This past Friday, a jail inmate was charged with sending a silly little threatening letter with white powder to a John McCain for el presidente headquarters (an office with presumably little-to-no good sense of humor) in Colorado. The issue did not arise so much because of a simple little threat ("If you are reading this, then you are already dead!"). It's the "white powder" part.
Predictably, the office freaked out immediately by assuming the white powder to be the deadly anthrax and sent 19 people to the hospital to be examined.
The problem not only arises from the simple fact that how on earth could this man, clearly sending the letter from jail because the return address on the envelope said so, could find anthrax in his cell. It arises from the fact that nowadays, everyone assumes that powder in an envelope absolutely and invariably means immediate quarantine and quite possibly little Xs written on your eyelids by a pale doctor who for some reason looks like he, himself, has been a skeleton for about 20 years.
Had you sent an envelope of white powder to, say, Richard Nixon when he ran for re-election in 1972, the assumption would no doubt be that you had just sent the presidential hopeful a little hill of cocaine. I highly doubt Nixon would have taken the cocaine, of course, but it could be guaranteed that some snotty little campaign intern would have blown it then and there - then deemed it to be poor quality as he can afford the best blow for he and his bourbon-sipping ivy league pals frequenting velvet-draped strip clubs.
In the 1950s, however, had you sent an envelope of white powder to Eisenhower's headquarters, well, obviously you were baking your darling plastics-loving husband a big ol' Betty Crocker cake and - oops! - dropped a little baking soda into the letter you wrote Your Darling President.
Now look way back to Washington's time, and here's when fear comes back into play. White powder in the envelope of a letter you send the number one of number ones clearly means you're a witch and made the paper disintegrate in mid-send. Prepare to be hanged.
So if history continues to repeat itself as it has proved to (i.e. Vietnam and Iraq wars), then things will go full-circle and white powder in an envelope to a presidential hopeful, in the next decade or so, will go back to being a harmless drop in a bucket. Fingers crossed - crushed prescription pills paid for by a national health care system that makes medicine affordable enough to be accidentally spilled into a letter by 2032.
Sarah Steimer is a junior magazine journalism major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her