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.

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.

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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?

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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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