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A conference gets cancelled

This is unfortunate: a SF con scheduled for Chicago this March had to cancel after a disagreement with the hotel.

We regret to inform you that Chi-Fi 2014 will not be taking place at the Westin Chicago River North as planned. After several meetings with the staff of the Westin, we had concerns about the ability of their staff to create a welcoming and accepting atmosphere towards our attendees. A senior Westin employee referred to our staff, attendees, and guests as “freaks,” and hotel staff expressed their disapproval of our anti-harassment policy. As we want to put the safety and enjoyment of our guests and attendees first, we requested that the hotel make changes to ensure that our attendees and guests be treated with the same respect as any other Westin hotel guests. By mutual decision, we agreed to part ways with the hotel. We wish to make clear that these views were expressed by staff of the Westin Chicago River North and do not reflect the opinions of the Westin brand or Starwood Hotels. We are grateful to certain individuals working for Westin and Starwood who have been supportive throughout these discussions. Our organization does not condone any sort of retaliatory actions against either Westin or Starwood.

“Freaks”? And why would the hotel want to argue with a policy that discourages harassment?

Oh, well, I’m disappointed with the Westin Chicago River North — a very unprofessional place, apparently — but am impressed with the management of the con. They’re rescheduling for 2015, and it sounds like the kind of event that cares about its attendees, and I hope they are well-attended.

Comments

  1. ChasCPeterson says

    I recall when the sobriquet “Freak” was worn as a badge of honor. (Some of us are still flying our freakflags.)

    hotel staff expressed their disapproval of our anti-harassment policy.

    That one requires some explanation.

  2. says

    Thanks for the coverage, PZ. Chicago’s my hometown and it’s got a really thriving and awesome geek/nerd scene. I know the Chi-Fi Con organizers, and they’ve been working really, really hard on making this con happen and doing it right (it was really fantastic they started out of the gate with a decent anti-harassment policy they were going to stand by). So it’s really disappointing that it’s been derailed for another year because of some short-sighted, narrow-minded jerkbags.

    The con organizers have elaborated a bit more on the problem now that it’s hit the news wires:

    Dobbs said the manager actually referred to those attending as “freaks.”

    “My recollection is that she actually said that ‘costumed freaks are not in keeping with the reputation'” of the hotel, Dobbs said. “That’s not the position of Westin or Starwood … [but] it terrified me.”

    Dobbs continued: “There are famous actors on that [guest] list. I was terrified that we’d have our talent show up and the hotel staff would treat them disrespectfully.”

    Also, according to the organizers, the hotels problem was that they had a harassment policy in the first place, and that they expected hotel staff to respect it and not harass “the freaks” attending the con. (This was stated on Chi-Fi Con’s FB page)

    The bright side of this is seeing Chi-Fi Con do the right thing by canceling the con, rather than put their guests into a venue where they would not be safe or welcome. I’m sure they’ll find a better space and the con will be even better next year.

  3. says

    “And why would the hotel want to argue with a policy that discourages harassment?”

    Unfortunately, I get the feeling the staff wanted to harass the “freaks.” (Did they perhaps think the policy would apply to them as well? Did it?)

  4. says

    hotel staff expressed their disapproval of our anti-harassment policy.

    How nice. They wanted to be able to harass those awful freaks themselves, I suppose. I hope this comes around to bite the Westin Chicago River North, hard.

    Dobbs said the manager actually referred to those attending as “freaks.”

    “My recollection is that she actually said that ‘costumed freaks are not in keeping with the reputation’”

    I think that manager doesn’t belong in the hospitality business.

  5. carlie says

    Here’s a link to the anti-harassment policy.

    Chi-Fi is dedicated to providing a safe and comfortable convention experience for everyone. Harassment of any kind, including verbal assault, physical assault, battery, deliberate intimidation, stalking, or unwelcome physical attentions, will not be tolerated. If people tell you “no” or to leave them alone, your business with them is done. Leave them alone. Do not follow them or attempt to disrupt their convention experience in any way. If you continue to attempt to have contact with those people, you may be removed from the premises.

    Harassment includes offensive verbal comments related to gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, religion, or dress, sexual images in public spaces, deliberate intimidation, stalking, following, harassing photography or recording, sustained disruption of talks or other events, inappropriate physical contact, and unwelcome sexual attention. Participants asked to stop any harassing behavior are expected to comply immediately.

    We expect participants to follow these rules at all conference venues and conference-related social events.

    Exhibitors in the expo hall, sponsor or vendor booths, or similar activities are also subject to the anti-harassment policy. If a participant engages in harassing behavior, the conference organizers may take any action they deem appropriate, including warning the offender or expulsion from the conference. If you are being harassed, notice that someone else is being harassed, or have any other concerns, please contact a member of conference staff immediately.

    Conference staff will be happy to help participants contact hotel/venue security or local law enforcement, provide escorts, or otherwise assist those experiencing harassment to feel safe for the duration of the conference. We value your attendance.

  6. Alverant says

    @Chas I think “freak” depends on context. It’s one of those labels that is OK to use within the group (like, “We’re all freaks here”), but an outsider using it has negative implications.

    Word is getting out about the hotel. I don’t know if it will be boycotted but I’m pretty sure other sci-fi fans who hear about this are going to think twice before going there. I hope anyone who put a deposit on a hotel room gets their money back. Also I hope the hotel won’t demand any money from the con. I was webmaster at a convention for 3 years and gopher for several years before that. I know hotels can be greedy so-and-sos who will do almost anything to squeeze more money out of a con.

  7. Bernard Bumner says

    @Alverant

    I know hotels can be greedy so-and-sos who will do almost anything to squeeze more money out of a con.

    I’m no great businessperson, but I presume the best way to milk a con would be to politely host it, making everyone feel welcome and ready to spend on that and return visits?

    Am I doing it wrong?

  8. carlie says

    I found in this article that the meeting happened “late last year”, which probably means a few weeks ago – I assume they used that time to carefully research whether they’d still have to pay cancellation fees and whatnot.

    They weren’t just called freaks, the statement was:

    “My recollection is that she actually said that ‘costumed freaks are not in keeping with the reputation'” of the hotel, Dobbs said.

    It also says that the contract was for over $100k.

  9. says

    If you put @Westin into the Twitter search bar, it’s… not pretty. And the FB page for the Westin Chicago River North has some unhappy comments. John Scalzi, Mary Robinette Kowal, Jim C. Hines and Scott Edelman have all tweeted about it and it’s getting shared all over the place.

    I imagine whoever’s handling Westin’s social media is not in a happy place right now.

    AFAIK, the Westin River North and Chi-Fi Con dissolved a contract worth $100K (that’s not a small chunk of change the hotel has now lost out on), and the hotel will be refunding any room deposits for cancellations. Likewise, the con is refunding all their registration fees to attendees.

    Chicago has a pretty well-connected nerd community and we talk to each other. While other Westin’s in the Chicagoland area have long-standing healthy relationships with their cons (Capricon is out in Wheeling and both WindyCon and Chicago TARDIS have been at the Westin in Lombard), the Westin River North is NOT going to come out of this well.

  10. Al Dente says

    I strongly suspect someone from corporate headquarters is asking that manager questions like “explain in detail why you should continue in your job?” and “why did you kiss $100K goodbye?”

  11. paul says

    If a participant engages in harassing behavior, the conference organizers may take any action they deem appropriate, including warning the offender or expulsion from the conference.

    I don’t think the con could enforce this clause on hotel staff.

    A bit of background–A lot of hotels don’t particularly like SF conventions because the attendees are not on expense accounts like a lot of industry conventions, and so do not spend nearly as much money. Plus, we’re weird. Oh, and SF fen tend to bring kids more than, say, a chiropractors convention would.

    I wish there were lower class options that had enough function space. A venue that would say, “Well shucks, you folks did only one-tenth as much damage as the Harley convention last month, why don’t y’all come back next year?” A venue that wouldn’t bat an eye at someone setting up a Tesla coil demonstration. Hey, a guy can dream…

  12. carlie says

    I wish there were lower class options that had enough function space.

    College campuses during the off term would be an interesting option. Many academic conferences sometimes use colleges, and attendees are often most grateful for a $30 a night room even though that means bringing their own sheets. Might be a thought. Lots of colleges are in big budget crunches and looking for ways to make a buck and get as much utility out of their spaces as possible.

  13. Acolyte of Sagan says

    Surely the ideal venue would be the TARDIS? Plenty of space for all and operated by a sci-fi fan.

  14. sqlrob says

    @Acolyte of Sagan, #14

    Surely the ideal venue would be the TARDIS? Plenty of space for all and operated by a sci-fi fan.

    You want to try to fit thousands of people through that single door?

  15. Acolyte of Sagan says

    15.

    sqlrob

    14 January 2014 at 7:18 pm (UTC -6)

    @Acolyte of Sagan, #14

    Surely the ideal venue would be the TARDIS? Plenty of space for all and operated by a sci-fi fan.

    You want to try to fit thousands of people through that single door?

    Patience is a virtue.

  16. Artor says

    sqlrob, you just gather them together & materialize around the crowd. Easy peasy! Or should I say timey wimey?

  17. carlie says

    One problem: stowaways.

    Second problem: people getting lost.

    Third problem: somebody’s going to pee in the TARDIS pool, and she won’t like that very much.

  18. shoeguy says

    The Westin Chain shall feel the wrath of the Alpha Geek. Decades from now children, on a walk with their Mom and Dad will point to the ruin that was once The Westin and ask what that derelict was back in the day, and a parent shall. Reply, “those crumbling walls once held up a mighty hotel, but the owners crossed the wrong geeks and the rest is history”.

  19. David Marjanović says

    AFAIK, the Westin River North and Chi-Fi Con dissolved a contract worth $100K (that’s not a small chunk of change the hotel has now lost out on)

    0.0001 billion here, 0.0001 billion there, and pretty soon it adds up to real money!

  20. carlie says

    The hotel has put out a statement:

    Providing a hospitable, welcoming environment is the essence of our business, and The Westin Chicago River North is extremely disappointed in the false claims being made by Chi-Fi Con. Our team worked diligently to accommodate this group booking, and we never objected to the organization, its attendees or the anti-harassment policy. After much discussion, Chi-Fi Con asked to be allowed out of their contract when it became clear that mutual needs could not be met, and we agreed. We are disappointed that we were unable to resolve the situation.

    That’s… not going to help in the way they think it will.

  21. carlie says

    I can’t imagine a situation in which the conference organizers would be so belly-up in their contract (owing too much more than they could afford, for instance) that they’d be willing to risk a lawsuit by publicly blaming the hotel like that. Not to mention there was some risk that the con-goers would be upset with them too.

  22. says

    Yeah…. that official statement is disappointing (to put it mildly). Apparently asking hotel event management to treat con goers like people and not “costumed freaks”, and that hotel staff would provide any needed support should con staff have instances of harassment to deal with, were needs this hotel could not meet. In which case, it really is best that the contract’s been dissolve as clearly this is the WRONG establishment for a con that wants to provide a welcoming venue.

  23. Alverant says

    Well Bernard, it depends. The smart thing to do would be to work with the con (assuming the con behaves itself and doesn’t wreck the rooms) to get years of happy customers. But that’s only if you’re smart and thinking long term. If you’re thinking short term (as in being in receivership or planning to find a better job in 2 years) then you want to lock the con into a multi-year contract long enough to CYA then take them for granted. Not many cons have people good at negotiating contracts and there’s always “last minute” things that can tilt things in your favor if the convention has an inexperienced person drawing up the contract. “What’s that, you want a consuite? Sorry we can’t allow that. Your attendees will have to buy our snacks and meals. Oh and did we mention, no outside food.”

  24. Alverant says

    @carlie
    I’m not sure how many conventions you’ve been to, but I’ve experienced some pretty crappy stuff from hotels and heard worse. For myself, the hotel changed owners and decided it wanted to redo the contract and was making unreasonable demands. We were able to get most of what we wanted, but the hotel effectively split the con into two parts, one on each side of the hotel. Did I mention this was a “resort” hotel that grew like an amoeba since the 1920s (yep, Al Capone stayed there) making it about half a mile from one end to the other? Did I also mention that convention goers aren’t always the most physically fit and some of them have mobility problems due to age or accidents? Some people had to DRIVE from one end of the hotel to the other to attend panels. The hotel treated us so badly I thought it would kill the convention itself. We couldn’t have a feedback panel like we claimed because it would have turned into an hour of complaining about the hotel. We couldn’t say anything bad about the hotel because the contract wasn’t over and we couldn’t risk giving them an excuse to demand more money.

    That’s not the worst of it. I heard of times of hotels closing down and not telling the convention. And promising the pool will be open and suddenly deciding that was the weekend they would do maintenance (and in one case it was under construction). Few hotels respect fan conventions. They’d rather have a business convention instead.

  25. Joey Maloney says

    On the one hand, this reported statement is entirely consistent with the kind of thing I’ve occasionally experienced both as a con runner and attendee – though I have to say it’s gotten MUCH rarer over the past couple of decades.

    On the other hand, Adam-Troy Castro is posting on his FB that, based on some info he hasn’t yet disclosed, he tends to believe the hotel’s version. So for now I reserve judgement.

  26. jnorris says

    Dobbs said the manager actually referred to those attending as “freaks.”

    “My recollection is that she actually said that ‘costumed freaks are not in keeping with the reputation’” of the hotel, Dobbs said. “That’s not the position of Westin or Starwood … [but] it terrified me.”

    I wonder how senior management would feel about having the Shriners at the Weston? Or several Scots clans for highland games?

  27. Ichthyic says

    Not many cons have people good at negotiating contracts and there’s always “last minute” things that can tilt things in your favor if the convention has an inexperienced person drawing up the contract. “What’s that, you want a consuite? Sorry we can’t allow that. Your attendees will have to buy our snacks and meals. Oh and did we mention, no outside food.”

    all of a sudden, Ed’s headaches dealing with organizing his first con are a bit more appreciated by myself.

  28. anuran says

    The Chicago Westin is run by idiots. Cons bring in money. By doing this they have lost a lot of money and created nationwide ill-will. And it’s all because someone at the hotel has trouble with the idea that attendees want extra precautions to make sure everyone is happy while staying at the place.

  29. madtom1999 says

    Anywhere know where I can buy shares in a rapidly expanding hotel/conference centre chain that would allow this sort of event to take place as desired by the people paying the damn money?
    The rational dollar?

  30. Thumper: Token Breeder says

    “Freaks”?

    Oh, didn’t you know? The majority of people do not enjoy Sci-Fi or dressing up as Sci-Fi characters. Therefore anyone who does is a freak and worthy of derision. It’s simple! They’re in the minority! It’s not like they matter!

    And why would the hotel want to argue with a policy that discourages harassment?

    I’m not sure, but I bet it’s something to do with the availability of frozen fruit.

  31. Thumper: Token Breeder says

    @Joey Maloney #26

    On the other hand, Adam-Troy Castro is posting on his FB that, based on some info he hasn’t yet disclosed, he tends to believe the hotel’s version. So for now I reserve judgement.

    You could simply make a judgement, and if Castro’s as-yet-undisclosed info ever emerges, you can take that into account and change your opinion.

    I am always suspicious of people who say “I have info that disproves this! But I’m not going to disclose it.” Even, or perhaps especially, if there is an implied “….yet” on the end of that sentence.

  32. Joey Maloney says

    @Thumper, you are free to do that. Bonus points if you can do it without being snotty, but I know this is the internet and all.

    I know Adam-Troy and I trust his judgement and discretion, so I have made the judgement to not set my hair on fire until I hear more about the story. Anyway, I’m eight timezones away from Chicago so it’s not especially dire if I don’t immediately have, much less broadcast, a fixed opinion.

  33. photoreceptor says

    Don’t know quite where to post this, but have any of you atheists (which includes me) read this article from the Daily Telegraph, UK: http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/seanthomas/100231060/are-atheists-mentally-ill/
    The column is pretty crappy, it seems the guy is playing the agent provocateur, and some of his other columns include casting serious doubt on global warming… ’nuff said – but it would be nice to hear what other atheists (sorry about your short, selfish, stunted life) think about this stuff. I could postulate, if what he says is true, that self-delusion – in the case of religious belief – would tend to make one blissfully ignorantly happy, which would affect life span, etc. And as a neuroscientist, I refute the idea that our brains are hard-wired for faith. We are probably all scared shitless by the thought of death when we first grasp mortality, but having neural circuits looking for a way to fool ourselves?

  34. carlie says

    Photoreceptor – that conversation would be better brought up in the Thunderdome or Lounge – both can be found as links on the sidebar right above PZ’s picture. It has nothing to do with the OP.

  35. photoreceptor says

    ok thanks – I did look at the lounge, but the other comments were so diverse I thought it would get lost.

  36. Alverant says

    I am glad we’re focusing just on this one Westin and not having it spill over to the others.

    There are other Westins in Chicagoland (Lombard, Itasca, North Shore, and probably more) that have hosted sci-fi cons for years and have been very good hotels. North Shore has been so convention-friendly it actually picked up a second con. I’ve been going to Windycon in Lombard for years and that Westin has been awesome. They even allowed the consuite to have booze. I hope they stay there for years to come.

    I hope the Westin corporation comes down hard on this one. They can point to all the other conventions their other branches which have hosted conventions and say, “They’ve been good to the fan community. Why weren’t you?”

  37. says

    From what I’ve been reading elsewhere, this seems to have been what happened:

    The organizers signed a contract with the Westin a year before the event. Then hotel management was restructured and the head office sent in a new team. The new managers insisted on changing the contract, demanding more money for deposits, bonds and additional security. The organizers tried to be accommodating, but it was too late in the planning cycle to increase conference rates or otherwise raise the thousands of dollars that the new requirements would cost. The negotiations became heated and both sides said things they probably should not have. They finally reached an agreement that the situation had become too toxic for the convention to be held.

    With Westin and Starwood, such renegotiations after the contract had been signed seems to be common: wait until organizers cannot really object, then spring a bunch of new “requirements,” essentially extorting organizers for more money. However, there has been some chat on Facebook and Twitter by people who were part of the organizers who fault a confrontational organizer who served as hotel liaison and poor planning on the part of the convention’s executive committee. In short, it seems that both sides are at fault, and the only question is who carries the larger burden of blame. We probably will not have a clear answer unless someone sues for breach of contract and a judge rules.

  38. Alverant says

    Gregory I would put the fault with the hotel who wanted to change the contract. Once a contract is signed you can’t change it suddenly. It IS extortion and I can’t blame the convention for getting angry. I’ve been with bad hotel liaisons before, but the primary fault should be placed at the feet who started the mess.

  39. says

    @GeekMelange #39 – Mostly, my info comes from conversations in a private FB group geared towards SF/F convention organizers. I’m sure I can dig up more public sources, but I cannot access FB or Twitter from behind my employer’s firewall so that will have to wait until I get home in about 8.5 hours. Sorry.

    @Alverant #40 – The hotel certainly seems to have instigated the problem, but more experienced con organizers (see response to GeekMelange) say that Chi-Fi’s response should have been a calm, “We have a contract and it is too late for us to renegotiate. Surely, you do not want a lawsuit over breach with all the attendant bad publicity. Right?” sent on law firm letterhead. But giving in to demands for renegotiation is a forgivable rookie mistake: allowing the renegotiations to devolve into an exchange of insults took both sides. And, keep in mind that we have really only heard the convention’s side of the story.

    As I said before, I doubt that the full facts of the matter will come out unless a breach of contract lawsuit is argued in open court. If no one files suit, or if the convention and hotel reach an out-of-court settlement, we’ll probably never know what actually happened.

  40. Thumper: Token Breeder says

    @Joey Maloney

    Apologies if I was snotty, didn’t mean to be. But surely anyone saying “Oooh, I have info that disproves this, but of course I can’t tell you now” rings alarm bells? It always does with me. No matter how much I know someone, them saying “I will have evidence which will change your opinion… soon *looks mysterious*” is generally going to result in me telling them that when said evidence miraculously appears then I will consider it, but either present it or fuck off.

    I guess what I’m asking, in the least possible snotty way, is why you think vague claims of future evidence is a reason not to judge the case on the currently available evidence? Regardless of how much you know the promiser.

  41. says

    That’s a surprise. I was recently at a 50th anniversary Doctor Who convention at one of their sister hotels about half-an-hour away (the Westin Lombard), and we were embraced enthusiastically to the point of stills from the show being shown on the hotel’s electronic lobby displays through the entire weekend.

  42. Alverant says

    Yep kevinparker, the Westin Lombard has hosted Windycon for years. They know how to treat convention goers. (see #25) There’s something to be said for steady customers. :)

  43. David Wilford says

    FWIW, I’ve been to three SF conventions held at the Westin hotel in Lombard, including one this past fall, and the hotel’s staff was very accommodating and friendly to the fans attending, including the costumed ones. So I’m not quite ready to designate the downtown Westin as the new Purple Hyatt, based on what I’ve learned so far.

  44. Alverant says

    @David
    I heard about what happened at Purple Hyatt. I was at the first two Anime Reactors but lost interest in it by the time they went there (IIRC). The thing is hotels can be different from each other, even in a chain. They’re only united by a name and some beauarcy (sp). It’s not like McDonalds where one is pretty much exactly like another. Just as I’ve been hoping any bad feelings towards this Hyatt won’t spill over to the others who have done a good job, I also hope that any good feelings earned by the other Hyatts won’t rub off on this one. Each hotel has to earn it’s own reputation and not get a boost or penalty from the others.

  45. David Wilford says

    @ Alverant

    What you say is true. For instance, I don’t judge my opinions of all Sheraton’s Four Points hotels on the basis of the time I went to a con at one that featured toilets in stairwells and a fire in a construction dumpster conveniently located below the consuite room. (We joked that the Sheraton definitely scored four points out of ten.) But I know that the management of hotels do talk to one another, especially within chains, and I’m pretty sure the downtown Chicago Westin knew what they were getting into with Chi-Fi as an event. So I’d want to hear a bit more about what happened before assigning blame in this case.

  46. Alverant says

    #47
    I heard of story! It was years ago and I know some hotels learned from that. Some of those things are scary. I was part of a convention that decided to switch hotels for some reason. It wound up being a good thing because the hotel suddenly closed. Unfortunately our liaison was a bit rude to the hotel reps who wound up working for the hotel the con was at the following year. Yes, that did come back to bite us so we had to go to the resort hotel.

  47. says

    David Wilford:

    According to the Chi-Fi con-chair, the con’s harassment policy had to apply to the hotel’s staff as well. The hotel management disagreed that it should

    Well that tells me that the hotel management isn’t as concerned about the safety and well-being of their guests as they should be. Anti-harassment policies are there to offer security for everyone.

  48. davidjanes says

    I know this is rather late to the party, but from the bit of research I can do, it appears that the hotel in question is unionized. Depending on their relationship with UNITE-HERE Local 1, management might be concerned that the anti-harassment policy would be a work condition covered by collective bargaining. Unions tend to be really sticky about changing work requirements, as management requiring “flexibility” has been used for all sorts of anti-union crap in the past.

  49. says

    I have no doubt Chi-Fi’s was well-intentioned, but the Westin Hotel in Chicago has gone on record in the press denying that they disapproved of the Chi-Fi fans or the harassment policy. They also stated to the press that Dobbs (the Chi-Fi organizer) was the one who asked to withdraw from the agreement to host the event there. Westin has publicly stated that Dobbs has “made false statements” in regard to this matter. Westin is a Union hotel, and I can easily see how they would not risk violating their collective bargaining agreement with staff by forcing them to sign off on Chi-Fi’s policy. That is simply prudent for the hotel and not a judgement on Chi-Fi or their policy. I’m here in Chicago and I can tell you that Dobbs is presenting one story and the hotel is presenting another. In the way things are being presented here in the Chicago coverage, I would not be so quick to assign blame on the hotel.

  50. says

    Actually, the Westin walked back their “false claims” statement when they provided their response to the local Fox affiliate covering the story during the Wed. am morning segment. It was not included in what was essentially the same response they’ve been posting to the negative reviews on the FB page for the Westin River North facility. They reiterated the “mutual needs could not be met” and “the contract was mutually dissolved” points, which Dobbs didn’t contradict. He actually pointed out that this was accurate, as the con “needed to be treated with respect and the hotel needed for them not to be there.”

    The majority of information has been coming from Chi-Fi Con because the Westin has not elaborated past their boilerplate responses.

    There’s a “Nicholas” who’s been consistently missing the point about how harassment policies work at cons on the Chicagoist’s coverage of this story, would you happen to be the same? Because the point about how harassment policies work is that:

    1) people get to determine for themselves if they feel they’ve been harassed, and a harassment policy provides people with instructions for what to do if they feel they need to make a report about it. It’s then up to the con to decide how to proceed, whether it’s with mediation/clarification, or removing a problem attendee from the premises.

    2) It’s absolutely reasonable for a facility to ask an event to clarify what they expect from the hotel in terms of support and action in cases of harassment being reported. These are things that cons and venues negotiate and clarify all the time, in order to make sure that harassment policies are viable and workable because they protect everyone’s interests, including the venue. And given the amount of misconceptions about the need for harassment policies, how they work and what they mean (hint: an event having a policy does not mean that harassment is a major problem or that attendees will be harassed), it’s not surprising when venues ask for clarification or have “concerns”. It’s disappointing, but not unexpected.

    3) The problem with Chi-Fi Con and the Westing CRN, according to what Dobb’s has said about the “freaks” comment by the event planner, and the fact that the hotel’s GM shared the view that the con wasn’t fitting to the “Four Seasons atmosphere” the hotel wanted, is that as the hotel evidently already had a negative view of the con, there was no chance for the con organizers to address any concerns the hotel had about the policy, as the con decided the negative and hostile hotel attitude precluded any efforts the con could have made on that front. Dobbs has stated that had the hotel not been negative toward the con, they would have worked with the hotel to clarify the policy, the con’s expectations and found a way to make it work for everyone involved.

    Ultimately, it looks like the problem stemmed from the hotel’s negative attitude about cons in general. The hotel’s problem with the con’s harassment policy, whatever that actually was, looks to be an offshoot of the core issue and couldn’t be resolved due to the hotel’s attitude indicating it wasn’t open to the con being there anyway.

    All of this has been covered by various news outlets, if you’d bother to look.

  51. says

    Yes, I am the same. I have seen all of that coverage. Again, I reiterate that Chi-Fi is welcome to their well-intentioned harassment policy. But, they must understand that the Westin has a legal CBA agreement with their staff. If the Westin requires their staff to agree to Chi-Fi’s policy, they risk violating the CBA. The Westin staff are not, and according to the CBA cannot, be required to agree to Chi-Fi policy. I have no beef with Chi-Fi and their policy (I have stated I think it is unnecessarily specific), but it is equally unreasonable to demand the Westin violate (and thus possibly nullify) the CBA it has with it’s staff. Davidjames has raised the same issue. The Westin has legal obligations to it’s staff that may, in fact, restrict it’s ability to agree to Chi-Fi’s policy. As I said, this is not a criticism of Chi-Fi’s well-intentioned policy. But, it is also not a reason to dump on the Westin.

  52. says

    The Westin has legal obligations to it’s staff that may, in fact, restrict it’s ability to agree to Chi-Fi’s policy.

    What part about Dobbs’s statement: “If I had not found the Westin River North staff hostile, negative, and mortified by our community I would have worked very hard to resolve differences” are you incapable of understanding? This issue has already been asked and answered, so your repetition is looking a lot like willfully missing the point and begging the question until you get the answer/response you want.

    You’re also completely ignoring the fact that a lot of people are “dumping” on the Westin for that ill-advised “costumed freak” crack made by the hotel’s event planner, and the fact that the hotel’s GM apparently held the same viewpoint, making the hotel a very unwelcoming place for the con to be at all.

    I’ll note again that the Chi-Fi people have been very, very clear about the fact that their problem was with the Westin Chicago River North facility only and not the Westin/Starwood brand, which they have had nothing but good things to say about working with. Actually, the reason the Chi-Fi Con reached out to that hotel chain was because the Westins in the Chicago area have had a good history hosting long-running cons like Capricon, WindyCon and Chicago TARDIS.

    Further, I’ll note that the vast majority of critical responses on the Westin’s FB page for both that hotel and corporate, as well as on Twitter, has been angry, disappointed and upset but not abusive.

    *YOU* don’t feel the need to “dump” on the Westin? That’s fine. But you really ought to rethink exactly what kind of objections you’re bringing up here, because they are neither novel nor new, especially since you feel the need to copypasta your response on Skepchick’s coverage as well.

    Which, by the way, I see that one of the con organizers who was at the convention has also responded to you, noting that the hotel, did indeed hold an erroneous and regrettable viewpoint that the con having a policy must have meant that they had problem attendees/members. A viewpoint that the con could have tried to address had the hotel been ok with having them there in the first place.

  53. says

    PZ himself wrote: ““Freaks”? And why would the hotel want to argue with a policy that discourages harassment?”

    My post is a reply to that question.

  54. David Wilford says

    For my part, I’m reserving any further speculations about Chi-Fi until the number of pre-registrations they had is made public. Any pointers in that regard would be appreciated.

  55. says

    A spectacularly obtuse reply, to be sure, as your follow-ups continue to miss the point in the same manner that you willfully ignored the refutations that Anne responded with in her replies to you on the Chicagoist. Enjoy your status as Today’s Dunning-Kruger’s Favorite Child, we’re done here.

  56. David Wilford says

    P.S. – I don’t know if the hotel would be forthcoming about it, but it would also be interesting to know how many rooms had been reserved for Chi-Fi as well.

  57. says

    Yes, I post in many forums as do you. I copy and past to save typing. I did see the response. And, while you say that “that the hotel, did indeed hold an erroneous and regrettable viewpoint”, the exact wording of that person’s statement was: “The hotel staff seemed to believe that the fact that we had a policy was an indication that there was something wrong with our attendees and/or guests.”

    So, did the Hotel staff hold the viewpoint or only seem to hold the viewpoint? I think this is important because it is already been made clear that BOTH sides agreed to terminate the deal. Chi-Fi thinks they were treated unfairly. OK, fine. But, the Con both sides agreed to cancel. Dobbs says it was because Westin was mean. Westin says otherwise.

  58. says

    David – AFAIK, that conversation is happening elsewhere on FB, but it’s in a private group so I can’t link to it or repeat what’s going on in there w/o violating people’s privacy. I have no knowledge of if the con will say anything publicly about those issues or not, but if they make anything public, I will be covering that as well.

  59. says

    I argued that the Westin may have been getting a bad rap here. Others, who are privy to more information than I agree.

    “What is certain is that Chi-Fi chose to push two of the hottest buttons in fandom to make their case. The convention’s claims were designed to gain sympathy from the fannish community – and it certainly received it.

    Those claims also seem to have been designed to obscure what is – based on the information that has been obtained so far – the more likely scenario: that Chi-Fi was very unlikely to book their contractual obligation with the hotel by the specified time and that cancellation of the event was inevitable”

    http://amazingstoriesmag.com/2014/01/pushing-fannish-buttons-chi-fi-vs-westin-river-north-hotel-chicago/

  60. says

    Exactly. And, what I find somewhat disturbing is that this suggests Chi-Fi manipulated the fannish community with inflammatory rhetoric to cover it’s own ineptitude and found that rather easy to do.

  61. David Wilford says

    It was more than rather easy to do, hence my earlier skepticism about taking the accusation made against the hotel about Chi-Fi’s harassment policy at face value.

  62. says

    Actually, “amazingstories”, what at least I found there was an example of how, in his haste to caution readers not to jump to conclusions about the cancellation, the author jumped to unwarranted conclusions about Ms Trota’s involvement with the convention organizers. It’s good that he corrected the article, but it’s bad that he even went there in the first place.

    Of course, the whole post is all about how we should not jump to conclusions regarding the cancellation, even as it pushes an unwarranted hypothesis that the cancellation was due to malfeasance on the part of the convention runners, when many other scenarios (inexperience, lack of funds to pursue another venue, and even *gasp!* the story as told by the con runners being true) could explain things just fine. The assumption on the part of the writer that newcomers MUST be deliberately screwing up and then blaming it on others reeks of old-guard snobbery of the sort I’ve come to expect from some corners of fandom, the corners that Amazing Stories’ writers represent very well.

    This all reinforces my conviction that Amazing Stories, since its unfortunate resurrection, has been little more than a glorified blog trying to trade on the cachet of their namesake, populated by the sorts of fans who proclaim that science-fiction is a grand vision of the future, even while they oppose any and all attempts to advance the genre past the tropes of the pulp era. See, for instance, Paul Cook’s very unfortunate “When Science Fiction Is Not Science Fiction” essay from back in September, which was the literary critical equivalent of “Damn you kids, get off my lawn!”, but somehow less eloquent.

  63. trinioler says

    It should be noted that Nicholas, despite not making it totally clear, writes for Amazing Stories, and just sock-puppeted…

    Monitors? Can someone ping PZ please.

  64. David Wilford says

    Eh, get back to me when you have more than hand-waving to offer to the documented correspondence between the Chi-Fi concom and the hotel. It’s pretty damning in light of Dobbs’ later actions.

  65. says

    David Wilford @70:

    You have an interesting definition of the word “damning”, if you think that the emails shown at the Amazing Stories link show anything other than the normal kinds of interactions you would find between two parties like this, in a situation like this. There is nothing there which refutes the Chi-Fi convention organizers’ version of events, nor does it provide especially strong bolstering of the hotel’s version.

    Unless, of course, you are already predisposed to reading that interpretation into the narrative, which would contradict your stated “not taking sides yet” position, but which WOULD be consistent with your subsequent statements.

  66. David Wilford says

    When the hotel says it was o.k. with cancelling the contract and willing to forego all charges for doing so, Dobbs’ subsequent blaming the hotel for adding extra costs to the event sounds more than dubious, in fact, it sounds evasive. Which is why I want to know what the pre-reg numbers were, as well as the number of rooms that had been reserved. Further silence on both does not inspire confidence in Dobbs’ version of events.

  67. says

    When the hotel says it was o.k. with cancelling the contract and willing to forego all charges for doing so, Dobbs’ subsequent blaming the hotel for adding extra costs to the event sounds more than dubious, in fact, it sounds evasive.

    How do you figure? Adding extra costs BEFORE Chi-Fi decided they wanted to cancel, and then deciding “Oh, well, we’ll forgo the costs of cancellation” AFTER Chi-Fi decided to cancel, are not contradictory. In fact, they support the idea that what the hotel really wanted was Chi-Fi gone.

  68. David Wilford says

    I figure because the simple fact that the subject of cancellation came up at all shows there was doubt about the viability of the event. All we have is Dobbs’ claim about extra costs being added by the hotel, which to me sounds like an excuse. Until we know the pre-reg numbers and the rooms reserved, it’s Dobbs who looks bad here.

  69. says

    You’ve already decided that the explanations of bad attitude and hostility, and especially hostility to the idea of the harassment policy, are to be dismissed? Those would be reason enough to want to cancel, especially since it was on too short a notice to get another venue.

  70. David Wilford says

    Based on the information received so far, from what I can tell Chi-Fi fell short of a room night target late last fall, and that’s when the possibility of cancelling the event was mentioned. It wasn’t until later that other reasons were spoken of by Dobbs. So the hotel’s alledged hostility to Chi-Fi does seem a bit fishy. The World on has been held four times in downtown Chicago and I’m sure the Westin had a book on SF cons and were aware of the nature of the event. It could be that if the room block was falling short that Chi-Fi didn’t want to share the hotel with mundanes and that was a factor in this flap. I suspect as more comes out that we’ll have a better idea about what happened. If it doesn’t, well, good luck finding a hotel anyway.

  71. says

    Based on the information received so far, from what I can tell Chi-Fi fell short of a room night target late last fall, and that’s when the possibility of cancelling the event was mentioned.

    I have not seen this evidence. Where is it?

    Or is it the evidence that your friend can’t disclose yet?

  72. David Wilford says

    Oh, it’s an educated guess on my part, based on the mention by Dobbs of there being few rooms booked, likely due to the high cost of $169/night. I think panic started setting in because of that, and not because the hotel was hatin’ on geeks.

  73. says

    I do not and have never written anything for Amazing Stories. I am not associated with Amazing Stories personally or professionally in any way.

  74. amazingstories says

    Flewellyn,

    Amazing Stories is a multi-author blog – and has never presented itself as anything but that.

    Amazing Stories’ bloggers are independent authors, free to write their own personal thoughts on a variety of subjects, from a variety of viewpoints and a variety of beliefs. (132 varieties at last count.)

    The site has published 2,185 articles since December of 2012. There have been three – 3 – posts that have engendered controversy, one of them being the article you mentioned.

    And you’re complaining about pre-conceived notions.

    “Nicholas” is not a member of the blogging staff, the accusation against that person and the implied inclusion of Amazing Stories in that accusation is completely off base.

    Those two claims that you made are exactly the kind of obfuscatory, button-pushing remarks that you seem to object to yourself.

    I was initially very sympathetic to Chi-Con; I contacted Dobbs first, then attempted to contact the hotel. I did for Dobbs what I did with the hotel – provided him with the information presented to me by the hotel and requested confirmation or denial.

    The moment that I put actual hotel booking numbers in front of him, ALL communication with Chi-Fi ceased.

    Chi-Fi’s version of events would largely have been supported by a denial of the numbers presented by the hotel.

    However, like many others who are still focusing on the alleged dismissal of the anti-harassment policy, you are entirely ignoring other undisputed facts: contract signed in February, 2012. No information regarding attendance, bookings or anything else on the Chi-Fi website until June of 2012.

    Those facts do call into question the experience and knowledge of the crew managing the event.

    Another fact: the undisputed/un-responded to claim by the hotel that the convention had ZERO bookings with the hotel by November of 2012. The convention was required to have a certain percentage of their room block booked by November. ZERO, no matter how you parse it, is not ANY percentage of rooms booked.

    I do not have a copy of the specific contract signed for this event; however, all such contracts that do not involve payment in full for the room block up front have provisions for cancelling or altering the facilities for the event that kick in if the convention does not book its contractual obligation. It’s clear – absent (unforthcoming) claims to the contrary, that the convention did not meet its obligation.

    “The assumption on the part of the writer that newcomers MUST be deliberately screwing up and then blaming it on others reeks of old-guard snobbery of the sort I’ve come to expect from some corners of fandom, the corners that Amazing Stories’ writers represent very well.”

    That’s not an “assumption”. It is a conclusion based on the available evidence – and one that has not been successfully refuted by the convention. As the article stated, producing registration and booking numbers would be more than sufficient to support the convention’s story. There is no longer any impediment to doing so. Two days later and we still have seen nothing.

    I’ll make sure that Amazing’s many younger contributors know that they’ve now been elevated to the ranks of old-guard fandom. In the meantime – how about focusing on the article, instead of trying to distract us all with issues that have little to nothing to do with the matter at hand?

  75. David Wilford says

    ZERO booked rooms? At that point, the logical thing to do would have been to beg forgiveness of the hotel, not demand it from them.

  76. says

    Based on the comment by “amazingstories”, above, I stand by my description of the site. It seems that the writer (obviously Steve Davidson) can’t even tell the difference between a comment I made, and one made by someone else, since it was trinioler, and not me, who professed a belief that Nicholas is a writer for Amazing Stories. I note further that they provide no evidence for their claim that zero rooms were booked, nor do they substantiate this assertion that Dobbs and the rest of the Chi-Fi concom stopped talking to them after they brought up “actual booking numbers”.

    Said booking numbers, if accurate, WOULD be damning, but we have no means of determining whether or not they are accurate, since we only have Davidson’s word for them actually coming from the hotel, or (assuming they did) actually being accurate. There’s also the hilarious assertion that Dobbs and the Chi-Fi concom have some responsibility to refute Davidson’s assertions, or else be assumed to be guilty of them.

    Given the clear agenda that Davidson obviously had in writing this article, it’s pretty easy to understand why Dobbs might not want to continue to communicate with him, and might consider the entire exercise a colossal waste of time.

    Indeed, I am getting the same feeling. Dealing with Davidson, or Nicholas, or Wilford, is a waste of time and effort.

  77. David Wilford says

    Well, all Dobbs has to do is release the pre-registration and room night numbers then. Otherwise they’re the dog that didn’t bark in the night, and you don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to have a clue.

    I mentioned the fact that the management of hotels do talk to each other. So do fans, and we’re pretty good at figuring things out. Including seeing flop-sweat in the form of accusations of there being a “clear agenda” which isn’t even described. Like I said, the least of Chi-Fi’s problems is finding a new hotel given the amount of bullshit Dobbs has been flinging around in hopes of gaining sympathy while covering up what smells like a very fishy operation.

  78. Thumper: Token Breeder says

    @DW

    Er, no. They don’t get to yell “X means that Dobbs is lying! Oh, proof for claim X? Er no, but if Dobbs doesn’t prove we’ve made it up then he’s been proven to be lying!”. That’s not how it works. They made the claim, they back it up. With evidence and that.

  79. David Wilford says

    There’s a reason why when you’re sworn in as a witness in a trial that you’re asked to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, Thumper. Dobbs needs to be forthcoming with both the pre-registration and hotel room reservation numbers as those things indicate whether there was a critical situation with Chi-Fi that was the actual impetus for wanting to cancel the contract with the Westin. Flinging about bullshit accusations about it being the hotel’s fault in an attempt to cover up one’s ass, er, organizational failings does no one any favors.

  80. David Wilford says

    John Scalzi:

    If a convention wants to have a harassment policy and the hotel hosting it disapproves of the convention having such a policy, it’s possible that the hotel is staffed by assholes. However, if a convention decides to publicly and falsely (or at least so incompletely as to effectively falsely) claim that a hotel did not support its desire to have a harassment policy as a way to deflect attention from the convention’s other organizational issues, then it’s not the hotel staff who are being assholes.

    As I said, fans talk with each other. And enjoy popcorn.

  81. amazingstories says

    If you are in a dark room that has one light switch connected to one outlet that has one lamp plugged into it, and suddenly the room has light, you don’t need to make a leap of faith to come to the conclusion that someone must have flicked that switch.

    You can talk about all kinds of other possibilities – aliens did it remotely, someone hid a remote switch under the floor, the wiring in the room is faulty (and has somehow avoided started an electrical fire up until this moment) or posit that one of the old Norse gods is having some fun at your expense.

    We’re dealing with a civil matter here and in the courtrooms in the United States that settle civil matters, the standard is “a preponderance of the evidence”; judges and juries are allowed to make suppositions and inferences regarding the information presented: hard factual evidence is desired, but we change the standard of adjudicating between criminal and civil courts because in civil matters the hard factual evidence is frequently unavailable.

    Ethically, I had to try and present the information from both sides of the discussion as equally and as impartially as I could – which I believe that I accomplished in large measure – and I came to the conclusion I did – the one that favors the bank’s narrative – through the process of examining the information that was available AND through interacting with the individuals involved.

    One has to weigh surrounding actions: who was responsible for sending the press release regarding the cancellation to so many news outlets? why was the convention not switched to one of the other hotels immediately so that the event could be held on its original dates? Why has Chi-Fi clammed up almost entirely following the publication of the Amazing Stories piece – when it was the hotel that was staying mum up to that point? And why the continued refusal to provide any information whatsoever to refute the conclusions in that article?

    What happened on November 25th/26th – and if things were so bad then, why did the convention wait until January to announce the cancellation?

    Why, when it comes right down to it, did the convention sign the contract in February of 2013 and do absolutely nothing to promote the event and get hotel rooms booked until June of 2013?

    When you piece everything together, you are left asking far more questions of Chi-Fi than you are of the hotel. And it absolutely strains credulity that anyone looking at the facts would continue to press the anti-harassment policy issue as being the primary cause behind the whole thing.

  82. amazingstories says

    Flewellyn

    the evidence is the hotel’s statement, on the record, that the convention had a room block of “fewer than 500 room nights” contracted for the event.

    the evidence is the hotel’s statement, on the record, that that the convention had booked “about two dozen room nights”

    the evidence is the hotel’s sales director statement, on the record, that “With a short time until the event, very few guest rooms had been booked and we do not allow any group to use the suites as party rooms.”

    the evidence demonstrates that James Dobbs either completely mischaracterized – or flat out lied – about the hotel’s response to the convention’s complaints and demand to be let out of the contract: Dobb’s stated (evidence you can go watch on youtube) that ““This is a change in policy (the on air statement) from the letter I’ve actually shared with you guys coming from the Westin where they acknowledged and accepted our claims that they had done this.”

    The Westin did absolutely no such thing. The Westn said: Thank you for sending over this letter of cancellation. I see a few inaccuracies in the letter, including but not limited to the reference of assurances to allow advertising o the hotel’s website. This was never agreed to or approved. The hotel offered to create a StarGroups website for the group to advertising the room block on the Groups website. Additionally, when we first met, there was no mention of parties in suites. The only requested suite for a social function was the Presidential Suite, which was contracted to the Group. It is unfortunate that the cancellation letter misrepresents the discussions of the initial planning process that took place prior to contract signing. Regardless, the Hotel will accept your option to cancel this legally binding agreement. The full cancellation penalty that is due for cancelling within 112 days of arrival is $84,570.75

    The Hotel is willing to honor the request to mitigate the cancellation damages for this agreement. The Hotel will accept and finalize cancellation of this agreement upon receipt of a check in the amount of $30,000. This check must be received no later than December 27th, 2014. In the event that the check is ussued and/or received after December 27, 2013, the full cancellation amount for cancelling within 89 days of the event will be due. That amount is $101,484.90.

    Please do not hesitate to reach out to me with any questions you may have.

    Warmest Regards,

    Nothing – NOTHING in that email response comes anywhere close to “acknowledging and accepting” Chi-Fi’s claims.

    I think it is pretty clear that you are the one with an “agenda”, which is to willfully and deliberately ignore the facts and reasonable inferences in order to, I don’t know what…

    Have to say, I’m pretty impressed with the depth of your willfulness.