Thursday, May 26, 2005


I haven't been able to post for the last two days because I haven't been at the office and I had no internet connection at home. Now I have no computer at home. Hardly a tragedy, but it has imposed radio silence. I won't get the computer back until next week. I may not post this weekend. I'll miss you! (I'll be here tomorrow and back by next Tuesday at the latest.)

On Tuesday, I was at a class about how to display quantitative information and how to give good presentations. Important lessons: powerpoint makes you stupid (bulleted lists lead to pointless hierarchy, obscuring important issues; the lack of room for content on each slide means important and complex issues are oversimplified or skipped); the small, low-resolution computer screen is relentlessly sequential, making it hard to compare information; websites should be simple and free of gimmicks so that content is primary (I've tried some simplification on this site--anyone notice?); and it should be easy to combine graphics, numbers and text in one computer program, but the forces of evil (i.e. software companies) make it damn hard and expensive.

It was interesting but possibly no more useful than reading the three, big, aesthetically pleasing books that were included with the fee. (Moral dilemma: do these books belong to me or work? Work paid for them. I think work owns them. Too bad, they are very pretty.) I was pleasantly out of the office the entire day, but still paid, which is always nice. After class was over, I took my laptop to the Apple Store, where they very gently removed my baby from my white-knuckled grip. Baby was shipped to Texas to get a new logic board, which needs to be replaced because it contains the broken modem.

Wednesday, I was off to Baltimore to see B2 (my ultra-orthodox, rabbi-type, older brother who lives in Israel). He goes to Baltimore for business a couple of times a year and I see him if I can. We didn't do much--shopped at Target, ate Kosher pizza (yum) and talked. It's always good to see him, if a little awkward.

That leads me to the second moral dilemma of this post. In the course of our conversation, it became abundantly clear that my nieces don't know anything about birth control. I was bending B2's ear with tales demography. (I specialized in Demography and Urban Sociology in grad school.) I touched on "numeracy about children." In the US, if you ask someone how many kids they want, they will usually give you a number (or a range). But in some cultures, there is no sense that it is possible or appropriate to control the number of children you have. Such a woman might answer, "As many as God sends." In April, when I was visiting my brothers and all of their kids in NJ, my oldest brother, B1, asked a couple of our (very religious, ultra-orthodox) nieces how many kids they wanted. They wouldn't give him a number. They said, "As many as come." Or "As many as I can." I had a little "a-ha" moment: these young women have no concept of numeracy about children.

I related this story to B2 and explained how I'd recognized the phenomenon. Then I said, "But the girls know that the number children you have can be controlled." I was referring to B2's wife's decision to use birth control (they only have five kids. I know, I know). They had to go to a rabbi to ask permission. It's a famous story in our family because it took three tries to get the rabbi's blessing. It's not forbidden to use birth control in their world but it's not a common practice. B1 said, "But they don't know why." That's when it hit me. I said, "But they can put two and two together." B1 said, "Maybe."


These girls will be married and furiously popping out babies in just a few years--wouldn't it be good if they knew they had some control--even if it were just for spacing purposes? Two of my nieces are probably going to visit me this summer and I may have to sit them down and explain a few things. That's the moral dilemma: should I say anything? Actually, it's not much of a dilemma. The dilemma is more like, should I say something even if it is disrespectful to B2? The answer to that is: too damn bad for B1. It's not about him anymore.

My policy with these kids has always been not to interfere (even though I have almost no opportunities to interfere). I will follow their lead. If they ask me something, I will answer. If they choose to break the "rules" I won't comment. However, how can they ask about birth control if they don't even know it's out there? I wonder how my sister-in-law knew. And has she really not told her children? Maybe she hasn't told her husband that she's told her children...seems more likely. I have to tell them either way. At least I have few months to prepare. I know I said this already, but: Yikes.

Grateful for: progressive parents. Sure, it seemed like too much information at the time, but the alternative is much, much worse.

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