It’s like an intelligence test for institutions

So here’s the deal. DragonCon…cancelled, due to the pandemic. Skepticon…cancelled. American Arachnology Society…cancelled. Society for Developmental Biology…cancelled. Convergence…cancelled. Minnesota State Fair…cancelled. Or perhaps, instead of cancelled, I should say postponed, or moved online. It seems a lot of organizations of varying sizes have seen reality and are responding appropriately.

It should make you wonder when you see an event that insists on going on with the show. Like the Minnesota Renaissance Festival, where the organizers seem to believe they actually do live in some kind of faux medieval fantasy land, and are going ahead with plans to open up to the public on 22 August. It was also strange because they teased everyone with an announcement of a big announcement coming “tomorrow”, and I expected it would be an inevitable announcement of a postponement, but no — it was a Very Important Announcement of a discount on the family ticket admission prices. I guess it was essential that everyone know they can get their whole family infected at a reduced price.

Or, when universities announce they’re going to open as planned for the Fall semester. Yeah, fill up those residence halls! Get butts into those seats in the auditoriums! I’m reluctantly going along with our plans for in-person instruction during the pandemic, out of a sense of responsibility to the education of these young people, and also because ICE is goading us by threatening to deport our students who don’t show up, but I have to say that this is another terrible mistake, and I think the whole effort will collapse when the first student comes down with the disease, and we’ll once again have to scramble to rearrange all of our courses.



  1. doubter says

    Rampant disease was part of the genuine medieval experience. I admire their dedication to historical verisimilitude.

  2. jrkrideau says

    I believe the Renaissance was a bit late for some of really big plagues but a nice local Black Death or maybe cholera would have been common. Which reminds me Mongolia and China have 3 or 4 Bubonic Plague cases at the moment. No recent reports on any cases in in North America.

  3. whheydt says

    One factor for conventions is the cost in cancellation penalties for the organizers to do so. If they continue acting as if the event will happen until the hotel (or convention facility) handles, then the typical “force majeure” (aka “act of God”) clause in contract kicks in and there are no cancellation penalties.

    Hotels–no surprise here–don’t want to do that. So they wait until the local government tells them that, no, there isn’t going to be a big event in their facility on that date, no way, no how.

    This leaves the convention organizers in the position of playing an elaborate game of chicken with their sites.

    To give a current example, there is supposed to be a (small) convention in Canada late this year. If the ConComm cancels, the hotel wants CDN$32k for a cancellation fee. Since 200 attendees would be big for this event, you can see the bind the committee is in.

  4. whheydt says

    Re: jrkrideau @ #3…
    Plague is endemic in the rodent population in the Sierra Nevada. People like park rangers that work in that area are routinely vaccinated for plague. (Surprise! Surprise! There is a vaccine for plague. Just not that many people are at risk of exposure, so it’s not routine and most people don’t know it exists.)

  5. xohjoh2n says

    @3 at apparently around 650 (WHO 2010-2015) or 1000-2000 (CDC 2019) globally reported cases per year, there’s always a few cases happening somewhere, and just from population a very good chance that about that number will be active in China at any one time. The only reason that report was even considered newsworthy – and I’d dispute that – is the coincidence with Covid-19.

    (The US gets 1-17 reported cases per year, so over the lockdown period there probably have been a handful, total. Really not worth reporting.)

  6. captainjack says

    whheydt @ #5
    Also in the prairie dog colonies in Colorado. The state health department here tests and tracks the levels of infection.

  7. stwriley says

    jrkrideau @3,

    No, there are plenty of Renaissance and early modern outbreaks of plague. For instance, the Great Plague of London in 1665-66, with a death toll of around 100,000. There were also constant outbreaks of plague across Italy during the 15th and 16th centuries. So yeah, very Renaissance to have deadly epidemic disease outbreaks. I wonder if they’ll give you a special discount if you show up dressed as a Plague Doctor?

  8. Bruce says

    Maybe it will increase interest in each day’s homework assignment, as they are introduced with the line: in case this is the last day we ever see each other in person, …

  9. R. L. Foster says

    Buboes for the bozos.

    OK, not the right plague, but, hey, how many words rhyme and alliterate with covid or coronavirus?

  10. tacitus says

    I live in Covid Central — Austin, Texas — and just got back in from picking up some new masks and a visit to the dentist (already postponed once). We’re on the brink of hospital’s overflowing, and given how busy the roads are around town, I don’t see how things are going to change. Most people are abiding by the mask rule, finally, but nobody’s ever tried keeping the economy half-open while attempting to get a full blown outbreak under control, and I just don’t see how it can work, especially since the schools and colleges are due back in a few weeks. And now many the rural counties are seeing big spikes in infections and are coming to realize they’re not going to get out of this unscathed either.

    It’s so fucking frustrating to even be in this situation after avoiding a major outbreak in the first couple of months. But then Abbot decides to prioritize shareholder value over lives and reopens the economy so fast (two weeks between phases) there was no time judge what it was doing to the infection rate, until it was too late. Between Trump and Abbot, the Republicans have truly screwed this state, and it didn’t have to happen.

    Six thousand of these nutjobs are due in Houston from all over the state next week for their state convention. All I will say is that I hope they’ll get a large dose of reality while they are there.

  11. raven says

    The Renaissance and later had a dreaded disease that we don’t have to worry about any more.

  12. raven says

    CNN July 8, 2020

    Trump threatens to cut funding of schools that don’t reopen

    The latest from the Incompetent Toddler in Chief.
    Trump is ordering the K-12 schools to open.

    .1. He doesn’t have that power.
    The US constitution leaves public schools up to the state.
    .2. He is threatening to withhold funding.
    He doesn’t have that power either.

    .3. This is a bad idea that won’t work anyway.
    If there is a raging pandemic in a local area, most people are just going to keep their children home.
    It’s not easy to force parents to risk having their children get very sick or killed.

    This is going to be a huge problem in the Fall for everyone from K-12 to the universities.
    Right now, it looks like everyone is going to just flounder around and make it up as we go along.
    Because we’ve never faced anything like this since the 1918 flu pandemic.
    I suspect it will be some mixture of in class learning and distance learning.

  13. jenorafeuer says

    I have a number of friends who used to be in the Society for Creative Anachronism who would be both horrified and sadly unsurprised at this. Horrified because this is an obvious outbreak waiting to happen. And unsurprised because there have always been people in the SCA who seem to take the idea of being nobility too seriously, there are always people looking for small ponds that they can be big fish in, and the local organizational structure means that once one of those sorts of people gets into a position of power, it’s easy for them to transform their local chapter into a reflection of themselves by driving anybody who doesn’t agree with them somewhere else.

    Doesn’t help that there are a lot of people who don’t seem to grasp the fact that, yes, there were actually Black people around in Europe back then, some of them in fairly prestigious positions.

  14. brucegee1962 says

    A discussion of medieval plagues should certainly mention that they fully understood social distancing, even if they were unclear about specific vectors. The entire Decameron is about a group sheltering in place.
    Hey, that might make a good theme for a renfest! Instead of the royalty parading around like they usually do, the guests could be told that they’re all holed up at their country estate. The only folks who’d be around would be the ones at the bottom of society who wouldn’t have had any choice about whether to go out.

  15. xohjoh2n says

    @16: incoming supplies delivered contact-free, left at the village limits. Payment taken from a bowl of vinegar by the side.

  16. says

    Another factor is that if the MRF cancels, they may have to reimburse vendors. If the vendors cancel, the MRF gets off free.

  17. mareap says

    @11, Mayor Sylvester invoked force majure earlier today and cancelled the GOP state con. The principals were going to attend virtually, only the plebes were required to show up and sacrifice to the GOPer gods.

  18. whheydt says

    Re: raven @ #13…
    A possibly bigger issue than the kids getting infected (as their chance of a serious case is relatively low), is that they’ll bring it home to parents and grandparents doing the after-school child minding.

  19. whheydt says

    Re: PZ Myers @ #17 and marep @ #18…
    That is very much why many events are going to say they’re going ahead right up to the last minute when they cancel. The cancellation fees from hotels and venues can financially wipe out a group planning an event (not likely in the case of a major state party organization, but still…). Once the venue/hotel cancels because the government won’t let anyone hold that sort of event…presto! No cancellation fees. It’s a high stakes game of chicken.

    I can see why the hotels do it. They’re pretty desperate for income, but it makes for a nail biting exercise for people planning an event that they are pretty sure won’t be possible and have to pretend it’s going to happen right down to the wire.

    The first event I was going to go to had to cancel on less than one week notice (it was the first weekend after the lockdowns started). I’m currently keeping an eye on an event planned for Labor Day weekend. A friend of mine has referred to it as a “dead con walking”. I’m expecting them to cancel around the beginning of August.

  20. unclefrogy says

    the only event I am looking forward to is the one at the VA to get my covad19 vaccination.
    until then it feels like just another gamble and I am bad at games of chance.
    uncle frogy

  21. Akira MacKenzie says

    Being in the SE Wisconsin tabletops -gaming community, I’ve met more than a few members of our local Ren-faire troop, Each and every one of them were libertarian wannabe-pagans who turned up their noses at modern science in favor of “natural” cures and other New Age bullshit. It doesn’t surprise me that MN Ren-Faire geeks are any different.

  22. unclefrogy says

    funny I read history as science offering real cures and real improvements that led out of those dark days and those old ways so admired by the “Ren-Faire” followers being abandoned
    uncle frogy

  23. says

    @#1, doubter:

    It was also extremely common to believe that diseases were unique to particular groups — when Columbus brought home syphilis nearly every country gave it a nickname after another country (“the French disease”), and IIRC, the Scots believed that the Black Plague only effected wimpy effete Englishmen and planned an attack, only to start dying like flies once they got close enough to share in the contagion. See the “cancel culture” post elsewhere here.

  24. Howard Brazee says

    I guess pandemics are realistic parts of medieval and renaissance life…

  25. blf says

    pandemics are realistic parts of medieval and renaissance life…

    So what are they doing at a Renaissance Fayre?

  26. says

    @The Vicar 24
    Thank you for mentioning the origin of “the French disease”. I figured it was another example of one group naming a disease after another.
    It’s a useful example to apply against the attempts to call covid 19 anything having to do with China because they will be participating in an old and shameful practice. I found this after you mentioned it.
    “Brief History of Syphilis”

    “From the very beginning, syphilis has been a stigmatized, disgraceful disease; each country whose population was affected by the infection blamed the neighboring (and sometimes enemy) countries for the outbreak. So, the inhabitants of today’s Italy, Germany and United Kingdom named syphilis ‘the French disease’, the French named it ‘the Neapolitan disease’, the Russians assigned the name of ‘Polish disease’, the Polish called it ‘the German disease’, The Danish, the Portuguese and the inhabitants of Northern Africa named it ‘the Spanish/Castilian disease’ and the Turks coined the term ‘Christian disease’. Moreover, in Northern India, the Muslims blamed the Hindu for the outbreak of the affliction. However, the Hindu blamed the Muslims and in the end everyone blamed the Europeans [4-6].”

    We already knew that anyone trying to use a China related name was using a racist dominance display, now we can see other versions of that display.

  27. aspleen says

    Other renaissance fairs that have canceled their season have rolled over the fees they charge vendors to apply for the 2021 season, but since MNRFs lease on their site ends after 2020 and there isn’t a new site yet for it to move to, that’s a real problem. So I wouldn’t be surprised if they do go for it and open. The only other option I see is to apply fees for whenever they may open in the future, but I’m sure a lot of vendors wouldn’t go for that.