Shaggy Man’s Ramblings – New from Boryanabooks

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May 1, 2012 · Posted in Commentary 

We are please to announce the publication of a new paper book from Boryanabooks: Shaggy Man’s Ramblings: Essays by Leslie Evans.

The book is 342 pages and lists for $12.95 at Amazon.

Click here for the Amazon sales page.

Below is the full Preface

The majority of these essays first appeared on my website, The Shaggy Man’s Place ( All but one were written between 2006 and early 2012. Just over half are biographical sketches of people who interest me: Sayyid Qutb, the central theorist of jihadi Islam, polemicist Christopher Hitchens, George Bernard Shaw, and a group of figures prominent in Los Angeles history who lived or are buried in my turn-of-the-twentieth century West Adams neighborhood.

The collection traces several disparate themes, which is fitting for a ramble through time and place. I have divided the essays into six parts by topic. Part 1, The Unfolding Ecological Crisis and Solutions Better Left Untried, examines the risk of social collapse from pitting the ever increasing demand for food, oil, and other limited natural resources against the insatiable needs of a population speeding past the 7 billion mark and bent on closing in on European and American living standards.

This opens with a review of Jared Diamond’s 2005 Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. Diamond shows how seemingly small mismatches between agricultural productivity and population have destroyed bustling civilizations of the past, and shows how precarious are our world’s present stocks of arable land and potable water.

“$4 Gas Is Only the Beginning” hones in on the flatlining of world oil production since 2005 while demand, fed by the economic fires of China and India, has continued to grow, only slightly tamped down by the world recession. Escalating fuel prices, symptoms of “peak oil,” promise to soon price the energy source on which our modern civilization depends out of reach except for the rich and key government agencies. And oil is only one of the resources hitting a production wall, from phosphorus to uranium and the rare earth metals essential for computer screens. A growing number of specialists now say that the spiking prices of oil and other natural resources, due to declining supplies and the lower quality and increasing costs of extracting what remains, as well as the impact of rising oil prices on transportation and fertilizer that in turn push food prices up, have been an underestimated cause of the world recession that began in 2008.

Every economic crisis gives new hope to dead panaceas, religious and secular. “Anticapitalism, the Hyperstate, and the Current Crisis” examines the flickering revival of Marxist hopes that capitalism can be blamed for this one, and if the downturn deepens, open the door to a new opportunity to plump for total state ownership of the economy. I review the deadly experience of this idea in power, in particular, because of my own long illusions here during a few decades in the Trotskyist movement, looking at the bloody trail of the Lenin dictatorship in the much romanticized early days of the legendary October Revolution, drawing on sources that dug into the archives of the Soviet state after the fall of communism.

The second section, Militant Islam and the Left, attempts to weigh the import for Western society of the post-World War II Islamic awakening. In part out of the tradition of Enlightenment rationalism, in part because of the mendacity of the George W. Bush administration and its “war on terror,” and in part because a Marxist left found itself with no constituency after the collapse of communism and the rightward shift of the proletariat, there has been a disturbing tendency among Western liberals and leftists to range from neutral to supportive of Islamic militancy.

The first two articles in this section examine the beliefs of the Islamic radicals and the extent of their influence and activity. Sayyid Qutb, the Qur’anic theorist of the Muslim Brotherhood, executed by Nasser in 1966, lives on in a large literary legacy urging the destruction of the decadent and idolatrous West and of communism and their global replacement by Islamic rule. “The World Islamic Revolution” traces Islam’s bloody borders, its widespread calls for genocide of the Jews, and its rejection of the secular notion of the separation of church and state.


The last two articles in this part, a commemoration of the late Christopher Hitchens and a review of Pascal Bruckner’s The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism, challenge the mid- and far-left’s illusions that Western imperialism is a greater evil than their new-found Islamic rebels.

Part three, Vernon and Its Discontents, looks at the history of the small industrial city of Vernon, south and east of downtown Los Angeles, and at the overblown civic corruption scandal that has fascinated the media since 2005. I became interested in this when, in researching the history of the 1910 Craftsman house my wife Jennifer and I bought in 1988, we discovered that it had been owned, between 1921 and 1958, by members of the Furlong family, one of the two founding families that created Vernon in 1905 as an exclusively industrial city and who ruled it as a corporate fiefdom down to recent times.

Part four, Miscellany, is what the title promises: an article on computer role playing games, a memorial to a beloved cat, an internet search for the history of an odd little left-wing bookstore in Missoula, Montana, and reviews of two authors, one Romanian, the other Japanese.

Part five, Remembering the Edwardians, is biographical and literary sketches of three prominent English and Irish writers: children’s author Edith Nesbit and playwright George Bernard Shaw, both Fabian socialists, and fantasist Lord Dunsany, the pro-British Irish aristocrat who invented strange gods and dreamlike cities. I was drawn to Nesbit and Shaw primarily because I like their work, but also because they became socialists in the 1880s and it helps to understand this current in Western thought to see it in its early earnest and somewhat naive formation.

The last part, West Adams Sketches, owes its place here to an interest in the history of the neighborhood where my wife and I live. West Adams is centered on a stretch of Adams Blvd., an east-west thoroughfare just under three miles south of City Hall. The dirt tract began to be developed with a few palatial homes in the late 1880s, then took off as the center for the city’s wealthy when oil magnate Edward Doheny built his Chester Place compound at Adams and Figueroa in 1901. First came the business class, in a pioneer age when everything was wide open and penniless adventurers more than struck it rich. Doheny had arrived in town dead broke and living in a run-down hotel and ended as the richest man in America; Secundo Guasti, an Italian farm laborer, came to America and worked as a dishwasher in a restaurant, and rose to become the biggest wine maker in California. There were many others. After them came the film stars — Fatty Arbuckle and Theda Bara. The era ended in 1917 when Beverly Hills supplanted West Adams.

An age of decline followed. The old architect-designed mansions became rooming houses. When the racial covenants were ruled unconstitutional in 1948, West Adams became a black neighborhood. In the nineties Latino immigrants in turn became the dominant ethnicity, along with the remaining blacks and a small number of white old house enthusiasts.

When Jennifer and I moved here in 1988 we joined the local historic preservation organization, the West Adams Heritage Association. In 2007 I became their webmaster and wrote a number of sketches of the early residents. This stretched to people buried in the old local West Adams cemetery, Angelus Rosedale.

I have included here six of those sketches, the people who I found most intriguing: Wyatt Earp, the famed Western lawman and hero of the OK Corral, who spent his last years in Los Angeles while prospecting for gold in the Mojave Desert. Dirty Dan Harris, smuggler, Indian fighter, and founder of Bellingham, Washington, poisoned for his money in a dingy Los Angeles hotel. Katherine Putnam Hooker, writer and close friend of John Muir, astronomer George Ellery Hale, and psychologist William James. William G. Kerckhoff, lumber and electric power millionaire who created the hydroelectric dam system in the Sierra Nevadas that supplies much of Los Angeles’s electricity. John Randolph Haynes, the millionaire socialist who practically invented California’s system of ballot box initiatives and a hundred other reforms that shape our city and state government to this day. And finally, Doctor Margaret Chung, daughter of a prostitute and a vegetable peddler who became the first Chinese woman doctor in the United States, adopted mother to 1500 American flyers in World War II, and creator of the Navy women’s auxiliary, the WAVES, which the government refused to allow her to join because they believed she was gay.

All of these pieces appear largely as first published. I have done some light editing, and where needed added an introduction or a postscript to bring the subject up to date.

Oh, yes. Why the Shaggy Man? When I was about eight my parents bought three of L. Frank Baum’s Oz books, which my father read to me and my sister Heather. Besides The Wizard of Oz, which everyone knows, we had two further adventures where Dorothy returns to the magic kingdom: Ozma of Oz (1907) and The Road to Oz (1909). In this last, a lifetime favorite, the Shaggy Man, an old raggedy tramp, approaches Dorothy on Uncle Henry and Aunt Em’s Kansas farm, asking directions for the road to Butterfield. Dorothy goes to show him the crossroads and they find themselves instead in the center of a circle with roads branching in every direction. The one they take leads on into fairyland and to Oz. The Shaggy Man becomes a permanent resident of Oz, as Dorothy eventually becomes a princess there.

In my teen years I collected the Oz books. When I married and went away to New York in 1967 to serve on the staff of the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party I gave my collection to my first wife’s little sister in Oakland, California. When I married Jennifer Charnofsky in 1984 I collected them all again, all thirty-two, the original fourteen by Baum and the nineteen more by his successor, Ruth Plumly Thompson. When I started my website in 2006 the symbolism of Oz seemed the most natural, and the Shaggy Man, the ragged wanderer, the closest of the Oz characters to my own life. So he is today my alter ego.


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