The Dutch House

by Ann Patchett.

Hardcover The Dutch House Book

The story is told from the viewpoint of the children, who were thrown out of their home by their stepmother, whose story is not told. A beloved older sister and a dutiful younger brother are left to fend for themselves. People loved this book. I only liked it. It was not Housekeeping, a book said to be the favorite of the sister and her mother, and a masterpiece. I often wonder about this: what is the difference between a good book and a great book? The Dutch House could have been a great book, but it wasn’t, and why not? I will return to this question when I have drawn some conclusions.

What to call Prostituted Women & Children

I’ve been working a long time to help protect women and children who have been forced into prostitution through their addictions, poverty, history of sexual abuse and vulnerability, and find that the language used to describe these typically abused and disempowered women is really problematic. I agree with this from Ruchira Gupta, the activist and documentary filmmaker widely recognized for her work as an advocate for prostituted women and children:

Gupta also realises how, over the years, sensitive subjects get glossed over with problematic vocabulary. “We do not use the term ‘sex worker’ anymore because we believe it’s so inherently exploitative that we do not want to define it as work under any circumstances. So, we use the term ‘prostituted child’, because there is no such thing as a child prostitute—someone did it to the child. And we use the term ‘prostituted woman’. We realise the patriarchy of the system that is exploiting the vulnerabilities of these girls and women.”

Vogue India

(As an aside, I was just talking with a friend about how we used to read Vogue “for the articles”; you don’t expect topics like this from Vogue, and yet I read so many like it. This is from Vogue India, and India is of course known as one of the worst places to be a woman–and is often ranked the worst–in multiple studies. It was often first, with Afghanistan coming in second, but they may now have switched spots.)

Hooray, Hooray the first of May!

Vappu, the Finnish holiday celebrated on May 1, turns out to be the shortening of the name of Valpurga, and is a celebration of Saint Walpurga, a German saint, known for her enthusiasm for witch-burning. Christian holiday-making from that era specialized in the transformation of nature-based and animistic pagan celebrations into Christian holidays of extreme misogyny. The first of May is also Beltane, the Celtic and Gaelic pagan celebration of the beginning of summer, marked by driving cattle to their summer pastures (or here in urban Helsinki, by changing your car from winter to summer tires.)

It’s also when Finnish students wear their graduation hats and you will find balloons, confetti and picnics. It wouldn’t be a holiday without a special pastry either, in this case Tippaleipä — bread that looks like brains. There’s something sweet for every event, large or small, like the pastry that celebrates ice skating season.

As with so many pagan holidays, there is fire, as Wikipediat notes: “Special bonfires were kindled, and their flames, smoke and ashes were deemed to have protective powers. The people and their cattle would walk around or between bonfires, and sometimes leap over the flames or embers. All household fires would be doused and then re-lit from the Beltane bonfire.”

It’s also International Workers Day. Maypole dancing also occurs apparently, though I’ve never witnessed this. The first Mayday celebrations were Roman, and were associated with Flora, the flower goddess. Flowers are meant to appear, but it was snowing here this morning…

Fraudulent reviews on, with an assist from Indeed itself

I hadn’t visited for years, but I had a job I wanted to post somewhere, so was seeking job posting sites, and at the same time learned that someone I knew was about to take a job in Portugal at a company called Teleperformance. She sent me a link to a YouTube video about the company, posted by the company itself.

Something about the video seemed suspicious in that “too good to be true” way, so I searched for reviews, and found a page on about Teleperformance. The reviews were indeed horrifying! They are in many languages, and I can only read French and English, but those were enough. It sounded like a nightmare of a job, attracting young people under false pretenses, paying them almost nothing, putting them up in terrible, moldy apartments, making women feel unsafe, making them stay for 9 months in order to get their flight refund…it went on and on.

But there were two other things I noticed. had pinned a positive review to the top of the page. Maybe they are paid to surface positive reviews? Unclear. And it explained a bit too much about the business, as if it were coming from the company itself. However, the other thing I noticed was that all of the positive reviews were completely without specifics.

You can hire bands of freelance reviewers on places like Fiverr to post positive reviews to Yelp, Indeed, Glassdoor, etc. Often these can be easily identified by their lack of specificity. If you removed all the non-specific positive reviews, Teleperformance would be left with just bad-to-terrible reviews.

Defrauding customers on review sites is also illegal. So I have reported the fraud here, but I am guessing that this particular company is not the only one stacking the deck. And they’re doing it with an assist from itself.

Here is where you can report fraud to the FTC. There is an ocean of this stuff, and obviously this report will get drowne in a sea of similar such reports. How can we get integrity back into the internet? Why can’t review sites maintain their integrity? Should we wipe the internet and start again? Sometimes I think we should.

Fellini & Scorsese

Film snobs are Fellini haters. I am not sure why this is so, as I am an admirer, and might be considered a film snob. My kids certainly think I am, declining to watch Disney movies as I do. I’m aware of Fellini’s various crimes against taste and sensibility, but I am an admirer nonetheless. I was glad to see Fellini defended by Martin Scorsese in Harper’s this month. He is worthy of defense! Why does he even need defending?

I first became aware of Fellini-haters in this passage about the predilections of radio show host Madame Psychosis in Infinite Jest, which names the names of her favored filmmakers. Look who she hates!

“… Odd affection for the hoary dramaturgy of one Sir Herbert Tree. Bizarre Kaelesque admiration for goremeisters Peckinpah, De Palma, Tarantino. Positively poisonous on the subject of Fellini’s 8 1/2. Exceptionally conversant w/r/t avant-garde celluloid and avant- and apres-garde digital cartridges, anti-confluential cinema…”

Scorsese is a film lover, and film snobs allow for a wide swath of film-hating to enter the mix. You can see the love Scorsese has in this image of the movie paradise that was Greenwich Village in 1959, which resembles my San Francisco full of bookstores in 1994:


CAMERA IN NONSTOP MOTION is on the shoulder of a young man, late teens, intently walking west on a busy Greenwich Village thoroughfare.

Under one arm, he’s carrying books. In his other hand, a copy of The Village Voice.

He walks quickly, past men in coats and hats, women with scarves over their heads pushing collapsible shopping carts, couples holding hands, and poets and hustlers and musicians and winos, past drugstores, liquor stores, delis, apartment buildings.

But the young man is zeroed in on one thing: the marquee of the Art Theatre, which is playing John Cassavetes’s Shadows and Claude Chabrol’s Les Cousins.

I love Fellini. I had the same experience as Scorsese in that–having been raised on a diet of John Carpenter and Steven Spielberg movies–when I saw 8 1/2 for the first time, it was a revelation. 

I know what people don’t like about Fellini. There’s the gratuitous zaniness, eccentric people running around pointlessly, accelerating (maddening!) marching band music–all of which I also find distasteful. I find it nearly impossible to watch his work from the 70s and 8os, when they started calling the movies “Fellini’s this” and “Fellini’s that” Casanova, Satyricon, etc. –his later stuff hasn’t aged well, but I’m not sure they suited their own age either. There are probably more dogs in Fellini’s oeuvre than most major genius filmmakers. But nevertheless Scorsese’s adulation rang true for me and I will be forever grateful to him for having shown me what cinema was. 

Recommendations for Migri

After talking to friends hoping to move from Silicon Valley to Europe, and going through a frustrating year of working with Migri, I wrote to Director of Migri Jari Kähkönen in September and included a list of recommendations for attracting talent to Finland.

Here are the recommendations (and rationale):

A growing number of my colleagues now work remotely from Iceland, Portugal, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Bali, Costa Rica, Taiwan, Singapore, Estonia, Germany and other places. Many expect to return to the SF Bay Area after the pandemic, but some will likely stay in their new home countries.

This is an opportunity for Finland. I hope to move my family here because of Finland’s reputation as a country with a stable social democratic government, benefitting from a high level of social cohesion and trust, which is enormously appealing in uncertain times. The education system has a strong reputation overseas, and the quality of life in terms of healthcare, education, technological sophistication, progressive politics and work/life balance are tremendously attractive to foreigners. The fact that most urban Finns speak English, and that it is the official language in many companies, is also important. Finland is seen overseas as technologically advanced, enlightened, stable and supportive. If you wish us welcome, others will follow.

1. Fast track. Create a fast track for highly qualified talent and a separate unit that manages it end-to-end. Remote identification, 48h processing time. These people will make outsize contributions to the Finnish economy. Do not rely on your existing Migri processes if you wish to welcome and retain them.

2. Remote worker residency. A type D visa for U.S. tech employees working from Finland, inclusive of their families. Requiring Silicon Valley companies to create Finnish subsidiaries for temporary remote workers is a nonstarter. Even multinationals like Facebook and Google prefer to retain their remote workforce in their U.S. cost centers.

3. Investor visa. For investors applying for residency to Finland, inclusive of families. Due to their work many investors wish to keep both U.S. and European residencies and they should be able to spend part of the year in Finland. 13 other European countries offer investor visas. New Zealand has found their investment in New Zealand multiplies in a few years.

4. One step process. Permanent home address registration, national ID card, strong identification, and and Omakanta credentials should be automatically issued with the residency permit. The current Kafkaesque morass of in-person appointments, paper documents and confusing online flows should be replaced with a modern automated system.

5. English language schools. Finland fails to capitalize on its reputation for excellent education by not investing in a meaningful way in an English language school path. Despite claims about increased capacity, only one of Helsinki’s schools offers an English language track and the European School & handful of private schools in the Helsinki area are full with waitlists. New English language school tracks should urgently be established.

6. Targeted talent attraction. I know from experience from my investments that talented individuals move in groups. Hire a team of American-Finnish marketers located in the U.S. to compete with the other countries. The window of opportunity has opened, and Canada and others are advertising on billboards on Silicon Valley’s 101 freeway.

Tech companies’ shift to remote work coupled with climate change, the pandemic, China’s expansive authoritarianism and U.S. domestic politics make Finland surprisingly attractive. Now’s the time to act.

I recommend working with a service design firm on designing the fast track process.

I have not yet received a response.

Race Relief

I didn’t have much of a beauty regime before the lockdown and it’s also the case that I’ve not increased my attention to my appearance since. My disregard for my appearance has always irritated some of the people around me, who believed I could advance myself further in the world if I would just comb my hair. But I’ve always felt that, like men who are not interested in televised sports, women who are not interested in beauty regimes have more time to do interesting things, right?

It is such a relief, my friend told me on the phone, as neither of us had been leaving the house during the lockdown, to not have to wash your hair, or put on makeup. I agreed. To not have an appearance is so relaxing! To appear is mostly to be conscious of appearing. And oftentimes you aren’t even aware that you are appearing at all, until someone interrupts your peaceful and pleasant obliviousness by making you appear, just to point out that you appear differently, or badly, or not how they would prefer you to appear.

This is what many of us experience as Americans (though I am sure it is near universal), and, reading Jaswinder Bolina’s collection of essays, Of Color, it is this rude jolt into another’s conception of us, their questioning of you, and their implicit judgement that is so exhausting, debilitating and wrong. The endless justifications required. The endless appearing. Why are the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria? indeed. Sometimes you just want to relieve yourself of the burden of thinking about your race, and eat your Salisbury steak with those people. As delineated in Bolina’s essay, “Writing like a White Guy.”

I’m guessing more white people are reading books like this, given where we are as a culture, how 2020 went, George Floyd. Most books about race should be read by white people, more so than those who are designated red, yellow, brown and black, who live it and can only nod in recognition. But the white folks? They–we!– might be surprised, learn something new. Like, I wish every book on feminism was read by men. Even ONLY men. How will change happen if men are not on board? So this is one of those books, that I often suspect are read mostly by the POC, nodding.

Bolina is mostly known as a poet, and it was in this context he was accused of “writing like a white guy”, that is, not adding any “Indian” color to his poems. Not representing. Not appearing, as it were, as he was being subtly or not so subtly pressured to appear. You don’t know how relaxing it is to not appear, like white people don’t appear, until you’ve had a chance to be seen-with-expectations.