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13 Aug, 2009 11:52

Sinister day for Clinton and Castro

Sinister day for Clinton and Castro

Ex-US president Bill Clinton and former head of Cuba Fidel Castro may be as far politically apart as can be, but on August 13, they have something in common. Both lefties, they can celebrate the Left-Handers’ Day.

The event, first marked by the British Left-Handers’ Club in 1992, is a good occasion to rejoice for the estimated 850 million lefties worldwide. Shunned by the public throughout centuries, surrounded by myths of a hidden spark of genius, they find their place and pace in our right-hand-oriented civilization.

Since ancient times, people preferring to do things with their left hand have been looked at with suspicion by their dexter counterparts. They were associated with bad luck, evil, misconduct and dealing with the devil.

The evidence of this prejudice remains in many languages. Englishmen called lefties “sinister”, suggesting that they have malicious nature, while Germans disregarded them as clumsy. At the same time “right” means both the side and fidelity to truth or law in many languages.

Muslim traditions reserve only the left hand for hygiene purposes so as not to mar the “clean” right hand.

Interestingly in Russia being a “levsha” or left-hander means being skilled and ingenious. The connotation comes from a popular short story about a left-handed smith from the city of Tula, who bested some English masters by shoeing a mechanical flea, which they made to prove their skill. The author Nikolay Leskov, a left-hander himself, managed to overturn the bad image even though his protagonist’s feat is double-edged at best, because the shoes disable the tiny toy, preventing it from dancing as it did before.
The reputed creative thinking by lefties may lie in their need to adapt to the world, where things are made to suit right-handed people. From firearms to scissors, many tools are simply not designed for left-handed use. It’s no wonder that when industrialization and mass production made things standardized, in many countries left-handed folk were made to train their right hands to be like the rest of the crowd right from the school desk.

By now these efforts have mostly been abandoned, and statistics show that the proportion of those who prefer their left hand in everyday life is growing. An estimated of 7% to 15% of the population is believed to be innately left-handed, according to several studies. And while it’s not clear what makes people left- or right-handed, if the feature is hereditary, the share of lefties is likely to grow, as the social stigma associated with it becomes a thing of the past.

While in some areas being a lefty may seem a handicap, it’s not true in some sports. Any boxer or fencer will tell you that facing a “southpaw” opponent is not a Sunday picnic, as most sportsmen are not used to dealing with them.

A number of famous people are known or believed to be lefties, from Roman general-turned-emperor Julius Caesar, to the ultimate Renaissance man Leonardo da Vinci, to retired software magnate Bill Gates.

Current US President Barack Obama is left-handed too. Russian media have speculated that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is a leftie, citing his wearing a watch on the right hand. He said it is not true and that he does it so that the winder does not hurt his hand.

P.S. By the way, Fidel Castro also has his birthday on August 13. What a lucky man he is!