With or without Super Bowl LI, Houston is a winner - Chicago Tribune
Today is the birthday of Thomas Merton (books by this author), born in Prades, France (1915). His mother was an American, and his father was from New Zealand. They were both artists, and they met at an art school in Paris. Merton's mother died of stomach cancer when he was six years old; 10 years later, his father died of a brain tumor.
Merton converted to Catholicism in 1938, while he was a student at Columbia University. He taught English for a while at St. Bonaventure College, but he continued studying Catholicism, and the spiritualism of William Blake. On December 10, 1941, he quit his job and entered the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani in Kentucky, to begin his life as a Trappist monk. He continued studying, and kept journals full of his questions and musings. His superior at the monastery, Father Abbot Dom Frederic Dunne, noticed his talent for writing and encouraged him to continue. He began by translating religious texts and writing biographies of the saints.
In 1961, Merton wrote, "It is possible to doubt whether I have become a monk (a doubt that I have to live with), but it is not possible to doubt that I am a writer, that I was born one and will most probably die as one." Over the course of his life, Merton wrote more than 70 books, 2,000 poems, and numerous essays and lectures. He's perhaps best known for his spiritual autobiography and conversion narrative, The Seven Storey Mountain (1948). It's been compared to the Confessions of St. Augustine. He ends the book with the line Sit finis libri, non finis quaerendi: "Here ends the book, but not the searching."
From The Seven Storey Mountain: "It is only the infinite mercy and love of God that has prevented us from tearing ourselves to pieces and destroying His entire creation long ago.People seem to think that it is in some way a proof that no merciful God exists, if we have so many wars. On the contrary, consider how in spite of centuries of sin and greed and lust and cruelty and hatred and avarice and oppression and injustice, spawned and bred by the free wills of men, the human race can still recover, each time, and can still produce man and women who overcome evil with good, hatred with love, greed with charity, lust and cruelty with sanctity."
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. Our memory works in such a way that things that happen to us in one moment influence our behavior after that in ways we don't realize. It is a process psychologists refer to as priming, and it suggests, for example, that adopting positive language and mannerisms can in fact make us more positive:
"If you have recently seen or heard the word EAT, you are temporarily more likely to complete the word fragment SO_P as SOUP than as SOAP. The opposite would happen, of course, if you had just seen WASH. We call this a priming effect and say that the idea of EAT primes the idea of SOUP, and that WASH primes SOAP.
"Priming effects take many forms. If the idea of EAT is currently on your mind (whether or not you are conscious of it), you will be quicker than usual to recognize the word SOUP when it is spoken in a whisper or presented in a blurry font. And of course you are primed not only for the idea of soup but also for a multitude of food-related ideas, including fork, hungry, fat, diet, and cookie. ... Like ripples on a pond, activation spreads through a small part of the vast network of associated ideas. The mapping of these ripples is now one of the most exciting pursuits in psychological research.
"Another major advance in our understanding of memory was the discovery that priming is not restricted to concepts and words. You cannot know this from conscious experience, of course, but you must accept the alien idea that your actions and your emotions can be primed by events of which you are not even aware. In an experiment that became an instant classic, the psychologist John Bargh and his collaborators asked students at New York University -- most aged eighteen to twenty-two -- to assemble four-word sentences from a set of five words (for example, 'finds he it yellow instantly'). For one group of students, half the scrambled sentences contained words associated with the elderly, such as Florida, forgetful, bald, gray, or wrinkle. When they had completed that task, the young participants were sent out to do another experiment in an office down the hall. That short walk was what the experiment was about. The researchers unobtrusively measured the time it took people to get from one end of the corridor to the other. As Bargh had predicted, the young people who had fashioned a sentence from words with an elderly theme walked down the hallway significantly more slowly than the others.
"The 'Florida effect' involves two stages of priming. First, the set of words primes thoughts of old age, though the word old is never mentioned; second, these thoughts prime a behavior, walking slowly, which is associated with old age. All this happens without any awareness. When they were questioned afterward, none of the students reported noticing that the words had had a common theme, and they all insisted that nothing they did after the first experiment could have been influenced by the words they had encountered. The idea of old age had not come to their conscious awareness, but their actions had changed nevertheless. This remarkable priming phenomenon-the influencing of an action by the idea -- is known as the ideomotor effect. ...
"The ideomotor link also works in reverse. A study conducted in a German university was the mirror image of the early experiment that Bargh and his colleagues had carried out in New York. Students were asked to walk around a room for 5 minutes at a rate of 30 steps per minute, which was about one-third their normal pace. After this brief experience, the participants were much quicker to recognize words related to old age, such as forgetful, old, and lonely. ...
"Reciprocal links are common in the associative network. For example, being amused tends to make you smile, and smiling tends to make you feel amused. Go ahead and take a pencil, and hold it between your teeth for a few seconds with the eraser pointing to your right and the point to your left. Now hold the pencil so the point is aimed straight in front of you, by pursing your lips around the eraser end. You were probably unaware that one of these actions forced your face into a frown and the other into a smile. College students were asked to rate the humor of cartoons from Gary Larsons The Far Side while holding a pencil in their mouth. Those who were 'smiling' (without any awareness of doing so) found the cartoons funnier than did those who were 'frowning.' In another experiment, people whose face was shaped into a frown (by squeezing their eyebrows together) reported an enhanced emotional response to upsetting pictures -- starving children, people arguing, maimed accident victims."
Jay Cooke's Gamble by M. John Lubetkin. Philadelphia's Jay Cooke, who became the wealthiest man in America before losing most of his fortune in the Panic of 1873, was the person most responsible for raising money for Abraham Lincoln and the North at that perilous early moment when the country only had $1.7 million in hand. He did it through a powerful innovation -- instead of trying to sell the bonds just to the wealthy and to institutions, he assembled a large sales team and sold bonds to the middle class. In the final tally, over 500,000 individuals bought war bonds, establishing a precedent that was successfully followed in both Word War I and World War II:
"Neither [Treasury Secretary Salmon] Chase nor Lincoln wanted to finance the war by printing money or adding high income taxes; so they temporized, attempting to sell bonds.
"Following Fort Sumter, Cooke was determined to assist the North. ... While most Northern states gave the federal government men, equipment, and cash, Pennsylvania, which had promised 10,000 troops, was stymied because of previous bond defaults. Cooke volunteered to sell the bonds but was rebuffed. He then watched helplessly as the state's financial officials discovered that they could not sell the bonds. Finally, they sheepishly came back to him. Upon receiving approval on May 28, Cooke charged ahead with his old friend Anthony J. Drexel, Philadelphia's dominant banker. In three weeks they sold over $3 million in bonds. Cooke himself subscribed $10,000, which became public knowledge and added to the public's faith in him: he sold only securities in which he also invested.
"On July 21, 1861, the North was defeated at Bull Run. Federal censors tried to block the news, but a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter slipped back into Philadelphia the next morning. The news quickly spread, and businessmen wandered the streets in shock. Cooke, as surprised as anyone, swung into action. Instead of trying to gloss over the battle, he made it a rallying cry, just as the Alamo had been or Pearl Harbor and the World Trade Center would be. Going from one downtown office to another, Cooke had $l.75 million in pledges by noon, twenty hours after the battle's end. He instantly became a national hero and knew he had a workable formula, whereas Chase saw a competitor grabbing headlines. Probably prodded by Lincoln, Chase took Cooke with him to New York in August as the government tried to raise $50 million. ...
"Cooke became Chase's advisor for a $150-million bond program set for late
1861, but Chase limited his sales territory to only Philadelphia and nearby New Jersey, allowed nothing for advertising or operations, and left him on a commission-only basis. Nevertheless, Cooke enthusiastically went after a wide audience by mixing patriotism, small-denomination sales, and public awareness. Traditionally only the wealthy had been solicited, but his instincts said that the North's huge number of middle-class artisans, merchants, and farmers felt that the war was a noble cause and wanted to participate. Writing much of the copy himself, Cooke advertised in English and foreign-language papers. He also played hardball: publishers not carrying the patriotic stories that he submitted could forget advertising dollars. His participation, Josephson wrote, 'was so brilliant ... he sold so much more than the other bankers (about one-fourth of the total) that his demands (to run the entire program) could not long be resisted.' Cooke had done nothing less than formulate bond sales in the United States and Great Britain for World Wars I and II. ...
"At Lincoln's urging, on March 7, 1862, Chase appointed Cooke 'Subscription Agent for National Loan,' giving Jay sales control of all U.S. bonds. The position was undefined, Chase was clueless, and Jay quickly expanded his role. Josephson wrote: '[He] curbed or prodded speculators as he pleased ... [and] in his onward rush he had scrambled over the heads of the older cliques of financiers.' The Cookes knew more about government plans than any other banking house and consistently invested with their inside knowledge. As more Washingtonians banked with them further information came, in turn leading to even more profits and depositors, including John Wilkes Booth. There was never a hint of impropriety concerning bond sales; as the profits from the Philadelphia and Washington offices were a fraction of Jay's wealth at the war's end, the explanation for his great wealth lies in his timely use of insider information. ...
"In the 1863 campaign Cooke sold $511 million in bonds. Drawing not a penny in advance, he fielded an organization including 2,500 salesmen. Sales reached $3 million a day; and the Treasury, which had to sign each bond, was backlogged for weeks. After all expenses were paid, Jay Cooke & Co. netted $220,000: 1/25 of 1 percent. Nevertheless, the figure stirred up a storm of protest. The problem arose from Jay's making the sales look effortless: predictably, other bankers and politicians now wanted to share in the profits. ... In 1864 Cooke came under congressional investigation but was fully cleared. ...
"Mid-1864 saw another Northern crisis. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman were stalled, casualties were horrific. Jubal Early's raid on Washington left Lincoln's reelection uncertain, and the $3 million-a-day war effort was in chaos. Chase resigned on June 29 and was replaced by Senator William Fessenden, who met with Cooke in July but -- put off by him -- gave him no business. In October, however, with only $5 million of a $40-million bond program sold, Fessenden gave Cooke $10 million, which he quickly sold. Cooke asked for the remaining $25 million and also sold these bonds. With Lincoln reelected and Congress now friendly, Cooke had sold another $200 million by February. On March 3, 1865, Congress approved the largest bond sale of the war, $600 million. Cooke said he could sell it all and, without opposition, was given the contract. ... Sales ended in July at $830 million ... with over 500,000 people purchasing bonds."