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Columns > David Steinberg - Some Are Mathematicians

Published: 2001/09/19
by David Steinberg

What Is It Good For?

"Hey my brother, think I’ve finally discovered
That some things just can’t be understood
And so hard as we try, we can only rely
On the fact that everything is for the good" – Peter Himmelman
On Tuesday September 11, 2001 my mind was occupied by the Mariners
pennant race and the fact that the magic number to clinch the division
was down to an amazing 2. I was thinking about the Live Phish release
that was due to arrive any day. I was working on my column (about
Bumbershoot and the way we listen to music) in my head. When I
checked my email that morning, I expected to find some posts from
friends and about 100 copies of the SirCam virus. The usual.
Instead, of course, what I got were a bunch of emails with subjects
like, "Plane hits World Trade Tower." I spent about 10 minutes trying
to get to load before I remembered that there was a tv in the
room. By that time the second plane had hit and the chance of this
being an accident was zero.
The worst moment of this week in a week of bad moments came right
after that. As I was getting in a bus to go to my Java class, I heard
that the Pentagon had been attacked and (apparently falsely) the
State Department had been hit by a car bomb. For 45 minutes, I was in
a news free zone; no one on the bus had a radio. All I could think
of was that what had happened was a distraction and the real attack
was about to be let loose. Fortunately, I was wrong.
This was not the only thing I was happy to be wrong about. The
reaction of the American public has been much better than expected.
We all know about the 3 hour waits to give blood and no one will ever
be able to look at firefighters the same way again, but there’s even
more going on below that. An undercurrent of sanity is prevailing.
Sure there are idiots who are attacking mosques, but for every one of
them, there are hundreds coming out to speak out against them. Arab
run falafel joints in Seattle have been full of customers every time
I’ve gone by one. Even in terms of the counter attack, people are
remaining calm. The plans I was hearing on CNN Sunday morning weren’t
talking about indiscriminately bombing Afghan cities. They were
talking in terms of SWAT style raids to actually try to break up the
terrorist camps. It won’t be perfect and innocents will still die,
but at least it’s a better approach than nuking the mid east. I never
thought I’d be saying this, but Bush – at least so far – is doing an
amazing job.
One thing to remember here, is that the Taliban doesn’t fear American
military might. They’ve been at war for decades now. There are no
targets to bomb anymore. What they do fear is not our bombs, but our
culture. The war here is not between Muslims and Jews or Arabs and
Americans, it’s between those of us who just want to live our lives
and go see music and celebrate life versus those who are willing to
kill people who don’t believe the same things as them. I don’t care
if your belief is "The holy land belongs to the Christians," or "54-40
or Fight," or "We must return civilization to a time before language,"
or "We must not let the Great Satan defile our holy land." I don’t
care if it’s, "The West Bank was promised to us in the Bible," or,
"Israel must be eliminated." The vast majority of us just aren’t
interested. The people who died on the 11th weren’t the people who
put the base in Saudi Arabia (The "defilement" of Saudi Arabia is what
offended Bin Laden.) The people who would die in any revenge
scenario nuking of Kabul wouldn’t be the people who ordered the WTC
attacks. The goal here is to do what we need to defend ourselves
without making this into a jihad of our own.
With those thoughts in mind, when SCI tickets finally went on sale on
Friday, I decided to do the Raleigh -> Asheville run. I bought a
plane ticket to the east coast, one that has legs similar to the ones
that were hijacked. The goal of the terrorists is to get us into
their world view, a world of hate and revenge. I refuse. Maybe some
sacrifices will have to be made over the next few years, but we don’t
have to sacrifice everything. Why fight a war without remembering
what it is we are fighting for? In the war between hope and terror,
between death and beauty, between killing and appreciating, there is
only one side to be on. Today (Sunday 11/16) I am letting myself
finally listen to Live Phish. You may take away my life, but you’re
not going to take away my will to live.
"Though this world may seem bitter-cold
it don’t stay that way I’m told
For the sun is gonna shine on us one day
But I scream until I shake, sayin’ there must be some mistake
But G-d don’t have to teach you this way" – Peter Himmelman
David Steinberg got his Masters Degree in mathematics from New Mexico
State University in 1994. He first discovered the power of live music
at the Capitol Centre in 1988 and never has been the same. His Phish
stats website is at and he was the stats section editor
for The Phish Companion.

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