Five Best Sunday Columns

A bin Laden movie, support for U.K. Muslims, and a theory of everything

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Thomas L. Friedman on the Front Page News. "What’s going on here?" Thomas Friedman asks, with regard to, well actually, everything (London burning, Arab Spring, Israeli Summer, Athens to Barcelona, the Tea Party, etc., etc.) Friedman decides we are in need of a unifying theory of the world right now. "There are multiple and different reasons for these explosions, but to the extent they might have a common denominator I think it can be found in one of the slogans of Israel’s middle-class uprising: 'We are fighting for an accessible future.'" But why now? Friedman pinpoints technology: "[I]t is a critical reason why, to get into the middle class now, you have to study harder, work smarter and adapt quicker than ever before. All this technology and globalization are eliminating more and more “routine” work — the sort of work that once sustained a lot of middle-class lifestyles." To compound this, "All of this is happening at a time when this same globalization/I.T. revolution enables the globalization of anger... This globalization/I.T. revolution is also 'super-empowering' individuals." So in short: "We are increasingly taking easy credit, routine work and government jobs and entitlements away from the middle a time when citizens have more access to media to organize, protest and challenge authority and at a time when this same merger of globalization and I.T. is creating huge wages for people with global skills...thus widening income gaps and fueling resentments even more. Put it all together and you have today’s front-page news."

David F. Swenson on Myths About Mutual Funds. Lately the stock prices have been absurdly volatile, and trades have naturally been more peculiar. But David Swenson, Chief Investment Officer at Yale, argues that while "Individual investors bear some responsibility for ill-advised responses to the ups and downs in the market," for decades, "the mutual fund industry, which manages more than $13 trillion for 90 million Americans, has employed market volatility to produce profits for itself far more reliably than it has produced returns for its investors." He challenges the conventional belief that "mutual funds provide a safe haven," which causes investors to place "a misguided trust in brokers, advisers and fund managers." In fact, "the industry has a history of delivering inferior results to investors, and its regulators do not provide effective oversight." He notes that "for decades, investors suffered below-market returns even as mutual fund management company owners enjoyed market-beating results." This is one of the main reasons for this unfortunate result: "the churning of investor portfolios hurts investor returns. First, brokers and advisers use the pointless buying and selling to increase and to justify their all-too-rich compensation.  Second, the mutual fund industry uses the star-rating system to encourage performance-chasing (selling funds that performed poorly and buying funds that performed well).  In other words, investors sell low and buy high." And mutual funds benefit from the fact that there is little outcry, because investors naively trust the funds because they have little financial knowledge of their own.

Robert Lambert on the Place of Muslims in the London Riots. Three young Muslims died in Birmingham during the London riots last week. Former police officer Robert Lambert quotes a Muslim student on the media reporting of the incident: "When accused of terrorism we are Muslims, when killed by looters, we become Asian," the student said. Lambert goes on to describe the beneficial  role of Muslims have played in helping to stifle the damage from the Muslim riots. He writes, "I hope both sides will also agree with me that Muslims have played an important role in helping to tackle the looting and preserve public safety. This would be an especially important acknowledgment if it came from those Islamophobic commentators who consistently denigrate Muslims." He cites, as one of several examples, "On Monday evening when London suffered its worst looting in living memory I watched as a well marshaled team of volunteers wearing green fluorescent security vests marked 'East London Mosque' took to the streets of Tower Hamlets to help protect shops and communities from gangs of looters." He observes that these acts rarely get reported. "Sadly, many of the brave Muslims helping to keep their cities safe have not only grown used to denigration from media pundits but also faced cuts in government funding for their youth outreach work with violent gangs. This is not as a result of widespread economic cuts caused by the recession, but because the government adopts the media view that they are 'extremist'."

The Los Angeles Times editors on a Bin Laden Film. Is there something crass about making a film about the hunt for Osama bin Laden so soon after his death? The editors at the LA Times consider this: "If conservatives had any doubts that Hollywood was a propaganda arm of the Democratic Party, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd did her best to dispel them in a recent piece. Claiming that the White House was giving 'top-level access' to filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal as they research their upcoming movie about the killing of Osama bin Laden, Dowd wrote that 'the White House had outsourced the job of manning up the president's image to Hollywood' and that the film's scheduled release date — one month before the 2012 presidential election — was 'perfectly timed to give a home-stretch boost to a campaign that has grown tougher.'" While "there's nothing to suggest [the White House] has, or that it has given Bigelow and Boal any greater access than military and government leaders have been granting to Hollywood for decades," the issue of the timing remains: "Why release the film on Oct. 12, 2012, just 25 days before the election, if not to influence the outcome? We suspect we know the answer, though it won't satisfy anybody in the conservative blogosphere. Sony Pictures, the movie's distributor, is a lot more interested in making money than in backing Democrats, and the run-up to an election — when Americans are fired up about politics and current events — is the ideal time to maximize box-office returns on an action movie rife with politics and current events."

Alexandra Petri on the Ames Straw Poll. Alexandra Petri offers a slew of humorous rules-of-thumb for understanding the straw poll, Rick Perry's announcement, and yesterday's Iowa shenanigans in general. On Perry's announcement speech: "If you watch it forwards, it’s a man with a blue-collar job who gets a white-collar job by giving everyone around him blue-collar jobs...If you watch it backwards, it’s the 2008 election!" As to Pawlenty, she writes: "Mike Murphy said that 'to win Ames, you have to lose the general election.' He calls this 'an impossible choice' for Pawlenty — I assume with tongue in cheek, since Pawlenty’s options right now seem limited to losing Ames and not making it to the general." As for Ron Paul's close second place that no one really talks about, she writes: "none of this surprises me. Ron Paul will never quite make it into the prom court, because no one else passionately cares about the gold standard. They say it’s better to be nine people’s favorite thing than 100 people's ninth favorite thing. Ron Paul manages to be both, which is why he will never make it in the general election." And for the winners: "The current designated king is… Bachmann! Also, Rick Perry, by write-in, for getting more votes than Romney and that other guy who was actually on the ballot and might have been speaker of the House at some point." Overall she concludes: "all I can think of is that we, as a country, used to have something better to do, like contract small pox. It would probably be about as pleasant." Guess not everyone is a fan.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.