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LA Weekly: Billy Cottrell

On Wednesday, several blogs related to physics discussed the article in LA Weekly about

a young string theory graduate student from Caltech who has burned 100+ SUVs and who now faces a very hard time (100 months) in the prison. In a couple of hours, he has humiliated the opinions of all critics of string theory who say that string theorists are afraid of experiments. A prospective student of a leader in topological string theory has made more expensive experiments than all the critics have made in their lives combined. ;-)

The article in LA Weekly is interesting. For example, Cottrell used to watch Bill O'Reilly, vote for Schwarzenegger, and blame lazy people for many bad things. These facts - that he is not a canonical obnoxious left-wing intellectual - only increase my secret sympathy for him. But not all of my sentiments are positive as you will see. ;-)

Where does my primary sympathy come from, besides the very male brain that Cottrell almost certainly shares with your humble correspondent? ;-) Well, he's a very bright and very honest guy who believes certain things, who is ready to sacrifice himself, and who currently suffers for others. Of course that in the ideal world, it should be primarily those environmentalists who are causing real harm to the world - such as Al Gore - who should be harassed in the prison instead of Billy Cottrell. But these people are just too slick and dishonest and they know how to move in the real world of hypocrisy, political correctness, and intimidation.

The same thing holds for Cottrell's former ecoterrorist collaborators who left Billy in trouble - trouble that was partly caused by themselves - and who have disappeared. They're moral scum.

On the other hand, I think it is crazy to create the impression of a great injustice here. What Billy Cottrell has done is an indisputable crime. I think that it is a textbook example of ecoterrorism (see the definition if you have any doubts), too. How could it not be? There are surely many SUV-haters around who think that it should be legal to burn 100+ SUVs. Well, let me tell them that Billy Cottrell suffers for their sins and perverse opinions, too.

Finally, let me direct a message to the people responsible for life in that prison. Please, stop the harassment. I have a full understanding for your anger against those who have no respect for ownership rights and who may represent a time-bomb for the whole society but please try to understand that Billy Cottrell is just one unlucky person whom you can punish but such a punishment won't make the world too much better.

His personality has many golden facets that you don't want to see and that you are killing. Allow him to get all textbooks of theoretical physics he needs, a lot of paper and pens. Allow him to be in good shape. If he can do something useful with this material, you may be credited for a part of it. People like Cottrell can often create more valuable things than 3.5 million USD worth of SUVs.

A low intelligence is the most accurate indicator of the chances for most people to be arrested: IQ can almost certainly account for the relative representation of different groups. That's why bright exceptions like Billy Cottrell have such a hard time. He has received 100 ordinary months in prison, not 100 horror months in prison or death penalty, and the job of the staff is to guarantee that this is what he will get. Punishing people for being brighter than other prisoners and the staff is just not their job.

And that's the memo.

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