Adam Isacson

Still trying to understand Latin America, my own country, and why so few consequences are intended. These views are not necessarily my employer’s.


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Join me on Mastodon

Now that it’s April, it seems like Twitter is determined to start downgrading those of us who don’t pay for blue checkmarks, making it harder for people to see our posts.

If you’re on Twitter, doing similar work, and looking for alternatives: I’m having a fine time with Mastodon, with uses a free and open protocol. However, it could use more people. I follow 127 people and can read an entire day’s posts in less than half an hour.

One thing that stops new people from joining is that they don’t know which server to sign up with. It’s a big stumbling block.

I had that problem. I was on the original “” server, which was absolutely fine, but when you clicked on “local timeline”—the combined posts of all members—you saw posts from thousands of people about infinite topics. Not useful.

So I started a server a couple of months ago, hosted at, which I called

(“Little Mastodon,” get it? “” sounded too much like mastoditis, which a nasty infection. “Little elephant” worked better.)

So far, I’ve been the only one on, as I get used to running it. Now, I’m pretty used to it. But when I click on “local timeline,” I only see my own posts.

The ideal would be to click on “local timeline” and see updates from many people working on or interested in similar things: human rights, arms control, peacebuilding, democracy, migration, environmental justice, racial justice, gender justice, LGBTQ+ rights, and similar work.

I’d enjoy that. If you’re a reader here, you’re welcome to apply to join. One advantage of a new server is that you can choose any username you want (“”), since “@adam” is the only one that’s taken so far.

If you decide to switch servers later, you can take your followers and follows with you. But you can’t take your past posts. (You can’t expect a new server administrator to host your history, some of which could include posts that violate their guidelines.)

I’ll accept anyone whom I know—or know of—and who I believe shares similar interests/values.

I can’t let just any stranger join, though, because I don’t know if a stranger might post of harmful or abusive things. Keeping it to “people in the community or adjacent” minimizes the likelihood that I’ll have to spend too much time moderating.

Here’s what the signup form looks like. the “why I want to join” field is optional, but helpful if we don’t know each other.

Hosting this costs me $10/month right now, apparently for capacity to host 20 people. I can pay for that easily enough. But if a lot of people join and I have to upgrade to a more expensive plan, I might hit you up for a few bucks.

Just something to consider.

Here’s the list of people I follow right now on Mastodon whose work involves “migration.” Not a lot of voices yet, but some good ones.

The Job of the Online Troll and Propagandist

It often happens on social media: you point out the devastating human cost of a policy that’s popular in some quarters. The response—whether from a troll army or from a leading propagandist—comes fast.

When that happens, remember: the responders aren’t talking to you. They’re not trying to convince you of anything.

The audience is readers on their own side. More specifically, any readers on their side who might feel a pang of conscience. Thousands of innocent people locked away? Small children expelled to countries where they’ll be vulnerable orphans? The steady advance of de-democratization?

That sort of thing, when you point it out, may make at least some of these policies’ and leaders’ supporters feel queasy. Your message may plant a seed of doubt with some of them.

The job of the troll and the propagandist is to dig up that seed and destroy it. To find a rationalization, however false, that eases the pain bubbling up in some followers’ conscience. Making the voice of doubt appear ridiculous, so that everyone on “their side” stays in line.

The job of the troll and the propagandist is not to debate you. You are not the audience. So don’t bother engaging them.

Amazing thing I read this morning

Do you ever wake up too early to get up, but too late to go back to sleep, and end up reading Wikipedia? That happened to me today, and I found this.

Screenshot of linked article excerpt:

"NASA announced in 2017 that it plans to send a spacecraft to Alpha Centauri in 2069, scheduled to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the first manned lunar landing in 1969, Apollo 11. Even at speed 10% of the speed of light (67 million mph), which NASA experts say may be possible, it would take a spacecraft 44 years to reach the constellation, by the year 2113, and will take another 4 years for a signal, by the year 2117 to reach Earth.[138]"
From Wikipedia’s “Alpha Centauri” entry.

Maybe my grandchildren, if they exist and live that long, will see up-close images of another solar system.

“Eight Marvelous & Melancholy Things I’ve Learned About Creativity”

From Mathew Inman, creater of the webcomic The Oatmeal, a wonderful set of illustrated reflections about what’s worked for him over 10 years of creative work.

The advice here is equally applicable to those of us whose work may be less “creative” but still involves a rapid tempo of trying to explain and illustrate things to people, and a lot of online communication. (Work like, for instance, trying to make people care about Title 42, aerial herbicide fumigation, or military aid to authoritarian-trending governments.)

Highly recommended, and as funny as Inman’s snarky comic.

Off today

It’s a national holiday here in the United States, and we have a family visit today. I’ll be away from the keyboard for much of the day and unable to respond to messages until, probably, late afternoon.

Back at work

Holiday break is over. Jury duty is over (they almost picked me for a week-long civil trial, but chickened out). I’m back at the job, full time.

Here’s a nice live version of New Zealand’s The Beths playing “Expert in a Dying Field”:

Traveling this week

I’m flying overnight to Chile, where I’ll be participating in a conference on security in the Americas (which will be livestreamed) organized by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. I haven’t been to Chile in about seven or eight years, and am looking forward to being in Santiago again.

I won’t be posting things here regularly this week, but will resume normal tempo the week of the 31st.

2 weeks of vacation

I’m out until after U.S. Labor Day (until September 6). Because there’s a lot to do during these weeks—a major wedding anniversary, dropping my only child off to start college, giving my first class at GW University—I’ll be difficult to reach. Unless it’s really screamingly urgent, I’d appreciate you waiting until September 6 to contact me. Thanks!

In the classroom this fall

By the end of this weekend, I’ll have completed a draft syllabus for Security in the Americas, a course I’ll be teaching every Monday evening this fall at George Washington University.

There is a lot to talk about: the list of topics I want to cover is about 50% longer than the number of class sessions. Also, I’ve got so much great work archived in my database, it will take me a while to select just a few readings for each session. I also have to figure out how to engage and evaluate everyone.

I’ve guest-lectured countless classes, but have never taught an entire course. In fact, I haven’t been affiliated with a university since I received my M.A. in 1994. So, apologies in advance to the students who’ll be watching me figure things out in real time.


If we must all agree, all work together, we’re no better than a machine. If an individual can’t work in solidarity with his fellows, it’s his duty to work alone. His duty and his right. We have been denying people that right. We’ve been saying, more and more often, you must work with the others, you must accept the rule of the majority. But any rule is tyranny. The duty of the individual is to accept no rule, to be the initiator of his own acts, to be responsible. Only if he does so will the society live, and change, and adapt, and survive. We are not subjects of a State founded upon law, but members of a society founded upon revolution. Revolution is our obligation: our hope of evolution.

Ursula K. LeGuin, The Dispossessed

Well that sucks

Well, that’s it. I’m officially the first in my immediate family to get COVID. Though I was one of the 20% or so of passengers to keep his mask on, I blame my flights home from the San Diego border region last Friday.

Symptoms are very mild so far: no fever, some stuffy nose, infrequent cough. Like a moderate cold. I plan to continue much work remotely, but with more rest breaks, as long as it remains this mild.

San Diego Yesterday

Had a good day of meetings in San Diego yesterday with border rights and migration advocates, none of whom I’d seen in person since before the pandemic, and some whom I was very happy to meet for the first time.

No interesting photos of me sitting in meetings, so here’s a photo of the Pacific Ocean instead. It was also my first glimpse of the Pacific since before the pandemic.

We’re spending today in Tijuana.

Makes sense

90% of everything is crap. If you think you don’t like opera, romance novels, TikTok, country music, vegan food, NFTs, keep trying to see if you can find the 10% that is not crap.

Kevin Kelly’s “103 Bits of Advice I Wish I Had Known

I’m writing this in a space not owned by a billionaire

  • If I write something on this site and it gets mediocre traffic, 200 people will see it.
  • If I record a podcast for my employer (I prefer “chosen community of colleagues”) and it gets a mediocre number of downloads, 800 people will download it.
  • If I write something on the website of my chosen community of colleagues, and it gets mediocre traffic, 1,000 people will see it.
  • If I post something to my Twitter account and it performs in a mediocre way, 2,000 people will see it. (If it does well, a quarter million people might see it.)

That’s badly backwards, isn’t it? The platform that does the best for me, in terms of “reaching audiences,” is the one that neither I nor my colleagues own.

Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter for $44 billion (imagine how thoroughly infant mortality could be eradicated with $44 billion) is a bright, flashing reminder of how that needs to change.

We should be creating in spaces that we own, not in spaces run by oligarchs for marketers. Those others’ spaces should be more for conversations (hopefully constructive ones) about what we’ve developed elsewhere, in our own spaces.

My personal goal from this point forward to even out the imbalance between the numbers in that bulleted list above. A lot of that means being less lazy: sending a tweet is easier, by design, than writing an open-ended bunch of words like I’m doing now.

I guess I’m just repeating the now overplayed advice to “bring back the blog.” (The format doesn’t necessarily need to be a textual blog, of course.) But I think that advice is still generally right. We should own our ideas and words, and limit Elon Musk’s and Mark Zuckerberg’s properties to being places where we point to, and discuss, ideas and words developed elsewhere.

That’s all to say, expect to see more of me here and less of me on Twitter. Thanks, Elon, for the reminder.

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