Covid’s silver lining: another Zoom call goes wrong

If the pandemic cloud has a silver lining, it’s Zoom, which gives us such wondrous ways to screw up.

On the day that his party–the Republicans–launched a state campaign against distracted driving, an Ohio state senator, Andrew Brenner, participated in a Zoom call, and being a master of the technology he didn’t trap himself in a cat face and have to assure members of the state’s controlling board that he wasn’t a cat. No, he started the call in a parked car, showing his very own human face. Then he left the call for a few minutes and reappeared in front of a homey background. 

He’d have been fine if it hadn’t been for the seatbelt he was wearing. And the way he fixed his eyes straight ahead as if he was driving and turned his head from time to time as if he was changing lanes. And the moments when the background wavered and a road appeared beyond what looked very much like a driver’s side window, which had also appeared. 

The meeting was, of course, live streamed to the public. 

No, we don’t take in the real scandals of our age, but give us a politician in a seatbelt pretending to be at home and we sink our teeth in until they hit bone.

Irrelevant photo: rhododendron

“I wasn’t distracted,” Brenner said before digging his hole a little deeper by adding that “I’ve actually been on other calls, numerous calls,, while driving. Phone calls for the most part, but on video calls I’m not paying attention to the video. To me, it’s like a phone call.”

Which is why he did all the cloak and dagger stuff to look like he was someplace other than in his car. 

I suppose, since we’re talking about Zoom, that I have to mention another call that went wrong: Canadian MP William Amos showed up at a virtual parliamentary session stark screaming naked except for a strategically placed mobile phone. He was, he said in his apology, changing out of his jogging clothes when his laptop camera turned on. He’s patriotically placed, you’ll be glad to know, between the Canadian and Quebec flags.


. . . And bringing those two themes together

Have you ever had one of those problems that you can’t get anyone to pay attention to, no matter what you do? Geoff Upson, in New Zealand, had been tried to get some Auckland potholes filled and when he ran out of sane solutions he spray-painted penises around them–at last call about a hundred of them, some in neon paint.

I’d love to tell you that they’ve now been filled, but instead Auckland Transport activated the police on the grounds that penises distract drivers, making them a safety risk. 

No, not owning one. Seeing one painted on the road. 

They also said that it’s dangerous to paint on the road. They have your best interests at heart, Geoff. 

No word on whether the potholes have been filled. 


. . . And having nothing to do with any of that

A Belgian farmer moved a stone that was in his way and accidentally added a thousand square meters of France to his country.

In 1819, after Napoleon’s defeat, the Belgian-French border was marked out with a line of stones that had the date on them. If that makes it sound like the French-Belgian border’s a low-key sort of thing–well, I’ve never been there but that’s the impression I got too. It also sounds like the farm might be an international operation, at least some of the time. Intentionally or not. 

Two things kept this from being an international incident: One is that the countries aren’t at war. The other is that in 2019 the stones were geo-localized, so the wandering stone could be moved back to its original spot, although I expect the farmer wasn’t happy about it. 


Six years ago, developers in London illegally knocked down the 1920s Carlton Tavern. This kind of thing happens regularly. Generally the developers say, “Oops, wasn’t that what we were supposed to do?”then pay a fine and go on to build what they wanted to. But this time some 5,000 people and a couple of local politicians organized a campaign.

To make sense of this, you have to understand that the building’s owners and the people who wanted to save the place aren’t the same folks. The owners asked for planning permission to convert the building to ten flats, which in American means apartments, and they didn’t get it. English Heritage–that’s an organization dedicated to preserving, um, you know, English heritage–was set to give the building listed status, which is a form of protection for buildings with historical significance, but two days before it came through the bulldozers knocked the place down.

A leader of the campaign said, “We had a suspicion . . . that they would do something, so we asked English Heritage to think about listing it. They took a plaster cast of every tile, and documented everything.”

That meant the local council–that’s the neighborhood government–could and did order the developers to rebuild it, brick by brick by brick. A few parts were reclaimed from the rubble, the rest were re-creations.

The Carlton reopened in April and is being run by Homegrown Pubs. One of the people involved said, “The pub tells its story from the half-broken fixtures that we’ve got. You can see bits of broken wood–it’s not all perfect, which we really love because it gives character and charm to the building.”

James Watson from the Campaign for Pubs said, “I never imagined that I would see a planning inspector order a developer to put back what he’d just knocked down, to look exactly as it was. I thought the developer would get a slap on the wrist, a £6,000 fine. It has set an incredibly useful precedent. Other planning inspectors will remember it, and so will developers.”

Watson also said that most developers are smart enough not to just send in the bulldozers. They “take some tiles off the roof and let the rain in. The beams rot, it collapses, and they say to the council, ‘This is a derelict site that needs to be rebuilt as flats.’ “ 

Why do pubs need protecting? They’re not just places to sit from 10 a.m. until you’re shitfaced, although up to a point you can do that in them. They also play a role in holding communities together. They’re a kind of public living room. But for a combination of reasons, running a pub is an increasingly hard way to make a living, so they’re disappearing from the British landscape. A few are being bought out by and run as community-owned businesses, which have the advantage of not needing to make a profit.

Your feel-good story for the week

A department store chain, H & M, has introduced a free service that allows men to borrow a job interview suit, free, for twenty-four hours. 

“Research shows that it takes less than one second for an employer to judge your ability based on your appearance,” according to an H & M manager. Hence the program’s name: One/Second/Suit. You don’t even need to dry clean it when you’re done. You send it back in pre-paid packaging and they’ll take care of that before the next person gets it.

If anyone offers a parallel service for women, unfortunately I haven’t heard about it.

23 thoughts on “Covid’s silver lining: another Zoom call goes wrong

  1. There are a number of those dodgy developer actions currently happening in old parts of London, thanks to greedy developers and accommodating local governments, including the mayor of London, who gave the green light to a “much needed” shopping mall monster with exclusive flats.
    It’s thanks to his arrogant stances that for the first time in years I forced myself not vote Labour.

    East London being ruined:

    Wilful destruction at the Truman Brewery:

    The Bethnal Green Mulberry, or how to destroy an ancient historic tree:

    It’s heartbreaking, yet I hope that people and grassroots action will prevent the worst

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for all this. I was conscious that in picking up one good-news story I wasn’t giving the whole picture, but it’s important to be reminded that Labour isn’t doing what it should be doing in this. What a disappointment they’ve been lately–and maybe a lot longer than lately but that’s all I’ve been able to follow, being still a newcomer here.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I have to say that sadly the mayor has completely other goals, he cares not for the history and historic value of the urban texture.
        And even when Labours have been less than perfect , i still prefer them to BoJo’s armada ;-)
        Thanks for sharing so many interesting news !

        Liked by 2 people

        • Absolutely. I’ve spent most of my voting life voting for people who aren’t as bad as the other people–who are very bad indeed. And here we are again. Because I’m in Cornwall, voting against the Conservatives means vote Lib Dem most of the time, which doesn’t make me happy but that’s what I did.

          Liked by 2 people

          • I couldn’t vote LibDem ever… the Conservative rule started back then thanks to a certain Nick Clegg (not sure if you’re familiar with him) who went against his promises (not to raise uni fees) and the Labour offer for a joint government , to pair up with David Cameron.
            I promise myself I’d never vote LD ;-)
            I went for the Greens am even when that meant to waste a “useful” vote this time

            Liked by 2 people

  2. Now that they’ve rebuilt the pub, will someone still want to turn it into flats? How exactly to laptop computer cameras just turn on? If you”re going to participate in a Zoom meeting and don’t want to look at the video – either because you’re driving or someone else is naked – why not just call into the audio portion?

    Liked by 2 people

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