Wang Hui was -- until recently, when he was pushed out of his job -- coeditor of China's leading intellectual journal, Dushu (Reading), and the author of a four-volume history of Chinese thought. He's also a central figure among a group of writers and academics known in China as the New Left. The New Left (not a term that Wang Hui embraces) advocate a "Chinese alternative" to the neoliberal market economy, one that will guarantee the welfare of the country's 800 million peasants. Unlike China's better-known (in the West, anyway) human rights dissidents and pro-democracy activists, the New Left views the Communist leadership as a likely force for change. They see themselves as "critical intellectuals" working for reform.
The Aqua Dots story on every news channel this morning is too amazing, too wild to be true. In fact, I strongly suspect that the Aqua Dots scare is a large-scale hoax, perpetrated by a sinister cabal intent on keeping the Western world (a) anxious about personal safety, and (b) focused on anything but our real problems, from global warming to misguided military actions. Remember, you heard it here first!
What are Aqua Dots, you ask? According to an AP story in today's Globe, it's a popular "holiday toy" distributed in 40 countries and manufactured in China. Aqua Dots are beads whose chemical coating becomes sticky, then hardens again, when sprayed with water -- which makes it possible for children to fuse the beads into various fun formations. But it turns out that the coating on Aqua Dots, when eaten, metabolizes into gamma hydroxy butyrate, the so-called date-rape drug: "roofies." Five children in the US and Australia who swallowed Aqua Dot beads went into nonresponsive comas, prompting a massive recall in both countries.
As the sidebar to a story in the Globe's Business section -- ironically, a story about how the recall of 22 million Chinese-made toys is affecting US toy sales -- noted last month, Aqua Dots were among the "Hot Dozen" toys chosen by Toy Wishes magazine. ("Given the high level of scrutiny toys have been under this year, manufacturers have tested toys to assure safety," said Chris Byrne, a contributing editor to Toy Wishes magazine. Ouch.)
Why do I think Aqua Dots is a hoax? It parses too neatly. Its elements map too precisely onto the map of contemporary American fears. Semiotically, something smells rotten.
* First, the name of the product. "Aqua" is a word guaranteed to trigger alarms in the frontal lobe, especially in the Northeast, because of the Mooninite Attack here in Boston. Remember, the LED "hoax devices" were really guerrilla advertisements for the "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" movie. In fact, at least one Globe account of the Mooninite scare uses the words "aqua" and "dots" in succeeding sentences:
"Aqua Teen Hunger Force" airs late at night and involves animated characters that are depicted as fast food products, including a ball of ground meat, French fries, and a milk shake. The objects that had been placed on bridges and other infrastructure across the city are patterns of lighted dots in the shape of boxy characters on the cartoon show.
* Second, China. Ever since the Atlantic Monthly ran a cover story (in June 2005) on "How We Would Fight China," it's been clear that there are individuals in America who'd like to see the US embroiled in a new Cold War. ("In the coming decades China will play an asymmetric back-and-forth game with us in the Pacific, taking advantage not only of its vast coastline but also of its rear base -- stretching far back into Central Asia -- from which it may eventually be able to lob missiles accurately at moving ships in the Pacific," warned Robert D. Kaplan, sounding like Colin Powell before Iraq.) The Cold War was good for the military-industrial complex, after all. Lead paint and loose magnets are one thing, but toys coated with the date-rape drug? To arms!
* Third, the date-rape drug. Really? The date-rape drug?! How on earth could a toy be accidentally coated with roofies? Answer: It couldn't. Either the Chinese really are trying to poison American children, which is far-fetched, or this whole recall was a big lie. Remember what Hitler wrote about the big lie in "Mein Kampf":
... the magnitude of a lie always contains a certain factor of credibility, since the great masses of the people in the very bottom of their hearts tend to be corrupted rather than consciously and purposely evil, and that, therefore, in view of the primitive simplicity of their minds they more easily fall a victim to a big lie than to a little one, since they themselves lie in little things, but would be ashamed of lies that were too big. Such a falsehood will never enter their heads and they will not be able to believe in the possibility of such monstrous effrontery and infamous misrepresentation in others; yes, even when enlightened on the subject, they will long doubt and waver, and continue to accept at least one of these causes as true.
If Aqua Dots were merely toxic, I might not be so suspicious. But (innocent children) + (anything to do with sexual predators) = widespread, instant hysteria. Guaranteed.
* Finally, there's some evidence that the hoaxers, whoever they may be -- some might suspect spin masters in the Bush administration, trying to divert attention away from Iraq -- have a sick sense of humor. Why else, one wonders, would the Toronto-based North American distributor of Aqua Dots be called... wait for it... Spin Master Toys?
Let me make it clear that I'm not saying you should let your children eat Aqua Dots. In fact, you should confiscate their Aqua Dots and put them away. But don't get caught up in the hysteria. Remain alert. Something fishy is going on!
Ever since the 1903 publication of Henry James' "The Ambassadors," critics and readers have puzzled over a literary mystery that has come to be known as the Woollett Question. What, everyone from E.M. Forster to David Lodge has wanted to know, is the "little nameless object" manufactured in Woollett, Mass.? The case went cold at some point in the 1960s, but earlier this week it was reopened... and cracked.
A Brainiac item in the Oct. 21 Ideas section argued that Lee Siegel made a "careless error" in a New York Times book review of Alice Sebold's "The Almost Moon." The item noted that Siegel wrote of the "juvenile contrivance of a Mom in the freezer" when the plot does not have a mother being put into a freezer. The book, however, does contain a conversation about the possibility of putting mom in a freezer. Siegel's review discussed that conversation but did not say whether or not the mother's body was put in the freezer.