In what has to be the most gaga news story of the week, the Chinese announced that it is now illegal to be reincarnated without official permission. This is obviously a maneuver that anticipates the death of the current Dalai Lama; the Chinese government wants to be the sole authority on who the new incarnation is.

So I can understand the goal, even if I don’t sympathize with it. My questions concern the mechanics of enforcement.

We know that the Chinese authorities keep a close eye on people, but I’ve always assumed that surveillance essentially ended at the moment of death. Once you slipped free of the bounds of your body, I figured you could go nya nya nya at Beijing, or speculate aloud about Chairman Mao and his girl guides. Or even visit Taiwan. But apparently not.

So . . .

Who are the cops? Have the Chinese really found a way to station some officious twit in a uniform at the soul’s first rest stop, wherever that may be? And what does he do? I mean, how does one detain a soul, anyway? Does he handcuff it? If so, with what? Do souls have hands? Is there a holding pen? What are the walls made of? Is there a lavatory? One, or two?

Once reincarnation is approved, is a license issued? Printed on what? In what language? Does it need a thumbprint? (See question above.) Does it spell out the soul’s next destination? If, let’s say it reads HAMSTER, is there an appeals process? What about a black market? The Chinese have reinvented capitalism on this plane, so why not the next? Why wouldn’t there be a black market in reincarnation permits? A sort of spiritual swap meet? Don’t want to be a hamster? Would you prefer President of the United States (my guess is that lots of people would like to duck that one) or intestinal parasite? Or maybe there’s a sort of blind lottery? If you don’t want to be a typhoid carrier, would you be willing to accept, sight unseen, the next incarnation for Bob Barker? Casey Kasem? Simon Cowell? Rush Limbaugh? The recently deceased and widely unmourned Leona Helmsley?

Does China get to determine the mix? What China needs most right now is reasonably adaptable grunts — people who aren’t ambitious enough to seize power but sufficiently nimble to supply whatever the hell will be needed in, say, 20 years. Are most people getting licenses that say ADAPTABLE GRUNT? If there’s a war in the future, are there a lot of licenses that read CANNON FODDER? Or, if the one-family-one-child rule stays in effect and parents keep disposing of girls, are there licences that read ABORTED FEMALE? If so, my guess is that the swap meet is booming.

So many questions, so little space.

Here are the two big ones.

First, if a soul is refused a permit to be reincarnated, then what? Does it do time? What’s “time” in this context? Are we talking about eternity? Seems kind of harsh. Do they supply it with books? Board games? Are there vocational classes? (I personally can think of nothing more depressing than a whole bunch of souls training for eternity to be beauticians.) Is there exercise equipment, and if so, what does it exercise? Moral judgment? Ectoplasmic muscle tone? And to what end, since that soul is essentially permanently on file? It’s not like it’s ever going to be running around as little Joey again.

And second, China is called the world’s biggest a-lot-of-things, but it’s unquestionably the world’s biggest bureaucracy. How do the members of the Soul Patrol file their reports? Is there an office full of mediums somewhere in the Forbidden City? Do the bulletins come in via one of those mysterious eight-balls? If you’re put in charge of receiving and filing these reports, to they at least issue you an aluminum foil hat?

Actually, I have to admit that I have a certain amount of enthusiasm for this idea. I’d like to see it implemented here in America, but applied to midlife reincarnations. Just imagine: no Suzanne Somers, going from TV sitcom ditz to Godlike authority on the profound inner happiness that comes only with having great thighs and being young-looking. David Hasselhoff wouldn’t be singing in German. Madonna wouldn’t be writing children’s books. We could be spared the sight, ten years from now, of George W. Bush as elder statesman. Danny Bonaduce would be a memory, if even that.

Probably not even that.

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