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.

Re: Bing, Drum, Ford, & Jacko

| Mon Jul. 13, 2009 12:23 PM EDT

Our intrepid political blogger Kevin Drum posted last Thursday on whether anyone is actually using Bing, Microsoft's newly revamped, rebranded search engine. So I just had to share some fun stuff I read in Business Week last month about how Bing—already targeted by bloggywags as an acronym for "But It's Not Google!"—got its name. (I can't say I use Bing, but I have tried it: The home page is prettier than its rival's, but after searching it for "Michael Jackson," and looking at the list of results, I got to thinking that the Gates Posse should have called it Biig: "But It Imitates Google!")

Big companies just can't come up with clever names the way we at Mother Jones brainstorm clever headlines—that is, in a brief, frenzied series of internal emails. These days they feel compelled to outsource. According to the June 15 story by Bizweek marketing editor Burt Helm (the issue caught my attention because my birthday is June 16) Microsoft hired a firm called Interbrand, which set eight of its employees to brainstorming around themes like "speed" and "relevance." In six weeks, the team came up with 2,000 names, then nixed the lamest—somehow overlooking Bing—and whittled the list to 600.

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House GOP: Forget Parenting; Give 'Em Baby Einstein

| Mon Jul. 13, 2009 6:00 AM EDT

"Trillions in Spending, Billions for Babysitters? Nancy's 'Nanny-State' Enshrined in Legislation"—thus begins a policy document quietly released by the House Republican Conference (HRC) as the House Democrats introduced their big health reform package a couple of weeks ago.

The provision of the House megabill singled out for ridicule used to be a separate bill, HR2667, with one lonely GOP backer, Rep. Todd Russell Platts of Pennsylvania. As the HRC notes in its one-page brief, this provision would give states $1.75 billion in dedicated federal funds over five years to "improve the well-being, health, and development of children" via home visitation programs. It's intended to help teach low-income parents how kids develop, their age-appropriate behaviors and health issues, and "activities designed to help parents become full partners in the education of their children."

In short: babysitting.

SF Chronicle to Open Typewriter Shop

| Mon Jul. 6, 2009 3:20 PM EDT

The above apocryphal headline was more or less my initial reaction to this morning's paper, which was being handed out free downtown to tout the Chron's first issue printed on new, state-of-the-art, very expensive Canadian presses. Above the fold, a big photo of the Golden Gate Bridge poking through the fog at sunset is tailored to demonstrate just how nicely these presses work. "Today's editions usher in a brighter and more visually exciting era" for the paper, says a note announcing the changes, which include the paper's second major redesign this year. (In February, it touted the prior makeover—with its notes of USA Today—as "brighter and more modern.") But back to today's paper. It includes a special four-page section showing how the exciting new presses work. "A new era gets rolling," it promises.

Where, then, are the ads for those cool rotary telephones? Those newfangled horse-and-buggy courier services? Hot new 8-track releases, and the moving pictures?

 

Haiku Review: Studs Terkel's Last Interview

| Fri Jun. 12, 2009 11:22 AM EDT

Studs Terkel passed on October 31, 2008. Published last month, this somewhat hard-to-locate pamphlet (Feeney Publications, $8.00; email seneca321 at yahoo.com) ostensibly contains the final Q&A with the late, great American journalist and storyteller, conducted by British journalist Peter Devine. Indeed, it's titled The Final Interview. Length: 22 pages. Review length: 10 words.

Lucky timing, huh?
Terkel is always a hoot
Wanted: editor

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Haiku Review: The Inheritance, by David Sanger

| Fri Jun. 12, 2009 6:30 AM EDT

David Sanger, a 26-year veteran of the New York Times, and the paper's chief Washington correspondent, has shared in two Pulitzer Prizes. His eye-opening book on the state of the world that Obama inherits was published in January by Random House. It retails for $26.95 ($32 in Canada). Book length: 464 pages. Review length: 74 words.

Part I
Bush was distracted
Iran took full advantage
Got all they needed

Part II
A false Marshall Plan
Jihadists without borders
Pray for the Afghans

 

 

Part III
Prez backed the wrong horse
Are their nukes under control?
Musharraf played us

Part IV
Kim won't use his bombs
He sells to the Syrians
"Let's Eat Two Meals!"

Part V
Partner or rival?
Chinese talk green, export smog
We're reasonably screwed

Part VI
Three scenarios
Loose nukes, germs, cyber attacks
Defenses feeble

Takeaway Message
These are scary times
Can Obama save us all?
Shit or get off pot

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