Oil is Foul if Foul is Fair
by John G. Lankford
When did oil go bad?
Remember oil? Look at the case around the screen you're reading. Plastic? Oil. Bad? Pity.
When you break for lunch, or dinner, or breakfast, depending on your schedule, ponder your victuals. Vegetable? Fertilizers derived from oil. Animal? Grown on vegetables nurtured by fertilizers derived from oil. Mineral? Really? Anyway, where'd you get it? Store? Restaurant? How did it get there? How did you get there to get it? Trucks. Boats. Maybe planes. Car. Motorcycle. Power pogo stick. Fuel. Oil. Bad? Hmmm. So, don't eat, or chew dandelions from your back yard. If any.
Oil is currently what supports lifestyles that do not consist of scratching fleas in the mud or plugging rice shoots knee deep in poop. There are those who think that's bad, because they think it's good for you to scratch fleas in the mud, et cetera. Not for them, as their own lifestyles testify, but, you, yes. They were clever enough to be first to say it's bad for you to use it, which means they've compensated, so it's not bad for them to use it, even waste it. They got dibs. Get it? Buy it? Really?
Once oil was good. It was very good. It made Texans rich. And you could move to Texas and become a Texan. Even from Massachusetts. It made bold and barely literate wildcatters millionaires. It made for great celebrations when a gusher came roaring out of the ground. People we liked stood in the oil rain and wept in gratitude and relief on motion picture screens. After all the drilling work and anxiety sweat, an oil bath made them smell better, and that was good, and we all swallowed our popcorn and said, "Yayy!"
It was so good that during World War II, a significant proportion of the fighting was directed toward the proposition that good people should have oil, and bad people should not have oil. Thousands of people lost their lives so the good people could have the oil and use it to beat the bad people so they would have to stop being bad. There would have been less loss of life involved but for the fact wars inherently involve disagreements over just who are the good people and who are the bad people. Nevertheless, the good people always win, because the history books say so and the winners write the history books.
Oil was democratizing. As exploited by Henry Ford and Dr. Ferdinand Porsche and others, it elevated the barefoot classes into the carriage trade. Oil was hygienic. Its use relieved city streets of mountains of horseproduct, clouds of flies, and legions of lockjaw germs. Oil was empowering. Billy Bob Plebian could get out under a shade tree and bolt together junk yard parts and then go blow the rich folks' Cadillacs right off the highway, novelty horn blaring defiance in four notes or less. Oil was liberating. Little old ladies from Pasadena and elsewhere, teenybopperettes in Daddys' T-birds, four-eyed nerds with pimply faces, and even many of the handicapped, before anybody challenged them, could jam a toe clear up there into the carburetor and run just as fast as the track stars. Hell, oil was revolutionary.
When did it get to be a bad thing? When did it become possible to point a finger at a politician and say, "Oil!" and be sure of hearing a reflexive chorus of "Ugh?"
Well, it hasn't, entirely. If your Daddy's political career and yours were underwritten by an oil company that played kissy-face with Josef Stalin and is currently decimating Indigenes and chewing up rainforest in Colombia, that's not bad. Your oil, if acknowledged, is nectar purified by Heaven itself. Besides, if you use pen and mouth to vilify oil used by other people, that compensates for any depredations its production and use might happen to cause when you and yours use it, even lots of it. You've earned your special indulgence from the self-appointed arbiters of virtue, just as medieval do-wells used to buy indulgences down in Rome. If you deplore it, you're entitled to do it. Only a philistine would call it hypocrisy.
But if your Daddy and, horrors, you yourself made bucks in the "oil bidness", or you departed your post as Secretary of Defense and went to work for a big company that sells tools and equipment to, among other customers, oil companies, rather than, say, going to work as a lobbyist for some company that gets most of its money from, er, the Department of Defense, you are smeared with bad oil.
But that's neither here nor there. Even before we get into specific cases and parties and personalities, "oil" has become synonymous with "ugh", and -- how did that happen?
Well, we know when it happened, or, at least can mark a date certain when it undeniably had happened. There was a very bad man with a moustache and a big, bad army who -- no, not him. That one shot himself in Berlin in 1945 because he lost access to lots of oil fields, among other things. No, this one came along later and lived near and actually plowed under the Garden of Eden, in Mesopotamia, while attacking Persians next door. Killing several million of them turned out to be expensive and put him in debt, so he approached his cronies and said, "O PECkers, I propose you pump less oil, run the price up, let me pump more, and pay off my debts and buy nice weapons and obliterate Israel for you. Yours Truly, Nebuchadnezzar Reincarnate."
And his cronies said, "No", and so he invaded and sacked one of the perfidious naysayers and grabbed its oilfields and staged his tanks on the borders of another and the biggest one, and said, "Can I reasonably anticipate a change of consensus by the next crony meeting, O PECkers? Surely now you see I, Nebuchadnezzar Reincarnate, am destined to control this entire region as my previous incarnation did, by occupation or intimidation. And forty-plus percent of the world's oil supply with it. Yes?"
And they replied, "Well - - - "
And then-US President George Bush, now known as Dad, said, "Let us take people and weapons and go protect the rest of the camel country oil patch, and the world's economy with it, and see about shooing old Shoeshine (a nettling mispronunciation of the latter day Moustache's name) Boy back where he belongs."
And many voices responded, "Go protect, possibly go to war for, oil? Oil? OILLLLLLL????!!! Who ever heard of such a thing?"
And rather than saying, "Well, Churchill, Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Tojo, that other fellow with the moustache who shot himself in Berlin, for starters - - - "
Rather than saying, "Of course! Don't you know every dollar rise in oil prices starves a thousand people a day in the third world?"
Rather than saying, "Sure! What do you think is keeping us all up out of the flea-infested mud -- and horseproduct?"
He said, "Well, no, it's about, (a-one and a-two . . . ) er, nonaggression, and the New World Order, and making nice with your neighbors, and protecting Israel, and not having to spell Nebuchadnezzar very often, (tappity-tap, bow)."
And so we did, but never mind that. That was when we knew oil had turned bad. That was when we knew nobody dared propose going and fighting to keep oil away from bad people any more. That was when we knew we had our heads - - -
How did they get there? That is, what about oil had turned it bad?
Oil was congenial. Remember standing beside your car in long lines chatting with your neighbors and even strangers in the 1970's? Talking about -- well, talking is good, but having to do it because somebody makes you do it is bad, and who could that be? Oil companies. OPECkers. Even Texans, at that time. There was the late Lyndon Johnson, and Billy Sol Estes, and John Connally, and J.R. on "Dallas", or was he later? Never mind. Oil was bad because we couldn't have ours, refined into gasoline and pumpable on demand.
Why was it bad? Well, everybody knew why it was bad. Profit, that was why it was bad. Since we all wanted as much as we wanted when we wanted it, it ought to be free, like air. It was bad because people made profits pumping it out of the ground and through pipelines and into tankers and out of tankers and into refineries and out of refineries and into, say, service station tanks whence you pumped it into your own gas tanks, then through carburetors or fuel injectors and out into the air, which is free. So there.
Well, all we have to do is get the profit out of oil, and everything will be okay, right?
Little problem here. Two, in fact.
First, people object to working for free. People object to investing their money into pumping equipment and pipelines and then having to say, "Y'all come have a sip on me, no charge!" Fact is, people won't do that except at gunpoint. You want oil, you pay for oil, enough to convince people to bring you some oil. Even if it means profits. And that's not even the major problem.
Oil consists of profit, y'see. Something alive has to take in more energy than it puts out or die, and all us critters' cells, even vegetable ones, learned to anabolize the input and catabolize -- fat -- oil! -- and store it for an unprofitable day. As ancient critters croaked, their catabolized profits were banked in geological formations awaiting withdrawal by any descendant smart enough to do it.
So, oil is not as simple as turnip greens. With turnip greens, if you don't want to grow your own, you have to pay somebody enough to induce them to grow them and bring them, or put them some place convenient. But oil is profit itself, extracted from the business of living and banked in the coffers of Earth. There will always be profit in oil, even corn oil and cottonseed oil and whale oil. Oil is suffused with profit spirits, for you New Age folks. You want oil in any of its myriad forms and derivatives, you pay profits, both to those who invest their accumulated profits and those who rent their exertions for profits daily. You don't want to pay profits, go plug a rice shoot in the poop.
So, maybe oil is not bad. Maybe it's better than horseproduct. Maybe we'd do well to hire some people who know about pumping it here and there to keep it coming to us. Instead of some people who favor keeping it coming to them, (good oil) instead of us (bad oil!). Thanks to Micky Gilley and Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings and them, Texans even got a better image.
I know we can pull our heads - - - I mean, achieve a transformed appreciation of oil, because we did it with grease. I remember when grease was cool. Both times.