Thursday, April 06, 2006

Sinister

Long-overdue validation for a much-maligned lifestyle choice today, as scientists reluctantly admit that there is after all some point to left-handedness. At least among snails.

For many years I have borne the bitter yoke of dextrous persecution. My hand was slapped in primary school. I was called names. Scissors and even boomerangs mocked me. But scientists from Yale and Cornell now offer consolation in the form of a recent study of sea snails. They demonstrate that having a “left-handed” shell (one that curves in the opposite direction from the majority, which spiral to the right), offers protection from crab predators, whose claws were on the wrong side to use their preferred method of opening them up and eating them.

Admittedly this appears at first glance to be of little immediate relevance to humans, but maybe the predator-prey analogy is not so far from the mark. Informed speculation on their part points to conflict and battle – and to the potential advantage a leftie would have against a foe unused to dealing with our freakish kind.

In a spirit of objective scientific enquiry, I immediately put this theory to the test by going to the pub and twatting someone over the head with a bar stool. Sure enough, the subject proved quite incapable of resisting my cack-handed assault. The barman did raise some trivial objections on the grounds that I hadn’t warned the poor woman of my intentions, and that she was in any case already drunk, but it just goes to show his poor grasp of scientific method. Frankly one can expect no better from a man with no education to speak of.

He was on firmer ground re the pub’s iron-clad five-drink minimum policy before clubbing anyone unconscious, so I had to waste another quarter hour downing the necessary beers before I could go record my results.

The path of progress is ever strewn with such petty obstacles. If Socrates had lived in North Carolina, he’d have stuck to masonry…


A leftie, yesterday. They walk among us…

26 comments:

Aunty Marianne said...

Come on, own up.

Was it Germaine Greer, or Anne Robinson?

Gorilla Bananas said...

Left-handed and right-footed is the best combination for giving a baboon a good hiding. Attack from both sides.

Desargues said...

I sure hope your penchant for right-wing thought does not have any over-compensating at its origin, Ivan. Would be a pity to stick to a theoretical position for no other reasons than being left-handed.

But do you know what the connection between left-handedness and a sinister character is?

R. Sherman said...

The Aztecs, pre Cortez, used to have their captives fight five warriors. If he survived all five battles, he was freed and given great honor. (If not, he was sacrificed. The Aztecs understood incentive based compensation.) Anyway, the last of the five Aztecs faced was always a southpaw. (I learned or learnt that in 6th grade.)

Cheers.

Sam, Problem-Child-Bride said...

My granny was similarly beaten for being a lefty, even at the posh school she went to. She said she learned to adapt, so i guess the moral of the piece is: You gotta be flexible, brother, you gotta bend sinister.

Sam, Problem-Child-Bride said...

"Long-overdue validation for a much-maligned lifestyle choice today".

You leftie types sicken me. You'll be wanting to marry each other next.

Des, when are you going to start your own blog? It would be cool if you did.

Rob said...

I was better at swordfighting lessons at school due to left-handedness. Don't get me wrong, I was still shit, but not as shit as if I was right-handed.

Ivan the Terrible said...

Germaine Gree or Anne Robinson what, Aunty? Who smacked my hand in primary school? Or who I twatted over the head with a barstool?

Oh if only it were the barstool. How satisfying would that be? Almost as good as a well smacked baboon seems to be for GB.

Randall, did they ever say anywhere in the text that the Aztecs were jerks? 'Cos that would be the unvarnished truth. Colossal pricks is what they were. They had to be the worst neighbours of all time, including the Germans.

Mel Gibson's going to give 'em a once over soon in his new film Apocalypto. I sense a little nemesis coming along to go with that hubris...

Yeah - you tell him, Sam. Join us, Des - fear nothinggggg... joinnnn ussss...

As for swords, Rob, I found the same with knives. Didn't seem to matter which hand I was holding it in, tho', as long as I was windmilling it in their faces. What larks I had at school. Stratford, E17. What a shithole.

Desargues said...

Look. Thanks for the utterly inexplicable trust you guys have in my blogular potential, but a blog right now would be the only thing that's missing for my professional life to go into a self-destructive tailspin. As I was saying, I have that goddamned doctoral dissertation to finish, and I should be working waaay more than I am now. Being a blood-sucking parasite onto Ivan's blog is already threatening all my meagre prospects for a career.

But the cool thing about lefties is that they could write Hebrew without any trouble at all. And perhaps Arabic, I suspect.

Desargues said...

As to the hostility some ignorants exhibit against lefties, you gotta blame the early Romans for that. Back then, when they didn't have natural science--not even a crystal ball, in fact--they had to rely on a class of professional quacks to predict the future for them. They were soothsayers--diviners that looked at the way birds flew and tried to come up with an informed guess as to what was gonna happen, or, more frequently, whether the gods approved of a certain course of action. A sort of state-funded, corporate bunch of Miss Cleos, if you want.*

They would use a rectangular wire frame, called a 'templum' in Latin (yes, that's what gave us moderns the word 'temple'). The frame was held against the sky, and then they'd wait for birds to flitter by, and observe their flights through the frame. That ritual had to be performed in a consecrated place called a 'fanum', temples that later were to become Christian churches (also, Latin 'fanum' gave rise to the adjective 'fanaticus', a fervent temple-goer in the ancient Roman world). Now, there's a piece of religious doctrine to justify the nonsense that follows, but I don't recall its details--they're sort of murky anyway. When a flight of birds would fly in from the right side, as observed through the frame, that was a good sign, generally signifying that you had the blessing of the gods for whatever you asked them to approve of. When the birds would fly from the left ('a sinistra manu', in Latin), that was a bad omen, and you were urged to give up your particular plans. 'Sinistrus' slowly became associated with misfortune and bad luck, and now, 23 centuries of stubborn superstition later, cruel children still regard left-handed people as sinister characters. Sorry, lefties; it's all because of them damn Romans.

*For Ivan's non-American readership: Miss Cleo is a female charlatan of dubious Afro-Caribbean descent who claims to have visionary powers, readily to be shared with credulous suckers over a 1-800 phone number for only... um... I forget--something like 3 bucks a minute or so. A few years ago, she was still in business, which goes to show that only hydrogen is more omnipresent than human foolishness.

Ivan the Terrible said...

Des, I salute you. With my left hand, in honour of the topic :)

Sam, Problem-Child-Bride said...

You like yourself some Nabokov, Mr Terrible? 'Bend Sinister' was a wee joke what I tried to make in my last comment, 'cos I thought you did or might. I guess it was either too poorly delivered to deliver or was just too piss poor to warrant riposte. My money's on the latter.

At school what type of a knife-wielder were you? Clockwork Orangey? Big-booted bovver boy? Purely recreational or survival?

Des, what's your dissertation on?

Desargues said...

I like me some Nabokov--and 'Bend Sinister,' which was the first novel he wrote in America, in 1947, in a scriptorial frenzy fueled by four packs of smokes a day, is very close to my heart. A left-slanted crossbar (falsely) denoting bastardry, a crack in the mirror of being, as he calls it. So your joke wasn't wasted on us, Sam.

I'm afraid my dissertation topic can only possibly be of interest to about five people in the whole damn world. I can already presage it's gonna be very dry and boring. I'm looking at the doctrine of absolute space and motion in Immanuel Kant's philosophy of science. There. You asked for it.

Those Roman diviners who were foolishly staring at birds all day were called auspices (hence the modern phrase "under the good auspices of"). From 'avis' (bird) and 'spex' (one who looks at). Latin 'avis' is etymologically related to Anglo-Saxon 'egg' (go figure!). They descend from an Indo-European semantic stem that, in Old Persian, gave 'avya' (eggs). When the Ottomans imported the term from the Persians they occupied, it became, in Turkish, 'havyar'.

Caviar, anyone?

Aunty Marianne said...

Bar stool.

Foot Eater said...

Ivan, you're from Stratford? That's not a million miles from my gaff. I'm in Essex, though, an altogether better class of shithole.

My fiancee is lefthanded. I just don't know what I'm going to do if our eventual children turn out the same way.

Ivan the Terrible said...

Must admit that I've never been into Nabokov, Sam, so I'm afraid that reference escaped me. Fortunately Des was there to dive and catch :) My knifework was purely in the survival category.

Des, the old English word was eye, which shows the shared ancestry with avis and ovum more clearly. But eye was run out of town by the word egg - a Viking import - sometime in the 16th century. Chaucer is on record as complaining that an innkeeper from London didn't understand a merchant from York when they asked for "egges". Plus ca change.

Footie - raise them with pride, my son. They'll be masters with the surprise stanley knife, and you can never have too many of those at your side...

Tim Worstall said...

I used to run a pub in Stratford. Tough area.

Anyhoo, lefties, yes, there was some research about a year ago pointing out that the possible reason for the existence of it is the benefits to be had in battle. Not the specific benfits, just the fact that the average rightie wouldn’t fight a leftie very often, thus be at a disadvantage to the leftie who was always (well, when fighting) fighting righties.

They estimated the effect would go away if more than 20% of the pop were lefties no advantage any more.

Desargues said...

Now it all makes sense, Ivan. In Dutch, the word for 'egg' is 'ei', just like in German ('Ei', plural 'Eier'). Latin 'avis' stems from the root 'au-'. An 'auis' is that which lays eggs.

I suspect lefties also have a clear tactical advantage at fussball. You can do swift surprise shots with the goalie, and leave your adversary quite stunned. I'm virtually retarded when it comes to using my left hand.

When you shake hands with someone, which hand do you instinctively extend first? Is it the left one?

PI said...

Of course Des can't start a blog. Goodness he can scarcely find the time to scribble a couple of lines in Comments.
Ivan: do you perchance have a stammer?

Ivan the Terrible said...

I seem to recall that 20% limit as well, Tim. Far better to be rare and special, I agree. Tho' not in the "rides-the-short-bus-and-wears-a-crash-helmet-in-bed" sense of the word special, obviously.

Des - right hand first, always. Likewise with darts. But I switch hands in darts and pool without issue. I'm crap either way.

And Pi - no teasing Des, or you'll get a left-handed paddling, young lady. Which of course will be all the worse for being unexpected...

R. Sherman said...

Hey, Des. Bugger the dissertation. My own EMBLOS did 800+ pages on something linguistic. Took five years. You need the mental break, blogging provides.

(This is sort of like one of those 8th grade drug films we watched in junior high, where the "good" kid succumbs to peer pressure. "What are you? Square? Just try one hit on your own Blog, dude.)

Desargues said...

Thanks, Randall. But I suspect you don't know my advisor. He's a really big guy--not only a big name in his (admittedly narrow) field, but a towering presence, too. A former weightlifter. He'd probably tear me limb from limb if I didn't all the work he wants me to do. Also, my second advisor is German. Prussian, to be precise. And you know how they are...

Wow, 800 pages. That's something to look up to in awe. I'll be lucky if I put together 180 of them.

EMBLOS?

R. Sherman said...

Des,

Ever More Beautiful Longsuffering Official Spouse.

Cheers.

Desargues said...

Oh. Silly me. I should have remembered. I was, in fact, able to decypher the first three letters of the acronym (you once posted a picture of your pulchritudinous wife on your blog). But what's the reason of her long suffering, anyway? Surely not you. And someone who's put herself through the world of pain that is grad school has already suffered for a life-time. It's pretty hard to make these people suffer after that sort of ordeal.

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Jagd Kunst said...

I'm a southpaw from the southern hemisphere. I have trouble using knives and forks. The water in my sink goes backwards to those in the upper hemisphere. I tear food apart with both my hands. Everything I do aprt from creative stuff like drawing and writing I do right handed. It can be very confusing.