Adam Isacson

Defense, security, borders, migration, and human rights in Latin America and the United States. May not reflect my employer’s consensus view.



Back in El Paso

View from this morning’s jog.

Great to be back in El Paso again. I’m here until mid-July, almost to the end of my 2-month work sabbatical. Say hi if you see me at a café or taquería.

Within Six Months

I had to do a triple-take on this observation, from a recent On Being podcast episode about Hannah Arendt. The speaker is Arendt scholar Lyndsey Stonebridge:

I hadn’t realized this until I’d looked either, that in The New Yorker, between ’62 and ’63, the autumn of ’62 and the spring of ’63, three essays were published. One was Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Then that was followed by James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time. Then Hannah Arendt on the Eichmann Trial. Within six months. And with laying out with visionary precision, the poisonous master plots of contemporary life: violent racism, planet catastrophe, banality of evil, right in front of us.

Wow. Silent Spring, The Fire Next Time, and Eichmann in Jerusalem, all published within six months of the life of a print magazine.

If there’s an outlet that vital today, I don’t know about it. (I’d love to hear about it.)

Or maybe there are outlets, and individuals, out there today doing similar caliber work. If so, they’re no doubt being relegated to obscurity by “the algorithm” and by gatekeepers saying things like “nobody is going to read a 40,000-word piece.” I hope they keep on producing their best work in spite of all that.

Sabbatical, Day 9

I’m in the middle of week two of this two-month work sabbatical. I’d hoped that by now, I’d have had many moments of solitude and calm, as I caught up on reading and posted deep thoughts to this site.

There haven’t been a lot of deep thoughts posted here, and I haven’t been having many to begin with.

I recall that this happened the last time I had a sabbatical: I spent the first part catching up overdue projects that my regular schedule hadn’t allowed me to work on. It’s happening again.

This time, the main project is a long-suffering report. Back in October and November, I spent two weeks in Colombia (I posted many photos here at the time). I came back, got all my notes together, and then started writing about it. I worked bit by bit, section by section, whenever I had the chance to move the project forward.

As winter and spring passed, there were entire weeks—even some two-week periods—when I did not have that chance at all. It turns out that running a communications-heavy advocacy program about the U.S.-Mexico border and migration, during the highly charged 2024 election year, doesn’t lend itself to also writing an in-depth field research report about migration in Colombia.

Now that I’m on sabbatical, it’s finally happening. I’ve put in about 24 of the past 96 hours working on it, and today I handed off a polished draft to WOLA’s program and communications teams. It’s really nice to no longer say “the report is coming.”

It hasn’t been painless. What was a 16,000-word draft at the beginning of the weekend, with 170 footnotes, by Monday night was a 20,000-word draft with 242 footnotes. By today, I’d managed to whack it back to 14,500 words and 169 footnotes.

If you’ve never had to cut 5,000 words from a 20,000-word report, eliminating entire lines of research that you’d gathered from your fieldwork… well, I don’t recommend it. It’s brutal.

Between that and posting “daily border links,” I never made it outdoors at all today. (It was raining, anyway.)

But it’s great to have it behind me (except for suggestions and revisions). Being able to shut down much of the work over the past 10 days is what made it possible.

It still doesn’t really feel like a sabbatical, though.

Sabbatical, Day 4

May 23 was the first day of my two-month sabbatical that I got to spend entirely at home. In fact, it was the first day that I’ve spent fully at home since May 8. So in a sense, it felt like the first true day of the sabbatical.

I did quite a bit of work, though: a daily border links post, a draft of our weekly Border Update that will go out tomorrow, monitoring the Senate vote that once again killed the “Border Act” and its attempt to restrict asylum rights, and substantial progress on a nearly completed report about migration through Colombia.

The “sabbatical” difference was that I got to do all of that in my house while skipping some coalition meetings, turning off WhatsApp notifications, spending much of it writing in our little backyard with the birds and squirrels (it’s not too hot yet), and taking a nap in the middle of the day. I also made really good pizza from scratch, and we ate it over a bottle of wine.

Look at that pizza, I even made the crust from flour, salt, sugar, and yeast. You’d think you were in Naples, except for the pineapple.

Tomorrow will not be so becalmed. I’ve got two scheduled morning medical checkups (nothing wrong with me—I scheduled these months ago, this is what you do when you’re in your fifties) with “Border Update” posting in between. Also, a meeting with congressional committee staff.

But I should be back home, and in reading-writing mode, by mid-afternoon. That’s the plan, anyway.

Sabbatical, Day 2

I can’t really say that I’m in “sabbatical mode” yet, but I’m laying the groundwork, I suppose?

I’d stayed up a bit too late last night learning how to use Visual Studio Code and GitHub Copilot for my upcoming coding projects, and then I couldn’t stop myself from writing a data-heavy post about border trends. Knowing that I didn’t have to report to work the next day let me follow the topic wherever it took me, and by the time I looked up from my screen, it was 12:30 AM.

Though I was up later than on a regular work day, this morning otherwise looked like…a regular work day. I wanted to go through my news feeds and create a daily border links post because it’s impossible to look away from Senate Democrats’ deeply regrettable decision to move forward with asylum-restrictions legislation this week.

I also guest-taught a class of U.S. diplomats via Zoom. It was my second time trying out a 45-minute presentation about Latin America’s security challenges. The narrative flows across these topics:

  • The region’s chronic violence
  • Deforestation as an example of how laws are not enforced against the powerful and well-connected
  • What “impunity” means, and how impunity for official corruption tied to organized crime makes organized crime far harder to confront than insurgencies
  • How state absence from vast territories makes the problem even worse
  • Why a “pax mafiosa” is not progress, even if it lowers violence levels for a while
  • The solutions to violence that human rights groups and pro-democracy reformers propose: construction of a democratic security sector
  • A problem: my community’s proposed solutions can’t make people feel safer in six months. But some politicians offer short-term fixes to security
    • The “Bukele model” and why it may not work, and especially not in countries like Ecuador
    • Negotiations with armed and criminal groups, like gang pacts or Colombia’s “total peace”
  • Amid frustrations over short and long term timeframes, leaders (and U.S. policymakers) often content themselves with repeatedly pushing security challenges down to “manageable” levels
  • Where “manageability” falls apart (returning to the beginning) is deforestation and climate harm. There is no “manageable” level of that anymore.

While I’m on this sabbatical, I hope to polish this talk some more, then post a screencast delivering the narrative as audio over my slides.

After that talk, I spoke to a journalist about border trends for half an hour. Then I took my daughter out to the suburbs and sat in a cafe while she got a haircut. While in the cafe, I put out one of my weekly (OK, not quite “weekly”) emails to my mailing list.

I paid a quick visit to the grocery store after that, and upon returning home found on the doorstep some items that I’d ordered when I was in Medellín last week. I’m on a tight budget—non-profit salary, child at a private college—but had thought it would be worthwhile to set up a basic screen shelter and some sort of outdoor furniture in our tiny urban back yard.

More than two hours of assembly later, here it is. I now have an extremely rustic “writing shed” to work in during the coming months.

Yes I know, my back yard is a weedy mess. That’s a result of work deadlines, travel, family obligations on off-days, and a series of rainy weekends. I haven’t been here much when it’s nice out. I’ll clean it up during the sabbatical.

I’m writing in it now, and it’s just barely starting to feel, maybe, like I’m on sabbatical.

Tomorrow morning I’ll be working on some of the projects I’d discussed in my “sabbatical coming” post from last week. In the afternoon, though, I’ll be going to the Nationals baseball game with my mother and her husband, who live out in the suburbs. The weather is supposed to be perfect.

See also:

At a Migration Conference in Medellín

Here are a few things I learned from fellow panelists at today’s sessions of a migration conference at the Universidad de Antioquia in Medellín.

Me (back, 2nd from left) with some of the conferencistas.

  • The largest number of people traveling through the Darién Gap get their information about the migration route through word of mouth, followed by WhatsApp, followed by other social media, followed by more reliable sources like humanitarian groups.
  • Of all major Colombian cities, Medellín is where business owners report being least willing to hire migrants.
  • In Medellín’s north-central Moravia neighborhood, organized crime demands larger extortion payments from Venezuelan small business owners than from Colombians. Most Venezuelans in the neighborhood do not intend to stay in Colombia: they either want to return to Venezuela if things improve, or they plan to move on. So they tend to choose not to mix into community life.
Poor hillside neighborhoods in northeast Medellín’s Comuna 3.

  • Among Venezuelan migrants in Colombia, there is a strong correlation between being a woman and the likelihood of being a victim of violence, including sexual violence.
  • Many Venezuelan LGBTQ+ migrants are fleeing attacks and discrimination, especially trans people who have it very bad there. But they more often cite “sexual liberation” or the availability of medical treatments, like HIV retrovirals, as their reasons for coming to Colombia.
  • Armed and criminal groups causing a lot of displacement and cross-border migration along Colombia’s remote southeast border with Venezuela and Brazil include FARC dissidents’ 10th front, the ELN, Brazil’s Garimpeiros, Venezuelan “sindicatos,” and Venezuela’s armed forces. All are profiting from illicit precious-metals mining and other environmentally disastrous practices, principally on the Venezuelan side of the border and usually in Indigenous territories. States are either absent, or part of the problem.
An ibis crosses my path at the University of Antioquia.

Hallway graffiti at the University reminds us to “unite under Maoism” and “down with revisionism.”

Travel Day

Hello from the gate in Miami. Look forward to being back in Medellín, where I’m speaking at an academic conference on migration. It’s been a while since I’ve visited Colombia’s second-largest city.

Slowing Down

That’s it until July 22. I won’t be in my office for more than two months, unless I’ve forgotten something.

I won’t be around to see the little orchid in my office bloom, as it’s about to do.

I’m off to Medellín tomorrow morning for an academic conference about migration. I return Saturday. And on Monday, my two-month sabbatical begins.

WOLA gives us a sabbatical every five years: a time to reflect and work on other projects. My last one was in the fall of 2015. Between the pandemic and my procrastination on the “sabbatical proposal,” it’s taken me eight and a half years to start a new one.

I’m lucky to have it. This is a much different period of my life than last time.

  • Last time, I’d been doing this work for 20 years and was solidly mid-career; now, I’m entering my mid-50s and thinking about what may be my final 20 (25? 30?) years of doing this work.
  • Last time, I was raising a 6th grader; now, she has just finished sophomore year of college.
  • Last time, I did not travel. This time, I’m going to be in Medellín now, Bogotá in June, and El Paso for three weeks in June and July. The first two are conferences. The border visit is just me hanging out.

My work plan for 2024 called for focusing on communications. (How could it be otherwise: I work on borders and migration during the 2024 election year. There’s a lot to communicate.) If you follow this site, you’ve seen that reflected in daily and weekly border updates, other written and quantitative work, lots of social media, and perhaps some regular-media appearances.

That work has been going well: I think it’s been the right strategic choice. But this late spring-early summer interlude is very welcome.

Lately, a typical week has included at least a dozen interviews, a few coalition meetings, a few internal meetings, and 20-25 email and text replies per day, on top of the writing and updates. Work that requires deeper thought has been falling behind.

So I’m ready to at least log out of WhatsApp and miss some of those meetings. The border updates will be infrequent, too, though I don’t plan to shut them down entirely. (I’m still reading the news.)

Now that there’s a chance, though, there’s a lot to think about.

  • Instead of “rapid response,” engaging in more “slow response”: taking the time to explain what a better security and border policy would look like. That means exploring both the “I have a magic wand” version and the “most we can do within existing law” versions. Of course, we already try to articulate that in a lot of our work at WOLA, but in my view it’s often rushed (tight word limits) or shoved into “recommendations” sections that hardly anyone reads. We’re not doing enough to paint a picture for people, whether of “selling a dream” or just “pursuing the least bad option.”
  • Preparing—both big-picture strategy and day-to-day survival tactics—for the strong possibility that Americans elect an administration that stands against most of what I care about, and that will seek to use its power against us.
  • Addressing an adverse funding environment for this work lately. I don’t cost much, but we need to keep the lights on. (This ties in with “paint a picture for people” above.)
  • Figuring out how to catch up, or abandon, parts of the work that are chronically behind.
  • Giving a hard look at the whole “border numbers and regular updates” approach that has characterized so much that I’ve posted on this site this year. It’s been regular, it opens the door to key audiences like reporters, legislative staff, and partner organizations. It’s certainly an example of “doing the work.” But is it creative? Is it helping those partners and audiences in the best way? I don’t intend to run a news aggregation service: is there a danger of falling into a rut?
  • Anticipating how this work will change because of climate change. I fear that this may be a historic summer for the planet, and it’s going to affect nearly everyone’s work. What we saw in Porto Alegre last week could just be a preview. And if I’m wrong, just wait until next summer.
  • Taking advantage of being in El Paso and Ciudad Juárez for a while without a fixed agenda. Mexico’s crackdown on migration can’t hold for too much longer, and things are already quite bad there. And the State of Texas is making the situation far worse.

In addition to all these things to think about, I’ve got projects that I’m eager to pursue, but haven’t had the time.

  • During my last sabbatical, I learned a lot of coding (PHP, MySQL, and the now-antiquated jQuery javascript framework) and built a personal research database, parts of which I still use every day. This time, I’ll be fixing some bugs and features there.
  • But I really want to build a new tool. This one will ease some of WOLA’s legislative work by keeping track of congressional offices and how we’ve worked with them. Years ago, I made a really primitive, bug-ridden version of that; I’ll be starting over from scratch and sharing it on GitHub as I go.
  • I also have a report on migration in Colombia that is nearly done: 16,000 words (which is too much), hundreds of footnotes. It needs some updating, and it will probably undergo a lot of internal edits and revisions before it goes public. It’s really good, though, and I look forward to releasing it.
  • I’m writing a chapter for a colleague’s book about drug policy. I’ve got the research in hand, so this won’t take too long.
  • I also want to get our “Border Oversight” database of CBP and Border Patrol human rights challenges back up to date.
  • I want to get my own archives and notes in order, with more of them visible to the public in a new subdomain at this site (something similar—though less ambitious—to those “digital gardens” that a few smart people have been creating). Keeping that together will ease my posting of more content at this site and elsewhere.
  • Here at this site, I hope to post more thoughts more often. My “sabbatical reflecting” will be much richer with a journal to record thoughts and observations. That would also help me to recall this period later, when I’m back in the day-to-day fray. (I didn’t do that during my last sabbatical, and my memories, sadly, are a blur.) This long-winded post is an effort to do that.

I know this is a lot. I’m not going to beat myself up if I don’t do all of these things, and I certainly don’t want to finish the sabbatical more tired than I started it. But if I spend this time well, I’ll emerge able to contribute more, and more creatively, for many years.

Finally, all of this means that you should not take it personally if I don’t answer your email right away, or if I end up ghosting your WhatsApp message or missing your DM. This is why I’m in “slow response” mode, and I’ll be back soon enough.

Back in Washington

We’ve successfully driven back to Washington from Massachusetts today, after successfully picking up our daughter at college, where she succeeded in completing her second year. So much success.

Somewhere in Connecticut, I think. It wasn’t my turn to drive.

Traffic wasn’t bad, and weather was mostly decent, in the northeastern United States today. America really does have an incredible amount of roads. And an incredible amount of people in cars, few of whom know that they’re not supposed to drive slowly in the leftmost lane.

It was too distant to get a picture, but for a moment driving through Baltimore we got a view of the ruins of the Key Bridge. It looks just like the photos in the news—and weeks later, the boat that hit it is still sitting there, right at the impact spot.

In New Jersey, we stopped for lunch with an old friend and his family. (I grew up in New Jersey and attended my town’s public schools from kindergarten all the way through high school.) For some reason, my friend had saved a 35-year-old copy of the high school English department’s “literary magazine.”

I have no memory of writing this incredible bummer of a poem. Nowadays, I feel at least a bit better about my fellow humans: let’s give some credit for art, literature, music, science, philosophy, and similar triumphs. But there are still days when this poem is on the nose.

Ten and a half hours after we’d left our hotel in Massachusetts, we arrived home and unpacked just as a rainstorm was ending. Check out that rainbow.

College Pick-Up

Hello from Massachusetts. I’m now the proud dad of a kid who is officially halfway through college. Wellesley College has treated her well, but she won’t be back here until 2025 because she’ll be studying abroad (in Asia, not Latin America) in the fall.

Parents in minivans and SUVs (mostly rented, like us) were helping empty out the dorms, where most kids were being kicked out today. At least the weather was pleasant. We’re back to Washington tomorrow.

(Her response on Israel/Gaza has hurt the on-campus popularity of the college’s best-known alum.)

WOLA Hits 50

The Washington Office on Latin America celebrated 50 years since its founding last night. As someone who spent the past 14 of those years with WOLA, I was delighted to be on hand at a party with 400 people, all living former directors, and 3 inspiring human rights awardees.

The most moving moment was the acceptance speeches from the Collectives of Searchers for Disappeared Relatives of Guanajuato, Mexico. I couldn’t help but feel rage at the callous treatment they and other victims’ groups have received from Mexico’s government, which most of us thought would be an ally to them, helping to achieve justice and closure, after Andrés Manuel López Obrador was elected six years ago. What a disappointment.

Left to right, the directors of WOLA’s programs for Venezuela and Mexico (Laura Dib and Stephanie Brewer); President Carolina Jiménez; VP for Programs Maureen Meyer; Drug Policy Program Director John Walsh; and me, towering over everyone like André the Giant.

I was home before midnight, then up four hours later to fly to Massachusetts to pick up my daughter at college. That’s where I’m writing from right now.

A truly great night.

Upcoming Sabbatical, Projects, and Travels

This site has been quiet this week. It will remain so for a bit longer, then I expect to be posting way more than usual.

In about half an hour, I’m headed downtown to WOLA’s 50th anniversary celebration and human rights award dinner. I’m looking forward to seeing dozens of people I’m very fond of, and whom I haven’t seen in a long time.

Tomorrow, I’m off to Massachusetts to pick my kid up at college (sophomore year, incredibly, is over). On the way back, I’ll be seeing an old high school friend in New Jersey, where I grew up.

Then on Tuesday, I’m off to Medellín for three days, to participate in a conference on migration at Colombia’s National University.

When I return a week from Saturday, things get interesting. I’ve got a two-month sabbatical. (WOLA encourages staff to take sabbaticals every five years; in my case, it’s been eight and a half years.)

I’ll be traveling to Bogotá for a few days in June for the LASA Congress, and to El Paso for three weeks in June and July for a “change of scene.”

Both while traveling and while at home, I want to do some deep thinking and also some work on a “coding project” that I’ll discuss here along the way. Actually, it’s two coding projects, but I’ll see how much I manage to accomplish. Like a carpenter who makes his own hammers, I’m fashioning tools that will help me do my work better when I come back.

During those two months, once I catch up on all the accumulated sleep deprivation, I expect to have a lot more unstructured time than usual. That means I’ll be harder to reach, because a sabbatical full of meetings and emails isn’t a sabbatical at all.

I’ll be posting to this site often, though. One idea I’ve had, which I’m not ready to commit to, is to post an original entry every evening, so that I can have a record of this mid-career time “out of the fray.” Those records and ruminations may be of more value to me than to readers, but I guess that’s the whole point of running a personal website.

So be warned, for a couple of months this site may depart dramatically from the “daily border links” and “infographics” groove that it has slipped into lately. I look forward to spending more time here.

A “Summarizer and Archiver” GPT

If you have a paid ChatGPT subscription, here’s a “GPT” I’ve made that gives you a bullet-pointed summary of an article or report, in Markdown format (plain text with simple formatting notation, which is easy to archive and share).

These are the instructions I’ve given it (which I think I’m done tweaking, but maybe not yet):

Summarizer and Archiver is designed to assist with summarizing lengthy articles and reports on topics such as security, defense, human rights, and migration in Latin America and the Caribbean. Summaries follow a structured format, beginning with the principal argument, including supporting findings, conclusions, and recommendations, and formatted as bullet points with boldfaced phrases. An approximate guideline is five bullet points for the supporting findings and conclusions section, though the number could be greater or fewer as warranted. Additionally, up to 10 consistent tags are suggested for archiving. The communication style is formal, ensuring consistency in language for ease of future search and archival. Responses are provided in blocks of Markdown code for ease of sharing.

I just ask the GPT to summarize an article or report, which is either an uploaded PDF attachment or copy-pasted text. (For added clarity, I put the pasted text between <article></article> tags.)

Here’s the result when I fed it a March 10 El País interview, in Spanish, with Chilean President Gabriel Boric:

- **Principal Argument**: Chilean President Gabriel Boric reflects on his tenure, emphasizing his commitment to addressing the country's pressing issues, such as improving pensions, stimulating economic growth, and tackling crime, despite facing challenges such as low approval ratings and the failure of constitutional reform attempts.

- **Supporting Findings and Conclusions**:
  - **Constitutional Reform Efforts**: Boric acknowledges the failure of two constitutional reform attempts but views them as learning opportunities rather than losses, underscoring the importance of updating the constitution eventually.
  - **Economic and Social Priorities**: He outlines his administration's focus on economic recovery, reducing poverty and inequality, improving public education, and addressing security as top priorities, with significant legislation passed to enhance security and police forces.
  - **Political Landscape**: Despite challenges, including high disapproval rates and the impact of political scandals, Boric remains optimistic about his government's progress and the tangible improvements in Chile's social and economic indicators since taking office.
  - **International Relations and Political Ideology**: Boric distances himself from authoritarian regimes and emphasizes the importance of a progressive government working in unity with the center-left to improve citizens' quality of life, contrasting his administration with right-wing movements in Latin America and globally.
  - **Future Outlook and Legacy**: He discusses his hopes for Chile's future, including the continuation of progressive policies and the development of a long-term coalition for progressive governance, while personally not aspiring for a second presidential term.

- **Recommendations**: Boric suggests that continued efforts to improve economic conditions, enhance security, and address social issues will be crucial in countering the rise of the far-right and maintaining democratic stability. He also emphasizes the need for political unity and the adaptation of progressive principles to meet current challenges.

- **Tags**: #Chile, #GabrielBoric, #Presidency, #ConstitutionalReform, #EconomicGrowth, #Security, #PoliticalChallenges, #ProgressiveGovernance, #InternationalRelations, #FutureOutlook

I now add long articles and reports to my personal archive with these summaries first. I’ve done this dozens of times in the past few weeks, and it’s working well. Hope you find it useful.

Young Fathers Live on KEXP

I was enjoying Young Fathers’ latest album. Then last night, I watched this and immediately got on my phone and bought tickets for when they come through Washington in April.


Saturday afternoon, holiday market in downtown Washington DC.


A lamppost with its light on, even though it's daytime. Cloudless sky, trees with yellow and browning leaves on a city street.
Late fall in Washington, DC’s LeDroit Park neighborhood.

Where I’m Posting These Days (Not Twitter)

My Twitter account is now dormant. It’s not fun walking away from a platform where more than 16,000 people follow you. But remaining on that platform is even less fun, and no longer defensible.

The thought process behind my decision to leave is in the table at the bottom of this post. From now on, I’ll still check Twitter for news that I might not see elsewhere, mainly the accounts on a private “news posters” list that I maintain. But I don’t plan to post content, or to like or retweet content that I see.

I’m still posting lots of things, though. I’m just doing it elsewhere.

Here’s where you can find me.

  • This site, which I’ll be improving over the coming months.
  • At Mastodon, I post very often on a micro-small instance that I pay for myself (using
  • On Threads, where I’m getting into the habit of sharing things, but so far, with little original content that can’t be found elsewhere:
  • On, again with very little original content unavailable elsewhere:
  • On Tumblr, where I’ve been at for many years. That’s mostly reposts of things I’ve put here.
  • On Bluesky, where I’m infrequently posting what passes for humor, little of it work-related:
  • On Medium, where I’ll occasionally share longer-form things that usually appear here first:
  • At WOLA’s web page, where links to recent work are at the bottom of this page, under “Adam’s Work.”
  • WOLA’s Border Oversight page also has constantly updated sections documenting abuses, sharing infographics, and linking to reports.

I’m trying to do it as much as possible on platforms I own, and copying it elsewhere. (What the IndieWeb folks call POSSE, “Publish [on your] Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere.”) At those “elsewhere” platforms, I’m still figuring out what makes them different, if anything.

I’ve also been posting a bunch of shorter videos over the past several weeks. I’m sharing them at some experimental accounts for video content:

Then there are some platforms I’m neglecting but where I at least try to “keep the lights on” from time to time:

Why leave Twitter?

Reasons to stay Reasons to go
  • I have a good follower count that includes a lot of people who I’d want to read and be aware of my work.
  • No other platform has anywhere near the same follower count or view count for most of my posts.
  • Journalists, government officials, and NGO colleagues do continue to use it. While this is declining, reporters will still often get in touch because they saw a tweet.
  • Some argument along the lines of “we can’t let the bad billionaire win, we need to protect this space.” (This particular train may have left the station by now.)
  • Elon Musk’s promotion of abhorrent views is intolerable. The “ick factor” is off the charts. What am I contributing content to here? I should’ve gone when he was attacking trans people, and I’m sorry for staying. Attacking the Anti-Defamation League is the final straw for me.
  • Elon Musk’s treatment of people who work for the company he purchased is vile.
  • Probably because I don’t pay $8 per month, the number of people who see my tweets has declined sharply. I have 16,900 followers but tweets routinely get less than 1,000 views. Why stay when you’re being throttled?
  • I don’t own or control my space at Twitter, which makes it less worth my time.
  • Barriers to third-party API access have made Twitter much less useful. For work-related activity, shutting off RSS access made Twitter a lot less useful.
  • It’s just not “cool,” you know? I’m far from the coolest person in the world, but I like to spend my scarce time in places that have that ineffable quality. And Twitter today is the opposite of that. Not cool at all.

The Beths, 9:30 Club, Washington DC, March 4

Great to see New Zealand’s The Beths, an indie-pop group at the height of their powers, at a sold-out 9:30 Club in Washington.

A much larger space than where I last saw them, in October 2018 at the Songbyrd Music Hall basement in Adams Morgan, which has since moved to a bigger and far better space. Here, my view of lead singer / guitarist Elizabeth Stokes was obscured by a post.

“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.

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

Back to the Border

I’m writing on a plane to San Diego. I’ll be spending the rest of the week there and in Tijuana, meeting lots of people whom I either haven’t seen in a long time or am looking forward to meeting for the first time.

There’s a lot to talk about here.

  • Border Patrol and CBP accountability issues
  • How might asylum processing work if Title 42 ends
  • Lessons from the rapid processing of 20,000 Ukrainians
    • Situation of remaining Ukrainians
  • What is happening with all other nationalities who are awaiting a chance to seek asylum?
    • What became of those cleared from the Chaparral Plaza encampment?
    • What is becoming of those forced to “Remain in Mexico” in Tijuana?
    • What nationalities are coming to Tijuana in greatest numbers now?
    • Are shelters keeping up / coping?
  • There are now long-term immigrant communities in Tijuana, especially the Haitians who settled starting in 2016. How are they faring?
  • The security situation in Tijuana seems dire. Lots more military being deployed. What is happening?

Big WOLA border project drops tomorrow

Tomorrow we’re launching a big new WOLA oversight resource about the border. I’ve been working on it for a while. It’s a site presenting a database of hundreds of recent credible allegations of human rights abuse and other improper law enforcement behavior at the U.S.-Mexico border.

It will also include a library of recommended reports and reading about the border, and 50 infographics about the border that I’ve produced over the past couple of years.

No link yet—I’m spending the day doing finishing touches and combing for errors. Stay tuned for more tomorrow.

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.

I’ll take it

Delighted that the sun is setting after 5:00PM once again, here in Washington. Up in New York it’s still 4:46.

Snow day

Washington is having its largest snowfall since I think 2019. Here’s what a walk around the neighborhood looks like.

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