This post first appeared on Columbus Day, 2014. // Jim
Here's what I don't get: Pluto.
More specifically, I don't get the argument over what to call it.
I’ve seen people nearly come to blows over Pluto.
And I just don’t get it.
Planet, minor planet, Kuiper Belt object, whatever.
I mean, if you're not an astronomer – that is: a vitamin D deficient long-hair who spends all night staring at a computer monitor filled with mathematical gibberish instead of watching Bang Bang Theory like normal people – why do you care?
No, really, why do you care?
Go outside, look up. Where’s Pluto?
You have no goddamned idea, do you?
It’s not something you need to deal with on a daily basis. Hell, it's not even in the bible, is it?
And let’s be honest, shall we? The closest most Americans get to astronomy is watching Dancing With The Stars and giggling over the pronunciation of Uranus.
So, I’ll ask again: why does anybody care what the hell science calls the damned rock?
Hell, Clyde Tombaugh could have just made the whole thing up...
Clyde. Clyde Tombaugh. American astronomer. The guy who “discovered” Pluto back in 1930. You know, Clyde Tombaugh. I mean, you're all over the whole Pluto thing, right? Probably have Clyde's swimsuit poster on your bedroom wall. Oh, sure, Clyde. Clyde Tombaugh. Big fan. Saw the movie with Brad Pitt as Tomblargh, that’s the one with the sparkly vampire zombie Nazis, right?
Tombaugh could have made it up. Sure he could have. And how would you know? Pluto, it’s just a spot on a photographic plate. I mean, who verified this? Other astronomers? Oh, and we believe them, do we? We won't take science's word for for evolution, climate change, Bigfoot, oh hell no – but Pluto? Science, totally real, Dude, totally.
A couple years back the little world, which Americans can’t see and never think about, was demoted from planet to not-planet.
And we lost our shit over it.
What? They demoted Pluto? Oh, now it’s on!
It’s a wonder astronomers weren’t dragged from the universities and burned alive.
Politicians and pundits weighed in with ponderous gravity. Congress milled about in various orbits of outrage and actually considered a bill mandating the little frozen ice ball be declared a Full Planet in law if not in fact.
Ironic, isn’t it? That we can’t agree people are equal, but, man, we’re all about civil rights for planets.
I mean, think about it, what if Pluto turns out to be black? Or gay? Would you still want it to marry your sister? I mean, come on, folks, think it through, it’s not rocket science … ur, okay, maybe it is, but I think I’ve made my point here.
The web was aflame with pitched battles. People were all, "Oh I've always been a huge Pluto fan! Favorite planet ever, man, love how they named it after the Disney character, yo!"
And it's still going on.
Somebody asked me about it just the other day: say, Jim, where do you come down on this whole Pluto demotion issue? I sure hope you're not one of them "minor world" guys.
Hey now, I replied, some of my best friends are dwarf planets…
Here in the nation of the perpetually outraged and offended, Pluto’s status is just another thing to be outraged and offended about. What? What's that? They've demoted Pluto? Why those dirty SONS OF BITCHES! In my day we had nine planets! Nine! But now? Everything is going to shit. This is probably Obama’s fault. That guy. You know.
As if we're all somehow diminished as human beings, as Americans, if Pluto isn't a planet.
Eight? Eight planets? Just eight planets? But, but, but, what if other solar systems have MORE THAN US? WHAT THEN? WE CAN'T HAVE LESS PLANETS THAN ALPHA CENTAURI FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, WE'LL BE THE LAUGHING STOCK OF THE UNIVERSE! ALIENS WILL THINK WE’VE GOT LITTLE DICKS! WE'VE GOT TO DO SOMETHING!
Honestly, what's next? We gonna put some big chrome stacks on Jupiter and hang a giant pair of Truck Nutz on Neptune?
You’re wondering where I’m going with this, aren’t you?
That’s where I’m going. Columbus Day.
Pluto. Columbus Day. How could you not see that coming?
Honestly, it’s like you people don’t know me at all.
Today is Columbus Day in America.
It’s a bullshit minor holiday that’s mostly just an excuse for federal employees to get a paid day off.
Because, you know, that’s what we need, another reason for Congress to take a long weekend. Not like there’s a big backlog of legislation or anything, right?
I mean, what exactly are the ancient traditions associated with this holiday?
Look, I’m not unpatriotic, I know my American history, sure, I know the part about going to Wal-Mart for “Columbus Day Blow Out Deals.” I’m not a total Philistine. But I’m a little hazy on the religious aspects. Do we gather together at Grandma’s house, she’ll make her famous deep fried ham stuffed with firecrackers and syphilis, the kids will carve a Plymouth Rock from gingerbread while Uncle Phil gets plastered and manages to light his balls on fire again from shooting bottle-rockets out of his ass in the backyard, we’ll watch the big Macy’s Columbus Day parade in new york where men dressed as Conquistadors wade ashore from floats that look like Spanish galleons in search of gold and slaves under the baleful copper gaze of Lady Liberty, then we’ll all meet down at the church for the traditional Columbus Day Prayer Of Peace and Togetherness? Are there little construction paper war bonnets? Fireworks? Do we get to nail somebody to a cross? Is there a gift exchange? Tell me there’s at least going to be a giant male rabbit who shits foil covered chocolate eggs. Something.
But, of course, there’s none of that.
So far as I can tell, the primary Columbus Day tradition involves shouting variations of the phrase: “Oh what the fuck? Why is the post office closed?”
Folks, Columbus Day is the Pluto of American holidays.
Most Americans have no idea where this stupid “holiday” came from and most of the time they couldn’t care less. Columbus, he’s the guy who discovered America, right? He was like the first American … or was that George Jefferson? I forget, anyway, off to Wal-Mart, gotta make a beer run before Dancin’ Wit Da Starz comes on.
I mean, come on.
Columbus day? Really?
In fourteen hundred ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
He had three ships and left from Spain;
He sailed through sunshine, wind and rain.
He sailed by night; he sailed by day;
He used the stars to find his way.
A compass also helped him know
How to find the way to go.
Ninety sailors were on board;
Some men worked while others snored.
Then the workers went to sleep;
And others watched the ocean deep.
Day after day they looked for land;
They dreamed of trees and rocks and sand.
October 12 their dream came true,
You never saw a happier crew!
"Indians! Indians!" Columbus cried;
His heart was filled with joyful pride.
But "India" the land was not;
It was the Bahamas, and it was hot.
The Arakawa natives were very nice;
They gave the sailors food and spice.
Columbus sailed on to find some gold
To bring back home, as he'd been told.
He made the trip again and again,
Trading gold to bring to Spain.
The first American? No, not quite.
But Columbus was brave, and he was bright.
Except it turns out almost all of that is, literally, whitewashed bullshit.
Columbus was an asshole, even his friends thought so – what few friends he had. He routinely screwed his own crew out of money that he’d promised them and gloated about it, rubbing their faces in it. When his men threatened to mutiny (which happened repeatedly because Columbus was a shitty leader), he handed out pre-pubescent native girls as compensation, after enslaving their parents. He justified genocide by reasoning that so long as he didn’t let anybody convert the natives, he wasn’t killing Christians so God had to be good with it. They used to say you could navigate between Europe and the New World without a compass, all you had to do was follow the trail of dead Indians floating behind Columbus’ ships. He ruled Hispaniola as a brutal tyrant, see, Columbus wasn’t exactly keen on democracy and liberty – though he was a big fan of gold.
Christopher Columbus didn’t discover the United States.
In fact, Columbus never set foot on any part of what is now the United States. Never. He wasn’t even close to the first European to reach the shores of the New World. And he certainly wasn’t an American, he was an Italian sailing under a Spanish flag.
Columbus never set foot on what is nowadays American soil. Never. He made his voyages nearly 300 years before the United States even existed.
Most Americans couldn’t tell you much of anything about Christopher Columbus beyond the silly fairytale of that child’s nursery rhyme – let alone anything about the actual man who called himself Cristóbal Colón.
What? What’s that you say? Oh, c’mon now, Jim? What are you, some kind of America hater? Why Christopher Columbus was a genuine American hero. You’re just repeating liberal lies. Besides, who really knows what happened back then?
Yeah, except for the part where Columbus himself documented his atrocities in his own logs and diaries in full detail – and it’s not me who whitewashed history.
In fact, Columbus Day as a federal holiday is a relatively recent invention created whole cloth by people who are largely ignorant of and tone-deaf to actual American history.
But just like Pluto, bring up demoting Columbus’ place in the Pantheon of American Fairytales and watch the spittle start to fly – as if we, as Americans, will somehow be diminished if we don’t have a largely ignored holiday named after a genocidal tyrant who died two and half centuries before our country was even founded.
And you want to know what the really funny part is?
Because I’ll tell you. See, the people most adamant about the sanctity of Columbus Day? Yeah, those Americans? They’re the very same people, the very same people almost name for name, who want English declared the official language of the United States and who demand that the southern border be secured with a wall a hundred feet high specifically to keep out Christopher Columbus’ Spanish speaking descendants.
Now, how’s that for irony?
Listen, you know what will happen to America if Pluto is allowed to remain a minor planet?
Likewise, you know what will happen to our nation if we dump Columbus Day?
Listen to me, you want a day off in October?
Then how about a holiday that includes us all?
How about a day that celebrates our great accomplishments as a nation? How about history and events we don’t have to whitewash?
How about a holiday where we Americans celebrate our great accomplishments, our moments of exploration and discovery?
We can talk about the first peoples to arrive here chasing wooly mammoths 25,000 years ago. We can celebrate the native cultures that once dominated this continent – the ones we name our rivers and states and sports teams after. We can talk about the Viking longships that explored our shores long before Columbus – and hell, we can even talk about The Great Navigator himself, if we want. Then let us celebrate and remember those moments in time where we Americans, all of us, came together in wonder and awe. Let us remember our voyages of discovery and exploration and hope. From the Nome Serum Run to the California Gold Rush, from Kitty Hawk to the footprints in Mare Tranquilities, Columbia and Challenger and Apollo One, to Voyager and Curiosity and beyond.
We’ll open the museums and the history books and teach our children what it is to be an American - and maybe one day we will again became a nation and a people who look outward instead of staring into our own festering bellybuttons.
Let’s call it Clyde Tombaugh Day.