Guidance in decoding 'Da Vinci' is a help to enthusiastic readers

Having been carried away while reading Dan Brown's novel, "The Da Vinci Code," I welcome the March 22 article, "Christians ready to refute 'Da Vinci Code' movie," which contributes to the dialogue about issues in the history of Christianity.

It is helpful to have guidance in distinguishing fact from fiction, particularly when readers are so swayed by an influential book.

In particular, the people need to be disabused of a distorted view of the real organization Opus Dei, if an injustice has been done. (Opus Dei is a Catholic institution that teaches that the details of daily life offer opportunities to grow closer to God.)

Discussion of Mr. Brown's book is fueled partly by the search for answers to pressing social questions concerning equality and relationships - questions on which the history of religion should shed light.

For example, what is the fact concerning gender neutrality of the priesthood in the early Christian Church? Similarly, what is the historical basis for celibacy of Catholic priests today?
David A. Cornell
Elsah, Ill.

Mentoring is important, too

I greatly enjoyed Jonathan Zimmerman's March 14 Opinion piece, "It's time to give teaching more weight," on the current state of teaching in academia, and agree with his premise that in many institutions of higher learning teaching does not receive due attention and recognition.

I would like to add that mentoring and advising of doctoral students is another area that needs to be discussed and potentially revised to move away from the product (a dissertation) to the process of becoming a university professor. Maybe Dr. Zimmerman can write on the history of doctoral studies and how we arrived at the current state. I, for one, would enjoy reading his thoughts on it.
Eduardo Lage-Otero
Protectionism won't help America thrive
New York University

The March 20 article, "Selling furniture to pay the laundry bill," paints a distorted and partisan view of the US trade deficit; and worse, I think the article's prescriptions for a solution could cause the world economy to once again collapse into a 1930s-style depression. Given the article's left-of-center sources, it is no surprise that it offers such prescriptions as stiff tariffs on Chinese imports in order to offset what one of his sources calls a 33 percent subsidy to their domestic manufacturers.

Such protectionist ideas fly in the face of advice given to a Senate panel by former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan: "Some observers mistakenly believe that a marked increase in the exchange value of the Chinese renminbi [yuan] relative to the US dollar would significantly increase manufacturing activity and jobs in the United States.... I am aware of no credible evidence that supports such a conclusion."

The article concludes, "Elimination of the [currency] subsidy would be hard on Wal-Mart and its customers. It might also revive US manufacturing, which has lost 3 million jobs since 2000." Actually, the number of US manufacturing jobs has been declining for decades, but the US share of world manufacturing output has remained relatively constant over that period. This is productivity.

With an unemployment rate of 4.8 percent (once called full employment by some), GDP growth in the 4 percent range in 2005, and relatively low inflation, now is not the time for antigrowth, protectionist schemes that threaten the world economy.
Thomas P. Kemp
Laguna Beach, Calif.

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