The road to tech success is not paved with pink Legos

I’ve started writing about Daddyland again, this time around at a new business publication called Quartz.

It’s a mobile and international-focused startup from Atlantic Media, which publishes The Atlantic, among other publications.

So I’ll be taking more of a big picture economic and societal view on all the work/life issues that come up when you start talking about mass paternity leave, like we have here in Sweden (though not enough of it!).

My first Daddyland-centered post for them was about … Legos:

At our house, we’ve got a box of hand-me-down plain brick Legos tucked in a corner of the kids’ room. My six-year-old daughter tends to build  ”cities,” and they are tall and sprawling, though mainly vehicles for role-playing with friends. But, honestly, she plays with the Legos less often than she does with random objects—a steel tube, a broken reflector—found on the sidewalk and turned into homemade dolls.

I don’t push the Legos either, and I’m starting to wonder about this. Am I depriving my daughter of a future as a filthy rich mobile game app developer in Silicon Valley? Am I squashing her inner geek as I applaud her dancing and pictures of flowers?

And is the answer Lego Friends?

Lego Friends is the new line of girl-focused Legos that caused a firestorm when it was announced late in 2011. The new “slimline” Lego girls and their convertibles and beauty salons outraged bloggers, inspired a protest petition signed by more than 50,000 people, and earned a pro-Lego cover story at Businessweek.

Finish reading the story here.

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Talking about the medium chill and leaving work early … but still paying the bills

I am always tempted to complain, because it is hard to admit that you have it almost perfect, but my work/life balance is almost perfect.  I work short days, with fairly interesting projects at my day job, and hours with my wife and kids and time to write at night.  Oh, and I get paid enough not to worry about repo men and foreclosure.

Thank you Sweden.  Now if only you would learn how to smile …

The medium chill: This is a story from Grist last year, and I love it.  It goes into all the difficulties humans have with stepping off the fast track, eliminating possibilities and walking away from prestige and money.  And it praises relationships and time with family, while being realistic about the annoyances of being a little short of cash.  Even here in Sweden, E and I reach for the medium chill – small apartment, summer cottage with no water, no car, old stroller, not working 100 percent.  And we gain so much.  A quote:

That’s what consumer culture forever tells us: more money/stuff/status means fewer constraints, more freedom, more choices, thus more happiness. The entire economy runs on spending and debt, and for that to work everyone needs to think they’re not happy but could be happy if they just had more sh*t or a better job or a better house. Every “consumer” needs to be running on the treadmill, working toward the next thing.

But social psychologists tell a different story. They point out that there’s very little evidence that, once a certain base level of material security is achieved, more money and stuff make us happier. Gilbert offers one explanation: having fewer choices is often more conducive to synthetic happiness.

Her Key to Efficiency, Arrive Late, Leave Early:  This story tells an expat tale from Paris of a woman who discovered that she was more efficient with shorter work days.  Yes!  Having only six hours to get my job done means I leave very little time for screwing around.  Of course, it puts the pressure on too, but I’ll take that if I can unwind in the sun with my kids every afternoon.  Plus, there was this interesting tidbit about Dads. Once again, I find I am not unique:

More interestingly, she found a third category of men, who were successful in terms of performance evaluations and compensation, but who actually worked fewer hours and were unavailable for the office on evenings, weekends and vacations. These men subtly and skillfully chose the projects and clients that would allow more flexibility – and surrounded themselves with kindred spirits who would cover for one another. But they had also learned that it was better for their careers to remain discreet about their strategy, and so they weren’t role models for the rest.

Bring Back the 40-Hour Workweek:  From Alternet, via Salon, this is a look at why we had the 40-hour workweek to begin with.  And guess what? It was not just labor being lazy.  It was business figuring out that workers work best when they have shorter days.  In the short run, we only get a little more done in hours 40-60, and over the long run, it’s a disaster. :

American workers don’t realize that for most of the 20th century, the broad consensus among American business leaders was that working people more than 40 hours a week was stupid, wasteful, dangerous and expensive — and the most telling sign of dangerously incompetent management to boot.

Money Is the Root of All Parenting:  But don’t get poor!  Which seems obvious, but is perhaps a good message in the face of all these earthy work less links.  Lisa Belkin at the Huffington Post talks about reports that show that parents lose it more when they are stressed and angry (of course).  And how to avoid that?  Don’t lose sleep about the car repair bill.  Don’t get frantic about bank overdraft fees.

Hard to pull that off if you are poor.  So how to help the poor, or more specifically, their children?

What, then, is the alternative? They start with a few suggestions: “stabilize incomes, provide low-income credit alternatives to deal with the ups and downs of life, or ensure stable housing. These may not be “parenting” programs in the conventional sense of the term. But by freeing up psychic resources they allow people to be the parents they want to be, they allow more traditional parental skills programs to be more successful.”

Monday links: Talking about a revolution or business as usual?

Back in the 1990s, while I lived in post-war Croatia, I was on the edges of a proto-environmental, social justice movement that first blossomed in the anti-globalization protests in 2000 and now with Occupy Wall Street.  I am far from that life now (well, not if you consider pushing paternity leave a radical politics), but am fascinated by the change in tone in the mainstream press since OWS.  What seemed unthinkable in the 1990s and especially during the credit boom, which I covered as a newspaper reporter outside NYC, is not commonplace – open talk of socialism and the radical failure of market captialism.

Really?  Sometimes it becomes so clear what a bubble we inhabit in Sweden – a bubble of the good kind.

Capitalism versus the climate: Naomi Klein goes to a conservative conference and confirms all their fears.  Yes, to save the world we will need to drastically reject everything they stand for.  We will need to restructure the way the world works.  And the climate must go before all else.  Our survival depends on it.

Is This the End of Market Democracy?: This is notable because it appears in the New York Times, though on the campaign blog, which suggests to me that it got smuggled in somehow.  A Columbia journalism professor examines all the very respectable and mainstream economic figures who argue we need a major change, that the current system is more or less doomed.  Jeffrey Sachs invokes the success of “northern Europe” and its social democracy as a model. It ends like this:  “At an undetermined point in the not too distant future, however, as the “gale of creative destruction” blows through the heartland, the debate will become inescapable.”

What Future for Occupy Wall Street?: A look in the New York Review of Books at where OWS has come and where it is going.  Bascially, the story is not uplifting.  Police intimidation is working.  The lack of concrete demands and the insistence on radical consensus makes the movement hard to build.  But you have to admire that the core group is about more than moderately changing the status quo, it is about a moral call for a new kind of society.  And with a huge chunk of Americans under 30 in favor of “socialism,” who knows where it will go?

Bill Clinton:  Someone We Can All Agree On:  And for the counterpoint, we have Bill Clinton, the ultimate believer in working the system to make it all work.  This is the standard view – and one that is very compelling.:  we have to focus on what is achievable, we have to look at what Obama actually got done, we have to find people real, concrete jobs, not worry about all this hippie stuff on the edges, that you have to be realistic about the American culture, that the country is center-right, and so on.  I get it, I really do, Bill.  But is that reality or just the 1990s calling?

Monday links: French parents, the return of the Yellow Wiggle, the end of war and writing with children

Why French Parents Are Superior:  This is a Wall Street Journal story based on a book by Pamela Druckerman, an American mother who lives in Paris.  As of now, there are 571 comments on the WSJ story alone.  The essence is that the French raise better behaved, more respectful children than Americans.  She attributes this to more discipline and boundary setting.

Please.  I might buy this on face value except that she pushes the “cry it out” method with babies.  Huge red flag.  So that got me thinking, and I read the comments, and I realize that Swedish kids are also more respectful and better behaved than the imaginary, spoiled American kids she talks about.  And the Swedes co-sleep, stay at home with their kids longer, and value both mothers and fathers (umm, the French do not, well, not nearly as much).  So what’s the explanation then?  I have no idea.  A northern European conformity?  Just not being American?

Or maybe the book is just a good way to get the American chattering classes, well, chattering. Like with Tiger Mothers, and Wolf Fathers, and all that.

Writing with Children: A nice essay on one novelist – and mother – and her journey in her writing life as a new parent.  I happen to have the opposite experience of the author – having children opened up my writing life and forced me to focus (and I was home as much as many Moms) –  but that takes nothing away from it.

Welcome back, Yellow Wiggle: I sometimes ponder starting a blog about children’s TV shows: their mythic value, the songs, the pop references, the plot structure … the gossip.  And here is some good gossip.  The original Yellow Wiggle is back after years of absence due to illness.  It’s like Blue’s Clues going back to Steve, after Joe.  Except Steve would be old and bald.

I don’t know.  I don’t like it.  The new Yellow Wiggle, Sam, was just fine.  And do the Wiggles really have magic to rekindle?  What’s this about?  Are there money woes in Wiggle land?  Did Sam do something really, really awful to Henry the Octopus?

John Horgon on erasing war from the human condition: John Horgan just wrote a book called “The End of War,” and this is not the only book like this out there right now. This makes me happy. I used to work in post-war grassroots peace projects, and I always liked to think we could go this way as a species. It seems counterintuitive, what with Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, drone assassinations, the militarization of American life, but a good argument is made by both Horgan and the author of the other book, Steven Pinker, that an ever-more-connected and democratic humanity has the potential to move past violence, and, in fact, is already doing so (even if the results of the remaining violence are streamed ever more directly right onto all our various screens).

Monday links – Europe works, the US tax code does not, and thank goodness for subsidized preschool

Going to try something – just links I’ve liked over the past week or two.  It’s everything I would put on Facebook if I did much on Facebook or if anybody who comes here saw my Facebook page.

Why Is Europe a Dirty Word?  – This column from Nicholas Kristoff in the New York Times is superficial but important because it recognizes all the ways that Europe works, in contrast to important ways the US does not.  I think most Americans would be surprised to learn how many people see the US as a sort of failed state.

Behind Every Great Woman – BusinessWeek wrote a cover story about the men who stay at home to support their successful wives.  The problem?  It’s about role reversal, not equality.  A very small step.

Homemaker Dad, Breadwinner Mom – In a blog entry at the New York Times, Nancy Folbre takes on my point above.   And she gets into detail about something my wife figured out the first time we did our taxes in the US.  The system is so biased towards a stay-at-home parent that it makes almost no sense for many spouses – men or women – to work.  In Sweden, of course, both spouses have to work, which is another kind of pressure, but at least a more fair one.  Why not support child care activities and others tax breaks that would allow everyone to go to work – while preserving choice – instead of penalizing mostly women who often do go back to work but for what comes out to insulting wages?

Pre-K Converts – Which brings me to this post from DadWagon, in which Nathan Thornburgh talks about the sad state, and ridiculous cost, of pre-K education in New York City, but also the whole US.   Excuse me while I go metaphorically kiss the stable, competitive, yet secure Swedish welfare state.

 

Equality is slow in Sweden. Equality is fast in Sweden.

People get frustrated here that men don’t take more paternity leave.  Which is good.  In context of the world, Sweden is a paradise of equal parenting.  In context of equality, it’s, well, only OK.  But, still, I have trouble with the impatience, coming from the US and its safety net wasteland.

Which is why I was so happy to see this article in Dagens Nyheter last month.  I quote its most telling stat in another post – that by the 2020s, parental leave days will be split equally between fathers and mothers.  There is a very easy graph in the piece – picture 2, not picture 1.  From the lead of the piece (courtesy of Google Translate):

It is time for a reappraisal. We social scientists and others have often noted that gender equality is slow – and that the great differences between men and women persist. But it is time to abandon this pessimistic picture that often characterizes the public debate. Developments over the past decade suggests that much of the gender equality objectives will be met as early as the 2020s, writes Michael Nordenmark.

Sweden gave men the right to paternity leave in 1974.  So 50 years.  A long time in some respects but for a major epochal shift in family structure?

A blink of the eye …

Pedaling past traffic jams without even knowing it

I live near the traffic jam on the front of our local weekly.  The mess is because they’re putting in a tram line, which is very cool, but apparently a nightmare for drivers.

The beautiful thing?  I had no idea.  I ride my bike to work now, and if I didn’t ride, I would take the subway.  So the traffic patterns of my car-centric (for Sweden) Solna are a mystery to me.  We are talking about getting me a driver’s license but never for the day to day.

Here is something from a passage I wrote on why I still hate to drive:

But it took New York and New Jersey to finally take me from fast to angry, as I completed the crazy car trifecta of the Southland (LA), the Balkans and now the Tri-State area. I took a newspaper job that meant hours of driving up and down a 8-lane stop-and-go boulevard of dusty exurban strip malls. On weekends I suffered the potholes and chaos of New Jersey highways, the hell of the Brooklyn Bridge on a Friday night, and the gridlock of the West Side Highway on a Monday morning. I got buzzed time after time after time, almost always by young guys taking their rage out on me, never with the fastest car, now in a hand-me-down four-cylinder 2002 Dodge Neon.

Mine is not an aggressive rage. It is defensive, built on honor and a sense of outrage. I will not get in your face. But do not dare get in mine. Even then my anger does not ignite into a big ball of flame. I fume, sulk, hold a mean grudge. This withdrawn, quiet anger is just as male as the raving lunatic beating his chest, mirrored in how I cried easily as a child, and then learned not to cry.

Instead I learned to seethe.

The only problem with the bike riding is the dark.  I had to go buy a fluorescent vest today, to go with my bright yellow helmet.  It’s safe.  It’s necessary.  But I shudder to think what my 12-year-old self would say about me now.

Ahhh, to ride free in the California sun.

But I’ll take dorky over dead.  And I’ll take dorky over the traffic jam …