Life, the Universe and Commentary

As you read this, historic events are unfolding. Vast, impersonal forces of unthinkable magnitude are in motion. Bizarre events are taking place the world over. For example: though this is the third time I’ve revised this article, my word processor refuses to acknowledge the fact that “happening” is, indeed, a word.

Luckily, the commentary section – where our motto is “You Don’t Have to be Factually Accurate, But it Helps” – is here to help you. After reading this article, you may feel the need to flee, screaming, into the woods; if so, you can cleverly conceal yourself with copies of The Minaret, found wherever fine food is served or men’s urinals are in operation.

For months, astute observers have been noticing signs that something just isn’t right here on the third rock. It began when Pluto, an object about one-sixth the size of Earth, mysteriously ceased being a planet. Let’s face it, folks – if Pluto’s job security is on the line after more than seventy years of faithful service, floating through space, serving as post card material for alien tourists, contemplating eternity and doing whatever it is unfathomably massive balls of ice and rock do in outer space – none of the rest of us stand a chance. It’s over. Wake the neighbors; life has no inherent meaning.

Only a few months later, in Houston, Texas, an Australian computer programmer, using advanced sound editing software, discovered the missing “a” in Neil Armstrong’s famous moon landing statement. That’s right: It’s now, “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

I just want to draw attention to what this says about humanity.

A monumental cosmic object that’s most probably existed for millions of years, predating humanity, the Internal Revenue Service, long lines at the Grill, the invention of fire, and the birth of Lewis Black, is no longer important enough to be called a planet. It is now a “dwarf planet”. Essentially, what this means is, it’s not a planet anymore, but it has a really nice personality. In thousands of years, future humanity – hailing as it probably will from Planet America – will probably snub Pluto for colonization, too. It’s too cold there and it won’t readily yield to having a McDonald’s placed on it.

On the other hand, there are historians and “grammar sticklers”, if CNN’s take on the subject is to be believed, who have been harassing Neil Armstrong for decades because of the missing “a”. People actually spent time thinking about this, may even have set aside an hour to write a letter or make a phone call, apparently unaware that man is mortal and that hour won’t be coming back. Perhaps the main voice of dissent was Stephen Hawking, in which case he probably has a clever workaround for the whole “time” thing already in mind.

There are even people who insist that the lunar landing never happened, that it was all filmed in a garage in South Bend, Ohio, using balls of tinfoil to simulate planets. While I would agree that this would be a distinct possibility if YouTube had been around back then, I’m inclined to believe that man actually did land on the moon, that there actually is a moon, and that alien monsters have yet to issue forth from the moon.

So, this brings us to a most important question: who stole the “a” from Neil Armstrong? As with all liberals, my first instinct is to blame George W. Bush. However, at the time of Armstrong’s famous moon walk in 1969, Bush was only 23. I’m not sure what Bush was doing when he was 23, as this humble writer is now, but since he was not writing articles for The Minaret, he had not yet emerged onto the stage of history.

Perhaps the “a” was merely misplaced. It was the Cold War, after all, and the Russians had yet to extend the olive branch of cooperation in the form of Tetris, which proved that people of all ideologies could get together to watch little blocks tumble down the screen while you try to fit them together. The “a” could have been abducted in a sinister plot to undermine American confidence in its grammar schools. After all, though he was no longer in office during the U.S. moon landing, Soviet premier Nikita Khruschev had famously claimed to America that “we will bury you.”

I don’t think he was referring to Tetris blocks, either.

Wherever the “a” has been all this time, it is now here; and at the same time Pluto received its demotion, a whole range of other “objects” were also designed as dwarf planets, such as Dopey, Sleepy, Grumpy, Doc, etc. Perhaps the scientific community didn’t want Pluto to be lonely out there. “Don’t think of it as losing your identity,” they probably told the disconsolate trans-Neptunian object. “Think of it as gaining a family!” I’m pretty sure they give newly married women the same pitch.

But I can’t help but hope that when humanity does take its rightful place as imperial overlords of the cosmos, as George Lucas films have been preparing us to do for decades now, we keep things in perspective: an “a” is just an “a”, but there are only so many planets.

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