April 03, 2007


Caption: Seamus McGoogle would be the happiest of cats if he could get through this window to the birds.

When Solon, the lawgiver of Athens who laid the foundations for its democracy, traveled to Lydia in Asia Minor around 600 BC, he was a guest of Croesus, its fabulously wealthy king.

Herodotus tells us that Croesus had his servants take Solon on a tour of his royal treasuries "and point out the richness and magnificence of everything."

When the inspection was complete, Croesus said,

Well, my Athenian friend, I have heard a great deal about your wisdom, and how widely you have traveled in the pursuit of knowledge. I cannot resist my desire to ask you a question: who is the happiest man you have ever seen?

He was obviously hoping Solon would say "Gee, dude, it's you." (It occurs to El Cabrero that if this guy needed someone else to certify his happiness, it may not have been that great.)

Solon wasn't the flattering kind. He answered simply, "An Athenian named Tellus."

Croesus was taken aback at this answer and the idea of an Athenian nobody being happier than him. He sharply asked "And what is your reason for this choice?"

Solon replied

There are two good reasons. First, his city was prosperous, and he had fine sons, and lived to see children born to each of them, and all these children surviving: secondly, he had wealth enough by our standards; and he had a glorious death. In a battle with the neighboring town of Eleusis, he fought for his countrymen, routed the enemy, and died like a soldier; and the Athenians paid him the high honor of a public funeral on the spot where he fell.

In other words, the happiest mortals have decent and socially useful lives and a dignified death.

Croesus couldn't take the hint and persisted in asking who won the second prize. He didn't like the answer any better, as we'll see tomorrow.

NEW PROGRESSIVE WV BLOG. An amigo of El Cabrero who has adopted the cyber name Antipode has started a new blog with a focus on policy called Mountain State Review, in which he will plumb the nether regions of wonkdom, guiding us through these dark regions in much the manner that Virgil guided Dante in the Divine Comedy. I tried to get him to call it Wonkabilly but he wouldn't. So far there are no gratuitous animal pictures.

AN INTERESTING ITEM on health care appeared in the Sunday NY Times Magazine. It's about the growing but surprising alliance between labor and business in support of universal health care. The author is Jonathan Cohn, who writes regularly and well on policy issues in the New Republic.

THE LUCIFER EFFECT. Over the last few weeks, El Cabrero has been musing over some famous psychology experiments and what they can tell us about ourselves. I was planning on writing about Philip Zimbardo's famous Stanford Prison Experiment. It turns out that Zimbardo has just written a book called The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil. That's going on the list. Here is an interview with the author courtesy of the Times.

NEGLECTED FRIENDS. El Cabrero feels that he has neglected his old friend Wal-Mart lately. I'll try to atone for this lapse tomorrow.


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