I was there, outside the Chinese restaurant, when Richard Stallman screamed and began to run from the raindrops.
It was early in 2001 and I was at MIT to meet and work with the nice people from Spindletop, a nascent computer hardware designer/reseller with a tiny office in the basement of a Cambridge strip-mall building, right beneath a fitness center. (Seems like a curious detail to include, doesn’t it? Will it be relevant later?) I was running a webhosting co-op at the time. The idea was that Spindletop would provide the hardware while I would provide what we now call “cloud space” for their various websites and downloads. The software that ran the computers would be Debian GNU/Linux, an operating system based on the idea of near-absolute freedom.
Dealing with GNU/Linux meant dealing with Richard Stallman, the eccentric genius who had guided the creation of pretty much everything but the Linux kernel itself. I say “eccentric”, but what I’m really saying is that Stallman is mentally ill. I don’t know the correct words to describe that illness, but it manifests itself in dozens of different ways, from extreme hydrophobia (fear of water!) to various disturbing habits of phraseology, communication, and physical behavior. Nobody who knows Stallman thinks he is sane. By the same token, nobody would doubt his intelligence. He’s the only person I have ever met in person who struck me as being measurably smarter than I am, which sounds horrifyingly egotistical but is probably more a reflection of my choice in fellow-travelers.
Stallman agreed to eat dinner with me on the condition that he be permitted to order my meal and that I eat the whole thing without complaint. I wouldn’t have dinner with a resurrected John Coltrane under those conditions but there were plenty of great jazz musicians and there is only one Richard Stallman. The meal was an utter nightmare, of course. Everything he picked had the texture, and taste, of Jell-O made from dog vomit. I told myself that if G. Gordon Liddy could burn his own finger down to the tendon that I could finish a five-course “authentic” Chinese meal. Having done so, I managed to extract some absolutely brilliant ideas from him about software design and programming principles. “Come back to my office,” he suggested, and we headed out to walk over towards the MIT Media Lab. About ninety seconds into our walk, it started to rain. Just a light sprinkling, not build-the-ark stuff. Stallman screamed like a teenage girl, pulled his dashiki (yes!) over his head, and ran in waddling fashion towards MIT.
Twenty minutes later, I arrived at the Media Lab to find him huddling on the other side of the door, shaking. “Why did you not run?” he asked, in a whining monotone. “Is it because you are heavy?” (I was 195 pounds at the time; lighter than Stallman, half a foot taller.)
“Yes,” I replied, “my weight prevents rapid locomotion.” Stallman nodded in satisfied fashion. Two hours later, in the middle of demonstrating some bizarre Bulgarian folk dance, he looked over his shoulder at me and said, “I would be happier if you were not in the office.” He did not stop dancing. I took this as my cue to leave.
I mention all of this so you know precisely the sort of person who is in the middle of being crucified for “defending Epstein’s rape island” by his institutional rivals.