Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Who is Mark Pumphrey?

Did you know that "[t]he problem with Rand is easily detectable by careful listeners of this production: a good essayist with a flair for the dramatic turn of phrase, she wasted her obvious writing skills in an effort to support outlandish personal opinions cloaked in the guise of logic."

Or that, "To use one of her own favored words, Rand's political and social philosophy is critically "muddled.""

Or that, "An absolutist thinker, [Rand] devotes one whole essay [in the Virtue of Selfishness] to an effort to persuade us that we really should see things as black and white, with no shades of gray."

These are the views of one Mr. Mark Pumphrey and they can be found here and here on the pages for Ayn Rand's Capitalism the Unknown Ideal and The Virtue of Selfishness at Amazon.com. These aren't the reviews that you or I write--they are the reviews Amazon highlights to offer an 'objective' review of the work at hand.

So who then is Mark Pumphrey and why is he the voice that appraises the value of Ayn Rand's writings? I did some online research and I found this bio:

Mark Pumphrey is Polk County's appointed e-Champion, and was largely responsible for pulling together the original 22-member e-communities planning committee, and for holding this group together ever since. Mark has been a professional librarian for over 20 years, having worked previously at institutional libraries in his home state of Kentucky, followed by seven years as a library consultant for the South Dakota and South Carolina State Libraries. In 1992, he moved to the mountains of Western North Carolina and in 1994 became the Polk County Library Director. Mark has been a leader in our county's effort to improve Internet access since its beginnings in 2001. Polk County Library, under Mark's leadership, has won Webjunction's first Library of the Month in the U.S. and Canada for Technology Planning." The library also won the "Unstoppable Library" designation by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for technology development in their staff online newsletter. An article in the American Library Association's Interface newsletter told our story of technology development through the Gates grant and e-communities effort. Mark was also selected as a speaker on Technology Planning at the American Library Association pre-conference in Toronto, sponsored by the Gates Foundation.
Another bio lists Pumphrey's interests as "[l]ibrary service to special populations: aging, adult literacy students, persons with disabilities, new English speakers and the foreign born, persons in institutions and other long-term care facilities, and the disadvantaged" and the "[e]qualization of access to library services and information."

Ah, it all becomes clearer now. Pumphrey is a government employee and non-profiteer (thanks to a little assist from none other than the Gates Foundation). How that makes him qualified to review books on philosophy or political systems is beyond me; his reviews clearly show he has a philosophic animus against Ayn Rand's ideas and his reviews do little to illustrate what actually appears in the books. After all, contrast what Pumphrey writes in his review of Capitalism the Unknown Ideal with our review at the Center. According to Pumphrey Capitalism the Unknown Ideal is barely a value to anyone:

As an interesting relic of the past, this outlandish piece of propaganda is worth the listener's time, even though the author's overconfident sense of her own rightness and persistence at pressing her points with little respect for opposing views can quickly become more than a little annoying. Using outdated words such as "altruists" to represent the forces of evil who would overburden the poor, beleaguered American business community, Rand "protesteth" far too much. Americans have seen many of the abuses come to pass that Rand, writing in 1946, claimed would never happen if free enterprise were just left to its own devices, so many of her arguments will be lost on a modern listener. For instance, the antitrust laws forced railroad barons to use illegal payoffs to forge ahead with expansion, and they shouldn't, therefore, be blamed the antitrust laws are the real problem. Narrator Anna Field's cold, crisp voice is actually well suited to such a heartless piece as this. Recommended.
If that review is a recommendation, I would like to see what Pumphrey's says about a book he dosen't like. Needless to say, we offer a different view of Rand's text.

This is Ayn Rand's presentation of the moral and philosophical case for capitalism. It includes theoretical essays defining the nature of capitalism and the moral foundation of individual rights, articles outlining the proper application of capitalism to such issues as patents and copyrights and public ownership of the airwaves, essays on the historical record of capitalism, and commentary on specific political events. (Of particular interest are two essays written in the 1960s by Alan Greenspan defending the gold standard and attacking antitrust.) The sum is a refutation of the myriad smears against capitalism and the presentation, for the first time, of a genuine intellectual foundation for the defense of capitalism.
If you didn't know Ayn Rand from Adam, which review provides the more objective statement? Which review would tell you what the book actually features?

Hands down, CAC provides the more useful review. It is short, concise, and explains what material the book actually contains, and not the reviewers socio-political views. Additionally, it is the review that will actually sell books to interested readers, rather than frighten them away.

My view: Amazon.com needs to dump Mark Pumphrey and hire CAC to review its catalogue of Ayn Rand's writings.

1 comment:

william said...

I to wondered about Mark Pumphrey! I did a Google search and found your site. Interesting but he does seem to be an expert on "muddled" thinking.
It's the journey and the destination