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.

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The CIA's Torture Psychologists

| Wed Aug. 12, 2009 3:52 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 1:00 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.)

Carbon-Spewing Baby Monsters, Round 2

| Thu Aug. 6, 2009 12:05 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.

KRON 4's 'Best Of' Pay to Play

| Wed Aug. 5, 2009 10:41 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.”

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