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Half Mast 439

PCM2 writes "The Columbine tragedy planted the idea of a certain kind of 'bad kid' into the American consciousness. He isn't social, he doesn't play sports, doesn't dress right. Maybe he spends more time with his computer than with the other kids in his class. It makes sense that he'd be a threat to his classmates, because he's weird. The consequences of this stereotype for the geek culture have already gotten a lot of air time on Slashdot -- most notably Jon Katz's Hellmouth series. So I immediately thought of Slashdot when I read Christopher Null's novel, Half Mast." Read on for the rest of PCM2's review.
Half Mast
author Christopher Null
pages 219
publisher Sutro Press
rating 7
reviewer PCM2
ISBN 0972098100
summary An interesting novel of murder among high school outsiders.

Alex, the protagonist of the story, is a geeky kid. He gets picked on. And he kills somebody because of it. But that's pretty much where the similarities between Alex and Dylan Klebold end.

What's refreshing about Half Mast is how the author accurately captures the world of a high-school outsider. Writers can be pretty introverted types themselves, but few of them end up killing anybody. So when they try to imagine the type of character who would, a lot of them tend to fall into the trap of inventing someone even more unfathomably nerdy than themselves. Thankfully, Null avoids this.

Alex isn't a complete, pathetic loner. He has friends. And together, Alex, Travis and James aren't the typical cookie-cutter stereotypes of kids too terminally dorky to get with the program. They're not so trollish that they can't get within booger-flicking distance of a girl, or so chess-club square that they wouldn't touch a drop of alcohol at a party (in fact, they spend much of their summers doing just the opposite). Null gets it: that most geeks aren't necessarily "deprived," and being an outsider isn't always about being excluded. It's about being different -- and that, in and of itself, can have its consequences.

In Alex's case, his nemesis is Steve Williams: hometown hero, star athlete, the pride and joy of Fall Valley High -- if you care about that sort of thing, that is. Alex doesn't, particularly. He fails to kowtow to Steve the way the way Fall Valley's golden boy thinks he deserves -- and here's where his proverbial troubles begin. Steve subjects Alex to a series of humiliating tortures that should have even the most picked-on geek cringing.

When Alex does finally strike back, it isn't with a hail of gunfire, either. He's calculating about it. I must admit, I'm not really convinced that Alex's modus operandi would actually pan out the way it does in Half Mast. But it certainly makes for more interesting reading than your standard shoot-out, and in its way, it's much more sinister. Also, because Alex doesn't have the option of the Columbine killers' quick way out, he's forced to live with his actions and their impact on his own life.

That's the book's focus, and what saves it from being just another wannabe crime thriller. Christopher Null cares about his characters, and he's taken care to depict them in a way that geeks will find sympathetic and (mostly) believable.

While a lot of Null's characters and situations were amusingly familiar, others rang less true. The Steve Williams character was a little too prone to making speeches about the relationship between bullies and their victims, for example, instead of just knocking Alex into the dirt the way the kids at my school would have done. There were also a few too many end-of-chapter "zinger" one-liners for my taste, and the novel uses the awkward device of a present-day journal talking about events that took place several years in the past.

Still, it's an impressive debut novel about an uncommon subject matter, and one I think a lot of Slashdotters would get a kick out of. Half Mast is a fast read, and an enjoyable one. It's also notable because the author chose to self-publish rather than go the traditional route. (Or maybe the topic was too "troublesome" for mainstream publishers in a post-Columbine world?)


You can purchase Half Mast from bn.com as well as from Null's own Web site at sutropress.com, which also has some excerpts from the book. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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Half Mast

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  • by Hairy_Potter ( 219096 ) on Friday February 28, 2003 @11:05AM (#5406444) Homepage
    he could have gotten even years later, like I do. When I see those jocks that used to oppress and torture me years ago in high school, I undertip them, and call the pizza shop to tell them it was cold.
  • Oh No ! (Score:2, Funny)

    by stud9920 ( 236753 )
    The Columbine tragedy planted the idea of a certain kind of 'bad kid' into the American consciousness
    JonKatz [slashdot.org] is back.
  • by gik ( 256327 ) on Friday February 28, 2003 @11:06AM (#5406453) Homepage
    .... I thought this was about a book called "Half Mast" describing the sadness of living with impotence. .... No offence intended.

  • Who needs sports? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NeoFunk ( 654048 ) on Friday February 28, 2003 @11:07AM (#5406459) Homepage
    I think it's really sad that a young person is classified as an "outcast" or a "loser" if he doesn't choose to define his life through sports.
    • by saskboy ( 600063 )
      Sports are important. They just aren't as important as jocks and soccer moms like to think they are. People who play sports have a lot of fun, and have better opportunities for picking up very attractive members of the opposite sex. I think a loser is someone who wastes their athletic ability by smoking, or refusing to participate.
      Coordination can be learned. If someone is too clumbsy to catch or throw properly, someone else didn't teach them properly. Some parts of throwing are instinctual, but not all of them.
      Part of the problem is that city life doesn't lend itself naturally to sports. The places to play are crowded, and when you want to use the basketball court, you have to either be bigger than the people currently using it, or wait on the sidelines doing something else. Organized sports are an unnatural event. People should be able to just go outside with their buddies when ever the weather allows, and start playing.
      • Sports are not more important than people.

        Sports can lead to people worrying about stuff that's not important whatsoever to their real lives, it can cause frustration, humiliation, and teach vengeance and reward cruelty if taught improperly.

        Health and exercise is important, but how one decides to have fun and/or attempt to attract the opposite sex should not have sway in their being a 'loser'.

        Finally, many atheletes do worse things than smoking in the form of drugs to improve performance because winning has become their lives.
        • You are right on all accounts.

          Notice how I critized ORGANIZED sports, and a lack of proper athletic training? People get all worked up over stuff that is supposed to be fun and healthy because some kids [parents] can't play nice [fair].
          • I absolutely agree. The parent fanatics are probably the worst part of the whole thing. They turned my 8 year old completely off of indoor soccer because the point was Win! Win! Win!. Not plain old have fun. And remember folks we're talking 8 year olds, where the big draw is getting to run around with their friends and kick things every Saturday.

            So I throw the ball with both of our boys and just have fun with them. That is, I believe, the greatest value in sports.

        • All the things you just said about sports can also be said about computers. Too much of anything will end up being detrimental to you as a person. People who think that sports are the end all be all of their lives are no worse than someone who sits in front of their computer 24/7.
      • by NeoFunk ( 654048 )
        Yes, I agree that sports are important. I think it's good for all children to have some exposure to them - they help build teamworking skills, they teach them healthy competitive skills, and they're good for the mind and body.

        I'm just disappointed that the children who choose to define their life through sports are considered "cooler" or "better adjusted" than the kid who takes more interest in, say, science or computers. In my opinion, our society has its prioities was screwed up. Realistically, most of us know that cognitive ability is going to be far more valuable in a person's life than the ability to kick a ball, but still the jocks get all the praise and admiration.
      • Its also an excellent way to get a good scholarship and builds character(you dont need to play football either, there are tons of things like golf scholarships out there). Geeks need to open their horizons as much as anyone else.
      • Re:Who needs sports? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by NineNine ( 235196 ) on Friday February 28, 2003 @11:40AM (#5406742)
        Ah, little do you know that the chicks athletes get are the boring blond bimbos that are just waiting for the boring house in the suburbs with the boring SUV full of boring kids. While those who "smoke and refuse to participate" are the ones that get the really cool chicks.
      • by JanneM ( 7445 )
        Sports are only as important as you make it to be, no more, no less. You're not interested, well, the whole concept of athletic competition could be outlawed and you couldn't care less.

        Note that there is a fundamental difference between "sports" (ie. competitive atcletics) and "exercise". You do emphatically _not_ need to participate in a sport to get exercise. And it is exercise that is important for your health and well-being, not competition. A surprising number of geek friends that loathe the idea of sports (and that cut PE classes) are nevertheless avid exercisers; they just don't wish to compare performance with others.

        There are a number of athletic activities available that are not competitive but very beneficial - and that tends to appeal to geeks: Walking rather than riding a bus or car; rock climbing; cycling (as transport of enjoyment, not racing); weight lifting and gymnastics (good for your back); dancing - classical or ballroom; hiking. there are many others of course, all with the common denominator of not having to induce an unhealthy competitive element.

        If school gymknastics were to emphasize the joy of exercise rather than just ranking people on their ability to throw a ball then maybe there wouldn't be so much disdain towards it from the less talented.
      • People who play sports have a lot of fun, because people who don't have a lot of fun playing sports quit doing so as soon as they possibly can. People who build stage sets have lots of fun, and so do people who play computer games (both of which also require coodination). Getting exercise is also important, and is best when you're enjoying it, but some people find sports boring or unpleasant and are happier walking or going to the gym or doing a martial art.

        Who needs sports? People who enjoy sports.
      • Coordination can be learned. If someone is too clumbsy to catch or throw properly, someone else didn't teach them properly. Some parts of throwing are instinctual, but not all of them.

        I dunno, I'm terrible at catching and throwing, always was. Can't play racquet sports worth a damn either, and it's not through lack of trying. But not all sports involve catching... at school I competed at district level in swimming and rifle, and these days my sport of choice is weightlifting.

        My problem with most sports is that they're too artificial. There's no inherent reason for most of the "rules", the sizes of the teams, the shape of the ball, the methods of scoring, and so on. With weightlifting, it's just you versus the the fundamental laws of physics. Doesn't get much more interesting than that!
      • I agree; it's not really that sports are important, but that physical activity is important. Running, cycling, weightlifting, martial arts, hiking, even kicking around a beanbag...these aren't "sports" (unless you're competing with other people), but they are all hobbies that are common to many successful geeks.

        I also agree that city (and suburban) life doesn't lend itself well to just "going outside and playing" -- we're so used to driving everywhere, and playing video games, that going out to run or play soccer is just...foreign. Might be why most Americans are obese...
      • I played soccer and hockey at school a bit, and found them both very dull. It's all just basic trig, and you don't get exercise if you play them well, you stand where the ball is going to be, then deflect it slightly so it goes past the keeper into the goal. Wow, wasn't that fun. Oh, and everybody labels you as 'flukey', since you seemed to put no effort into scoring (which rather seemed the point, I dislike inefficiency). Eventually at a hockey team practice I just said 'Enough, this game is dull' and got sent to do a lap of the pitch. 10 laps later the teacher noticed I was still running and told me I could come back and join in. I said thanked him, but said that the running was more fun (I think better when running / walking than when stationary). Conversations with PE teachers often went along these lines:

        PE Teacher: Would you rather do maths?
        Me: Yes.
        PE Teacher: *Confused expression* Would you rather go for a run?
        Me: Yes.
        PE Teacher: Oh...

        The thing that always irritated me was the assumption that because you disliked a sport, you must be bad at it. At one point during an RAF competition I was told by my other members of my flight, who knew of my dislike for football to 'just stay out of the way'. I did so, until we were two goals down, then I joined in, scored the next three goals, and sat back down. Even after this there was still a belief that 'doesn't like football' (soccer for American readers) implies 'is no good at football'. People are far more willing to believe stereotypes than actual evidence.

        At university I joined the Dark Ages Re-enactment group. The group coordinator (she doesn't like the term leader) describes it as a 'contact sport'. Hitting someone with a metal (EN45 spring steel) sword, while avoiding their blows and not actually injuring them is superb exercise, great for improving co-ordination, and a lot of fun. If only it had been offered at school (by the sixth form I'd chosen shooting as my games option).

    • I agree that sports are given too much emphasis --- for boys. But look at the other side of the coin, the long dark years before Title IX when girls didn't have the opportunity to play sports at all. I wrote a long screed [annmariabell.com] about this in January after an 11 year old friend of mine (whose winter sports are/have been indoor soccer, ice hockey and downhill racing) asked me what I sports I did when I was her age. Answer: none.

      Here's my take on some important life lessons that can be learned from participating in team sports, even if, or maybe especially if, you suck:

      1) no matter how bad you are when you start, you get better with practice

      2) no matter how overmatched or behind you are, you play to the end of the game
      3) even if you happen to be winning, you still have to pay attention.

  • A wide stereotype (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Joe the Lesser ( 533425 ) on Friday February 28, 2003 @11:10AM (#5406487) Homepage Journal
    It's certainly not just 'computer geeks' that must live as outsider's in mainstream society. Just about any group of behavior, tech related or not, that does not participate in norm behaviors are easy to ostracize. In lieu of a classic 'geek', there will always be someone different enough to take the fall.
  • by SystematicPsycho ( 456042 ) on Friday February 28, 2003 @11:11AM (#5406491)

    The Geek Syndrome [wired.com] where computer programmers get their charm from.

    aspergers syndrome information [wpi.edu]
  • by phorm ( 591458 ) on Friday February 28, 2003 @11:11AM (#5406492) Journal
    For a short while, I was actually left alone and not harrassed. Due to the previous frequency of harrassment, people kept whispering that I was the most likely to go on a rampage in the school (gee, doesn't that make me feel warm and tingly). Thankfully, I'm not crazy enough to persue that type of behavior (though I did chase somebody with a bat after they crap-kicked me once), and I didn't have access to firearms.

    At least for a while though, the events that occurred shocked everybody into realizing that
    a) Even geeky people do have a breaking point
    b) Bad things happen when you push them past it

    I don't sponsor what happened what happened in Columbine: some killings were also based on race and religion, etc, but for awhile its affects gave me a breather. However, now that harrassment in schools is picking up again I wouldn't be surprised to see more students "losing it"

    It's also worthy of note that when an event like this happens - all of N. America and possible the world cry "how could it happen," while suicides based on harrassment - which are more frequent often end up as a statistic except for local grief.
    Oh, and to this day I find that people tend to bother me less if I wear a nice, dark, long trenchcoat.
    • by phorm ( 591458 ) on Friday February 28, 2003 @11:15AM (#5406535) Journal
      As a computer geek, there are many other ways to settle the score without resorting to violence. It's always a shame when somebody who bothered me has all his work on the network drives corrupted, a spontaneous reboot just before saving... or floppy disks subject to magnetic disruption.

      Oh... and the year I was the lab admin was the best, many of these jokers were in my class and the prof left me deal with them according - or just assumed that various events were just regular/random PC happenings.

      Ah, the pleasant memories:
      "These computer SUCK, this is the third time it's crashed before I could finish this assignment"
      • If you are the lab admin, and the systems keep "crashing" or losing other people's data - no matter if you like them or not - it will reflect poorly on you.

        The more problems that people have on systems that you are supposedly administering, the less they will like you.

        Try talking, or being friendly, or helping to try to recover their data. Let the "bully" see that perhaps you can be better allies than enemies.

        • I worked in a lab for a year helping people, and I tried to help as much as possible, and I wasn't the one who corrupted their files (even people I didn't care for).

          They used floppy disks.

          I don't care what anyone says, floppy disks are made like pieces of shit now. They used to be made much better. Floppies were never a sure way to store any data, but they used to be much more durable and longer lasting than they are now. Not sure why the quality has dropped so much, but if anyone knows, I would be interested (other than the obvious price drop).

          Still, it was funny to watch people come and try to open a 20 page document on their floppy, then have it fail, and I would have to say there is nothing I can do.

          Then I would teach them about network storage... I figured once that had one major fuckup with a floppy, they were all ears to learn a little about what their network drive was for.
        • by Atzanteol ( 99067 ) on Friday February 28, 2003 @12:14PM (#5407060) Homepage
          Try talking, or being friendly, or helping to try to recover their data. Let the "bully" see that perhaps you can be better allies than enemies.
          I'm sick of this liberal shit. I was not only geeky throughout school, but short and not very strong as well. I was a *supreme* target for bullying. It started in grade-school. One of the older students would make fun of me, push me around, slap me in the face with wet-gloves (one fond memory of a rainy day). All your *talking* and *working things out* means shit to a 5th grader.

          One day I was crying (remember I was in about the 3rd grade) about having recently been beat up. My mother that day told me "the next time that bully hits you, you hit him with your lunchbox, and punch him in the nose." I did. I got about a three month reprieve from being harrased from it too. About every three months we would fight, but there were periods of nothing in between. This carried into higher grades (different bullies).

          Did the teasing and bullying stop? No. But I *did* keep my self-respect, and dignity. Talking to irrational people does *not* work. Ususally bullies are too stupid.
    • by NorthDude ( 560769 ) on Friday February 28, 2003 @11:30AM (#5406661)
      If only I had mod points for you...

      Where I come from, we have one of the highest (if no longer the highest) suicide rate in Canada (Abitibi, Quebec).
      From secondary 3 to Secondary 5, I had 4 direct friends of mine who commited suicide and a hell of a lot other people who I knew commited suicide also.
      You know in a 35K peoples city, 10 kids going to the same scool who commit suicide in a year is VERY disturbing.
      I tought about it myself but I finally got some help from external sources (my parents tried to help, but could not...) and got over it.
      But anyway, as you were saying, suicide can be a very dramatic social problem, but it really seems to always end up in statistics.

      Pretty sad state of affair when you realize that the happiness of our young people is so much less important to the population then their own self.
      People always start to worry about that after they had lost a relative.
    • Frankly, I'm amazed school shootings have stopped for as long as they have. I think if they start again, there should be an anti-school shooting tv commercial with the catch phrase, "School shootings are so 20th century.
  • by foo fighter ( 151863 ) on Friday February 28, 2003 @11:13AM (#5406505) Homepage
    Having to live with the consequences of a decision, with new repercussions even years later, is one of the toughest things to deal with in Real Life.

    But you very rarely see it dealt with in the movies or on TV. I haven't read anything dealing with the topic since The Scarlet Letter in high school (so many years ago).

    I'm going to pick this book up just to see how this author handles it.

    • Having to live with the consequences of a decision, with new repercussions even years later, is one of the toughest things to deal with in Real Life.

      Kevin Mitnick should think about this instead of feeling snubbed because he was not permitted to join ISSA [securityfocus.com].

      The moral of the story is that sometimes people who make bad decisions have to live with the consequences. However, accountability and personal responsibility seem to be disappearing from the social landscape*, so these qualities aren't as common - or as expected - as they once were.

      (* At least in the US - I can't speak for other countries 'cause I don't live in any of them.)
  • It's the times (Score:2, Interesting)

    by argmanah ( 616458 )
    Why do we have things like Columbine nowadays when these things were unheard of 30 years ago? Because we didn't have people psychoanalyzing (read: witch doctoring) everyone's feelings and demanding parents use "quiet time" when the kid needed "hit with stick time". We had discipline and ethics that came from our parents and not from the government.
    • Re:It's the times (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Otter ( 3800 ) on Friday February 28, 2003 @11:36AM (#5406711) Journal
      Why do we have things like Columbine nowadays when these things were unheard of 30 years ago?

      Notice that there *hasn't* been a major school rampage in a couple of years? For a while, multiple shootings were happening several times a year, with individual alleged bullies being shot by alleged outcasts much more frequently than that.

      Once they dropped off the front page of the paper for a while (as the attention of the media turned elsewhere), they stopped happening. The individual shootings may continue unreported for all I know, mass killings have stopped.

      Remember all the experts on TV telling us that it's too many guns, not enough guns, religion, atheism, video games, sex education? Well none of those things have changed and the Columbines have disappeared. What's the only thing that has changed?

    • School Shootings are hardly a new phenomena. The oddity was the spat of shootings we had in just a few years in rural or suburban middle-class schools. Most shootings before happened in urban schools.

      Difference is, we never reported schools shootings over and over.

      Could be we're finally seeing the pressures that drive kids to kill; but chances are, we report it so boldly and incessantly on TV that it gives other kids ideas.

      But then again, I always look for the simple explainations.
    • Why do we have things like Columbine nowadays when these things were unheard of 30 years ago?

      Ever hear the Boomtown Rats' track "Tell Me Why (I don't like Mondays)"? If so, do you know what it's really about?

      It's about a girl, Brenda Spencer [geocities.com], who came into school one day and shot her classmates (I think nine, though I'm not entirely sure of the number). When asked why, she gave her reason as "I don't like Mondays".

      OK - it's not quite thirty years ago but it's not far off. These things have happened before. Sad, but true.

      Cheers,
      Ian

  • by sawilson ( 317999 ) on Friday February 28, 2003 @11:16AM (#5406540) Homepage
    The antagonist in this story is probably the one
    that has it right. I point to this post:

    Advice you would give your 12 year old Self [slashdot.org]

    and I suggest that the sooner you cast off the idea
    that you should be nice to everyone, have respect
    for other people, and just try to get along, the
    faster you'll wake up to the true nature of the
    world. Then you'll be able to succeed, and go even
    further because of your intelligence and general
    geekishness. It's sad, but it appear to be true.
    • Actually it is possible to do the things in the slashdot post your reference without doing the things you mention. People that do this become very successful AND respected. You are misguided if you think they are inclusive.
  • Heh- (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Omkar ( 618823 ) on Friday February 28, 2003 @11:23AM (#5406604) Homepage Journal
    I'm lucky. I get annoyed because people kowtow to me because I'm smart. They make fun of me in the same breath, because I'm not athletic, but that's cool. I've got more than enough respect. It's interesting how mere chance can influence your school experience - high SAT scores at my school are worth as much as (or even more than) athletic honors.
  • Incidentally (Score:4, Informative)

    by phatlipmojo ( 106574 ) on Friday February 28, 2003 @11:25AM (#5406620)
    If you like this book, you might check out The Body of Christopher Creed by Carol Plum-Ucci. It also paints a pretty realistic portrait of high school life within the context of a murder/suspense story (a pretty good device for for forcing characters into the sort of stress and introspection that really sets young good young adult fiction apart, if you ask me).
    As a librarian, I especially recommend it to those of you who are (or have little brothers/sisters/nieces/nephews/children) in high school.

    -phatty 2x4

    P.S. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson and Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger are also superb YA novels, just in case you find yourself liking that sort of thing.

  • I don't get it (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Xenophon Fenderson, ( 1469 ) <xenophon+slashdot@irtnog.org> on Friday February 28, 2003 @11:26AM (#5406632) Homepage

    I mean, who were these evil people that gave you such a hard time that you still care about them tens of years later? To tell the truth, I can barely remember the names of most of the people I went to school with, and the only people I keep in touch from high school are all close personal friends. I'm not saying elementary and high school were easy times for me, but I don't dwell on them. Things are good now! I have the respect and admiration of my peers, I do pretty much anything I want, etc.

    I mean, who cares about what some foolish child did years ago? Who cares about what those people are doing today? Personally, I couldn't care less.

    • Re:I don't get it (Score:5, Insightful)

      by nick_davison ( 217681 ) on Friday February 28, 2003 @12:25PM (#5407157)
      I mean, who were these evil people that gave you such a hard time that you still care about them tens of years later?

      I absolutely remember who they are. Ten years on, they do still affect me and, if honest with ourselves, I think most people will admit the same...

      Sure there are negatives: I talk too much and make bad jokes out of the remainder of the social nervousness they instilled; I find it hard to believe that my wife finds me physically attractive. But those are just some of the legacy they left me with.

      My desire to work hard, get a good job, do the things I want to do - they all come from them. When I moved from London to California, part of what made the decision easier (and it is scary making a move like that) is the thought that, at reunions, I'll be able to go back and laud my exciting life over them.

      They told me, for years, that I wasn't cool, couldn't do anything cool. I play guitar now, can snowboard, fly power kites. Every time I find myself thinking, "Nah, I can't be bothered." a part of me remembers them and gives me that extra push to try something new and cool, to stick with it, to be everything they told me I couldn't be.

      They told me I wasn't attractive, that I could never get a girl as hot as the "models" they were dating, from another school, in the year below. Years later, I still smile when I remember, just before we left high school, aged 18, a friend telling them about the 21 year old nurse I was dating. Their telling me I couldn't gave me the impetus to try harder, to work out, change my look, whatever and find people who found me attractive.

      They told me I was fat and ugly. While I refuse to go down the overcompensating paths of eating disorders and all the rest of it, remembering their derrision is what pushes me to do that extra thirty two lengths in the pool or get out of bed and go to the gym when I really don't want to.

      To pretend that bullies don't have an affect on my life, years later, is to pretend that my personality didn't develop at all in highschool. Maybe a few people were lucky enough to never be bullied but I think most other people, if honest, will agree with me.

      The thing is... Sure, they gave me some issues, but they also gave me a lot of strengths. It's that old thing of the former geek tipping the former jock who delivers his pizza. I was lucky and managed to turn the abuse in to a desire to always be more than them. So, in my own, warped, over generous way, perhaps I should just try thanking them, rather than hating them any more.
  • Everyday of our lives we are taught the same lesson:
    Don't fight the system,
    Don't speak out,
    Don't dress differently.
    Be part of the crowd,
    But don't make a scene.
    Don't be a blip on the radar of humanity.
    Blend in.
    This message has been etched in stone
    And continues to repress and distress.
    The hatred multiplies
    As those "freaks", those cancer on the popular skin,
    Must comply.
    But it is this silence
    That feeds the violence.
    All of the Doom
    Brought forth by a volatile human Quake
    May seem Unreal
    But this is no game,
    And it was no game that caused this.
    It was the repression, the deception,
    The correction, the depression.
    If the undesirables make a stand,
    Raise their collective hand,
    If they even dare to breathe,
    Push them down; make them desirable.
    That's the American way.
    If something is wrong, just point blame
    On television or a video game.
    There's no shame in that.
    It's not the parents' fault:
    They are symbols of perfection,
    Models for the youth.
    To tell you the truth,
    Why am I even writing this poem?
    It's not about talent or scholarship,
    But conformity and censorship.
    1984 is not too far-fetched.
    Let's just hope that all the dreamers,
    All the geeks, all the freaks,
    Stay true to themselves
    Because they can emancipate the slaves
    Hopefully without filling up the graves.
    They are the key
    To making this nation what it claims to be:
    The land of the free.
    -- T.V.
  • Crime and Punishment (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ShelfWare ( 457545 )
    Another good read would be Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. It certainly doesn't have anything to do with geek/nerd topics, but does delve deeply into the effects of committing a murder on the psyche.
  • He isn't social, he doesn't play sports, doesn't dress right. Maybe he spends more time with his computer than with the other kids in his class. It makes sense that he'd be a threat to his classmates, because he's weird.

    Oh, yeah. 95% of /.ers fit (either now or at some point in the past) this description.

  • by kin_korn_karn ( 466864 ) on Friday February 28, 2003 @11:41AM (#5406747) Homepage
    You don't have to be born with the psychosis. Enough constant abuse will give it to you. Everyone has a breaking point.. most kids find ways to cope or stop the abuse before they reach it. Some can't.

    Furthermore, it takes more than just peer abuse to cause a kid to snap. In all the situations of school shooting, there has been abuse or neglect from a majority of the adults in the kids' life, too.

  • Or worse, a socially accepted stereotype? Yes, Asperger's Syndrome is an interesting subset of Autism. And yes, most people live somewhere on the spectrum of 2 + 2 = 4 and call that sanity. But I had a high school teacher who got this right.

    He said, two plus two equals four for the mainstream, and that's what we're going to call sanity. We need rules to keep society ordered and we need a common ground to talk from. But everybody has their places where they don't line up to the norm. For some peeople, that's everywhere. For some people, 2 + 2 = 22, or twelve, or bright green. And Some day, they're going to betalking you down from the top of a building (he was addressing the whole class) and they're going to ask you, gee, what the H* were you thinking? And you're going to say, well... i don't know. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time...

    And that's not the scary part. The scary part is, that it will be true: it really will have made sense at the time. You will have found the place where, for you, two plus two no longer matches the four that everyone else comes up with.

    I don't offer this to excuse anything that anyone has done. Murder is murder. But I offer this as thought-fodder against the prediliction that we have, as a society, for nice little categories and nice little diagnoses. There's a wide range of stuff out there in the human mind-spectrum, some of it dangerous and some of it good, and not all of it definable by our current terms.
    Yeah, and I hated high school, too. But I think a lot of social fringe elements are actually better prepared for the outside world, and tend to do better in it, than their high school tormentors, because they have been forced to face the world as an individual without backup. It isn't right and it isn't necessarily worth it, but let's not forget that if superman hadn't had those powers, he never would have made it through high school without being stuffed into a locker either- or else he would have been one more football captain.

  • most notably Jon Katz's Hellmouth series.

    Speaking of Jon Katz, where has he been lately? Either he doesn't post much any more, or I have become so imune to his articles that I can recall seeing one for quite a long time.
    • Did you disable him in your account settings? I know I did a long time ago, and I had almost forgotten about it, and then I wondered why I didn't see this hellmout series. Then I remembered that I disabled the viewing of his shitty articles. And I was happy.
    • I just sent in a submission to Ask Slashdot a couple days ago asking what happened to Katz, but it was rejected. His last post [slashdot.org] was on April 23rd and his last article [slashdot.org] was posted on July 10th. Maybe this book review will bring him back from the dead.
  • The Columbine tragedy planted the idea of a certain kind of 'bad kid' into the American consciousness. He isn't social, he doesn't play sports, doesn't dress right.

    Columbine didn't do this, it's always been the case. Be it geeks & nerds with their computers or not.

    For the most part society has always viewed different as being bad.

    Look at racism and other ethinc discrimination: they're not my race/colour, so they must be bad!

    Sexual orientation: he's gay, so he doesn't get the same rights. He's also open season for a beating.

    Same with geeks and nerds: they don't play sports, they like computers, they must be screwed up.

    Frankly people I think that as geeks we've had to put up with a hell of a lot less than either one of the two groups I've mentioned! Ya it sucks sometimes, but we still get off easy. I haven't heard of geek-bashing (as in beating to the point of death, or near death), nor have I heard of a geek not being allowed to vote or made to use a back door. It's not right, but it isn't new either.

    The problem is societies general intolerance for anything different... not some very disturbed individuals who also happen to be nerdy going postal in a school.

  • Is the "Jock-worship Geek-Bash-up" a US only phenomenon? I know that you are cool in China and Japan (Search on the net for Japan educational system, the amount of work they put in etc., gives you a good idea) if you do well in acads, also in India. Have'nt heard of Columbine type shootings from europe either.
    Is this a US only thing? Can non-american readers comment?
  • I was a geek in high school, I was picked on, didn't play sports, wasn't liked by any of the girls, etc etc etc.

    Now those self-same people who pick on me, say "Yes Sir!"

    You see, I am a BOFH, revenge is mine.
  • by groomed ( 202061 ) on Friday February 28, 2003 @11:47AM (#5406813)
    As a European reader, I've noticed that most explanations for the Columbine tragedy, as well as similar incidents, seem to focus on the disparity between "jocks" and "geeks", and how the pressure to conform causes some geeks to "snap".

    What this fails to explain however is why similar things don't happen in societies where the pressure to conform is equal to or even greater than in the US, such as Japan. Not that Japanese "misfits" don't suffer: but they seem to internalize their anguish and commit suicide, rather than engaging in mass slaughter.

    Rather than an inescapable cause of bullying and pressure to conform, school shootings seem to be a typically American phenomenon, perhaps arising out of American cultural values such as the strong commitment to individual freedom, including the freedom to bear arms, and a powerful "lone wolf" idealism. The fact that the phenomenon of school shootings seems to follow the spread of American culture across the world (perhaps witnessed by the recent shooting in Germany) seems to support that observation.
    • by kahei ( 466208 ) on Friday February 28, 2003 @12:12PM (#5407042) Homepage

      In terms of pressure, the Korean, and to a lesser extent Japanese, systems exert *much* more pressure on the students than anything encountered in the US. For that matter, the european school system offers all the unfocused, buzzword-riddled non-education you could want.

      What does seem unique to the US is the obsession with sports; I've heard US highschoolers say things like 'Our baseball team is state champion, so those kids pretty much run the school. But the football team's pretty weak so we don't have to worry about them.' That would seem like a damn strange thing to say in any other country. The result is a particularly sharp division into the sports-playing uber-class vs. everyone else, and a particularly sharp rejection of those who fall outside the sports system.

      This is not to say there aren't many other things unhealthy about the US high school system. But if I had to pick a *uniquely American* point I'd pick the above.

  • by unfortunateson ( 527551 ) on Friday February 28, 2003 @11:49AM (#5406827) Journal

    In the very insightful recent Slashdot article [slashdot.org] on Paul Graham's article 'Why Nerds Are Unpopular' [paulgraham.com] you'll find one of the places this book falls down:

    The star athlete is not going to take the time to harass the nerd. He's at the top of the heap, and will be pecking at the second-stringers, also-rans and various hangers-on to maintain his dominance of the pack. In turn, it's their job to find somebody lower on the food chain to pester, to enhance their own status.

    Kind of like Bogie's remark to Peter Lorie (an ur-Nerd, if there ever was one) in Casablanca, when asked "You despise me, don't you?" -- "If I gave it any thought, I probably would."

    • Come to think of it, this was true in my case. My most persistant tormentors were not top-of-heap athletes. The jocks among them were mostly THIRD stringers. Likewise for the "preps". And most of the bullies weren't even jocks but what passes for "hoods" in a rural school district. You know, the kind of people who eat what they find dead on the road. For the most part, trouble came from people who weren't on top, would never be on top and needed something to do to make themselves feel like big shots.
  • Huh. Is this the same Christopher Null who does movie reviews [rottentomatoes.com] for FilmCritic.com [filmcritic.com]. If so, I'll definitely have to check it out; I've quite enjoyed reading some of his movie reviews and would probably enjoy seeing what he does with a longer form.
  • He isn't social, he doesn't play sports, doesn't dress right. He is paranoid and whines on /. whenever he feels loosers like him are attacked ...
  • Just an opinion (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Kr1ll1n ( 579971 )
    But is it possible high-school harassment happens so much because it is tolerated? Seriously, look at the corporate world, every job I have ever had (even working under assholes and imbeciles) would shit-can someone for bullying another person. So let's kick the bullies out for their behavior, since high school is supposed to be a training bra for the real world. For all the kids that are in school right now, there are probably 50% that don't want to be there, and will do just about anything to get their kicks while they are forced to attend. So what do they do? They threaten the troubledoers with jail-time if they skip??? Let's break this down, for a second: 1. Come to school. 2. Get bored. 3. Harass kids. 4. If I skip, I go to jail. 5. If I get caught harassing, it's detention. 6. Might as well stay and do what I please. Also note that when physical discipline was taken out of the school, the problems got worse. The ass beaters are afraid to get their ass beaten, just like the victims.

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