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Articles November,  2007

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The thrill and the agony of running a Bulletin Board


Recently, after banning a bomb-thrower named Lyle Fass from the board and reading his account of same, it occurred to me that some thoughts might be in order. Running a Bulletin Board can be a very rewarding experience. You make friends. You meet interesting new people. You find out things you didn't know.

If you run a very busy one, and one associated with Robert Parker, and it is open to the world, you also meet loons, people with egos the size of Mount Everest (I could write for a week about a guy named Ric, but that would just feed the problem), and those who come complete with agendas. Maybe they are in the business and are really here to shill. Maybe they are just self-impressed--and intend to prove how cool they are by launching attacks on Parker or the website.

Fass is a good example, and thus an object lesson, concerning the difficulty in running a bulletin board. If you read between the lines of his own public comments, the question is not why he is banned--but why wouldn't you ban him? Why would you let someone like this continue to use your board, and for free no less? I don't usually engage in these detailed explanations. Perhaps I should. I'd prefer to talk about wine.  But perhaps an object lesson is in order.

His public comments on his banning are rather typical. They ramble incoherently from one issue to another, from Social Hall and food to politics and my views on obesity. What one has to do with the other...who knows? And they are filled with obnoxious one-liners. When I confronted Fass about his tendency to do nothing of late but drop snide comments and his inability or unwillingness to fashion any civil, reasoned arguments, as any Admin would, he amusingly defended himself by saying that just because he couldn't articulate an argument, didn't mean he didn't have one. Ah. So, apparently admitting that you are unable to fashion a coherent and civilized argument is a good thing. It justifies obnoxious conduct. What can you say to that? In his online comments, in typical fashion, he brushes over the inconvenient details of this type of conduct. Here's a good example:  He mentions a thread in which he declared that 16-18% alcohol Cabernet Sauvignons were now standards ("These seem to be the new standards").  I called him on it, and asked him to prove it. I think he managed to name two. Two wines do not a standard make, of course. It is an example of his inability to fashion an argument, instead relying on one liners. It is, of course, fair for Fass to be a loose cannon. It is not fair for anyone else to call him on it. He later said he just meant there was a trend (which may not be so either), and it was "semantics." Well, no. It isn't semantics. It is called speaking "English."  If you say 16-18% Cabernet Sauvignons are standards, is it unfair to be asked to so demonstrate? Are facts irrelevant? Well, to some, I guess so. There is no reason to let the facts get in the way of one's ideology. It is so much easier to drop one-liners, unencumbered by reality. This is a case-in-point, by the way, of why you shouldn't use wine ideologues as your retailer.

The one liners were not just wrong, but often obnoxious.  This was typical: when someone suggested wine critics are sometimes just wrong, and should admit it, Fass, referring to Parker, said, "Like that'll happen." As with the alcohol thread, it was another classic Fass moment. Factually wrong. Snide. Gratuitous. A tossed bomb dropped just to show off and be annoying. Why would you let someone like this continue to use your board?

In his online comments, Fass basically pleads guilty. He admitted that after a crackdown on retailers posting on wines they were currently selling (surely, this is as big a conflict of interest as can possibly exist, but Fass cannot articulate any arguments on that either), "I became bored, reactionary and angry. So this led me to be much more antagonistic with the tone of my posts, dropping smarmy and quippy one-liners much more often and getting in the middle of shit more often." So, the guilty plea is in. Thankfully, this saves me a lot of work. His contributions diminished--evidently, he has little to say when he cannot promote what he sells--and his misconduct increased.

He also tried to claim that the commercial posting crackdown was aimed at him and coincided with a career shift to a store that had a "different philosophy." This is a comment so ridiculous that you can only say that anyone who would make it has lost touch with reality. If his new employer had a different philosophy, it is news to me.  After I stopped laughing at the concept that Robert Parker and I were that involved with following and understanding Fass' career, it became clear that he really had no sensitivity on the issue of commercial posts at all.  I wonder how many folks on my Board actually realized that in the past many of his tasting notes involved wines he was selling or going to sell. I know I didn't.  That is all an interesting aside, to be sure, but still an aside. I have no difficulty defending our commercial posting policy, or criticizing Fass' constant postings on wines he sold.  For current purposes, however, the important issue is how he reacted to that necessary crackdown (by no means just on him). His own description of his own conduct is fairly conclusive. I became bored, reactionary and angry. So this led me to be much more antagonistic with the tone of my posts, dropping smarmy and quippy one-liners much more often and getting in the middle of shit more often." Happily, quoting Fass is quite sufficient. It is typical that he doesn't even seem to realize the import of what he is saying. Apparently, his conduct may become obnoxious, his contributions may diminish, but the treatment he is accorded ...should remain the same.

There are, to be sure, plenty of other tossed-in epithets in his online comments as well. "Drunk with power." "Megalomaniacal..." (sic). And that's not the half of it. There were on the board,  as noted, the snide attacks on Parker, including that last described above that he was called on. On the board, he also called me "repulsive." Who would do things like that and expect to stay? Yet, the subsequent email string, which he apparently wrote while anticipating staying, included a vast variety of other epithets as well.  That's his method for petitioning for mercy, I guess.  It is a good example of why running a Bulletin Board is not all about smelling the roses. People can, sometimes quite deliberately, try to make it a miserable experience with routinely obnoxious conduct. It is best to cut the cord in such cases.

Frankly, I hate discussing extraneous issues like this, and I don't plan on making a habit of it. It is particularly inappropriate board content, where we should focus on wine, not personalities. I have seen the consequences of allowing boards to degenerate into debates on personalities and procedure. Eventually, wine talk is eliminated entirely. Elsewhere, I generally figure...why bother? It just allows the one ranting and raving the ability to continue his pissing contest in another venue, which is usually just what they want. Free PR. So, I generally ignore internet ramblings like Fass', and don't much care what people say. It may be of some use, however, to point out occasionally that there is another side. 

Let me sum it up with the previously asked question. First, review Fass' description of his own conduct and diminishing contributions. Add the numerous insults directed to Parker and myself. Would you let someone like this keep using your board?



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