A few more thoughts on those arsonists. As I said, I was a BSC theatre major, so maybe I've got a little insight into the motivations of these kids. Just scanning the blogs I've seen a lot of speculation; some folks home in on the UAB guy's profession of Satanism. A surprising number have speculated that it was some kind of Methodists Vs. Baptists thing. The latter set of theories reminds me that however much fun armchair conspiracy theorizing is as a parlor game, it's also a good way to look silly to folks who have inside knowledge.
When I was a student I did a lot of dumb things to test the boundaries of appropriate behavior/what I could get away with. In part it's about asserting one's own power; in part it's about seeing "God still loves me" by seeing what one can get away with. I recall one time a buddy and I were on a late night grocery run. A cute gal was in line in front of us. We saw her driving away and we decided to follow her. We didn't mean any harm; we just thought it would be a hoot to play at stalking. We followed her to her house, idled across the street as she went inside, sat there for a minute, just reveling in our naughtiness, and then drove off. Maybe we scared her, though she didn't show it. I'm not at all proud of this; we should have considered that we might really upset the poor woman. But I suspect it flowed from the same source as the arsonists' "joking" escapades.
The difference, I think, is that we didn't cross that final line; we didn't get out of the car and do anything to the woman or the property. We were Dungeons and Dragons nerds-we knew how to live out our evil fantasies in imaginary, harmless ways. Perhaps respect for other people was the missing ingredient in these boys-not a "yes sir yes ma'am" respect, but an awareness that however important the assertion of your identity is, it's not more important than a respect for other peoples' needs. In other words I'd suggest that the problem wasn't that they wanted to be "bad," but that they didn't understand that there's good bad and bad bad. Good bad is more decorative than functional. It's good to sing the song of yourself, even if it's a song that not everyone likes; it's just not good to try to drown out other people singing their songs.