Category Archives: Digest

Posts that contain a digest of topics

Conversations with Bob Livesay

IMG_0445On February 4, 2016, I flew to Corvallis, OR to visit with my 91-year-old father-in-law, Robert Benton Livesay, Jr. Bob lives at Timberhill Place, which is a 10 minute drive from his son Dave, and his wife Maggie. During retirement, Bob and his late wife Louise wrote a substantial number of stories about their lives, which I read ahead of time. At 91, Bob’s physical activities are limited, but his mind remains sharp and he enjoys conversation. As I was visiting Bob, Dave and Maggie for four full days, I decided that Bob and I should do a project together. With his agreement, I recorded a series of conversations where we discuss his life. In this post, I collect his writings and these recordings.

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Air Force Plane

Let me begin with my collection of Bob Livesay’s writings:

  • My Father: Bob talks about his father and best friend, Robert Benton Livesay
  • Great Depression: Bob describes the great depression through his eyes, as an eight year old boy
  • My First Car: Bob reflects on his 1936 Chevrolet coupe after learning to drive in 1940
  • Brown outs and black outs, World War II — Beginnings: Bob describes how people in California cope with the break out of World War II, as seen through the eyes of a high school senior
  • My Hidden Talent: Bob talks about being the star of the high school play, “Incognito” in 1942
  • Incognito Playbill: A high school production where Bob Livesay plays the lead, Fred Collins
  • The Import of Pearl Harbor: Bob describes how the bombing of Pearl Harbor, in the summer of 1941, changed his life
  • Learning to Fly: Bob shares his impressions and feelings as an 18-year-old man, who had enlisted in the Army Air Corps on March 1, 1943
  • Joy: Bob reflects on how the birth of two sons, Robert and David, fills him and Louise with joy
  • A Christmas Story: Bob and Louise each tell their story of a difficult pregnancy that ultimately resulted in a special Christmas gift: the birth of a daughter, Luanne
  • The Hat: Bob attempts to adjust to New York City customs while working for Texaco, and buys his first (and only) “top of the line” Stetson hat
  • My Retirement Toy: After retiring from Texaco in 1987, Bob embarks on off-road adventures in a Jeep Cherokee with Louise
  • A Visit Evokes Memories: In August, 2004, Bob and Louise visit the newly dedicated World War II memorial
  • Grandad’s Hair -o- wing Experience: A story written for Devon by Grandad Robert Livesay
  • Smoked Turkey Breast: Bob shares secrets for making smoked turkey breast
  • A Letter from Bob Livesay: June, 2010, Bob writes to Rob and Jo, Dave and Margaret, and Allan and Luanne to express appreciation for a trip to the east coast
  • A Sushi Experience – Up Close and Personal: Bob and Louise learn to make sushi from their friend Vi Omoto

Next, here is a series of the four conversations that we had during my visit.

As an aside, since this is my first attempt at incorporating an audio format into the blog, I uploaded the audio files to two sites, Soundcloud and Mixcloud. I will likely settle on one or the other for future projects, but for these interviews you have a choice. Here are links to the playlists, as well as the individual tracks.

Talking about Bob’s life would be incomplete without including the writings of his wife Louise. They were married two weeks shy of 65 years. Here are Louise’s writings.

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Louise Livesay

Talking to Bob and collecting this material was a lot of fun for both of us. Being able to speak from 91 years of experience gives Bob and unique and valuable perspective on the world. He and Louise lived dignified lives that enriched the world through their actions, as well as through their children and grandchildren. As an aside, by compiling all their information here, it will be included in the internet archive, which is a non-profit internet library. Thus, historians, researchers and scholars will have access to this post, and the contents of all the links, for years to come.

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Articles on Changing Economic Conditions

In this post, I’ll highlight a few articles that offer an update on changing economic conditions. To get your attention, Amazon’s Jeffrey P. Bezos reported in on CBS’s 60 minutes that he has plans to use drones to deliver packages to your doorstep. The video will show you the concept. Lots of media outlets covered the story.

In the New York Times, there was this recent article, “Europe vs. Amazon: Anger Rising,” essentially saying that people in Europe are unhappy with working conditions in warehouses. The article make reference to this article in the Huffington Post, “Amazon Warehouse Staff In ‘Slave Camp’ Conditions, Workers Say.” Here’s an excerpt from the Post:

Online retail giant Amazon makes its staff work under “unbelievable” pressure in “slave camp” conditions, with employees at their warehouses having to walk 11 miles in a shift and collect orders every 33 seconds, an investigation has found.

David MIchael, from Eugene Oregon, commented on the New York Times article. Here’s an excerpt of what he said:

Well, let’s see, most of the comments here are based on hear-say and personal opinions, not on fact. Here’s my experience as a current workamper (seasonal employee) … I like it. At age 76, I get up at 4 AM, check the internet for a half hour while sipping coffee. My wife makes breakfast, and then together we drive 15 minutes over to the Fernley, Nevada Warehouse. Our RV camping site is paid for by Amazon. By 5:55 AM we punch in for the day and we are ready to start a ten hour day. Normally, five days a week meaning one day of overtime pay. … I am grateful for the work to spruce up our retirement savings.

It would be so easy to get pulled into the “corporate exploitation” vs. “proud worker” argument. I don’t think that’s the right discussion, however, so I’m not going to go there. Workers are people, not robots. While I’m happy that Mr. Michael found a job at Amazon that he likes, that does not mean that these working conditions are acceptable to everyone. Mr. Michael is lucky because he has a choice: he earns his retirement and chooses to work at Amazon a few months a year to “spruce up” his savings. If everyone working at Amazon had such a choice then there would be no issue; the exchange of labor for money would work according to the ideals of market based capitalism. The problem is that some people have only a bad choice: work at Amazon or don’t work at all.

On another topic, Arindrajit Dube writes in the New York Times, “The Great Divide: The Minimum We Can Do,” and concludes that a 10% increase in the minimum wage would reduce poverty by around 2 percent. It is a long article, and he provides some of the same background that I discussed in, “Working Till 2025: Life is Tough These Days.” Nevertheless, he adds some excellent research that I had not referenced before. Here are a few excerpts from the article:

By 2011, … over 43 percent of low-wage workers had spent at least some time in college.

inflation-adjusted minimum wages in the United States have declined in both absolute and relative terms for most of the past four decades.

while higher minimum wages raise earnings of low-wage workers, they do not have a detectable impact on employment.

While the evidence may not convince the most strident of critics, it has shifted views among economists. A panel of 41 leading economists was asked recently by the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business to weigh in on President Obama’s proposal to increase the minimum wage and automatically index it to inflation. A plurality, 47 percent, supported the policy, and only 11 percent opposed it, while the rest were uncertain or had no opinion.

Dube’s article is worth reading if you have the time. Paul Krugman wrote a new opinion column, “Better Pay Now,” that describes why he believes  we have good evidence to support raising the minimum wage, saying:

When it comes to the minimum wage, however, we have a number of cases in which a state raised its own minimum wage while a neighboring state did not. If there were anything to the notion that minimum wage increases have big negative effects on employment, that result should show up in state-to-state comparisons. It doesn’t.

He goes on to conclude:

An increase in the minimum wage, on the other hand, just might happen, thanks to overwhelming public support. This support doesn’t come just from Democrats or even independents; strong majorities of Republicans (57 percent) and self-identified conservatives (59 percent) favor an increase.

In short, raising the minimum wage would help many Americans, and might actually be politically possible. Let’s give it a try.

Raising the minimum wage is not the ultimate solution to future economic problems, but it is an intermediate step that we will likely have to take. As Dube points out, Roosevelt got the principle right when he said that working men and women are entitled to “a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.”

The Face of Changing Times

Following up on the “Working to 2025” series, a number of articles have been written that discuss upcoming challenges. This is a digest of a few of them.

Some of my Catholic friends have recently shared articles about the Pope, including an article from Salon. Here, Katie Mcdonough reports that Pope Francis calls capitalism “a new tyranny” in a recently published official church document called the apostolic exhortation. I think the message is important, so let me highlight four separate excerpts from the section called “Some Challenges of Today’s World.”

This epochal change has been set in motion by the enormous qualitative, quantitative, rapid and cumulative advances occurring in the sciences and in technology, and by their instant application in different areas of nature and of life.

Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.

Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a “throw away” culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the “exploited” but the outcast, the “leftovers”.

While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born…

Others are also sharing articles about impending change. Doug Sosnik writes in POLITICO Magazine and asks, “Which Side of the Barricade Are You On?” He anticipates a rising populist movement, which I highlight with this excerpt:

This all suggests that the period of turmoil and dissatisfaction that we have been experiencing for the past 10 years could well continue through the end of this decade. However, underneath this turmoil you can see the shape of an emerging populist movement that will, in time, either move the politicians to action or throw them out of office. The country is moving toward new types of leaders, those who will be problem-solvers and build institutions that are capable of making a difference in people’s lives.

Finally, Linda Tirado, who is a night cook (and now writes the blog Killer Martinis), put a face on poverty when she wrote the article, “This Is Why Poor People’s Bad Decisions Make Perfect Sense.” Here’s an excerpt:

I am not asking for sympathy. I am just trying to explain, on a human level, how it is that people make what look from the outside like awful decisions. This is what our lives are like, and here are our defense mechanisms, and here is why we think differently. It’s certainly self-defeating, but it’s safer. That’s all. I hope it helps make sense of it.

The article went viral, and was met with criticism from some, to which the author responded in the article, “Meet the Woman Who Accidentally Explained Poverty to the Nation.” She is intelligent and articulate, and I think her writing puts a human face on the situation we have in our country today.