Monthly Archives: April 2015


With my Ph.D. program starting this fall, I expect I’ll be doing a lot more programming. I used to program a lot as an undergraduate, but, well, that was a long time ago.

I’ve been teaching myself Python, so I was excited when I learned a colleague was looking for a way to convert an .xml file to a .csv file. There was just one specific variable they were looking to export into .csv format, so the code is specific to that.

Since I’ll probably be coding a lot more, I figured I’d post this bit of code here.


import csv
from xml.etree import ElementTree

infile = raw_input(“Name of xml file:  “) # ask user for file to convert

# create name output file, same as input file replacing .xml with .csv
out = ” ”
for letter in infile:
if letter != “.”:
out += letter

out += “.csv”

# parse input file
with open(infile, ‘rt’) as f:
tree = ElementTree.parse(f)

#identify data to export to .csv
out_data = []
out_data.append(‘beta’)  # header column: variable we’re interested in
out_data.append(‘source’) # header column: name of file being converted

for node in tree.iter(): #iterate through .xml file
if node.tag == “{}PCell”: #look for the tag holding the variable we’re interested in
beta = node.attrib.get(‘beta’) #grab data from variable we’re interested in
out_data.append(beta) # add data to output
out_data.append(infile) # add name of converted file to output

# write .csv file
out_file  = open(out, “wb”)
csv_writer = csv.writer(out_file, quoting=csv.QUOTE_NONE)

count = 0

for row in out_data: #iterate through output data putting commas and line breaks in correct places
count += 1
out_file.write(row) # write data to .csv file
if count%2 == 0:
csv_writer.writerow(” “) # we’re outputing two columns of data, so add a line break if two columns have been added
out_file.write(“,”) #else, add a “,” to seperate data elements on the same row

out_file.close() # close file

print “wrote %s” % out

The Past is Public

Earlier this week, I attended the final “Tisch Talk in the Humanities” of the semester. This new series was launched by Tisch College to explore the intersections of humanities and civic work.

The final talk was on “neighboring,” a concept that was here taken to mean – essentially the opposite of “othering.”

When we “other” somebody we set them apart from ourselves. We emphasize difference and reinforce an “us” versus “them” dynamic.

Neighboring doesn’t mean abolishing differences, but rather embracing the broader commonalities of proximity.

We are all people. We are all in the same boat.

These are the declarations of neighboring.

An interesting point emerged from this conversation. Peter Probst, a professor of Art & Art History at Tufts, started discussing neighboring not only in the present tense, but in the context of history – in the context of preservation.

The past is public, he argued.

What we think of as history is actually a collection of individual stories brought into a collective whole.

That collective whole is jointly owned as “history,” but individual stories still have the right to resist the dominant narrative.

Thus preservation can be an act of neighboring, as historians seek to honor individual stories and include diverse narrative as part of the public whole.

If the past is public, then we all must be good stewards – not only of history but of our neighbor’s truths.

What the Hell is Happening in Baltimore?

Last night, as news spread of protests, riots, and looting in Baltimore, I was struck by just how difficult it was to follow what was going on.

There’s something about today’s capacity for instant, constant, and hyper-local news that makes me feel like I ought to know everything accurately right away.

Of course there are regular disruptions to that rule – confusion and conflicting stories are regular features of breaking news, often fueled by interruptions in communication.

But the stories coming out of Baltimore were different – like a real-time view of “history being written by the victors.” It wasn’t that diverging stories were coming out of Baltimore – there were divergent narratives unfolding.

Now, I want to be clear about something: I know nothing about Baltimore. I’ve got friends in the area and I’ve watched The Wire, but that’s about the extent of my knowledge. I make no claims at expertise and everything that follows should be taken for what it is – an outsider’s attempt to follow a major news story.

Freddie Gray’s funeral took place yesterday, Monday, April 27. Twenty-five year old Gray was arrested in West Baltimore on the morning of April 12. He died in police custody on April 19 from a spinal injuries.

According to the Atlantic, its unclear why Gray was arrested and it’s unclear how his injuries were sustained. Video of Gray’s arrest show Gray, seemingly with a broken leg, being dragged off by police.  The Atlantic describes that “Gray didn’t resist arrest and that officers didn’t use force.”

The Baltimore Sun says that “Gray’s family has said he underwent surgery at Maryland Shock Trauma Center for three fractured neck vertebrae and a crushed voice box — injuries doctors said are more common among the elderly or victims of high-speed crashes.”

The Baltimore Police are investigating, but no information has been released.

The Baltimore Sun further reports that yesterday’s riots “started Monday morning with word on social media of a “purge” — a reference to a movie in which crime is made legal.”

What’s great is that since Twitter has an advanced search feature you can search for tweets including a specific keyword, like purge, within a specific time frame.

As early as April 26, you can start seeing references to the purge on Twitter, with people saying things like:

  • The purge anarchy or just regular Baltimore?
  • #FreddieGray we purge for you shun!! #Justice4FreddieGray
  • All this bullshit happening in Bmore makes me wish The Purge was a real thing………#justsaying

That continues for awhile, and on Monday, you start seeing things like:

  • Breaking: Baltimore shut down because of plot of the warriors, possibly the plot of the purge
  • Student ‘purge‘ threat shuts down Baltimore businesses, schools

So, while there are many social networks out there, young people don’t seem to have planned a riot on Twitter. There are plenty of analogies to the Purge, but few threats and even less planning.

Maybe they were on Yik Yak, I don’t know.

Now, this is where I find it really confusing.

The Baltimore Sun reports that at 3pm, a group of 75 to 100 students were heading to Mondawmin Mall. Presumably, this was a group of ne’er-do-wells who were setting out to start a riot they supposed planned on social media.

As the Sun points out, “The mall is a transportation hub for students from several nearby schools.”

So…at 3pm, were kids just…heading home from school?

One teacher shared her eyewitness description publicly on Facebook. (And since teachers are public employees, it’s easy verify that the poster is in fact a teacher.)
“We drove into Mondawmin, knowing it was going to be a mess. I was trying to get them home before anything insane happened,” she wrote. Presumably, the fact that the mall is a transportation hub necessitated going there? I don’t know.
She continues: “The police were forcing busses to stop and unload all their passengers. Then, Douglas students, in huge herds, were trying to leave on various busses but couldn’t catch any because they were all shut down. No kids were yet around except about 20, who looked like they were waiting for police to do something. The cops, on the other hand, were in full riot gear marching toward any small social clique of students who looked as if they were just milling about. It looked as if there were hundreds of cops.”That’s a far cry from the idea that local thugs decided to cause a riot and the police did the best they could to stop it.I mean, I’m no expert, but the presence of such a large police force at the site of what I understand to be the place of the 1968 riots following the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. seems like it might be trouble waiting to happen.Add to that the long history of tensions between Baltimore residents and law enforcement officials, and, well, none of this seems like a good plan. I don’t want to be anyone at this party.And then there was word from the Baltimore Police Department that gangs were “‘teaming up’ to take out officers.”

I’m confused about that, too, since the Sun also reports that “a group of men who said they were members of the Crips — they wore blue bandannas and blue shirts — stood on the periphery and denounced the looting.”

So, if they had a pact…they are really bad at it.

It’s taken a lot to sift through all this information. To come in as an outsider and try to find credible, verifiable information.

I still have no idea what the hell is going on in Baltimore, but from what I can gather, I’m skeptical of the police narrative. It looks to me like the police went in way over powered into a tense situation and made everything far worse than it should have been.

Should you blame the people who looted and destroyed property? Sure, but also blame the situation that put them there –

Baltimore police and leadership failed them.

Discomfort with Ancestors

Years ago, my mother – who is really into genealogy – told me that one of my (white) ancestors had been lynched in the south because he’d been helping African Americans through the underground railroad.

I was so proud.

That’s the kind of person I wanted to be related to.

I, of course, don’t remember the details of what happened or how this person was related to me, but I remember – I’m descended from people who worked on the underground railroad. Folks who were on the right side of history. Who died for what they knew was just.

Several years after that, my mother was sharing another genealogical finding. It’s possible that I was not as attentive as a good daughter ought to be, until she said something that caught my ear. Something about an ancestor owning slaves.

No, no, I piped in. You told me that our family worked on the underground railroad!

My mother looked at me blankly as if I’d made the most nonsensical declaration she’d ever heard. Then she patiently explained to me that I was white – a fact she seemed to think had somehow eluded me.

Yes, yes, we have relatives who worked the underground railroad, she told me, but any white person whose family’s been in this country awhile is related to slave owners.

She hadn’t mentioned it before just as she hadn’t mentioned the sky was blue – it was obvious.

And yet there I was – a woman in my early 20s, just putting those pieces together.

There was a bit of a to-do last week about a certain actor who expunged his family’s slave-owning history from a genealogical documentary.

I can appreciate what he might have been thinking at the time – no, no, I’m not related to the bad guys.

Who would want to admit that?

The truth is, though, there is privilege even in that denial.

How many African Americans, do you suppose, who know their family has lived in this country for generations, tell themselves – no, no, my ancestors weren’t brought to this country as slaves.

Between 1525 and 1866, 12.5 million Africans were shipped to the New World with an estimated 450,000 Africans arriving in the United States over the course of the slave trade.

I’m not sure that’s a piece of their past they have the luxury of denying.

Not as easily as I can casually claim ignorance of my own family’s slave-owning past, at least.

It’s important to recognize this history. To accept it.

The truth is – I didn’t work on the underground railroad and I didn’t own slaves. Those people are in my history, but they are not me.

I can’t claim divinity from one relative’s actions while claiming absolution from another’s. I have to make my own path, make my own choices. Informed by my history but not bound by it.

Indeed, we are all shaped by our past – but we are not doomed to repeat it.

Are Young People Good Protesters?

It seems as though there’s been a quite, but steady stream of complaints about the way young people protest.

Even among progressives who are supportive of the cause, I commonly hear remarks about how today’s protests – orchestrated by today’s young people – are ineffective, poorly executed, or even damaging to the cause.

Millennials Can’t Even Protest Right, declares a Daily Beast article reflecting on a successful 1976 Title IX protest. Forbes asks, Are Millennials Lazy Or Avant-Garde Social Activists? And, of course, there is ongoing debate about whether young people are real activists or just, in the words of the New York Times, Tumblr activists.

NPR is far more generous, detailing how young people near Ferguson, Mo. used social media as a tool to “plan and participated in the most recent large protest.”

So, the jury is still out on the effectiveness of today’s activism, but for the moment, let’s play a little game – let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that no, Millennials can’t even protest correctly.

If that is indeed, the case, it begs the question – why not?

Those who argue most fervently against the effectiveness of young people seem predisposed against the generation – and I imagine they might summon reasons like:

Young people can’t protest correctly because they think social media is all you need.

Young people can’t protest correctly because they are too self-absorbed to see how their actions will impact others.

Or perhaps: Younh people can’t protest correctly because they are so entitled, they protest stupid things without even knowing how good they’ve got it.

But let’s try out another option – if it is indeed the case that young people can’t protest correctly –

Is it possible this is because our parents have failed us?

In Doug McAdam’s Freedom Summer his core argument is that the activism of the 60s and 70s was really launched by the white students who participated in 1964’s Freedom Summer.

In part, these young people were deeply radicalized by the experience – returning to their home states with a critical and politicized view of their lives.

But more practically, these young people were trained by their experience.

The movements of the 60s and 70s – those efforts which today’s elders declare so successful while sneering at the efforts of today’s youth – benefited tremendously and directly from SNCC organizing tactics developed in the 50s.

SNCC trained 1000 young people in their organizing techniques. Those young people used what they learned and became the leaders of the Free Speech Movement, the anti-war movement, the women’s liberation movement, and more.

Perhaps these movements were successful because someone had trained their leaders.

As a somewhat young person now looking back on this history, it seems that yesterday’s young people made a critical mistake –

After their battles were fought and their skirmish won, the thought the war was over.

We’re in a post-racial society. A post-sexist society. All our problems are solved.

There’s no need to train young people as organizers. No need to develop their skills in putting their passion for social justice to practical use.

We solved everything 40 years ago. And we figured it out ourselves.


If indeed today’s young people are terrible protestors, it’s their parents, their mentors, their elders who are at fault.

It is yesterday’s leaders who have failed us. Not today’s.

Time to Write

A friend of mine recently asked for advice on finding time to blog – on taking the ideas that percolate around in your head and actually getting them down on (virtual) paper.

It’s possible that I’m not the best person to respond to this question – I have been writing most of my life, and I journaled daily long before I took to a more public medium. So it does take me time to write, but it doesn’t take me that much time.

I typically spend 30 minutes to an hour on each post. Sometimes longer – particularly if my writing is punctuated by interruptions from other parts of my life. Which is always. (I’ve already walked away from this post three times, and I’m hardly three paragraphs in!)

More broadly, though, I find the issue of “time” to be a red herring.

That is, “I don’t have time,” is often a cover – at least for me – for other issues. Sometimes it simply means, “I don’t have time…because I am prioritizing other things.”

But for me the issue with writing is different. I love to write. I am happy to find time for it and to prioritize it in my life. And yet for years I told myself that I didn’t have time to write publicly.

For me, I’d say, there are two things that are hard about blogging.

The first is what I called the ego of public life in my inaugural post. Acting publicly – speaking publicly, writing publicly, existing in any way within the public sphere – takes agency. It’s not only feeling like you have something to say, but…feeling like you have a right to say it.

Like there’s a value to saying it.

A lot of people don’t have that. I know I didn’t.

There’s no reason to make time for an activity that has no value.

The second challenge is that blogging, as I’ve taken to saying, requires a willingness to be imperfect in public.

Writing is such a personal act. It’s a quiet art that bears your soul and tries to express it through a powerful, but ultimately imperfect, means.

I’ve been a prolific writer throughout my life, but until recently, I shared relatively little of that writing with others. When I did share a piece, it was only those few which I had worked on extensively – which I had written and rewritten until I felt they truly conveyed what I was trying to say.

There’s no luxury to do that when it comes to blogging.

Then you really won’t have the time. You can’t spend whole days on one post when you’ve got other things to do in life. You have to just write what comes out and hope for the best.

In the nearly two years I’ve been blogging, I’ve written a few posts that I’m really proud of, and I’ve written a fair number of posts that that I’m not too terribly embarrassed by. But I’ve also written a lot of posts scraped together from reused text or other things I’ve stumbled across.

A lot of days are just mediocre, but…I’d rather accept those days than miss out on the good ones.

That’s really hard to do. It’s really hard to not put your best foot forward, to do what you can and accept whatever comes out. It’s hard to be imperfect in public.

Those may be my own challenges. I imagine other people have issues of their own.

So I guess my advice to anyone wondering how to find the “time to write” is this –

Make a commitment to how often you will write and stick with it. No matter how you feel about the writing, stick to your commitment.

And spend some time thinking to yourself – what does it mean to not have the time? What are you prioritizing instead? What ideas or concerns about the process give you pause?

Figure out why you don’t have the time…then get over it.

(Or not. You know, whatever you’re in to. I won’t judge.)

Social Entrepreneurship

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend a discussion with three founders of social enterprises: Michael Brown of City Year, Abby Falik of Global Citizen Year, and Kirsten Lodal, LIFT.

Perhaps what was most striking was how these three entrepreneurs – at different stages of their life, managing organizations at different stages of growth – connected to each other and drew inspiration from each other.

Falik had talked to Brown when she was in business school and putting together the first pieces of the plan that became Global Citizen Year. Lodal’s path had been transformed by taking a bridge year – something Falik’s organization hopes will become the norm.

Brown had been working the longest of the bunch, having co-founded City Year with Alan Khazei in 1988.

All three spoke about their own path to service, as well as the transformation they hope to inspire within those who work with their organizations.

Brown had perhaps the most interesting metaphor – comparing what he called the “idealist’s journey” to Joseph Campbell’s “hero’s journey.” He spoke of idealism as a skill – as an ability to see the world differently and to think strategically about how to bring about that change.

He said we wants to institutionalize idealism.

Lodal spoke about the how critical broader public perception is – policy is important, she said, is actually downstream from culture.

Efforts to improve the world need to focus on perception, practice, and policy – changing the way the general public thinks about an issue as well as implementing policy to address that issue. The false concept of “welfare queens” has real damage to progress.

All three spoke about hitting a person’s “social justice nerve” through constant inspiration.

And perhaps most importantly, all three argued vehemently that an individual can be part of systems change – that each person must work in their own way to make the world better, and that slowly, bit by bit, those small changes lead to big changes. Important changes.

This work, they said, provides access to the miraculous.

Life or Death

Last week, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was found guilty on 30 counts related to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

The penalty phase of the trial begins today and may last for another four weeks. But the speculation has already begun: will Tsarnaev get the death penalty or life in jail?

To be honest, the death penalty seems unlikely.

I was surprised it was even an option since the State of Massachusetts found the practice unconstitutional in 1984.

Interesting, the reason given by the state supreme court at that time was that the death penalty “unfairly punishes defendants who choose to go to trial, since the death penalty could only be used after a guilty verdict at trial and not after a guilty plea.”

But, regardless of state policy, the Marathon bombing is a federal trial – making capital punishment an option.

In Boston, it’s not a popular option, though. A recent WBUR poll found that “only 31 percent of Boston area residents said they support the death penalty for Tsarnaev.”

Bill and Denise Richard, parents of the bombing’s youngest victim penned a compelling op-ed for the Boston Globe: “to end the anguish, drop the death penalty,” they wrote.

And they are not alone in speaking out in opposition to the death penalty. Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes, who both lost limbs in the blast, issued a joint statement on the topic, writing, “If there is anyone who deserves the ultimate punishment, it is the defendant. However, we must overcome the impulse for vengeance.”

So no, death is not popular.

And given that the jury needs to be unanimous in its call for the death penalty, that result seems unlikely.

But is that enough?

Should those of us who fancy ourselves New England liberals, who pride ourselves on our compassion and informed rationality – should we breath a sigh of relief if the Tsarnaev verdict comes back: LIFE IN PRISON.

Is that enough to calm our restless spirits? To convince ourselves that while Tsarnaev may be a monster, we are not monster enough to kill him.

Life in prison. A just sentence for a 21-year-old kid who killed four people and wounded dozens of others.

Or is it?

160,000 people are currently serving life sentences in the United States, including about 50,000 who have no possibility for parole.

The Other Death Penalty Project argues that “a sentence of life without the possibility of parole is a death sentence. Worse, it is a long, slow, dissipating death sentence without any of the legal or administrative safeguards rightly awarded to those condemned to the traditional forms of execution.”

The ACLU of Northern California states that “life in prison without the possibility of parole is swift, severe, and certain punishment.”

Mind you, that’s an argument for why life sentences should replace the death penalty. The death penalty is outdated – even barbaric by some standards. Life without the possibility of parole is cleaner, neater.

A death sentence comes with “years of mandatory appeals that often result in reversal” while life sentences “receive no special consideration on appeal, which limits the possibility they will be reduced or reversed.”

And best, yet, a life sentence allows us to pat ourselves on the back for a job well done: our judgement was harsh but humane.

Our prisoner will get no appeals while he lives in extreme isolation – cramped in a 7 x 9 cell and fed through a slot in the solid steel door.

But at least he will have his life. We are progressive after all.

There is something wrong with this dynamic.

I’m not sure what to recommend in the Tsarnaev trial – whether life or death is ultimately a worse fate.

But more broadly we need to rethink our options. We need to recognize the deep, systemic failures of our prison system and identify new strategies and options for reparation and justice. If we want to be harsh, we can be harsh, but let’s be honest about what we are and what we want from our punishments.

After all, if we’re quibbling over whether someone should die slowly or die quickly – we’re hardly arguing about anything at all.

Tisch College Names Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg New Director of CIRCLE

I am thrilled to share that my colleague Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg was recently named director of CIRCLE – Tisch College’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.

Kei is honestly one of the smartest people I know. With a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology with Specialization in Children and Families, she brings a critical development perspective to the work.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with her for nearly seven years and in that time I have learned so much from her insights. She is a true leader and I’m so excited to see the next phase of CIRCLE’s life.

You can read the formal announcement of her appointment here.


Celebrating Lisa Brukilacchio tonight at YUM

Tonight, the fabulous Lisa Brukilacchio will be honored at The Welcome Project’s YUM: A Taste of Immigrant City celebration. Lisa is one of those people who “knows everybody,” as her range of work and passion for the community brings her into many people’s orbits. Tonight she will be recognized with the Suzanne Sankar Founder’s Award, which is given to an outstanding individual or group who has served as a leader in building the collective power of Somerville area immigrants.

From The Welcome Project‘s website:

For over 30 years, Somerville resident Lisa Brukilacchio has worked to support immigrant communities in Somerville. Currently the Director of the Somerville Health Agenda of the Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA), Lisa says her passion for working with immigrants grew out of another love: gardening.

“I had a community garden plot on Tufts property the first summer I lived in Somerville, the summer of 1979, where I first met a lot of “real” people who lived in Somerville,” Lisa said, “Early on, it was mostly Greek and Italian neighbors who would engage with me around growing. Later, when I became more involved in doing outreach for community gardens, I met a couple from El Salvador, who got involved in the team building the garden along the bike path. ”

Through gardening and youth development work, Lisa met Rose Boardman, then director of The Welcome Project.

“I started working with kids from the Mystic Learning Center, including immigrant families who had plots at Mystic and Rose Boardman had me come and do some planting projects.” This work eventually grew into working with Somerville Housing Authority on a landscape training/jobs program for residents.  Meanwhile, over near Union Square, the Community Growing Center started up in 1993, where Lisa helped connect  others across the city interested in supporting youth development and cultural activities to highlight the many populations making Somerville their home.

“As a volunteer working in the city, I got to meet lots of people. I landed here for school, but when I got engaged with the community, I had an opportunity to interact directly with various communities,” Lisa explained. “There were a lot of young people who thought their only way out was the military. As part of coordinating out of school programs, we would spend time with youth, opening their minds to potential options. Working to provide experiential learning opportunities for youth, I met  other community leaders like Franklin Dalembert of the Somerville Haitian Coalition and other members of the Somerville Community Partnerships.  We sought to enrich the role of those kids through literally building a stronger, healthier community together through the process of building the Growing Center!”

This work also connected her with many different Somerville populations, including Haitian, Salvadoran, Tibetan, and Indian.

“It was really the commonality of gardens, growing food, and cultural connections to the earth which brought us together,” Lisa added. “A big part of this work, the mission of the Growing Center, is to bring people together in a safe space to share our different cultural traditions. Community gardens have a unique capacity to do that through providing chances for meaningful activity, community engagement and cultural exchange around growing food.”

Lisa brings this focus on immigrant communities to her work in healthcare as well.

“When I first started working In the healthcare field, a large number of the families I worked with were immigrants. Many had come over from Italy, like my own grandmother, some were political refugees and some had grandparents who were slaves in the rural south. I learned a lot from them all,” Lisa said. Later after working for the City of Somerville and for Tufts University, Lisa returned to healthcare at Cambridge Health Alliance.

“CHA comes to health care from a population health and community perspective. I’ve found so many colleagues who are committed to addressing health disparities and an institution that has served vulnerable populations for a long time.”

Lisa added that understanding people’s cultural background is a critical piece of health work.

“We all have different perspectives on what we want our lives to be – how you enjoy life, where you find pride, purpose and meaning. It’s so basic, so integral to a person’s well-being,” Lisa said. “Health care is really about trying to bridge our cultural understandings of wellness.”

The Welcome Project is thrilled to recognize Lisa Brukilacchio with the Suzanne Sankar Founders Award at the 2015 YUM: A Taste of Immigrant City celebration.