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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Faces Behind TV's Cartoon Voices (PICS)

Homer Simpson
Dan Castellaneta does the voice of Homer Simpson on "The Simpsons." — If you thought it was weird to see Fred Armisen playing Barack Obama on SNL, wait until you see who plays Cleveland on "Family Guy."

Click here to see the Faces Behind TV's Cartoon Voices

Peru offers bald dog of Incas to Obama family


By Terry Wade

LIMA (Reuters) - Peruvians crazy about their national dog, a bald and often toothless breed popular among Incan kings, offered on Monday to send a hypoallergenic puppy to the Obama family.

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama has promised daughters Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, a new pet for the White House. But Malia is allergic to most breeds, he said on Friday as speculation swirled about the dog the family would choose.

Owners of the Peruvian Hairless Dog, a breed dating back 3,000 years and depicted in pre-Hispanic ceramics, say it is perfect for kids who are sensitive to dogs.

"They do not cause any type of allergy and are very friendly and sweet," said Claudia Galvez, 38, director of the Friends of the Peruvian Hairless Dog Association.

"We want to give a male puppy to Obama's daughters, so they get to experience all the joys of having a dog but without any allergies."

According to Peruvian folklore, the dogs have above-average body temperature, which compensates for their lack of hair and helps alleviate symptoms of asthma or arthritis suffered by their owners.

Galvez delivered a letter detailing her offer to the U.S. embassy in Lima on Monday and hopes Obama will accept it.

Galvez has a 4-month-old pedigree puppy to send to the Obama family. For now, she is calling it Ears because it has two large, perky ones.

"But if we send it to the United States, its official name will be Machu Picchu," she said, referring to the ancient Incan citadel, Peru's top tourist attraction.

(Editing by John O'Callaghan)

4,300-year-old pyramid discovered in Egypt

Tomb thought to house remains of Queen Sesheshet, mother of King Teti

Image: Egyptian archaeologists work at an ancient burial ground

Khaled Desouki / AFP - Getty Images
Egyptian archaeologists work at an ancient burial ground in Saqqara which dates back to 2,700 BC, about 22 miles south of Cairo.

By Will Rasmussen

SAQQARA, Egypt - Egyptian archaeologists have discovered a pyramid buried in the desert and thought to belong to the mother of a pharaoh who ruled more than 4,000 years ago, Egypt's antiquities chief said on Tuesday.

The pyramid, found about two months ago in the sand south of Cairo, probably housed the remains of Queen Sesheshet, the mother of King Teti, who ruled from 2323 to 2291 B.C. and founded Egypt's Sixth Dynasty, Zahi Hawass told reporters.

"The only queen whose pyramid is missing is Shesheshet, which is why I am sure it belonged to her," Hawass said. "This will enrich our knowledge about the Old Kingdom."

The Sixth Dynasty, a time of conflict in Egypt's royal family and erosion of centralized power, is considered to be the last dynasty of the Old Kingdom, after which Egypt descended into famine and social upheaval.

Archaeologists had previously discovered pyramids belonging to two of the king's wives nearby, but had never found a tomb belonging to Sesheshet.

The headless, 6-foot high pyramid originally reached about 46 feet, with sides 72 feet long, Hawass said.

The pyramid, which Hawass said was the 118th found in Egypt, was uncovered near the world's oldest pyramid at Saqqara, a burial ground for the rulers of ancient Egypt.

"This may be the most complete subsidiary pyramid ever found at Saqqara," Hawass said.

The monument was originally covered in a casing of white limestone brought from quarries at nearby Tura, Hawass said.

Archaeologists plan to enter the pyramid's burial chamber within two weeks, although most of its contents are likely to have been taken by thieves, Hawass said.

Artifacts including a wooden statue of the ancient Egyptian god Anubis and funerary figurines dating from a later period indicate that the cemetery had been reused through Roman times, Hawass said.

4,300-year-old pyramid found in Egypt
Nov. 11: Egyptian archaeologists discover pyramid buried in the desert south of Cairo.'s Dara Brown reports.

10 Movies That Make Us Wanna Smoke

'Mad Men' is bringing tobacco back to the small screen with its endless cigarettes and liquid lunches, but smoking in the movies just isn't quite the same any more. Here are our favorite big screen nicotine treats.

By Shira Levine

GZA, RZA, and Bill Murray in Coffee and Cigarettes
GZA, RZA, and Bill Murray in Coffee and Cigarettes
Courtesy of MGM

That primal craving to take a long smooth drag from a cigarette doesn't just come after sex. The need for nicotine can hit after a night of heavy drinking, a hearty meal, a bar brawl, or surviving an accidental drug overdose. If you've been glued to the TV wondering how it is the nostalgia and romance for the tobacco leaf has replaced those pesky fears of cancer, then blame the AMC series Mad Men. Indeed, William Morris has long kept the bigwigs at Philip Morris rich and happy. Here are 10 films that have us feigning so hard for a cig, we had to press pause and take a smoke break.

Coffee and Cigarettes
Jim Jarmusch's black and white film, which is supposedly a tribute to these two vices after the cool NYC director finally gave them up, is a series of vignettes made up of awkward, bizarre, and just plain hilarious conversations over cups of joe and endless cigarettes. The strange pairings include Iggy Pop and Tom Waits, Steve Coogan and Alfred Molina, and two Cate Blanchetts as cousins. The vignette with the Wu-Tang Clan's RZA and GZA and Bill Murray is a gem — as RZA and GZA lecture Bill about the evils of caffeine and tobacco, he gulps his brew straight from the pot, pausing only to puff.

200 Cigarettes
While 1999's 200 Cigarettes didn't exactly garner critical acclaim, we can all relate to the characters' goal to have the best possible time (and get laid or find love) on New Year's Eve. The stellar cast of hip stars, including Christina Ricci, Paul Rudd, Martha Plimpton, Ben and Casey Affleck, Janeane Garofalo, and Dave Chappelle, play an eclectic group of artists, punks, teens, and weirdoes chain-smoking their way to the new year. Not only did the East Village seem much cooler in 1981, cigarettes were also so much cheaper.

Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern in Wild at Heart
Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern in Wild at Heart

Wild at Heart
Though we doubt shock-haired auteur David Lynch actually got kickbacks from Marlboro, there's no doubt that Sailor's brand of smokes are as important to him as his snakeskin jacket. Sailor (Nicolas Cage) and his girlfriend Lula (Laura Dern), who are on the run from a variety of wackos hired by Lula's mom to kill her, are constantly smoking (especially after their sweaty hotel romps) — sometimes more than one cigarette at a time. Sailor even tells Lula he began smoking when he was four! Fire and smoking are a recurring theme in this wild and weird love story, as is The Wizard of Oz. But it probably won't make you want to reach for a munchkin.

Gwyneth Paltrow in The Royal Tenenbaums
Gwyneth Paltrow in The Royal Tenenbaums

The Royal Tenenbaums
In what is easily Wes Anderson's best portrait of utter family dysfunction, Gwyneth Paltrow's mopey Margot Tenenbaum has us waiting to exhale. Margot, a playwright prodigy with half a finger missing, spends her days secretly smoking and smoking and smoking — be it in the bathtub, watching TV, or hiding out on the roof. Like the rest of the Tenenbaums (an eccentric group played by Luke Wilson, Ben Stiller, Gene Hackman, and Anjelica Huston), Margot suffers from repressed desire and unrequited love — two emotions smoking certainly helps to distract from. With her stick straight blond bob pinned back with barrettes, heavily made-up eyes, perpetual frown, and slow drags, Paltrow makes feeling tortured, forgotten, and plain old sad look enchanting.

Pulp Fiction

The Departed
The stress Leonardo DiCaprio's character Billy Costigan endures throughout The Departed as an undercover cop, and the two-and-a-half hours of epic violence and double-crossing, warrants an entire pack of smokes. Don't know who to trust? Smoke a cigarette. Nearly die? Smoke a cigarette. About to die? Smoke a cigarette. Witness almost every character in the film murdered in cold blood? Smoke a cigarette. Cops, crime, and gangsters are solid formula for a successful smoking flick. This is Scorsese's return to form. Wanna go through a carton? Watch Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, and Goodfellas too. Tough guys smoking and hanging around in murky neighborhood bars are just doing what badasses who you don't want to mess with do.

Pulp Fiction
We all remember the Royale with cheese, Jules Winnfield's wallet, and "Bring out the gimp!" but Uma Thurman as mob wife Mia Wallace dominated the ad campaign, the DVD cover, and posters on countless college walls across the nation. The nonlinear story telling, motor mouth dialogue, and gratuitous violence mixed with black humor and pop culture references got Tarantino where he is today. In one of the movie's most memorable scenes, Mia is at a '50s style restaurant called Jack Rabbit Slim's with her husband's go-to guy Vincent Vega (John Travolta). Before they participate in a tripped-out Twist contest, she asks him to roll her a cigarette. Vega, who was told to entertain his boss's wife for the evening, is mesmerized by her long, pale fingers casually holding the cigarette to her crimson mouth. And even after Mia is revived from a drug overdose thanks to a shot of adrenaline to the heart, she keeps her cool by lighting up again.

Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca
Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca

Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman were icons of the Golden Age of cinema, when stars were allegedly paid big money by tobacco companies to help perpetuate the myth of smoking as the cool thing to do. The witty and tender Casablanca seems that much more romantic and tragic thanks to that little cancer stick; you would be hard pressed to find a scene where Bogart is without one. Critics and even scholars have been fascinated by Casablanca's use of cigarettes and its effects on culture, but all we know is that lost love has never seemed so glamorous.

Juliette Lewis' Adele is forbidden to smoke by her serial-killin' boyfriend Early (played with red-necked glee by Brad Pitt); in fact, she confides to the black-clad Carrie, he beats her when she does. However, Carrie, played by Michelle Forbes, smokes like a chimney in nearly a dozen scenes and even gets Adele to indulge. With a cigarette dangling from her lips, Carrie's inhaling and exhaling is audible to the audience. This don't make Early too happy.

Thank You For Smoking
Even though sardonic Smoking is all about one Big Tobacco spinmeister's moral dilemma and the evils of the cigarette industry, all this talk of smoking... makes us want to smoke.

Reality Bites
Ben Stiller's directorial debut succeeds with the following classic formula: anxiety + sex + creative ambitions + hipsters = smoking. Winona Ryder's Lelaina and Ethan Hawke's Troy chain-smoke through the entire film, whether they're walking, talking, or kissing. Themes like breaking free from parents and being recognized as an adult in the adult world are smoke-worthy issues! Camel wasn't the only brand being touted by the crew; 7-Eleven was also one of the many product placement coups; Lelaina explains in one scene that the Big Gulp is "the most profound invention of my generation."

Joel Murray and Jon Hamm in Mad Men
Joel Murray and Jon Hamm in Mad Men
Photo by Carin Baer/Courtesy of AMC

Honorable mentions:

Mad Men
Ahhh, the safety of cable television. It's a long time since we've been able to see Mad Men's level of wanton smoking on our boob tubes. The characters are constantly lighting up in the office, at home, in cars, and on trains. There is no after-dinner smoke in Mad Men because people smoke before, during, and after meals. One character even smokes in a psychiatrist's office! Rumor has it that while some of the cast used to smoke cigarettes, no one in real life calls them a smoker anyone. Those actors are inhaling herbal cigarettes — chemical- and nicotine-free.

No Cure For Cancer
Denis Leary's televised standup act No Cure For Cancer shows the foul-mouthed comedian with a cigarette practically stapled to his lips. "The filter's the best part. That's where they put the heroin!" shouts Leary. Anyone who says they covet a tracheotomy in order to inhale two cigarettes at once is truly a man who wants a lot of bang for his buck. And on the sitcom "Rescue Me," Leary played a fire fighter who saw nothing wrong with lighting up next to a fire truck and a raging blaze.

Cleveland' pushed to fall; Huffington joins cast

Cleveland Good news, bad news and surprising news for "Family Guy" fans.

Fox has ordered a full season of the upcoming "Family Guy" spinoff "The Cleveland Show." But the network has decided to push the comedy's debut date to next fall.

Fox ordered an additional nine episodes of "Cleveland," which was originally planned for midseason.

And here's the surprise: The network also announced that Arianna Huffington will join the cast in a recurring role as a talking bear.

The Huffington Post co-founder will voice the character of Arianna, the matriarch of a bear family. Her character's husband, Tim, is voiced by "Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane.

Last week Fox announced a midseason lineup that did not include "Cleveland." The lineup also did not include previously announced midseason comedy "Sit Down, Shut Up." Sources say "Sit Down" is still currently planned for midseason, perhaps late Spring.

The AP has a new Q&A with MacFarlane, here's a couple exchanges:

Q: Let's talk about what pays the mortgage: "Family Guy." What's new for the seventh season?

MacFarlane: In one episode, Stewie kidnaps the cast of "Star Trek: The Next Generation." They (the original cast members) all came back, reunited to do their voices for us. Brian tries to legalize pot in Quahog (Rhode Island, where the show is set). Peter tells the story of his ancestry. Down the line, we have our "Family Guy" abortion episode, believe it or not. Hats off to Fox for letting us take some risks, as always. There can be a lot of trouble, but at the end of the day, they do generally step up for risky, sensitive, topical stuff.

Q: Cleveland (a "Family Guy" neighbor) is getting his own series. What does it say about the state of television that Entertainment Weekly picks him -- an animated character -- as the cover boy for a story on African-American characters in prime-time?

MacFarlane: This is a guy who's played like a real three-dimensional guy -- not just as a cardboard, stereotyped black guy. I actually would stack that show up against other shows about black characters in recent years because I think a lot of them are -- they dumb them down for some reason. They talk down to their audience. We're just treating this like "Family Guy," like any other show.

The new show's official description:

CLEVELAND BROWN (voiced by Mike Henry) to his hometown in Virginia, as he settles down with his high school sweetheart, DONNA (voiced by Sanaa Lathan), and her unruly kids ROBERTA (voiced by Nia Long) and 5-year-old RALLO (voiced by Henry), as well as his own 14-year-old son, CLEVELAND JR (voiced by Richardson). Once in Virginia, Cleveland is welcomed by a collection of neighbors that includes a loudmouth redneck, LESTER (voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson); a hipster wanna-be, HOLT; and a family of talking bears, including TIM (voiced by MacFarlane) and his wife ARIANNA (voiced by Huffington). THE CLEVELAND SHOW is a 20th Century Fox Television production. Seth MacFarlane, Rich Appel and Mike Henry serve as executive producers and co-creators.

The 10 high-performance machines that shaped today's automotive landscape.

By Marc Lachapelle of MSN autos

Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing Coupe (© Mercedes-Benz)

Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing Coupe

Soon after the automobile was invented and its basic layout defined, engineers began refining it for high-performance thrill seekers — improving design, adding power and improving handling. For decades a chasm separated the high-performance racers from the road-going runabouts. Then in the '50s and '60s racing technology and performance entered the everyday realm, and soon the most audacious Grand Touring sports cars morphed into the first supercars. Today's supercars represent an automaker's pinnacle of style, technology and performance, but still they pay homage to the trailblazing steeds that have gone before them. Although it's always tough to narrow the field, we've put together a list of the 10 most charismatic and influential sports cars ever to grace asphalt.

1954 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL, aka "The Gullwing"

The Mercedes-Benz 300 SL was initially conceived as a race car, the W 194, as are most great sports cars. The German automaker had no plans to produce a street-legal version, but Maximilian Hoffman, the official importer of Mercedes-Benz cars into America at the time, lobbied for a sports car that he could sell to his upscale clientele. The W 194 fit the bill perfectly, so Mercedes greenlighted production. Thus the 300 SL (or W 198) was born. While they might look cool, the 300 SL's signature "Gullwing" doors are not just for show. They are actually a practical solution to an engineering problem. To enhance stability, the 300 SL's tubular frame rises far up the sides of the vehicle, making it impossible to fit conventional doors. So the Stuttgart-based automaker devised an upward-opening door; hence the wing-like appearance. Another special feature is the six-cylinder engine's direct injection system. The first of its kind, the system helped the 300 SL's 3.0-liter straight six develop 215 horsepower. The SL offered fast and precise cornering, exceptional acceleration and enough torque to ensure good pulling power at any speed.

1965 Shelby AC Cobra Mark III

In 1963 retired race car driver Carroll Shelby dropped a Ford small-block overhead valve V8 engine under the hood of a British-designed A.C. Ace roadster and made history. He called the concoction the Shelby A.C. Cobra Mark I. To accommodate the large 4.3-liter engine, Shelby engineers strengthened the Ace's tubular chassis, flared the fenders to accommodate wider tires and installed four-wheel disc brakes. They also upgraded the transmission to a Borg-Warner four-speed manual and added a limited-slip differential. About 75 Mark I Cobras were built before Shelby started arming the roadster with an even larger 4.7-liter V8. He introduced the Mark II version in 1963, adding rack-and-pinion steering. Then the tall Texan teamed up with Ford in 1965 to create the Cobra Mark III, the most famous Cobra of all. Built on a stronger tube chassis and running on a coil-spring rear suspension, the Mark III was powered by a thunderous 427 cubic-inch (7.0-liter) Ford V8 that produced 425 horsepower in standard form and 485 in racing trim. The latter had a top speed close to 190 mph, which was unheard of back then. The Shelby A.C. Cobra built up an enviable competition record, including a win over the perceived "invincible" Scuderia Ferrari at the 1965 World Manufacturers Championship for GT cars. Today, it is one of the most sought after collector cars, fetching more than seven figures at auction and from private collectors.

1966 Lamborghini Miura

Displeased with the customer service at Ferrari, successful Italian industrialist and tractor manufacturer Ferruccio Lamborghini decided to build his own sports cars. At the Geneva Motor Show in 1966 he introduced what was arguably his greatest creation to date: The sleek and stunningly beautiful Miura, named after a breed of fighting bull. Designed by Marcello Gandini, who is famous for building aggressive, imaginative and futuristic looking sports cars, the Miura was the first modern supercar. It featured a 4.0-liter 345-horsepower V12 engine mounted amidships and transversely behind the seats, and could go more than 170 mph. Off the line it accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 6.7 seconds. Encouraged by the Miura's success, Lamborghini would launch an even more radical successor a few years later: the Countach, also styled by Gandini.

1986 Porsche 959

Twenty years after the launch of its seminal 911, Porsche wanted to see how far it could push the rear-engine architecture. The autobahn-ready version of the 959 was unveiled at the Frankfurt Auto Show in the fall of 1985. The styling was a forward-looking interpretation of the 911 with body panels made of composite materials. This kept the weight to less than 3,200 pounds in spite of the extra mass of the electronically controlled all-wheel-drive system, an unprecedented feature on a sports car of that period. The 959 was powered by a 2.85-liter 6-cylinder "boxer" engine with sequential turbochargers that developed close to 450 horsepower: enough for a 0-60 dash in 3.6 seconds and a peak velocity of 197 mph. The 959 inspired the subsequent evolution of the 911 Turbo and various all-wheel-drive applications. Less than 400 were built — all prized possessions nowadays.

1990 Acura NSX

Honda, Acura's parent company, built the NSX during the company's glory days in Formula One racing. The car showcased much of Honda's track technology, including an ultra-rigid, ultra-light aluminum monocoque chassis (the first ever in a production car), aluminum suspension, titanium connecting rods, forged pistons and high-revving capabilities. It was powered by a mid-mounted 3.0-liter V6 that produced 270 horsepower, providing enough get-up-and-go to take on any European exotic. The strong body and aluminum suspension components delivered a firm ride and superior handling. A bonus: The NSX was super reliable, with many going more than 100,000 miles. Today, the NSX is still considered to be the most reliable exotic car ever built.

1994 McLaren F1

After winning 15 out 16 Formula One races in 1988, McLaren Cars decided to expand its operation by building a no-compromise, street-legal supercar. The idea was to build a car that had a high power-to-weight ratio, yet be usable for everyday driving. Gordan Murray, the South African automaker's technical director, and stylist Peter Stevens decided to make a small car using lightweight components and a large, normally aspirated V12 engine. Like a race car, Murray placed the driver's seat in the center of the F1 to provide the best possible view of the road. Additionally, the F1 didn't have any driving aids — no traction control, ABS, power brakes, power steering, nothing. Thanks to a carbon fiber monocoque chassis and body, this land rocket weighed only 2,500 pounds — about the same as a Mazda Miata. Unlike the Miata, however, the F1 was powered by a 6.1-liter engine custom designed by BMW that developed 627 horsepower, enough to gallop from 0 to 60 mph in 3.2 seconds and through the quarter mile in 11.6 seconds. The F1's top speed of 231 mph has yet to be matched by any normally aspirated production car.

2003 Ferrari Enzo

To celebrate its first Formula One World Championship of the new millennium, Ferrari decided to build an all-new supercar that incorporated some of the racing technologies that made Michael Schumacher, the Italian stallion's F1 driver, a five-time world champion. Ferrari is well known for building some of the most refined, fastest vehicles on the planet. But this one was special, featuring a carbon-fiber body, sequential shift transmission and carbon-ceramic brake discs. It also featured active aerodynamics and traction control. Power was supplied by a 6.0-liter 660-horsepower V12. The Enzo, named after the automaker's founder, could reach 230 mph, accelerate to 60 mph in about 3.15 seconds and travel the quarter mile 11 seconds. A total of 399 cars were built. A 400th was built later and auctioned off for more than $1.3 million to help survivors of the 2004 tsunami.

2006 Bugatti 16.4 Veyron

This Bugatti is all about excess, as most are. As promised by then Volkswagen Group chairman Ferdinand Piëch (VW owns the Bugatti brand), the 16.4 Veyron has indeed become the fastest, most powerful and priciest production car in history. This sizable coupe is powered by a 16-cylinder 8.0-liter engine force-fed by four turbochargers. It has a maximum output of 987 horsepower. Coupled to a 7-speed, double-clutch sequential gearbox with four-wheel drive, it vaults to 60 mph in less than 2.5 seconds, blasts through the quarter mile in just over 10 seconds and reaches a top speed of 253 mph. Thankfully, it has carbon brakes with eight titanium pistons in front and six at the rear to slow a mass of more than two tons (4,160 lb). Oh, and it also consumes more fuel than any other car, with an EPA fuel economy rating of 7 mpg in the city and 10 in highway driving. If you can find one (they are all sold out), the Veyron will probably run you just over $2 million.

2008 Audi R8

The R8 is Audi's brilliant first effort at building a true sports car. Named after the German carmaker's fabulously successful prototype racer, the R8 has sleek aluminum body work stretched over an aluminum space frame with a mid-mounted 4.2-liter 420-horsepower V8 displayed under a glass hatch. It accelerates to 60 mph in 4.3 seconds and travels the quarter mile in 12.75 seconds, with standard quattro all-wheel drive and either a manual or optional automatic-clutch 6-speed gearbox. Yet its greatness is not achieved through numbers but rather an outstanding blend of exotic-level handling, engine sound and exceptional levels of ride, comfort and build-quality. And it does all that at a price that radically undercuts current exotics. The R8 is sold out through 2009, but Audi is currently developing an R8 roadster and more powerful versions with either a gasoline V10 or a diesel V12.

2009 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1

The newest Corvette might not have the blue-blood breeding of European exotic peers, but man does it have the power, performance, handling, braking and refinement to compete with the best of the breed — and it hasn't even gone into full production yet. Under its carbon-fiber hood sits the new LS9 engine: a supercharged 6.2-liter version of the legendary Chevy "small-block" that produces 638 horsepower. The ZR1's chassis combines aluminum and magnesium for strength and to reduce weight. To further slim it out, body panels are made from both polymer and carbon fiber. Standard "Magnetic Selective Ride" shocks make it impressively refined and quiet on the road, and it comes with fantastic carbon-ceramic brakes developed by Brembo that will stop the ZR1 on a dime. Chevrolet says the ZR1 will accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 3.4 seconds, run the quarter mile in 11.3-seconds and achieve a top speed of 205 mph. Supercar performance indeed, at an amazingly affordable base price of $103,000.

Other honorable mentions — notable for significance, pure fun and sheer beauty — include:

1961 Jaguar E-Type
1966 Ferrari 275 GTB/4
1972 BMW 2002tii
1980 Audi quattro
1965 Lotus Seven Series II
1973 Lancia Stratos HF
1992 Dodge Viper
2009 Nissan GT-R

A professional auto journalist for more than 25 years and the founding editor of Sympatico / MSN Autos, Marc Lachapelle is a two-time winner of the Canadian Journalist of the Year award from the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada, an accomplished photographer and licensed racer.

Alaska Update: Thousands of Ballots 'Found', One-Third Remain Uncounted in the State's Still-Fishy '08 Election

Blogged by Brad Friedman on 11/10/2008 4:27PM

This just in from Alaska, where thousands of new ballots continue to be found each day, since it was first reported that turnout in 2008 was 11% lower than in 2004. Thousands of ballots, nearly a third of them, remain uncounted nearly a week after the election. Their numbers could explain the strange results so far in races --- such as those of the felonious Sen. Ted Stevens (R) and the under-investigation Rep. Don Young (R) --- for which pollsters had predicted decisive losses for the Republicans.

Even with the newly acknowledged ballots and even with Alaska's once-popular Gov. Sarah Palin and popular Sen. Barack Obama both on the Presidential ballot this year, turnout numbers still remain slightly below those from 2004. The Anchorage Daily News, with numbers somewhat out of date from those now posted below, called it all "puzzling" over the weekend, and pointed out much of what we've detailed here in previous posts.

The following updated numbers come from the DNC's Alaska Communications Director, Kay Brown late this afternoon [emphasis in the original]...

New totals for ballots were posted today at:

The Division of Elections reports there are now 90,635 ballots remaining to be counted. This means nearly 29 percent (28.8%) of the total vote has not been counted yet.

With these new numbers the total vote is at 314,268, with turnout at 63.3% (registered voters = 495,731).

The new ballots posted today include about 4,000 additional Questioned ballots about 5,600 additional Absentees.

The Division of Elections (DOE) plans to count the majority of early vote and absentee ballots that were verified by Election Day on Wednesday. The DOE Plans to count the remaining ballots on Friday (but this is all obviously subject to change). However, there could be enough ballots left after Wednesdays count for the race to still go either way.

All overseas ballots have to be received by Wednesday, November 19th and the DOE plans to certify the election on Tuesday, November 25. A recount, should one be necessary, would occur after that. An automatic recount is only implemented if the final votes are within 0.5 percent.

Total turnout in 2004 was 314,502 with these new ballots posted today we are still slightly under the number who voted in 2004. Turnout in the 2004 General was 66.6%, with 314,502 voting and 472,160 registered voters statewide.

Punk's Not Dead: The 20 Punkest Films

As long as these films are around, punk will never die.

By Pauline Pechin

CBGB's has gone the way of the dodo, and even the watery pop-punk of the early '00s isn't tainting the airwaves. But as long as these films from outsiders and iconoclasts exist, punk's not dead. So get out those old torn fishnets and combat boots and get ready to rock with these tales from the punk side. Serial offenders include Richard Hell, who pops up in several of our choices, and directors Susan Seidelman, Alex Cox, and Penelope Spheeris, who all contribute significantly to the history of hardcore music films and documentaries. Brave viewers are also encouraged to look up the gory, transgressive films of the prolific Nick Zedd and filmmaker-turned-photog Richard Kern.

Click here to see Premiere's list of the most punk rock movies ever made.
The 20 Punkest Films
What's your favorite punk movie?

Astronauts head for extreme home makeover in space

(AP) -- The international space station is about to get all the comforts of a modern, high-end, "green" home: a fancy recycling water filter, a new fridge, extra bedrooms, workout equipment and the essential half-bath.

Later this week, space shuttle Endeavour's seven astronauts will carry up all the frills for more luxurious space station living - and a larger household. Liftoff is set for Friday night.

It will be a home makeover in the extreme. The space station will go from a three-bedroom, one-bath house with kitchenette to a five-bedroom, two-bath house with two kitchenettes and the latest gizmos NASA has to offer.

To be more precise, astronauts will be installing an extra toilet, more sleeping compartments with individual thermostats and laptop hookups, and an exercise machine capable of some 30 routines.

The new gym and the new toilet.

They also will be delivering the essentials of NASA's first attempt at a closed-loop environmental system in orbit, where almost everything gets recycled. Already, the power on the space station is generated from solar panels.

Most significant is the water recovery system - it will turn urine and condensation into fresh drinking water. The system is essential if NASA is to increase the size of the space station crew from three to six. That switch is supposed to occur by the middle of next year.

Endeavour's commander, Christopher Ferguson, considers the water system the single most important piece of equipment that he's delivering. He said the benefits go way beyond the space station - think of all the deep-space exploration made possible once crews are freed of lugging water.

"This is really it, and it has no parallel. I would challenge you to find any other system on the Earth that recycles urine into drinkable water. It's such a repulsive concept that nobody would even broach it.

"But that day will come on this planet, too, where we're going to need to have these technologies in place, and this is just a great way to get started."

Would he drink the stuff?

"Are you crazy? I would never try that," Ferguson joked. "No, no, no, no, actually, you know what? If they offered me a sample, I would do it."

Astronaut Donald Pettit, a former space station resident who will help hook up the system, looks at it as one big coffee machine.

"It's going to take yesterday's coffee and make it into today's coffee," Pettit said.

Hot coffee is no problem in orbit, it's the cold drinks that are scarce.

The existing space station galley provides hot or warm water - but not cold. The same with food - hot or warm, but nothing cold. Fresh food like apples or onions that go up on Russian supply ships or NASA's shuttles has to be gobbled up quickly. The lone refrigerator is restricted to science experiments. So the astronauts are quite excited about getting a second refrigerator with the new kitchenette. It will keep drinks cold and food fresh.

"It seems kind of trivial, but six months of lukewarm orange juice can kind of bum you out," said astronaut Sandra Magnus, who will fly up on Endeavour and move in for 3 1/2 months.

NASA does not expect to get the water generation system up and running before spring. That's how long it will take to check everything and make sure the recycled water is safe to drink. Until then, the space station crew will continue to use water delivered by the shuttle and unmanned Russian supply ships.

Before Endeavour leaves, urine already collected by space station residents will be flushed through the system and undergo distillation, so recycled water samples can be returned to Earth for analysis. Additional samples will be brought back by another shuttle in February to make absolutely certain the system is working properly.

If everything goes well, the space station will open its doors to six full-time residents next May or June.

The jump in crew size is especially important for the Canadian, European and Japanese astronauts who have been waiting years to live aboard the space station.

"Imagine for a moment that we have an international space station in orbit that we've invested in and we don't have any U.S. crews on board. That's what the partners live with today," said Mike Suffredini, NASA's space station program manager.

Besides providing patriotic public relations, the larger, more diverse crew will boost the amount time spent on scientific research from 10 hours a week - the average now - to 35 hours a week, Suffredini said. Most of the crew's time is now devoted to upkeep, and the maintenance chores will grow as the 10-year-old space station ages, he noted.

While gussying up the inside of the space station, Endeavour's astronauts will tackle a greasy, grimy job on the outside. Three of the crew will take turns cleaning and lubricating a jammed solar-wing rotating joint; it's clogged with metal shavings from grinding parts and hasn't worked right for more than a year.

© 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Men's Fitness.....Pub Crawl: America's five best bars for beer lovers

Sure, you love your local bar where everybody knows your name and they're glad you came. . . . Yada, yada, yada. You know the rest. But when you're on the road, check out these bars that turn beer drinking into a true art form.

Freakin' Frog
Las Vegas
The drinks are free when you're on the strip—but they're also crappy. Instead, drive a couple of miles over to the Freakin' Frog, a little hole-in-the-wall that serves more than 500 beers. Don't forget to go upstairs to the Whisky Attic to sample its collection of almost as many whiskies.

The Map Room
Chicago is a beer-drinking town, and one of the best places to get a pint is the Map Room. Located in the hip Bucktown neighborhood, the bar serves more than 200 brands of beer and has 26 taps. Once a month, it even offers a beer school with classes taught by visiting brewmasters.

Kennedy School's Courtyard Restaurant
Portland, Ore.
The Courtyard Restaurant is old-school. No, really, it's in an old school that's been turned into a restaurant, bar, concert hall, and movie theater. The restaurant is housed in the Kennedy School's former cafeteria and serves pub food and beer made at the onsite brewery. And should your partying get out of hand, you don't even have to go home—just sleep it off in the brewery's adjacent hotel.

Spuyten Duyvil
Brooklyn, N.Y.
Just a few miles east of Manhattan, across the Williamsburg Bridge, lies Hipsterville, aka Williamsburg. In addition to being home to the Brooklyn Brewery, the area boasts one of the country's best beer bars—Spuyten Duyvil. It serves all kinds of rare beers and specializes in brews from Belgium. The selection is so diverse, in fact, that the menu lists available beers by the region of each country they're produced in.

Washington, D.C.
This Georgetown institution has been serving cheap food—and offering an incredible selection of beers—since 1957. Housed in the Brickskeller Inn, the bar offers an exhaustive list of beers from around the world. How about a cold Zagorka from Bulgaria?

Ready for a change from your standard Coors or Corona? We asked Ray Daniels of the Brewers Association and Julie Bradford of All About Beer magazine to weigh in on some of the best microbreweries currently in operation. Pop open any bottle from these companies, they say, and it's almost impossible to end up disappointed.

  • Allagash Brewing Company
  • Brooklyn Brewery
  • Deschutes Brewery
  • Firestone Walker Brewing Company
  • New Glarus Brewing Company
  • Odell Brewing Company
  • Rogue Ales
  • Russian River Brewing Company
  • Sierra Nevada Brewing Company
  • North Coast Brewing Company

Bruce Willis Walks Away from Directorial Debut

Three Stories About Joan, which was to have been the directing debut of Bruce Willis, has recently experienced big financial woes, I'm told. A recent confrontation between Willis, who's also one of the film's producers, and producers Mark Damon and Moshe Diamant led to Willis walking off the film, according to a source in New Orleans who heard rumblings about the Shreveport-based production a week ago.

Bruce Willis

Willis could always come back and finish the job, of course. This could be just an interlude.

The film is reportedly a $20 million psychological thriller about three stories affecting the fate of a woman named Joan (Camilla Belle) that Willis was to have costarred in along with Owen Wilson (according to an IMDB casting rumor) and Keiran Culkin. The screenplay is by Christopher Alexander and Sam Applebaum.

A Louisiana tax credit guy confided to a source that local investors recently decided to "back out of the Bruce Willis film because it scared us. I don't think the money was all there."

Willis had the same concerns, he says, and things got to a point in which he allegedly told Damon, "Okay this is a $20 milion movie, but where's the money? I'm supposed to get $5 million, but all I want right now to make sure things are okay is to see $100 thousand in my bank account tomorrow. Make that happen and I'll believe you."

The next day there was no money so Willis got on a plane and said, "See ya."

Camilla Belle

The rumor is that Damon is suing. Naturally. Anyone in his position would to the same. Better to suggest that the real trouble is an uncooperative director-actor than admit that one's finances aren't entirely in order.

The IMDB says Three Stories About Joan was supposed to be in pre-production as of 9.23.

Willis co-produced with his brother David Willis and Stephen J,. Eads under the banner of his recently launched production company, Willis Bros. Films. Damon's production company is called Foresight Unlimited.

Hydroelectric island to supply Dutch power when wind drops

Group of wind tubines

A man-made island housing a hydroelectric plant and generating enough electricity to supply two million Dutch homes is planned for the North Sea by 2020.

It would act as back-up to wind farms by ensuring that electricity is still generated when the wind drops and would provide extra peak-time capacity. If successful, similar islands could be be built to supply other countries, especially those such as Britain that will increasingly come to depend on wind energy. The proposed site, called energy island, is expected to be built 15-20 miles (24-32km) off the Dutch coast, in waters about 20m (65ft) deep, and will be 3.7 miles (6km) long and up to 2.5 miles (4km) across.

Huge dykes would be constructed to hold back the sea and the centre of the island would be dug down to 40 metres (130ft) below sea level. Pipes in dykes would allow sea water to pour in, generating electricity in the same way as some dams. The water would then be pumped out. The electricity generated by the water pouring in is matched or exceeded by that needed to pump it out. The island should make a profit because it consumes electricity at a cheaper rate than it generates it.

Kema, the Dutch company behind the €3-3.5 billion (£2.5 billion) plan, is carrying out a feasibility study to pinpoint the best location. The Dutch Government is among potential investors. The project with a capacity of 1,500MW - similar to two large power plants - should help the Netherlands to reach its renewable energy target and its aim of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 30 per cent by 2020.

The Mysterious Coral Castle

coral castle

Image: Amanda Haddox

In the city of Homestead, Florida sits a strange stone structure created by eccentric Edward Leedskalnin. No one really knows why it was built or how, but considering each of the megalithic coral stones weigh more than most men could move alone, the emergence of the Coral Castle remains an impressive mystery.

Edward never allowed anyone to witness the building of Coral Castle. A suspicious and private man, he worked at night by lantern, behind large walls he constructed. Reports from neighbors claim he levitated the blocks, some weighing 30 tons, twice the weight of the largest blocks in the Great Pyramid of Giza.

coral castle garden
Image: Christina Rutz

Teenagers living in the area claimed they saw him one night, “singing to the massive stone, and it moved like it was a hydrogen balloon, easily settling into place.” By his own account, Edward claimed, “I have discovered the secrets of the pyramids, and have found out how the Egyptians and the ancient builders of Peru, Yucatan, and Asia, with only primitive tools, raised and set in place blocks of stone weighing many tons.”

coral castle night
Image: DCVision2006

Coral Castle was moved to Homestead, Florida in 1936 by Edward, again on his own. According to one theory, Edward moved the castle because he had made a mathematical error in the position and wasn’t able to harness enough magnetic energy in the original site to complete the structure. These theorists believe he was successful in decoding the Earth’s magnetic energies, and thus was able to magnetize the stone making it possible for a lone person to lift and move tons of weight with only a tripod and pulleys.

Edward believed, “all matter consists of individual magnets, and it is the movement of these magnets within material and through space that produce measurable phenomena, magnetism, and electricity, and these concepts involve the relationship of the Earth to celestial alignments.” He claimed to see beads of light which he believed to be the physical presence of nature’s magnetism and life force, what we today term as ‘chi’. Tourists to the area report, “energy sensitive people walking through the archway of the 9-ton gate are stricken with headaches,” thought to be built directly over a vortex.

tools and wheel
Image via Anti Gravity Technology

Armed with only a fourth grade education, Edward Leedskalnin possessed a unique understanding of the laws of weight and leverage, and with that built a castle of immense proportions, singlehandedly. For twenty-eight years he quarried, cut, shaped, transported, and constructed the entire structure, with only primitive tools he fashioned from junk yard auto parts and cast away lumber. This feat would have been amazing by today’s standards with a crew and modern equipment, but by the hand of a 5 ft, 100lb man, it defies explanation.

coral castle in the sun
Image: errrrrrrrrika

According to the website Coral Castle Code, its creator Jon Depew, believes Edward Leedskalnin unlocked the code that is the base to all atomic structure, and that he left behind a blueprint for nature and a secret knowledge of the ancients. “What Ed’s code is leaving us with, is that this ancient science sacred geometry is really representing an advanced knowledge of two magnetic currents and the neutral particles of matter, they orbit as a common core,” says Depew.

Magnetic Currents
Image: John Depew

Which theory is true remains a question for all who see Coral Castle, whom upon entering must draw their own conclusions. However, the importance of such a feat is nonetheless awe-inspiring. Whether he was an intuitive possessing mystical power, a genius before his time, or had actually unlocked the mystery to creation and life itself, we must be forever grateful for this new wonder of the world.

Special Thanks to Jon Depew of Coral Castle Code for images and information.

Other Sources 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

This post was written by:

Luann Dawkins - who has written 2 posts on Environmental Graffiti.

BlackBerry has twice failure rate of iPhone

Smartphone failure rate(Credit: SquareTrade)

Apple's iPhone has half the failure rate of RIM's BlackBerry in the first year of use, a study carried out by a mobile-phone warranty firm has found.

The SquareTrade study, released Saturday, looked at more than 15,000 handsets that were covered by the company's policies. It found iPhones had a malfunction rate of 5.6 percent in the first year, compared to 11.9 percent for Research In Motion's BlackBerry smartphones. Palm's Treos fared even worse, with 16.2 percent having some sort of malfunction in the first 12 months of use.

Figures from the analyst firm Canalys, released last week, showed Apple has now overtaken RIM in the global smartphone sales stakes.

SquareTrade had to project their figures for the iPhone's failure rate over a two-year period, as the handset has not been available for that long--nonetheless, that rate came in at between nine to 11 percent. The equivalent failure rate for BlackBerry handsets was 14.3 percent, with the Treo coming in at 21 percent.

Smartphone malfunction rate(Credit: SquareTrade)

Breaking the figures down, the most prominent malfunctions for iPhone users appear to be touchscreen-related, accounting for a third of all reported issues with that handset. However, 12 percent of iPhone users reported accidental damage to their handsets within the first year of use--the average for other handsets is 9 percent.

"It's likely that any iPhone owner can guess the reason iPhone accidents are so common," the authors wrote. "After two minutes of handling an iPhone, it's impossible to escape noticing that the handsets are incredibly slippery. The form doesn't help, either. The dimensions make for a difficult grip, especially for those with small hands. These two factors conspire to make the iPhone more accident prone than just about any other handset model we've seen."

The report's authors also noted that fewer than half-a-percent of iPhone owners reported battery problems after a year of use, compared with around 1 percent for BlackBerry and Treo users.

SquareTrade's study did not take into account software issues handled directly by the retailer or fixed by firmware updates.

ZDNet UK has requested comment on SquareTrade's report from both RIM and Apple, but had not received it at the time of writing.

David Meyer of ZDNet UK reported from London.

Smartphone problem type(Credit: SquareTrade)

Personal communications

Handicapped PS3 Owner Builds Frankenstein's Controller

What would it take to stop you from gaming? If you said being bedridden, hooked up to various machines with limited use of your limbs, then you are a complete wuss. Just ask PlayStation 3 forum poster KitsuneYume, who built a PS3 controller he works with his entire body, including his mouth. While the setup won't win any product design awards, it allows Kitsune there access to 20 out of 25 possible controller functions using 16 switches and a joystick he controls with his tongue, all wired into a standard PS3 controller.

The main reason I put this on the PlayStation website was to show people that even the most limited person can still enjoy console gaming just as much... anyone else. the controller was pretty easy to make except for converting the analog signals into digital signals for when I use the various switches. this took about two months to build and get working effectively.

So how does it play? Good enough to keep Kitsune gaming, and that's all that really matters, isn't it?

It works just as good as any other. it was actually made with a PlayStation controller circuit board inside the box. it is just as responsive when I use my tongue, but if I use a switch for a direction of one of the joysticks it's like pushing it all the way one direction. I was able to beat the demo of mirrors edge, heavenly sword, eternal sonata and just about every other demo on the PlayStation network. the only games I have difficulty with are football games.... because I don't have very good strategy when it comes to sports games lol but I am practicing so I can play some of my friends who are really into football:-)

Now if that doesn't show what a powerful force of inspiration gaming can be, I don't know what will. Hit up the link to the forum thread below for more pictures.

My custom one of a kind PS3 controller,I can game again! [PlayStation Forums - Thanks Saad!]

3D Display Offers Glimpse of Future Media

by Lisa Zyga,
The 3D display system developed by researchers at the University of Southern California uses a spinning mirror to reflect images in all directions. Image credit: Graphics Lab at USC.
The 3D display system, developed by researchers at the University of Southern California, uses a spinning mirror to reflect images in all directions. Image credit: Graphics Lab at USC.

( -- The 3D objects in the display box may at first look like a product of smoke-and-mirrors trickery. That impression would be about half right, as a rapidly spinning mirror is one important component of the display.

But the overall 3D display system, developed by researchers at the Graphics Lab at the University of Southern California, is real technology that could one day transform visual entertainment.

The 3D display can project both virtual as well as real images from a recorded movie. The researchers, Professor Paul Debevec and his colleagues, hope that the display´s advantages will overcome many of the challenges faced by 3D technology. For instance, their 3D display is autosterescopic, meaning viewers don´t need to wear special viewing glasses to see the 3D effects. The display is also omnidirectional, so that multiple viewers can watch the display from all directions and heights.

To achieve the high quality, the researchers modified a video projector to project images at more than 4,000 frames per second. Also, the display is interactive, as demonstrated in this video showing a user controlling the 3D human head with a remote control. It can update content at 200 Hz, or 200 times per second.

The video projector projects high-speed video onto the rapidly spinning mirror, and the projector and mirror are synchronized so that, as the mirror turns, it reflects a different image to viewers in all directions.

As the mirror rotates up to 20 times per second, a viewer´s vision creates the illusion of a floating object at the center of the mirror. The image is enclosed in a glass box, to protect anything (such as a hand) from touching the spinning mirrors.

"While flat electronic displays represent a majority of user experiences, it is important to realize that flat surfaces represent only a small portion of our physical world," the team explains on its Web site. "Our real world is made of objects, in all their three-dimensional glory. The next generation of displays will begin to represent the physical world around us, but this progression will not succeed unless it is completely invisible to the user: no special glasses, no fuzzy pictures, and no small viewing zones."

The Graphics Lab has also been involved with creating films, computer animations, and other graphics projects.

More information: 3D Display Research Page

© 2008

60 Belgian Women Sing Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ - Scala & Kolacny Brothers

Now, I’m a fairly sizable Radiohead fan. I picked up tickets for their upcoming stop at the Hollywood Bowl. I used to scour the net for b-sides and the rare acoustic stuff. I used to shell out cash for a variety of import disks in the pre-MP3 days. Who’s got the Japanese only Itch EP…I do. That said, it’s been a long time since I’ve actually listened to any early-era Radiohead, but I recently discovered this fantastic live recording of Scala & Kolacny Brothers doing a beautifully sullen piano and voice rendition of Radiohead’s ubiquitous 1993 single. The cluster of sixty something Belgian women focus primarily on minimalist reworkings of pop tunes: Kraftwerk, The Knife, Placebo, Bjork, Coldplay, Air & (regrettably) The Cure…yeah, I still don’t like The Cure.

Now, this is a fine example of a cover bringing a new dynamic to a well established song. There’s nothing quite like the sound of multiple voices stacked together (in a more freewheeling light, see also: Arcade Fire live). I’m not 100% behind the straight piano accompaniment, but on the other hand, it does feel like a slight stylistic nod to the ballad-y version of ‘Like Spinning Plates’ off 2001’s I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings. Either way, the track’s slow build manages to become more and more atmospheric as it progresses. The half whispering of the line ‘I wish I was special’ towards the end, in combination with the slight glimmers of accents throughout the whole song just make it for me. A delightful take on a well established classic.

Scala & Kloancy Brothers - Creep (Live)

Palin offered $2M to appear in porn movie

Sarah Palin has received her first job offer since failing in her bid to become vice-president of the United States -- to appear in a porno movie.

Florida-based porn director Cezar Capone has offered to pay Palin $2 million to appear in an adult film production.

Capone promises in an open letter on his website that the film would be distributed internationally, shot in high definition and feature a "beautiful mother recognized by all of America as well as the rest of the world -- the most desirable woman over 40."

To prove he's serious about the offer, Capone says he's prepared to hold the money in escrow immediately.

To sweeten the deal, Palin's husband Todd has been offered a co-starring role in the production, for which Capone would be "prepared to kick in an extra $100,000," and a new Arctic Cat snowmobile.

Palin hasn't publicly responded to the offer, which was sent to her administration office in Juneau, Alaska, on Nov. 6.

Hustler Magazine recently released a spoof Palin porn video titled Nailin' Paylin.

TOP 50 Jewish Hotties

by Chaim "Shmegege" Shedayim

The Jewish people, despite never in our history having a population greater than that of, say, Cameroon, have given so much to the wider world. The fundamental text of Western literature. The foundation of Western law and justice. That Jesus guy. e=mc2. Hollywood. Superheroes. Most of the Great American Songbook. Stan Getz. "White Christmas." Philip Roth. The polio vaccine. ICQ. Han Solo. But perhaps our greatest gift of all to our pogrom-happy gentile friends and neighbors is one you might not expect: our fine, fine ladies. Jewish women have often been unfairly maligned by those self-haters in LA as ravenous maelstroms of emasculation supported by prominent noses, but those of us who came up within the maelstrom know the truth. Whether you're after brains, curves or the secure knowledge you'll never have (or be allowed) to make another decision ever again, the females of our tribe have got your number. What was good enough for Bogart is good enough for you - and here's fifty pieces of proof.

U.S. Unveils Mortgage Plan

NEW YORK ( -- The Bush administration on Tuesday unveiled a new program to modify mortgages and stabilize the battered real estate market, but the plan stops short of providing direct government financial help to at-risk homeowners.

The plan centers on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which between them own or back about 31 million mortgages worth a combined $5 trillion. The federal government took over the firms in September due to mounting losses on their portfolios of mortgages.

Homeowners who are 90 days or more late in their mortgage payments, who owe 90% or more of their home's current value, who live in the home on which the mortgage was taken and have not filed for bankruptcy are eligible - assuming that loan is owned by Fannie or Freddie.

Their mortgage payments would be adjusted through lower interest rates or longer repayment schedules with the goal of bringing payments below 38% of monthly household income.

Officials said the standards for loan modifications should fast-track changes in payments. The standards will be applied to loans owned by Fannie and Freddie, but officials said they hope they will also be adopted industrywide.

"We expect that it could significantly increase the number of modifications completed," said James Lockhart, director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the regulator that oversees Fannie and Freddie.

There was no estimate available of how many loans owned by Fannie or Freddie are eligible for help under this program. Fannie reported this week that 1.7% of its mortgages by value are delinquent by 90 or more days. Fannie's filings suggest that it has about 18 million mortgages on its books, which would work out to about 300,000 mortgages that could potentially be eligible.

Freddie has yet to release third-quarter results, but at the end of the second quarter it had 115,000 delinquent loans on its books, or about 1% of its total. That number is likely to be significantly higher when it reports third quarter results later this week.

Faith Schwartz, executive director of Hope Now, a coalition of lenders, loan servicers and not-for-profit housing groups, said setting standards for loan modifications is an important advance that she believes other banks and mortgage investors are likely to follow.

"It may not be across the whole industry, but it's an important step forward," she said. "We think over time this is going to affect a couple hundred thousand homeowners."

But even in cases where declining home prices have taken the value of a home to less than is owed on the mortgage, the balance of the loan will not be lowered under this program.

"This is not loan forgiveness; the loans will be paid but at terms affordable for borrowers," said Brian Montgomery, commissioner of the Federal Housing Administration.

The fact that mortgage balances will not be reduced for the so-called underwater mortgages -- those in which a homeowner owes more than the home is worth -- will limit the use and impact of the program, according to some experts.

"When they realize they owe $300,000 on a home worth $200,000, many will decide it's just not worth it," said Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., was quick to criticize the program for not going far enough. He said too many of the loans won't be modified because the investors who own the loan will be able to block a new payment schedule.

"These voluntary plans sound nice, but they don't do the job," Schumer said.

While a number of major banks, including Citigroup (C, Fortune 500), JPMorgan Chase (JPM, Fortune 500) and Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500), have announced loan modifications programs in recent weeks, they hold only a fraction of those owned or guaranteed by Fannie (FNM, Fortune 500) and Freddie (FRE, Fortune 500).

Despite calls from members of Congress and some housing advocates for the government to take a more direct role in preventing foreclosures, federal agencies have been slow to present their own plans to modify the loans of millions of homeowners at risk.

Most of the mortgage modification programs announced by banks so far try to cap the payments of homeowners at risk of losing their homes at a level they can afford, typically about 34% to 40% of their income, through lower interest rates, longer repayment schedules or reductions in loan balances. But many of those loan modification programs include the option of reducing the balance of the loan, an option not included in this latest program.

It is clearly in the interest of the mortgage finance firms as well as banks to take steps to halt foreclosures. The market is already flooded with far more new and existing homes for sale than there are buyers, and foreclosures will only further drive down home prices and lead to more foreclosures in the future.

Moody's forecasts that even with loan modification programs, 1.6 million Americans will lose their homes this year either in a foreclosure or distressed sale, and another 1.9 million are projected to lose their homes in 2009.

On Monday, Fannie reported a $29 billion loss in the third quarter. The company also reported sharp increases in loan default rates and the amount it is setting aside for future loan losses. To top of page