Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Reincarnation Police

The Chinese government wants to require that Tibetan Living Buddhas have Beijing's approval for their reincarnations. See link below:

Consider the following, based on that news story:

An elderly man in saffron robes walks along a mountain path in Tibet. He is humming a tune as he walks. He is approached by a Chinese man in uniform.

"Excuse me, sir, but may I ask the name of the tune you are humming?" "Certainly, my son, it is Row, Row, Row Your Boat."
"I believe that is a favorite song among Buddhists. Are you by any chance a Buddhist?"
"Indeed I am. In fact, I am the Panchen Lama."

"I was afraid of that. As one of the Living Buddhas of Tibet, you are required to have registered your reincarnation with the government. Do you have your license and registration?""I'm afraid not, Officer. I must have left them with my last body."
"I'm sorry, sir, but I must inform you that, after a brief, but fair, show trial, you will be executed next week.""I understand, my son."
"I knew you would, Bodhisattva, as you have attained Total Enlightenment, after all."
"Yes. See you next month, then?"

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Solomon and the Sparrow

Quite a very long time ago, before the first stones were set in China's Great Wall, at a time when the people of Britain worshipped tree spirits and painted themselves blue, there lived a great and splendid king named Solomon. Now, this Solomon was the wisest of men, and highly favored by the Lord, Who had given him the gift of an understanding heart. However, even though he was the wisest of men, he still had much to learn. Here is the story of one of his lessons.

To give glory to God (and to show the world his own greatness) Solomon decided to build a great Temple to the Lord. One day, as he was inspecting the progress of the builders, he chanced to see a tiny sparrow atop the wall of the Temple. This sparrow was lying on its back, with its feet straining upward. Such a curious sight naturally intrigued the great king. With his understanding heart, Solomon knew the languages of all the creatures of the earth, the sea and the sky, so he asked, "Little sparrow, why are you lying here in such an undignified position? A bird should fly free above the earth, not lie on its back." The sparrow replied, "I have heard, O wisest of men, that your mighty Temple will stand so tall as to crack the sky, and cause it to fall. I have determined to protect the earth by holding up the sky with my feet." Solomon laughed, saying, "Surely, little bird, you do not believe that you can hold up the entire sky by yourself!" The sparrow replied soberly, "One does what one can."

Backscratcher (A Haiku)

Little wooden hand
On a stick of curved bamboo
Blissful itch relief.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Pennsylvania Primary 2008

You may have heard that there was a primary election in Pennsylvania on Tuesday. As I've done for the last couple of years, I worked as a Machine Inspector here in Haverford Township, Delaware County, just outside of Philadelphia. The main interest, of course, was the Democratic Presidential race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Although our precinct is very heavily Republican, most of our voters were Democrats. Some of them were very obvious in their preferences. One woman came up to me and asked, very loudly, "Where do I vote for Hillary?" I said, "In the voting booth." While she was in the booth, she called out to me, "Who are these other people? I don't know who they are." I figured out that she was referring to candidates for state offices like Attorney General or State Treasurer. I told her that the offices people were running for were printed on the screen. She asked what she should do about those, so I told her she could vote for those offices or not, as she liked. She decided that she only cared about voting "for Hillary".
We still have people who are confused by the electronic voting machines, even though they've been in use here for two and a half years, that is, five elections. Some people insist that we're using different kinds of machines every time. I tell them that the only things that really change are the offices and the names on the ballot. The use of the machine is the same each time. I realize that some voters are new, but they're usually not the ones who seem confused by the machines. Often, if a voter approaching the machine seems to have a confused or apprehensive look, I'll ask if they want me to show them how to use the machine before they vote. The ones who try my patience the most are the ones who insist that, no, they don't need any help; they've done it before. Then, they go into the booth and say, "Oh, this looks different." and then they want help, at which point, I can only talk to them through the curtain, or ask them to step out so I can show them on a sample ballot.
Because it was a primary, we had the usual problems with voters who want to vote for candidates not in their party. We try to explain that, in the primary election, voters can only vote within their registered party, but some people don't like that. They want to do what they want, regardless of party rules or the law, and they get angry at the poll workers, as if it's our fault. Fortunately, I didn't have anyone get angry with me when I asked their party so that I could set the machine properly, as happened in the primary last year. I did have one woman, a Republican, who was in the voting booth with her little girl, who was asking why Mommy wasn't voting for "the girl", at which point, the woman came out of the booth and asked me if she could change her choice of party. I said that, yes, she could do that, but
not at the time she was voting.

We had the usual cases of voters who came to our polling place who didn't know where their polling place was. We could deal with those questions with a single phone call, but it surprises me that people seem unaware that they could make that phone call themselves, or find the information on the internet. In thirty-four years of voting, I have never failed to find out, before Election Day, where my polling place was. I don't think it's that difficult, really.
It was, as always, encouraging to see the first-time voters, often young people, but also some older ones this time. They're usually pretty excited to be voting. I also enjoy the little kids who accompany Mom or Dad into the voting booth. They're usually pretty excited, too. I hope that continues when they are old enough,themselves, to vote. Contrast that with a few voters who, when they found out they couldn't vote in the other party's primary, just left without voting at all. I mean, there are people in this world, and even in our own country, who have fought hard for the right to vote. I don't like to see people casually walk away from that right.
It was a fairly busy day, from 7 AM to 8 PM, and we had only a couple of stretches of "dead time". We ended the day with, I think, 465 voters, a pretty good turnout for a precinct with about 1000 total registered Republicans and Democrats combined, especially in a primary election. I think we must have seen just about every registered Democrat on our rolls. By the time I got home, I was exhausted, and glad I don't have to do that again until November.
I must add one last episode from the night. After I got home, I put on the TV to see election results. Obama had won our precinct by a very narrow margin, and I wanted to see how the state went. At the moment the news people were calling the race for Clinton, a huge sound of celebration erupted from the neighbors down the street. It seemed odd to be hearing very loud, very young, very male voices celebrating this news, then I realized that the Flyers had just beaten the Capitals in overtime to take Game 7 of their playoff series

The Irony of Kryptonite

People are using the term "kryptonite" with increasing frequency these days, in the sense of "weakness" or "thing which is harmful or deadly or terrifying to me", as in, "I'm claustrophobic, so elevators are my kryptonite." This is understandable, given the general public's notion of kryptonite as the substance that can weaken and kill Superman, but it is incomplete and misses what I call the irony of kryptonite.

To understand this irony, we must first understand what kryptonite is, in the world of Superman. The child, Kal-El, who would grow up to become the Man of Steel, was sent to Earth in a spaceship by his parents to escape the destruction of his planet, much as Moses was set adrift on the Nile to escape the destruction decreed by Pharaoh. The planet Krypton was transformed by its nuclear death into the substance kryptonite, a green, glowing, radioactive death-dealing horror to Superman.

Here is the irony. The very ground of his home planet, which, in the natural course of events would literally support him and grow the food which would sustain him, has become toxic to him. Even worse, the explosion of Krypton resulted in the transformation of everything on the planet into this deadly matter. Books, trees, houses, sporting equipment, the very stuff of daily life, all became kryptonite. Not only has the ground which would have physically supported him on his homeworld become his deadly enemy, so have the things which would have supported him psychologically and emotionally. Imagine, for example, that Superman were to find his parents' wedding picture, or his favorite stuffed toy from childhood, somehow fallen to Earth. He might at first feel a wave of sentimental nostalgia as he remembered, if he could, the brief but happy time in the bosom of his now-gone family. Almost simultaneously, though, this would be overwhelmed by horrified realization of the threat to his survival.

Perhaps fate, or the universe, strives for balance. Superman has lost his biological parents, but he gained adoptive parents, the Kents. He lost his people and his planet, but he gained the people of Earth, his new home. He is arguably the most powerful being on Earth and beyond. Balance requires a weakness, and perhaps not simply a physical weakness, but an emotional one, as well. Not only can he not go home again, any significant exposure to his “home” will drain his strength and turn him into a green-skinned corpse. Finally, there is one last interesting piece of the puzzle. While it is generally known that kryptonite is deadly to Superman, but harmless to Earth-humans, what is sometimes not so well-known is that kryptonite is also harmless to a Kryptonian without super powers. That is, if Superman were to find himself on a re-constituted Krypton under its red sun, kryptonite would simply be an interesting green, glowing rock. Thus, kryptonite is a threat to the hero Superman, not the person Kal-El. The creation of a great hero requires a correspondingly great weakness.

The life of an ordinary person has more ordinary weaknesses. Fortunately, we have the inspiration of our fictional heroes, like the Man of Steel. As great a weakness, physically, psychologically and emotionally, as kryptonite is to him, he has never failed to overcome it, either on his own or with the help of others. Let this be our goal, too, in facing our own weaknesses.