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.

Carbon-Spewing Baby Monsters, Round 2

| Thu Aug. 6, 2009 1:05 PM EDT

A debate that raged on this website back in March, when environmental correspondent Julia Whitty's posting about the climate change impact of childrearing led to nearly 150 comments—that's a lot—is being rekindled this week over at Livescience and Treehugger.

The issue at hand: Can we afford, environmentally speaking, to have so many children? (Whether our marriages can afford it is a separate debate.) As Whitty previously reported, scientists at Oregon State estimated that, under current conditions, each American child adds 9,441 metric tons of CO2 to the average mother's lifetime carbon legacy, nearly six times the carbon footprint of a childless American woman. By contast, each Bandladeshi child adds only 56 metric tons to his mom's lifetime footprint.

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KRON 4's 'Best Of' Pay to Play

| Wed Aug. 5, 2009 11:41 AM EDT

At the East Bay Express, the Oakland, California-based alternative weekly where I spent years as managing editor, few things annoyed our reporting staff more than the annual ritual known as Best Of the East Bay. That's the issue where we would corral them, along with scores of freelance contributors, to suss out and write up (without their usual cynicism) the area's most noteworthy people, places, activities, art, music, products, services, eateries, bars, and so forth. The freelancers were eager for the work; the staff was merely resigned, knowing that it was this issue that paid their salaries. These Best Of issues have long been a cash cow for alt-weeklies and regional lifestyle magazines, often tripling the average issue's page count. They are packed with advertising and are popular with readers. The Best Of formula has been such a winner that, over the years, daily newspapers and TV stations have attempted, mostly feebly, to replicate it. (Click here for our recent collection of snippets on the death of newspapers.)

While the hard-boiled news hounds found it beneath their dignity to cheerlead for local businesses, what resulted was at least a purely editorial product. We would run full-page ballots in the three preceding issues, as well as an online ballot, allowing readers to elect their own "reader's poll" winners—we took pains to eliminate ballot stuffing and we disqualified obvious cheaters. Neither the winners nor the paper's sales reps were alerted in advance as to who had won, nor did the ad reps have any part in selecting nominees. Allowing them to meddle would have destroyed the issue's credibility. Which is why I don't put much credence in "Best of the Bay Television," produced by KRON 4, a former San Francisco NBC affiliate that bills itself “the Bay Area’s News Station.”

Why Did the Feds Bury Data on Cell-Phone Dangers?

| Tue Jul. 21, 2009 4:14 PM EDT

Last October, we reported what the New York Times has now discovered—something we've all probably suspected, but had little hard data to go on: that driving a car while yakking or texting on an electronic device is an extremely risky proposition. And that the hands-free laws many states have enacted are of little value, a politically expedient solution that is unlikely to save lives, but lets lawmakers seem to be doing something without incurring the wrath of the powerful cell phone industry.

The moving story by Mother Jones contributor Myron Levin involved the plight of the Teaters, a Michigan family whose 12-year-old (pictured) was killed by a chatting motorist, and his father's determination to get some answers. The driver, Levin reported, "had clear skies and good visibility. She was sober. And yet she had failed to process a whole string of visual cues. To Dave Teater, this made no sense at all—so he began to do some research." Key to Levin's story was the quashing, by top Transportation Department officials, of an extensive report on cell-phone driving risks that the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) had intended to make public.

How Henry Louis Gates Blew It

| Tue Jul. 21, 2009 2:23 PM EDT

Smiling triumphantly, I opened the front door only to stare straight down the barrel of a police 9mm. I don't think I said a word. Just slowly put my hands in the air. Let the officer cuff me and put me in the cramped backseat of his cruiser.

The scene was Emeryville, California. It was 1993, and I had just entered an unlocked upstairs window to gain entry to the residence where my companion was house sitting. We'd accidentally locked the keys inside. The neighbors didn't know that, though. They just saw an unfamiliar white man trying to get in. Eventually, I was released, upset and humiliated to be treated like a criminal, but I knew better than to get righteous on a police officer. As I'd learned the hard way four years prior, that's a losing game.

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