Greetings autoduelists. This issue has links to three new Car Wars sites,
information on new autodueling fiction and the ongoing story of pirates
stealing an ocean freighter filled with military hardware. The last story
sounds like a great Car Wars scenario but it is actually happening in 2008.
Perhaps Autoduel Earth will occur first on the seas instead of the highways.
Return to Death Rally
Since the release of "Death Race" in theaters, I have been wanting to play the 1996 classic auto-combat PC game Death Rally. Because it is an old game, running it properly on new computers is problematic. After some experimentation, I discovered the emulation program DOSbox allows all of the action of Death Rally to return to the monitor screen.
The producer of Death Rally, 3D Realms, still has new copies of the game available for sale for only $10.00 USD.
DOSbox has a very good screen capture mode which allowed me to take screenshots of the game I have not been able to acquire before. As a result I will be updating the SWAT Death Rally Driver's Survival Guide this month.
3D Realms: Death Rally
Remedy Games: Death Rally
Wikipedia: Death Rally
SWAT HQ: Death Rally Driver's Survival Guide
Fallout 3 Official Site by Bethesda
No Mutants Allowed Fallout CRPG Community
Although it is not about autodueling, the Fallout CRPG series is one
of the best computer game series ever produced, filled with weapons that
will make any Car Wars fan salivate. Fallout 3 is being released late this
month for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3. GameStop and Amazon.com have been accepting
pre-orders for special collector editions of the game with extras. GameStop
and Amazon.com are offering different special editions of the game so you
may want to purchase Fallout 3 from both of the vendors.
Have you seen Death Race yet? Would the concept of Swords and Shields
be useful in Car Wars combat races? Make your ideas known by sending me
an e-mail message or posting your thoughts on a Car Wars discussion forum.
Wishing you an auto-carnage-filled Halloween,
Gas shortages: get ready for more
The long lines and closed pumps seen across the South this week are a warning: inventories are way too low.
By Brian O'Keefe, senior editor
Fortune Magazine and CNNMoney.com
September 26, 2008: 1:29 PM ET
Photograph: Sign of the future? A Nashville gas station earlier this week had nothing left to pump.
NEW YORK (Fortune) -- While Congress and Bush administration officials have been working to complete a bailout plan and stem the financial contagion on Wall Street, a different kind of economic crisis emerged across the South this week: A severe, hurricane-related gasoline shortage has curtailed trucking from Atlanta to Asheville, N.C., and created a wave of panic buying among motorists.
The return of gas lines has largely flown under the radar of politicians who are usually keenly attuned, because their constituents are, to what's going on at the pump. But more of the Capitol gang should be paying attention to this.
That's because nationwide our gasoline inventory is shockingly low.
Liquidity must be restored soon to this market, or we could be facing a
crippling run on the gasoline bank. And if you think Americans are outraged
about Wall Street, wait until their Main Street grocery store doesn't get
the bread and milk delivery for a week or two.
Back to the '70s
The scenes over the past several days in places like Nashville, Tenn., Anniston, Ala., and western North Carolina looked like file footage from 1979 - with bags over empty gas pumps and quarter-mile long lines of cars waiting to fill up at stations that hadn't run out. AAA reported that drivers were so desperate that they were following tankers to gas stations to ensure a fill-up.
In Louisiana, Gov. Sonny Perdue got a waiver from the Environmental Protection Agency to temporarily allow stations to sell high-sulfur gasoline. In Alabama, Gov. Bob Riley ordered a state of emergency to prevent price gouging by station owners that do have gas.
What's going on? The immediate answer is that the double whammy of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, which swept through the Gulf of Mexico earlier this month, caused much of the Gulf's oil drilling and refinery production to be shut down. In particular Ike, which hit refinery-rich Southeastern Texas on Sept. 13, caused massive power outages in the Galveston and Houston areas.
As of this week, more than a dozen refineries around Texas City and
Port Arthur were not operating at full capacity and, according to the Department
of Energy, six refineries, with a combined capacity of 1.6 million barrels
a day, were still not running at all.
A bigger problem
But while the current shortages can be traced directly to the two hurricanes, the severity of the problem points out a bigger issue: The U.S. has been operating for a while with razor-thin spare gasoline capacity.
In its most recent Weekly Oil Data Review, Barclays Capital pointed out that the U.S. gasoline inventory has reached its lowest level since August 1967, when demand was a little more than half its current level of 9.3 million barrels a day. At 178.7 million barrels, inventories are 21.6 million barrels below their five-year average.
None of this surprises industry watchers such as Matt Simmons, the chairman of Houston energy industry investment bank Simmons & Co. and chief spokesman for the Peak Oil movement. I recently wrote a profile of Simmons for Fortune ("The prophet of $500 oil") and I can report that he has been warning about the potential of gasoline shortages in the U.S. for months.
"Our system is so fragile," he told me recently. "All you need is a tiny change to go from 'Oh, we're in fine shape' to an unmitigated disaster."
Simmons points out that the gasoline weekly stock reports have been trending sharply downward since last winter (with a brief upturn in the spring), and that even before Gustav and Ike we were in "just in time" supply mode.
Getting back to a safer level of extra capacity isn't simple, either. Once the refineries get back up and running, they'll drain the already low crude oil inventories. Unless gasoline demand stays low, Simmons believes, we'll have a hard time clawing back to stability.
That's why he worries about a top-up catastrophe that could cripple the trucking industry and disrupt food deliveries.
As he told me the other day: "If we end up having gasoline shortages, the odds are about 90% that Americans will do what we always do: We'll top up our tanks. And in topping up our tanks, within three or four days we'll drain the pool dry and then within seven days we'll run out of food."
That sounds awfully dire. And it probably won't happen. But, then again,
a couple of months ago hardly anybody would have predicted that AIG would
collapse, Congress would be mulling a Wall Street bailout, and '70s-era
gas lines would be back.
Russia aims to upgrade nuclear arsenal
Associated Press and CNN.com
updated 3:30 p.m. EDT, Fri September 26, 2008
Photograph: Medvedev enters a Russian nuclear submarine Thursday.
* Russian president says country needs to modernize military and nuclear arsenal
* Dmitry Medvedev gives commanders until December to draw up modernization plan
* He says "guaranteed nuclear deterrent system" must be in place by 2020
* Brief war with Georgia highlighted Russia's aging arsenal, Medvedev said
Moscow, Russia -- Russia must modernize its armed forces and upgrade its nuclear deterrent, in part by building a new air and space defense network, the president said Friday.
President Dmitry Medvedev also announced plans to begin large-scale production of warships, primarily nuclear-powered submarines armed with cruise missiles.
Medvedev said the need for the modernization was demonstrated by last month's military conflict with Georgia. Russia responded to Georgia's attack on the breakaway region of South Ossetia with overwhelming force and easily crushed the Georgian army, but the brief war highlighted Russia's aging arsenal.
"We must ensure superiority in the air, in carrying out precision strikes at land and sea targets and in the timely deployment of forces," Medvedev told military commanders after military exercises in the southern Orenburg region.
His remarks were posted on the Kremlin Web site and carried by state news agencies.
The president said Russia must have "a guaranteed nuclear deterrent system" in place by 2020, and he gave military commanders until December to come up with a plan.
Medvedev emphasized the need for nuclear-powered submarines armed with cruise missiles and also multi-purpose attack submarines.
But he made no mention of the new Borei-class nuclear submarines, which are designed to carry a new intercontinental missile that is seen as a key future component of Russia's nuclear forces.
The missile was successfully test fired last week after repeated failures. The first of the new submarines is to be commissioned later this year and two more are being built.
Russia's economic troubles after the 1991 Soviet collapse hit the armed
forces hard. But in recent years, flush with oil money, the Kremlin has
been pumping more money into new weapons systems.
Plug-in electric cars set to debut in 2010
By Kevin Ransom
AOL Autos and CNN.com
Updated 1:45 p.m. EDT, Wed September 24, 2008
* Car companies say plug-in electric cars could be mass produced by 2010
* GM celebrated its 100-year anniversary by unveiling Chevrolet Volt
* Ford developed first of 20 Escape Plug-In Hybrid "research" vehicles
* Toyota has announced plans to build their version of a plug-in electric car
Photo: GM has begun driving test models of the Chevrolet Volt at its Milford Proving Grounds.
(AOL Autos) -- Robert Lutz, vice-chairman of General Motors, caused a stir in the auto industry -- and in the automotive press -- when he announced in January of 2007 that the Chevrolet Volt plug-in electric car would be ready for mass production and on the road, by the end of 2010.
Because he was making this pronouncement at the 2007 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan, -- in conjunction with the unveiling of the Volt concept car -- skeptics thought that Lutz's statement was a bit too optimistic.
Some thought it might be one of those that falls into the category of "speaking more from hope than experience," and that it was more a rallying cry for the troops than an attainable reality.
After all, at the time, reliable long-term and cost effective lithium-ion batteries required to power a plug-in electric cars seemed to be years away. But now, almost two years later, GM still seems confident that the 2010 launch date will be met.
And that belief is shared by many who work for some of the auto-biz research institutes/industry associations.
On September 16, GM celebrated its 100-year anniversary celebration at the Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit, Michigan, by unveiling the production version of the Volt. Meanwhile, that same day, GM began driving test models at its Milford Proving Grounds. AOL Autos: Hybrid SUVs
GM isn't the only player with plug-in electric cars coming down the pike. So far this year, Ford has delivered the first two of what will eventually be a fleet of 20 Escape Plug-In Hybrid "research" vehicles to Southern California Edison, the utility company.
And in June, Ford also dispatched an Escape Plug-In Hybrid flex-fuel vehicle -- which means it can run on E85 -- to the U.S. Department of Energy. Both of those deliveries were for purposes of road-testing the vehicles to see how they perform over the long haul.
Similarly, Toyota has announced plans to build their version of a plug-in electric car and place them into corporate fleets in 2010. Plus, Nissan will be introducing an electric car for fleet use in 2010, but the company has not announced yet whether it will be a plug-in.
Some obstacles still need to be overcome, but with gasoline projected to stay high, automakers may have more incentive than ever to bring a plug-in electric car to market. AOL Autos: Most-popular fuel-efficient cars
So this seemed like a good time to check in with the major players in the plug-in sweepstakes -- and talk to a research group that is working in conjunction with the automakers -- to get an update on their progress.
It also offered a chance to discuss the various aspects of the march
toward the electric car being not only a reality, but perhaps a ubiquitous
presence on American highways. AOL Autos: Best resale value cars
How it works
The above-named automakers are each using somewhat different variations of plug-in electric-car technology -- that is, they're using different variations of plug-in battery technology and a gas engine.
Let's look at the Chevy Volt first, since that's the one that will seemingly be the first to hit the marketplace: Lutz has said that the Volt has a leg up, since it draws from GM's previous experience in the modern electric-vehicle market when it launched the EV1 in 1996.
Volt owners will be able to fully charge its lithium-ion battery by plugging it into a 110-volt outlet for approximately six hours a day, which for most drivers will presumably be while they are sleeping. AOL Autos: Luxury cars with best gas mileage
"The average driver drives about 30 miles a day," says Tony Posawatz, Chevrolet's vehicle line director for the Volt. "And when the Volt's battery has been fully charged, and you drive under regular driving conditions, you'll be able to drive about 40 miles a day using only the electricity from the battery. So, in that scenario, you're using zero gasoline, which is a pretty appealing proposition, given the current price of gas."
However, if you're not an average driver, and you log more than those
40 miles, once the battery is depleted, a 1.0-liter, three-cylinder turbocharged
gasoline engine will spin to create electricity and replenish the battery.
"We definitely feel that we're on schedule, that we will be able to deliver the Volt before the end of 2010," Posawatz said. "We're working closely with our battery developers, and based on their progress, we're definitely on track to hit that 2010 date." AOL Autos: Best hybrids
Eighteen months ago, many in the industry thought that the internally-mandated 2010 date was just too much to expect, given all of the technology and cost implications.
"Well, it is definitely a compressed time frame," Posawatz conceded. "It is unusual to develop a new vehicle and a new propulsion system at the same time. But the analogy that Mr. Lutz used was when he compared it to President Kennedy saying that we were going to send a man to the moon by the end of the decade, not 'whenever we feel like it.'
"Ideally, engineers would like the time to make a new product that's just perfect, but the beauty of this time line is that is makes a statement that GM wants to take a leadership position in this endeavor, with all of those benefits and privileges that would come with that," Posawatz continued. "There is a tremendous opportunity for whoever is the technological leader when it comes to displacing petroleum as the primary source of fuel for automobiles."
That's because a plug-in electric car would only cost about 12 cents per kilowatt hour to operate, said Mark Duvall, program manager for electric transportation at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) -- the research and development arm of the electric utility industry.
"Twelve cents per kilowatt hour is roughly the equivalent of less than a dollar per gallon of gasoline," Duvall said.
"Obviously, prospects for having a plug-in electric vehicle on the road, in high volumes, are better than they have ever been," Duvall said. "Back in 2001, we conducted a study and projected 2010 as the year that the plug-in electric car would be able to be commercialized, so the current schedule is indeed meeting our expectations.
"We've definitely seen an explosion in the technological advancement of the lithium-ion batteries that have been in development the last few years," he continued. "We've tested some of these batteries, and we're optimistic that they're up to the task, and that they'll be ready for the marketplace by 2010.
"The current gas-electric hybrids have been an important step, because they really have allowed for the most efficient use of gasoline to date, because they've minimized a lot of the waste of fuel that occurred during starting, stopping and idling.
"But a plug-in vehicle, if you're the average driver, gives you a chance
to completely eliminate the use of gasoline," Duvall noted. "That would
be a tremendous boon to the individual consumer, and would obviously be
a boon to the environment, and would benefit the nation geopolitically,
given our current dependence on foreign oil."
Cost and durability
As mentioned previously, the hurdles to a mass-market launch thus far have been the cost and the efficiency of the lithium-ion battery. John Hanson, Toyota's National Manager of Environmental, Safety & Quality Communications, thinks that these are significant challenges.
"There are a number of things we still need to find out about the lithium-ion battery before Toyota can bring the plug-in car to the consumer market," Hanson said. "We need to see how it performs, how durable it is, and what its limitations might be."
Scott Staley, Ford's chief engineer for hybrid and fuel-cell technology development, agreed. "There has definitely been progress with the technology of the lithium-ion battery, but the industry still needs to get the volumes up and the cost down in order to make it work as a commercially viable proposition," Staley said.
And GM's Posawatz noted that, "remember, we're not talking about a nice, clean, air-conditioned environment that these batteries will be operating in.
"These are environments where there are dramatic temperature swings, and where the batteries will be subjected to dirt, debris, moisture, vibration, and possible crash situations," Posawatz said. "So the challenge was to develop a battery that is not only cost effective, but one that can also meet these rigorous operational requirements, and one that will also last 10 years or 150,000 miles."
GM is currently working with a few different battery developers, who are sharing their research, and "we have techs testing them for hours, and there is nothing we have encountered, from a technical standpoint, that was unexpected, or that would deter us from the 2010 date."
Posawatz also noted that "one challenge has been getting the weight of the battery pack down, and we now have it down to 375 pounds."
As for cost, Posawatz is also aware that "the price of the first batteries are frankly going to be unacceptable, from a long-term perspective, but we're marching ahead regardless, because we know that once we get these cars into the marketplace, and the sales volume increases, the cost will come down. We're not looking at making a profit on the first Volts we introduce to the public -- but that will happen over the longer term, as they become more popular and we ramp up production."
EPRI's Duvall reframes that proposition, observing that, "any carmaker
who comes out with a new, revolutionary technology like this knows that
the product will have to cross the valley of death initially, in that they
won't make any profit from it. Profit will come later, after they're on
the market for a while and volumes have increased."
Pirates seize ship carrying tanks, ammo
Updated 12:50 p.m. EDT, Fri September 26, 2008
File Photo: Canadian Navy sailors escort an aid ship in waters off Somalia where pirates operate.
* Ukrainian ship seized off Somalia by pirates had tanks in cargo
* Officials: Cargo also contained substantial quantity of ammunition, spare parts
* Russia sending patrol ship from Russia's Baltic Sea fleet to the area
(CNN) -- A Ukrainian ship carrying tanks and ammunition has been seized by pirates off the coast of Kenya, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry told CNN.
The vessel Faina, flying a Belize flag, was headed to the Kenyan port of Mombasa after departing from Nikolayev, Ukraine, according to Lt. Col. Konstantin Sadilov, spokesman for the defense ministry.
He said it was seized by pirates on Thursday not far from its destination.
According to the defense ministry, the ship was carrying 33 Soviet-made T-72 tanks, tank artillery shells, grenade launchers and small arms.
The weapons were sold to Kenya by Ukraine, said Ukraine Defense Minister Yuri Yekhanurov, according to the Interfax-Ukraine news agency.
He said the entire shipment was contracted and carried out by Ukrspetzexport, Ukraine's state arms exports monopoly, and it would know better exactly what was on board.
Kenyan government spokesman Alfred Mutua confirmed to The Associated Press that the East African nation's military had ordered the tanks and spare parts, but he did not provide any more details.
The ship deliberately took a route far from the coast of Somalia, where pirates are known to operate, in an attempt to avoid them, the minister said.
Ukraine's anti-terrorist center in its capital, Kiev, is analyzing the situation and consulting with military and security experts, Sadilov told CNN.
Ukrainian diplomats are also working in Kenya to resolve the situation, he said.
The ship's crew consists of 17 Ukrainians, three Russians and a Lithuanian.
The Russian patrol ship Neustrashimy, which left Wednesday for the coast off Somalia, may help crack down on pirates, a source in the Russian Baltic Fleet headquarters told Interfax-AVN on Friday.
And the Russian Navy's commander, Adm. Vladimir Vysotsky, told Interfax that Russia plans to send combat ships to the Somali coast to fight piracy.
"We have such plans for the near future," he said. "However, Russian
ships will not be involved in any international operations. They will do
this job on their own."
Russia sends warship after pirate attack
Ukrainian ship carrying 33 tanks, hoard of ammunition raided off Africa
Associated Press and MSNBC.com
Updated 12:48 p.m. PT, Fri., Sept. 26, 2008
Moscow, Russia -- A Russian warship on Friday rushed to intercept a Ukrainian vessel carrying 33 battle tanks and a hoard of ammunition that was seized by pirates off the Horn of Africa -- a bold hijacking that again heightened fears about surging piracy and high-seas terrorism.
U.S. naval ships were in the area and "monitoring the situation" and a U.S. Defense Department official said Washington was concerned about the attack.
"I think we're looking at the full range of options here," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said.
It was unclear whether the pirates who seized the 530-foot-long cargo ship Faina on Thursday knew what it carried. Still, analysts said it would be extremely difficult to sell such high-profile weaponry like Russian tanks.
The hijacking, with worldwide pirate attacks surging this year, could help rally stronger international support behind France, which has pushed aggressively for decisive action against Somali pirates.
Russian navy spokesman Capt. Igor Dygalo told The Associated Press that the missile frigate Neustrashimy left the Baltic Sea port of Baltiisk a day before the hijacking to cooperate with other unspecified countries in anti-piracy efforts.
But he said the ship was then ordered directly to the Somalia coast
after Thursday's attack.
Armed with missiles
According to the British-based Jane's Information Group, the Neustrashimy is armed with surface-to-air missiles, 100 mm guns and anti-submarine torpedoes.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Yury Yekhanurov, meanwhile, said the hijacked vessel Faina was carrying 33 Russian-built T-72 tanks and a substantial quantity of ammunition and spare parts. He said the tanks were sold to Kenya in accordance with international law.
Ukrainian officials and an anti-piracy watchdog said 21 crew members were aboard the seized ship, including three Russians. Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko ordered unspecified measures to free the crew, but it was unclear whether any of the former Soviet republic's naval vessels had been dispatched.
A Kenyan government spokesman, Alfred Mutua, confirmed the East African nation's military had ordered the tanks and spare parts. The tanks are part of a two-year rearmament program.
"The government is in contact with international maritime agencies and other security partners in an endeavor to secure the ship and cargo," Mutua said in a statement. "The government is actively monitoring the situation."
A person who answered the telephone at Ukrainian state-controlled arms dealer Ukrspetsexport, which brokered the sale, refused to comment, and said all requests for information must be submitted in writing.
It was unclear where the shipment originated, though Ukrainian news agencies identified the ship operator as a company called Tomex Team based in the Black Sea port of Odessa. Calls to Tomex offices went unanswered Friday.
Lt. Nate Christensen, a spokesman for the Bahrain-based U.S. 5th Fleet,
told the AP that U.S. vessels were aware of the seizure and said U.S. ships
were "monitoring the situation," but refused to say more: "Obviously, we
are deeply concerned."
Worry about cargo
U.S. Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman said the United States was worried about the ship's cargo.
"A ship carrying cargo of that nature being hijacked off the coast of Somalia is something that should concern us, and it does concern us. And we are monitoring the situation and taking a look at what the options might be," Whitman said.
Paul Cornish, head of the international security program at the London-based think-tank Chatham House said the tanks would be difficult to sell on to a third party -- private buyers or warlords, for example -- because of the logistics involved with keeping them operational.
"It's not like (stealing) a container full of machine guns, where all you need is a tin of bicycle oil," he said.
Roger Middleton, another Chatham House researcher, said it was unlikely the pirates knew there were tanks aboard the Faina, and also said unloading the cargo would be difficult.
"Most of their attacks are based on opportunity. So if they see something that looks attackable and looks captureable, they'll attack it," he said.
Middleton said it was unclear how the pirates might react if confronted by military action, noting that they have fled from authorities in the past. On the other hand, he said, they are usually well-armed and organized and are based in an unstable country -- Somalia.
"It could potentially get pretty messy," he said.
Long a hazard for maritime shippers -- particularly in the Indian Ocean
and its peripheries -- high-seas piracy has triggered greater alarm since
the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States because of its potential
as a funding and supply source for global terrorism.
Pirate attacks surge
Pirate attacks worldwide have surged this year and Africa remains the world's top piracy hotspot, with 24 reported attacks in Somalia and 18 in Nigeria this year, according to the International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting center.
The issue burst into international view Sept. 15 when Somali pirates took two French citizens captive aboard a luxury yacht and helicopter-borne French commandos then swooped in to rescue them.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy this month called on other nations to move boldly against pirates, calling the phenomenon "a genuine industry of crime."
In June, the U.N. Security Council -- pushed by France and the United
States -- unanimously adopted a resolution allowing ships of foreign nations
that cooperate with the Somali government to enter their territorial waters
"for the purpose of repressing acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea."
U.S. destroyer watches hijacked ship
Pirates want $35 million ransom for vessel carrying Russian tanks
Associated Press and MSNBC.com
Updated 6:53 p.m. PT, Sat., Sept. 27, 2008
Moscow, Russia -- A U.S. destroyer off the coast of Somalia closed in Saturday on a hijacked Ukrainian ship loaded with tanks and ammunition, watching it to ensure the pirates who seized it do not try to remove any cargo or crew.
As Russian and American ships pursued the hijackers of the Ukrainian-operated vessel, pirates seized another ship off Somalia's coast, an international anti-piracy group said.
The Greek tanker with a crew of 19 is carrying refined petroleum from Europe to the Middle East. It was ambushed Friday in the Gulf of Aden, said Noel Choong, who heads the International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting center based in Malaysia. He said pirates chased and fired at the ship before boarding it.
In Somalia, a man claiming to be spokesman of the pirates holding the Ukrainian ship said the hijackers want $35 million to release the vessel. But there was no way to immediately verify his claim that he represented the pirates.
On Thursday, pirates seized the Ukrainian ship Faina en route to Kenya with 33 Russian-built T-72 tanks and a substantial quantity of ammunition and spare parts. Russia's navy said Friday it had dispatched a warship to the area, and the United States said American naval ships were tracking the Ukrainian ship with special concern because of the weaponry on board.
The hijackings were the latest in a series of audacious maritime attacks
off the coast of Somalia, a war-torn country that has been without a functioning
government since 1991.
A U.S. defense official said the destroyer USS Howard is pursuing the hijacked Ukrainian vessel and is now within a few thousand yards of it. The hijacked ship is anchored a few miles off the Somalia coast, said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the situation.
The destroyer is watching to make sure the pirates do not try to remove anything, the official added.
The USS Howard's Web site says it is equipped for combat operations at sea with surface-to-air missiles, Tomahawk cruise missiles, antisubmarine rockets, torpedoes, and a five-inch rapid-fire deck gun.
Kenyan government spokesman Alfred Mutua said the Faina had not yet docked at any port and was still at sea.
Kenya "is not aware of any credible (ransom) demand being made," Mutua
said in statement on his Web site. He said Kenya "does not and will not
negotiate with international criminals, pirates and terrorists."
$35 million ransom
Ukraine's Foreign Ministry said the Kenyan Defense Department was using its contacts to try to resolve the problem. It said Kenyan authorities were sharing information with Somalia, Ukraine, Russia, the U.S. and Britain in an effort to secure the swift release of the ship and its crew.
A man who spoke to the Associated Press in Somalia by telephone and claimed to be a spokesman for the pirates said they were seeking a ransom.
"We want the Kenyan government to negotiate with us about a $35 million ransom we want for the release of the ship and the cargo without any other intervention," said the man, who identified himself as Ali Yare Abdulkadir. "If not, we will do what we can and off load the small arms and take them away."
Abdulkadir, who local residents in the northeastern Somali region of Puntland said represented the pirates, declined to reveal his whereabouts. He said the ship is somewhere along Somalia's northeastern coast and warned against any military action to liberate it.
"Any one who tries it will be responsible for the consequences," Abdulkadir said.
A Russian Web site posted what it said was an audio recording of a telephone conversation with the Ukrainian ship's first mate. He said the hijackers are seeking a ransom and have anchored close to the Somali shore.
There was no way to immediately confirm the authenticity of the report on Web site Life.ru. Calls to the phone number listed on the site went to an answering machine at the publisher of two established tabloids that have reportedly reliably on news in the past — one of them also called Life.
On the recording, a man who identified himself as first mate Viktor Nikolsky said the hijackers were asking for a ransom but he did not know how much. Life.ru showed images of what it said were the Russian passports for both Nikolsky and the ship's captain, Vladimir Kolobkov.
Nikolsky said there were 35 people on the ship — 21 of them crew — and
most were being held in a single overheated room, he added. Nobody aboard
the Faina was injured, but the captain was suffering from heatstroke and
his condition was "not so good," the man identified as Nikolsky said. It
was unclear exactly when the purported conversation took place.
Not the first time
Nikolsky said the ship was anchored near the Somali town of Hobyo and that two other apparently hijacked ships were nearby. Hobyo is in the central region of Mudug, south of Puntland. It is a natural port and does not have any facilities.
Kenyan Defense Department spokesman Bogita Ongeri said the Ukrainian vessel was seized in international waters in the Gulf of Aden. He said that the pirates hijacked the ship beyond 200 nautical miles away from the coast of Puntland. Two hundred nautical miles in maritime law mark the end of a country's territorial waters.
Long a hazard for maritime shippers -- particularly in the Indian Ocean and its peripheries -- high-seas piracy has triggered greater alarm since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States because of its potential as a funding and supply source for global terrorism.
Pirate attacks worldwide have surged this year and Africa remains the world's top piracy hotspot, with 24 reported attacks in Somalia and 18 in Nigeria this year, according to the International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting center.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy this month called on other nations
to move boldly against pirates, calling the phenomenon "a genuine industry
Pirates lower ransom demand for weapons ship
Posted Monday, September 29, 2008
* NEW: Crew member aboard hijacked Ukrainian ship died, Somali town official says
* Pirates seized ship carrying tanks, ammunition on Thursday off Somali coast
* Ship was bound for Kenya
U.S. Navy Photograph: A photo from the USS Howard shows Somali pirates in small boats hijacking the MV Faina last week.
(CNN) -- Pirates who seized a Ukrainian cargo ship off the coast of Africa loaded with tanks and weapons reportedly lowered their ransom demand Monday from $35 million to $20 million.
Andrew Mwangura of the Kenya-based Seafarers Assistance Programme told CNN Monday that the organization's sources in Somalia reported the change in the ransom amount.
The pirates hijacked the ship Faina off the coast of Somalia on Thursday. The ship was headed to the Kenyan port of Mombasa after departing from Nikolayev, Ukraine, and was seized not far from its destination.
The Kenyan government said Sunday it had not been contacted by the hijackers.
Rashid Abdi, an analyst with the International Crisis Group, said the pirates have been making their ransom demands in interviews with media outlets.
"The pirates are very clever and well connected," Abdi said. "They know the importance of using the media to put forward their side of the story."
Alfred N. Mutua, a spokesman for the Kenyan government, warned the media to be cautious about "being used by terrorists who, on realizing they cannot get away with their plunder, are trying to draw attention from their criminal acts."
"Do not empower them by giving them the publicity they seek," he told CNN.
Faina is owned and operated by Kaalbye Shipping Ukraine, and its crew
includes citizens of Ukraine, Russia and Latvia, the Navy said.
Abdi Salan Khalif, commissioner of the coastal town of Harardhere, told CNN the pirates told a group of town elders that one crew member died of high blood pressure problems.
The Ukrainian ministry said the ship is carrying 33 Soviet-made T-72 tanks, tank artillery shells, grenade launchers and small arms. Ukraine sold the weapons to Kenya, said Ukraine Defense Minister Yuri Yekhanurov, according to the Interfax-Ukraine news agency.
CNN's David McKenzie contributed to this report
Somalia asks Russia for help with pirates
* NEW: Somalia wants Russian warships to intervene; Russia rules out using force
* Pirates captured Ukrainian MV Faina, loaded with weapons, off Somalia's coast
* Officials fear weapons will get into terrorists' hands
* Ships from 10 countries, including U.S., in region; Somalia fed up with inaction
Photo 1: The U.S. Navy released this observance photo of the MV Faina, which is loaded with weapons and tanks. Getty Images.
Photo 2: A photo from the USS Howard shows Somali pirates in small boats hijacking the MV Faina last week. U.S. Navy.
Updated 4:20 p.m. EDT, Wed October 1, 2008
Moscow, Russia (CNN) -- The Somali government has asked Russia to intervene against pirates who have seized a Ukrainian cargo ship, the Somali ambassador to Russia said Wednesday.
But the Russian navy issued a statement later in the day saying it had no intention of using force against the pirates, the Russian news agency Interfax reported.
"The questions of freeing the ships and crew are being dealt with in line with the corresponding international practices," Interfax quoted Navy spokesman Igor Dygalo as saying. "For understandable reasons, the use of force would be an extreme measure because it could threaten the life of the international crew of the ship."
The pirates took over the MV Faina last week off the coast of Somalia and are demanding a $20 million ransom for the ship's cargo of 33 Soviet-made T-72 tanks, tank artillery shells, grenade launchers and small arms. The ship is anchored within Somalia's 12-mile territorial limit.
"The government and the president of Somalia are allowing the Russian naval ships to enter our waters, and fight against pirates both in the sea and on the land, that is, if they would have to chase them," Amb. Mohamed Handule said at a news conference in Moscow.
"We think that this issue of piracy has exceeded all limits. It is very dangerous that pirates are now laying their hands on arms -- not just for Somalia, not only for the navigating, but for the entire region in general," he added. "Right now, pirates are controlling the sea in this area, but just imagine if they get control of the land too."
The announcement raised concern among some officials monitoring the situation.
"We may have bad news," said Andrew Mwangura of the Kenya Seafarers Association.
Mwangura said some of the Ukrainian crew's family members are concerned for their loved ones' safety and have called him to see if he can communicate with the pirates. He urged negotiations to continue.
"For the safety of the crew members," Mwangura said, "let the ship owners talk with the pirates." Video Watch Mwangura talk about the rise in pirating »
A Russian navy ship sailing toward the Faina is in the Atlantic Ocean and "still has a bit of water to get here," said U.S. Navy Lt. Stephanie Murdock, who is stationed in nearby Bahrain. "There is no estimated time of arrival yet."
The U.S. Navy has several ships in the area monitoring the situation.
"There have been no changes today," Murdock said.
The Navy has not communicated with the Russian ship but will work out coordination when it arrives, Murdock said.
The Russian ship Neustrashimy is headed to the region solely to protect Russian shipping, according to the Russian navy spokesman.
"The navy command has been stressing that the Neustrashimy, from the Baltic Sea Fleet, has been given the task of arriving in the area of Somalia and guaranteeing for a certain time the safe seafaring of Russian ships in the area with a high risk of pirate attacks. The essence of the mission is to prevent the seizure of Russian ships by pirates," Dygalo said.
Handule, the Nigerian ambassador, seemed to criticize the United States for not taking action.
"Ships of more than 10 countries are now close to our shores, but we are not satisfied with the results of their activities," he said.
Citing U.N. Security Council Resolution 1816, Handule said, "We are inviting all countries, all states who have possibility to support Somalia to fight against . . . pirates. We are especially inviting Russia and giving special status to Russian warships to fight, to help Somalia."
The latest developments came two days after three pirates were killed when they started shooting at each other, according to Mwangura, the Kenya maritime official. The shootout centered on a disagreement between moderate and radical pirates aboard the ship, Mwangura said. The moderates wanted to surrender, but the radicals did not.
The pirates hijacked the ship off the coast of Somalia September 25. The Faina had been headed to the Kenyan port of Mombasa after departing from Nikolayev, Ukraine, and was seized not far from its destination.
The Faina is owned and operated by Kaalbye Shipping Ukraine, and its crew includes citizens of Ukraine, Russia and Latvia, the Navy said.
Abdi Salan Khalif, commissioner of the coastal town of Harardhere, told CNN the pirates told a group of town elders that one crew member had died of high blood pressure problems.
Attacks by pirates have increased dramatically in the waters off Somalia's northern coast in the past year, prompting the U.S. and other coalition warships to widen their patrols in the region.
Three ships were hijacked on August 21 in that area, the "worst number of attacks" in a single day in many years, Capt. Pottengal Mukudan of the International Maritime Bureau told CNN.
After the spate of attacks, the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet in Bahrain announced that it would begin patrolling a newly established shipping corridor in the Gulf of Aden in an attempt to protect international shipping. Canada also sent a warship through the end of September.
The International Maritime Bureau said in April that 49 pirate attacks
on ships were reported in the first three months of 2008, compared with
41 for the same period last year. It recorded 263 pirates attacks last
year, up from 239 the year before and the first increase in three years.
It's pond scum, but algae could be green fuel
Cost-efficient process expected that would also curb warming emissions
Associated Press and MSNBC.com
Updated 1:53 a.m. PT, Sun., Sept. 28, 2008
Photo: The scum from algae in this pool in Borculo, Netherlands, is filtered and processed into flaky green strips used by various industries. Oily byproduct from the process might some day provide biofuel. -- Arthur Max / AP file
Photo: Algae cake extracted from the pool in Borculo is sorted for later processing. -- Arthur Max / AP file
Borculo, Netherlands -- Set amid cornfields and cow pastures in eastern Holland is a shallow pool that is rapidly turning green with algae, harvested for animal feed, skin treatments, biodegradable plastics -- and with increasing interest, biofuel.
In a warehouse 120 miles southwest, a bioreactor of clear plastic tubes is producing algae in pressure-cooker fashion that its manufacturer hopes will one day power jet aircraft.
Experts say it will be years, maybe a decade, before this simplest of all plants can be efficiently processed for fuel. But when that day comes, it could go a long way toward easing the world's energy needs and responding to global warming.
lgae is the slimy stuff that clouds your home aquarium and gets tangled in your feet in a lake or ocean. It can grow almost everywhere there is water and sunlight, and under the right conditions it can double its volume within hours. Scientists and industrialists agree that the potential is huge.
"This is the ultimate fast-growing organism," says Peter van den Dorpel, chief operating officer of AlgaeLink, which makes bioreactors for speeding reproduction. "Algae is lazy. It eats carbon dioxide and produces oxygen." It has no roots, no leaves, no shoots. "It grows so fast because it has nothing else to do. It just swims in the water."
Farming algae doesn't require much space or good cropland, so it avoids the fuel-for-food dilemma that has plagued first and second generation biofuels like corn, rapeseed and palm oil.
It can grow in fresh water, polluted water, sea water or farm runoff.
It can purify a city's sewage while feeding on the nitrogen and phosphates
in human waste.
Oil-content is high
And it is rich in oil. The most common types farmed today have an oil content of 30 percent, and it can go up to 70 percent or more.
It also consumes nearly twice its weight in carbon dioxide, the most common greenhouse gas that is discharged by vehicles, power plants and many heavy industries and which scientists say is causing climate change.
Seeking to cut its carbon emissions, the European Union last year mandated that 20 percent of Europe's energy must come from renewable sources by 2020, up from 8.5 percent now. Originally, that plan called for a 10 percent biofuel component for road transportation, but pressure on food supplies prompted a key EU parliamentary committee to vote to scale back that target by as much as half.
Scientists estimate that airlines are to blame for at least 2 percent of man-made carbon emissions, which could be sharply reduced by algae-based aviation fuel.
One promising idea in climate change technology focuses on capturing carbon from industry and storing it harmlessly in the ground. But algae farms can put that carbon to good use.
"Capturing CO2 is the easiest element" in algae production, says Carel Callenbach, the director of Ingrepro Micro Ingredients, which operates the largest algae farms in Europe, producing 80 tons a year.
Companies have been making biodiesel from algae for years, Callenbach said, but there's no money in fuel. It is expensive to make, and so far it cannot be produced in commercial quantities like ethanol or some other biofuels.
But now, spurred by profit-busting increases in petroleum prices, Boeing and some airlines are exploring whether algae can be refined economically to a kerosene-grade fuel to run their fleets. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines has contracted with AlgaeLink and other companies to scout out prospects.
"The advantage is that it can be used in the present structure. You don't have to totally rebuild airplanes," said Nanke Kramer, a KLM spokeswoman. She said KLM has no results yet from its initial experiments, and it is too early to say whether aviation fuel will be feasible or when the first flight tests would take place.
Rene Wijffels, a professor of bioprocess engineering at Wageningen University and Research Center in the Dutch town of Wageningen, said he did a feasibility study last year for an energy company on algae for fuel, and was surprised by the results.
"We did not believe it would ever be possible for energy production," he told The Associated Press. "We found the costs were high but not as high as we thought." At $3.20 per pound, he said, "it was too expensive for a biofuel — but not that far away."
Biofuel production is shackled by two factors: the limited availability of nutrients, and an unfavorable energy balance. "If you use the present technology, you will put in more energy than you get out," Wijffels said.
Those problems can be solved, but it will take time and investment, he said.
The Netherlands, a country twice the size of Massachusetts, has long been ahead in farming technology and has one of the world's highest crop yields. With as many barnyard animals as its 16 million people, it is the world's second largest exporter of agricultural products after the United States.
At Ingrepro's algae farm in Borculo near the border with Germany, the scum from the 21,500 square foot pool is filtered and processed into flaky green strips that crumble to the touch. The carbon exhaust from the steam engine used to dry the algae is pumped back into the pool.
Algae oil goes into paints, resins and bioplastics. Fuel has the lowest value of any product, said Callenbach. The key to profiting from algae farming is in the cake left over after extracting the oil. Ingrepro turns it into dozens of products, from horse feed to weed killer for golf courses. As a food additive for humans, it is a source of healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
AlgaeLink, by contrast, sells bioreactors rather than algae products. It nurtures the algae in a closed and controlled environment of clear tubes, speeding the reproductive process by two to four times as the water turns darker almost before your eyes.
But the process requires much more energy than open pools.
Van den Dorpel says making jet fuel will be viable within a few years if petroleum prices stay above $100 a barrel. Callenbach says algae fuel may be profitable in about five years.
Wijffels is skeptical. "Five years? I'm a little more pessimistic than
that. But maybe that's the role of a scientist."
F & D Scene Changes, Inc.
Death Race Dreadnought Fabrication
Subject: Lego Agents!
Date: Sat, 13 Sep 2008 15:40:51 +0100
From: Francis Greenaway <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: Michael P. Owen <email@example.com>
Very briefly, have you seen the new Lego range? It's called Agents and they have cars with guns! I didn't realise this until I saw that today.
Vice President, Battlestar Fan Club
Death Track: Resurrection Official Site
Holy Order of Vehicular Safety
Nova Scotia Canada's Autoduel Association (NSCADA)
PhysicsDaily.com: The Physics Encyclopedia / Car Wars
Toronto Autoduel Association (TADA)
Uwe 'Dogio' Mundt's Car Wars Web Page
New Omaha Vehicular Association (NOVA)
09/01/08: Bath Arena, Royal Crown Circuit.
St. Paul Area Road Knights (SPARK)
CWVD 10.7.5 Released
July 4, 2008 -- The CWVD has been updated to version 10.7.5, fixing a number of minor bugs. Get your copy on the Vehicles page.
Styx Motors Blog
The Real AADA
The Truth of the World
Posted by Mr. Truth
Wednesday, September 24, 2008 at 9:29 AM
The Ten Most Gruesome Scifi Death Sports
Two Men Enter, One Man Leaves -- The Ten Most Gruesome Scifi Death Sports
By Annalee Newitz
August 14, 2008
Anyone miss Car Wars?
Gamers With Jobs
August 1, 2007
Is there a Car Wars league here?
dcrpg Yahoo! Group: Washington, DC Area Roleplaying Games
May 13, 2008
Car Wars at Sci-Fi City on January 19th
Orlando Gamers Association
January 07, 2008
Formula D Ships With Prize Car
Posted on September 16, 2008
Asmodee Editions is revising the popular Formula De auto racing board
game and will be releasing it under a new name, Formula D. The new version
will keep much of the original game but will add street racing elements
such as individual characters as drivers with unique strengths. And as
a special incentive for this new edition, the first 5,000 games produced
will contain a limited edition Porsche model with character card. One favorite
aspect of the original game was the availability of expansion boards representing
racing tracks from around the world. Fortunately, tracks from both editions
will be fully compatible. In another upgrade to the game Asmodee will be
replacing the pencil-and-paper record keeping with a new dashboard system.
'Formula D' to Include Limited Edition Porsche Car and Character Card
Asmodee’s much-anticipated new edition of its Formula One racing game Formula De, titled Formula D to distinguish it from the original, will include a limited edition Porsche model and character card in the first 5000 copies sold worldwide. As we’ve previously reported (see “New Games from Asmodee”), the new edition will include not only Formula One racing, but also street racing.
The map on which the game is played will have two sides, one depicting the Formula One Monaco course, and the other a street racing course. Every car will have an associated character. The characters associated with the street racing cars will have different strengths, unlike the Formula One characters, which all have the same strengths.
Formula D is slated for release in North America in November.
Karnaaj Rally for GameBoy Advance
Published by: Jaleco
Developed by: Paragon 5
Release Date: November 21, 2002
Vanguards of Darkwind
Subject: RE: Car Wars Internet Newsletter Vol. 11, No. 2. February 10,
Date: Wed, 13 Feb 2008 14:51:12 -0000
From: Nicholas Lovell <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: 'Michael P. Owen (ServNet)' <email@example.com>
Thank you very much for this plug (RAAC). I was very grateful for it, and it was an extremely pleasant surprise.
I've been writing some new fiction. It's based on Darkwind, a Car Wars-esque game, but the fiction should probably sound familiar to any autoduelling aficionado.
The Vanguards of Darkwind
Darkwind: War on Wheels
All the best,
Royal Automobile and Autoduelling Club (RAAC)
Market Forces by Richard K. Morgan
Chris Faulkner gets up and puts on a pressed shirt, Italian suit and expensive leather shoes. He drinks a cappuccino, watches the business news and drives his Saab to the city. Yes, Chris Faulkner is a yuppie through and through.
A yuppie in the mid 21st-Century, that is, a world in which the term "free-market warrior" is quite literal. Faulkner is a Conflict Investor. He monitors the small wars around the world, chooses a side, sells it weapons and reaps the rewards when his side wins. It's a great job, once that people will kill for . . . which is why executives are issued semi-automatics along with staplers and desk calendars on their first day of work. And Faulkner's Saab is customized with armor and a "combat chassis" to help him get to work alive. Killing those in the way of a good promotion is a fair tactic, and "road-raging" is the preferred method.
Faulkner is a willing participant in all of it, and it's paying off big time. He's high on the corporate food chain and makes tons of money. The deeper he entrenches himself in this corporate culture, the more his marriage suffers. But his affair with a drop-dead gorgeous TV newswoman helps fill that void.
Faulkner isn't as cold-blooded as he seems, through. The legendary kill that propelled him toward the top was more personal than it was business. There are some in his own firm who don't think he has the necessary grit; he's a little too nice for the company's interest, they think, and decide to take him down. They may be right about Faulkner being conflicted about his line of business, but they haven't seen him when things get personal . . .
-- From the dust jacket of the 2005 hardcover edition by Ballantine and The Random House Publishing Group.
Biblio.com Booksearch and Marketplace: Market Forces
Summary and Publisher's Notes
Market Forces (Hardcover) by Richard Morgan (Author)
Publisher: GOLLANCZ (ORIO) (March 4, 2004)
Market Forces (Paperback) by Richard K. Morgan (Author)
Paperback: 464 pages
Publisher: Ballantine Books (March 1, 2005)
Reel Future. The stories that inspired 16 classic science fiction movies
(Hardcover) by Forrest J. Ackerman (Editor), Jean Stine (Editor)
Hardcover: 538 pages
Publisher: Barnes & Noble Books (1994)
Editor's Note: Reel Future includes "The Racer," the basis of the movie
"Death Race 2000." The book is out of print but it can be obtained on Amazon.com.
Death Race Statistics 101
Sci Fi UK
September 15, 2008 12:00 AM
When Roger Corman's classic movie Death Race 2000 debuted in 1975, word on the science-fiction street was that the end of the 20th century would see the total collapse of both the U.S. economy and any national sense of decency or shame. Apparently, we would throw our enthusiasm behind gladiatorial deathsport and never look back. Clearly that didn't happen, so this year's semi-remake, Death Race -- written and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson with Corman serving as executive producer -- pushes the date out to 2012. I'm betting it won't happen then, either. Dystopian futures have their place in science fiction, but in real life there's always more to the world than simple doom and gloom.
Sci Fi Weekly: Death Race Review
Be that as it may, Death Race certainly qualifies as a smola*, setting modest goals for itself and then knocking them out of the park. Despite paying homage to a variety of cinematic influences, from the Mad Max series to Rollerball (both the original and the remake) to Escape from New York, the movie nevertheless has an undeniably video-gamey quality to it. Which is maybe not an accident, as Anderson directed Mortal Kombat back in 1995, and both wrote and directed the surprisingly tense Resident Evil (2002), where he managed to spin some very thin zombie-blasting source material into 100 minutes of actual plot that actually made sense. Anderson has produced a lot of stinkers, too, (don't get me started about Alien vs. Predator), but I really kind of liked Event Horizon and Soldier, and in many ways I think Death Race is a perfect vehicle (so to speak) for the things he does well. Death Race 2000 is a lean movie with a simple message, requiring only that the writer/director not eff it up. And mercifully, he doesn't.
But is all this possible?
Yes. One of the nicest, most refreshing things about this flick is how little strain it places on the suspension of disbelief. Can you soup up old muscle cars and race them in a demolition derby? Certainly. Can weapons be fitted with electronic lockouts that keep them from firing until enabled by a central authority? Sure. Would prisoners facing a life sentence be willing to risk their necks for a chance at freedom? Absolutely. Would people pay good money to watch it on live webcast? You bet. And yeah, a private corporation charged with running our nation's prisons would be a lot more likely than any government to come up with such a scheme. What's not to believe?
Little death coupe
I do have a handful of nits to pick with Death Race, though. First and foremost, I think it would take a lot more than four years of economic turmoil to turn America into the country we see on Anderson's screen. Good people really do outnumber bad ones by a significant margin, and they usually do a decent job of keeping excesses like this from happening.
Think of the trouble today's TV networks have with minor incidents of foul language, ethnic stereotyping and accidental nudity! The V-chip (mandatory in all U.S. TV sets since 2000) was supposed to make it easy for parents to regulate their children's intake of TV sex and violence, and thus make it easier for broadcasters to show adult content without fear of reprisal. In fact, though, studies have shown that only 15 percent of households bother to turn the chip on, while special interest groups like the American Family Association have actually increased their legal and administrative attacks on TV networks. And that's just for the consenting-adult type stuff; if we're talking about actual prison murders taking place on screen, we start running afoul not only of the Communications Decency Act, but of the ACLU, Amnesty International and articles 3, 4 and 5 of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I'm not saying it can't happen, just that there would need to be an extended period of social, moral, legal and economic decay before anyone could get away with it on U.S. soil.
Also, on a purely technical level, I can't help wondering what kind of fancy suspension these gladiatorial vehicles have been fitted with. Bulletproof armor -- especially the simple steel plating used in Death Race -- raises a vehicle's center of gravity, making it more prone to rollover. In Iraq, for example, the U.S. Army found that up-armored Humvees were nearly three times as likely to be involved in rollover accidents as their unarmored kin. Throw in the sharp cornering and bumper-to-bumper crowding of a road rally in an old, abandoned factory and you've got a recipe for some really catastrophic crashes. And yet, none of the deaths we see are due to vehicles rolling over. Even more puzzling is the fact that the cars do not drag their bumpers with a "tombstone" of heavy steel mounted on the back, and they do not raise their tails in the air when the tombstone falls off or is ejected. It isn't hard to imagine a system of shifting weights, smart shock absorbers, and traction-control clutches to help the car run level and keep all four tires on the ground, but these features do not come standard on a '68 Mustang!
And then there are the tyres. They seem to be ordinary tyres, capable of blowing out or going flat, but I'm not buying it. By the end of the second lap the track is covered in jagged debris and shell casings, and I just don't believe anyone could finish an entire race unless their tyres were made of solid rubber or something.
If only Jeff Gordon was a convict . . .
Still, the biggest problem for the corporate proprietors of Death Race is a lack of raw material. Races are held monthly, and each one puts 10 drivers down on the track with the expectation that eight or nine of them are going to buy the farm. Problem is, at a little over 2 million people, the U.S. prison population is already the highest per capita in the entire world. No one locks up more people than we do, and yet, even if a dystopian future somehow manages to quadruple that number, only about 20 percent of convicts are violent offenders and only about 15 percent are serving life sentences. In other words, the pool of available death drivers is certainly less than 1.2 million people, and probably more like 300,000, many of whom are elderly.
Too, their average age at the time of incarceration is between 28 and 32 years, and most of them are coming back to prison for their second or third conviction, with the average sentence for their earlier convictions being 7.5 years. Working the numbers, we find that the "average" lifer has spent less than three years out of jail since he was old enough to drive. If you're looking for lifers between the ages of 21 and 50 who have at least five years of ordinary U.S. driving experience, the number drops to less than 50,000. But it's worse than that, because there are only 50,000 licensed auto racers in the entire U.S., despite a total population of 350 million. Only one driver in 14,000 has the skill to race professionally, and even among those few, how many are really worth watching? By that math, the entire U.S. prison system holds approximately 3.6 people capable of putting on a decent death race.
If the prisoners are desperate and the viewers are bloodthirsty enough to watch B-listers in mortal danger, we can probably multiply that number by 10 or 20. Throwing in some cannon fodder -- mediocre drivers who are only there to die in the opening laps -- we can probably double or triple it on top of that. Still, we're only talking about maybe 200 people, who would be used up within the first 25 races, leading to an even more dystopian future where a public drunk on bloodsport suddenly finds itself with nothing to watch!
A bloodsport's thinning numbers
There's nothing new about these statistics, either; the Romans had the same problem filling their Coliseum. One of the most common misconceptions about gladiators is that they fought to the death. They didn't, or the empire would have run out of them in no time! Watching untrained prisoners fight to the death was the sort of low sport you'd find across town at the Forum Romanum. Gladiatorial combat was an actual professional sport, like boxing, and even a mediocre player (well, slave) would have a year of training and special diet before he was ready to take the field. The special diet was barley gruel and lots of it, to build a layer of fat under their skin, to protect against sword cuts and spear thrusts, and the training included not only aerobic and anaerobic workouts and weapons handling, but also showmanship. The point was not to kill the other guy -- really! -- but to defeat him in a long, bloody, crowd-pleasing spectacle. So a newbie gladiator -- even a poor one -- represented a substantial investment of resources (probably equivalent to a college football player today) that could not be lightly wasted.
This is not to say gladiators didn't die. They did. Take all the worst elements of boxing, football, hockey, fencing and cage wrestling, add real swords and a demand for real blood, and someone is definitely going to get hurt. The fights were not rigged, and, statistically speaking, the average gladiator would be lucky to survive 10 of them without dying or suffering a career-ending injury. But as with NASCAR racing today, death and dismemberment were unfortunate side effects of the show, not the central point of it. And with the possibility of freedom dangling in front of them, not to mention the Roman honor that even slaves took very seriously, most of them fought well and hard for their gods, their team owners and for the cheering crowds. And, in return, they really were loved, perhaps as much as professional athletes are today. Only the weakest and least spirited were seen as disposable. In fact, very often a free man would sell himself into slavery just to have a chance at that kind of fame.
So if there's a credibility problem with Death Race, it's in the grim statistics of the race itself. Do you burn up all your good drivers in a one-time orgy of death and destruction? Do you stack each race with a handful of sandbaggers against a veritable army of peons? Or do you bow to the inevitable, and build a sustainable sport that gives the racers a decent chance of survival? This also happens, by lucky coincidence, to be the decent thing to do. And yet, and yet . . . aren't we animals deep inside? Don't we love the vicarious thrill of other people's danger? Death Race proves its own point handily enough; if the racers are (a) volunteers, (b) not innocent, and (c) fictional characters in a B movie, it's no sin to enjoy watching them die. Hmm.
* Successful movie of low ambition
Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia (en.wikipedia.org): "V-chip", "American Family Association", "Prisons in the United States"
The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948-1998 www.un.org/Overview/rights.html)
Martinez, Louis: "Extra Armor Causes Humvee Rollovers", ABC News, 13 June 2006
Durose, Matthew: "Felony Sentences in State Courts, 2004", U.S. Department of Justice, July 2007
Califorina Legislative Analyst's Office: "A Primer: Three Strikes -- The Impact After More Than a Decade", October 2005
"NRHA: The World's Largest Racing Organization", www.nhra.com/content/about.asp?articleid=6566&zoneid=101
Meijer, Fik: "The Gladiators: History's Most Deadly Sport", Thomas Dunne Books, 2003
The Internet Movie Database: "Paul W.S. Anderson"
Wil McCarthy is a rocket guidance engineer, robot designer, nanotechnologist,
science-fiction author and occasional aquanaut. He has contributed to three
interplanetary spacecraft, five communication and weather satellites, a
line of landmine-clearing robots and some other "really cool stuff" he
can't tell us about. His short writings have graced the pages of Analog,
Asimov's, Wired, Nature and other major publications, and his book-length
works include the New York Times notable Bloom, Amazon "Best of Y2K" The
Collapsium and most recently, To Crush the Moon. His acclaimed nonfiction
book, Hacking Matter, is now available as a free download.
Film of the week: Death Race
Are you ready for car-nage? DEATH RACE, 104 mins Opens Friday, September 26
By Mark Adams
Jason Statham, Joan Allen, Ian McShane, Tyrese Gibson, Natalie Martinez.
It is 2012 and former motor racing champion Jensen Ames (Statham) loses his job and is then framed for his wife's murder. He is sent to Terminal Island, a brutal prison run by Warden Hennessey (Allen).
She has created the world's most popular pay-per-view sport -- a kill-or-be-killed car race round the prison with drivers handling cars laden with machine guns, missiles and napalm. Hennessey convinces Ames to take the place of superstar driver Frankenstein -- and wear his metal mask -- with the promise that if he wins he can go home to his baby daughter.
There is something about futuristic car-smash movies you've got to love.
Sure they are essentially about large pieces of metal barrelling into each other - and usually also feature an explosion or two every 15 minutes - but they can also be oddly exhilarating as well as being welcomingly mindless.
So forget art house, period costumes, romance or comedy -- welcome to the deliciously daft world of Death Race, a film so preposterous and daft that you just can't take it seriously. Which in the end is a good thing, because the script is pretty dire, the performances often posturing or hysterical and the direction haphazard. But then Death Race is unlikely to be in line for many Oscars. Instead it is loud, ludicrous and fun escapism.
That being said, the wonderful Joan Allen (a three-time Oscar nominee, remember) pays the film the greatest compliment by taking her role completely seriously.
And thank goodness she does, because she is called on to deliver the daftest of lines (such as "Activate the Death Heads!") with a straight face, a job that would have floored some top thespians.
And if Joan Allen brings the class, Jason Statham can be relied upon to provide the appropriate muscle and steely heroism as the wronged man.
Statham is great. He is probably the best action hero around at the moment, has a nice sense of humour and delivers his lines with an easy charm.
Ian McShane is on hand as a wise old mechanic prisoner to help Jensen prep his lethal car, while -- in a wonderfully ridiculous device - sultry Natalie Martinez plays a female prisoner and co-driver. Apparently in Death Race world sexy female prisoners are shipped in to sit with drivers.
Film fans will know that this is a remake of the Roger Corman cult 1975 exploitation classic Death Race 2000, which featured David Carradine as Frankenstein and a young Sylvester Stallone as badguy Machine-gun Joe, a role played by Tyrese Gibson in this new version.
The effects, explosions, gunfire and crashes are all exciting and well staged, though most fun is to be had from enjoying classy Joan Allen spit out those terrible lines. "Release the Dread-naught!" indeed.
Three stars. Strap yourself in . . . Death Race is full-throttle mayhem
Interstate '76 Movies on YouTube
Interstate '76 Nitro Pack Prologue Movie
Interstate '76 Prologue Movie
Interstate '76 Intro Movie
Death Row Dueling Arena
Editor's Note: Apologies to Darth Spanky for posting this arena over
a year since I received it.
Subject: New Death Row Dueling Arena
Date: Sat, 12 May 2007 03:04:08 -0500
From: Richard Solomon <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: Recipient List Suppressed
Hello, everyone. I just designed a new arena and wanted to try my hand at referee.
It's Friday night and you turn on the tv to see this show. It's reality television at its finest.
For those of you who are interested, this is a death match. You are a captured and condemned prisoner on death row. Your only hope is to win the first death match but beware the prison is run by corrupt oil men. Don't expect to be treated kindly as this place makes most foreign prisons look like Disneyland.
Please send me an e-mail message if interested in this event. Include
a description of your crimes and how you were captured. When you were captured
it was with your car not being damaged.