Billy Goat Gruff

As you clicked on the link to this bit, you were most likely thinking: how on earth can a piece about a fairy tale GOAT be in any way related to cycling humor? Well, of course the answer is: this piece isn't really about a GOAT; it's about a TROLL. Okay... so your next question is: ???

Yeah, yeah, I know... Well, the simple truth is this: no one who's ever subscribed to, or visited the archives of, the alt.rec.bicycles.recumbent Usenet newsgroup (ARBR - pronounced as the acronym 'arbor') will have even the slightest uncertainty or hesitation in making the connection. For those of you who aren't quite so familiar with this forum, Usenet is one of the oldest pieces of the internet (formerly know as DARPANET, then ARPANET, then Internet with a capital I, if you're REALLY picky about that sort of thing). In its most common form Usenet (formerly USENET) is sorta like a bunch of meeting rooms, arranged in a kind of hierarchal pyramid structure, where people who share a common interest can exchange email style messages which are then archived and available for anyone to read for an extended period. [Sort of like a (presumably) more tightly focused, low tech chat room with long-term record keeping, maybe...] Anyway, ARBR is the primary place at Usenet where folks can get together to share their thoughts and feelings about recumbent cycles.

The whole long, boring history of Usenet is readily available for anyone who cares, but for purposes of this piddly poem, probably all you need to know is that most of these groups are pretty much uncensored, unmoderated, and essentially unregulated. When they started, each forum had only a few members who were mostly technogeeks and who more or less kept each other in check, so the system worked fairly well. Then the online BOOM came along, thousands of folks tried to hook up in some of the groups, and fifteen minutes later many of them deteriorated into utter CHAOS.

Most of the surviving forums are plagued with a variety of problems, the worst of which may be a TROLL. That inet buzzword would probably be defined as a member who has made it his personal obsession to stake out the group, and to personally challenge any other member or message that for whatever perverse (and often obscure) reason hits his own quirky little hot button. TROLLS will often reply to almost every message or thread that is posted, sometimes arguing or disputing, sometimes sniping about format, spelling and/or grammar, and/or often accusing other writers of mental deficiency, emotional instability, sexual deviancy or maybe even dietary depravity. TROLLS are usually highly prolific and very proficient at alienating active or potential members who are intimidated by the threat of social conflict; they are not at all good for any newsgroup.

Why and/or how does anyone become a TROLL? The basic bottom line is this: They are almost always guys with major ego problems; more than anything else they seem to insist upon just being noticed. So, you may ask, if they have overblown egos, why aren't they motivated to be nice and make everyone respect them, or at least like them a little? Well, I think it may be because most of them are either seriously hung up on themselves, or more likely may be overcompensating for (probably very well-founded) fears of inadequacy. In any case, they refuse to risk placing any value on the opinions of anyone who might dare to disagree with them on any subject, much less their own out of control sense of self-importance. In fact, almost all TROLLS make a big issue of insisting they don't care about being liked, which perhaps not too coincidentally, more or less also means that they are, by their own internal standards, pretty much invulnerable to any complaints or criticisms from their (sub)peers.

Is there anything that can be done when a TROLL plops himself into a newsgroup? Well, the 'solution' that is most often tried is a very agressive direct head-to-head confrontation. That's virtually doomed to failure, because in the first place what most TROLLS want most is more attention. Typically, they also seem to feel that being attacked gives them even greater license to clutter up the archives with their banal blabbering. Strictly speaking, as far as having any truly positive effect, about the best thing that can be done with a TROLL is to meticulously ignore it, which in internet speak is: DON'T FEED THE TROLL. But of course, that's not much fun, and a lot of those little kids who could never resist making faces at caged primates are now members of Usenet forums.

But why, you may wonder, do TROLLS bother communicating with other folks for whom they very clearly have absolutely no respect, and typically at least (by their own verbose assertions) feel little more than a demeaning indifference? Ask one of them. The only answer I can come up with is that they're TROLLS. Why does a neutered tomcat sometimes still spray living room furniture? I mean, after all:

  • He really doesn't own the territory; he's almost surely just a lazy, overweight, annoyingly overindulged pe(s)t.
  • In the unlikely event that a TRUE tomcat should ever happen by to take a little whiff of his impotent musk, he'd probably simply snigger...
  • Even if some frisky, foxy female feline should foolishly foster fond feelings for him to father a family, what's he gonna do then? Hack up a hairball?
Does ARBR have, or has it ever had, a member of the TROLL persuasion? Hmmm-mmm-mmm... Well, Senator, I'm taking the Fifth on that one... For now, enough prose; here's the pertinent poetry:

Billy Goat Gruff

Here's a parable written in rhyme
Of a bridge from a much simpler time,
Kinda creaky and covered with moss,
But it's still how the flock gets across
To the internet meadow for brunch,
Where those yummy green clumps that we munch
Are ideas and sharing rapport.
[This is not an ideal metaphor...
Allegory just isn't my style,
And old Dante's stepped out for a while.]

    *     *     *     *     *

If a newsgroup's a bridge... there's a toll.
Although sharing is good for the soul,
    There'll be off-topic posts
    And some outrageous boasts,
But the worst thing of all is a TROLL!

Once a TROLL has made up its hard head
That we can't cross the bridge till it's fed,
    It'll take greedy bites
    Out of each one who writes,
And will lurk on the bridge till it's dead.

Every now and again some poor sheep,
Wrongly thinking the TROLL is asleep,
    Dares to dawdle across,
    But becomes a sad loss,
And the ranks often aren't very deep.

Or there might be a frisky young ram,
Who has conquered both popups and SPAM,
    Who will challenge the TROLL,
    With a wit sharp and droll,
Butting heads with it – SLAM after SLAM.

In the end, though, the ram will get tired,
And get frustrated, down, uninspired,
    While the TROLL – who enjoys
    Hands-on contact with boys –
Gets more UP as its passion gets fired.

Then one day there's a grumpy old goat,
Gruff of voice with a thick woolly coat,
    Who comes down from the ridge
    And steps out on the bridge,
Then he tells the TROLL, "Read what I wrote."

As the TROLL grabs the goat, it reads 'CEASE!'
Then it chokes on a mouthful of fleece,
    Since the wily old goat
    Has stepped out of his coat,
As elusive as teflon with grease.

While the TROLL stands there choking and blind,
Vengeful thoughts fill its old TROLLISH mind.
    The gruff goat, just for FUN,
    Makes a sneaky end run,
And then RAMS the TROLL hard from behind!

    *     *     *     *     *

There is no way to kill an old TROLL.
We can't oust it by taking a poll;
    Someone banging its ass
    May for it be a gas,
In some cases a primary goal.

Is there anything nice folks can do
To discourage a TROLL (or worse, two)?
    Though it seems that there ought
    To be, maybe there's not,
And we'll just have to butt out way through.

If there's truly a heaven and HELL,
I think ev'ryone knows very well:
    There won't be any TROLLS
    To annoy the nice souls;
They'll all be where the evil ones dwell.

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Last updated Jan 13 2007