Tag Archives: abraham lincoln

Hey, Soul Sister

I’m pretty sure that I am Abraham Lincoln reincarnated.

Stick with me on this.  First, let’s talk about reincarnation.   I grew up in a “spiritual-but-not-religious” household, which I say only because “atheist” makes me sound like I have neck tattoos and “agnostic” is just religion’s version of a total cop-out (like “libertarian” for politics). So, within my “spiritual” upbringing, I was exposed to several different belief systems: we had a children’s bible on the bookshelf, a fat bald man on the mantle (fine, a bronzed Buddha statue), and an Indiana Hoosiers jersey in the basement (because sports is religion and, growing up, Calbert Cheaney was God).

Anyway, back to reincarnation.  My parents were actually loose Buddhists.  Reincarnation is a Buddhist idea, and so my parents would teach me all about reincarnation as they saw it: you die, but you don’t really die, which is great, and then your soul floats up in the air, and then it finds a new body to inhabit, and thus you end up looking like someone else.  It’s like the whole Man-in-Black debacle in Lost.

Naturally, I was skeptical.  Believing in soul transfer is sort of like believing in ghosts or unicorns.  Plus, empirically it didn’t make sense: if we started out with just two souls (Adam and Eve), does this mean that  all but two of us were born soulless?  My mom convinced me that this wasn’t the case, that everyone is either given a new soul or a recycled one.  So, in my adolescent need to latch onto irrefutable truths, I believed her and bought into this whole reincarnation business.*

How does reincarnation work?  I’ve always imagined that it’s like going through customs at the airport.  The customs officials are the arbiters of soul, where they examine your soul and make sure it’s passable into the next life.  They scratch you, they sniff you, and they make sure you’re not carrying any illegal fruits or vegetables.  Tangerines hidden in your rectum?  Rejected!  Bad souls are dumped down the chute; good souls keep on rolling.  After a full-body violation, your customs official gives you the ticket to your next destination.  You’re whisked away to take a shower, getting rid of all the airplane/past-life smell.  And then, finally, you’re off to explore your new life in Tokyo/Brazil/Zimbabwe.

I like to think that the reincarnation airport is run by reality TV producers: they want all souls to have good stories, so they jumble them up a bit.  If you were a man in one life, you’ll be a woman in the next.  If you were J.P. Morgan in one life, you’ll be a German pauper in the next.  Just imagine: in a past life, 6’8″ millionaire basketball star LeBron James could have been 5’3″ communist leader Ho Chi Minh.  The E! True Hollywood Story would be fascinating.

The best part about reincarnation is that there is a limitless family tree: anyone could be your past-life dad.  In trying to figure out my soul ancestry, I worked backwards, based on my own predispositions.  Here is where I believe I came from:

Abraham Lincoln (Feb 1809 – April 1865): Honest Abe was probably a new soul, since he was born in an era of extensive population growth.  He wore a beard.  I love his beard.  We’re kindred spirits.

Beatrix Potter (July 1866 – Dec 1943): (I assume it took customs a while to sort through all the souls coming from the Civil War) Beatrix Potter, the author of children’s books like Peter Rabbit, could write and draw… I would love to be her one day, except for the whole British thing. (See picture: she’s doing the 19th century version of sexy posing… again, kindred spirits).

(Here is where my soul falls off the map a bit.  I blame it on WWII.)

Dennis Wilson (Dec 1944 – Dec 1983): Dennis Wilson, the founder of the Beach Boys and Charles Manson enabler, drowned in a boating accident in Marina del Rey.  I came to the conclusion that Wilson was my past-life daddy when I lost my phone in Marina del Rey (wait for it)… on a boat.  As T-Pain/KG says, “Anything is possible.”

So, there it is: my reincarnated family tree.  Yes, my past-life selves have all been famous celebrities/literary geniuses/presidents; every once in a while, I may drop a little Peter Rabbit, Surfin’ USA, or Hip-Hop Emance-Proc on you.  But don’t be intimidated.  Because you never know — deep down, you could have the recycled soul of John D. Rockefeller… and if so, get ready for a life of peasanthood.  It’ll be great TV.

* At one point, I had convinced myself that the reason for Buddha’s girth was because he held all the new souls in his stomach.  However, once I realized what he would need to do to retrieve the souls, I dumped this idea…  Pun intended …Yes, I’m twelve.


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Take a Risk, Take a Chance, Make a Change*

* Yes, the title is from a Kelly Clarkson song.  I’m not ashamed.

During the summer before my senior year of college, I did an internship at a large investment bank in New York.  To get the job, I professed my love for DCF models and calculating betas.  I made myself sound like the most interesting person in the world: “I enjoy reading Reuters.com, making data tables in Excel, and taking nonlinear walks along the beach.  I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer A&W.  That company’s got quite the cash flow.”

I suppose it worked.  I accepted an offer from a prestigious bank in midtown Manhattan, working in equity research for the summer of 2006.

salesI thought I would need a few weeks to determine whether I’d find my calling in finance.  But after just a few days, I already hated it.  I hated the dress code, the formality, the hierarchy, and the Big Brother-ness of it all.  I hated the work, which teetered between mundane and soul-sucking.  Most days, I just felt like a highly-paid supermarket cashier, plugging in numbers and being rude.  I quickly learned that there were three tenets of business: 1) Jerkiness is a coveted personality trait…  2) “Fuck” can be used as a noun, verb, adjective, adverb, insult, directive, and occasionally, term of endearment…  3) Lastly, in order to fit in, you have to be strongly opinionated about HR, women leaders, and taxes.  (The opinion must also be negative, although you can “support them in concept.”)

Throughout the summer, I felt like I was part of a giant sociological experiment, where you throw fifty impressionable college kids into (what I would consider) the worst job in the world (except, maybe, dairy farming) and record their reaction.  The people who loved it also seemed to hate it as well, but they had all accepted that hatefulness was part of the job — therefore it was palatable.  And for a summer at least, it was palatable, especially given the fact that we were well-paid, well-fed, and living in New York with an unlimited reign over the four-letter word dictionary.

lincolnNearing the end of my two-month stint, I had to meet with HR (ugh) to discuss full-time opportunities.  The bank was well-known for only hiring first-years from its summer intern class.  Even though I knew, deep down, that I didn’t want to do this for two full years, I still wanted to get an offer.  I still wanted to have a job lined up, even though I swore I wouldn’t take it.  I wouldn’t.  Even though it was a prestigious firm.  I wouldn’t.  Even though I’d built up a strong network.  I wouldn’t.  Even though I’d get to live comfortably in New York City.  I wouldn’t.  Or would I?

During my session with HR, I was bombarded with a barrage of questions that I hadn’t prepared for: “What are your three biggest weaknesses?  What would you title your autobiography?  Which historical figure do you identify with most?”  To the last question, I blurted out “Abraham Lincoln,” after a long, awkward silence in which I contemplated whether Chairman Mao had any redeeming qualities.  (For some reason, he’s the first “historical figure” that pops into my head.)  After trying to justify to HR that Abe was a perfectly legitimate answer (“I see myself in him through his honesty…his passion for humanity…his log cabin roots”), I realized that I would always be better at BS-ing about Lincoln than modeling cash flows.

So when I got my full-time offer, I turned it down.  I took another job, still in finance, but at a media company where I could learn to hone my creative talents.   And now, two years later, as I’m coming to the end of my term, I have to make another decision — whether to stay in my backup plan, or to go ahead and do something crazy, like compare myself to Abraham Lincoln.  Like eschew a stable finance career for the peripatetic life of a starving writer.  I’m leaning towards the latter, because I’m finally ready to give it a real shot now.  And I do truly believe that all things will work itself out in the end…

After all, the full-time offer I turned down, in the winter of 2006, was from Lehman Brothers.


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The Impact of Santa Claus on Afghanistan’s Presidential Election

In the past few weeks, we’ve heard from Americans who are afraid of what’s happening in this country.  People are mad (and confused) about healthcare reform.  We’re concerned that the administration is leading us down the wrong path. With a government full of communists, illegal immigrants, Nazis, and Kenyans, perhaps our fear is justified.

Well, on the day of the Afghanistan presidential election, here is one more group whom we should fear: men with beards.

Yup, beards.  As in, chin warmers, mustache buddies, and neck rugs.

ahmadinejadWhy should we fear facial hair?  Personally, I believe that beards reflect poor judgment.  It’s coarse, it gathers crumbs, and it rarely makes one more attractive.  It also seems terribly uncomfortable: especially in the summer, I imagine it’s like wearing a fur hat around your face.  (If Santa Claus lived in Miami, he wouldn’t need a beard.)  So naturally, people who choose to have beards are either a) irrational, b) trying to hide something, or c) preparing for Christmastime.

nobeardMy beard theory is grounded in strict empirical evidence.  For example, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a world leader with a beard.  Barack Obama doesn’t have one, Gordon Brown doesn’t have one, and Angela Merkel (hopefully) can’t grow one.  I could think of only one significant bearded world leader, and that’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the crazy President of Iran.  (See?  Beard = bad judgment = psychotic dictator of Iran.  The transitive properties of mathematics don’t lie.)  If you think it’s a cultural thing, just check out the clean-shaven faces of other Muslim leaders: Zardari of Pakistan, Talabani of Iraq, and Mubarak of Egypt.  And while Kim Jong Il proves that beardless men can be psychotic dictators too, it’s never a sure thing unless you have a beard (see below).

bharrisonAre there exceptions to the rule?  Of course.  But at the very least, having a beard is just bad luck.  The last U.S. president to have a beard took office over a century ago.  Unsurprisingly, Benjamin Harrison (1881) is probably one of the most obscure presidents ever.  Before him, James Garfield had been the most recent President with a beard.  Out of 47 U.S. presidents, only five had beards, and both Lincoln and Garfield were shot and killed.

afghanistan copyThis is what makes the Afghanistan election so troubling.  Two of the three top contenders in the race have beards.  Incumbent President Hamid Karzai has overseen his corrupt regime with a full face beard.  Abdullah Abdullah, a former Afghan foreign minister and eye doctor, has a rapidly graying beard and very few friends in Washington.  The only beardless contender is longshot Ashraf Ghani, who has a Ph.D from Columbia, a resume that includes a stint at the World Bank, and a puff piece in the New York Times.

So, Afghanistan, what’s it going to be?  Five more years of furry faces, or a pick that will shock the world?


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