Jesse Ellison

Stories by Jesse Ellison

  • A Breakdown of Afghanistan War Costs

    The current cost to station 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan: just over $65 billion—or, to quote a figure politicians have extrapolated, about $1 million a soldier. (Obama's budget director has cited this ratio in estimating surge costs.) Why so much? A breakdown, using 2010 Defense numbers: ...
  • Geo-Engineering: Quick, Cheap Way to Cool Planet?

    There will be no climate treaty to emerge from the conference in Copenhagen this month, global leaders now concede. But there may be alternative ways to help combat global warming. Various methods of geo--engineering employ unorthodox means to cool the planet. Advocates say that some of these proposals could be implemented quickly and cheaply. One concept is known as stratospheric aerosol insertion. A primer: ...
  • 5 Stale Stereotypes on the New Season of 'Top Chef'

    Stereotypes are reality television's bread and butter. We know that. But Top Chef, we thought you were different. We thought you were special! The show returns for its sixth season tonight, and if the first episode is any indication, many of the contestants this time around seem, well, scripted. We'll see how they play out as the season progresses, but here's a look at whom we've got so far: He arrives wearing a bright red neckerchief. A neckerchief. A red one. He has yet to take it off.In the first episode alone, he calls one guy a monkey, says "whatever she is" about a woman with closely cropped hair, and complains during a competition: "No offense, but a girl shouldn't be at the same level I am." Buddy, if you have to say "no offense," it's probably offensive.The older is reserved, controlled, conservative. The younger has many tattoos. They love each other, clearly want to beat each other, and talk a lot of trash.A...
  • Big Thinkers Unite on a New Web Site

    In short video clips, the new web site Sputnik Observatory seamlessly links disparate ideas into cohesive, connected trains of thought. One thread—the site prefers the term "pathway"—begins with an elderly physicist speculating about whether humans might have dormant capabilities, like being able to fly, and ends with a neurologist explaining why some brains turn sounds into mental paintings. In between, big thinkers touch on Buddhism, the animal brain, and the cellular response to emotional experiences. Taken together, the speakers articulate a multilayered vision of what it means, presumably, to be in control of one's faculties (thus the pathway's name, "Lost Faculty").A collaboration between interactive designer Jonathan Harris and New York City–based nonprofit Sputnik, Inc., the site is about its architecture as much as its content (a repository of interviews collected during more than a decade). What may appear to be just some chrome dome going off on a tangent—in the "Muscle...
  • Young Doctor Wants to Reinvent Health Care

    A young pediatrician turned entrepreneur says he's got a plan to save America's failing primary-care system. But critics say putting medicine online is only part of the solution.
  • Why the New Movie "Earth" Might Terrify Your Kids

    There's a scene early in the gorgeous new documentary "Earth" in which a wolf stalks a caribou calf through the grasslands of northern Canada. The chase, filmed in slow motion, feels epic. At points the calf seems on the verge of escape. Then, in a blink, its little legs buckle. The movie doesn't show what happens next, but in the theater where I saw it, everyone got the point—including the little girl sitting in front of me, who jumped into her father's lap and buried her face in his neck. She was terrified. So was I.This wasn't a case of bad parenting. "Earth," the first release from Disneynature, the studio's ecologically oriented film division, is rated G. It's a theatrical version of the BBC miniseries "Planet Earth," only with the grisly parts lopped out to make it family friendly. At least that's the idea. "That's funny about the girl's reaction," says co-director Mark Linfield. "We thought very hard about what is the right level for children." The goal, he says, was to...
  • Fast Chat: Bill Barich's "A Pint of Plain"

    "A Pint Of Plain" author Bill Barich moved to Dublin after falling for an Irish lass. There he started searching for a sense of community, which morphed into a quest for the quintessential Irish pub—and then for the essence of Ireland itself. He talked to Jesse Ellison about what he found. Excerpts: ...
  • "Dancing With the Stars'" NFL Connection

    When ABC's "Dancing With the Stars" resumes this week, former New York Giant Lawrence Taylor will be in the starting lineup, making him the fifth NFL legend to appear on the reality megahit. It invites the question: what is with the bizarre symbiosis between gridiron greats and ballroom dancing? The men say it's one-upmanship. Legends in their prime, they still itch for competition. Jerry Rice got the ball rolling, and the others leaped at the chance to best one of their own. Ex-Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith won in season three. Taylor, for his part, is aiming a bit lower. "I don't want to embarrass myself," he says. "I've been through Super Bowls and I haven't been as nervous." In the spirit of sportsmanship, Warren Sapp offers LT some advice: leave locker-room chauvinism behind. "Put the mascara on. Put the man-liner on. Get in touch with your feminine side," Sapp says. "It'll be all right."
  • A Quick History of State of the Union Rebuttals

    Begun in 1966, the rebuttal to the State of the Union (and other major presidential addresses) has evolved into a high-profile audition for a rising star from the opposing party. But it's a dubious honor, says historian Richard Norton Smith, and "can either be a springboard or a trapdoor."
  • Page-Turner: "Bodies" by Susie Orbach

    There was a time, believe it or not, when our bodies worked for us, instead of the other way around. In her new book, "Bodies," British author and psychologist Susie Orbach examines how science, culture and globalization have upended our relationships to our corporeal selves, turning us from master into slave. Good looks and peak fitness are no longer a happy biological gift, she argues, but a ceaseless pursuit. ...
  • Worth Your Time: PBS Documentary 'The Linguists'

    The first eureka moment in "The Linguists," a PBS documentary airing on Feb. 26, comes from an unexpected source. Our scientist heroes are in a remote Siberian village, searching for speakers of a dying language called Chulym. They try, and fail, to interview some deaf, toothless nonagenarians and a wobbly woman who alternately curses and coos. Then, out of nowhere, their driver, Vlasya, a barrel-chested Slav in his 50s, overcomes decades of shame and begins speaking flawless Chulym. It had been buried since childhood, we learn, when he was sent to a Russian boarding school and was forbidden to speak his village's "gutter language."Vlasya is one of only nine remaining speakers of Chulym, and he's a prize for Swarthmore professor K. David Harrison and Gregory Anderson of the Living Tongues Institute, who travel from Siberia to India to Bolivia hoping to document obscure languages before they disappear for good. As they go, it becomes clear that their mission is about more than words....
  • "Our Daily Bread" Is A Quiet Look At Farm To Fork

    The idea of little piglets living out their days in a darkened factory until they're fat enough to be sliced, diced and smoked is, well, uncomfortable. How surprising, then, that discomfort plays only a minor role in the experience of watching "Our Daily Bread." This 2006 German documentary about industrial food production, recently released on DVD, is astonishingly pretty for a film about the journey from farm to fork. Even the ugliest spectacles—like slaughtered pigs, hung by their feet, moving along a mechanized line with a fiery inferno erupting behind them—are mesmerizing.Despite the gore, "Our Daily Bread" is not a holier-than-thou food manifesto aimed at scaring viewers into vegetarianism. Scenes and images are presented without comment, and the only soundtrack is ambient noise—the dull thud of chicks shot out of a sorting machine like tiny feathered tennis balls; the drone of a low-flying airplane releasing a spray of pesticides on a sunflower field; the workers engaging in...
  • Oscars: Benjamin Button vs. Max Tivoli

    Say you wrote a book. You agonized for years over every word, each character. Say your book did quite well, received glowing reviews from big-shot critics, became a bestseller—and then, four years later, say you start getting phone calls from friends complaining about a film in the works starring two of Hollywood's biggest stars that has a story just like your book—a film that goes on to be nominated for 13 Oscars. And say, throughout it all, your book is hardly mentioned. How might you feel? Andrew Sean Greer, the author of "The Confessions of Max Tivoli," a turn-of-the-century tale about a man who ages in reverse, feels a bit like a lonely ex-boyfriend. His 2004 novel and a certain Brad Pitt movie are similar enough that some of his fans are positively hysterical. But not Greer. He explains to NEWSWEEK's Jesse Ellison. Excerpts: ...
  • Foster Children Targets for Identity Theft

    When Tyrome Sams turned 18 two years ago, he engaged in a modern rite of passage: he applied for a credit card. Credit wasn't hard to come by then, yet Sams was refused again and again. Eventually he requested a credit report—and that's when he found out that when he was a 12-year-old in foster care, someone had opened utility accounts in his name, amassing hundreds of dollars of debt. "Anybody could have gotten hold of my information," says Sams, a tall, thick-shouldered Californian whose youth is betrayed only by a voice that still cracks on occasion. "I'm 20 now and I'm still trying to fix the problem."Sams's case isn't just an unfortunate fluke. Identity theft among foster kids is common, and for good reason: they're easy targets. They move often among various homes and schools, so their personal data pass through dozens of hands. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center in San Diego, half of the 84,000 kids in California's system may have been victimized. The problem got...
  • Smith Magazine's Six-Word Memoirs

    Love and heartbreak are typically the stuff of lengthy conversations, hours of analysis and reams of paper. But hot on the heels of their first bestselling compilation, "Not Quite What I Was Expecting: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure,"the editors of Smith Magazine have turned their attenuated attention to matters of love, asking contributors to distill their love lives into six precious words. Summing up a life, a romance or a trauma so succinctly may seem like an abomination out of the Twitter generation, but it actually dates back to the 1920s, when Ernest Hemingway bet colleagues that he could write a complete short story in just six words. The result, "For Sale: Baby Shoes. Never Worn," he reportedly called his best work.There's more heartbreak than love in the slim volume, but there's plenty of irreverence, too. Model Janice Dickinson's entry consists of just a string of F-words. Gay sex columnist Dan Savage notes that his job requires contemplating a sex act he...
  • Page Turner: Steven Johnson's "Invention of Air"

    More than 200 years after America's founding, the principal characters and their roles have been largely assigned. But in "The Invention of Air: A Story of Science, Faith, Revolution, and the Birth of America," author Steven Johnson argues that a key player has been all but forgotten. Eighteenth-century English minister, scientist and polymath Joseph Priestley is credited with the discovery of oxygen, but his actual contributions extended into this nation's founding principles. ...
  • PBS Documentary "Lioness" Follows Female Soldiers

    In the new PBS documentary "Lioness," Specialist Shannon Morgan, a brawny, tattooed Army vet, conveys the anguish of post-traumatic stress disorder in one simple line. In the woods of her native Arkansas, she sits with a rifle in one hand. On the brink of tears, sounding half like a warrior and half like a lonely young girl, she recounts the fire fight in Iraq that probably should've killed her. "I really wish," she says, "I had lost my mind."Morgan never expected to fire a weapon. She enlisted as a mechanic, but once in country she was tapped to join a new program that deployed female support soldiers—dubbed "Lionesses"—on missions with all-male combat units. The idea was to provide a sort of cultural buffer, calming Iraqi women during searches, handing out candy to kids. But in the war's chaotic early years, the Lionesses were often pressed into more active combat roles. For the first time in U.S. history, women were serving on the front lines of war—even though it was still...
  • Fast Chat: Author and Historian Sarah Vowell

    Historian Sarah Vowell has earned a following with her particular blend of irreverence and patriotism. In her new book, "The Wordy Shipmates," she profiles the Puritans who fought America's original battle between church and state. She spoke with NEWSWEEK's Jesse Ellison. ...
  • Closure: Steve Fossett's Final Flight

    In the mass-media age, news stories captivate us, then vanish. We revisit those stories to bring you the next chapter. STARTING POINTON Sept. 3, 2007, record-setting adventurer Steve Fossett, 63, takes off from a Nevada ranch for a short pleasure trip in a single-engine plane and never returns. A frantic search for wreckage begins. FEVER PITCHFOSSETT is declared legally dead in February 2008 after the search, covering 20,000 miles and costing $1.6 million, turns up nothing. The absence of evidence prompts conspiracy theories that the millionaire faked his own death. PRESENT DAYON Sept. 29, a hiker stumbles across some of Fossett's belongings in a steep section of the Sierra Nevadas. Searchers find plane fragments and possible human remains strewn across a field of debris. "It's a tragic ending," Paul Ciolino, a private investigator involved in the case, told NEWSWEEK. "But he went out doing something he loved. How many people can say that?"