By Pam Burke 

View from the North 40: It's the attitude of the platitude


I know a lot of people have been upset lately about the fact that regular events are being canceled in the name of social distancing for a pandemic that hasn’t hit our state very hard. So, whether “misery loves company” is your thing or “I hate to say I told you so” is more your go-to saying, I’ve got some news for you.

If, in fact, your misery does enjoy company, your favorite event isn’t the only one canceled this summer.

The annual Ernest Hemingway Look-Alike Contest has been canceled in Key West this year. Every short, burly man 60-80 years of age who’s sporting gray hair and a grizzled beard is weeping in his bottle right now at the lost opportunity. The three-day contest is, an Associated Press article said this week, billed as the highlight of the Hemingway Days festival held for the past 40 years to honor the author.

The festival brings people to the Florida Keys to party during the peak of summer heat and humidity, which is a boon to the Keys. But organizers felt canceling the main event, which regularly brings in 150 contestants of a certain COVID-vulnerable age, was worth the loss of revenue. This may be a harbinger of the times for Santa Claus and Elvis conventions, as well.

No word yet on whether the festival itself will be canceled, but if “monkey see, monkey do” is the platitude of revelers, they might want to take a hint from Texas and hire extra law enforcement for the folks who are very happy to be turned loose from stay-at-home orders.

A Huffington Post article on the re-opening of the the beaches in Galveston County, Texas, coinciding with Go Topless Jeep Weekend resulted in 180 attendees being taken into custody on charges ranging from assault to driving without a seatbelt, driving while intoxicated and public drunkenness.

The number of charges is up from 80 last year. This year also included two people getting shot and needing to be airlifted to a hospital, which left resident Justin Weaver thinking this was, a Fox News report said, “why we can’t have nice things.”

Maybe 21st century people should “count our blessings” if we think this pandemic is mucking with traditional activities, try canceling an 834-year-old tradition.

In a weird quirk of British law, the queen of England can claim all the unmarked mute swans on open water in Britain, and since 1186 a flotilla of workers has hit the water for a week to take a census of the swans, including recording the number, general health and weight of the birds. (As a sidenote, I would just like to express my gratitude that the U.S. Census of humans, which I just took part in, did not include a weight-taking element.)

Anyhow, this British swan census is, for no discernable reason in American English, called Swan Upping, and AFP News reported that the lead swan upper for the queen announced this week that the swans will not be upped this year. This is apparently not highly unusual because the 2012 Swan Upping was canceled due to flooding.

It is also notable that more significant events have occasionally canceled the annual Upping over the centuries, including two world wars in modern times and a pandemic affectionately known as Black Death that hit in 1348 and lasted to 1353, then occasionally returned until the mid-1800s. The Black Death was replaced in importance soon after by the bubonic plague that kept revisiting for 100 years until proper vaccines and drugs were developed.

I don’t know of records that show how many times the Swan Upping was canceled for these tragic events, but surely uppers died in these times and mucked up the schedule. Seeing that uppers are still upping, though, one can assume that “this, too, shall pass.”

I think it’s notable that the Black Death pandemic killed billions of people in its 300-year heyday, and more until 1840, without support of our modern science and knowledge of public health practices. The bubonic plague pandemic killed likely under 50 million people in 100 years, being stopped finally by science and the knowledge of public health practices.

Dare I hope we can teach the old dog of humanity that the new trick of science and public health practices can cut the reign of this new pandemic exponentially if we all stay focused for a few years?


If only we had some fast and efficient way to spread the news on effective health safety practices and enough literate people to read and understand the guidelines at [email protected] .


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