May 19, 2008

Moderating the Proa List by Joseph Oster

comments regarding the Yahoo! groups proa mail list:
  • Moderating the Proa List May 18, 2008
  • Open Letter to Wade Tarzia May 12, 2008
  • Dave Culp and Water Ballast Oct 29, 2011
  • Moderation on the proa discussion list is a bad joke, on two levels:

    1) Self Moderation

    Though multihulls are not quite the "lunatic fringe" they were twenty years ago, proas are still the fringe of that fringe, a very small group with a common interest in sailboats with two hulls that use either end for the bow, multihulls that shunt instead of tack. Inspired by Dick Newick and CHEERS and/or by the Wooden Boat Magazine article about Russell Brown (July/August, 1988, Issue #83) and/or an interest in traditional Micronesian sailing canoes, Internet discussions about proas were happening on the Multihull Mail List before I joined in March, 1996. Participants included Dick Newick, John Shuttleworth, Chris White, Ian Farrier, and a long list of knowledgeable, experienced multihull people who either never joined the Yahoo! proa list or have long since left it.

    One would think that in such a specialized group, a spirit of camaraderie and mutual respect would prevail, and for the most part, I believe it did, until Rob Denney claimed in July, 1999, that he had created a faster, cheaper, safer and more comfortable "Pacific proa" with the majority of weight in the windward hull. Denney made wild claims about unproven ideas and unfinished projects and soon began bullying and badgering people who questioned his "facts". For example, look for the word "bunkum" in Denney's emails, and the phrase "Who gives a rats bum?" - and many more for those who care to read the page.

    Increasingly abusive confrontations ensued as Denney rejected all arguments, no matter how rational and sound, insulting and personally attacking the people who made them. Instead of trying to understand, he sought only to re-explain his beliefs. Using relentless repetition, demanding answers and proof that had already been given, making false assumptions that were opposite to what the other party intended, dismissing as insignificant his own errors about cost/weight estimates or the effect of rig placement or when he would actually sail his creations instead of just bragging about them, an alternate reality was created. Standards of credibility and common decency eroded to accommodate Denney's style, in part out of hope that he might be right about "faster, cheaper, safer and more comfortable", and in part out of sheer fascination at his audacity.

    That pattern continues to this day, with some of his biggest fans adopting his tactics. In post #20636, Dave Culp says to "Julie": "If you'll take your head out of your (figurative, I'm sure) ass, and read the actual posts...". No match for Denney though, as seen in post #20727 where he demands over and over that Steven Callahan "categorically deny [what you wrote], and post an apology", something Callahan has already said he has no intention of doing. Denney's tone here reminds me of another line from rapper Ice-T's "Don't hate the player, hate the game" (Dave Culp's motto and apparently his idea of "the game" on mail discussion lists): "Bow down, on second thought punk bitch kneel". The "game", as Culp calls it, is intimidation, pure and simple. Anyone who effectively challenges Denney's assertions and faulty reasoning, as Callahan has done, is considered an aggressor and viciously attacked.

    So much for self moderation. As Wade Tarzia put it, "the smell of urine is becoming synonymous with Proafile".

    2) List Moderator: the Sheriff and the Unruly, Angry Mob

    With astonishing irony, it is Denney who cries the loudest for intervention by a list moderator. In post #20723 he says "The salesman part of me loves the personal attacks", then goes on to say: "the moderators were too slow to act ... If a moderator doesn't moderate, what does he do?".

    post #20489 by Denney:

    It would be a lot
    less tiring/boring if the moderators could enforce (or write if
    necessary) some rules about personal attacks.

    post #20666 by Denney:

    Any posts not about proas or complimentary to someone
    should be completely deleted. If it happens more than once, the
    person is banned for a predetermined period. If posters are going to
    behave like school children, treat them as such.

    post #20353 by Denney, regarding a false claim made by Denney about Mark Lamb:

    If you say this was not you, then
    maybe the moderators can remove that sentence from my post.
    Nothing else I can do about it. I neither know nor care if it was
    you or someone claiming to be you. Sort it out with Russ if you
    have a problem with him.

    post #20267 by Denney:

    If the moderators wants to throw me off, I am
    sure they will. Of course, to be fair, they would have to come up
    with something I have done wrong first, which might be a bit of a

    Others who are just fed up with the hostility of these heated exchanges, also request intervention by a moderator; post #20724 by Wade Tarzia:

    I think just "officially" ending certain
    threads is well within a moderator's rights, and, dare I say, a
    responsibility. When does the moderator draw the line? I suggest,
    when the same arguments have been repeated too many times from the
    principle players, then end the thread: I think this current thread
    and its genetic mutations qualify.

    Wade, if you went back through just six months or so of the proa list and applied your criteria, I'd be very curious to see what was left of it?

    The fatal flaw in expecting a list moderator to clean up the mess, by deleting posts and banning individuals, is that no one is truly fair and neutral and the result is censorship. As evidence, look no further than post #20722 by moderator Marc Ellsworth, which is what prompted me to write this essay:

    First off, I don't think Rob Denny dominates this forum,
    nor that he gets any special toleration.
    One thing I will say in Rob's favor is that he has put his
    money where his mouth is. I admire his nerve to attempt to make a
    living in the proa design business, whether I approve of his boats or
    not. And I do like his boats, although I am not sure I would build one.

    So much for moderator neutrality! Ellsworth goes on to comment about me (Joseph Oster) having been "Banned from proa file several years ago" (seven years ago, actually), invites me back to the list on condition "that you be civil in your posts" (calling Denney a liar isn't civil, though he has no problem with anything Denney has ever said!?). Furthermore, with no basis in fact, and despite my denial, in private and in public, that I have ever been a lurker or "sockpuppet" (on the proa list or anywhere else), he suggests that is still a possibility and challenges my manhood:

    It is true
    that some have the opinion that Joe is already back and has posted
    through a sockpuppet. I don't know if that is true or not. I don't
    really care; although I would hope that if someone is going to spout
    off about something, they would have enough cojones to do it

    POSSIBILITY #1: the one implied, is that I use the "Julie" name as a "sock puppet" - to me anyway, that is clearly FALSE! My cojones are fine, I've never been shy about speaking my mind publicly, and never in my life have I been deliberately deceitful. I simply have no interest in re-joining the proa list.

    POSSIBILITY #2: Julie is real and has a valid reason for wanting to remain anonymous; in this case, referring to her "cojones" is not only inappropriate by gender but an insult based on lack of information.

    POSSIBILITY #3: Julie is a sock puppet of Rob Denney, perhaps even Denney himself, because as he has stated so often, controversy is good for him and his business. If this is the case, the issue isn't one of cojones at all, the issue is integrity and deceit by a salesman.

    In all three of these possibilities, the moderator's statement is way off the mark.

    Ellsworth goes on to say "I am not going to set any rules about who can say what", which sounds like he is opposed to censorship. Yet three posts were deleted in the last five days: #20703, #20706 (both apparently by "Julie", based on quoted replies in post #20704 - offending statement by Julie was apparently "It will be interesting to see if the moderator has any balls.", and in post #20720), and a message from Harmen Hielkema that was posted by Gary Dierking, post #20752 (I saved a copy before it was deleted).

    Let's face it, this is politics. My comment to Wade that "Denney has done for proas what Cheney/Bush have done for democracy - poisoned the well" was even more appropriate than I first thought. "Protecting your freedom!" is the BIG LIE that has been used in the United States to subvert the 1st ("freedom of speech") and 4th ("unreasonable searches and seizures") Amendments of the Constitution. When herd behavior takes hold, good people are often swept along and support policies that benefit someone else, to their own detriment. While there are some cases where list moderator intervention is appropriate (publication of sensitive personal information, for example), the proa discussion list has an unfortunate history of allowing abusive statements by Denney while acting against those who take exception and/or offense at his provocations.

    In response to Callahan's remark to Denney that "If you don't like warmth, stop setting fire to the neighborhood", Denney replies: "I love the warmth."

    Tolerating Denney for all these years has created a stench on the proa list, as if a lion has stayed too long in his den, defecating in his own bed.

    ADDENDUM: 21 May 2008 - Evidence of moderator bias and poisoned "kool-aid" on the proa discussion list continues. This essay provoked a series of comments on the proa list, all of them except one containing disparaging remarks directed at me. The single exception, post #20795 by Julie (below) is the only one that drew a rebuke from the "moderator. Here is the full text that he objected to while letting all others (#20784, #20791, #20797, #20798, #20802, #20807, #20810) pass without comment:
    Rob, one can learn so much from history. Your past posts paint an
    interesting picture to say the least.
    I have one question for you. In (Date: Wed, 25 Aug 1999 04:20:46 -
    0400)1999 you stated, Quote "To those interested in Harry plans, the
    answer is not until it is working
    satisfactorily, and has done some offshore miles in rough conditions,
    maybe by the end of the year. "
    What changed? You now consider "no appropriate offshore testing in
    rough conditions" is necessary and instead are asking friends (Culp)
    who have never sailed your boat to say what a great sailing boat it
    I find the deafening silence from fellow posters on this situation
    extremely strange to say the least. Are they all sockpupets?

    May 24, 2008

    Is Denney Accountable?

    In post #20876, Matt Lawrence says:
    Enough already. I am sick and tired of this thread. Please stop. The
    personal attacks are now out of hand and, frankly, I no longer care who is

    In this case, who is right or wrong might literally be a matter of life and death! The number of mis-statements and attacks by Denney in any given post are so great as to be uncountable in their aggregate, even over a couple of months, let alone nine years now of the same pattern.

    Unsubstantiated claims are Rob Denney's hallmark, whether you look at his first claims about HARRY in 1999 or more recent statements, such as a thread on his Yahoo! HarryProa forum about his telescoping mast. 115 messages to date, going back to 2003, with a series of "recent" excuses about why it hasn't been built yet, despite years of claims about its merits: Dec 29, 2007 Mar 30, 2008 Apr 18, 2008

    Examples of Denney making statements as fact about things that haven't happened yet, or are plainly untrue, are so routine as to be almost laughable; actually, in the case of his claim about beating JZERRO in the SingleHanded TransPac two+ years from now, they are hilarious (post #20678):

    "I will be there after the race in 2010. Perhaps, if Steve's challenge happens, you and Steve can come out on my boat to welcome Russ when he finishes."

    But also note the false, defamatory statements in the same message:

    "Joe says [Russell] monitors the list, gets annoyed about me, then emails his friends and asks them to post on his behalf." - FALSE!

    "His friends do as he asks" - FALSE!

    "Be so much easier for Russ to come on the list himself, post his opinions of his boats (...) and leave it at that." - As if Denney would "leave it at that", which of course he would not.

    "Joe, Pity you have left, maybe we just wait until Russ tells you to post again for your next bit of nit picking." - FALSE!

    "If you are not selling plans, what exactly have you and Jim Antrim been doing on the Pacific Proa web page for the last 7 years?" - I answered this question from him in June, 2001.

    post #20720 is a recent example of Denney's puffery, false claims ("all those with common sense agree") and absurd, provocative fallacy ("even Russ agrees with this"):

    problem is that most of those with experience (and all those with
    common sense) agree that Harry is a better (not perfect, just better)
    way of going cruising than Jzerro. Hell, judging from his quotes in
    the magazines, even Russ agrees with this for anyone other than

    Denney started this fire and has fanned the flames for years, with personal attacks and unscrupulous behavior. He says "I love the warmth" so please don't interfere when his feet are held to the fire.

    August 21, 2011

    Denney is a malicious, pathological liar

    Denney is a malicious, pathological liar (pseudologia fantastica) and all the idiots who think "Rob is a nice guy" (Wade Tarzia) are flies on horse shit. No one can discuss Russ Brown's influence on modern proas without being viciously attacked by Denney and his pack of barking dogs. Denney doesn't sell his designs on merit alone, he attacks and repeats lies endlessly.

    Anybody who thinks Jzerro "works" offshore should read the Cruising
    World article on the boat's trip to Tahiti. This article did more to
    kill interest in cruising proas than anything written or done before
    or since.
     - Rob Denney, Aug 19, 2011 

    The latest example of his relentless, blatant, malicious lies:

    Russ did
    not want to sell plans, but the well respected Jim Antrim was involved with
    Joe in an attempt to do so. See He denies this
    is a selling site, but send him a phantom email asking for details and see
    how quickly he gets his salesman's hat on.
     - Rob Denney, Aug 21, 2011

    For ten years I've been saying that I have no plans available because no Oster/Antrim plans exist for a real boat. This particular lie implies that we have failed to sell plans where he has succeeded, that people compared both and chose his. It isn't true.

    The proa_file list is a cesspool of disinformation, and it stinks.

    NOTE: Denney's casual suggestion to use "a phantom email" indicates to me someone who routinely uses sockpuppets, an online identity used for purposes of deception. This should ring a bell for anyone familiar with Denney over the years.

    March 21, 2016


    For some insight into Denney's methods and style, these articles are strongly recommended; in particular, a form of psychological abuse known as "gaslighting" [from the 1938 stage play Gas Light, in which a husband attempts to drive his wife crazy by dimming the lights (which were powered by gas) in their home, and then he denies that the light changed when his wife points it out]:

    Emails to the Multihull Mail List from Rob Denney - from Joseph Oster (split screen)
    Open Letter to Wade Tarzia

    Other Proa Pages