One of my favorite reads of 2021 has been Smoke Hole: Looking to the Wild in the Time of the Spyglass by Martin Shaw. He's an English guy, but the book was published in the United States by Chelsea Green. Another wonderful Chelsea Green book of recent memory is Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter by Ben Goldfarb. It's a great read even if you aren't as nuts about beavers as I am.
Chelsea Green has been on my radar for years because of what I felt was their eco-conscious, pseudo-hippy vibe that I always appreciated. They are employee-owned and based in Vermont ... so what's not to love, right?
It is with significant dismay then that I read this article that came out earlier in the week, "Vermont Publishing House Chelsea Green Is Peddling Coronavirus Misinformation," by Chelsea Edgar. The piece was brought to my attention by a former Chelsea Green employee I've somewhat become friends with on Twitter who essentially left for the reasons detailed in the article. It's an interesting read on many levels, but the gist is that they have had recent massive success peddling a COVID book by "the world's most prolific disseminator of COVID-19 misinformation: Joseph Mercola, an osteopath with 4.3 million followers across 14 social media platforms who has been identified by the Center for Countering Digital Hate as the No. 1 spreader of pandemic falsehoods on the internet." And the company—at least at the helm, which means Margo Baldwin, “who has been the publisher of Chelsea Green and president of its board of directors since 2002"—have no qualms about the terrible message they are profiting from.
Again, I urge you to read it. It’s good journalism.
Despite the outrage, I find the story interesting on so many levels as a microcosm of the world we live in distilled into one company. The strange way opposite ends of the political spectrum—presumed far right vs. presumed far left—often meet. Not to mention the toxicity of the workplace, which seems more common than not, and the horrible way people can act when they are "in charge." How people hang on to jobs in shitty situations because they feel they have no other options. And finally, the distribution of false information, dangerously so as we see with COVID, that people find in their "research" and cling to despite all rational arguments to the contrary.
Here’s an example, more stupid than dangerous, but speaks to willful ignorance. The other day I was waiting in line at the post office, just trying to abide. I caught a few words of conversation between a customer and the USPS employee helping him so I started listening. I don't know how they got to it, but the exchange included gems from the USPS guy (a white dude with his mask around his chin perfectly named "Todd") about how "no one wants to work" and that if someone flipping burgers gets paid $15/hour then "be prepared to pay $20 for a burger." The customer was in full agreement. As was the other nodding USPS worker, who was helping another customer, who also chimed in in agreement. I just kept my mouth shut and chose to spend the rest of the day seething. Because every word was bullshit. Because, for example, this:
Dick’s (magnificent) burgers aren’t $20, friends, and they aren’t going to be.
Here are more useless facts. As of September 17, 2021, per the Montana Department of Labor & Industry, "Montana’s unemployment rate hit a 14-year low, dropping to 3.5% in August. The national unemployment rate for August is 5.2%."
There are better articles out there about work and who isn’t working and all of that. You can find them if you’re interested. My point though is that none of these details matter to the people who refuse to believe unbiased facts because they are coming from "liberal sheep" or from the government, neither of who can be trusted. These folks know what they know, right? Another paragraph from the Chelsea Green piece re: people buying into fringe ideas:
And yet, those kinds of theories occasionally contain some speck of truth, which can make them irresistible to people who already view powerful institutions as self-serving and corrupt. Garrett, the University of British Columbia nursing professor, pointed to the decades of manipulation and deceit by drug-manufacturing giants such as Purdue Pharma, which downplayed the addictiveness of its painkillers and fueled an opioid epidemic that has claimed at least half a million lives.
It's the hardest thing for me to wrap my head around in all of this, this defiance of obvious fact. Especially because I too tend to view powerful institutions as self-serving and corrupt. I hate being told what to do so much as to have rendered myself unemployable. But I'm not someone who is going to see photographs and video of overrun hospitals and think a fix is in. I don't find masks any more inconvenient or uncomfortable than long pants and sensible shoes. I'm happy to surrender some personal convenience for the greater good. People are just more willfully ignorant than I've ever given them credit for despite the efforts of so many people around them to help them understand. I'm sure this just sounds like me being one of those smartest-person-in-the-room people while I pass judgment on others. Believe me, I am fully aware I am little more than a potato.
My highest regards to the Chelsea Green employees though who said, "Fuck this!" and dropped apron. I've had several encounters with moral cowardice lately and it makes me despair for how things are ultimately going to turn out for us. I recognize that not everyone is in a position to make those hard choices, for whatever reason. But the people who can, should. Because if we don't challenge corruption and toxicity, it will never be resolved.
What are you doing these days to deal with everything? I've been meaning to read the classic children's book The Wind in the Willows for a few years now. I picked up a copy in Crested Butte (at Townie Books!). I took it down off the shelf when my friend Thomas (a wonderful writer and a man with an enormous heart) mentioned he was reading it. In pursuit of some sweetness I started reading it too and I'm so happy I did. Now, when I'm out sauntering at the riverbank, I imagine all the little animals gathered away from my stupid, ignorant human eyes having meals together, telling stories, going on adventures. It makes me smile to think about.
I also realize these musings found their way unwittingly into my morning poetry exercise; here's the draft (I’m already seeing things to change) that came out of nowhere just as the sun was lighting the horizon:
I hope everyone can find some sweetness in these days. If something comes to mind, please share! We can all use whatever we can of it….
Friends, I'm going to have this as the footer to all of my newsletters for the foreseeable future. Montana has earned a second seat in the House of Representatives. My friend Cora Neumann is running for it and she has my full support. Winning this seat is critical for the Democrats for maintaining control of the House and it will be one of the big races in the mid-terms. I hope you will consider donating to her campaign, supporting her, etc. The alternative is likely Ryan Zinke, one of the most corrupt politicians Montana has ever sent to D.C.
I'm pretty sure I'm way left of Cora's politics and I make no secret of being no fan of the Democratic party, but until the Left gets its shit together this two-party system is what we have and I'm going to put my efforts as necessary behind the good people operating within it. Cora is one of them.
Website link: https://coraformontana.com/