The English Eclipse

Dave Kopel

Liberty magazine, May 2000

The events of August 11, 1999 have removed any remaining doubts that the character of the British people has degenerated greatly from previous centuries--when Britain was the greatest exemplar of liberty in Europe.

As astronomy fans know, England and other parts of Western Europe were privileged to be able to see a total eclipse of the sun last August 11. For many years, eclipse watchers all over the world of have used cardboard "eclipse glasses" to view solar eclipses safely. (The glasses have cardboard frames, and the lenses are coated with aluminum, chromium or silver.) Looking directly at the sun (whether in eclipse or not) without special glasses is likely to cause serious eye damage. During the totality of an eclipse, however (when the moon is exactly in between the Earth and the sun, and the sun disappears), it is safe to watch the eclipse without eye protection--since the sun is not visible.

About two weeks before the eclipse, a spokesman for the British government began appearing on the government-owned television and radio stations, and warning people that use of the eclipse glasses could cause people to go blind. The government spokesman asserted that the only safe way to watch the eclipse was on television.

The British media promptly began their own hysterical warnings about the "controversial" eclipse glasses. Some British Broadcasting Corporation reporters told people that instead of using the eclipse glasses, people should observe the eclipse by watching a reflection on the water or by looking at the sun through a pinhole--both methods are quite dangerous, and really could cause blindness. As result of the government and media fright campaign, millions of Britons were so intimidated that instead of enjoying one of the greatest natural phenomena they would ever have the opportunity to see, they stayed indoors to look at the telly.

Meanwhile, in France (once derided by Britons as the epitome of an overgoverned state), the government managed to let people watch the eclipse without any government intervention. In Belgium, the Royal Observatory--proving that not all civil servants are idiots--supplied accurate information about eclipse watching--informing people that eclipse glasses with a CE rating were safe, and that looking at the eclipse's reflection in water was unsafe.

The French and the Belgians enjoyed the eclipse with eclipse glasses. Back in Britain, the national health care system's eye treatment centers were deluged by hysterics who thought that they had damaged their eyes by watching the eclipse. Weeks later, the British Department of Health announced that no actual eye injuries from the eclipse of been found. But, warned the British government, damage might surface later.

The next total solar eclipses are June 21, 2001 (in southern Africa) and December 4, 2002 (India and Australia). The African dictatorships are so busy with their more elementary functions of extortion and murder that they will probably leave eclipse-watchers alone. The India-Australia eclipse will offer an opportunity to observe if the government and people of these democracies have become as foolish as their one-time colonial masters in Britain.

The great nation that gave us Henry Hudson, the Duke of Wellington, and Winston Churchill has decayed into an easily-panicked gaggle of nincompoops. If the people need the government to tell them whether it's safe to go outdoors, no wonder most of the population doesn't not consider itself capable of owning a handgun. Britain has gone into eclipse, as the bright sun of liberty and common sense has been blotted out by the dark moon of childish reliance on witless paternalistic government.

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