Five Best Monday Columns

David Ignatius on Bin Laden, L. Gordon Crovitz on Enyclopaedia Britannica, Noah Feldman on Afghanistan withrdrawal, James Surowiecki on Uniqlo and labor, and Mary Anastasia O'Grady on the Pope's visit to Cuba.

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David Ignatius in The Washington Post on bin Laden's documents Ignatius got a rare look at some documents taken from Osama Bin Laden's compound and reports on the picture they give us of the man's life in hiding. "He was at once a worldly man, trying to run a global terror network, and an introspective Muslim scholar who argued his points by using sayings of the prophet Muhammad or citing battles waged by the prophet’s associates," Ignatius writes. Most revealing, he said, is a long letter Bin Laden wrote to  Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, his "chief of staff." In it, bin Laden wonders if Al-Qaeda has failed in it's jihadist mission and considers how to move forward. "The terrorist leader wanted a big punch — much like a boxer in the late rounds who knows he is losing but still looking for the knockout blow."

L. Gordon Crovitz in The Wall Street Journal on the end of Encylopaedia Britannica Encyclopaedia Britannica announced last week that they would stop producing a print product. "The media naturally focused on this fact alone—the loss of the printed volume. The more interesting story is whether Britannica can survive online," writes Crovitz. He notes that Britannica already sells more online subscriptions than print books. He compares its relative advantages with those of Wikipedia. Where Brittanica offers authority, Wikipedia offers breadth and detail. But he argues that with Wikipedia's model subject to the threat of a declining editorial community and the liability of editorial scandal, there should be room for both products. "We should all hope that neither Britannica nor Wikipedia will ever have to write the other's obituary."

Noah Feldman in Bloomberg View on withdrawal from Afghanistan In the wake of several incidents that moved Afghans to oppose America's continued military presence, Feldman paints a pessimistic picture of our withdrawal. "The Pentagon will probably still be able to hold on for while. But let there be no mistake: America’s hold on Afghanistan is unraveling, and the troops may come home as quickly as military logistics will allow," he writes. The surge was a worthwhile effort and even when it didn't eradicate the Taliban, we hoped it would give us leverage to bring them to negotiations. But then, the chain of events capped by a soldier's alleged massacre of civilians has brought us "a scenario in which, despite wanting to keep Afghanistan in check for a while longer, the Obama administration decides it cannot wait any longer and must begin to withdraw major numbers of U.S. forces ahead of time, no matter the consequences."

James Surowiecki in The New Yorker on labor costs Conventional wisdom holds that retailers should keep labor costs as low as possible to maintain competitive prices for their products. But it's a theory subverted by the success of Japanese retailer Uniqlo which trains and staffs hundreds of employees at a time for its New York flagship location. In fact, a recent study of several businesses that "have much higher labor costs than their competitors," shows "that they are more profitable than most of their competitors and have more sales per employee and per square foot." More and better trained staffers ensure that more customers will find what they want and easily proceed through shorter checkout lines. Companies that have reduced employees see dips in their customer service ratings. "There's also been a great deal of outsourcing work to customers ... But you can only outsource so much work before alienating your customers."

Mary Anastasia O'Grady in The Wall Street Journal on the Pope's Cuba visit Pope Benedict XVI is scheduled to visit Cuba next week. "[W]hat are we to make of the fact that the pontiff will not be meeting with any of the island's Christian human-rights advocates? These communicants have endured unspeakable acts of state terror to be witnesses to the faith. They have earned papal recognition. Disappointment doesn't begin to describe their dashed hopes," she writes. Cuba's regime depends on keeping repression of its dissidents quiet. Yet the Vatican has made clear they'd like to meet with Castro even as they've rejected calls for meetings from dissidents like the Ladies in White. "Unless he has something up his sleeve, the visit may turn out to be a gross miscalculation ... If the pope is perceived as going along with this big lie, it will only heighten the sense of betrayal toward Cardinal Ortega and it will do nothing to strengthen the Church in Cuba."

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