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Solidarity Economy as Political Economy Creating New Possibilities for Independence and Autonomy


Unlike many alternative economic projects that have come before, solidarity economics does not seek to build a singular model of how the economy should be structured, but rather pursues a dynamic process of economic organizing in which organizations, communities, and social movements work to identify, strengthen, connect, and create democratic and liberatory means of meeting their needs. ~Ethan Miller, from Other Economies are Possible

Nowadays the term solidarity economy is being used to indicate non-capitalist alternative realities that function inside the cracks within the existing capitalist system. The idea and practice emerged in Latin America in the mid-1980s and has subsequently gained more and more popularity. It is a logic that aims to create “economic” structures that oppose the capitalistic structures and strives to generate and sustain autonomy in our economic lives . These realities consist of a post-capitalist horizon of autonomous communities, in which the economy is returned to its place, i.e. to serve human life rather than being its ultimate goal .

At base, the essence of the solidarity economy is political economy, because in its core is enshrined the question of who makes the decisions on economic matters, in contrast to various other economic models, which emphasize the redistribution of wealth regardless of who makes the decisions. One of its main characteristics is direct democracy, which allows everybody participating in it to directly control the ongoing economic processes. Also the process of experimenting in real time, which the solidarity economy encourages, allows us to develop a clearer vision for the institutions and their functions in a participatory society and, thus, to formulate the conditions to transition from active opposition towards questioning the hegemony of the dominant political model.

For a long time now, however, the solidarity economy has been largely neglected by political movements. Maybe because they were too busy with their own affairs or maybe because the activist imagination is trapped in a static or dogmatic notion of utopia that, instead of fomenting action, provokes and encourages radical critique of everything that does not correspond with it.

One of the main reasons many activists decline to participate or support the solidarity economy is the fear that the status quo will co-opt these alternative realities. And while such co-optation attempts do exist and sometimes succeed , the danger that this will be realized on a larger scale is not so great. Or, at least it is not greater than the danger of participating in political lifestyle/subcultural movements . Most important is that the participants in the solidarity economy alone discover and, through their participation, correct its limitations.

Creative resistance acts as a water drop that, with perseverance, breaks the rock.

But the solidarity economy should not be viewed as just an alternative economic practice, but as part of the broader frame of the creative resistance. The logic of creative resistance is to serve as a basis for alternative structures inside the cracks of the contemporary system and not to allow them to become isolated islands of freedom. Instead of aiming only to destroy the contemporary system, creative resistance encourages the creation of the cells and building blocks of a future society founded on solidarity and autonomy, showing that it is possible in practice. And the solidarity economy in particular, by allowing people to lead their lives independently (as much as possible) from the state and capitalist markets, sets the conditions for the creation of a new anthropological type — something that is necessary to create a new world that is more just and democratic.

However we shouldn’t be too eager for quick results, because there is a difference between desire and action. We should always consider our local context and its limitations and try to act in accordance. Creative resistance acts as a water drop that, with perseverance, breaks the rock.

The creative elements that consist in this type of resistance are not limited to the various forms of protest or even to the solidarity economy. They refer to a specific sociopolitical act that is directed, on the one hand, toward a more holistic understanding of today's power structures and the current situation as a whole and, on the other, towards creating possibilities for people to lead more independent and autonomous lives. Creative resistance is not an immediate demand or a program; rather it’s a practical example that aims to build a bridge between the critique of the status quo and the creation of autonomous structures.

Creative resistance can take many forms — such as worker cooperatives, social centers, really free markets, art collectives, etc. — but no one and nothing can guarantee their smooth functioning. It depends upon those participating in it (because of the self-organized character of creative resistance and the solidarity economy in particular) and their social environment – what goals they set and what risks they are willing to take to make sure the transformative character of their project is not limited. If the transformative potential is lost, then we simply cannot talk of creative resistance. However, there are many things that can serve and support the longevity of such projects, such as online media platforms, network coordination and exchange of experience, critical thinking, going over the details, moving beyond the borders of ideological dogmas, cooperation with social movements, etc.

It is important not to give up on the solidarity economy even if projects sometimes fail.

It is important not to give up on the solidarity economy even if projects sometimes fail. Each time we fail in one initiative, we can extract a lot of useful conclusions that help in the future. In a way this is the logic of creative resistance and the solidarity economy in particular — to experiment today with institutions that we would like to have tomorrow, in order to examine their flaws and correct them.

It is important to view the solidarity economy as part of something even broader than creative resistance — it should be seen as part of a general project of direct democracy. Here I speak not for representative democracy (i.e. liberal oligarchy) but for direct democracy (i.e. a democracy simultaneously directed against political domination and economic exploitation), i.e. horizontality - inseparably political (who decides) and functionally economic.

The principle of direct democracy is what makes the above mentioned projects and realities so flexible. During the last years, interest in direct democracy has risen together with the increased critique of authoritarianism (the state) and every form of bureaucracy (syndicates,parties, corporations etc.) operating outside the social base.

Direct democracy, as presented here, is impossible without changes in both the political and economic spheres, more concretely, direct democracy requires establishing collective ownership of the means of production, reclaiming the commons etc. Democracy cannot be direct if people participate in only one public sphere (in the political or in the economic). Therefore a direct-democratic society is not established by seizing the state apparatus but by creating citizen consciousness and federations of self-managed communities in which there is no separation between the political and the economic spheres.

But here we are not speaking of a concrete systemic model. The solidarity economy, creative resistance, and direct democracy are something else. They are realities, practices, and principles that we need to recreate through the prism of our local context. There is no perfect model. Everyone has to create his or her own system suitable for his or her reality, neighborhood, city, region.

Today’s social movements have at their disposal a wide range of ideas and experiences, from which they can extract useful conclusions and tools for their struggles.

But despite the fact that no model can be transferred directly from one place to another, the experience gained by those who resist collectively, such as the Zapatistas, offers knowledge for us all. We can learn from them, and the first thing we learn is that things can be organized in a different way.

Today’s social movements have at their disposal a wide range of ideas and experiences, from which they can extract useful conclusions and tools for their struggles. The critique on authority no longer means chaos, but rather a grassroots struggle for direct democracy, which functions only when the oppressed participate in it. Contemporary forms of resistance aim to cultivate suitable conditions for the fullest expression of both human individuality and the collective satisfaction of the social needs through networks of self-sustaining local communities that coexist in harmony with nature. It is up to us to take advantage of the new horizons that are appearing.


A good example of such structures are the Zapatista’s Coffee Cooperatives





Yavor Tarinski is an activist and community organizer from Bulgaria. He is a compiler of two books in Bulgarian on direct democracy.

When citing this article, please use the following format: Yavor Tarinski (2015). Solidarity Economy as Political Economy. Grassroots Economic Organizing (GEO), http://www.geo.coop/story/solidarity-economy-political-economy

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 License.

'Extinct' bird rediscovered: Last seen in 1941



A scientific team has rediscovered a bird previously thought to be extinct. Jerdon's babbler (Chrysomma altirostre) had not been seen in Myanmar since July 1941, where it was last found in grasslands near the town of Myitkyo, Bago Region near the Sittaung River. The rediscovery was described in the recently published issue of Birding Asia, the magazine of the Oriental Bird Club.

The team found the bird on 30 May 2014 while surveying a site around an abandoned agricultural station that still contained some grassland habitat. After hearing the bird's distinct call, the scientists played back a recording and were rewarded with the sighting of an adult Jerdon's babbler. Over the next 48 hours, the team repeatedly found Jerdon's babblers at several locations in the immediate vicinity and managed to obtain blood samples and high-quality photographs.

The small brown bird, about the size of a house sparrow, was initially described by British naturalist T. C. Jerdon in January 1862, who found it in grassy plains near Thayetmyo. At the beginning of the 20th century, the species was common in the vast natural grassland that once covered the Ayeyarwady and Sittaung flood plains around Yangon. Since then, agriculture and communities have gradually replaced most of these grasslands as the area has developed.

Said Mr Colin Poole, Director of WCS's Regional Conservation Hub in Singapore, "The degradation of these vast grasslands had led many to consider this subspecies of Jerdon's Babbler extinct. This discovery not only proves that the species still exists in Myanmar but that the habitat can still be found as well. Future work is needed to identify remaining pockets of natural grassland and develop systems for local communities to conserve and benefit from them."


Who Needs a Boss?

Deep Thoughts This Week

1. Co-ops are back in style.

2. Because they’re an effective way to battle income inequality.

3. Though they have a hard time attracting capital.

3. Well, duh.


If you happen to be looking for your morning coffee near Golden Gate Park and the bright red storefront of the Arizmendi Bakery attracts your attention, congratulations. You have found what the readers of The San Francisco Bay Guardian, a local alt-weekly, deem the city’s best bakery. But it has another, less obvious, distinction. Of the $3.50 you hand over for a latte (plus $2.75 for the signature sourdough croissant), not one penny ends up in the hands of a faraway investor. Nothing goes to anyone who might be tempted to sell out to a larger bakery chain or shutter the business if its quarterly sales lag. Instead, your money will go more or less directly to its 20-odd bakers, who each make $24 an hour — more than double the national median wage for bakers. On top of that, they get health insurance, paid vacation and a share of the profits. “It’s not luxury, but I can sort of afford living in San Francisco,” says Edhi Rotandi, a baker at Arizmendi. He works four days a week and spends the other days with his 2-year-old son. Arizmendi and its five sister bakeries in the Bay Area are worker-owned cooperatives, an age-old business model that has lately attracted renewed interest as a possible antidote to some of our most persistent economic ills.

Most co-ops in the U.S. are smaller than Arizmendi, with around a dozen employees, but the largest, Cooperative Home Care Associates in the Bronx, has about 2,000. That’s hardly the organizational structure’s upper limit. In fact, Arizmendi was named for a Spanish priest and labor organizer in Basque country, José María Arizmendiarrieta. He founded what eventually became the Mondragon Corporation, now one of the region’s biggest employers, with more than 60,000 members and 14 billion euro in revenue. And it’s still a co-op...In a worker co-op, the workers own the business and decide what to do with the profits (as opposed to consumer co-ops, which are typically stores owned by members who shop at a discount). Historically, worker co-ops have held the most appeal when things seem most perilous for laborers. The present is no exception. And yet, despite their ability to empower workers, co-ops remain largely relegated to boutique status in the United States...Of course, a workplace doesn’t have to be managed by committee in order to channel more of the capital share to labor. Workers can just be given stock. Thousands of companies, including blue-chip firms like Procter & Gamble, already use stock as part of compensation, with the employee share of the company ranging from the single digits to 100 percent. But even this can be just another management strategy to harness the increased productivity that, studies have shown, accompany employee ownership and profit-sharing.

Support for full-fledged co-ops has inched into the mainstream as communities have grown weary of waiting for private investors to create good jobs — or sick of watching them take jobs away. In Cleveland in 2009, hospitals and a university gave seed money to a new group of businesses, the Evergreen Cooperatives, and now contract with them for laundry, energy retrofits and fresh produce. Last month, a government commission in Wales announced that “conventional approaches to economic development” were insufficient; it needed cooperatives. That same month, the New York City Council held a hearing called “Worker Cooperatives — Is This a Model That Can Lift Families Out of Poverty?” It is a good question. Research findings about employee-owned businesses are rarely negative — they are either just as good as regular businesses, or they are more productive, less susceptible to failure, more attentive to quality and less likely to lay off workers in a downturn (though they may be slower to hire when times are good). Take, for example, the employee-owned British retailer John Lewis, which has recently threatened to outpace its publicly traded corporate rival, Marks & Spencer.

One perennial criticism of worker co-ops is that they can’t afford the high-flying talent that would help them innovate. But not every company needs to innovate. Many just need to mop floors, sling burgers or clean linens. And it is usually those companies whose workers struggle most. “We’re not trying to create an Amazon that pays Jeff Bezos to do what he does,” says Melissa Hoover, the executive director of the United States Federation of Worker Cooperatives. “We’re trying to remove Jeff Bezos from the equation and have everyone else make a little more money.” Another persistent critique is that workers don’t have enough experience to make good management decisions. Some co-ops solve this problem just as other businesses do, by buying expertise they don’t already have. In 2008, the owners of a Chicago window factory decided to close it with little notice, and the workers staged a six-day sit-in that made them celebrities overnight. Another owner took over but closed the factory again. The workers bought the equipment and moved it to a new factory, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars with sweat equity. The new company, called New Era Windows, opened last year. Though the workers are still paying themselves minimum wage, they elected to hire a high-priced, experienced salesman to drum up business. New Era was lucky to find financing, borrowing $600,000 from a nonprofit called the Working World, which started lending to co-ops in Latin America and has branched out to the U.S. The biggest challenge co-ops face is lack of capital, which is why they are often labor-intensive businesses with low start-up costs. Banks can be hesitant to lend to co-ops, perhaps because they aren’t familiar with the model. Meanwhile, credit unions — another form of cooperative — face stringent regulations on business lending.

Peasant Sovereignty?


In May 2014, the Spain-based international agrarian organization, Grain, reported that small farmers not only “feed the world with less than a quarter of all farmland,” but they are also the most productive farmers on Earth. For example, small farmers and peasants in nine European countries outproduce large farmers. The “productivity of small farms in Europe is at least twice that of big farms.” This remarkable achievement is not limited to Europe. Grain says: “if all farms in Kenya had the current productivity of the country’s small peasant farms, Kenya’s agricultural production would double. In Central America and Ukraine, it would almost triple. In Russia, it would be increased by a factor of six.”

The European invasion of the tropics in the fifteenth century, the industrialization of agriculture in the nineteenth century, and the triumph of communism in the twentieth century proved catastrophic for peasant societies. These major events remade the world in the image of Europe. The European colonizers carried with them their mechanized agriculture and their distaste for things agrarian. The British ruling class, for example, confiscated the land of British and Irish peasants, expelling many of them to Australia and to the Americas. This stealing of peasant land is what historians now call enclosure. When the Europeans conquered the tropics, they put into practice enclosures. They confiscated the best land for themselves. They taxed and enslaved the native people by forcing them to grow cash crops for export. The rise of communism had equally devastating effects on peasants in Russia, Eastern Europe, China and Southeast Asia. Communism lasted for most of the twentieth century.

This massive violence against peasant life and rural culture shaped our industrialized agriculture. Its failure today is therefore much more than the poisoning of our food and drinking water and the ecological devastation it sows. The blood of peasants and small family farmers is on the hands of industrialized agriculture. Its failure is thus moral and political as well...

Myopia boom: Short-sightedness at epidemic proportions. Scientists think they have found a reason


...East Asia has been gripped by an unprecedented rise in myopia, also known as short-sightedness. Sixty years ago, 10–20% of the Chinese population was short-sighted. Today, up to 90% of teenagers and young adults are. In Seoul, a whopping 96.5% of 19-year-old men are short-sighted. Other parts of the world have also seen a dramatic increase in the condition, which now affects around half of young adults in the United States and Europe — double the prevalence of half a century ago. By some estimates, one-third of the world's population — 2.5 billion people — could be affected by short-sightedness by the end of this decade. “We are going down the path of having a myopia epidemic,” says Padmaja Sankaridurg, head of the myopia programme at the Brien Holden Vision Institute in Sydney, Australia...The condition is more than an inconvenience. Glasses, contact lenses and surgery can help to correct it, but they do not address the underlying defect: a slightly elongated eyeball, which means that the lens focuses light from far objects slightly in front of the retina, rather than directly on it. In severe cases, the deformation stretches and thins the inner parts of the eye, which increases the risk of retinal detachment, cataracts, glaucoma and even blindness. Because the eye grows throughout childhood, myopia generally develops in school-age children and adolescents. About one-fifth of university-aged people in East Asia now have this extreme form of myopia, and half of them are expected to develop irreversible vision loss. This threat has prompted a rise in research to try to understand the causes of the disorder — and scientists are beginning to find answers. They are challenging old ideas that myopia is the domain of the bookish child and are instead coalescing around a new notion: that spending too long indoors is placing children at risk. “We're really trying to give this message now that children need to spend more time outside,” says Kathryn Rose, head of orthoptics at the University of Technology, Sydney.

Vision quest

For many years, the scientific consensus held that myopia was largely down to genes. Studies in the 1960s showed that the condition was more common among genetically identical twins than non-identical ones, suggesting that susceptibility is strongly influenced by DNA1. Gene-finding efforts have now linked more than 100 regions of the genome to short-sightedness. But it was obvious that genes could not be the whole story. One of the clearest signs came from a 1969 study of Inuit people on the northern tip of Alaska whose lifestyle was changing. Of adults who had grown up in isolated communities, only 2 of 131 had myopic eyes. But more than half of their children and grandchildren had the condition. Genetic changes happen too slowly to explain this rapid change — or the soaring rates in myopia that have since been documented all over the world (see 'The march of myopia'). “There must be an environmental effect that has caused the generational difference,” says Seang Mei Saw, who studies the epidemiology and genetics of myopia at the National University of Singapore.

There was one obvious culprit: book work. That idea had arisen more than 400 years ago, when the German astronomer and optics expert Johannes Kepler blamed his own short-sightedness on all his study. The idea took root; by the nineteenth century, some leading ophthalmologists were recommending that pupils use headrests to prevent them from poring too closely over their books. The modern rise in myopia mirrored a trend for children in many countries to spend more time engaged in reading, studying or — more recently — glued to computer and smartphone screens. This is particularly the case in East Asian countries, where the high value placed on educational performance is driving children to spend longer in school and on their studies. A report last year3 from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development showed that the average 15-year-old in Shanghai now spends 14 hours per week on homework, compared with 5 hours in the United Kingdom and 6 hours in the United States. Researchers have consistently documented a strong association between measures of education and the prevalence of myopia. In the 1990s, for example, they found that teenage boys in Israel who attended schools known as Yeshivas (where they spent their days studying religious texts) had much higher rates of myopia than did students who spent less time at their books4. On a biological level, it seemed plausible that sustained close work could alter growth of the eyeball as it tries to accommodate the incoming light and focus close-up images squarely on the retina. Attractive though the idea was, it did not hold up. In the early 2000s, when researchers started to look at specific behaviours, such as books read per week or hours spent reading or using a computer, none seemed to be a major contributor to myopia risk5. But another factor did. In 2007, Donald Mutti and his colleagues at the Ohio State University College of Optometry in Columbus reported the results of a study that tracked more than 500 eight- and nine-year-olds in California who started out with healthy vision. The team examined how the children spent their days, and “sort of as an afterthought at the time, we asked about sports and outdoorsy stuff”, says Mutti.

It was a good thing they did. After five years, one in five of the children had developed myopia, and the only environmental factor that was strongly associated with risk was time spent outdoors. “We thought it was an odd finding,” recalls Mutti, “but it just kept coming up as we did the analyses.” A year later, Rose and her colleagues arrived at much the same conclusion in Australia7. After studying more than 4,000 children at Sydney primary and secondary schools for three years, they found that children who spent less time outside were at greater risk of developing myopia...Based on epidemiological studies, Ian Morgan, a myopia researcher at the Australian National University in Canberra, estimates that children need to spend around three hours per day under light levels of at least 10,000 lux to be protected against myopia. This is about the level experienced by someone under a shady tree, wearing sunglasses, on a bright summer day. (An overcast day can provide less than 10,000 lux and a well-lit office or classroom is usually no more than 500 lux.) Three or more hours of daily outdoor time is already the norm for children in Morgan's native Australia, where only around 30% of 17-year-olds are myopic. But in many parts of the world — including the United States, Europe and East Asia — children are often outside for only one or two hours.


Fifty Shades of Fraud by CHARLES R. LARSON


The call finally came, twice actually. The first was in the morning with the recording informing me that I owe the IRS money and—if I don’t pay—court proceedings will begin immediately. And then the phone number I was expected to call. I hung up and noticed that the number on caller ID was a different one, which I dialed within seconds. I listened to a recording, informing me that that phone number was not in service, but I already knew this was a scam. Then, early evening, the call came again—pay up right away or be hauled off to court. This time I dialed the number they provided (twice) in the recording. And another recording said that all lines were busy but I could leave a message, which I did not. Again, the caller ID number was different than the number I dialed, different than the one in the morning and—when I dialed it—once again, I was informed that the number was not in service.

They’ve become pretty good at this, the crooks making these calls—never using the same number so their tracks are almost impossible to trace—frightening enough people into paying millions of dollars they do not owe. And where is the government in all this? No ability to stop them (remember “I’m Rachel, from card member services”?), so thoroughly annoying that you almost want to pay so they’ll stop calling. The State Department admits that it can’t control the hacking on its site, so why should we believe that lowly citizens can be protected? We’re all left in the open these days, which may be the most frightful thing about the current explosion of fraud everywhere around us. One day will we discover that all of our assets have been removed from our accounts—an amount so massive that the banks will no longer reimburse us for our losses?

I’ve had twenty plus calls from a number professing to be the circulation division of New York magazine, always beginning with the innocuous question, “Are you receiving your New York magazine regularly?” Since I subscribe, I am, yes, receiving it regularly, but I never answer their question. I tell them instead that I do not renew subscriptions over the phone. That I have a multi-year subscription that is not up for renewal. That doesn’t matter. They call me a few days later and the entire sequence begins again. I’ve called the editorial office of New York, and they’ve confirmed (as I already realized) that the calls are a scam and they, also, have no way of stopping them in spite of reporting them to the FBI. It’s beginning to appear that fraud can’t be stopped; it can only metastasize so that it infects everything...Fraud is a growth industry in the United States, but don’t expect that anyone’s going to help you stop it. You’re on your own. It’s increasingly difficult for many people to realize what’s happening to them. At least with the international calls, it’s possible to detect the foreign accent, the semi-articulate speech of some of the scammers, and no number listed for caller ID...Dozens of these fraudsters send me daily emails, many of them from overseas. The Nigeria scam (the millions of dollars in a bank that will be shared with me if, first, I’ll send them a few thousand dollars to pay the service fees) now come from all over Africa, Asia, Russia, Eastern Europe, and the South Pacific. Then the domestic ones, claiming to be the Bank of America or some other American bank where I have never had an account. They want me to respond via the Internet in order to claim funds in my account. I certainly don’t have much faith in American banks in regards to their honesty, but I also know which banks I have never had any dealings with. Then there are the ubiquitous emails with the subject category: Free $50 Target card, $100 Starbucks card, $75 Wal-Mart card and every other blasted chain store in the United States. Often the same email will be resent to me half a dozen times, one right after another. (Forget all the other scams: bigger erections, bigger breasts, bigger feet, bigger tomatoes )....

I’ve come to loathe American capitalism, almost every aspect of it. The subtle and not-too-subtle daily fraud. The frequent errors on billing statements for credit card companies, bank statements, telephone bills and the red tape created so that you give up in your attempt to get that excess charge of, say $15, removed from your bill because you simply don’t have the necessary time (endless phone calls) to get the error corrected. I’ve become pretty good at catching most of these false charges, but what I don’t have is unlimited time to unravel them.


Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University in Washington, D.C. Email: clarson@american.edu.


Finland, Home of the $103,000 Speeding Ticket ATTENTION FERGUSON, MO!


Most of Scandinavia determines fines based on income. Could such a system work in the U.S.?

Reima Kuisla, a Finnish businessman, was recently caught going 65 miles per hour in a 50 zone in his home country—an offense that would typically come with a fine of a couple hundred dollars, at most, in the U.S. But after Finnish police pulled Kuisla over, they pinged a federal taxpayer database to determine his income, consulted their handbook, and arrived at the amount that he was required to pay: €54,000.

The fine was so extreme because in Finland, some traffic fines, as well as fines for shoplifting and violating securities-exchange laws, are assessed based on earnings—and Kuisla's declared income was €6.5 million per year. Exorbitant fines like this are infrequent, but not unheard of: In 2002, a Nokia executive was fined the equivalent of $103,000 for going 45 in a 30 zone on his motorcycle, and the NHL player Teemu Selanne incurred a $39,000 fine two years earlier.

“This is no constitutionally governed state,” one Finn who was fined nearly $50,000 moaned to The Wall Street Journal, “This is a land of rhinos!” Outrage among the rich—especially nonsensical, safari-invoking outrage—might be a sign that something fair is at work.

Finland’s system for calculating fines is relatively simple: It starts with an estimate of the amount of spending money a Finn has for one day, and then divides that by two—the resulting number is considered a reasonable amount of spending money to deprive the offender of. Then, based on the severity of the crime, the system has rules for how many days the offender must go without that money. Going about 15 mph over the speed limit gets you a multiplier of 12 days, and going 25 mph over carries a 22-day multiplier...



Free speech does not arise out of commitment to principle, or out of some newspaper’s editorial policy; it arises out competing sources of information and opinion.

Extreme Life: Tardigrades are so tough, they can survive outer space

Boil them, deep-freeze them, crush them, dry them out or blast them into space: tardigrades will survive it all and come back for more...



Weekend Economists Mark the Vernal Equinox and the Infernal Revenue Service March 20-22, 2015

It's Spring (in most places, even though rotten snow lies in the shadows, or flakes continue to swirl in frigid air), and that means....taxes.

How do the Rich people bear it? After all, with all that income, they must feel as if they are ripping their faces off when they sign that check.

NO, Not Really.

There's this thing for the Obscenely Wealthy known as "Tax Shelter". The Tax Shelter can be "a simple cabin in the far woods" or an "opulent mansion", but if you have to ask, you can't afford one.

So, let's enjoy Spring, and not develop Spring fever over the inequity of it all...

The Seasons (Haydn) SPRING SECTION

The Seasons (German: Die Jahreszeiten) is an oratorio by Joseph Haydn (H. 21/3).


Haydn was led to write The Seasons by the great success of his previous oratorio The Creation (1798), which had become very popular and was in the course of being performed all over Europe.

The libretto for The Seasons was prepared for Haydn, just as with The Creation, by Baron Gottfried van Swieten, an Austrian nobleman who had also exercised an important influence on the career of Mozart. Van Swieten's libretto was based on extracts from the long English poem "The Seasons" by James Thomson (1700–1748), which had been published in 1730.

Whereas in The Creation Swieten was able to limit himself to rendering an existing (anonymous) libretto into German, for The Seasons he had a much more demanding task. Olleson writes, "Even when Thomson's images were retained, they required abbreviation and adaptation to such an extent that usually no more than faint echoes of them can be discerned, and the libretto often loses all touch with the poem which was its starting point. Increasingly during the course of the oratorio, the words are essentially van Swieten's own or even imported from foreign sources."

Like The Creation, The Seasons was intended as a bilingual work. Since Haydn was very popular in England (particularly following his visits there in 1791–1792 and 1794–1795), he wished the work to be performable in English as well as German. Van Swieten therefore made a translation of his libretto back into English, fitting it to the rhythm of the music. Olleson notes that it is "fairly rare" that the translated version actually matches the Thomson original. Van Swieten's command of English was not perfect, and the English text he created has not always proven satisfying to listeners; for example, one critic writes, "Clinging to retranslation, however, is the heavy-handed imagery of Haydn's sincere, if officious, patron. Gone is the bloom of Thomson's original." Olleson calls the English text "often grotesque", and suggests that English-speaking choruses should perform the work in German: "The Seasons is better served by the decent obscurity of a foreign language than by the English of the first version."
Composition, premiere, and publication

The composition process was arduous for Haydn, in part because his health was gradually failing and partly because Haydn found van Swieten's libretto to be rather taxing. Haydn took two years to complete the work.

Like The Creation, The Seasons had a dual premiere, first for the aristocracy whose members had financed the work (Schwarzenberg palace, Vienna, 24 April 1801), then for the public (Redoutensaal, Vienna, 19 May). The oratorio was considered a clear success, but not a success comparable to that of The Creation. In the years that followed, Haydn continued to lead oratorio performances for charitable causes, but it was usually The Creation that he led, not The Seasons.

The aging Haydn lacked the energy needed to repeat the labor of self-publication that he had undertaken for The Creation and instead assigned the new oratorio to his regular publisher at that time, Breitkopf & Härtel, who published it in 1802.

Musical content

The oratorio is divided into four parts, corresponding to Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter, with the usual recitatives, arias, choruses, and ensemble numbers.

Among the more rousing choruses are a hunting song with horn calls, a wine celebration with dancing peasants (foreshadowing the third movement of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony), a loud thunderstorm (ditto for Beethoven's fourth movement), and an absurdly stirring ode to toil:

The huts that shelter us,
The wool that covers us,
The food that nourishes us,
All is thy grant, thy gift,
O noble toil.

Haydn remarked that while he had been industrious his whole life long, this was the first occasion he had ever been asked to write a chorus in praise of industry.

Some especially lyrical passages are the choral prayer for a bountiful harvest, "Sei nun gnädig, milder Himmel" (Be thou gracious, O kind heaven), the gentle nightfall that follows the storm, and Hanne's cavatina on Winter.

The work is filled with the "tone-painting" that also characterized The Creation: a plowman whistles as he works (in fact, he whistles the well-known theme from Haydn's own Surprise Symphony), a bird shot by a hunter falls from the sky, there is a sunrise (evoking the one in The Creation), and so on...

I think we should commission a Paean to Taxes!

Demeter and Persephone Terracotta Myrina 100 BCE

Photographed at The British Museum in London, United Kingdom.
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