Sunday, July 05, 2009

The Pretenders: The Strange Case of "The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics" Continues

A few weeks back we reported on the strange case of one "IP160", the most prolific editor of Ayn Rand's Wikipedia entry with a record 1300 edits and a seemingly boundless enthusiasm for promoting James Valliant's fantastically weird book The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics (henceforth PARC). Due to a range of Wiki-violations including edit-warring, being "rude, uncivil and disruptive", and repeatedly removing verifiable content and replacing it with references to the above tome, "IP60" got themselves a 6 month ban from editing Rand's page, along with Valliant's PARC being removed on the basis of being unreliable. Yet no sooner had "IP160" been banned when there suddenly appeared a mysterious "Pelagius1", who also showed let's just say a special interest in the work of James Valliant and PARC. The ARCHNblog soon revealed that - surprise, surprise - "IP160" had the exact same IP address as the author of PARC, James Valliant. Those familiar with a sockpuppet/meatpuppet unmasking will know what comes next: under question at Wikipedia, "Pelagius1" then revealed that they "lived in the same house" as Valliant, that Valliant was one of their "expert advisers", and that Valliant "uses this account too. But never about himself". Why, heaven forbid!

The plot then thickens - actually "thickens" is far too mild a description. "Convulses into a typically Objectivist melange of evasiveness, dissembling, and intra-tribal politics" might be more accurate.

Following "IP160"/"Pelagius1"'s unmasking, a person as yet unnamed began spreading rumours via email that, rather than the Wikipedia ban on "IP160" and PARC being the result of a number of Wiki editors merely acting according to Wiki policy on sock/meatpuppetry, net nuisances, and conflict of interest, it was in fact being secretly orchestrated behind the scenes by a single evil mastermind: Barbara Branden. Quite how an aging woman with apparently limited internet skills was supposed to pull off this complex feat is unclear; but then as Russell Kirk once noted, if you believe selfishness is a virtue, you'll believe anything. One also recalls that the underlying thesis of Valliant's nutty book is precisely that Barbara and Nathaniel Branden do indeed possess such evil super-genius capabilities. This rumour somehow reached the ears of none other than Ayn Rand Institute founder and Branden arch-enemy, the equally aging Leonard Peikoff - also, by amazing coincidence, a friend of one James Valliant. Peikoff then wrote a personal letter to Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales - also an Objectivist - echoing these accusations and trying to get the PARC ban reversed. He posted this, along with an odd kind of "fly-my-pretties" appeal to his fellow Objectivists to somehow help "reverse Wikipedia's decision in this issue." Jimmy quite rightly told Peikoff to go jump, and Peikoff shortly afterward removed the letter from his site without comment. Strangely, in addition to his obvious ignorance as to how the Wiki works, Peikoff seemed to not know that the antics of "IP160" were the cause of PARC's removal, and that Barbara Branden by her own testimony and that of the Wiki editors involved, had nothing whatsoever to do with this. One can only wonder who might have deliberately misinformed the hapless Dr Peikoff in order to have him attempt to have the anti-PARC ruling reversed.

Meanwhile, back in the Wiki talk pages, "Pelagius1" was, ahem, valliantly attempting to have PARC reinstated as a reference - no, more than reinstated. "Pelagius1" was now weirdly demanding that it was such an important book that every reference to a book by one of the Brandens at the Wiki should be matched with a counter-reference to the Valliant tome. To which the Wiki replied, um, "No." "Pelagius1" also rather desperately attempted to deny any conflict of interest, describing themselves as a mere "editor...someone who makes no money on the book". Finally, after some three weeks of such dissembling protestations, Pelagius1 finally 'fessed up - though oddly on Wiki editor RL0919's personal page rather than the main discussion pages - as being "someone related to the author"...wait for it..." (his wife)." It seems with the Valliants the truth literally is the last thing you get; ever since that final sheepish ellipsis, "Pelagius1" has fallen silent on the Wiki, contributing nothing more. No surprise there: now she's identified, Wikipedia Conflict of Interest rules surely apply, and she can hardly "avidly and shamelessly promote him." Simultaneously with his wife's somewhat obscure confession, Valliant himself reappeared on an Objectivist forum thread to make the same announcement, claiming it was all a terrible misunderstanding and that he knew nothing, nothing about it all...(It's also worth noting that the forum post that began this thread concerned the supposedly poor quality of Wikipedia entries on Rand, and was posted by Valliant on the very same day "IP160" was banned. Another amazing coincidence). Now, it could be that Valliant, who apparently has a chronic illness which prevents him from working, knew nothing of his wife's relentless promotion of his work under multiple pseudonyms over the preceding months under his own IP address resulting in the removal of his work etc. It seems to us at best highly unlikely.

But wait: just when you thought it was over, there's more. One of the long term questions that has hung over Valliant's book, and became an issue during the Wiki fracas, was whether PARC was a pay-to-publish deal or not. And while James Valliant has consistently denied this, as has his wife Holly/"Pelagius1", some time ago ARCHNblog commenter Michael Prescott uncovered evidence ("Vanity, Thy Name is Durban") that suggests PARC's publisher, the obscure Durban House, did indeed work on a pay-to-publish basis. Furthermore, the "Writer Beware!" blog, the purpose of which is to "shine a light into the dark corners of the shadow-world of literary scams, schemes, and pitfalls", has put Durban House on its "Two Big Thumbs Down" list. So clearly Durban is very far from the respectable publishing outfit the Valliants have tried to portray it as. Now the "IP160/Pelagius1" debacle has brought even more peculiarities about the relationship between Durban House and the Valliants to light. James Valliant's wife is one Holly Valliant, nee Holly White. Ms White runs a PR firm in San Diego, Holly White & Associates. It turns out that Holly White has been doing PR for both Durban House authors and Ayn Rand Institute types for some years, both before and after her husband's book coming out in 2005. But what's really unusual is that as early as 2002 she seems to have been reviewing books and commenting on Amazon under the pseudonym "Durban House Publishing." This is most clearly indicated by the fact Holly Valliant's email address is the distinctive marcusantonius1[at], and the Amazon "Durban House Publishing" entity's nickname is marcusantonius12. The dustjacket on PARC also tells us one of the Valliant's dogs is named Marcus Antonius. Why does someone who is allegedly is not directly involved in Durban House nonetheless choose to review on Amazon under that pseudonym? Durban House's actual status as a functioning company seems also in doubt, with Holly Valliant/"Pelagius1" mentioning it is now defunct. And while James Valliant has insisted that PARC was objectively and "carefully" edited by Durban prior to publication, he declined to elaborate on who that editor actually was. He has asserted** that he "paid nothing" to have PARC published. However, this can nonetheless get engineered via vanity press fairly easily. For example, if a well-funded bookstore connected with the author was prepared to stock and order sufficient quantities of a certain item in advance, the author could be "paid" by the publisher from this pre-sale. But in this - purely hypothetical of course - case, the "payment" would simply be a money-go-round, not a typically commercial deal between publisher and author. And certainly Durban House appears to be no typical publishing house.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with self-publishing. "Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature" is itself a self-published book. However, being self published is an altogether different thing from being self-published and pretending that you're not. And if there's one thing that's evident in the ongoing strange and twisted saga of the Valliants and The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics, it's that there's been a whole lot of pretending going on.

*Apologies, for some reason some of the comment links on the Solopassion forum no longer link to the particular comment but just to the thread instead. Valliant reappears on p3, sorting by latest first.
**For the same reason, here I have quoted from a Solopassion post that quotes Valliant, but that I can link to directly.


Xtra Laj said...

Not content with good philosophical criticism, the Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature blog now performs surgical investigative journalism ;).

Daniel Barnes said...

You clearly missed our epic series unravelling the tangled web of the Founders College debacle a few years back, Laj...;-) It makes a nice change now and again.

Xtra Laj said...

Actually, I read a lot of past ARCHN past posts, including the Founders College Series.
That particular set didn't come to mind, but I'm happy to be reminded of the beauty of Objectivist educational theory, which is not only exemplified by the Van Damme academy, contrary to what some may claim :).

(By the way, the last comment was a sideswipe joke, for those who might huff and puff about the technical liberties taken).

Michael Prescott said...

Excellent investigative work, Daniel.

In defense of the Valliants, you have to admit that Marcus Antonius is a pretty cool name for a dog.

Daniel Barnes said...

Thanks Michael, but I'm really just summarising a whole lot of work done by various people (such as Bill Sherk, who archived Pelagius1's Wiki antics, Robert Campbell and Neil Parille) as this thing has played out. Hopefully this will be evident by some of the links.

William Scott Scherk said...

Good work in summarizing the long and tortuous story of TheValliants' failure at Wikipedia.

Although many of their actual improvements to Wiki articles remain, the two must balance what they wanted to achieve and what was the result.

If one goal was to make sure TheBrandens' accounts were 'balanced,' then they have achieved nothing. If a more modest goal was to add a certain lustre to PARC ("Hey, it's all over Wikipedia!") or polish the reputation of James Valliant ("Hey, check out the article on James Valliant!"), or even to subtly rejig the Rand articles to reflect the ARI hardline . . . well, well, well.

The red flags on PARC/Valliant/Peikoff/Objectivists are bristling at Wikipedia. Nothing remains of the campaigns but the stench of failure.

Valliant has also now disappeared from his primary soapbox. What a waste of time and energy -- considering that some non-fans of Valliant believe that some mention of PARC should be in the Wiki articles, the whole suite of events reflects badly on the paragons of reason and right thinking.

Anonymous said...

The Valliants have become the Clintons of Objectivism.

tenaj said...

Just what I have read of PARC on solo it is a poorly written book.He has trouble writing one good sentence. It is truly awful from the little I have read.Only objectivists that are literary challenged could take it in any way seriously.

If someone cannot write then I cannot take anything they say seriously. Let alone argue about it for years and years. From LP's review of Titanic he also is literary challenged so nothing can be expected of him. As for Ominous Parallels, just read William Shirer's Third Reich and his Memoirs of that time he was in Berlin and all the paralllels you want to see and more are there if you can connect dots.

A thought on Jaycee Dugard. It seems Garrido had a religious conversion of love when his two daughters were born. Same plot as The Possessed, Rand's favorite novel. And her obsession with that criminal whose name I am blocking at the moment. Lovely Nietzche influence. The kidnappers of the Lindbergh baby were playing superman from N also.