In yet another instance of China's emergence as a global power, doctors at the Shanghai Medical Center circulated images last week of the infant, Jie-jie, who was born with three arms. For many Americans, Jie-jie evoked recollection of George Mulrooney, the boy from Tennessee born in 1997 with five penises whose diaper fit him like a glove (ba-dum-bum).
Before ergonomists could study the principles of pentipedal locomotion by watching the baby crawl about on all fives, a team of Chinese surgeons successfully removed one of Jie-jie's supernumerary left limbs on June 6, leading many to ask why. While China continues to develop its technology, infrastructure and competitiveness on the world stage at a staggering pace, it remains a nation with a disproportionate concentration of abject poverty. And whereas now Jie-jie is merely a young Chinese boy with a disabled left arm, pre-operatively he held the promise of a highly employable oddity.
But regardless of the wisdom or lack thereof behind the hacking off of the arm, what concerns U.S. scientists and trend trackers is how the Chinese managed to breed a healthy, three-armed kid in the first place. Until the images of Jie-jie were released, U.S. scientists seemed unshakably confident of their pre-eminence in the field of genetic manipulation of the unborn. But while the U.S. focus has been on the engineering of two-headed goats and five-legged frogs, the Chinese have upped the ante by moving boldly, and some say predictably, into the arena of human extremity alteration.
According to Dr. J. Anders Moreau of Temple University's Institute for Superfluous Studies, "For far too long, American mad scientists have rested on their laurels with a smug self-assurance that our hegemony in ghastly genetic engineering was unassailable," adding, "We accept him, we accept him, one of us, one of us."
It now appears that Moreau's observations only hint at the vastness that separates East from West on the issue of human morphology. A recently released Pentagon report on the issue points out the military advantage of breeding soldiers with eyes in the backs of their heads, and military implications are just the beginning.
"We've been asleep at the wheel," says U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao. "We aren't just talking about super soldiers and sideshows. The Chinese bred a three-armed infant this time, but our intelligence suggests that they're only halfway to their goal. Imagine how quickly a Chinese teenager could stitch a pair of Nikes with four functional arms. The U.S. working class is in danger of being left behind."
The possibility of plus-armed immigrants is of particular concern to Chao. "We have 10 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S.," she said at a hastily called press conference. "Their willingness to do unsavory jobs for little pay gives them an advantage over U.S. citizens. How much greater would that advantage be if they could wash dishes or pick fruit twice as fast?"
At present, hard numbers are unavailable since little has been done to study the question of multi-limbed laborers. However, prior to last weekend's opening of the World Cup, the results of a study were released that suggest a correlation between possession of multiple limbs and success in sports. Conducted over a five-year period by the Academy of Sport Self Evidence, the study tracked a sample of 1,500 athletes from their earliest entry into the sport of soccer and found that a young athlete is 17 times more likely to succeed in soccer if he has two legs rather than one.
Real Madrid's David Beckham admitted that his own bipedalism does offer an advantage. "Sure," said Beckham, "I've been blessed. I don't think I could have had as much success had I been born a unilegger. What worries most of us about the Chinese research is the possibility that they will move on to legs. There's no way I could keep up with a four-legged Ronaldinho."
Yet according to sources close to U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, the biggest threat to the U.S. doesn't come from enhanced athletes or immigrants with more than the usual compliment of arms. Evidence suggests that several nations with regimes openly hostile to the U.S. are working on programs to breed humans with certain gastrointestinal augmentations. Said one source on the condition of anonymity, "What would happen if they could make a man with two rectums? How many more drugs, or explosives, for that matter, would a double-bummed border crosser be able to smuggle into the southern states?"
In a startling reverse-course from their usual orthodoxy on the issue of human genetic engineering, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson are urging President Bush to play God by increasing federal funding for research programs that will allow the U.S. to keep up with China and other nations in the production of freaks. Falwell appeared with Robertson on the latter's long-running television show, The 700 Club, to appeal directly to Washington for what the pair dubbed, "the single greatest threat to America's God-given right to supremacy since Brazil kicked its oil habit."
"I am calling on all Christians," said Falwell, "to contact your elected officials and tell them their jobs depend upon them taking action to keep America ahead of the three-armed, Godless yellow hordes."
Robertson amplified Falwell's remarks, saying, "I am persuaded that God has sent us a message. We must take His warning seriously. If we don't do something soon, before long we will be slaves of Buddhist octopides."
Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, the president of India, many of whose citizens worship an entity with four arms, said, "You think you're scared-we have a 2,100-mile border with China. First it's the arms, then just sharpen the nose, lighten the skin, round out the eyes, stick a dot on the forehead and they'll have us bowing at their feet."
Tony Phillips blogs at www.fifthavenuegazette.com. Write to fifthavenuegazette[at]yahoo[dot]com and editor[at]SD citybeat[dot]com.