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.

MoJo Photo Editor Honored for Shot of Occupy Mayhem

| Thu Mar. 21, 2013 12:06 PM PDT
Occupy protesters flee an attempt by Oakland police to entrap them.

The shot above, by our photo editor Mark Murrmann, has been selected for inclusion in American Photography 29, a highly prestigious juried competition and photo book that leans toward edgier work. "Regarded as the books of record," the competition website notes, they "are still produced in all their defiant, large-format, luxurious, hard cover glory."

The winning photo was part of his series from a January 2012 Occupy protest in downtown Oakland, California, where tensions between protestors and police were at the boiling point. Mark, who had to run from the riot cops along with everybody else, offered this play by play:

It was another prime situation in which to be kettled—narrow streets, with large condos on all sides. And this time it happened: A line of police moved in from Telegraph, not letting anyone in the crowd out. Another line moved in from the opposite direction. I got cut off from the main protest, along with a few Occupy medics. We made our way around to Telegraph, on the other side of the kettle. A block away, in the kettle, a flash grenade went off. Two girls on bikes pleaded with police to be let out. Then, a large group of protesters broke down a recently re-erected chainlink fence enclosing a vacant lot next to the park. Protesters flooded the lot, breaking free of the kettle. The march resumed up Telegraph Avenue.

In the end, he managed to avoid arrest (unlike at least one of our reporters). Murrmann enjoys shooting punk rock shows in his spare time, so he's pretty comfortable amid mayhem. He's also got a sharp eye for light, motion, and composition—the resulting work is artful, gritty, and visceral. Here's another batch he shot on the fly when a bunch of Occupy protestors decided to take over a Bank of America in San Francisco's Financial District. In any case, it's an honor well deserved.

Police respond to an Occupy protest at BofA in San Francisco.
Police respond to an Occupy protest at BofA in San Francisco, Nov. 17, 2012. Mark Murrmann

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More (Stronger) Evidence Linking Sugar to Diabetes

| Thu Feb. 28, 2013 11:36 AM PST

A new study published in the open-access science journal PLoS One offers some of the strongest evidence yet associating sugar, independent of other diet and lifestyle factors, with type 2 diabetes—a link that the sugar industry has sought for decades to debunk.

The study's four authors, including Robert Lustig of the University of California-San Francisco, examined data on sugar intake and diabetes prevalence in 175 countries "controlling for other food types (including fibers, meats, fruits, oils, cereals), total calories, overweight and obesity, period-effects, and several socioeconomic variables such as aging, urbanization and income."

For each bump in sugar "availability" (consumption plus waste) equivalent to about a can of soda per day, they observed a 1 percent rise in diabetes prevalence. This is a correlation, of course, and correlation does not necessarily equal causation. On the other hand, as the authors note in a lay summary, this "is far stronger than a typical point-in-time medical correlation study."

"No other food types yielded significant individual associations with diabetes prevalence after controlling for obesity and other confounders," the PLoS article states. "Differences in sugar availability statistically explain variations in diabetes prevalence rates at a population level that are not explained by physical activity, overweight or obesity."

The correlation, the authors also reported, was "independent of other changes in economic and social change such as urbanization, aging, changes to household income, sedentary lifestyles, and tobacco or alcohol use. We found that obesity appeared to exacerbate, but not confound, the impact of sugar availability on diabetes prevalence, strengthening the argument for targeted public health approaches to excessive sugar consumption."

Charts: The Staggering Cost of Death Row for California Taxpayers

| Tue Feb. 19, 2013 4:02 AM PST

I recently came across an ambitious infographic created by the California Innocence Project following the failure of state Proposition 34, which, had it passed last November, would have abolished the death penalty in California. Voters weren't quite ready to go there—they rejected Prop. 34 by a 52-48 margin. Yet nearly 6 million Californians voted to do away with capital punishment, the administration of which has been fraught with problems, and which has huge budget implications in a state struggling mightily to fund essentials like public education.

The infographic is worth revisiting in light of California's policy on capital punishment remaining status quo. The Innocence Project, a program of California Western Law School that aims to identify wrongfully convicted prisoners and work toward their release, presents the facts here as they apply to California, whose death row population even dwarfs that of Texas. (Although Texas executes more people by far than any other state.) The numbers are stark, to say the least:

What sentencing people to death costs California taxpayers:

How much more it costs to keep someone on death row:

How much Californians pay per execution, and how long it takes:

The number of people California sentences to death:

The skewed racial makeup of the condemned:

The relative size of California's death row population:

The number of people wrongfully sentenced to death in California and elsewhere—that we know of…

…in many cases because of racism, incompetence, and/or official misconduct:

There's even more interesting stuff in the original infographic, which you can view or download from the California Innocence Project's website.

Laugh Your Shorts off With Buster Keaton in San Francisco

| Thu Feb. 14, 2013 5:07 PM PST
Buster Keaton and Sybil Seely in 1920's "One Week."

Silence. Silence? From a roomful of six young children? And then, without warning, peals of laughter and exclamations and a frenzy of competing comments. Repeat.

Across the room, I was trying to socialize with the grown-ups and not be rude, but my attention kept straying over to the TV, where we were previewing a series of rare and hilarious Buster Keaton shorts that Bay Area residents can catch on Saturday at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival's "Silent Winter"—a one-day program at the Castro Theatre.

The coolest thing is that the whole program will be scored live—no tUne-yArds, alas, but still you get to hear Donald Sosin on grand piano, Chris Elliot on the Mighty Wurlitzer, and the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.

We loved all the Keaton shorts, including One Week, from 1920, where a jilted suitor sets out to foil the construction of a newlywed couple's new home. The Play House, from 1921, includes various theater foibles and fiascos. One self-referential gag that reminded me of Being John Malkovich involves a theater program where Buster Keaton appears on screen as more than one character simultaneously—a visual trick that was a lot harder to pull off in those days. But our favorite was 1920's The Scarecrow, which had everybody in hysterics. Housemate buddies compete for the same girl, while a stern father and a mad dog do their best to thwart the transaction.

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