Is Mark Shields living on this planet, or what? In his Aug. 10 op-ed column, "Clerks on the Phone," he says, "If America is going to be truly great again, U.S. business must first learn to hold the phone."

Shields was in a snit because some entry-level employee of some sweatshop store dared to use the phone when he wanted to make a purchase. Waiting in line puts him in high dudgeon and gets his mental processes into full swing. Eureka! Our economic problems would be solved if people who stand on their feet (as opposed to people who make their living sitting down) are not allowed to use the phone.

Get real, Mark Shields, and worry about something of consequence. Worry about the shame and greed of the S&L scandal, which would make a muckraker cringe; worry about our society, which pays rock stars in the millions and day care workers minimum wage; worry about the high rollers tooling around the Beltway in their Jaguars while overdeveloping our countryside on their car phones; worry about your fellow men, women and children who are hungry, sick, homeless, and, worst of all, without hope.

Join the human race. Write about something that matters.

-- Jan Watson

Mark Shields left out one small detail in his anti-retail-clerk diatribe. What incentive do these people have to be the sweet, caring, knowledgeable, "motherly types" of the '50s?

Retail clerks have traditionally been women, and as such, underpaid. Like secretaries, the most important part of their jobs is their demeanor. Demeanor is not quantifiable by any of the standard yardsticks of employee productivity, so this characteristic goes uncompensated.

I don't blame retail clerks, and I have never been one. I know they can barely live on their salaries, are the first to go in layoffs and can't eat the in-house discounts they get.

-- Mary G. Porter