In Prospect

Winter 2008

The NYPD’s pioneering Compstat system was a key factor in Gotham’s amazing crime turnaround under Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Short for “computerized statistics,” Compstat is an ingenious intelligence and accountability tool. Regular meetings gather precinct commanders and top brass, who must share all that they know about wrongdoing on their turf; sophisticated software helps relentlessly analyze and map the info, uncovering crime patterns even as they emerge. Participants then brainstorm strategies to fight the problems—and in subsequent meetings must show results. From the moment Compstat was in place in 1994, crime began to fall in New York, sparking the city’s revival.

In “The Resilient Society,” Giuliani, now a Republican presidential candidate, proposes extending the Compstat concept to three areas of homeland security where intelligence sharing and accountability have sometimes been lacking: counterterrorism, border security, and disaster preparation. That’s only one of many smart ideas in Giuliani’s blueprint for making our nation safer, a plan that should guide whoever wins the White House this year. At the core of any effective homeland security, Giuliani concludes, is the can-do spirit of Americans themselves, admired over a century and a half ago by Alexis de Tocqueville and still evident today.

Such good sense is hard to find in certain American precincts in 2008, though, as Heather Mac Donald shows in “The Campus Rape Myth.” Mac Donald details the rise of a feminist-inspired “rape industry” claiming that an epidemic of sexual assault menaces coeds across the country. The supposed predators: not strangers in gloomy alleys but male students, products of a sinister “rape culture.”

The epidemic is fantasy. The reality, Mac Donald reports, is a hookup scene in which regret sex is common—and soon transmuted into “rape.” Capturing the wackiness of the post-sixties university, the same school officials denouncing the purported predation are encouraging nonstop recreational student sex by sponsoring campus workshops by “sexperts,” condom giveaways, and student services advising on S&M techniques. Lost in the schizophrenic saturnalia: the now-discredited idea that colleges are for learning.

For many of today’s single young males, or SYMs, life is a nonstop frat party, filled with babes, booze, and gadgets, writes Kay S. Hymowitz in “Child-Man in the Promised Land.” As she explains, the SYM can put off adult duties indefinitely, thanks to changing mores and a capitalist dynamo that provides him with a cornucopia of thrills—low-brain-wattage action movies, video games, lad mags, and lots more. But Hymowitz’s amusing story has a serious point. Young men, she writes, “need a culture that can help them define worthy aspirations,” and ours doesn’t seem to be doing the job.

Andrew Klavan’s “The Lost Art of War” takes aim at Hollywood, where respect for the American spirit is in short supply—and nowhere scarcer than in the stream of recent war flops that portray our soldiers as brutes and our democracy as a fraud. An older, more sophisticated Hollywood, Klavan writes, understood the greatness of American democracy, despite its flaws, and the need for patriotic virtues to defend it.

This issue features a second big education story: Sol Stern’s “School Choice Isn’t Enough.” A longtime choice advocate, Stern has had second thoughts. Introducing markets into K–12 schools, while sometimes salutary, is no panacea, he now believes—especially for poor and minority children stuck in crummy urban public schools. What those kids need most are proven curricula and good teaching methods.

Few writers can match Theodore Dalrymple’s acuity as a social critic. In “The Marriage of Reason and Nightmare,” he explores the work of another penetrating social observer: British novelist J. G. Ballard, whose dark fantasies expose the fragility of affluent contemporary society. That fragility makes reforming our educational institutions, higher and lower, all the more important: in a way, another kind of homeland security.

—Brian C. Anderson