Citizen App Review

BLUF: Citizen is an app that gives users real-time information on crimes & emergencies near them. The app is well designed for the average citizen but isn’t ideal for professionals in public safety or emergency response. Citizen’s information on incidents comes from scanner feeds.

About the Author: I am an Emergency Manager at a Manhattan-based University System. I have a professional background in EMS and an academic background in security policy.

Recently on twitter, I was made aware of an app called Citizen which provides real-time crime reports to users based on geo-location and allows them to stream live video of the incident. I’ll do a quick tour of the app and then share some thoughts.

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Citizen is currently available in the New York and San Francisco metropolitan areas. The UI is slick and will feel familiar to users of Facebook & Instagram. On load, you see “Stories” across the top which are like small news packages Citizen produces summarizing previous events. Below that is the map, with red dots marking recent incidents, and in the lower half of the screen is a list of incidents.
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Pressing on an incident opens up a new screen with details. There is a timeline of the incident with updates and clarifications. There is also a set of four buttons, allowing you to react, share, contribute media, and ‘warn’ your contacts.

Starting from the left-hand side, React does more or less what you’d expect. Share opens up the OS sharing interface and allows you to post or send a link to the incident in question. The link resolves to a web page with basic details on the incident and a prompt for the visitor to download the app. Example here.

The Record functionality allows you to live stream through the app if (a) the incident is active and (b) you are close enough to the incident. This footage is then marked a ‘verified.’ Other users can watch your live stream as it happens as well as a recording of it afterward.

Screenshot_2018-05-22-16-42-50The Warn button seems to act like the share button. It allows you to send a ‘warning’ SMS message to people in your contacts list. The text includes a short default message and a link to the incident.

screenshot_2018-05-22-16-42-03.pngOn each incident, there is also a chat section, in which users can discuss the incident.

There is no search or filter function within the app. The list of incidents is generated based on what part of the map you’re focused on. For instance, if I zoom all the way into where I am, I see only two incidents. The ‘Recent’ events list is generated based on incidents which occurred within the past seven days in the area of the map you’re focused on. A partial selection of older incidents appear in the ‘Trending’ list.

Citizen’s website says it sends out notifications when an incident occurs near you, but having had this app for several days in Manhattan, I’ve never gotten one notification. That may have been serendipity, but I’m not sure. There are no settings of any kind in the app, let alone notification settings.

Screenshot_2018-05-22-14-20-44Screenshot_20180522-170344This leads me to one of my general frustrations with this app and apps like it. Slightly ironically an app designed to increase transparency is in and of itself quite opaque. The Citizen ecosystem is nearly hermetically sealed. There is no way I can find to get videos of incidents out of the app or to view them at all without having the app installed.

Citizen is not explicit about where it gets the information it pushes to the app and how it chooses what information to publish. My guess based on intuition, their FAQ section, and a job posting is that they have employees monitoring scanner feeds and typing up dispatch information.

Their website indicates that their operations team makes some editorial decisions in what they put on the app, saying quote;

Incidents discussed on emergency communications channels are vetted by our central operations team – a group of analysts with backgrounds in public safety, writing and other relevant fields. Our team is trained to make on-the-fly decisions about what goes into the app based on complex criteria and supplementary research.

They go on to say,

Citizen excludes vague complaints of ‘suspicious persons’ or ‘suspicious behavior,’ in order to avoid instances of racial profiling. Our operations team also removes any non-pertinent descriptions of suspects, when those details are irrelevant to the incident.

Which is certainly their prerogative, but it’s worth noting that what you’re getting is not an unfiltered write-up of scanner traffic.

One of the things that make Citizen different than other similar services (I’m thinking here of Breaking News Network) is that Citizen is much more restrictive with user contribution. Citizen, as the name suggests, is designed for regular people as opposed to professionals. Breaking News Network encourages any user to “report” incidents, which are vetted and supplemented by a small staff of dispatchers. While the BNN user interface is undoubtedly less user-friendly, it offers a much higher level of functionality.

For Citizen, I don’t see its current iteration as being particularly useful to me. If I could speak to the Citizen team, my feature wish-list would be as follows;

  • Open up the ecosystem. If I can’t share an incident quickly with colleagues who don’t have the app, its usefulness is severely limited. Links shared out of the app should ideally resolve to a web page with all the incident information.
  • A greater suite of notification options. As an emergency manager for a university, I would like to get push notifications for anything that happens within in a specified radius of one of our campuses not just wherever I happen to be standing.
  • Search functionality within the app. Filtering incidents via zooming & scrolling on the map isn’t ideal, and there’s quite a bit of lag in getting the incident list to update.
  • Give me some mechanism to save or flag incidents, so I can go back and look at them again later
  • A web/desktop interface

That said, my impression from Citizen’s website is that they are not aiming their product at users like me. The feature set I want may not be what their broader user base needs or wants.

I’m not clear on the what Citizen’s business strategy is. Paying to monitor scanner feeds 24/7 is not an inexpensive endeavor. At least right now I don’t see how Citizen is bringing in any revenue. Something the Citizen team may want to consider is creating a sister product for people like me. My organization may be willing to pay for a version of Citizen with the feature set I listed above.

Despite my gripes with the app, Citizen’s incident reporting is excellent. The best I’ve seen recently available to the general public for free. For the average person in Manhattan or San Francisco, it’s excellent. For the private sector professional, with some added functionality, it would be a valuable addition to your OSINT resources.

Screenshot_2018-05-23-11-56-35Update (05/23/2018)- This morning I received my first push notification from the Citizen App since installing it. The incident was a reported bank robbery approximately a mile from my

current location. I received the notification about five minutes after the incident was first reported, when the police were canvasing for the suspect.

Interestingly, I did not receive a notification for an earlier reported assault that was much closer to me.Capture+_2018-05-23-11-58-04

600,000 Burning Libraries

This winter my grandfather, Maj. Bruce Shore USMC, passed away. During the quiet drive to the military cemetery in Saratoga this passage from a novel I’ve never read was gnawing at me from somewhere in the recesses of my memory;

I remember hearing this somewhere: when an old man dies, a library burns down. I wondered about this as I walked among the graves. How many stories were here, buried and forgotten? How many old burned libraries, how many young ones that had been building their volumes year by year? And all the stories, lost. I wished there was a place you could go, and sit in a room like a movie theater and look through a catalogue of a zillion names and then you could press a button and a face would appear on the screen and tell you about the life that had been. It would be a living memorial to the generations who had gone on before, and you could still hear their voices though those voices had been stilled for a hundred years. It seemed to me, as I walked in the presence of all those stilled voices that would never be heard again, that we were a wasteful breed. We had thrown away the past, and our future was impoverished for it. [1]

As my grandfather’s memory deteriorated, his library, the library which I had studied at through my childhood and adolescence, began to crumble. Memories and stories which at one point were available at the snap of a finger to be retold with a twinkle in his eye slowly became more opaque, more distant. Eventually, entire wings of grandpa’s grand library were sealed off from us.

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Standing silently in a military cemetery on a cold January morning, I felt my body convulse as the honor guard fired the first volley in the three-volley salute. The sudden crack was an excuse to relax the rigid control I had been exercising on my muscles. The great epic of my grandfather’s life had come to an end. However that evening in my aunt’s living room over a bottle of scotch my grandfather lived on. His stories, his memory, were revivified as we took part in an oral tradition which would be recognized by our earliest pre-historic ancestors.

I was struck in that moment, that it was now our responsibility to preserve these stories. My children will never know my grandparents. They’ll never hear the stories I did growing up unless I tell them. Our family and friends who’ve passed live on through those of us who loved them- their stories and wisdom are in our hands as the living. We bear a sacred responsibility to be a conduit of these stories to our children, to convey the past to the future, a transaction as old as time.

We, modern people, too often forget our great stories- our animating principles, our responsibility to those who came before us, and to those who’ll come after.
We gleefully take sledgehammers to the pylons which hold up this miraculous civilization- built on the exertion and blood of our ancestors. We eschew that wisdom which has been passed down to us and refuse to take seriously the notion that maybe our predecessors knew what they were talking about. We burn our Library of Alexandria daily. We do this at our peril.

On this rainy Memorial Day remember all the men and women who died in service to the ideal that is America. America has over 600,000 war dead since her founding- Americans have been laid to rest in cemeteries across the world, each headstone marking is a library set aflame, a life crying out for remembrance.

Tell their stories; it is only by our continuing interest that we prop up these great libraries, that we unearth what has been long buried. Consider with gratitude the lives we all live by their exertions and sacrifice. Consider how best to honor that sacrifice- how we each can live so that the dead that built this country did not die in vain.

Onstage, the Missing Link says, Every breath you take is because something has died. Something or someone lived and died so you could have this life. This mountain of dead, they lift you into daylight. The Missing Link, he says, Will the effort and energy and momentum of their lives. . . How will it find you? How will you enjoy their gift? …[D]ead soldiers are only a tragedy if you waste their gift sitting in front of the television. Or stuck in traffic. Or stranded at some airport. How will you show all the creatures of history? says the Missing Link. How will you show their birth and work and death were worthwhile?[2]

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[1] Boy’s Life, Robert McCammon
[2] Haunted, Chuck Palahniuk

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics: Refugees and Terrorism

When President Trump issued his executive order on immigration, it reignited the issue of Syrian refugees, and the popular statistic “you only have a one in 3.64 billion chance of being killed by a refugee”[1] began circulating widely on social media.

This statistic, while factually correct, is severely misleading when used out of context. Advocating using it as a driving force behind public policy grossly misunderstands both probability and how probability is used in security policy.

It is important to look at this in its wider context: “you have a one in 3.64 billion chance of being killed by a refugee.” There is a significantly higher chance that any given refugee is a terrorist (one in 162,625). These are reached by calculating together that out of 3,252,493 refugees admitted to the US, 20 were terrorists. Between those 20, they succeeded in killing three Americans. The total deaths were divided by America’s population since 1975 to reach one in 3.64 billion[2].

It is misleading to rely on historical data alone for determining the probability of a future event. FEMA training and guidance warns directly against this practice.

“Communities should take care to not over-rely on historical averages or patterns that may give a false sense of likelihood,”[3] the Department of Homeland Security warns.

Historical data is remarkably bad at predicting the future, especially aberrations like terrorist attacks. Prior to 9/11, the “likelihood” that 19 foreigners would be able to destroy the World Trade Center and directly attack the Pentagon would have been effectively zero. It happened nonetheless.

Estimating probability (or likelihood) is also only one part of the process for determining risk and creating policy. Other values are weighed, including consequence and vulnerability. If something is highly unlikely but would have a catastrophic consequence, then it’s assigned a high-risk value despite being very unlikely.

The part of the discussion that always gets glossed over is that there is a risk inherent in the refugee system (or letting any foreign nationals into the country for that matter), and there always will be. We know that terrorist organizations are attempting to embed their members in refugee and migrant groups to get them across western borders[4]. No amount of extreme vetting as the President advocates will eliminate that risk, better processes can decrease it, but not eliminate it.

The conversation Americans should be having is how much risk is acceptable. Policy and law are not made in a vacuum. Homeland security wonks are not appointed philosopher kings, allowed to create national policy at will because there are other things Americans value alongside safety and security.

Americans need to have a continuing national conversation about those values, and about how much risk we’re willing to tolerate towards humanitarian ends. Using statistics like “one in 3.64 billion” as “empirical” proof that refugees pose little risk to Americans is misleading and a tool for shutting down the conversation. It serves no purpose other than leaving the brandisher of the statistic self-satisfied in their own intelligence, and the person on the receiving end silently indignant having not changed their mind. Ideally, leadership would come from our elected representatives on honest discussions of national values and acceptable risk- but it doesn’t seem likely that that will happen.

[1] http://www.politifact.com/california/statements/2017/feb/01/ted-lieu/odds-youll-be-killed-terror-attack-america-refugee/
[2] https://www.cato.org/publications/policy-analysis/terrorism-immigration-risk-analysis
[3] https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/8ca0a9e54dc8b037a55b402b2a269e94/CPG201_htirag_2nd_edition.pdf
[4] https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/jan/29/isis-finds-success-infiltrating-terrorists-into-re/

Note: This was originally published by Red Alert Politics on March 3rd 2017 under the title “1-in-3.64 billion chance of being killed by a refugee? Believe that at your own risk”

Original Link: http://redalertpolitics.com/2017/03/03/1-3-64-billion-chance-killed-refugee-believe-risk/

First Change Yourself: Self Development & Self Confidence

I was listening to a podcast the other day[1]- and the host Ross Patterson was interviewing one Catherine Clennan[2], who is a 27 year old who has started a GoFundMe requesting $12 million in order to purchase a house in San Diego, hire a private staff to cook and clean, and to “live the life she thinks she deserves”. This is something I went into assuming “this girl must be trolling” and the longer I listened to the interview, the more I had to face the fact that I think she’s serious.

Two things she said to the end of the interview really struck me. First, she said “I am perfect the way I am… I was always perfect”, she then goes on to say that if she raises the $12 million, she wants to spend her life creating art, and “prob[ing] these really deep questions”. Her entire pitch is about changing society (she doesn’t think that working is actually necessary) completing overlooking the irony that she wants money to hire a staff (people who will work menial jobs in exchange for money), I’ll take her claim at face value.

I was reminded of a Thoreau quote, “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live!”[3] The hubris that must be required for a woman who has done ostensibly nothing in her life to be willing to say out loud, let alone believe “Give me $12 million so I can create art and contemplate the big questions while living a life of leisure”.

I’m currently reading the Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.  Solzhenitsyn was a veteran of World War II, fighting for the Soviet Union, and in the 1940s he was arrested as a dissident during one of Stalin’s purges. Interned in the Soviet prison system for a decade, he started writing the Gulag Archipelago, in his head, by memorization. He then completed and compiled the text in secret after his release, having drafts smuggled to a lawyer in Switzerland, all while hiding from State Security. Yet, having experienced all that, Solzhenitsyn is nowhere near as confident in his worldview as Ms. Clennan is.

I do not know however how much Ms. Clennan can be blamed for her infantilized worldview because it seems endemic among young people, maybe not to the same extent, but she merely takes to its logical conclusion a set of views that is shared by many people my age. The view I’m referring to is readily visible on publishing platforms like “Elite Daily”, “Odyssey Online”, or “Thought Catalog”, where young people write on various topics, but generally not from a variety of viewpoints. Browse the “perfection” tag on Thought Catalog and you’ll get an idea how Ms. Clennan arrived at her worldview.

Former Harvard professor and now internet celebrity Jordan B. Peterson spoke to this recently on an interview with Joe Rogan on his podcast[4] saying (I’m paraphrasing) “There are too many people running around who want to change the world, but don’t want to change themselves, if you want to change the world, first change yourself”. I am often astounded when I run into people who believe they’ve got the world figured out and are perfectly ready to restructure everything to that end, but are simultaneously unable to do something relatively simple that they want to do in their own life like exercise reliably. To a reader that may seem like a shallow example, but they are the most visible examples of people believing that they understand the world fully, everyone and everything in it, and their motivations, but don’t even have a shallow understanding of themselves.

I’d like to think I’ve lived a slightly less sheltered life, and have a slightly broader depth of experiences than most people my age with my background, but in reality, my life probably hasn’t been very different from Ms. Clennan’s. The only stark differentiations I can draw is that I don’t think I’m perfect, in fact, I believe I am deeply flawed in many ways, and I have a deep seeded urge to find out why, and how to be better. This I believe is not something I can do primarily through naval gazing, but through external exploration, which is why I read so much. I think fundamentally the problem with many young people is that they have the hubris to think that all of the answers to life’s questions are internal, which is admittedly something I suffered from when I was younger. We stand on the shoulders of giants, and it’s only by exploring the ideas of the people who came before us that we can later seek to transcend them. Those “old dead white dudes” that high school students lookup on SparkNotes the day before their exam can actually tell us a lot about ourselves.

So to all the 23 year old “writers” and “artists” out there (of whom I know a few), I would encourage you to explore the world outside your own very narrow experience and to broaden that experience at any possible opportunity. To paraphrase advice Chuck Palahniuk gave to aspiring writers “if you want to write, you first need to do something, don’t just sit in front of your computer”

I’ll leave you with an extended quote from Dr. Peterson-

“So, in the coming year, make yourself a better person. Fix what you can and would fix. Start now. There is something right in front of you, demanding repair, calling out to your conscience, if you would only attend to it, for your corrective efforts, however, primitive they may yet be. Start small. As you master the process, you can safely and competently expand your reach. You will then become able to fix bigger things, instead of making them worse, in the arrogance of your ignorance. If you do this, there will be less pointless and unnecessary suffering, and the world, for all its shortcoming and faults, will be a better place.”[5]

[1] Drinkin’ Bros Podcast no. 129 41:58 (warning: NSFW, not safe for anyone for that matter, I wouldn’t recommend listening if you’re easily offended, you’ve been warned) https://youtu.be/7PJ6-mvHnh4?t=41m58s
[2] https://www.gofundme.com/CatherineClennan
[3] http://grammar.about.com/od/advicefromthepros/a/thoreauartofwriting.htm
[4] JRE no. 877- https://youtu.be/04wyGK6k6HE
[5] http://jordanbpeterson.com/2016/12/new-years-letter/

An Atheist, a Catholic, and a Philosopher Walk into a Bar: Three Writers on the Art of Drinking

The consumption of alcohol is an integral part of western culture going back to the ancients. In modern times there is a lot of discussion and disagreement over the proper place of alcohol in people’s lives. To that discussion I’d like to bring the thoughts and drinking habits of three men whom it cannot be said did not live full or prosperous lives; an atheist, a Catholic apologist, and a secular philosopher. I think listening to them makes more sense than listening to that 1,000th “study shows red wine is good for your / cause your early death!” stories that seem like pop up every couple weeks.

Notable writer, thinker, and atheist Christopher Hitchens writes of drinking in his memoir “Hitch 22” (emphasis is all my own):

A Short Footnote on the Grape and the Grain

Alcohol makes other people less tedious, and food less bland, and can help provide what the Greeks called entheos, or the slight buzz of inspiration when reading or writing. The only worthwhile miracle in the New Testament— the transmutation of water into wine during the wedding at Cana— is a tribute to the persistence of Hellenism in an otherwise austere Judaea…

 “Hitch: making rules about drinking can be the sign of an alcoholic,” as Martin Amis once teasingly said to me. (Adorno would have savored that, as well.) Of course, watching the clock for the start-time is probably a bad sign, but here are some simple pieces of advice for the young. Don’t drink on an empty stomach: the main point of the refreshment is the enhancement of food. Don’t drink if you have the blues: it’s a junk cure. Drink when you are in a good mood. Cheap booze is a false economy. It’s not true that you shouldn’t drink alone: these can be the happiest glasses you ever drain. Hangovers are another bad sign, and you should not expect to be believed if you take refuge in saying you can’t properly remember last night. (If you really don’t remember, that’s an even worse sign.) Avoid all narcotics: these make you more boring rather than less and are not designed— as are the grape and the grain— to enliven company. Be careful about up-grading too far to single malt Scotch: when you are voyaging in rough countries it won’t be easily available. Never even think about driving a car if you have taken a drop. It’s much worse to see a woman drunk than a man: I don’t know quite why this is true but it just is. Don’t ever be responsible for it.

Prolific writer and Catholic apologist GK Chesterton writes in “Heretics”;

The one genuinely dangerous and immoral way of drinking wine is to drink it as a medicine. And for this reason, if a man drinks wine in order to obtain pleasure, he is trying to obtain something exceptional, something he does not expect every hour of the day, something which, unless he is a little insane, he will not try to get every hour of the day. But if a man drinks wine in order to obtain health, he is trying to get something natural; something, that is, that he ought not to be without; something that he may find it difficult to reconcile himself to being without. …If there were a magic ointment, and we took it to a strong man, and said, “This will enable you to jump off the Monument,” doubtless he would jump off the Monument, but he would not jump off the Monument all day long to the delight of the City. But if we took it to a blind man, saying, “This will enable you to see,” he would be under a heavier temptation. It would be hard for him not to rub it on his eyes whenever he heard the hoof of a noble horse or the birds singing at daybreak. It is easy to deny one’s self-festivity; it is difficult to deny one’s self-normality. Hence comes the fact which every doctor knows, that it is often perilous to give alcohol to the sick even when they need it. I need hardly say that I do not mean that I think the giving of alcohol to the sick for stimulus is necessarily unjustifiable. But I do mean that giving it to the healthy for fun is the proper use of it, and a great deal more consistent with health.

The sound rule in the matter would appear to be like many other sound rules–a paradox. Drink because you are happy, but never because you are miserable. Never drink when you are wretched without it, or you will be like the grey-faced gin-drinker in the slum; but drink when you would be happy without it, and you will be like the laughing peasant of Italy. Never drink because you need it, for this is rational drinking, and the way to death and hell. But drink because you do not need it, for this is irrational drinking, and the ancient health of the world.

…Dionysus made wine, not a medicine, but a sacrament. Jesus Christ also made wine, not a medicine, but a sacrament. But [Muslims] make it, not a sacrament, but a medicine. He feasts because life is not joyful; he revels because he is not glad. “Drink,” he says, “for you know not whence you come nor why. Drink, for you know not when you go nor where. Drink, because the stars are cruel and the world as idle as a humming-top. Drink, because there is nothing worth trusting, nothing worth fighting for. Drink, because all things are lapsed in a base equality and an evil peace.” So he stands offering us the cup in his hand. And at the high altar of Christianity stands another figure, in whose hand also is the cup of the vine. “Drink” he says “for the whole world is as red as this wine, with the crimson of the love and wrath of God. Drink, for the trumpets are blowing for battle and this is the stirrup-cup. Drink, for this my blood of the new testament that is shed for you. Drink, for I know of whence you come and why. Drink, for I know of when you go and where.”

Conservative philosopher Roger Scruton writes in his book on wine “I Drink Therefore I Am”;

The world is awash with advice about what not to drink. All kinds of virtuous products, in which honest labour and the love of life have been distilled for your benefit – unpasteurized milk, for example – have been forbidden by the health fanatics. Not a week passes without a newspaper article rehearsing the damage done to the human constitution by spirits, carbonated drinks, coffee or cola, and it seems to me that the time has come to draw a line under all this nonsense and to lay down a few simple principles.

The first is that you should drink what you like, in the quantities that you like. It may hasten your death, but this small cost will be offset by the benefits to everyone around you.

The second principle is that you should not, through your drinking, inflict pain on others: drink as much as you like, but put away the bottle before gaiety gives way to gloom. Drinks which have a depressive effect – water, for example – should be taken in small doses, for medicinal reasons only.

The third principle is that your drinking should inflict no lasting damage on the earth. By hastening your death, a drink does no real environmental damage – after all, you are biodegradable, and that may be the best thing to be said about you. But this is not, in general, true of the containers in which drinks are sold. In the virtuous England in which I grew up, drinks came in glass bottles, for which you paid an additional twopence, refundable on return of the bottle to the shop. This exemplary system was followed for many years, until driven out by the arrival of the plastic bottle, the greatest environmental disaster since the discovery of fossil fuels.

People who live in cities are less aware of this disaster than we country dwellers, since city streets, from time to time, are cleaned. Walk along any country lane, however, and you will encounter, every yard or so, a plastic bottle, flung from the window of a passing vehicle, to lie forever on the verge. Each year the accumulation increases, with particular products – Lucozade and Coca-Cola, for instance – adding insulting colours to the environmental injury.

I blame the drinks, as much as the people who jettison their containers. There is something about those fizzy sugar-solutions, with their childish flavours and logo-branded bottles, that elicits the ‘me’ response in otherwise grown-up people. The quick-fix at the plastic udder, the exhilaration of bubbles in the throat, and the burp of satisfaction as the liquid settles, all serve to narrow the drinker’s perspective, and to obliterate the thought of a world beyond me and mine. And the self-satisfied gesture as the bottle is tossed from the window of the car – the gesture which says, I am king of the space through which this body travels, and f— the rest of you – is exactly what we must expect, when childish appetites are indulged in private at every moment of the day.

So here is my fourth principle: don’t drink anything that comes in plastic bottles. Declare war on them and on the firms that use them. Withdraw your custom from every supermarket that sells its milk in plastic, refuse soft drinks on principle and drink water, if you must, only from the tap.

 

12 Days to Christmas: 22 Things

In my traditional form of copying my sister– here are 22 things I’ve learned in my 22 years on this earth. Some of these will be esoteric and snooty, others will be nitty gritty, and some will just be dumb- but that’s a reflection of my personality so I’m ok with it. I think I had enough material for about 10 good points- but the format requires 22, so here we go.

(this is also my first listicle, so bear with me)

1. The more things change the more they stay the same

The older I get the more this cliché shows itself to be true. Guess it’s a cliché for a reason.

2. Your happiness is now

Especially when we’re young we have this image of constant motion- when you’re a teenager a year seems like a lifetime. There’s a presupposition that I had when I was younger that when x happened I would be happy. When I got a girlfriend. When I graduated high school. When I got a summer job and had money. I continuously deferred my own happiness to future me- I didn’t want to get myself sorted out because I assumed that once x y or z just “happened” everything would be just peachy. Don’t outsource your happiness to future you- because I hate to break it to you, future you is still you- and is unlikely to have any special insight into how to get you to the life you want to live. The time to get the life you want is now.

3. Hangovers get worse as you get older

Adults are probably reading this thinking “well duh”. But seriously- hangovers do get worse the older you get. This was when I became acutely aware of the fact that time was passing and I was getting older. At some point, hangovers that I used to be able to easily shrug off and go about my day, became debilitating. I, with rare exception, try to avoid them now at all costs, after all, I’m getting old and life’s too short to spend it hungover.

4. Reading is fundamental

Read, read now and read widely. One of the most incredible feelings was my senior year of college having reached a critical mass of knowledge and reading- being able to easily synthesize idea from different authors and genres and started having some thoughts of my own. That is- what I think- it means to reach intellectual maturity.

5. Writing is fundamental

If you want to feel yourself grow and your ideas develop in real time- write. Write anything, and write it now, then do it again.

6. Don’t worship other people

Other people are not Gods. Your professors, boss, girlfriend, that celebrity- they’re just people, like you and me. There’s a difference between respect and worship. Respect your professor, and listen to what they say, but engage with them, don’t genuflect at an altar before them. I know it sounds silly- but we all know people who do this, who worship people- either for their success, charisma, intelligence, talent, fame, or what have you.

7. Don’t allow others to worship you

On a similar thread. Even though it feels good, don’t allow other people to worship you. Ideally, you should be pursuing relationships with people who are your equals and treat you as such. Being in a relationship with someone who treats you like a God is no better than being with someone who treats you as if they were a God you a mere mortal. Successful friendships and relationships are built on mutual respect.

8. You need to have principles, and you need to stick to them

There is I think an extreme lack in the modern world of people holding real principles and sticking to them. Start doing that- find something you believe in and stick to it, even when it hurts.

9. Fake it till you make it

Self-explanatory- but it seriously works. If you go through the motions for long enough “faking it” eventually you’ll find you’re actually doing it.

10. Build relationships- with a purpose- not an agenda

Build relationships with people whom you respect, people who can help you achieve the life you want. But don’t use people, because no matter how slick you think you are, people can always tell.

11. Means v. Ends

I’ve spent a lot of my life turned around, confusing my means and my ends. An end is where you want to be, the means are how you get there. Money is a means to an end, it should never be an end in itself. Think about your ends first, what result are do you want to achieve, and then find the means to that end.

12. How to treat people

To build on the last one; you should always treat people as an end in and of themselves- never as a means to your end. Treating another as a means to an end is one of the cruelest things you can do to another person, and has lead to great evil throughout history.

13. Descriptive v. Normative

A concept which I was introduced to through political philosophy is the dichotomy between descriptive and normative claims. Descriptive claims purport to explain human association as it is, as it exists now. Normative claims purport to explain human association as it should be. In your personal life, it’s important to consider both. In order to be the person you want to be, the person you should be, you need to understand the person you are.

14. Think about the future

Think- don’t stress- about the future. Think seriously about where you want to be, about the life you want to live, and then figure out how to get there. A lot of college students I know are often trapped in the short term. “The Future” is the next test, the next semester, or graduation.

15. Think

More than thinking about the future, get comfortable in you own head, with your own thoughts.

16. Learn to be alone

We’re so hyper-connected now, you never have to be alone with your own thoughts unless you choose to be. Do that more, you may be surprised what you find.

17. Learn to be intimate

No, this is not what it sounds like, although that’s important to. Being able to maintain a one on one conversation with someone the goes past very shallow small talk is hard, and something many people (including myself) aren’t good at.

18. Drink coffee

Coffee is my early morning inspiration. There’s nothing I love more than a meditative cup of coffee on a quiet morning. It’s a meditative experience. One of the more cathartic moments of my years at college was a late night cup of coffee and a cigarette during a time of extreme stress and uncertainty.

19. Drink alcohol

I’ll defer to Chesterton here;

Drink because you are happy, but never because you are miserable. Never drink when you are wretched without it, or you will be like the grey-faced gin-drinker in the slum; but drink when you would be happy without it, and you will be like the laughing peasant of Italy. Never drink because you need it, for this is rational drinking, and the way to death and hell. But drink because you do not need it, for this is irrational drinking, and the ancient health of the world.

20. Be an expert hobbyist

Find something you like to do and get really good at it. Photography is a hobby of mine, and over the past few years I’ve gotten quite good at it, which has brought me a lot of joy. Being somewhat of an expert in something you like doing is very satisfying. It can be anything you enjoy doing, it doesn’t need to be practical, useful, or lucrative- but everyone needs a serious hobby.

21. Be proficient

That being said, you should strive to be at least proficient in as many areas as possible. Be able to change a tire, make smart investments, cook a handful of simple meals, and use the Socratic method. In a world of increasing specialization, it’s my bet that generalists or multidisciplinary experts will have a rising stock this generation.

22. Remember people’s drink and coffee orders

A tip I was given by a boss of mine- whenever you have the chance, jot down people’s coffee/drink orders in your phone so you remember what they like for future reference. Whether it’s a coworker, potential client, boss, or a woman you’re interested in, remembering how they take their coffee or what they drink when the opportunity presents itself can be a valuable relationship building tool.

Barroom Conversations: Reflection on 3.5 Years

Yesterday I was sitting at a bar with four of my best friends since my very first semester at DeSales. This morning I took my last undergraduate final. This afternoon I had dinner with two of my best friends who I’d only become close with over the past six or so months. This evening I moved out of my college dorm for good and drove back to NJ. Life comes at you fast, and sometimes you need to step back and let it unravel. This is a reflection on my time at DeSales. It’s overly long and self-indulgent, and there isn’t really a point to it per say- just to put some things down on paper at a milestone in my life. I am sure there are typos here, I’m fixing them as I find them, grammar is not one of my strong suits

It’s often said: the worst thing about DeSales is that it’s so small, everyone knows everyone and everything. But I’ve come to realize, that the best thing about DeSales is that it’s so small, everyone knows everyone and everything.

It’s a significant cultural adjustment starting your Freshman year at any college, let alone DeSales. Not only are you all of a sudden on your own, no parental supervision, but you’re also thrown into a community of a couple thousand, which for most of us is a small fraction of the size of towns and cities where we grew up. We all came to college, with a vague idea of what it was going to be like, something like a fresh start than a four-year party.

I never so much got that “fresh start” after high school, I came to DeSales with five other people from my (small) high school. I couldn’t really reinvent myself overnight because I was around people who knew me. I was frustrated by this for a while, it felt like I had been cheated of a “quintessential college experience” by having stories from high school follow me to college, and not being able to become a new person on freshman move-in. These people from high school, especially my friend Gerry, kept me accountable when it may have been tempting to embellish or gloss over bits of high school.

Beyond just the “fresh start” part of that college mystique the high school students buy into is not just that college is one big party, but that there are no strings attached. The way college is portrayed in pop culture is that it’s a libertine “find yourself” and “experiment with everything” environment. I was quickly disabused of this notion my freshman and sophomore year. You don’t get to go around willy-nilly doing and saying whatever you want with no social consequences. You will, and I did, get a particular reputation around campus. People will know what happened last weekend. People will know you and your girlfriend are fighting. People will know who hooked up with who. There are no real secrets. People swap stories like social capital especially at a school this small. You can’t just “disappear” into a crowd.

I’ve told prospective students more times than I can count: DeSales is what you make of it. If you want to party, there is certainly a nightlife. If you want to have a chaste, temperate, college experience, there’s ministry community at a lot of folks who come here for that kind of lifestyle. If you want something else, or a mix of the two, there’s just about every imaginable lifestyle in between. I certainly made a choice my freshman year, and freshman year was one long party for me. To paraphrase Clint Eastwood’s character from Heartbreak Ridge “I’ve drunk more beer… and pissed more blood and stomped more ass that all of you numbnuts put together… You men do not impress me!” I thought I was quite the swinging Richard my freshman and sophomore years, so it was only fair that over my junior and senior years life would knock me down a few pegs.

In a lot of ways, I think I peaked my sophomore year. Sophomore year is what I reminisce about when I think “college”. I was a sophomore who thought I ran the damn school. I was in a relationship with a beautiful, fun, woman, a relationship I found fulfilling. I had two part-time jobs and more money than I knew what to do with. I went out almost every weekend, some of my best party stories are from sophomore year. I thought I was going to go to law school. Things made sense, but what I realize, looking back, is that it was just an illusion. I thought I had everything together because I was faking it. The plans I had weren’t realistic, and the life I was living wasn’t sustainable. I broke up with my girlfriend. I quit my job. I lost my focus academically. I fell away from my friends a little, I spent my first summer since middle school largely unemployed. While everything was in reality crumbling, from the outside it looked like I had it all together. I was taking over as the Captain of DeSales EMS, I had been officially hired as an RA, my grades were great. I learned that having direction and purpose was more important than having a title. Leaving sophomore year, I’d collected a lot of titles, resume boosters, but I’d lost my purpose, and I felt very alone.

Junior year is, I like to think, the year I really grew up. It had its ups and downs. At first, I loved being an RA, I met lots of new people, made new friends, turned 21 in December. By the winter the bloom had come off the rose. I had fallen into some old habits, being an RA had crushed my spirit, I had a surgery, and did some things I wasn’t proud of. I was very unsure of who I was or what I was doing. I realized I didn’t really have a good reason for a lot of the things I did, I just acted on impulse a lot.

The second semester Junior year made me the person I am today, I think. It taught me the influence of randomness, of “black swans” on my life. We like to think that we’re in control, and the modern world gives us that illusion. But we’re not, “No matter how sophisticated our choices, how good we are at dominating the odds, randomness will have the last word”. Sometimes in life, a person, or event, comes through like a wrecking ball, shattering that illusion of control, reminding us that we’re all victims of chance.

At the risk of sounding cliché, I met a girl. We met in February 2016, and over the next six months give me the highest highs and lowest lows. It was very much an on again off again relationship, and like most relationships existing in the real world, doesn’t really fit into any of the standard molds of relationships, so I’m going to decline to try to describe it in too much detail. I could draw parallels to songs, movies, and literature, to try and explain it, but I’ll spare you being that vomiting inducing. Suffice it to say, it was a relationship that simultaneously made me feel like a kid again, and like the man I didn’t know I wanted to be. The relationship ended, but like most things, its lessons endured. I walked out of my Junior year with everything together- and a different outlook on life. The summer of 2016 was probably one of the best of my life- I didn’t work, but I was seriously happy for the first time in a long time.

What I mean when I say I was happy is this, that I didn’t just have momentary blips of not being unhappy, but I was just in a pleasant state most of the time. I’ve found that the best measure of my own happiness is where my mind goes when left unsupervised. If when left to wander my mind goes to happy memories and positive aspects of my future, then I consider myself happy. However, when my mind goes to unhappy memories and an uncertain future I consider myself unhappy. For the summer, I was happy, I reached a kind of zen for a few short months.

Most of my time at DeSales, I hated that I had picked a school this insular, with this much gossip. There are only a handful of undergrads, walking into senior year, I could give you the nickel version of pretty much anyone, my characterization of them very well may be inaccurate, but there aren’t a huge number of people about whom I could say “yeah I have no idea who that is”.

People will often lament “DeSales is just like high school”. One of my friends recently said after getting her first internship in a “real” workplace, “the world is just one big DeSales!”. So it seems, just like in the Bowling for Soup song, High School really doesn’t ever end. Many of the things people criticize DeSales for really aren’t DeSales specific problems, they’re just part of life. I often wished I could get away from my problems, get away from my reputation, get away from my past. By the time I was a senior I had two failed relationships with DeSales students under my belt, along with a line longer than I’d like to admit of dates, courtships, hookups, or as college students would put it: people I had a “thing” with or had at one point “talked to”. Add on top of that three years of baggage, arguments, rumors (true and false), and people I had met in a negative way, either through my role as an RA or an EMT on campus. Being at DeSales just seemed frustratingly complicated at by the beginning of my senior year.

At DeSales, as in life, you can’t just run away from the things you’ve done. I’m only coming now to realize how valuable that is. If I was at a school where I could easily escape any of the stupid or questionable things I’ve done, I would be nowhere near the person I am today. Just learning how to be around people you don’t like or don’t want to be around is an incredibly important life skill.

Being constantly surrounded by people you know forces an intense self-awareness. When someone has a poor opinion of you, you don’t have the luxury of brushing is off and avoiding them. The luxury of saying off the bat “well… that’s just like… your opinion man”. You have to confront and seriously consider what other people think of you. This is at times a painful process but real self-examination always is. You may decide at times that a person’s opinion is junk and they’re just being an ass (these people do exist, surprising I know), but it’s important to consider what they’re saying because it will follow you. You may refute what they say, you may think they’re wrong, but you can’t just stick you head in the sand and pretend they’re not saying it. I can say I am without a doubt a better person because of that self-awareness I’ve gotten from DeSales. I hated it for a long time. I hated that certain people on campus looked at me as an irresponsible, womanizing, typical college guy. I hated that some people looked at me as a self-important know it all. I hated the opinion my ex(s) and their friends had of me. For a long time, I stuck my head in the sand. But to paraphrase a comedian whose name I don’t remember, “when somebody says you’re an asshole, you don’t get to decide they’re wrong, it’s not up to you”. I hated it because a lot of people had limited interactions with me, and I felt were drawing unfair conclusions from incomplete data. I really thought I was more than all that, that I was a good person.

This eventually (after too many years) forced me to confront two things. First, that while I thought I was a good, decent, personable guy, the way I was presenting myself sometimes didn’t reflect that. Second, I wanted everyone to reserve judgment on me until they had really gotten to know me, meanwhile, I was the king of making snap judgments about someone after hearing something about them or having one interaction. I wanted everyone else to give me the benefit of the doubt, however, believed that my gut judgments on people’s character were always accurate.

I realized all this, and then realized how many “enemies” I had made by simply refusing the recognize that other people may… actually be humans who have bad days or complicated lives like me. I remember saying to one of my friends a few months ago in the midst of extreme frustration with this school that “there’s nothing left for me here, I just need to get out of this place, move on to what’s next”. I wanted a clean slate. I wanted to leave all of the baggage behind. It was only late in this semester, my last semester, that I realized far from there being nothing for me here, everything for me is here.

My last semester I started to consciously be friendlier and approachable to everyone, including those I thought I disliked. I reconnected with people who I had falling outs of varying varieties with. I met people and interacted with social circles I had previously dismissed as “too this” or “too that”, or people I had just decided I wasn’t going to like. I took ownership, really for the first time, of ways I had mistreated people around me, and I let go of grudges I had been holding for years. Granted “taking ownership” of having not treated people with the dignity they deserve, or “letting go” of a feud doesn’t excuse anything or make that history go away. I don’t get to decide “well I’ve forgiven myself on your behalf for acting like an ass”. But it is a step in the right direction. These things did me no good to cling on to (yeah I know I’m starting to sound like a pop self-help book you bought at a thrift shop, trying to bring it around).

I was amazed by how quickly these interpersonal conflicts I had built up into mountains in my head reverted to the molehills they were once I stopped playing into them. Why I was still ignoring and avoiding people who I had some kind of argument with 3 years ago is really beyond me. Ok, actually I do know why. I was playing into these conflicts because it was fun, well, maybe not fun, but it was something to do. Acting like I was some Game of Thrones character, playing interpersonal politics gave me something to do. There’s something addicting about having “enemies”. About being able to say; “Oh that height/ sports team/ group of friends/ major doesn’t like me, and I don’t like them”. Having “enemies” makes you feel like kind of a badass, makes you feel good in a weird way. None of this is good, or healthy, or productive, but it is, that’s the way I am, or people are. Once I stopped pretending I had enemies around every corner, the way this campus looked to me changed. It revealed the great diversity and tremendous amount of human beauty at a place people complain about being homogenous and tiny.

It took me years of being the awkward loner in the corner, a surly introvert to realize that I like people, being a part of something, a community. The worst things about DeSales are also its best things. The reasons for hating it are also reasons for loving it. To quote Chesterton;

“The point is not that this world is too sad to love or too glad not to love; the point is that when you do love a thing, its gladness is a reason for loving it, and its sadness a reason for loving it more. All optimistic thoughts about England and all pessimistic thoughts about her are alike reasons for the English patriot.”

We say we hate this school. We bitch and moan constantly. We all say we wish we had gone somewhere else, and most of us at one point had serious thoughts about transferring. But there’s something that keeps us here, there’s a part of us that loves it here. I know what kept me here, and it wasn’t the academics, the athletics, or the sunsets, it was the people.

I realized that this terrible little school, with its terrible people, represents the best parts of humanity. I realized all this, just in time to leave it. I was the guy for years who would act like an angsty nihilist teen, say, quoting Bukowski, “I don’t hate people I just prefer when they’re not around”. I realize now, I didn’t like people, or community because it’s hard. People are difficult, and instead of trying I would just withdraw inside myself and segregate myself. I realized years late, that I love people. I love the diversity of thought, I love connecting with other human beings,

I want to love my neighbor not because he is I, but precisely because he is not I. I want to adore the world, not as one likes a looking-glass, because it is one’s self, but as one loves a woman because she is entirely different. If souls are separate love is possible. If souls are united love is obviously impossible. A man may be said loosely to love himself, but he can hardly fall in love with himself, or, if he does, it must be a monotonous courtship. If the world is full of real selves, they can be really unselfish selves.

I got the clean slate I wanted. I didn’t get it by moving somewhere new where nobody knows me. I got it by a change in attitude. I love this community, and leaving it now, having just realized that, is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

 You matter, your life matters, and what you make of it. But you can only make something of your life if you realize others matter more -Roger Scruton

I often wonder, what my legacy will be at this school once I’ve gone. Everyone has a legacy after they leave. Everyone leaves an imprint on the people they’ve interacted with. I wish I was naïve enough to say I’ve had a uniformly positive impact on those around me, but I’m more self-aware than that. I know what it feels like to have your heart ripped out of your chest by someone you trust, and I know what it feels like to do that to someone. Even in the last couple months having taken a less cavalier attitude with other people’s feelings, there are a couple relationships with (now former) friends that I seriously f’ed up. At the same time, I’ve met so many great people in the last two semesters who I wish I had met years ago, people who I feel like I didn’t get enough time with. But I don’t know if more time is it, I could probably spend a lifetime with these people and still want more. Leaving friends who I’ve known since freshman orientation, who I’ve spent most of my college career with, felt like it was too soon.

One of the more enduring quips from JRR Tolkein’s Fellowship of the Ring is Bilbo Baggins speaking to his neighbors at a party, saying “I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve”. This is how I feel leaving DeSales, leaving all my friends, classmates, coworkers, associates, whatever words I should use to describe my relationship with the people here. Having said a lot of goodbyes in the past week I began to acutely feel the passage of time. It was only when it was coming to an end that I realized how much more I wish I had done.

[H]e does not belong to it, or to any place; and the proof of it is this, that he thinks of [it] as a place. The moment we are rooted in a place, the place vanishes. We live like a tree with the whole strength of the universe.

I am rooted to DeSales, and it was only in my last semester that I came to appreciate it for what it is. I am rooted here, and just I am rooted, I vanish.

I’ll leave you with this; Father O’Conner said to me regarding our respective future paths-” I guess you and I are in the same boat right now, I’m sure we’ll get it all figured out. I have faith there are great things still to come”

As always- It’s a great day to be a Bulldog.