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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Obama meeting with Gore raises eyebrows

By Alexander Mooney

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Former Vice President Al Gore is set to meet with President-elect Barack Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden Tuesday, leading to speculation Obama is eyeing Gore for a slot in his administration.

Al Gore delivers a speech at Waseda University November 19, 2008, in Tokyo, Japan.

Al Gore delivers a speech at Waseda University November 19, 2008, in Tokyo, Japan.

According to the Obama transition office, the meeting will focus on issues relating to energy and climate change, and how the new administration's environmental policies can spur job creation.

Democratic officials have said Obama is not looking to tap Gore for a Cabinet-level post or any other position in the administration.

But a Gore appointment would almost certainly be greeted with celebration from members of the party's liberal wing, many of whom are still angry he lost the White House in 2000 despite winning the popular vote.

Gore has also rocketed to stardom in the years since his failed presidential bid, winning a Nobel Peace Prize last year for his work to raise awareness on the dangers of global warming. The former vice president's documentary on climate change, "An Inconvenient Truth," also won two Oscars in 2007.

But Gore, who has made millions in the private sector since his days at the White House, has suggested he has little interest in returning to government.

A spokesman for Gore flatly said last week the former vice president has no interest in serving the Obama administration.

Nonetheless, Gore's high profile visit to Chicago, Illinois, to meet Obama and Biden is raising eyebrows, even among some of Gore's close advisers.

"The Gore trip is for more than just a chat," a close friend of Gore told CNN's John King. "He wouldn't burn that much carbon flying to Chicago just to talk."

But Obama, who eagerly courted Gore's endorsement during the heated presidential race, has long said he would welcome the Democratic elder into his White House, at least as an informal adviser.

"I will make a commitment that Al Gore will be at the table and play a central part in us figuring out how we solve this [climate change] problem," Obama said in April.

While this is the first time Gore is set to sit down with the president-elect since Election Day, the two regularly speak, aides have said. The meeting comes as the Obama transition team turns its focus toward naming its energy secretary and Environmental Protection Agency administrator -- two key posts that remain vacant.

Gore notably sat on the sidelines during the prolonged Democratic primary process, refusing to endorse a candidate until the outcome became clear -- a move viewed by some as a snub to Sen. Hillary Clinton who was engaged in a closely fought race with Obama at the time.

The former vice president made his debut on the campaign trail days after Clinton formally conceded the race, hailing Obama as a leader able to transcend Washington's poisonous partisanship.

"For America to lead the world through the dangers we're facing, to seize the opportunities before us, we've got to have new leadership," he said then. "Not only a new president, but new policies. Not only a new head of state, but a new vision for America's future."

21 million German bank accounts - yours for only €12m

It's a steal

Identity thieves who claim they stole details of 21 million German bank accounts are offering to sell the data on the black market for €12 million (US$15.3 million), a German magazine reported over the weekend.

To prove they weren't bluffing, the crooks produced the compact disc containing the names, addresses, phone numbers, birthdays account numbers, and bank routing numbers of 1.2 million accounts. Two investigative reporters for WirtschaftsWoche say they obtained the CD during a face-to-face meeting at a hotel in Hamburg with two individuals involved with the theft. The journalists were posing as interested buyers working for a gambling operation.

"We took away with us the first delivery, a CD with 1.2 million accounts, that we couldn't imagine," said one of the editors overseeing the investigation. "In the worst case, three out of four German households would have to be afraid that some money could be taken from their checking account without their authorisation, and perhaps even without their realising it," the magazine stated.

The information was most likely collected from call center employees, the magazine said.

It's Germany's second mega heist of personal information in as many months. In October, T-Mobile admitted losing records belonging to 17 million customers that included their names, addresses, dates of birth, phone numbers, and email addresses.

Peter Schaar, a government official in charge of protecting personal data, said the WirtschaftsWoche report should serve as a wake up call.

"It is essential that personal data cannot be transmitted with the individual's explicit agreement," he told ZDF television. The AFP and IDG News have more here and here. ®

101 Most Essential iPhone Apps of 2008 — It seems like only yesterday a young Steve Jobs sheepishly took the stage and announced that the iPhone and iPod touch would have native third-party applications. Now it's December, and the App Store boasts over 10,000 apps and Apple reports over 300 million downloads.

Here is a list of the 101 most essential iPhone Apps.

Hey Officer... I'd Like A Ticket

To the party in your shirt!

Why You Should Stop Buying Your Computers Fully Loaded

Hard economic times require that we think more closely about how our money is spent. When it comes to computers, Prof. Dealzmodo has a philosophy: build it and values will come.

In other words, it makes more financial sense to buy the most basic model at a bargain-basement price and turn it into the top-notch computer of your dreams. It can save you hundreds and maybe even thousands of dollars overall.

Laptops: I visited and selected a mid-range laptop—in this case, the Studio 17. A model with 2GB of RAM and a 320GB hard drive will run you $799— but what happens when you want to beef it up with some extra RAM and an even bigger hard drive? Just like that, the price shoots up to $1049 for the following configuration (if you stick with Dell hardware upgrades):

Dell Studio 17

• 2.0GHz Intel Pentium Dual Core T3200
• 640GB (2x320) SATA Hard Drive (5400 RPM)
• Integrated graphics

However, a quick trip to Newegg to pick up RAM and an additional 320GB drive brings the total down to $918 for the same computer. Basically, I just shaved $131 off the price by doing these simple upgrades myself.

Note: On any system, to make use of all 4GB of RAM, you need 64-bit Windows. You should get it at no extra charge when configuring a system, so be sure to ask up front. Buying an extra copy separately for will cost you a punitive $100.

Before you settle on a laptop, make sure that you check to see what can be upgraded and whether or not you can find easily exchangeable parts at a discount. And keep in mind that savings could be increased even further if you start with a refurbished model or a model that is not loaded with an OS.

Desktops: We all know that desktops, much less custom-built desktops, are not highly sought after these days. Still, the tremendous values here are hard to ignore. PC Gamers are well acquainted with the practice, but I see no reason (outside of the need for portability) why budget shoppers can't take advantage of the savings as well. Once again, I chose a mid-range product from Dell as the control—the Studio desktop.

Example #1 (A Studio configuration straight from the Dell website):

•2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E7300
• 24" Widescreen HD LCD
• 4GB Dual Channel DDR2 SDRAM
• 1TB Serial ATA Hard Drive (7200RPM)
• ATI Radeon HD 3650 256MB GPU
• 16X DVD+/-RW Drive
• Sound Blaster X-Fi Xtreme Audio
• Vista Home Premium

Total Cost: $1464

Example #2 (A Studio configuration with custom-installed parts):

Base model
• 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E7300
• No monitor
• 2GB Dual Channel DDR2 SDRAM
• 500GB Serial ATA Hard Drive (7200RPM)
• Integrated graphics
• 16X DVD+/-RW Drive
• Integrated Audio
• Windows Vista Premium

Add custom parts:
4GB DDR2 SDRAM for $40
24" Asus Widescreen HD LCD for $300
1TB Seagate Serial ATA Hard Drive (7200RPM) for $110
Radeon HD 3650 256MB GPU for $55
Sound Blaster X-Fi Xtreme Audio for $50

Total Cost of Base Model: $749
Upgrades: $555
Total Cost Overall: $1304

As with the laptop, by simply upgrading components myself I managed to save cash—in this case, $160—and I have an extra 500GB drive to boot.

Example #3 (Total custom build):

Cooler Master Case with 460W Power Supply for $90
• 24" Asus Widescreen HD LCD for $300
• 1TB Seagate Serial ATA Hard Drive for $110
Lite-On 20x DVD+/-RW Drive for $21
• Radeon HD 3650 256MB GPU for $55
• Sound Blaster X-Fi Xtreme Audio for $50
Basic keyboard for $5
Basic mouse for $5
4GB DDR2 SDRAM for $42
Motherboard for $45
2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E7300 for $120
• Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit for $100

Total Cost of Build: $943

By building from scratch, I was able put together the same computer (in terms of performance) as the Dell Studio in the first example for $521 less—and the majority of the components are better. I also saved an extra $361 over the upgrade to the base Studio model in example #2.

It is also important to note that making upgrades on laptops and factory desktops can void your warranty. This may be something you want to check on before proceeding. You may also want to investigate local businesses that specialize in custom builds if you lack the skills necessary to make the upgrades yourself. Even though these services are an added expense, you are still likely to come out on top.

Conclusion: The bottom line is that saving money on a computer is more than just finding the best deal online. In this case, it's kind of like buying a fixer-upper. When you walk into the property the realtor tries to help you focus on what the home could be as opposed to what it currently is. Again, before you buy, make sure to check and see if doing some of the upgrades yourself can help you save some extra money. In order to maintain continuity and keep things simple, I stuck with Dell and Newegg here—but, obviously, branching out could lead to greater savings. You could also save a lot more if you are willing to make a sacrifice or two here and there—like going with AMD over Intel (although I doubt many Intel fans would be willing to make that jump no matter what the cost).

Prof. Dealzmodo is a regular section dedicated to helping budget-minded consumers learn how to shop smarter and get the best deals on their favorite gadgets. If you have any topics you would like to see covered, send your idea to, with "Professor Dealzmodo" in the subject line.

Lewis handed Hall of Fame honour

Lennox Lewis
Lewis is a three-time world heavyweight title-holder

Britain's former world heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis will headline the 2009 inductees into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Lewis, 43, retired in 2003 with a record of 41 wins (32 by KO), two defeats and a draw, and enters the Hall in his first year of eligibility.

He said: "To be put in the Hall of Fame is an accomplishment that seals my legacy. It will always be there."

Lewis recently denied speculation that he is planning to make a comeback.

Hall of Fame trainer Emmanuel Steward, a 1996 inductee, said: "Lennox definitely belongs in the top six heavyweights of all-time.

"He would have been a threat to any heavyweight champion in history because of his size, balance and all-around skill. Lennox could do whatever he had to do to win a fight."

Joining Lewis in the Hall of Fame will be American bantamweight champion Orlando Canizales and South African super-featherweight champion Brian Mitchell.

Posthumous honourees are middleweight William Jones, welterweight Billy Smith and middleweight Billy Soose in the Old-Timer category.

Inductees are voted in by members of the Boxing Writers' Association and a panel of international boxing historians.

The 20th Annual Hall of Fame Weekend is scheduled for 11-14 June in Canastota, New York.

Amsterdam to close many brothels, marijuana cafes


Associated Press Writer= AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) — Amsterdam unveiled plans Saturday to close up to half of the famed brothels and marijuana cafes in its ancient city center as part of a major cleanup operation.

The city says it wants to drive organized crime out of the district, and is targeting businesses that "generate criminality," including prostitution, gambling parlors, "smart shops" that sell herbal treatments, head shops and "coffee shops" where marijuana is sold openly.

"I think that the new reality will be more in line with our image as a tolerant and crazy place, rather than a free zone for criminals" said alderman Lodewijk Asscher, one of the main proponents of the plan.

The city said it would also reduce the number of business it sees as related to the "decay" of the center, including peep shows, sex theaters, sex shops, mini supermarkets, massage parlors and souvenir shops.

The city said there were too many of these and it believes some are used for money-laundering by drug dealers and the human traffickers who supply many of the city's prostitutes.

Asscher underlined that the city will remain true to its freewheeling reputation.

"It'll be a place with 200 windows (for prostitutes) and 30 coffee shops, which you can't find anywhere else in the world — very exciting, but also with cultural attractions and you won't have to be embarrassed to say you came," he said.

Under the plan announced Saturday, Amsterdam will spend €30-€40 million ($38-$51 million) to bring hotels, restaurants, art galleries and boutiques to the center. It will also build new underground parking areas for cars and bikes and may use some of the vacated buildings to ease a housing shortage.

Amsterdam already had plans to close many brothels and said last month it might close some coffee shops throughout the city, but the plans announced Saturday go much further.

Asscher said the city would use various techniques to reshape the area, including rezoning, buying out some businesses and offering others assistance in "upgrading" their stores. In the past, the city has shut a number of brothels and sex clubs, relying primarily on a law that allows the closure of businesses with bookkeeping irregularities.

He said the city will also offer help for prostitutes and coffee shop employees who lose their jobs as a result of the plan.

Prostitution, which has spread into several areas of the center, will be allowed only in two areas — notably De Wallen ("The Walls"), a web of streets and alleys around the city's medieval retaining dam walls. The area has been a center of prostitution since before the city's golden shipping age in the 1600s.

Prostitution was legalized in the Netherlands in 2000, formalizing a long-standing tolerance policy.

Marijuana is technically illegal in the Netherlands, but prosecutors won't press charges for possession of small amounts and the coffee shops are able to sell it openly.

Snowflakes as you've never seen them before — There are many types of snowflake, all of them with extraordinary internal structures. These photos were taken by Kenneth Libbrecht of CalTech, using a specially-designed snowflake photomicroscope

click here to see Snowflakes [PICS]

More Tunes!

Ray Charles, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Fats Domino - all jamming together. Bonus, Paul Shaffer running the show and Ronnie Wood playing rhythm guitar.

The Grander Cayman

Chismillionaire is still going to go out on a limb here and say the 370Z is the better vehicle. For half the price you get performance within a blink of this Cayman and to my eye( since I saw the 370 last week at the Boston Auto Show), a much better styled offering.
I am still struggling with the Cayman business model. I can't figure for the life of me who picks a Cayman S over a Certified PreOwned 911 or even the Boxster S for that matter which is cheaper and a Roadster.
Gotta be soft MetroSexual wannabe Boy Racers I suppose. Advice from the Chismillionaire: Anytime a car looks best in "Lifestyle" Colors and it's not an RS model- fuckin pass!

It took me the entire trip to Jerez, Spain, to come up with something negative to say about the current Cayman, but here it is: Even within the limited sports car market, Porsche's little two-seater has a limited appeal. Brand loyalists don't touch it because the engine — though still behind the seats — is too far forward. Sun gods don't bite because, hey, isn't it just a Boxster with a roof and a higher price tag? Techie types don't go for it because its CD player and outdated optional nav aren't much to get excited about; things like satellite radio, iPod jacks, or touch screens have never been part of the deal in Stuttgart. Casual cruisers probably aren't biting either, the automatic Tiptronic S transmission being a bit jerky, the engines not being class-leading in power, and the chassis not exactly supple. While the 911 fan club probably won't be swayed by the changes coming in 2009 (or ever), the revised Cayman should be able to find love among other shoppers. It certainly deserves it.

But first, they'll have to figure out that the new Cayman is, in fact, new. The visual cues are few: Up front, the headlight housings are more triangular and have an altered lens layout for new bi-xenons, while the lower grilles cut more sharply toward the middle and contain LED driving lights; at the rear, new LED taillights are reshaped to follow the curves of the fenders. Inside, the only difference is a thicker and more contoured steering wheel.


Once you start diving into the options list (actually, it's more like a book) the changes inside grow more abundant. There's now optional Bluetooth, plus wheel-mounted controls to complement the hands-free and audio systems. A full-function iPod jack can be added to the center console, while an all-new navigation system features one of the better music interfaces available. Additionally, the new maps, functions, and XM connectivity pull Porsche from the rear to the front of the usability pack. But more important are the updates hidden away behind the seats.


While the base Cayman gets a noteworthy bump to 265 hp and 221 lb-ft of torque, up from 245 hp and 201 lb-ft, this review will focus on the revised Cayman S with Porsche's new PDK dual-clutch transmission. In addition to getting a similar power bump, the S is also updated with direct injection. And really, if given a choice, which would you drive?

Despite a 25-hp, 22 lb-ft boost, the new Cayman S doesn't feel quicker off the line. And it isn't, according to Porsche's official 0-60 mph times of 5.1 seconds for both the 2008 and 2009 models. A look at dyno charts for each car helps explain this unexpected phenomenon. Revisions to the new engine helped free up more power at higher revs and even moved the redline up to 7300 rpm. Both engines make similar power on up to the 2008 Cayman S's power peak of 295 hp at 6250 rpm. But the 2009 engine doesn't stop there, making 320 hp at a screaming 7200 rpm. As befits the new powerband, if you keep your foot deep in the throttle past sixty, the new car will eventually pull ahead. In a standing-start kilometer, a PDK-equipped 2009 model will outrun its manual predecessor by about four tenths of a second. Torque, while raised, doesn't ride a steady plateau as it once did. So this new direct-injection flat six doesn't necessarily feel faster, but it does feel a bit more responsive, with longer legs.

If you're all about 0-60 numbers, Porsche has a way to knock that time down by two tenths, to 4.9 seconds, but you'll have to sacrifice a pedal. Thanks to a launch control program and quicker shifts, the Cayman's dual-clutch transmission is able to make more from the same output curves. Not only that, it returns higher fuel-economy numbers. If you can stomach the idea of a two-pedal Porsche being the better car, PDK is a truly rewarding transmission. It doesn't have the jerky launch issues of some other dual-clutch boxes on the market and the shifts are so smooth and so well timed that after a while you'll feel like shifting manually with the wheel-mounted buttons is a pointless, counter-productive chore. The bad news about launch control is that it comes as part of a $1320 Sport Chrono package and that's on top of the transmission's additional $3420. Some quick addition will tell you that those two tenths of a second will cost you $4740. But what do you expect from a company that offers $560 leather sunvisors as an option?

Speaking of options, there's one on the list that past critics of the Cayman will be delighted to see — a mechanical limited-slip differential. This option only exacerbates the effects of launch control on my internal organs and by the time second gear springs into place I can understand how a football feels right after being punted. A few minutes later, a quick and controllable drift through a damp corner of Spanish asphalt makes me love the limited-slip option even more.

One thing that didn't need to be changed with the Cayman S, and hasn't, is the brakes. Borrowed from the base 911 Carrera, they measure 12.5 inches up front and 11.8 at the rear and provide a great feel and fade-free power. Ceramic composite brakes remain a shockingly expensive $8150 option.

The car's chassis goes basically unchanged as well, though Porsche's press materials explain that "the setup has been modified for the higher power of the engine and optimized for extra comfort combined with superior sportiness." My car, equipped with Porsche Active Suspension Management, doesn't feel as jittery in the sport setting as the old car did. I'm told that along with some minor tweaks to the dampers, new tire compounds play a large role in the new sense of composure. The remade Michelin Pilot Sports have improved roll resistance and can be run at lower pressures, hence the extra cushiness of the ride. On the outgoing model, 19-inch wheels could've been considered masochistic, but that's no longer the case. Thank goodness, because the car looks incredible on the bigger wheels.

While it took an intercontinental plane ride's worth of brainstorming to pinpoint a negative of the outgoing Cayman, the new car's weak spot is more immediately noticeable, not to mention more tangible. The old car's steering was among the most direct, natural systems on the market and while the new Cayman's is still very good, it feels like some weight has been added artificially thanks to changes in the steering valve control map. What's meant to feel "more agile and spontaneous" according to Porsche's press release comes off as higher effort with a touch of numbness. I'm hoping it's just a side effect of the big wheels. And regardless, it still feels better than the majority of the sports car market.


The new Cayman and Cayman S, which keep the car's current 987 chassis code, arrive in March with slightly higher base prices of $50,300 and $60,200, respectively. Both represent price hikes of about $1000, so now the base Boxster and the base Cayenne are now the only two Porsches under $50,000. Still, the Cayman's latest updates keep it competitive and relevant to today's buyers who'll appreciate its many technological advancements. At the same time, the things that haven't changed mean it remains one of the most well-balanced, thoroughly entertaining sports cars on the market. Join us next week, when we'll toss it in the ring with its most dangerous competitor, Nissan's new 370Z.

words: Stu Fowle

Is Bill Murray NYC's New Party Boy?

Why is 58-year-old actor Bill Murray popping up unannounced at Williamsburg house parties and hanging out with twentysomething hipsters? Sarah Horne explores the mystery of the scene's most unlikely, late-blooming It guy.

The actor joined a table of comely young strangers (from left: Jessica Haigh, Sophie Donnelly and Sophie Ellis) at Chelsea's Half King pub in October.

Photo: Sophie Ellis

The actor joined a table of comely young strangers (from left: Jessica Haigh, Sophie Donnelly and Sophie Ellis) at Chelsea's Half King pub in October.

At around 3:30 on the morning after Halloween, two dozen twentysomething hipsters linger at a loft party in East Williamsburg. The kegs are dry, but die-hard stragglers are still dancing drunkenly in the main room. Dave Summers, a 29-year-old grad student at the Bank Street College of Education and one of the party's hosts, has dressed as a cloud for the night—his baby-blue T-shirt and baseball cap covered in dozens of white cotton balls. While several guests have come as Sarah Palin, one is in a furry yellow duck costume. Another is Bill Murray's character from the 1980 film Caddyshack.

Suddenly, one of Dave's guests runs over to tell him: "The real Bill Murray just walked in the door."

"You're joking," Dave scoffs.

"No, really, he's here."

Bill Murray with his ex-wife Jennifer

Photo: J. Vespa/WireImage

Bill Murray with his ex-wife Jennifer

Still not entirely convinced, but worried the actor might leave if there's no booze, Dave runs to a nearby bodega to grab some beer. When he returns, the shopping bag breaks in the hallway. As errant bottles roll across the floor, suddenly there's Bill Murray—leaning down to help collect the beer and even sticking one in his shirt pocket.

Soon the 58-year-old actor—dressed as himself, Dave and his friends presume—is trading quips with fresh-faced Ivy League grads in the loft's hallway, while drinking a bottle of Modelo Especial. Eventually Bill even hits the dance floor and displays some decent moves. "It wasn't like he was John Travolta or something," said one observer afterwards, "but it wasn't embarrassing."

The whole scene is kind of goofy and light-hearted until a young male guest approaches Bill, who is probably his dad's age, and says, "I think you're making bad life choices." It is as if someone has told the emperor he isn't wearing any clothes. After the dancing, and the beers, and a weird conversation with Dave about the joys of sweet potato casserole topped with marshmallows (inspired by the cotton ball cloud costume), the Oscar-nominated star cordially thanks his hosts and slips away into the night. The next day, guests trade photos of Bill on the dance floor. Everyone, including the Hollywood star, pretty much looks wrecked.

Later, Dave found out that Bill had been party-hopping with the band MGMT, the hot Brooklyn duo featured on the November cover of Spin, after attending their concert at the Music Hall of Williamsburg that night. "There he was in my apartment, just having a good time like everybody else," Dave says now, still amazed. "I felt something between excitement and incredulity that he was there—and that my party must be pretty fun
because he didn't just leave."

Bill Murray alongside old party pal and SNL castmate Dan Aykroyd.

Photo: NBC/courtesy Everett Collection

Bill Murray alongside old party pal and SNL castmate Dan Aykroyd.

But the weirdest part of the experience is not that Bill showed up at some random ragtag Halloween party, but that it's only one of several out-of-place encounters New York City hipsters have had with the actor in the past few months. From hanging out with rock bands to hitting on twentysomething women at bars, Bill seems to be going through his own unique midlife crisis. He's not a boozy, sweaty party hound who gets caught on camera cheesing it up with pretty young girls (see: Mel Gibson, Bono); rather, he's more like a ghost in the night, who shows up out of nowhere, engages in utterly random conversations and then exits gracefully—leaving witnesses to wonder what the hell just happened. Deadpan, detached and seeming a bit lonely, Bill Murray is NYC's most unlikely new party guy.

This has been a rough year for the actor. In mid May, Jennifer Butler Murray, Bill's wife of 11 years and the mother of four of his young sons (he has two more boys from his first marriage to Margaret Kelly), filed for divorce on the grounds of his "adultery, addiction to marijuana and alcohol, abusive behavior, physical abuse, sexual addictions, and frequent abandonment." In divorce papers obtained by, Jennifer went on to claim that one of America's most beloved comedic actors had hit her in the face during a November 2007 argument and said she was "lucky he didn't kill her." Their divorce was finalized on June 13 and Bill remained at the couple's home in Palisades, New York, about 20 miles north of the city.

Bill foreshadowing his real-life future in a scene from Lost in Translation

Photo: Focus Features/courtesy Everett Collection

Bill foreshadowing his real-life future in a scene from Lost in Translation

In recent years, the star who honed his comedic chops on Saturday Night Live, and in madcap films like Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day has entered a darker phase of his acting career. And while his slightly offbeat broad comedy established him as a bankable Hollywood star, it's Bill's more recent "blue period" that has truly earned him credibility. In the Wes Anderson films Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, Bill gave unsettling performances, playing weathered misanthropes (or, to put it another way, bastards).

Sometimes that edge has benefited him: His mournful performance as the washed-up movie star Bob Harris in Sofia Coppola's 2003 film Lost in Translation earned him an Academy Award nomination. Three years ago, Bill told a reporter for The Guardian in Britain that that movie had resonated with him: "You are always away from home, as a film actor....You can't sleep, you put on the television in the middle of the night when you can't understand a word, and you make phone calls back home which don't really give you the comfort they should. I know what it's like to be that stranger's voice calling in." In a scene from that movie, Bill's character follows Scarlett Johansson, playing a young stranger who he has just met in a Tokyo hotel, to a karaoke party filled with Japanese scenesters half his age. He does shots and croons Roxy Music's "More Than This."

Now, with his real-life marriage in tatters, Bill seems to be perpetually stuck in his own version of Groundhog Day meets Lost in Translation—involuntarily repeating that excruciating yet endearing party scene, trawling for serendipity in the New York night.

A few weeks before Halloween, on the night before the October 7 New York premiere of his film City of Ember, Bill popped up again, seemingly adrift, at the Half King, the West Chelsea pub co-owned by author Sebastian Junger. Sophie Ellis, a petite brunette 22-year-old in town from London for journalism work-study, and two pretty young friends were having a quiet drink, when the actor walked in and unexpectedly joined their table, buying them two bottles of champagne. As Sophie remembers, "I suppose he was slightly flirtatious, but really, it was more like he obviously wanted a bit of a chat. He seemed a little lonely. We started talking about Mexican food and he said, 'Right, later this week I'll take you all out for Mexican food. I'll send you the best avocados in the mail so you can make fresh guacamole.' He was very gentlemanly, even though he looks quite grumpy—like a granddad." At the end of the night, he walked the girls out to the curb and hailed them a cab. "It was surreal," Sophie says. "I was like, 'Why are you here, talking to us?' " Before they parted ways, she and her friends posed for a photo with the actor.

Bill Murray living it up in Chicago in March

Photo: Will Byington

Bill Murray living it up in Chicago in March

Back in his SNL days of the late '70s, Bill used to hang out with his castmates at the Blues Bar, a NYC dive owned by co-star Dan Aykroyd. "[I would] stay until the sun came up. You had to blow off a lot of steam [after taping the show]," he told authors Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller in the book Live From New York. Still, his partying was never as outsize as his comedic compatriots of the time, and since leaving SNL in 1980, any bad-boy behavior has largely stayed under the radar—at least until recently. In August of 2007, Bill was pulled over by police for allegedly driving a golf cart while under the influence of alcohol in Stockholm, Sweden. The actor had been in town for the Scandinavian Masters, and took the cart, which was parked outside his trendy hotel for the week, on a joyride to the Café Opera disco. The previous fall, he landed in Britain's tabloids when he followed a 22-year-old female university co-ed to a house party in St. Andrew's, Scotland, where he had been playing in a celebrity golf tournament. Students told the papers he helped them do the dishes when it turned out there were no glasses left to drink from.

Of course, the actor has never been your typical, guarded, Hollywood VIP. On the red carpet the night after hanging out with Sophie and her friends, Bill was taken aback when reporters asked him how he felt about Scarlett Johansson's new marriage to Ryan Reynolds, and he gave a typically uncensored answer. "If I were Scarlett, I would have hung on a little longer. She's probably been having a good time dating until now," he acerbically opined. "I wish she'd have called me. I'd have talked her down." Bill is also notorious for being one of the rare movie stars to work without a publicist or agent; scripts and interview requests are handled by his lawyer, and often go unanswered. If someone really wants him to do a movie, he has said, they'll find him. (Through his lawyer, Bill turned down an interview request for this story.)

Says Ben Widdicombe, an editor at large for Star, "He's witty and candid in his answers while his more Hollywood-ized colleagues merely repeat boilerplate about how great some director is." As for Bill's reputation for being gruff with reporters, Ben says, "I used to think he didn't like talking to journalists, but then I realized he just prefers talking to journalists who are 22 years old and working heels and a push-up bra." As for why Bill's suddenly become everybody's favorite party guy, Manhattan psychotherapist Rachel Moheban has an answer: "After divorce, some men just want a whole new life. It sounds like a midlife crisis, but I don't think it's worrisome. After being married for a long time, sometimes men just like to have some fun and feel free."

Whatever the reason, Bill's new proclivity for PYTs seems to be working in his favor lately. One 30-year-old magazine editor who lives in a fashionable building in the West Village says that when he took his dog for a walk at around 7:45 a.m. on Election Day, he spotted Bill—in a tennis visor and sunglasses—emerging from his lobby. "He looked like he'd spent the night in the building," speculated the source. "Despite his getup, I recognized that adorable doughy jawline, and thought, 'Hey, Bill Murray just banged my neighbor!' It was totally a booty call." For weeks after the encounter, the source eyed up every attractive woman in his building, wondering if she was Bill's latest conquest.

And the actor isn't limiting his lothario ways to NYC. On November 14, Bill dined at Sepia in Chicago with 27-year-old Crystle Stewart, the current Miss USA (also known as the unfortunate contestant who tripped during the Miss Universe pageant this July). The former model, who has said she "wants to dedicate her life to international philanthropy," obviously cheered him up. After the dinner, he sweetly kissed a gaggle of female fans outside the restaurant, seeming to bask in their affections.

Then again, perhaps he's just toying with us all. There's an urban legend that's gone round until no one is sure who it happened to, or if it happened at all. It was late one night, a few years ago, when a young man was walking through Union Square Park. He suddenly felt someone behind him, their hands over his eyes. When he turned in surprise, there was Bill Murray, his creased face leaning in close. Bill whispered, "No one is ever going to believe you," and then just walked away.

Hidden feature turns iPhone into TV gaming device

By Katie Marsal

With a little work and the help of an undocumented feature in Apple's iPhone Software Developers Kit, one iPhone developer was able to turn its game into a version suited for playback on big-screen TVs.

After discovering the hidden MPTVOutWindow class in the iPhone SDK last month, ArsTechnica's Erica Sadun got in touch with Freeverse, makers of Moto Chaser, and encouraged them to experiment with the APIs. A few hours later, the TV version of the iPhone game was born (video below).

Though largely demonstrative, the game uses the iPhone's accelerometer for input and steering while routing the game's video through a video-out cable to the TV. Freeverse noted that the program ran best on the second-generation iPod touch, which includes a 532MHz processor compared to the iPhone and iPhone 3G's 412MHz chip.

Even so, Moto Chaser maxed out at around 20 frames per second, making it "nearly playable," according Freeverse, whose producer Bruce Morrison noted that the "norm for commercial games is 30fps, a point at which motion becomes as smooth and watchable as normal TV video." Sound quality, however, was said to be greatly improved when pumped through a respectable sound system.

"When Morrison approached senior programmer Mark Levin, he had basically one set of instructions. 'Make it work before lunch.'," Ars reported. "Freeverse had very little time to allocate to putting together the demo. In the end, the entire development effort took about three hours."

Obviously one could imagine the possibilities of faster iPhones paired wirelessly with Apple TV to serve as a video game controller. In the meantime, you can read more about Apple's plan to muscle advanced gaming graphics into iPhones.

10+ Sites To Keep You Updated Of Green News

green newsNowadays the internet offers a wide variety of green resources to keep you updated of environmental news and events.

It is interesting to watch this web niche evolve. Social media has brought a new generation of green resources. You can now be a green news source yourself (by participating in green social networks), become a part of huge green communities (by frequenting environmental blogs) or even watch green news using Twitter!

Let’s have a look at a few examples of new creative environmentally friendly resources to help you go green.

User-Generated Green News:

I Do The Right Thing

I Do the Right Thing is a user generated resource where “you can get unfiltered information about the impacts of companies on” the environment.

The green stories are rated based on the impact they produce on the society and/or environment. The process of voting for the story is as follows: you should define the impact to be positive, negative or neutral.

The companies are also rated based on the overall score of all stories they were mentioned in.

Care 2.0 is a green social networking and bookmarking site allowing users to submit and vote for green tips, news and apps.

Besides being a great news resource, it offers quite a few cool green features: you can send “leaves” to the members inspiring you or find support for your own cause by starting a petition.

Green Deals Daily will appeal to all conscious online bargain hunters. The site allows users to submit, comment and vote for online green deals. What a treat for those who want to both save money and help the environment!

Best Green Blogs:

Environmental Graffiti

Environmental Graffiti will appeal to all those who love beautiful imaginary. The site raises environmental awareness by posting impressive pictures of the Nature.

Tree Hugger is the most well-known green blog on the internet, I guess. Besides updating the blog with multiple news-worthy posts daily, the site also offers a very active forum, green guides and even a green job board.

The Good Human (as the name suggests) is more focused on the human aspect: what each of us can do to help save the green planet.

Green Options is an all-in-one resource of green news aggregating stories from all over the environmentally friendly sites and blogs.

Ecorazzi takes a more entertaining perspective by posting green gossip and sensational stories.

Viropop is good for all who loves online video. Besides being a green user-generated video-sharing community, it also maintains a green video blog.

Green Micro-Blogs

Lighter Footstep

Lighter Footstep Twitter Profile will real-time update you of new green tips and articles.

GreenerIdeal is another cool green Twitter micro-blog to follow.

Ecopreneurist micro-blogs on news and advice on sustainable and social entrepreneurship.

GreenNews focuses on environment related news.

Wingsuit Base Jumping off Gigantic Cliffs in Norway

wingsuit base jumping from doubleA on Vimeo.

Powder Blue------Jessica Biel stripper trailer!

Here we have your first look at POWDER BLUE, also known as THAT MOVIE WHERE JESSICA BIEL WILL PLAY A STRIPPER. In the movie, four Los Angelenos - a mortician, an ex-con, a suicidal ex-priest, and a stripper - are brought together on Christmas Eve by a mixture of circumstances. Jessica Biel plays a stripper. Lisa Kudrow, Forest Whitaker and Ray Liotta are also involved. Most importantly though, Jessica Biel plays a stripper.

Hit up to check out the screencaps. Somehow she doesn't do a thing for me, but don't be ashamed to print them out and paste them all over your walls. I'm certain Dave Davis has already. In fact I'm pretty sure if you kicked his door down it would look like John Doe's place in there.

Shocking: Woman cuts all her five children's throats

By Philippe Siuberski in Nivelles, Belgium | December 09, 2008

Article from: Agence France-Presse

A WOMAN lured her five children upstairs one by one and slit their throats before trying to kill herself, a court has been told.

Belgian woman Genevieve Lhermitte, 42, is on trial for the murders of her four daughters and son, aged from three to 14.

Asked to identify herself and profession at the start of the trial, she said she was "a mother".

Prosecutor Pierre Rans painted a nightmarish picture of the scene that met emergency services on February 28, 2007 at the former teacher's home in Nivelles, central Belgium.

Ms Lhermitte was found sitting against a wall in the hall with a deep gash in her throat.

She tried to commit suicide after killing her children, she allegedly told an emergency worker.

Police discovered the children's bodies in their beds with their throats slit and the floor and walls covered with blood.

The trial, expected to last about two weeks, will focus on what drove Ms Lhermitte to allegedly kill her children since she has confessed to their murders.

Seeing no solution to her problems and unable to imagine her children living without her, Ms Lhermitte heard a voice say to her on the day of the murders that "the machine has begun working", she allegedly told investigators.

With her husband due to return any time from a trip to Morocco, she called her seven-year-old daughter Mina upstairs from watching television with her sisters and brother, the court was told.

Armed with a butcher's knife, Ms Lhermitte comforted the girl as she laid her on the bed then strangled her and cut her throat, the court was told.

She then got the other four children to come upstairs one by one and killed them as well.

From the dock, Ms Lhermitte looked out stone-faced without her gaze falling on Bouchaib Moqadem, the father of her children, who sat in the first row next to family friend Michel Schaar.

Ms Lhermitte, who was in a deep depression at the time of the murders, allegedly told investigators she could no longer stand the presence of Mr Schaar, which she considered to be "intrusive".

In a farewell letter left in a friend's letterbox shortly before the murders, Ms Lhermitte allegedly said: "I have taken the decision to go very far away with my children forever.''

In the letter, she accused her husband of being deaf to her distress and accused Mr Schaar, on whom the family had depended financially for years, of wanting to run her household.

The trial continues.

Search Violated Medical Marijuana Patient’s Rights, Say ACLU and WACDL

December 8, 2008

The ACLU of Washington and the Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (WACDL) say that law enforcement officers violated the rights of a medical marijuana patient in Stevens County when they searched his home and arrested him for possessing marijuana. The ACLU-WA and WACDL also contend that he was wrongly prevented from defending himself on grounds that he was a medical marijuana patient. The organizations have filed an amicus brief in support of his appeal to the Washington Supreme Court.

"The purpose of the state's Medical Use of Marijuana Act is to protect patients from being treated like criminals," said Alison Holcomb, director of the ACLU-WA’s Drug Policy Project. "Our courts need to ensure that patients who are trying to comply with the law can exercise their legal right to use medical marijuana."

The case (State v. Fry) stems from an incident in December 2004, when Stevens County Sheriff’s deputies went to the home of Jason and Tina Fry based on a tip that marijuana was being grown there. The officers also said that they could smell marijuana smoke as they approached the front door.

Jason Fry told the officers that he was an authorized medical marijuana patient and asked them to leave. Tina Fry then showed the officers his physician's authorization to use marijuana under the state's medical marijuana law, which was adopted by a voter initiative in 1998. Nonetheless, the officers obtained a search warrant and discovered marijuana plants during a search. Fry was charged with the manufacture and possession of marijuana. A trial court convicted him, and a state appeals court upheld the conviction. Fry is seeking to have the Washington Supreme Court overturn his conviction.

The ACLU-WA and WACDL support Fry's contention that the deputies should not have been allowed to search his home and that the marijuana they found should not have been accepted as evidence against him. Once the deputies saw his physician's written authorization to use medical marijuana - confirming his assertion that he was exercising his rights under state law - they had no reason to believe that he had committed a crime and to seek a warrant. The amicus brief also cites the Washington Constitution's strong protections against unreasonable searches.

Further, the ACLU-WA and WACDL are challenging that at his trial Fry was not allowed to present in his defense the fact that he was a medical marijuana patient. The state has argued that his diagnosis—severe anxiety, anger, and depression—was not a "terminal or debilitating medical condition" included in Washington's Medical Use of Marijuana Act and therefore his physician’s authorization is not a valid defense. The ACLU-WA and WACDL contend that Fry should be presumed innocent if he honestly believed that his doctor's authorization was legitimate. Courts have admitted a similar defense in trespassing cases when defendants reasonably believed that the owner of the premises would have permitted them to enter; and in theft cases when defendants obtained property openly and in good faith.

"The Court shouldn't allow patients to be punished if their doctor erroneously authorizes their use of marijuana," said the ACLU-WA's Holcomb.

Cooperating attorneys Paul Lawrence and Matthew Segal of K&L Gates, WACDL attorney Suzanne Elliott, and the ACLU-WA's Holcomb wrote the amicus brief.

Amazon Fails At Gift Wrapping Your Nephew's X-Mas Present

Matt would like to let Amazon know that there's no point in gift wrapping a present if you then put the gift wrapped item inside a box that says what the gift is. This should probably be self-evident — but alas — it isn't.

Matt ordered this copy of "Tales of Beedle The Bard" for his 13-year-old nephew. He paid an extra $4 to have it gift wrapped. Amazon actually gift wrapped it, then put the gift wrapped book inside a box that said what it was. Matt is annoyed.

My 13 year old nephew is a huge Harry Potter fan. So being the loving uncle that I am, I ordered for Christmas the “Tales of Beedle the Bard” special Amazon only deluxe edition. I also paid four dollars to have the gift pre-gift wrapped for Christmas. Unfortunately there will be no glow of surprise and joy as he opens his gift this Christmas. No I did not tell him what he got and yes the gift was properly wrapped. The fail here is the fact that the shipping box was covered in stickers and printing indicating exactly what was inside of the shipping box.

Enjoy this bad packaging.


Seven Little Piggies Make History

Pigs are offering new possibilities for studying Alzheimer’s disease

This Little Piggie: The piglets rest after their delivery. Henning Bagger/ ScanPix
In the search for disease treatments, the next best thing to human guinea pigs is, well, actual pigs. Believe it or not, their skin and cardiovascular, digestive, urinary and central nervous systems are all very similar to ours. That’s why, in recent decades, scientists have established swine models for osteoporosis, heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease and urinary-tract disorders. Mini-pigs, in particular, which weigh about 70 pounds, are easy to examine using hospital scanners and can undergo the same surgical procedures as we do. In fact, most medical students practice on anesthetized pigs before moving on to people. Pigs are also good subjects for behavioral studies such as those necessary for research on Alzheimer’s disease, the fatal form of dementia that affects an estimated 4.5 million Americans over the age of 65. It’s the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. and costs the nation $100 billion annually.

Last year, a multidisciplinary team of scientists from two Danish institutions, Aarhus University and the University of Copenhagen, began using pigs to study Alzheimer’s. But not just any pigs. The researchers created transgenic pigs—animals whose genomes contain genes from another species. In this case, human genes.

The team introduced the human gene for the heritable form of Alzheimer’s into porcine fibroblasts, the skin cells most often used for cloning because they multiply quickly. The researchers chose the heritable form of the disease, which develops early in life, because it can be detected genetically, rather than the more common, nonheritable form of Alzheimer’s, which manifests later in life and has not been linked to a specific gene. They then used a unique cloning technique to make seven genetically identical pigs with the Alzheimer’s gene.

According to Arne Lund Jørgensen, who is leading the study at Aarhus, pigs could suffer from Alzheimer’s as humans do. “A porcine model shows that the pig brain has the metabolic pathway to produce Alzheimer’s-like pathology,” he says. This could offer an improved understanding of the mechanisms involved in the disease and bring scientists closer to better treatments or even the ever-elusive cure.

Making Transgenic Pigs

The researchers achieved two firsts: Their transgenic pigs are the first to carry a human Alzheimer’s gene, and they’re the first pigs produced by a relatively new method called handmade cloning.

A Pig in Hand: A researcher holds one of the pigs that may further our understanding of Alzheimer’s disease. Neils Aage Skovbo/Scanpix
To introduce the disease gene, Jørgensen’s team first removed a fibroblast from an adult female pig. The Alzheimer’s gene was then inserted into the fibroblast. Once the scientists determined that the Alzheimer’s gene was active inside the cell, they allowed it to multiply. They then prepared the pig ova—the cell that will eventually grow into the piglet—to accept the fibroblast’s genetic material. To do this, Gábor Vajta, a cloning expert and an affiliate professor at the University of Copenhagen, used a method he developed in 2001. The key: using enzymes to dissolve the zona pellucida, or outer membrane, of the egg. This allowed the scientists to easily manipulate the egg cell’s components by hand, rather than using micromanipulators, tiny instruments used in traditional cloning [for more on this process see “An Easier Way to Clone” on the last page].

Vajta then fused the fibroblast carrying the Alzheimer’s gene with the egg cell, which was electrically and chemically stimulated to ultimately become a blastocyst, an embryonic phase. The team produced 40 to 50 identical blastocysts using Alzheimer’s fibroblasts that had multiplied from the original. Veterinarians implanted these blastocysts into a sow.

The impregnation resulted in seven identical piglets born in the summer of 2007. Three months later, an autopsy on one piglet showed that the Alzheimer’s gene was indeed active in its brain. The researchers will now watch the remaining pigs age, with the hope that the disease will progress in the same way it does in humans.

What We Know So Far

The heritable form of the disease, also known as early-onset Alzheimer’s, is the result of a genetic mutation passed down in families. It is the cause of between 5 and 10 percent of cases. Late-onset Alzheimer’s, which appears after age 60 in people who usually don’t have a family history of the disease, accounts for the rest. Both forms lead to the destruction of nerve cells and neural connections in the cerebral cortex of the brain. The condition destroys memory and causes confusion, disorientation and, eventually, death. Despite intensive research, Alzheimer’s disease is poorly understood, and doctors still lack medical treatments to prevent the brain damage it causes.

Ovaries: A scientist harvests eggs from pig ovaries and places them in test tubes.

The process of neurodegeneration begins when enzymes snip a component of nerve cells into small pieces. The resulting protein, called beta-amyloid, accumulates in clumps between the cells. Some of these clumps eventually become large plaques. According to Samuel Gandy, a professor of Alzheimer’s-disease research at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, amyloid protein outside the nerve cells causes the formation of what are called neurofibrillary tangles inside neurons. Here, a normal component called tau protein accumulates in the twisted fiber proteins. As the disease progresses, brain cells die and the brain itself shrinks, although it’s unknown exactly how the two proteins influence cell death. The disease starts in the hippocampus, a part of the brain involved in learning and memory, and later spreads to the rest of the brain.

Although these major steps have been mapped through brain scans and autopsies, scientists need to study how the disease progresses. That’s where the pigs come into play. If all goes as planned, the pigs should show signs of brain pathology at age two, which in pig years corresponds to the age when people with early-onset Alzheimer’s begin to exhibit symptoms.

Tracking the Disease

Mouse models for Alzheimer’s have never been able to simulate anything comparable to the last stages of the disease. “Plaque-forming mice do not show extensive nerve-cell death,” Gandy says. “It’s nothing like human Alzheimer’s.” But the research group has good reason to believe that their work in pigs will be more successful than the studies in mice. Research indicates that pigs’ nerve cells may possess the biochemical machinery needed to trigger the disease, Jørgensen says. The scientists will use computerized axial tomography and positron-emission tomography (PET) scanners—the same devices that help diagnose Alzheimer’s in humans—to detect the two destructive proteins, beta-amyloid and tau, in early stages. To find beta-amyloid, for instance, the scientists can inject a chemical substance into the bloodstream that attaches to the protein deposits in the brain. If amyloid clumps are present, the substance will accumulate there and be detectable on PET scans. In the later stages of the disease, researchers will be able to follow the progressive death of neurons in the brain using the scanners.

The technology will allow researchers to study for the first time the long-term effects of the disease. “Because the cloned pigs are genetically identical, we expect the pathological changes we find in one pig to be present in the others,” Jørgensen says. This will enable researchers to correlate pathological- disease development with changes in behavior.

One very early behavioral symptom the researchers will look for is a diminished sense of smell. They will also test for a loss of memory and spatial recognition by placing the pigs in a room with four compartments, one of which contains a reward. Healthy pigs quickly learn which compartment contains the reward and go right to it. The pigs with Alzheimer’s, however, will probably have a harder time remembering which compartment holds the reward.

To further test memory, the pigs will be put in a room with two toys. The following day, one of the two toys will be replaced. Healthy pigs spend more time examining new objects, but once the diseased pigs’ memories begin to diminish, it’s expected that they will spend the same amount of time sniffing both the old and new toys.

Guinea Pigs

If Alzheimer’s progresses in pigs as it does in humans, the animals will give us more than just a better understanding of the disease. Transgenic pigs may also one day become test subjects for Alzheimer’s drugs, helping scientists develop better treatments for humans.

Thanks to their longevity, pigs will ideally provide new possibilities for understanding and treating diseases in which an organ’s function slowly degrades. Currently, pig genetic sequencing is conducted on an experiment-by-experiment basis—a costly, lengthy process. In 2001, scientists began sequencing the complete pig genome which the international Swine Genome Sequencing Consortium expects to publish by early 2010. With both this and the human genome in hand, transgenic pig models are expected to accelerate. According to Jørgensen, drug and treatment testing of human diseases on transgenic pigs and other large-animal models may eventually be the world standard.

An Easier Way to Clone?: See it bigger, click here. RASMUS BAANER/Polfoto; Peter M. Kragh/ aarhus university; asmus baaner/polfoto; Peter M. Kragh/aarhus university; Peter M. Kragh/aarhus university

GMAC at the Brink- Why it Matters

NEW YORK ( -- GMAC Financial Services, the finance unit tied to automaker General Motors, said Wednesday it is coming up well short in its efforts to raise the capital it needs to become a bank holding company, a move the unit is counting on to gain access to needed funds from the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve.

The unit, which is 49% owned by General Motors and 51% owned by private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management, had applied to become a bank holding company last month but warned Wednesday that it may have to pull the application.

The looming failure is another blow to embattled automaker GM (GM, Fortune 500).

GMAC needs to reach $30 billion in capital in order to qualify as a bank holding company. It was looking to do that by offering investors holding about $38 billion of its notes the opportunity to exchange their bonds for new notes and preferred stock, and a limited amount of cash. The preferred stock would have counted towards its required capital.

So far the offer, which has been extended through 5 p.m. ET Friday, has raised only about $8.3 billion in new capital. The company had $9 billion in capital on hand at the end of the third quarter.

GMAC had been hoping to become a bank holding company since that status would allow the firm to tap into the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the $700 billion in bailout funds set up for Wall Street firms and banks in October, as well as the Fed's discount window, the method that the central bank uses to loan money to directly to banks and other finance firms.

While new funds for GMAC would not have been used to offset losses at the automaker as it seeks a federal bailout and struggles to avoid bankruptcy, it was crucial to the finance unit's ability to again start making car loans to potential GM customers.

The finance arm was once a key way for GM to help consumers buy cars. But only 1% to 2% of GM's sales in November were financed by GMAC. GMAC's mortgage loan business, another key source of revenue in the past, has also essentially ground to a halt in recent months.

Further problems for GMAC would be a crippling blow to GM's network of nearly 6,500 dealers, most of which get the financing they need to operate and buy vehicle inventory from the automaker. And GMAC's statement indicated it faces additional, though unspecified problems, due to the failure of its efforts to raise capital.

"GMAC does not believe it has the ability to make further changes to the (offer) following the new deadline," according to the company's statement. "If GMAC is unable to successfully convert to a bank holding company ... by December 31, 2008, it would have a near-term material adverse effect on GMAC's business, results of operations, and financial position."

Duane Paddock, owner of one of the nation's largest Chevrolet dealerships and head of the GM dealership council, said he's still hopeful that if Congress moves forward on a bailout of the U.S. automakers in the coming days, that could turn the tide for GMAC's efforts to raise capital.

"We have to take the first step first and get the government assistance," said Paddock, who had been in Washington working on support for the bailout plan.

But Paddock said that if the bailout bill passes and GMAC is still unable to get the access to capital and cash it is seeking, it would be catastrophic for many dealerships.

"It's just as big an issue as the bailout," he said. "There is no question the overall dealer body needs to have GMAC."

GMAC, once a profit-generating life raft for GM, has had its own problems in the past year due to problems in financial and automotive markets. It reported a $2.5 billion loss in the third quarter, bringing its losses in the past five quarters to $7.9 billion.

In the past few years, GMAC moved away from a focus on auto finance. By 2005, mortgage lending and insurance accounted for 57% of its income. Before the housing bubble burst, GMAC made a big push into subprime lending and so-called Alt-A loans, those made to borrowers who did not provide full documentation of their income.

Does the Military Infrastructure need updating? Crash in San Diego

Normal aging is blamed for yesterday's F-18 crash, which killed at least three people; should these planes still be flying?

An F-18 crashed down in Miramar, CA. At least three were killed: befrank (CC Licensed)

An explosion shook the San Diego neighborhood of University City yesterday afternoon when a U.S. Navy fighter jet crashed into a house. The pilot of the plane safely ejected, but a mother, child, and grandmother died when the plane hit their home, and another child is still missing. The crash occurred near Camp Kearny in Miramar, CA, home to the Navy's Top Gun fighter pilot school.

With smoldering wreckage still being collected from the crash site, the Navy said it is too early to determine the cause of the crash. According to Marine Corps spokesperson Corporal Francis Goch, the plane, an F/A-18D Hornet, was returning from training when the pilot radioed air traffic control about a problem, ejecting shortly thereafter.

"He radioed into air traffic control, he said he didn't know what the problem was," said Goch. "Right now they do not have enough information to determine a reason for the crash. They could still pull a piece of the wreckage out and say 'oh, it was this.'"

Many news reports, including the Associated Press story, focused on an aviation inspection bulletin issued by the Navy on October 23rd. The bulletin noted that some older-generation Hornets had stress fractures on the flaps on the front end of the wings. The bulletin led to 10 planes being grounded, and another 20 restricted to limited flight time, out of the 1,047 old-generation F-18s in the Navy fleet.

However, John Pike, Director of, believes that blaming the crash on a stress fracture of the sort highlighted in the inspection bulletin is premature and misleading. He compared it to the crash of the Concord in 2000, saying that a similar stress fracture warning had been issued about that plane, leading experts to blame the fractures for the crash, and not the metal debris that actually caused the problems.

"The plane has the routine aches and pains that come with combat aircraft," said Pike. "Unusual problems? No, this plane has normal problems."

Pike went on to say that given the amount of wear and tear on these planes, a couple of crashes a year would be expected. In fact, according to data provided by the Navy, including yesterday's crash, there were only four incidents in 2008 resulting in loss of a plane, loss of life, or over a million dollars in damages, below the yearly average of six for F/A-18s. But Pike stressed that the failure rate of the F/A-18 is no greater than the crash rate of other similar fighter planes.

The F/A-18D is a two-seat plane first produced for the Navy and Marine Corps in 1987. The planes are manufactured by Boeing Integrated Defense Systems and cost around $57 million apiece. F/18s models A through D are known as "legacy" models, as the Navy began replacing many of them with new F/A-18 E and F models in 1999.

"They're the workhorses of the fleet," said Navy spokesman Lieutenant Clayton Doss. Doss went on to add that legacy Hornets have flown for almost 6 million hours since entering service in 1980, with only 181 crashes. But the fleet is aging, and over half of the legacy F/A-18s have flown more than the 6,000 hours projected as their total use-life.

This is the first F/A-18 crash at Camp Kearny since 2006, when a plane went down on the east side of the base. In that crash, the pilot ejected safely and the plane crashed harmlessly into the desert below.

"Losing a couple of F-18s a year is normal," said Pike, "It's clearly the family that's the newsworthy component of it, unfortunately."

8 Scary Predictions which almost gaurantees a couple are correct

Nouriel Roubini
Nouriel Roubini
Known as Dr. Doom, the NYU economics professor saw the mortgage-related meltdown coming.

We are in the middle of a very severe recession that's going to continue through all of 2009 - the worst U.S. recession in the past 50 years. It's the bursting of a huge leveraged-up credit bubble. There's no going back, and there is no bottom to it. It was excessive in everything from subprime to prime, from credit cards to student loans, from corporate bonds to muni bonds. You name it. And it's all reversing right now in a very, very massive way. At this point it's not just a U.S. recession. All of the advanced economies are at the beginning of a hard landing. And emerging markets, beginning with China, are in a severe slowdown. So we're having a global recession and it's becoming worse.

Things are going to be awful for everyday people. U.S. GDP growth is going to be negative through the end of 2009. And the recovery in 2010 and 2011, if there is one, is going to be so weak - with a growth rate of 1% to 1.5% - that it's going to feel like a recession. I see the unemployment rate peaking at around 9% by 2010. The value of homes has already fallen 25%. In my view, home prices are going to fall by another 15% before bottoming out in 2010.

For the next 12 months I would stay away from risky assets. I would stay away from the stock market. I would stay away from commodities. I would stay away from credit, both high-yield and high-grade. I would stay in cash or cashlike instruments such as short-term or longer-term government bonds. It's better to stay in things with low returns rather than to lose 50% of your wealth. You should preserve capital. It'll be hard and challenging enough. I wish I could be more cheerful, but I was right a year ago, and I think I'll be right this year too.