• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


Math Geek Mom: Jonas and Tian Tian

And hoping for wisdom.


January 28, 2016

I first learned of the game the “prisoner’s dilemma” while in college during what turned out to be the final decade of the Soviet Union. That game, in which everyone does their best individually but ends up in the worst possible place as a group, was sometimes used to describe the outcome associated with the approach of stockpiling nuclear missiles that became known as “M.A.D.” or “mutually assured destruction.” This approach to national defense led to the expensive arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union for many years. Those were the days when people asked how many times a country could blow up the Earth, with few bothering to ask whether being able to blow it up 19 times was really better than being able to destroy it 18 times.

I like to think that I came up with a better way. Rather than build missiles to destroy the U.S., I, a college student in Washington, D.C. who had seen our nation’s capital react (or not react) to several minor snow storms, proposed that the Soviet Union just learn how to make it snow over Washington, D.C. Doing so would bring the capital of the free world to a screeching halt.

I found myself telling my father about this idea last week, as the blizzard Jonas barreled towards the East Coast, threatening the usual rhythm of life and commerce in major cities along the Eastern seaboard of the United States. I certainly hope that all of my readers living in its path ploughed through (pun intended) what must have been a very long weekend.

For once, those of us that usually get hammered by “lake effect” snow were left with relatively fine weather, for January, at least. We watched on TV as the rest of the country deal with issues that are a matter of course for residents here. Having been stranded on different occasions in both Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. due to weather issues that grounded planes, I felt great sympathy for the people shown on the news in those cities who were waiting for their flights to be rescheduled. I was particularly struck by a story of one couple off to warmer destinations for a wedding. They were lucky in that they found a flight that was still going to their destination. Within minutes, they were on their cell phones telling all their guests to change their flights to meet up for that one flight (from just about anywhere, I suppose) headed to the desired island. I smile when I think of what that flight must have been like, with the bride and groom and almost all of their wedding guests. I wonder what the other passengers and crew thought about being on that “party flight!”

But my favorite memory from this past weekend came when my daughter found a video online of Tian Tian, a panda who lives at the National Zoo. It shows him enjoying the white fluffy stuff that he woke up to find himself surrounded by. I was particularly struck by the very human-like response to the snow that this bear exhibited. Indeed, I remember my own daughter making very similar moves as she woke up each morning in her crib, and am very sad that I did not think ahead enough to videotape her movements (although a good excuse might be found in the fact that, in those days, videotape was just that; a tape in a tape recorder.) That video that my daughter showed me reminded me of the insight that we all should stop to enjoy the world around us, even when it disrupts our plans. (Or wedding.)

Washington, D.C., despite its poor responses to snow removal, is still a wonderful place to live, a very special city that I am glad I once had the privilege to call my home. In these coming days, I wish my fellow Americans who live in Iowa and New Hampshire the best as they begin the long process of choosing one of its next residents; may you exhibit great wisdom as you fulfill this important duty.



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