Sunday, November 21, 2004

String theorist vs. SUVs

All of my left-wing anti-gasoline readers - and they probably constitute a majority of the readers - should consider their support for Billy Cottrell.

Billy Cottrell is a slightly eccentric :-) 23-year-old graduate student from Caltech who decided that the SUVs were evil, and therefore spray-painting (and possibly also torching) these SUVs is the right answer.

The total damages are about 2.3 million dollars and Cottrell has been threatened with up to 40 years in the prison. Well, it's not too surprising that he has probably agreed to become a police informant and his ecoterrorist friends have unfortunately stopped their support.

But why is it interesting? It's because Billy is described as a string theorist! The judge Gary Klausner, for example, mentioned that "string theory was an area of physics". Billy corrected him: "It's the area of physics." :-)

Of course, it's too bad that Billy has put himself into such problems, but he has some sympathies of mine, too. The main difference between Billy and the Kyoto protocol is that the damages made by Billy are 2.5 million, while those caused by the Kyoto protocol in the world will be 2.5 trillion - and the latter will be completely legal, unlike Billy's Molotov cocktails. :-) Moreover, the Kyoto is much less focused. ... ... ...

At any rate, I would like to discourage all of my other fellow string theorists from torching SUVs and other types of ecoterrorism.

The newest developments (I wrote them before, but was frozen): Billy has been convicted on virtually all charges facing him, except for the most serious one that would imply at least 30 years in the prison. Without this particular charge, he is expected to spend roughly 5 years in the federal prison. His attorney wanted to argue that Billy had Asperger's syndrome, but it won't work, it seems.

I learned that he wrote a bachelor thesis about p-adic numbers in string theory at Chicago... I also learned about his research at Caltech which should be kept confidential, I think.


  1. I'm surprised you don't mention the most recent developments: Billy has been convicted of almost all the charges facing him, but in a surely pity-induced twist was not convicted of the mandatory 30-year sentence.

    He was convicted of (federal) arson charges and a conspiracy charge, but was acquitted of the serious charge: use of a destructive device (cocktail) in the commission of a violent crime.

    So most likely he'll be getting 2-5 years in federal prison.

    His co-conspirators, a former Caltech undergrad (who I TA'd!) and his girlfriend, have long since fled the

    Somewhat amusing was his lawyer's thwarted attempt to use Asperger's Syndrome as a defense.

  2. I guess the danger of a 40 years jail sentence (absurd for an action where no one was hurt) prevented the lawyer from defending the case using a "crime to prevent a greater crime" argument.
    This approach has been successfully used in Britain to defend activists who damaged planes Britain was selling to Indonesia. Defense successfully argued that the crime can not be punished since it prevents a greater crime, namely genocide of the East Timorese.

    If any link exists between this and greenhouse gases, defacing and even setting fire completely unnecessary gas-guzzlers is just as much of a legally justified civic action as damaging bombers bound being sold to repressive regimes. The only possible problem is it's effectiveness. Personally, I think
    less confrontational approaches are more effective at actually making people think twice about their choices they make.

  3. Educated people, in general, are environmentally aware. But what people like Billy Cottrell and his fellow ELFers, some of which were at his trial (e.g. Faradawn, Nick H.), have done is create an environment where being an "environmentalist" is equated with being a radical left wing tree hugger, or worse. With many of the "true believers" they are also associated with the anarchist movement, like the Orange County Anarchist Federation, and the Southern Californornia Anarchist Federation, to name a couple. Why does environmentalism have to be associated with such negative movements? All people, left wing, right wing, and the majority of the people in the middle, would be more inclined to be associated with "environmentalism" if the enviroterrorists and the negativity they co-mingle with would cease to exist. Extremism is not required to make people aware, but rational compromise that sees both sides would do a lot for environmentalism in general, particularly in the media and to the public in general.