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Serve and Volley

John P. Davidson did indeed train to be a household manager at Starkey International for his article on private service [“You Rang?,” Folio, January], but what he claims to have heard me say and seen me do there is often inaccurate. His bias against me is obvious. I never reveal my clients’ real names without their permission, and saying that I have a crush on one of my students, as Davidson claims, is hardly my style. I could not still be in business after thirty-three years if I had been so inappropriate and disrespectful.

When Davidson applied to the Starkey Institute, I spoke to his references, who seemed to like him well enough but grew quiet when I asked them about his work at the maintenance company he purported to own. I took note of this, but I didn’t see it as a valid reason to keep him from attending the institute. Davidson appeared unfamiliar with many household tasks during the training, and when he graduated, I told him I wasn’t sure he had a genuine heart to serve. If his article is any indication, I guess I was right.

Mary Louise Starkey

Left Behind

In “Donkey Business” [Easy Chair, January], Thomas Frank attributes the loss of momentum on the left to its collective lack of activism, as compared with the “entrepreneurial” energy exhibited on all levels by the right. Not until the end of his article, however, does he point out what should have been his main focus all along — that the Democratic Party is no longer progressive or populist, and that the left’s complacency is actually fueled by well-founded cynicism. There are still energetic forces in progressivism, but they are continually thwarted by the president and other Democratic leaders. What the left lacks most are politicians who will openly challenge the corporatist sellouts who dominate the Democratic Party.

T. M. Kara
Norwood, Mo.


I was cheered to see in Kabir Chibber’s annotation on French insults [“Après Mots, Le Déluge,” January] that it is no longer illegal to curse France’s head of state. I was living in Paris on the night in June 1969 that Georges Pompidou won the presidency, and out of idle curiosity, I decided to attend the celebration taking place at Place de l’Étoile. It was utter pandemonium. I soon stuck my index fingers in my ears and began plotting an escape from this mad mise-en-scène. Suddenly I was accosted by a participant who rather menacingly asked me, “Sir, is there something here that displeases you?” I quickly assured him that I just couldn’t stand the high decibel level. He grunted and moved on, as did I. France was then highly policing of slights to its president, and apparently this situation continued until quite recently. Félicitations, France. It’s about time.

Tristan Argenti
Mountain Home, Ark.

Stream Engine

Jeff Madrick’s “The Digital Revolution That Wasn’t” [The Anti-Economist, January] deftly outlines digital media’s economic shortcomings, but Madrick’s causal explanation rests on a false comparison. Computers and the Internet are advances in communication, not in production. This may provide a simple explanation for why they have not meaningfully boosted growth. The Industrial Revolution, on the other hand, arose from changes in the production of mechanical energy. Steam power, railroads, electricity, and the internal-combustion engine enabled humans to rely increasingly on inanimate objects to do work — a transition from endosomatic (human) energy to exosomatic (nonhuman) energy. Leveraging forces more powerful than human or animal metabolism gave rise to more productive economies. The digital revolution does no such thing. It accelerates and democratizes the spread and reach of information. That certainly increases productivity, but on a much smaller scale.

David J. Unger
Somerville, Mass.

Clear the Heir

In her essay on The Yearling [Criticism, January], Lauren Groff opines that author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings “was not part of a school or a group,” but she does connect Rawlings to Maxwell Perkins, Thornton Wilder, and Zora Neale Hurston. These figures were all followers of A. R. Orage, a great teacher of creative writing who has been largely absent from American literary history. Orage taught a large contingent of writers, including Nathanael West, James Agee, Djuna Barnes, and Dawn Powell, all of whom, like Rawlings, produced important but poorly understood work. It’s not entirely surprising that English professors have overlooked Orage, who was an occultist and doesn’t fit neatly into the established narrative of recent literary history, but reading him could provide insights into Rawlings’s work.

Jon Woodson
Emeritus Professor of English, Howard University

Cult Classic

For more than seventeen years I was the attorney representing est, an educational corporation that delivered The est Training, a groundbreaking program that helped launch the personal-development industry. In Nathaniel Rich’s report about the late David Sullivan [“The Man Who Saves You from Yourself,” November], Sullivan is quoted as referring to est as a cult, which is, unequivocally, not true. The renowned Dr. Margaret Singer, one of the world’s leading experts on cults and Sullivan’s mentor, stated under oath that est is not a cult of any sort. The creation of est was rather a major innovation of the 1970s that helped shape modern management thinking toward empowering people.

Martin N. Leaf
New York City

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March 2014

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