Saturday, August 28, 2010

Our cover photo--transporting black gold across the ocean from Alaska

Our cover photo today includes tankers parked at the Richmond Longwharf of Chevron, USA.  The name of the boat, "Golden Energy," really says what most people used to think about oil--that it was black gold.  It meant economic prosperity for the people who had it, and girding for battle for the people who didn't have it--perhaps that was the problem, because some people wrongfully thought there wasn't enough to go around. 

When I started publishing in 1972, someone came to me and said to me, "If you say anything bad about Standard Oil, they will say you are anti-business."  I was astonished.  I have no idea who said that to me.  I did not know anything at all about Standard Oil.  So I never wrote anything at all about them.  After about seven years, they put an ad in my newspaper. 

I was obviously not anti-business because I had ads from many of the local businesses and I was trying to promote local business and put it in a good light.  The local business people were treating me better than anyone had ever treated me in my whole adult life. 

Now we have solar energy which is the black gold of the 21st century.  However, the black gold of oil meant people could see more of their world than just the few miles around their house.  They could fly to the other side of the country; they could increase the market for the goods they were selling by transporting it to another country; they could have their invention manufactured in a country with a favorable exchange rate and bring it back and sell it at a profit here in the US, thus making a living.  And then there were many things that were made from oil including the clothing on your back. 

Songs were written about oil, like "Let your little light shine," which is about the oil shale that miraculously burned all night.  And it was even worshipped by the ancient Hebrews, who found they had more oil than they thought they did. Hannukah was a celebration of having enough oil to last eight days instead of only the one day they thought they had enough oil for.  Of course the bible says it was olive oil, not the kind of oil we make into gasoline.

From Wikipedia:
"Hanukkah marks the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem (Second Temple) after its desecration by the forces of the King of Syria Antiochus IV Epiphanes and commemorates the "miracle of the container of oil". According to the Talmud, at the re-dedication following the victory of the Maccabees over the Seleucid Empire, there was only enough consecrated olive oil to fuel the eternal flame in the Temple for one day. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days, which was the length of time it took to press, prepare and consecrate fresh olive oil."

Having enough to go around used to be central to the concerns of world leaders.  They lowered tariff barriers and they took down barriers to the flow of labor across national borders, so goods and labor could freely go where manufactured items could be made at the best price for the whole world.  They called that the "Kennedy Round of Tariff Negotiations," in the 1960's. 
Clothing dropped in price dramatically with the advent of synthetic fabric.  The skills of sewing became nearly obsolete because it cost less to buy a blouse or shirt that was manufactured in a foreign country than it did to make one yourself.  Though the US did not have diplomatic relations with China, we continued to get clothing that was made in the Orient and then had the Hong Kong label applied. 

Along with the imported clothing came bits and pieces of news from women workers in those countries, who were sewing those clothes, as the communist governments made reforms or failed in their attempt to provide a better life for their peoples.  A worldwide wave of nationalism swept across continents.  Countries that had been colonies achieved independence following World War II.  The US became involved in the war to  win hearts and minds over to the ideology of democracy and capitalism.  We learned that communism was not monolithic, that there was a difference between Chinese communism and Russian communism. 

We continued to have cultural exchanges of dance companies.  Then finally the cold war ended, the gates to travel and academic exchange opened, and we were able to visit those countries we had previously called "reds."  Changing the irrational violence towards, and persecution of communist believers in this country was attempted by transforming the color red into a symbol for the Republican party, and telling people that communism had been defeated in those countries so there wasn't any communism anymore.  It's hard to believe that people who had been indoctrinated in that ideology since birth could suddenly stop believing all that stuff and think like Westerners, but that's what we were told.

We go on day after day, one day at a time, with the tankers coming and going from the Long Wharf, hopefully insulated from the sturm and drang of the Richmond City Council and world conflicts.  We are told that we are getting our oil from Alaska.  We do not know if that describes the contents of the tankers or the feelings of the spokesperson.  Doesn't matter, we just want to be able to get the car's gas tank filled up, and still be able to pay for it at the end of the month.  We start thinking about working closer to home, not driving around for pleasure, taking public transportation, the joys of riding the train and so on.  When a police officer in uniform at Laney College tells you to take BART to Oakland, don't drive your car, you know it's time for a change. 

It's time to change with the times and allow the few people who want to throw their money away gambling to do so, but not right up against the flanks of the refinery where it would be too easy to blame it all on them when you lost your life savings, even if they had nothing to do with it.  And don't blame it on the Indians either.  Say it like it is: San Pablo got something new, and now Richmond wants to keep up with the Joneses.  Let's put the casino where it's not right next to the pot of black gold that directly or indirectly keeps us all with clothing on our backs and wheels parked in front of our huts.

If you want to gamble, you have your chance to make a lot of money at the track, right down the street from us in Albany.  To Albany, the racetrack surely is their pot of black gold.   We could have a dog racing track if the city fathers were not so frightened of the animal rights people, who are very strong around here.  No one has done that before in the Bay Area.  I guess we will hear about that idea from the many greyhound rescuers who live around here.

For a newspaper reporter, there are so many ethical considerations in running a newspaper, that it's as if we are supposed to take a vow of poverty just to become a newspaper publisher.  But this is antithetical to the idea of running a business.  The whole idea of running a business is that you make a living from it and you are concerned with giving the best service you possibly can to your customers.  If you are a good business person, you are able to support not only yourself but other people, who become like your family, maybe even better than having your own family.  They work together, they are treated well, they make a living, and it's not something that they dread doing every day, that they can hardly wait for the day they retire and don't have to do it anymore.  They are working together as a team to make a living,  not attempting to sabotage their employer's reputation and sink their business by treating their customers badly.  Working for a company where people treat you with respect makes life a joy.  It is something that can be emotionally and financially rewarding.

I look out there at "Golden Energy" and wonder what it is like to work on a tanker like that.  I wonder what it looks like up close.  When they are gone tomorrow, I wonder where they went.  I do not expect to ever be able to get any closer to an oil tanker than I am right now at this very moment.  I do not expect to have my curiosity satisfied.

When my son and his teenage daughter came to visit a couple of years ago, we went to see the Live OakVictory ship.  They were invited, along with my husband, to go down the  metal catwalks all the way to the bottom of the ship.  They climbed down, but I could not go there, being so overweight and with  a crippled left leg.  So I stayed up top and waited for them to come back.   And waited...and waited.  That tour was not on our agenda, but my son is  US Army intelligence officer so I was proud that he was having the opportunity to see the inside of an historic old ship tht not many people get to see.

I have only gone for a boat ride a few times in the 40 years I have lived by the side of the Bay.  At least I now live where I can see the Bay.  I never expected to have that in my life.  I never expected to own a house in my life.  I expected to live in an apartment all my life.  I expected to be a housewife like my mother was.