We live in a fantasy world, a world of illusion. The great task in life is to find reality. -Iris Murdoch

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If God did not intend for us to eat animals, then why did he make them out of meat? -John Cleese

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Who was Andrew Carnegie?

Carnegie was born in Scotland, where his father was a loom weaver, a group that was being displaced by the growth of factories. The family emigrated to the United States in 1848, when Carnegie was 12 years old, and they were transported across the state of New York by horse drawn barges on the Erie Canal on the way to Pittsburgh. There Carnegie started out as a telegraph operator, working his way up the economic ladder in a classic rags to riches story. Working for Thomas Scott, owner of the Pennsylvania Railroad during the Civil War, Carnegie supervised the construction of the railroad bridges that transported soldiers and weapons for the Union Army. This employ led him to curiosity about the production of iron and steel, the latter of which would be the product that led him to become one of the wealthiest men in American history.

Using the newly developed Bessemer process in steel plants, which made steel more quickly and cheaply than could be done previously, Carnegie turned Pittsburgh into a city with an economy that centered on steel production. At the height of his economic power Carnegie had a virtual monopoly on steel in the United States, stomping out competitors by providing a cheaper product to customers across the nation. His method introduced a system that economists today call vertical integration, where he owned all aspects of the steel making process, including the mines, the ships and railroads that transported coal and other minerals, and the steel plants. Before he was displaced by oil magnate John D. Rockefeller, Carnegie was the richest man in the United States, but this wealth was not without some controversy.

One of the most famous strikes in labor history was the Homestead Strike of 1892, where skilled laborers tried to protect their rights against the growing threat of being displaced by automation. By this time Carnegie had Henry Frick running his operations, and Frick cracked down hard on the strikers, bringing in replacement workers and Pinkerton Agents to quell the violence there. Frick was a mean boss, and had other instances of what some regarded as cruel administration. There was a prominent foreman in Homestead who had put laborers there on an eight hour day, contending that less exhausted workers would be safer and produce better steel. When this man died in a factory accident, Frick promptly put the laborers back on a twelve hour day, at the same wages.

Carnegie had a social theory called the Gospel of Wealth. He contended that men competed in the economic world, and those who succeeded there obtained wealth that was a sign of God’s favor, in a process that resembled survival of the fittest in the process of evolution. He also felt that people did not know how to spend their money properly, so that the philanthropy of his later life gave them blessings, as in libraries and other cultural venues that they did not have the capacity to bestow upon themselves. Late in life, Carnegie lived in a castle that he bought in his homeland of Scotland, and members of the Parliament in London thought it rather curious that this wealthy new world capitalist heaped left-wing advice upon them in a strange manner.   Whatever his political opinions, Carnegie was a man whose life had a tremendous effect on the economy of the United States, and the world.

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Money can’t buy love, but it improves your bargaining position. -Christopher Marlowe

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A strength to harm is perilous in the hand of an ambitious head. -Queen Elizabeth I

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Never apologize for showing feeling. When you do so, you apologize for the truth. -Benjamin Disraeli

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We were told our campaign wasn’t sufficiently slick. We regard that as a compliment. -Margaret Thatcher

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Edgar Allan Poe and Gothic Booze

Edgar Allan Poe; portrait by Gabriel Harrison, 1896

Few writers are remembered so distinctively as Poe, whose haunting tales of dungeons and macabre characters in distress were extremely influential on writers in America and abroad. Many American writers up to the mid-twentieth century were quite addicted to alcohol, and Poe was no exception. One perceptive writer, in fact, termed him the chairman of the board of American writers with a fondness for drink, and such a title deserves some merit. Poe’s humble origins and distinctive upbringing both had a hand in making him the unique writer that he became, an uncommon individual who merits attention as an exclusive voice in literature.

Poe was born as the second child of two actors in Boston, Massachusetts, who could not afford to raise him so that he became the ward of a couple in Richmond Virginia.  Mr. Allan, the source of Poe’s middle name, was a bit strict with his young charge, and alternated between being his charge’s savior and a strict disciplinarian. The young man’s journey to adulthood consisted of a series of unfinished alliances, including a military academy, the Army, the University of Virginia and West Point. Alcohol, drugs and gambling contributed to his inability to achieve success with established institutions, leaving him alone to his own solitary reminiscences. Alcoholism, as a disease, is very creative in nature, as liquor has a different effect on the person who imbibes it, making them addicted not only to the physical consumption of liquor, but also to the all powerful feelings that it produces. Yet such feelings are at variance with reality, for the imbiber is not really so powerful as a number of drinks makes them feel. Thus there is a constant struggle of the tension, the imminent doom, the possibility of impending disaster that this strange consciousness produces. As a professional adult, Poe worked for a series of different literary magazines, but was forever quitting in a huff because he supposed that he was responsible for the magazine’s great increase in circulation, but did not share in the profits. Near his mortal end, Poe was attempting to establish his own magazine, where he would have to hated boss to struggle with, but passed on before it became a reality. It is not, of course, Poe’s professional life that makes him still a household world, but his eerie tales and poems, like the Raven, the Tell-Tale Heart, Masque of the Red Death, the Pit and the Pendulum and many others.

Such stories and poems are left to the ages, and his writings have been very influential on countless writers. Here is an example of one that you might enjoy.

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Be very, very careful what you put in that head, because you will never, ever get it out. -Cardinal Thomas Wolsey

Sir Thomas More by Hans Holbein the Younger, circa 1527. For use with RNS-WOLF-SPLAINER, transmitted April 9, 2015. RNS photo via Wikimedia Commons.

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The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. -Winston Churchill

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