Women, men, and meetings: Jackie Weaver’s advice about Zoom

If you’re British, you’ve heard of Jackie Weaver. If you’re not British but spend too much of your life on the internet, you’ve probably also heard of Jackie Weaver.

Weaver was drafted in from the Cheshire Association of Local Councils to host a Zoom meeting of the Handforth Parish Council’s planning and environment committee and act as clerk in the regular clerk’s absence. The council has a history of toxic procedural arguments, and the meeting was called by two committee members, not the chair. Should we speculate and guess that the chair wasn’t happy about that?

He told Weaver she had no authority. She threatened to remove him from the meeting and he said, “You can’t. It’s only the chair who can remove people from the meeting. You have no authority here, Jackie Weaver. No authority at all”

Zap. He disappeared. She’s removed him from the meeting. You can hear someone else saying, “She just kicked him out.”

“She kicked him out,” someone echoed.

I waited for a chorus line to come in, full of sequins and doing high kicks, singing, “She kicked him out,” but parish council budgets are tight, so no chorus line. No high kicks. Local government’s like that. You should see parish council meetings in my village. For a long time, they didn’t even have heat.

When two more members of the meeting shouted and blustered, she tossed them out as well, so they could get some work done. 

“This is a meeting called by two councilors,” Weaver says. “You may now elect a chair.”

One of the people who was still in the meeting proceeded to complain that the chair had been calling himself the clerk. 

“There is no way of stopping him from calling himself clerk,” Weaver said. “Please refer to me as Britney Spears from now on.”

Irrelevant photo: Red sky in the morning, be careful what you say in a Zoom meeting.

No one would have known any of this if a seventeen-year-old politics student, Shaan Ali, hadn’t watched it. He’s fascinated with local politics. All the power struggles. All the arguments. All the technological disasters. 

“You know, old men struggling to use Zoom, fun arguments–there’s always something fascinating going on.”

He tweeted it and it went mad. Weaver became an overnight sensation, interviewed on TV, written about almost a month late in obscure corners of the internet. What she did resonates with every woman who’s ever been bullied or patronized by a man, which is to say 116% of us. It may be on the very mildest edge of our collective revenge fantasies, but the thing is that it actually happened. That’s better than flying kicks, although I’d still like the chorus line.

It’s appealed to plenty of men as well, helped along, I expect, by the cartoonishly stuffed-shirt quality of the chair. He’d patronize anyone he wasn’t sucking up to. He couldn’t help himself. You can find a clip here.

Predictably enough, as soon as she became a hero, she started receiving online abuse, which the police are investigating, for whatever good that’ll do.

The council’s getting its own share of abuse. At the next meeting, members of the public joined the Zoom call and shouted lines from the more famous meeting, turning the thing into chaos. I’m sure I should disapprove, but I love the idea of a meeting being disrupted by random strangers shouting, “You have no authority here, Jackie Weaver.”

I’m sure it’s a character flaw. It’s one of my favorites.

But let’s leave Handforth on a more peaceful  note. An internet baker (who knew there was such a thing?) named Ben Cullen created a Jackie Weaver cake. Lockdown does strange things to people. I won’t say he flattered her exactly, but he says he’s had a great response. 

The last word, surely, has to go to Weaver. Someone asked if she had any advice for Zoom meetings. 

“Don’t wear pajamas,” she said. 

*

You’ve probably heard that the head of the Tokyo Olympics committee resigned after saying that women talked too much and made meetings too long. 

What you probably don’t know is that in 2019 Montreal city councilor Sue Montgomery started knitting in red when a man was speaking and in green when a woman spoke. The piece she produced is almost entirely red. And it’s a lousy piece of knitting.

I say that as someone who’s not very good at knitting either, but I can knit a straight scarf. Never mind. I never knit anything that made a point as neatly.

The council’s divided fairly evenly–31 women and 34 men, and it’s not, she said, that the women don’t speak, it’s that they tend to use their time more efficiently. “Some of the older men tend to go on and on,” she said. “Some of them can’t be bothered to gather and organize their thoughts before speaking.” 

 

Another Zoom meeting goes to hell in a handbasket

The entire board of a California elementary school resigned after thinking they were holding a private meeting when in fact they were being live-streamed. 

“Are we alone?” one of them asked.

Oh, yeah, absolutely, someone or other said. 

And they believed it and let loose. Parents just wanted the school to babysit their kids, they said. Parents wanted the kids out of the house so they could take drugs. Parents complained, the school board members complained. 

All while they were being live-streamed into the parents’ ear canals

Seven thousand people signed a petition calling on them to resign. 

You’re never alone. 

 

Art news from Italy

Italian police found a stolen painting–a 500-year-old copy of a Leonardo da Vinci–and returned it to the museum that didn’t know it had lost it. The museum had been shut for months. After all, in the middle of a pandemic who goes around counting frames to make sure all the paintings got back on the school bus at the end of the class trip? 

How did the police happen to find the painting? Haven’t a clue, but it was hidden in what a British paper called a bedroom cupboard. I think that’s what I’d call a closet, since I tend to keep my cupboards in the kitchen, where I keep my cups. But, as I often say, I’ll never really understand this country. As a general rule, the police aren’t running in and out of here making sure I haven’t hidden a 500-year-old painting behind the (empty) sugar bowl in the cupboard, so I’m going to guess the guy they arrested did something that called attention to himself. 

The Smithsonian didn’t mention the cupboard but, not to be outdone by a British paper, mentioned that in the picture Christ has corkscrew curls. They were still popular when Shirley Temple was making movies. If that doesn’t put you off them, I don’t know what will. 

Math, medicine, and research: It’s the news from Britain–and elsewhere

Martin Hairer won the $3 million 2021 Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics for explaining the math involved in stirring a cup of tea, which is also the math involved in several other things that don’t sound as silly. It’s complicated stuff–180 pages worth of complicated, involving regularity structures. 

Never heard of them? Neither has anyone else. That’s what’s so impressive. They tame the randomness that throws disorder into equations involving the way forest fires grow, the way a drop of water spreads on a tissue, or the way that cup of tea you’re stirring–

Would you stop that stirring? You’re upsetting an otherwise ordered univer–

Damn. Now see what you’ve done.

Regularity structures may be the genuinely impressive element of his work, but if you want an impressive phrase to use when you’re pretending to explain this to someone who’ll understand it even less than you do and isn’t listening anyway, the phrase you want is stochastic analysis. Or better yet, stochastic partial differential equations. From those words on, everything you say will be nothing but a background hum to whatever’s going on inside your alleged listener’s own head.

If you want complicated math, though, you could try explaining why a bunch of mathematicians are giving out a 2021 prize in 2020.

*

Irrelevant photo: Wind-carved rocks at the top of Rough Tor, which is pronounced Ruff Tor. No, don’t ask me.

If you’re British inflected instead of American inflected (yes, there’s an L in there: infLected), that’ll be maths, not math. I can only assume that the British are better with numbers than the Americans, since they wrestle with them in the plural  and we only have one to fight with. 

*

The Breakthrough Prize is also awarded in the sciences, and Catherine Dulac won one for showing that the neural circuits that govern the behaviors involved in both male-specific and female-specific parenting are present in both sexes. I have no idea what the implications of that will turn out to be, but they should upset a few apple carts. I look forward to hearing more.

*

As long as we’re on the subject of medicine and male/female differences, Rebecca Shanksy, a neurologist from Boston University (no, it’s not in Britain, but never mind) is calling for stricter requirements for medical research to include both female and male animals. 

For decades, researchers have used both male animals and male human subjects on the grounds that the fluctuations of female hormones would–forgive me if I use complicated scientific language here–fuck up their results. 

They did that even when they were studying conditions that mostly affected women. Because you know what women are like. Hormonal. Unstable. Unpredictable. Lots of un- words. 

It turns out, according to Shanksy, that male rodents–the go-to subject of many experiments–are less stable in terms of both hormones and behavior than females.

Shanksy is, by way of full disclosure, a female and therefore likely to be biased and unstable. Unlike males researchers, who are entirely objective and don’t have hormones.

The result of the male bias in research subjects is that drugs are likely not to work as well on women as on men. Ambien, which did its trials using both male mice and male humans, turned out to be metabolized  more slowly by women, and therefore (don’t ask me) more powerful in them. 

Women tend to experience more side effects and overdoses for all drugs. 

The U.S. and Canada now require female test subjects to be included (Britain doesn’t yet), but experiments are often done first on male subjects, with female subjects used later, treating the female subject as a deviation from the male standard. The article I read didn’t go into whether or how that biases the results, but I can see that if the first set of tests establish a standard, you could easily close off avenues that might be open if you worked differently.

*

Were we talking about sexism? The Musee d’Orsay in Paris–a museum with walls full of nudes–wouldn’t let a woman in because an official decided her dress was cut too low. 

And if that wasn’t bad enough, they followed up their decision by telling her, “Calm down, madam.” 

So she did what any good citizen of the twenty-first century would do: She went online and called them out on their double standards and sexism. The museum has apologized, both by tweet and by telephone, but it’s not the first time the museum’s had a problem with women’s real-life flesh as opposed to the artistic depiction of it. It called the cops on a performance artist who posed nude next to a nude painting. She was in jail for two days before a judge threw out a charge of public indecency.

*

An eighty-year-old hiker who’d been missing for three nights turned up not at his own funeral but at a press conference, held in a pub, where his family was about to appeal for help finding him.

Harry Harvey got separated from an organized walking group during a heavy hailstorm and spent three nights wild camping. He had camping gear with him but ran short on food. He described the area where he lost the group as desolate.. 

He eventually spotted a wildlife photographer, who called a rescue team and they brought him to the pub just in time for a dramatic reunion. 

The quotes from his family make them sound a bit on the crabby side about it all. 

*

A research trial that put robots into care homes has been defended on the grounds that the robots aren’t intended to replace humans, only to help fill times when, because the care system’s overstretched, staff don’t have time to spend with residents.

Which is commonly known as replacing humans with robots, only the humans were taken out before the robots were put in and no one had any intention of filling the gap they left–not even with robots.

The robots have wheels and a name, which they all share–Pepper. Also arms and hands. With a bit of programming, they could hold basic conversations with the residents, learn what they’re interested in, play them music, teach them languages, and remind them to take their medicine. 

This could go wrong in so many ways. In Japan and Singapore robots are more widely accepted and have been hacked to intercept phone calls or let the hacker use the robot’s camera and microphone. I don’t find any mention of medication reminders going wrong, but I doubt many of us suffer from the delusion that technology is flawless. 

The two-week trial found that residents’ loneliness levels decreased–not hugely, but a bit. 

*

Britain’s home secretary, Priti Patel, called Extinction Rebellion “criminals who disrupt our free society and must be stopped.” Other cogs in the government chaos have talked about classifying it as an organized crime group, which takes a bit of mental mechanics, since XR is decentralized and I suspect you’d be hard put to find an overall organization. 

The police, interestingly enough, see XR as nonviolent and committed to civil disobedience.

*

We’ll end with some more science awards, the Ig Nobels. This year’s include an one for determining that many entomologists–those are the folks who study insects–are afraid of spiders. Which aren’t insects, so it seems fair. Another went to a study that tried to spot narcissists by the shape of their eyebrows. A third went to a study that looked for a correlation between a nation’s income inequality and the prevalence of mouth-to-mouth kissing.

Great British Telemarketing

Recent and highly unscientific research reveals that you have to do more than move across an ocean to get away from telemarketers.

Okay, Wild Thing and I knew that already. Since we moved here, we’ve been called by people telling us our computer has been affected by such a dangerous virus that the only way to fix it is to read a credit card number into the phone and take a sledge hammer to the hard drive. We get calls from a recorded voice with an urgent message. So urgent that it doesn’t merit a live call. And so on.

On Wednesday, Wild Thing fielded a call that—well, we never did find out what he wanted. Wild Thing picked up the phone and the caller said, “Can I talk to the lady of the house?”

Some of these calls set off reactions we could never have predicted.

“Believe me,” Wild Thing said, in a doom-laden voice, “you don’t want to talk to her.”

She has no idea where that came from—or which of us was the lady he so didn’t want to talk to.

People here commonly use the word lady where we’d say woman. I notice it and I kind of roll my eyes , but in a detached, mildly amused way. And, I should add, an invisible one—the mental eye roll; the virtual one. Sometimes think I should object, but it doesn’t set off any deep reaction in me. You want to call me a lady? I’ve been called worse things, although I’m not sure any of them were more unlikely.

The lady of the house, or one of them, after a reading in Minneapolis, 2008. Photo by Terri Hudoba

The lady of the house, or one of them, after a reading in Minneapolis, 2008. Photo by Terri Hudoba

In the U.S., the telemarketing calls did set me off. The phone was in my name, so I spent a good bit of time fielding calls for Mrs. Hawley, and very few things push my buttons quite like being called Mrs. Hawley. I can’t entirely explain that, but we can begin by saying that I’m not married and I don’t want to be married, but if I did happen to be married I probably wouldn’t be married to myself. Then I can add that I passionately hate the whole business of women being publicly sorted and addressed by marital status. Top it all off with a hefty dose of I-know-my-reaction-isn’t-helping and throw in a telephone, and even though I told myself over and over not to do it, I’d end up saying, “There is no such person. What can I do for you?”

It was unfair, I know. The callers were following a script. Lots of people we know have worked for call centers, and it’s wrong to make a tough, underpaid job any harder than it already is, but there I was being horrible to the people who read the script, not the ones who wrote it. I knew that. I pledged to reform. And then the phone would ring and off I’d go.

Oddly enough, now that I’m living in the U.K., I’m less rabid about being called Mrs., even though it happens more often here. This isn’t my native culture. It can’t touch me as deeply. That makes no sense, but it’s the only explanation I can offer. It still pisses me off, but I’m more distant about it, and less vocal.

Plus the phone isn’t in my name. That helps.

The lady of the house,  though? Sorry, she’s in the back, and the maid’s helping her with her lace gloves. Can you call back when the butler’s available to take a message?