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Column: It’s not the best time for a total solar eclipse in this country

By Mark Saal, Standard-Examiner Staff - | Aug 15, 2017

This might not be the best time to be having a total solar eclipse. Especially one that's been ominously dubbed "America's Eclipse."

Many cultures throughout history have considered the eclipse to be a harbinger of disaster, destruction and death. Why, even today there are still superstitious people out there who view eclipses as some sort of bad omen.

Nevertheless, on Monday, Aug. 21, a total eclipse of the sun will be visible along a narrow band along the length of the country. It's being called America's Eclipse because the moon's shadow will travel a curved path between Oregon and South Carolina -- basically, from sea to ever-so-briefly unshining sea.

But frankly, the last thing we need in this country right now is some sort of bad cosmic juju. Because, in case you hadn't noticed, it's kind of a difficult time for the good old U.S. of A. In the words of Professor Harold Hill, the lead character in a certain beloved Broadway musical: "Ya got trouble. Right here in River City."

What kind of trouble? Well, for starters, we've got a commander-in-chief who seems to become more unhinged with each successive unpresidential Twitter post -- tweets aimed at everyone from media personalities to North Korean dictators. Add to that the growing feeling of an us-vs-them mentality in America, evident in the recent clashes between white nationalists and counter-protesters in Virginia, and it's not a recipe for a happy ending.

I'm just saying. Even if eclipses don't actually portend the end of the world, this doesn't seem like a particularly good time to be pressing our luck.

Of course, as bad as we've got it here in this country, perhaps a little perspective is in order: Could be worse, could be Europe. While they're facing similar culture clashes over there, several recent business stories point to more problems on the horizon.

For starters, Europe is in the midst of a butter shortage. According to a story posted on Standard.net, the entire continent is running out of butter at a time when demand for butter is on the rise. An industry group for French bakers, the Federation des Entrepreneurs de la Boulangerie, says butter shortages "appear to be a real threat by the end of the year."

Add to that another story about the millions of eggs removed from supermarket shelves in more than a dozen European countries after the discovery that some had been contaminated with fipronil, a potentially harmful insecticide.

And finally, wheat production in Europe also took a major hit this year. Farmers in southern Europe have been devastated by a drought that affected wheat and other crops, while heavy rains in northern Europe have threatened to spoil wheat harvests.

Indeed, weeks of rain leading up to the harvest in Germany -- the European Union's second-biggest producer of wheat -- means more of the crop won't be suitable for bakers and will be used only as livestock feed. Experts estimate as much as 40 percent -- twice the usual level -- of all German wheat will be used for animal fodder this year.

This is in addition to the news earlier this spring that European Union wheat reserves had sunk to a 13-year low.

Butter, eggs, flour. Why, if Marie Antoinette were alive today, even she couldn't mitigate her people's struggles by suggesting the peasants eat cake.

Recently, I was talking about the upcoming eclipse with Stacy Palen, an astrophysicist at Weber State University, and I happened to mention how I'd always had this strange, irrational fear that one of these days the sun would simply burn up or burn out. I worried it would suddenly go supernova, or at the very least simply flicker out -- and eight minutes and 20 seconds later (the time it takes light to travel between the sun and the Earth) the party would be over.

Palan was reassuring in her response.

"The sun will come up again, every day, for another about 5 billion years," she patiently explained. "As scientists, we are quite certain of that. We know how much fuel it has, and because we know that -- and also know the rate at which it uses that fuel -- we know the sun will be around for a very long time."

In other words, the lead character in another beloved Broadway musical was right. Whatever else happens, the sun really will come out tomorrow.

And for the next five billion tomorrows, too.

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272 or msaal@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Friend him on Facebook at facebook.com/MarkSaal.

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