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 Indeed.com, with an assist from Indeed itself

I hadn’t visited Indeed.com 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 Indeed.com 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. Indeed.com 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 Indeed.com 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.

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 Suomi.fi 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.

September Reading

My September reading was not quite as strenuous as last month, given that I read Middlemarch in August, from which I am still feeling the glow of accomplishment, a loathing of Casaubon and a sense of infinite depths.

Here you’ll see just one masterpiece–Austerlitz–and two books I didn’t quite finish, that I skimmed and eventually put down. Those are How to Disappear and Torpor. I had enjoyed the quirky, downbeat, pathetic style of Kraus’s other books, I Love Dick and Aliens and Anorexia, but the grimness of the times we’re living through made it impossible for me to make it through this one, which included a tour through Romania to adopt an orphan, and an accounting of the horrific abuse and neglect babies and children suffered under the Ceausescu regime, the failed and failing relationship, the struggle and the struggling. But A Girl Returned was also the story of an abandoned child–in this case an adopted child “returned” to her birth family. The book also had its horrific moments but was redeemed by the love she found with her birth sister Adriana, a childhood friend, Patrizia, and the reconciliation of sorts with her adoptive mother. And the girl’s insistence on taking her own life back after she had been thrown among strangers. It was purer-hearted and the pure-hearted is what we need right now.

Sometimes I linger in bookstores, browsing the “S” section, hoping a new Sebald book would appear. Since it won’t, I read the existing ones over and over and over and each time they seem as if I had never read them before. Except The Emigrants which I almost have memorized. Austerlitz is a book I read often.

Weather, much lauded, much recommended, had been partly derived from other people’s work. I recognized some of the (unattributed) podcasts and articles she’d gotten the material from. As such, I couldn’t ally myself with the book; I was already allied with the original material. But I liked the paragraph – paragraph – paragraph style.

And the rest of September’s reading? art criticism and Jungian psychology. Now, I am reading myths.

Freedom Colonies

 

As I was reading about Andrea Roberts’ research into “freedom colonies”,  the name bothered me. Freedom ––as I’d always understood it from elementary school, from the Pledge of Allegiance we recited every day, facing the flag and with our hands over our hearts, from Woody Guthrie songs and the Star-Spangled Banner–freedom should be general across the nation, from sea to shining sea, from the redwood forest, to the gulf stream waters, one nation, liberty and justice for all–and not confined to a colony. The word “colony” (per my trusty Barnhart) means “a settlement dependent on another country”–though further back it’s found to derive from cultivation, tilling, inhabiting

Andrea Roberts is a Vassar graduate, and Assistant Professor of Urban Planning at Texas A and M University. She is researching the thousands of historically black settlements, often called “freedom colonies,” that emerged across the United States after the Civil War. There are hundreds of these kinds of communities, these colonies, formed for mutual care and support and protection after the Civil War. “These weren’t places where [African American families] were pushed to,” Roberts said. “They were created on purpose and had ‘anchors,’ such as schools and churches and cemeteries around which the settlements were built.” There are hundreds of communities like this, based on race or religion or gender or just shared values–formed by groups distinct from the dominant culture.

And the dominant culture during restoration the Ku Klux Klan also rose during Restoration in the South. The Freedom Colonies rose during this fraught period and protected their inhabitants against the generalized racism, violence and hostility of that time, which is still with us today, and rising. History and the past are not the same, and it’s important to bring them closer together. But when I see efforts like this one to restore a lost past, I think of what Toni Morrison said about racism:

It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language, and you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly, so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says that you have no art. So you dredge that up. Somebody sats that you have no kingdoms, and you dredge that up. None of that is necessary. There will always be one more thing. 

If you’re black, or queer, or female, or a member of a group that is not the group controlling the story , you’re used to mentally rewriting or actively resisting/ignoring/correcting history as it is told. History and the past are not the same. Do your work! And if your work is history, and the history shows your kingdoms, so be it. 

A significant fight to preserve African-American history is playing out through the auspices of the National Trust and the National Historic Preservation Act, which through its criteria of “architectural significance” has blocked the preservation of modest buildings such as slave quarters, tenements and cabins. Brent Leggs, director of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, is leading the charge on preserving much of this history, including Nina Simone’s childhood home, Joe Frazier’s gym, and John and Alice Coltrane’s home

——————

In my other alumnae monthly, from Smith, I was struck by a related quote from Deborah Archer (Smith ’93): “My parents…understood that access to opportunity meant entering spaces where we were not expected and were not welcome. And, of course, we were met with resistance.” You need to go places you’re not wanted, and say things that the people there don’t want to hear. Archer was a student at Smith a few years after I was–I spent my freshman year there. Even at Smith, Archer had a note slid under her door that said “N—— go home”. She was not surprised. Growing up in Hartford, Connecticut “KKK” was once sprayed on the side of her house.

Should This Exist?

It’s live! The preview of my upcoming podcast Should This Exist! Go subscribe and listen to the preview, and if you like it, please leave a rating!

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Here’s the official blurb about it:

About Caterina Fake

Caterina Fake is Silicon Valley’s most eloquent commentator and dot-connector on technology and the human condition. As a humanist with a deep passion for history, literature, arts and culture, she has a unique perspective on the myriad unforeseen ways technology can impact our world. And as a celebrated tech pioneer herself, Caterina brings a deep knowledge of technology and an optimistic enthusiasm for entrepreneurs. In the early 2000s, Caterina co-founded Flickr and introduced many of the innovations — newsfeeds, hashtags, “followers,” “likes” — that laid the foundation for modern social media. (Though she’s quick to point out where social media has gone wrong). As an angel investor, advisor and board member, she helped build companies like Etsy, Kickstarter and Stack Overflow — which defined and nurtured new types of human-centered online communities. She’s now co-founder of Yes VC, an investment fund focused on early stage startups. For Caterina, hosting Should This Exist? reflects her career-long dedication to help technology fulfill its promise.

About ‘Should This Exist?’

Premiering on Thursday, February 21, Should this Exist? leads a new conversation to answer the question of our times: How is technology impacting our humanity? On each episode, an entrepreneur or scientist with a radical new technology will join Caterina on a journey to peer around corners, and glimpse their technology’s wildest potential to change human lives for the better — and the hidden forces that might send their vision sideways. A sneak preview of the first season is now available on the Should this Exist? page on Apple Podcasts.

The show’s first season will include the visionaries behind a headset that hacks your brain with electric fields so you can learn like a kid again; a fully automated chatbot that offers one-on-one therapy; a next-generation supersonic plane; a device that can read the expression on your face and know how you’re feeling; software that will translate between human and animal languages; and a scientific approach that allows humans to modify entire species of animals in the wild —among other unprecedented firsts.

Should this Exist? models a new kind of conversation between the entrepreneur or inventor and the world. Drawing on a wide range of fields — history, psychology, philosophy, the arts — Caterina leads the inventor through a conversation that sets aside the business model and examines the human case more closely.