Subject:          Great Chicago Fire
To:      (Cambridge Conference)
Date sent:        Mon, 25 Aug 1997 23:19:34 -0500 (CDT)

The Sunday August 17, 1997 edition of The New York Times contains an
article on page 10 entitled "Mrs. O'Leary's Infamous Cow May Have Been
Framed, New Research Suggests" by Pam Belluck.  This describes research by
Richard F. Bales, a Chicago lawyer, who has spent the last couple of years
ploughing through the records of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Bales
suggests that the culprit who started the fire was not Mrs. O'Leary and her
cow, but Daniel "Peg Leg" Sullivan, a local one-legged horsecart driver.
Bales believes Sullivan was in the O'Leary barn and knocked over a lamp or
dropped a cigar.  Bales was a neighbor of the O'Learys.

I mention this article because it also briefly describes the thesis
presented by Chicago writer Mel Waskin in his 1985 book "Mrs. O'Leary's
Comet!  Cosmic Causes of the Chicago Fire."  Waskin elaborated on Ignatius
Donnelly's hypothesis that the Chicago Fire (and the concomitant fires in
Michigan and Wisconsin) were ignited by the impact of a fragment of Biela's
comet.  This idea of Donnelly/Waskin also appeared in the Turner
Broadcasting System documentary "Fire from the Sky" last March. While an
impact/airburst origin for these fires appears dubious (and Biela's comet as
the source of the impactor even more so), I find it interesting that this
hypothesis has resurfaced.  Perhaps we'll now have a made-for-TV movie
featuring this as a plot line.  This couldn't be any worse than the recent
"Asteroid" or "Doomsday Rock" offerings.

Subject:          Family Channel's "Doomsday Rock"
Date sent:        Mon, 25 Aug 1997 21:52:37 -0500 (CDT)

On August 24, 1997 the Family Channel here in the States broadcast a
made-for-TV movie entitled "Doomsday Rock."  The plot concerns the takeover
of a U. S. nuclear missile installation by a scientist (an astronomer and
anthropologist) named Carl Sorenson (played by William Devane) in order to
forestall the impact of a large iron asteroid called Nemesis.  Sorenson
intends to launch two of the ICBMs at the installation to destroy Nemesis
before it strikes and "destroy the world."  All other scientists, including
Sorenson's astronomer daughter Katherine Sorenson (played by Connie
Sellecca), predict Nemesis will miss the Earth by a wide margin.  Sorenson
bases his prediction of the asteroid's impact on his interpretation of
ancient Australian Aboriginal rock art.  Making a long story short, it turns
out that "Barnard's Comet", conveniently passing by the Earth, also
conveniently splits in two.  One fragment conveniently collides with
Nemesis, conveniently altering the asteroid's orbit so that Nemesis
conveniently moves into an intercept course with the Earth.  Skipping over
the rest of two hours of silliness, in the end, one US missile and one
Russian missile intercept and destroy Nemesis just a few SECONDS before it
hits the Earth.

The science was predictably poor.  Nemesis appears in a computer generated
display as being 10.7 km long, so Katherine Sorenson says it is about eleven
MILES long.  The radio telescope at Arecibo is used to watch Barnard's comet
split and track the altered course of Nemesis.  Uh huh.  Carl Sorenson says
that Nemesis will impact with the force of thirty atomic bombs and cause a
global catastrophe.  Maybe he was thinking of the Babylon 5 style half
gigaton nuclear devices.  Katherine Sorenson decides the Aboriginal painting
indicates that Barnard's Comet will split and one piece will strike the
asteroid.  Apparently no one noticed how the orbits of the comet and the
asteroid might intersect.  Katherine says that sometimes science and reason
aren't good enough, we have to "go with our feelings."  Great message there
for youngsters.  The missiles impact the tip of the asteroid and yet they
manage to obliterate it completely with just a few seconds to go before it
strikes.  How the Russians decide to launch a missile towards the asteroid
isn't explained.  Katherine Sorenson attempts and fails to explain to her
class the difference between a black hole and a neutron star.  There's lots
more nonsense.  I believe these items give a sense of the stupidity of it

The only good thing about this movie is the performance of some of the
principals.  Connie Sellacca is beautiful as ever.  Marsha Warfield offers a
quirky portrayal of an FBI agent while trying to keep a straight face (not
always successfully) in what was a real turkey of a movie.  It is sad that
the cosmic impact threat continues to receive such ridiculous treatment in
the dramatic media.

CCCMENU CCC for 1997