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Columns > David Steinberg - Some Are Mathematicians

Published: 2008/11/23
by David Steinberg

This Land is Our Land

Like so many people, the last two months have been spent completely obsessing over this election. OK, yes, the 10-12 months before that were also spent thinking about it, but I only loaded Dem Con Watch a couple times a day during the primaries – Hey look! A Superdelegate from Minnesota just declared for Obama! – whereas I basically was living on Five Thirty Eight and related websites. It was a lot of fun learning in great detail about how polling works [1] and figuring out ways to predict results. Now that it’s finally over, we have a chance to reflect a little.
Barack Obama was the candidate I was interested in back in 2007. I nearly went to go see him speak in December – but it was a $25 donation and back then I couldn’t imagine giving money to a politician little did I know what the next year would bring – and I got very excited as he won Iowa on our way to Jam Cruise. It’s rare that the candidate I want in the primaries wins and I have never voted for a winning presidential candidate [2], so the idea of following someone for over a year and then watching him win is about as alien as having the Mariners win the World Series. I’m still a little stunned that this happened.
So what drew me to Obama? It was many things. It was the fact that he was the one candidate who had been on the record from the beginning that the Iraq War was a mistake. It was that he actually said the things that I have been saying for years. It was watching a town hall meeting and seeing that he actually has a position on patent reform. All of that would be sufficient to make me want to win, but there was something beyond that that inspired me. I didn’t know what it was until I looked at this video.

This was from a street celebration on Capitol Hill – the gay friendly, hipster neighborhood in Seattle. What shocks me about the celebration is not that they’re dancing to a remix of ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ or that there’s someone in a bunny suit dancing around, but rather that there are people waving American flags. That’s not something you would have seen there in the Bush years.
While the African American community is obviously taking the most pride in the Obama election, they’re not the only ones. People who wouldn’t have considered themselves patriotic before are suddenly going to flag stores and purchasing American flags. While the promise of the United States has always been that it’s been a haven for the outcasts, the reality has only occasionally lived up to it. I might have voted for Obama due to his intelligence, due to the fact that he seemed like the person most likely to steer us out of this recession and get us out of Iraq, but the reason I’m actually excited for this moment is that he does stand for the expansion who can be considered part of the American core culture. If an African American with a history of drug use and an Arabic name who collects comic books and makes Star Trek references can be elected, it does seem like the possibilities are wide open. [3]
While this entire month has been pretty exciting, all such moments do pass. Eventually the reality of just how bleak the situation Obama finds himself in will catch up to us. Until that happens though, I think we need to stick to a piece of advice from the Seattle celebration, something that will help us out tremendously over the next 4 (hopefully 8) years. Things might get difficult but Obama fans, remember the words from Journey. Don’t stop believing. Hold on to that feeling.
[1] So a few days before the election I go out to eat and, like always, grab my phone to see if there were any new polls. I notice a new VA poll and tell Melissa about it. ‘Oh well. I’d like it to be more but 6 points is pretty solid.’
So as we’re leaving an employee came up to us and asked us how we liked the food. Then he said, ‘Sorry to intrude but did you say something about a poll?’
‘Yeah, Virgina PPP. Obama has a 6 point lead.’
‘Ah, I had been hearing the Mason Dixon polls today on MSNBC.’
Then my instincts took over and I said, ‘Well Mason Dixon does have a Republican lean,’ before I could even think about it. He immediately replied, ‘Yeah, that’s what I thought, just like Rasmussen.’
Ah Seattle, where you can’t even go out to eat without running into someone who hangs out on 538 all day…
[2] During the Clinton years, I was flirting with Libertarianism
[3] Credit for Obama’s election must be given in part to Phish. In both 2000 and 2004, the election occurred right after Phish had temporarily broken up. The 2008 election happened right after they announced their return. Coincidence? I don’t think so!
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
He is the stats section editor for The Phish Companion and is on the board of directors for the Netspace Foundation. You can read more of his thoughts at

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