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.

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.

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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.

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.

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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