The Unabomer And Me


---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Thu, 18 Feb 1999 10:21:40 -0500 (EST)
From: James Grimmelmann 
To: Poets n' Postmodernists n' Potato-eaters 
Subject: The Unabomer And Me

For some time now, the wall by the phone in our room has held a
clipping from the _Demon_ of perhaps the funniest drawing ever.
>From an "article" about how humans can strike back at animals, this
picture was the illustration for "Mail Bomb."  Three dogs stand
around on their hind legs, one of them holding a package.  The
leftmost dog is saying "I think it's a trap."  The one with the
package -- a package which is going "tick, tick" rather ominously --
replies with the rejoinder "But we NEVER get mail!"  And their
rather excitable companion to the right, ears and tail wagging so
quickly they appear as blurs, is settling the question by insisting
"Open it!  Open it!  Open it!"  

Those three pithy little lines have ruled the universe of Quincy 623
in-jokes with an iron fist ever since their introduction a fwe
months ago.  Barely a day goes by when one of us doesn't pipe up
with a "But we NEVER get breakfast," or an "I think it's a trap," in
reference to some suspiciously good news.  Items for the benefit of
the room, by convention, are now left by our message board with
little dry-erase notes to "Open it!  Open it!  Open it!"  And
sketches of those three doomed, but impossibly cute, little doggies
show up everywhere Chase has been.

---

This is all background, I should note, to my explanation of how it
was that I came to believe, yesterday, that I was the recipient of a
mail bomb.

There it was in my mailbox, one of those standard slips Quincy House
uses to let you know there's a package waiting at the super's.  I
wasn't expecting anything in particular, but packages are the
jackpot in the daily mailbox lottery, the incontrovertable proof  
that someone, somewhere, loves you, so I ran off to get it.  It was
a FedEx wrapper, around some unknown cubical object about six inches
to a side.  Odd.  Nothing I could think of came in that shape, or
rather, just about anything could come in that shape.

I brought it up to the room and looked at the address label.  It was
computer-printed, to "Mr. james grimmelmann," at my Quincy Mail
Center address.  Except for the capitalization, that looked legit.
But the return address was "Jacques Leonidas, 485 Madison Avenue,
New York, NY 10022."  And I don't know any Jacques, nor do I know
anyone from the clan Leonidas.  I was scratching my head in
puzzlement when my eye fell on the cartoon, and some internal
suspicion meter tripped.

In an instant, my mind was filled with all the ways in which I
could be mistaken for a member of the Evil Technocratic Conspiracy:
a computer-science student about to embark on a programming career
from one of the traditional institutions that rule the world in
secret.  I couldn't think of anyone out to get me, but then again,
the Unabomer's targets probably didn't realize that Ted Kaczynski
was sitting in his shack in Montana plotting their disintegration. I
asked Chase for his opinion. He poked it. "Styrofoam," he said, 
"That's what they put bombs in."

There was a phone number on the mailing label.  I called it.  A
mechanized voice told me the number had been disconnected.  My
adrenaline level skyrocketed.  I decided to make one last check -- a
quick internet search on Mr. Leonidas should tell me whether I was
dealing with a genuine person or an alias.  Well, the first few hits
I turned up were for Leonidas Petrakis, author of a book on magnetic
resonance, and for Leonidas Lafayette Polk, a very minor Civil War
subject of a Sons of Confederate Veterans tribute page.

There was also a link to Leonidas Chocolatiers, a Belgian
candymaking concern.  On a hunch, I followed their link to their
list of American distributors.  And there, under "New York," was the
mystery address.  Their phone number, "900-2462," turned out to
spell "900-CHOC."  Suddenly, everything was safe again.  A quick
application of a pair of scissors, and we started our excavation,
evntually locating a box of rather high-quality chocolates inside a
styrofoam shipping container.  Attached was a nice little note from
the people I interned with two summers ago.  And my heartrate
returned to normal.

---

Theodore "Unabomer" Kaczynski has had no direct influence on my
life.  For this fact, I am very glad.  That said, somehow his legacy
has infiltrated my daily consciousness.  But over the last few
years, there have just been too many Unabomer-themed moments in my
life for me to just ignore.

Of course, Kaczynski has touched us all in so many ways.  Especially
being here at Harvard, and especially having hung around the math
department like the hoodlum I was, it's kind of hard to get away
from his image looming over us.  Once you know to look for it,
you can't escape it: the official Harvard Math Department hooded
sweatshirts, the suggestions that Ted Kaczynski and Tom Lehrer are
one and the same, the bad jokes about functions that "blow up at a
point."  

Even still, I feel omeho that I've been singled out for an
extra-special heaping dose of Unabomer mania.  Back in sophomore
year, Alex Wong and I submitted an assignment for a CS class in an
unmarked padded mailing envelope -- I had it lying around, and it
was about the right size for the extensive printout we needed to
turn in.  When the TFs handed it back, the return address had been
filled in with "Unabomer," and a helpful note, reading "We didn't
know what this was, so we called the bomb squad," had been attached.

Nor was that the only time I've been mistaken for the Unabomer.  In
my distant past, when I was young and crazy, I decided to fight the
power of the powers-that-be and their repressive technological
institutions, as embodied in the Core Curriculum.  Convinced that
the application of pure logic would expose the intellectual
fallacies and the sterile dehumanization of the Core, I sat down one
evening to write up my thoughts, and just kept on writing and
writing.  In the tradition of the Unabomer Manifesto, the resulting
ranty screed was rapidly dubbed my Core Manifesto, leading various
and sundry folks to compare me with the Unabomer.  

Yesterday, though, was special.  I got a taste of the experience at
the other end of the stick: I was not Unabomer, but rather Unabomee.