't Smoke Marijuana—Once you get past the album title, this is a bunch of mellow, lovable tunes that allude to nothing more nefarious than romance and maybe a drink or two. Sung in English and pidgin by a master of Sierra Leonean "palm wine" music, who sadly died a couple of years ago.

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