Thursday, June 30, 2016

Smallbones, the eXile, and Wikipedia: a Cautionary Tale

This is the story of how an angry expatriate living in Moscow was burned by the American expat version of Spy magazine in the late 1990s, and how he took his spittle-flecked rage out on Wikipedia for a solid decade.

The birth of Smallbones

Before he was and Smallbones, the world knew him as Peter D. Ekman, an American economics professor who followed the small herd of economic and political wonks to Russia after the Soviet Union ended, and moved to Moscow after 1991. Many of them would up as "contractor-advisors" for newly-formed Russian businesses and government offices, while others wrote for outfits like The Moscow Times or contributed to Johnson's Russia List on the side while teaching English or some other dreckwork. Ekman showed up in the Russian Federation in 1993, married a "rich Russian woman" somewhere along the way, got a position at the American Institute of Business and Economics, and by 1997, was writing editorials for The Moscow Times as a side job. The trick was, of course, that Ekman (as with every American economist who worked in Russia in the 1990s) was a neo-liberal, pushing every awful idea concocted by the Chicago School of Economics and inflicted on countries like Pinochet's Chile. Having Russia transform into a massive version of Sweden was off the table; the 1990s were "market forces ΓΌber alles" and it immiserated millions of Russians while forcing a number of ex-Soviet Central Asia states to become insane dictatorships to keep the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank from stepping in with their formula of denationalization, public service austerity, and allowing outside transnational corporations in to make a profit; moves the global finance gurus said would make any developing country into a viable capitalist state. Ekman and his compatriots are one of the reasons why Russia still has that 1990s fetish, the flat tax.

Every character like Smallbones has a nemesis, and his was the eXile, a hilariously nasty tabloid that did in depth research of the corporate and governmental machinations in Yeltsyn's Russia. Founded by Matt Taibbi and Mark Ames (who mutinied from the awful semi-stillborn Living Here expat magazine, taking with them enough writers and production crew to set up their publication), the free weekly brutally mixed satire and real reporting in a way not seen in American print; it took moving to the madhouse Russia of the 1990s to rebuild the Gonzo and New Journalism of the 1970s. In full disclosure, let me say that I was a reader of the eXile and it's successor Exiled online; it truly captured the trainwreck that was the Yeltsyn years, and the growing nationalist kleptocracy of the early Putin period. It was truly an interesting publication what with John Dolan doing book reviews, Eduard Limonov writing in broken English, the "Field Guide to Moscow", the grotesque police blotter column "Death Porn", the prank calls to Russian government figures, etc. Ekman hated the rag and tried to get it shut down.


The following was posted to the increasingly less-fascinating Expat Nerd Herd internet list, in response to a letter we REPRINTED from the same source in the last issue (#76, "Chicken Soup for the eXile). In hopes of avoiding further run-ins with the persistent Beigist and would-be censor, we REPRINT Mr. Ekman's exactly as it appeared, including even his reduced-calorie version of our [sic] response. Please note that the offer of free advertising to certifiable charities stands--take it or leave as you see fit.

From: Peter D. Ekman
To: 'EXPAT list'
Subject: quotation policy
I shouldn't have done it. Every time I pick up the eXile, I see something that makes me angry. In the last issue, a letter sent to the expat list was more-or-less reprinted on the eXile's opinion page.
I have a simple question: Is there, or should there be, an expat list policy on what can be reprinted from the list. Should we all consider that anything we write here can be reprinted out of context, perhaps in an edited form, in the eXile and on its website, and then satirized?
I had a similar experience myself with the eXile. A letter that I wrote to Johnson's Russia List was reprinted in the eXile, with additions and deletions. I think anybody who is stupid enough to submit a letter to the eXile deserves everything they get, but I'd rather have nothing to do with them, and I do not want my name associated with them in any manner.
For the record - the message on the expat list questioned the effectiveness of a charity running free advertising in the eXile. The eXile's response was, in part:
"You're absolutely right, charity is the farthest thing from our minds. It may sound pitiful and nauseating to you, but for some fucked up reason, we'd rather spend two sleepless nights riding the white train with some teenaged flesh at our sides than spend well-rested afternoons visiting a bunch of lonely old people, wiping the shit from their thighs and pretending that their stories are interesting, or even coherent."
Yes, this is an extract, but I'm sure that anybody who reads the rest of their response will find it equally disgusting. I think that this response should lay to rest the debate on whether any charity would want to advertise - even for free - in the eXile.
Dear Peter,
We have no further comment, except to say--and we really mean this now, so listen up good--that we sincerely wish you would follow your own advice and stopping picking up the eXile.

That was from November of 1999; the original Peter Ekman letter was on Johnson's Russia List. A "beigist" was Mark Ames' term for the sorts of expats Moscow attracted; the people who were trying to turn Russia into America. After that letter, the eXile published an article (which I can't find) titled "Peter Ekman Groped Me" detailing how he had tried to get it on with the eXile's former web project manager Larissa Gorbunova. Afterwards Ekman's "rich wife" divorced him, he lost his AIBE gig, and the Moscow Times stopped running his pieces.


    Hi, remember me? My name is Peter Ekman. I’m here to help prevent you from destroying your life. Last year, I had a regular economics column in the Moscow Times, I was a Financial Educator at the American Institute of Business and Economics, and I was happily married to a wealthy Russian woman, whose invaluable material support helped to buffer my intellectual pursuits. My life, in short, was enviable. Then I made a fatal error. An error that I knew had destroyed others, but that I never believed would destroy me. I interfered with the workings of the eXile.
    It all began when I posted a personal attack on Mark Ames and the eXile on Johnson’s Russia List in the spring of 1999, after which Ames personally threatened my person with bodily harm. Things quieted down until last fall, when I sent Matt Taibbi an unnecessarily rude reply to his request for commentary on a critical press review he was writing on my column. After that, all hell broke loose. The eXile, in an article entitled “Peter Ekman Groped Me”, printed an account of how I tried to seduce their former web project manager, Larissa Gorbunova, and mercilessly pointed out every flaw, mistake and downright idiocy in my fiercely pro-American-values columns. Within a month, I was fired from the Moscow Times, my moneyed Russian wife had left me, and my attempts to paint the eXile as a pro-Nazi newspaper were received with ridicule and silence. Even the lowly Russia Journal refused to hire me, even without pay.
    People who once admired me now refer to me as “Peter Ex-Man”.
    Today I am an unemployed 48-year-old financial educator living alone in a $200-a-month studio on the outskirts of Moscow. And I am holding onto this meager existence by the grace of God.
    I blame myself and only myself for this disaster. Others have tried taking on the eXile and failed, but I paid no heed to their example. Jean MacKenzie, Suzanne Thompson, Michael Specter, Carol J. Williams, Gary Peach and Geoff Winestock are just some of the people driven out of Moscow for having ill-advisedly crossed the eXile’s path; others, like the Baltimore Sun’s Kathy Lally, were driven out of their minds, while former Stanford educator Michael McFaul was denied tenure simply for interfering with the workings of the eXile. He now faces possible arrest in Russia.
    So please, don’t just take my word, take my example. Don’t wind up a lonely, unemployed, divorced loser. Don’t interfere with the workings of the eXile. It may be the smartest thing you’ve never done in your life.
    Thank You.
    Peter Ekman
    Single Unemployed Financial Educator

Above is a joke letter the eXile ran in 2000, and from then on Ekman was a running gag as long as the paper existed in Russia; in 2004 they ran a magazine-long mock news article on how the European Union and the Chinese invade America to stop any more American invasions and Peter Ekman assasinates George W. Bush. Below is an actual letter they got in the mid 2000s:

Dear Mark and Matt,

We are students studying for a BSBA in the John L. Grove college of business at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania. One of our classmates found the public service announcement from Peter Ekman on your site. We found it quite bemusing to say the least. As it turns out, good old Peter is an ad hoc professor at Shippensburg this year. He is currently our professor for a second level finance course. He is by far and away the absolute worst professor that any of us have ever encountered. His lectures are a boring waste of time as he jumps around from one topic to another. He tells stories about how he goes around and collects loose change in front of the bars that drunk college students lose. What a winner! Many of us have complained to the department head and deans about how terrible he is. He will certainly be fired at the end of the year. But in the mean time, we would certainly like to see him suffer. If you have any good info. on him, we emplore you to send it to the deans of the college of business. The name of the dean is Dr. Stephen Holoviak and the associate dean is Dr. Tony Winter. Their information as well as Peter's can be accessed via the web at Please assist us if you can, he has made our lives miserable and we would love to return the favor. I think we would all agree that Peter Ekman is joke of a financial educator.
Sincerely Yours,

Shippensburg University Students

[Response by "Field Marshal von Palus"] Dear Shippensburg U. students,

We feel for you. Ekman must be a terrible teacher. Obviously, he's not teaching you any grammar. Is Shippensburg where they send you when you spell "implore" wrong in your college applications? In other words, go fuck yourself. Learn to spell, then we'll see what we can do. 

Ekman on Wikipedia

Peter D. Ekman started on Wikipedia as an IP address in late October of 2005; his first edit was on The eXile (Wikipedia did not stick completely to the magazine's title spelling) then on the The Hungry Duck (a Moscow bar near the Kuznetsky Most Metro station entrance; a very wild place that used to advertise in the eXile), Limonov's National Bolshevik Party, etc. Ekman tried to get the eXile article removed after a previous AfD fight in August by tacking on this:  

Propaganda, self-promotion, advertising, libel. Please notice that the so-called Pranks are a record of criminal activity (e.g. assault) or pure vanity non-sense (e.g. we gate crashed) I have edited out the libelous material about myself (pde). eXile is the English language propanganda arm of Eduard Limonovs National Bolshevik Party which is a facist hate mongering organization which also has engaged in violent activities, e.g. the seizure of St. Peters Church in Riga on the eve of the national holiday. Limonov has been convicted on felony arms violations 03:39, 24 October 2005 (UTC)

Of course it didn't stick (the NBP had its own Russian-language publication Limonka), but he kept after the eXile and other Russia-related topics as until December 2005, then he switched over to Smallbones, though he did allegedly have a couple of sock accounts back then. My source* describes Ekman as doing "20-50 edits daily", that "some of his content work was actually not bad", but that Ekman had "a slightly robotic-looking editing pattern." He engaged in massive fights with Dsol and others over being mentioned in The eXile article (link here); it got to a point where SlimVirgin got involved to fix it and failed, while Russavia (Scott Bibby) tried to troll it and saw all his work deleted. Dsol and Smallbones were fighting over The eXile articles as late as 2014.  Meanwhile in 2007 the publication at the heart of the storm wrote this about Ekman: "....To this day, Ekman spends his free time - which is pretty much all of his time, since no one will hire him anymore - writing letters to editors of papers that publish Ames and Taibbi's articles, and vandalizing wiki pages about the eXile and its contributors."

Beyond the pointless eXile wars, Smallbones also ran a fight with Robert "Rgfolsom" Folsom over the BLP (biography) of Robert Prechter, an economist/stock analyst who created "Socionomics" after studying the work of Ralph Nelson Elliot (1871-1948) and his "Elliot wave" theory. In a 2006-2007 RfA, Smallbones made the case that the whole thing was mumbo-jumbo, mentioning that Rgfolsom was actually employed by Robert Prechter through his Socionomics Institute. For his troubles, Smallbones was banned from editing the Prechter BLP and related articles. This dislike of Rgfolsom and his previous eXile issues combined to form a lasting hatred of paid editing on Wikipedia.

Smallbones and Jimbo's Talkpage, Ekman vs. Kohs

Despite a lot of content work in economics (his article on "Tulip mania" became a featured article in August 2008), he got no respect, so he became a brown-noser on Jimbo's talkpage, deleting things that were embarrassing. When "The People's Operator" came up on September 27, 2015, Smallbones deleted it. He did the same thing a day earlier. And the day before. That's all he does on the talkpage, deleting/reverting comments he thinks are trolling, or stiff he just dislikes. It beats his other fixation, which is banning people at the drop of a hat; Arbcom told him to cut out that nonsense in October of 2014 during the great Banning Policy arbitration. "Smallbones is warned to refrain from edit warring and needlessly inflammatory rhetoric in the future. Further instances of similar misconduct may result in serious sanctions."

Because of his hatred of paid editors he utterly loathes Greg Kohs (Thekohser.)

On May 19, 2014, Kohs wrote on the Wikipedocracy message board: "It would appear that I've driven Smallbones and/or Coretheapple and/or some other wiki-miscreants to subscribe my home address to any number of magazines that I did not order. Just got notice Saturday from Smithsonian (by mail) of my upcoming membership and subscription (pay now to activate), and tonight I received an e-mail from Outside Magazine notifying me of my one-year subscription." 

On the 12th of November 2014, Thekohser posted the following to the WO-MB: "It looks like Smallbones is doing his unpaid job of hiding information about Wikipedia's flaws from the world. Even reverting an IP address from Florida in the process. I'm not in Florida, so why the revert? I wonder if Smallbones thinks that InsaneHacker is me, too? Poor Smally... I'll bet he has an ulcer, what with all the "work" he feels compelled to do."

The next level was reached in early January of this year: "Smallbones decided to schlep himself from the backyard of the Pennsylvania Institute Of Technology all the way to downtown Philadelphia, to take a crappy photo of a ball field and a backstop fence with a condo building in the background. His photo also features a gray sky washing out the building's rooftop. Then he decided that his crappy photo would look nicer on Wikipedia than the existing photo -- which was an intelligently-shot piece that conveys richness of color and detail for the reader." The photo Ekman replaced was one Greg Kohs had shot, and I have to agree, Kohs' photograph looks better.

The most recent issue between them was just last month, when Kohs showed up on to propose a serious study on the effects of banning on editors ("Impacts on lives of the banned") and Smallbones showed up to yell at Thekohser and get his comment exiled to the talkpage. The Ekman-Kohs "conversation" in full:

Oppose to the highest degree - I am agnostic as far as the topic of the study, but it is obvious that Thekohser is not the person to do an unbiased study of the topic. Thekohser has been been banned on the English Wikipedia for almost 10 years. He seems to have a new sockpuppet there every week. He boasts about his paid editing - that is he says he is violating the terms of use (that should automatically disqualify him). He has been banned from attending a Wikipedia conference. He appears to own a website that openly outs and harasses editors. He has personally harassed me. (I will send the evidence to the WMF on request). For the last several years he has conducted a campaign against WMF fundraising, so this application looks like the ultimate hypocrisy - he should get funds from the WMF, but others should not be able to get them. Finally, this Inspire campaign seems to be about finding solutions to the harassment problem. The solution is obviously not to subsidize the harassers. Smallbones (talk) 19:20, 9 June 2016 (UTC)
          I don't know why User:Smallbones feels motivated to cast false aspersions at me, but I think it's important to respond to some of his falsified personal attacks. Yes, while I have been indefinitely blocked, or banned (the distinction isn't exactly clear) on English Wikipedia for almost 10 years, I have been a continuing and thoughtful participant in good standing on Meta, Commons, Wikiversity, Wikibooks, Wikisource, and other projects. I am not in violation of Wikimedia Foundation terms of use, and I've not said that I'm in violation of terms of use. I do not directly edit Wikipedia in exchange for payment -- full stop. You should not charge me with such a violation based on zero evidence and an active imagination. Moving on, my ban from attending a Wikipedia-related conference (actually three of them, now) has been determined (by a Freedom of Information Act request) to have been conducted "out of process" from guidelines laid down by the hosting facilities. "Appears to own a website" -- what does that mean? That I pay a $12 annual domain registration fee for a site where I have no moderator privileges, where I have no access to the site administration dashboard on the server? What kind of "owner" doesn't have the keys to his property? The site occasionally openly outs (but does not harass) editors who are a danger to safe communities. For example, our site has outed a number of editors engaging in disturbing pedophilic activities, and then later (thankfully) those editors have been globally locked by the Wikimedia Foundation. How could you complain about a site that is performing important protective services on a voluntary basis? I have not personally harassed you, Smallbones, so you can stop lying about that imaginary slight. I have conducted campaigns not so much "against WMF fundraising", but against "improper spending of WMF funds", which have been very successful campaigns that have resonated with many in our community, and with many in the mainstream media. Your vitriol and falsehoods above are not appropriate conversation for an IdeaLab grant that is gaining traction with our Meta community. I strongly suggest you drop this unseemly line of personal attacks. - Thekohser (talk) 13:15, 14 June 2016 (UTC)

The Future

Pretty much Wikipedia is now Ekman's real job, though he doesn't get paid for it. Smallbones has already spoken to the media on Wikipedia's behalf, he ran this bizarre QR code sign project in the Congressional Cemetery in 2012, we may see him do other semi-menial things for Wikipedia or the WMF in the future. It will never be the future he could have lived being the American intellectual flunky to Dmitri Medvedev's presidency or having his car bombed because he worked with the wrong oligarch. As Bugs Bunny would say, "Them's the breaks."

*My source being E.A. Barbour, who would like to remind the reader that Matt Taibbi has won awards for his writing, while Peter Ekman spends his existence screaming at people on the Internet.


  1. Bravo! Excellent recap of Ekman's odd career arc.

    1. Thank you.

      You need to tell that crazy Limey woman (Tippi) that her threats don't work, and that I will find Tarantino if it's the last thing I will ever do.

  2. Pardon the delay in responding.

    Me? Control Tippi? That's like trying to hold back the tide, or chastising the lightning.

    I don't think you'll find Tarantino. He's disciplined, and that's his best shield.

    As for you and I, some weekend we should meet for lunch in some neutral area. We live near each other, and an airing of grievances never hurt anyone.