Of apposing thumbs and voles with values

I think I may be ready to rethink a smart-alecky remark I made about one of our politicians, to wit: I didn’t say the guy’s dumb, I just said I doubted he has apposable thumbs. I still do. But that’s no longer the point. In his current position he may not even need apposable thumbs.

I bring this up now because last week a gardening mishap left my right thumb no longer capable of apposition to my index and middle fingers.

The slightest move in that direction produced a pain so sharp it prompted a shriek and an unprintable expletive.

Stubbornly focused on the task at hand, I tried to continue my work, squalling like a mashed cat every time I picked up a weed.

Soon I gave up and went inside, washed and inspected the thumb. No bruise, no broken skin, not even much swelling. I sat down to dinner and picked up my fork. Stifling a gasp, I gingerly took the fork in my other hand and tried to taste the pasta salad. My attempts to pierce slippery rotelle and tiny grape tomatoes with my off hand were so clumsy as to raise eyebrows and avert eyes. Two-year-old Amy giggled.

Since I gave up playing Bach on the piano, I’ve completely lost whatever dexterity I once may have had in my left hand. Either that or the neurons between my aging brain and those fingers have atrophied. I settled for a piece of garlic bread and a pear.


After the meal, I begged off dish clearing and washing up and retired to my room. I unfolded the crossword puzzle and reached for my favorite mechanical pencil. Wrong. I couldn’t put enough pressure on the pencil to balance it between the ailing thumb and index finger. Writing letters inside those tiny boxes with the left hand was not an option. I tried to do the puzzle in my head, the way you do when all you have is a pen and no ink eraser. My brain refused to cooperate. No apposing thumb, no brain function.

Was Darwin right? Did humankind evolve because of the apposing thumb? And did that make us smarter? Or were we smart enough to start with and developed hands that could put our thoughts into action?

Having grown up in California, instead of a state like, maybe, Kansas, I went to schools that taught evolution. At parochial school, we were also taught creationism. In the ninth grade, the nuns taught creationism in religion class and a somewhat watered-down version of Darwin’s survival of the fittest business, call it Evolution Lite, in Life Science. We had no trouble with this. The nuns never mentioned the Big Bang, and they certainly didn’t know from String Theory. I guess I always thought the Big Bang happened when the Creator said, “Let there be light.” Well, why not?

Anyway, I gave up on the crossword; the Friday puzzle is too hard to do in one’s head, at least mine wasn’t up to it. Then I tried to clip some interesting articles from the news section. My scissors apparently don’t work with left hands. More expletives.

The stories I wanted to save concerned the federal government refusing to use scientists who don’t espouse the prevailing social conservative line. Forget the separation of church and state. How about separating science and state? More than 4,000 respected scientists, including dozens of Nobel laureates and members of the National Academy of Sciences, accused the administration of suppressing and distorting science to suit its political goals. Some who had worked in previous Republican and Democratic administrations were denied reassignment to the National Institutes of Health. Results of scientific studies that were paid for by taxpayers had sections deleted or changed before being posted on government Web sites. They included the unexplained deletion of effects of burning fossil fuels on global warming from a scientific study on climate change. One official said, with a straight face, that those in the scientific community think they know better than the average American. Well, I certainly hope they do.

I wonder if the recent gene study on voles was federally funded, fitting right in, as it does, with administration policies. Naturally, promiscuous male meadow voles were injected with a gene from prairie voles, a related but separate species, among the nearly 5 percent of mammals that mate for life. Seems that was just the ticket to rodent family values. I hope there’s no federal grant in the works for isolating the human monogamy gene. Support for the Defense of Marriage Act? Maybe, but how could they run the military industrial complex with all those stay-at-home dads?

Maybe we could get a scientific study on political thumbs relative to brain cells. Most of us would settle for honest environmental studies and real stem-cell research.

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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