More from the Shaggy Man
A new essay collection by Boryanabooks regular contributor Leslie Evans. Now available in paperback from Amazon.com.
More from the Shaggy Man: Essays by Leslie Evans. Los Angeles: Boryanabooks, 2013. 386 pp. $13.25.
On sale now from Amazon for $12.19
Below is the Preface from More from the Shaggy Man.
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Here in this second Shaggy Man collection are fifteen essays written between May 2012 and August 2013. They appeared first on The Shaggy Man’s Place (www.shaggman.com) and on my publisher’s website, www.boryanabooks.com, as well as one from the socialist journal Against the Current. They range from the rightward evolution of the Republican Party to recent discoveries about the ancient Jewish religion known as Gnosticism.
“On the Track of the Elusive Baron Long” offers the only extensive biographical sketch of one of Southern California’s most fascinating characters. I became interested in Baron Long from having written previously on the history of the little industrial city of Vernon just southeast of downtown Los Angeles. Surprisingly for a tiny town with virtually no residential district, composed of slaughterhouses, factories, and warehouses, Vernon before Prohibition hit in 1920 was the nightlife capital of Los Angeles. Two institutions were the cornerstones of its appeal: Jack Doyle’s Saloon and its adjacent boxing arena, and Baron Long’s Vernon Country Club. The Country Club is reputed to have been the first real night club in America, combining a restaurant with an orchestra and floor show. The Baron, as he was always called, was for years the bête noir of the Los Angeles Times, before he struck it rich with a string of night clubs, became part owner of the U.S. Grant Hotel in San Diego, then of the world class Agua Caliente hotel and racetrack in Tijuana, finally ending as the owner of the Biltmore Hotel.
There are two pieces on Peak Oil and the threat it poses to modern industrial civilization. “The Twilight of Industrial Society” reports on the Age of Limits conference held in May 2012 at a farm in the Appalachian Mountains near Artemas, Pennsylvania. There several prominent writers on the dangers of oil depletion spoke: former CIA analyst Tom Whipple; John Michael Greer, author of The Echotechnic Future; Gail Tverberg, who maintains the website Our Finite World (www.ourfiniteworld.com); and Dmitry Orlov, a Russian-born author who witnessed the collapse of the Soviet Union.
I returned to the subject in “The Controversy over America’s Oil Future,” which examines the claims that unconventional oil from hydraulic fracking and Canadian tar sands are compensating for the global declines in convention crude oil.
In “Symptoms of U.S. Decline” I collect and discuss the comparative statistics for the United States and other advanced countries on a wide range of indices: education, infrastructure, poverty, homelessness, health, upward mobility, economic inequality, and prison populations. These all show a sharply declining America in comparison to countries with a more humane social safety net, and bode poorly for U.S. economic competitiveness in a world were other countries are training a healthier and more highly educated younger generation. It also shows that conservative claims that Europe is in economic collapse because of unaffordable health and welfare benefits is a misnomer. The most serious problems are found in southern Europe: Greece, Italy, and Spain. From Germany northward into the Scandinavian countries the economies are in substantially better shape than the United States despite some of the most generous social safety nets on the planet.
“The Strange Case of Ahmad Kamal and How He Helped the CIA Invite Radical Islam into Europe” bridges two stories: The unhappy unexpected consequences of the American CIA’s attempt in the early 1950s to enlist émigré Soviet Muslims in Munich, West Germany, to weaken the Russian hold on its Central Asian colonies, and the remarkable personal history of the American adventurer Cimarron Hathaway, who, under the pseudonym of Ahmad Kamal, devoted his life to fighting for the independence of the Muslim peoples of Soviet and Chinese Turkestan.
A short piece on Edmond Kovacs offers an appreciation of an old friend from my Trotskyist days who died in January 2010.
Two lengthy essays take up the modern history of the Jews. “The Left and the Jews,” based mainly on Robert S. Wistrich’s From Ambivalence to Betrayal: The Left, the Jews, and Israel, traces the attitude of the Marxist and anarchist Left toward the Jews, from early in the nineteenth century. Because the far Left vigorously opposed German National Socialism and because left-wing Jews have been prominent in leftist organizations, from Lenin’s Bolsheviks down to today’s Occupy movement, there is a widespread view that the Left is immune to antisemitism. In fact, the Marxist Left has from its founding been hostile to Jewish national identity, calling for an extreme assimilation that would eradicate any specifically Jewish culture or character. The Marxist parties in Germany in the 1890s went so far as to publicly welcome the rise populist antisemitic movements on the theory that these were objectively anticapitalist. The abysmal consequence of this ultra-assimilationist politics has been the widespread leftist embrace of antidemocratic and antisemitic Arab and Iranian movements and bitter hostility toward the Middle Eastern Jews.
“Why the Middle East Is Always in Crisis” recapitulates David Fromkin’s essential A Peace to End All Peace. This traces the, mainly British, Western interventions in the last days of the Ottoman Empire and the doomed states that were carved in the Middle East at the end of World War I. These, in the absence of the Turkish lid that held mutually hostile currents at bay, drew borders that placed Sunni Muslims under Shi’ite rule in Syria, Shi’ite Muslims under Sunni rule in Iraq, and laid the groundwork for herding the million native Middle Eastern Jews into Palestine, the majority of whose territory was put under the rule of an Arab prince and renamed Jordan.
“Bygone Days in West Adams” is based on a talk I gave to a neighborhood association at the western end of my own West Adams community on some of the grand old houses and their history. At the turn of the twentieth century West Adams was the edge of town, just being developed for the new rich, many of them self-made, when a former gunslinger and singing waiter could become the richest man in America on newfound oil and an Italian immigrant farm worker could found the largest winery in the country. By the time of the Depression, West Adams went into decline. The old mansions were broken up into boarding houses. After 1948 it become one of the prime African American communities in Los Angeles, and today has a plurality of recent Latino immigrants.
“The Hunger Ahead” reviews two books on the rising threat of world famine. As population continues its geometric spiral upward the Green Revolution of the 1970s has finally proven unable to keep up. Arable land is rapidly eroding, aquifers are being drained at an irreplaceable rate, global warming is reducing snow packs that feed major river systems. Middle Eastern and Asian countries are buying up huge tracts of farmland in Africa and Brazil to guarantee their own peoples a food supply now that they are no longer self-sufficient, guarding their foreign farms with militarily armed mercenaries. Internationally stored grain reserves, once abundant, fall lower each year, while climate change offers more and more frequent heat waves, droughts, and floods that endanger still more the narrow margins that fend off
“The Hip Dictator and His Opponents” takes a look at the more modern style of dictator, the ones who are satisfied to rig elections to get 70 percent of the votes instead of the old 98 percent, and who send building and health inspectors to close down the offices of critics instead of shooting them or carting them off to mental hospitals. This piece also looks at the tactics of the mostly young rebels who have challenged and sometimes brought down even the new style demagogues.
The Shaggy Man of my title is a character from L. Frank Baum’s Oz books. He appeared first in the fifth book, The Road to Oz of 1909. I have had an affection for Oz since I first heard of it, around the age seven. By the time I created my website almost sixty years later, I could no longer imagine my Oz avatar to be one of the American youths who find their way there, characters like Button Bright or Peter from Philadelphia. Not feeling magical, I wouldn’t choose one of the mysteriously living automatons — the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, or Jack Pumpkinhead. Not being a native, I wouldn’t pick a Quadling, a Gillikin, a Winkie, or a Munchkin, however old they might be. That left the old American wanderer who found his way there while trying to avoid someone to whom he owed a debt in Butterfield, Kansas: the otherwise nameless Shaggy Man. Writing as the Shaggy Man, because he carried with him the Love Magnet, it reminds me to care about the problems of our world, while because he has long since moved on to the more peaceful and less contentious Oz I am reminded to stay calm about it.
And so to connect my avatar with my text, the final essay contains some thoughts about L. Frank Baum’s Land of Oz and why we should still care about it.
West Adams, Los Angeles
September 1, 2013