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.

Man's Video Plea for Public Option

| Fri Aug. 28, 2009 3:05 PM EDT

Dittoheads and Fox News watchers are understandably wary of any public healthcare option, given the misinformation shoved down their throats on a daily basis. (President Obama tries to dispel some of the myths here.) Part of people's fear, as explained by The New Yorker's James Surowiecki in the latest issue, can be explained by our innate tendency to assign an irrationally high value to something already in our possession—like our often crappy and expensive health insurance plans. But people really need to reflect on this stuff and not let fear and misinformation win out. Consider: What if you have a health problem that's covered through your employer, but you want to switch jobs? Will your new employer's insurance plan accept you? What if you're a freelance or contract worker? Or part-time? Or full-time without bennies? Or you got laid off? That's a lot of what-ifs, especially in the current economy. The bottom line, for anyone with a preexisting condition who isn't insured, is that you're pretty well screwed. Today, Boingboing.net, where you'll always learn something interesting, featured the personal Youtube video below. I think this guy sums up the whole issue pretty articulately—even if the majority of those (nearly) 50 million uninsured don't yet have a preexisting condition. Well, at least that they know of.

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NY Says No to Shackled Prison Births: 44 States To Go

| Thu Aug. 27, 2009 3:26 PM EDT

Are America’s law-and-order pols finally getting some humanity? Well, at least this week, at least in New York state, where Gov. David Paterson has signed a bill banning the shackling of incarcerated pregnant women during labor and recovery. Ever give birth? I haven’t, of course, but my wife can tell you it pretty much sucks. Now try it while cuffed to a hospital bed. At the time, our 2008 prison package, entitled Slammed: The Coming Prison Meltdown, noted that 48 states allowed shackling, which the College of Obstetricians and Gynecologist noted puts “the health and lives of women and unborn children at risk.”

This week, the American Civil Liberties Union told the Associated Press that, with New York, six states—including Texas, Illinois, California, Vermont, and New Mexico—will have prohibited the practice; two others, Massachusetts and Tennessee are considering bans. (The New York law still allows women to be shackled if their behavior is deemed a threat to hospital or prison guards, which is reasonable enough, although in the AP article, an ACLU laywer cited continuing complaints of shackling even in states where it is limited.)

In any case, it's a small, humane step for a very, very troubled American institution.

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The CIA's Torture Psychologists

| Wed Aug. 12, 2009 4:52 PM EDT

In July, in an investigative article entitled "First, Do Harm," Mojo contributor Justine Sharrock questioned why the US medical community has been so soft on medical professionals who participated, directly and indirectly, in abuse and torture of detainees at US military prisons.

Today in the New York Times, reporter Scott Shane held out the possibility that at least a couple of these rogue practitioners may eventually face justice. He reports on the activities of two former military men, psychologists who saw an opportunity and set up a lucrative contracting business that ultimately netted millions from the CIA to help set up the nation's torture program.

Day Without A Right-Wing Wack Job

| Fri Aug. 7, 2009 2:00 PM EDT

When I used to complain to my mother about my older brother's verbal taunts, she usually told me to just ignore it; it was my strident reaction that made him want to mess with me. I now tell my son the same when his little sister deliberately pushes his buttons. But we (somewhat rational) journalists are pathologically unable to grasp that simple truism and ignore the taunts of the bullies that populate right-wing cable and radio.

Truth is, our whole culture is addicted to meaningless controversy, and by god, it drives Web traffic like nothing doing. So when Obama is attacked by crazies who insist he lacks a birth certificate, when Glenn Beck jokes about poisoning Nancy Pelosi, when Fox lights up with claims that the Democrats want to euthanize the elderly, when Rush and others equate the president to Hitler, the journobloggers are all over it. Anytime I'm drawn to comment on this stuff, though, I have to admit some level of ambivalence. I still remember being annoyed years ago when one of Bill O'Reilly's antigay tirades about San Francisco made A-1 in the San Francisco Chronicle. Didn't the editors get it? To steal from the first Terminator movie: That's what he does. It's all he does. O'Reilly baits people, and they respond, and then he sells more books. Even 2 Live Crew, a feeble act that made millions in the 1990s off an obscene-lyrics controversy, understood that game. (Of course, fanning the O'Reilly flame probably sells more newspapers, too. And god knows, they need all the sales they can get. Evidence here.)

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