Friday, June 09, 2006


One of my favorite brags is that a guy I worked for, named Marcus Powell, actually knew the Unibomber when they were both on the math faculty at UC Berkeley.

I believe that the capture happened during a tax season when I was typing taxes for Marcus and his partner Marge. It was Marge who reminded Marcus, “Didn’t you know a guy at Berkeley named Ted Kaczynski?”

Marcus had been a professor at Berkeley. He says he was mostly working on NASA contracts, programming the directional controls of space probes when he came upon a problem that involved “set theory.”

Marcus asked around the department for someone who was up on set theory and was referred to a new faculty member, Ted Kaczynski, who had just arrived from Chicago where he’d done his dissertation on the subject. So, according to Marcus, he had many cordial meetings with Ted.

I asked Marcus the obvious question, “How did you go from being a Math professor at a prestigious university aiming space probes to being a tax preparer?” (To be fair, Marcus was a high-end tax guy.)

“The actual programming was not a very creative activity,” Marcus explained. “There were issues to be resolved but there’s only one correct answer per question. Working on taxes is much more creative, there are more than one correct way to tell any financial story. I’ll wake up at night thinking—I should have done this or that differently on a return. That never happened with the NASA work.”

“So what you’re telling me,” I said, “is that the tax code is more complicated than rocket science.”

“Way more,” Marcus said.

Click HERE for an amusing expose by Alexander Cockburn: Ted Kaczynski had been a CIA/LSD guinea pig.
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