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Please Note: This journal contains a wide variety of stuff -- complete stories, bits and pieces, commentary, and who-knows-what else. As is always the case these days, the material is protected by copyright. On the other hand, I publish it here to be shared. Feel free to pass it on. Just give me credit. Fair enough?



January 31, 2013

Pack Creek Ranch, San Juan County, Utah
Beginning of February, 2013

Note: this was written before I left Moab for a road trip to Arizona and California.
It picks up from the end of the previous posting, where the last thing I talked about was Wikipedia.

POLLICAL THOUGHTS

Pollical is the adjective for pollex.
Pollexis the formal anatomical term, in Latin, for the thumb.
Hallex, by the way, is the term for big toe.
A subject for another time, no doubt.
But this is about the thumb.

My thinking started with a split fingernail.
I got out the usual tools to repair the damage:
Nail clippers, nail file, Swiss Army Knife, Super Glue.
Then I noticed the shabby condition of the rest of my nails.

Soon, with a bath towel in my lap and tools at the ready I was settled down in my favorite chair to do nail maintenance while listening to Garrison Keillor and Prairie Home Companion on NPR.

I don’t think I have ever really thought about my fingernails.
They’ve been there as long as I’ve been around.
I take them for granted.
They do their job – protect the ends of my fingers, scratch where it itches, serve as small screwdrivers and tweezers, get sticky labels and price tags off, and make rhythmic sounds on a hard surface when I’m nervous or annoyed.

But I’ve never really considered them and don’t really know much about them – they’re just there.

Later in the evening I turned to my computer, punched up “fingernails” on Wikipedia, and All I Really Wanted to Know About Nails was there.
You can do the same, if you are interested, so I’ll only report the facts that jumped out at me.
Nails are 7 to 12 percent water.
Made out of the same stuff as hair.
They grow an average of 0.12 inches a month.
And grow 4 times faster than toe nails.
They do not grow after death.
The longest set of nails – combining both hands – were grown by an American lady – a total of 28 feet – and still growing.
And a guy India has a thumb nail that is 4.8 feet long.

My own nails are vertically striated, which I always thought meant I had some esoteric disease or a special fate – something to puzzle over, but too small a matter to ask my doctor or palm reader about.
But there was a picture and a comment about the condition.
Normal – common in aging – no problem.
Information is useful.

Next I got a high-power magnifying glass and looked at my nails and fingers – concentrating on the thumb – my left pollex.
It sets me apart from most other creatures – an opposable digit.
My wife got sucked into this curiosity session, and soon we were comparing thumbs – size, thumbprints, and history of use.

So, back to the computer and Wikipedia.
Factoids of interest:
Thumbs have only two phalanges, not three.
Some people are born without them or with more than one on a hand.
And the diseases and anomalies of the pollex are mind-boggling.
You can see pictures of this stuff on Wikipedia.

Then there’s the social use of thumbs.
Expressing approval, disdain, dismissal, and – get this – in Iran the thumb is used like the middle finger in the west – Up Yours!

There’s a lot more.
On Wikipedia.
And that’s what I’m really writing abut.
We take it for granted, now, but it’s a truly amazing phenomenon.
Having instant access to a wealth of useful information – free.
Provided by an unknown number of people I will never meet.
Edited and maintained and updated.
Simply out of a desire that good information be available to anybody who wants it, anytime, anywhere, in any language.

A few facts:
Operated by the non-profit Wikipedia Foundation.
Started by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger in January, 2001.
24 million articles – 4.1 million in English.
Operates in 285 languages.
100,000 active contributors – all volunteers.
365 million active users.
Up to 60,000 page requests per second.
And all this handled by a very small operation in San Francisco.

How do I know all this?
Wikipedia.

If you use Wikipedia, think about contributing.
Don’t be an outsider – be an insider.
Add, edit, comment – it’s easy to take part.
And, above all, make a small financial contribution – that’s easy, too.
Go to Wikipedia . . .