Letter from California

An archive of the weekly "Letter from Calfornia", written by Jim McCarthy.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Letter from California-March 15, 2004

You’ve probably seen the T-shirt that says “I [Heart] NY.” That was the original, but over the years, almost every town with a shirt shop and a chamber of commerce has copied the idea. Just about anywhere you go people can make a statement of civic pride in the form of cheap athletic wear. In fact, with the Internet and desktop printing, I could print an “I [heart] The Four Houses on My Side of Cherry Avenue Past the Street Lamp” shirt and have it overnight mailed to me if I wanted.
Despite this, I’ve never seen the slogan “I [heart] Pollution” until someone sprayed it and other fun saying on a few dozen Hummer H2s at a car dealership in West Covina (about 20 miles east of Los Angeles) back in the fall. Not content to paint a few silly messages, the perpetrators of this dark deed set a fire that destroyed more than 20 vehicles, most of them H2s and accidentally caused a warehouse roof to collapse. Fortunately no one was hurt, but the fire did more than $2 million in damage.
This week, the FBI finally brought in a suspect. It’s one of these bad news-good news kinds of situations. The bad news is that the person they suspect of torching the trucks is William Cotrell, a 23-year old graduate student of the California Technical Institute. For those who don’t know Caltech, it’s a place where genius in math and science is required as a ticket of entry. From there, it’s only one step to Evil Genius, and so you can see how this might be a problem.
The good news, however, is that the suspect is a 23-year old graduate student at Caltech. When not in his secret underground lair, Cotrell probably couldn’t scare anyone but a 2nd level Elf without an invisibility cloak. Not known for their machismo or might, Caltech students won’t exactly intimidate Hummer drivers into doing their will. Cotrell may really be a Mad Scientist (mad about pollution, at least), but he’s going to have to finish his degree and build that Death Ray before I’m willing to give him the title of Evil Genius.
Any parents among you who might be sending a check once or twice a year to an expensive institution like Caltech, I do have a couple of encouraging words. First, you’re probably not paying as much as Cotrell’s parents because Caltech is really expensive. Second, rest assured that Cotrell and his friends have promised to keep their fiery destruction strictly limited to “non-human” targets.
That’s right. No need for alarm. Don’t bother to call Homeland Security because these crazy kids at the Earth Liberation Front (the group that claimed responsibility for the attack) swear they’re not trying to hurt anyone. ELF feels that anything it can do to stop the destruction of the environment, short of murder, is not only peachy-keen, but heroic. Let’s call the Nobel people. I feel a Peace Prize coming on.
Over the last year or so, they haven’t limited themselves just to enormous SUVs. Shortly before last fall’s Hummer attack, ELF members burned down a nearly completed housing development because they believed it was encroaching on wildlife. The owners of the housing development even got the creepy message, “If you build it, we will burn it.” Creepy, that is, until you get an actual look at the likes of Cotrell. He or one of his ELF buddies probably read that line in Lord of the Rings and has waited patiently since eighth grade to use it.
So we know they’re geeks and moral cowards, but it is the stupidity of it that surprises me. These should be smart people. Cotrell, I’m thinking you owe your parents some payback for those SAT prep classes because something went badly wrong in your logical thinking skills. They think it’s ok to destroy something that is going to harm the environment. It stands to reason then that anything I think is going to do harm, I should just destroy. As long as I never hurt anyone, I can basically go around all day bringing down Biblical vengeance on other people’s stuff. If, for example, I think that Celine Dion’s music, when heard at an early age, would lead a child to a life of crime, I have to stop it. It’s my duty to break into that parent’s car with a magnifying glass and melt the CDs before they can work any more of their black magic. And if the car happens to be a Hummer, it’s a twofer!
But my good deeds wouldn’t stop there. Suppose I thought that all those cinnamon apple pretzels down at the mall were going to make everyone as fat as walruses. Wouldn’t that eventually force the Fire Department to have to pay to rent those special cranes to lift people out of their homes when they can’t move anymore? Wouldn’t that take vital money away from other programs? Imagine the suffering if Midnight Basketball can’t get all the cash it needs because too many mall-goers have OD’d on the sweet yet salty flavor of fried bread. I simply must destroy the pretzel-making equipment before it’s too late.
The unfunny part of this is that someday, somewhere, whether they mean to or not, ELF is going to hurt or kill someone. That’s how it eventually goes when you burn down city blocks or fleets of cars. If Cotrell is guilty, he should be forced to bunk with somebody who has the same aggressive attitude toward attacking things he doesn’t like. For his part, Cotrell denies everything despite months of sending smart-alecky emails to the Los Angeles Times talking about how the Feds were missing all the signs of ELF’s presence and how awesome it was to burn SUVs.
So good luck, Cotrell. Good luck, ELF. You’ve really proven a point and made a strong statement.
And that statement is, “we’ve completely wasted our expensive educations.”


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