March 5, 2012
March 5, 2012
On a balmy weekend last fall, more than 600 elderly Chinese people, some leaning on canes or walkers, gathered in a Beijing hotel for one of the world’s most extraordinary college reunions.
Their school, St. John’s University in Shanghai, hasn’t existed for 60 years. Its last students graduated in 1952, the year the missionary-founded school was shuttered by China’s Communist leadership. The members of that class — the youngest at the reunion — are now in their early 80s.
They have been held together over the years by a powerful bond, one that comes from the unusual experience of having attended an independent Western liberal arts college in their native China. But more than that, they are also part of an influential and little-known legacy, a global network of alumni that has helped shape China’s growth and development over the past century — and whose meaning remains controversial in a nation still uneasy over Western influence inside its borders.
St. John’s never had the international name recognition of Harvard or Oxford, and at its peak it graduated about 300 people a year. But for the 73 years it existed, St. John’s — and a small group of other now-defunct colleges in China founded by missionaries — produced a group of graduates with a nearly unique set of credentials. Taught by both Western and Chinese professors, these students were culturally steeped in both the West and the East, fluent in English and Chinese, educated in the humanities as well as the sciences.
Its roster of alumni from across the world reads like a who’s-who of powerful links between China and the West. The retired statesman who led the peaceful transfer of Hong Kong to China, Lu Ping, was a member of St. John’s class of 1947. One of modern China’s first billionaires, as well as its vice president — often dubbed the “Red Capitalist” — was the late Rong Yi-ren, an alumnus. The former president of Taiwan, the late Yen Chia-kan, had a St. John’s diploma. Two of China’s top diplomats in the early 20th century, T.V. Soong and Wellington Koo, attended St. John’s. So did Raymond Chow, the Hong Kong movie producer who made martial arts star Bruce Lee a household name. World-renowned architect I.M. Pei went to the related St. John’s secondary school before coming to the United States.
When China opened up to the West in the early 1980s, it turned to the know-how of many St. John’s graduates — particularly those abroad — who had become entrepreneurs, bankers, engineers, scientists, and academics. As much as any other institution, it was this long-vanished university that helped China navigate its way back into the world economy.
It might seem that China would embrace the legacy of a school so entwined with its own success. But St. John’s Western ways never sat easily with the society around it, and even today an unease hangs over the relationship. When some alumni sought to revive their alma mater in Shanghai in the late 1980s, for instance, top leaders agreed to consider the proposal only if the name “St. John’s” was dropped. Despite the influence and deep pockets of the school’s alumni, China has never allowed St. John’s to reopen. Its old campus in Shanghai is now occupied by a Chinese government-run college.
My father graduated in the class of 1949 and moved to the United States soon afterward, and like so many other alumni, never lost his sense of devotion to the college. As I walked through the reunion events with him last fall, what I saw was hundreds of high-spirited octogenarians unselfconsciously displaying their own natural blend of East and West. At the festivities, they chatted in Mandarin or English, wore Chinese jackets or Western blazers, sang Chinese opera or belted out “Auld Lang Syne.”
Today, China is slowly opening up to the idea of Western liberal arts schools on its soil, weighing the value of the intellectual creativity nurtured by those schools against the risks of the political dissent they could also foster. The story of St. John’s University reflects the power — and the threat — that such an education still represents to a proud nation that nevertheless hungers for new ideas…
Man of Reason: James Q. Wilson’s thinking about crime and policing saved lives and transformed cities for the better
March 5, 2012
In 1966, a prestigious commission appointed by President Lyndon Johnson issued a lengthy report on how the nation should respond to the growing crime wave that was already turning parts of American cities into war zones. What was needed, declared the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice, was a massive government effort to eliminate the alleged root causes of crime: poverty and racism. The report relegated policing to a mere after-the-fact response to urban lawlessness; wealth redistribution and social programs would do the real crime-fighting. Unfortunately, the commission established the dominant paradigm for thinking about crime and policing for the next 30 years. Not surprisingly, lawlessness would continue to rise, wreaking havoc on once vibrant cities.
It needn’t have turned out that way. Just a few months after the commission had released its tomes, James Q. Wilson, who died last week at 80, published an article in the Public Interest pointing out some previously unnoticed oddities in this blueprint for crime-fighting. Out of 200 recommendations that the commission made, only six actually addressed public safety, Wilson—then in his sixth year teaching political science at Harvard—observed.
Wilson noted the lack of empirical support for the commission’s agenda: the advisors recommended, for example, that government fund more social services as an antidote to crime, even though no research showed that those social programs had any effect on behavior. The presidential report called for decreasing prison sentences and for diverting criminals to probation, even though nothing demonstrated that alternatives to incarceration better protected the public than incapacitating offenders in prison.
Had Professor Wilson’s message that crime should be fought directly through the police and other criminal justice agencies been acted upon at the time, America’s urban future for the next quarter century would have been quite different and New York wouldn’t have had to wait for Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and New York Police Commissioner William Bratton to demonstrate in the 1990s the extraordinary power of policing to lower crime.
Wilson’s Public Interest article set the pattern for his intellectual career. Over the next 45 years, Wilson would continue patiently to point out when the emperor had no clothes, to exercise skepticism toward conventional wisdom, and to derive his ground-breaking insights from a close attention to the facts on the ground.
In the 1970s, Wilson was one of lone-wolf researchers who studied actual police behavior—above all looking at the all-important problem of how police do and should use their discretion. His 1975 book,Thinking About Crime, rated by criminologists as one of the two most influential books to come out of their profession, argued that criminals make a rational choice to commit crime, based on an assessment of its risks and rewards. Government could lower crime by changing that calculation, above all by increasing the chance that a perpetrator would be caught and punished. The swiftness and certainty of punishment were more important than its severity, Wilson asserted.
The article that would revolutionize how we think about public order appeared in 1982: the famous “broken windows” essay in the Atlanticmagazine, coauthored with Manhattan Institute fellow George Kelling. In 1994 Mayor Giuliani and then-commissioner Bratton made “Broken Windows” a template for the New York policing revolution. The police would no longer ignore allegedly “minor” infractions of the law, such as graffiti, public drinking, and illegal vending, but would intervene to restore a sense of order in troubled neighborhoods. In so doing, they would only be responding to the previously unacknowledged demand in poor communities for the same sense of lawfulness enjoyed in wealthy areas. Left-wing academics and journalists continue to dismiss that desire with their specious claim that broken-windows policing is an unjust assault on the poor. NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, for one, knows better. So seriously does he take the department’s role in order maintenance that he sends photographers throughout the city to take pictures of illegal street conditions; Kelly then emails those photos to precinct commanders to shame them into action…
March 5, 2012
Andrew Pole had just started working as a statistician for Target in 2002, when two colleagues from the marketing department stopped by his desk to ask an odd question: “If we wanted to figure out if a customer is pregnant, even if she didn’t want us to know, can you do that? ”
Pole has a master’s degree in statistics and another in economics, and has been obsessed with the intersection of data and human behavior most of his life. His parents were teachers in North Dakota, and while other kids were going to 4-H, Pole was doing algebra and writing computer programs. “The stereotype of a math nerd is true,” he told me when I spoke with him last year. “I kind of like going out and evangelizing analytics.”
As the marketers explained to Pole — and as Pole later explained to me, back when we were still speaking and before Target told him to stop — new parents are a retailer’s holy grail. Most shoppers don’t buy everything they need at one store. Instead, they buy groceries at the grocery store and toys at the toy store, and they visit Target only when they need certain items they associate with Target — cleaning supplies, say, or new socks or a six-month supply of toilet paper. But Target sells everything from milk to stuffed animals to lawn furniture to electronics, so one of the company’s primary goals is convincing customers that the only store they need is Target. But it’s a tough message to get across, even with the most ingenious ad campaigns, because once consumers’ shopping habits are ingrained, it’s incredibly difficult to change them.
There are, however, some brief periods in a person’s life when old routines fall apart and buying habits are suddenly in flux. One of those moments — the moment, really — is right around the birth of a child, when parents are exhausted and overwhelmed and their shopping patterns and brand loyalties are up for grabs. But as Target’s marketers explained to Pole, timing is everything. Because birth records are usually public, the moment a couple have a new baby, they are almost instantaneously barraged with offers and incentives and advertisements from all sorts of companies. Which means that the key is to reach them earlier, before any other retailers know a baby is on the way. Specifically, the marketers said they wanted to send specially designed ads to women in their second trimester, which is when most expectant mothers begin buying all sorts of new things, like prenatal vitamins and maternity clothing. “Can you give us a list?” the marketers asked.
“We knew that if we could identify them in their second trimester, there’s a good chance we could capture them for years,” Pole told me. “As soon as we get them buying diapers from us, they’re going to start buying everything else too. If you’re rushing through the store, looking for bottles, and you pass orange juice, you’ll grab a carton. Oh, and there’s that new DVD I want. Soon, you’ll be buying cereal and paper towels from us, and keep coming back.”
The desire to collect information on customers is not new for Target or any other large retailer, of course. For decades, Target has collected vast amounts of data on every person who regularly walks into one of its stores. Whenever possible, Target assigns each shopper a unique code — known internally as the Guest ID number — that keeps tabs on everything they buy. “If you use a credit card or a coupon, or fill out a survey, or mail in a refund, or call the customer help line, or open an e-mail we’ve sent you or visit our Web site, we’ll record it and link it to your Guest ID,” Pole said. “We want to know everything we can.”
Also linked to your Guest ID is demographic information like your age, whether you are married and have kids, which part of town you live in, how long it takes you to drive to the store, your estimated salary, whether you’ve moved recently, what credit cards you carry in your wallet and what Web sites you visit. Target can buy data about your ethnicity, job history, the magazines you read, if you’ve ever declared bankruptcy or got divorced, the year you bought (or lost) your house, where you went to college, what kinds of topics you talk about online, whether you prefer certain brands of coffee, paper towels, cereal or applesauce, your political leanings, reading habits, charitable giving and the number of cars you own. (In a statement, Target declined to identify what demographic information it collects or purchases.) All that information is meaningless, however, without someone to analyze and make sense of it. That’s where Andrew Pole and the dozens of other members of Target’s Guest Marketing Analytics department come in…