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Yonatan Zunger
Writer and Engineer. I helped build this network, long ago...
Writer and Engineer. I helped build this network, long ago...


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Overnight the President appears to have entered an EO directing ICE to refuse to accept asylum claims from people entering the country illegally.

If so, this is a direct breach of international treaties on asylum-seekers. The 1951 treaty (and its 1967 addendum) have language on this subject, and in 2001 a UNCHR roundtable of legal experts reached the conclusion that signatories could not reject asylum applications out-of-hand from people who crossed a border illegally.

Of course, it'd only take what, two or three years to get this EO challenged and struck down in court… (sarcasm, obviously)
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Updated: Immigration judges do not appear to be immediately affected, which means it's only the basic rule of law being attacked, rather than also the last remaining safeguards on immigration law.

This week there was a quiet change of tremendous significance in the way the US government works.

Many things that look like courts in the US aren't actually ordinary courts: they're "administrative law courts," part of a parallel legal system that specializes in particular areas of the law. This includes most of securities law, environmental reviews, FCC rules, and nearly anything requiring a decision to be made by a regulatory body.

Unlike normal federal courts, administrative law judges aren't part of the Judicial Branch; they're part of the Executive Branch. Many other aspects of these courts differ a great deal - especially in terms of due process, which has a very different (and much weaker) definition in these courts. For example, there's no right to counsel or to a translator, even in an immigration court.

What holds these courts together is that administrative law judges, by and large, take their jobs incredibly seriously. In many ways, their job is harder than that of traditional Article III judges: absent the normal guarantees of process, it's their attention, control over process, and care that make their courts function at all.

On Tuesday, Trump issued an executive order changing this. Administrative law judges will no longer be selected by competitive examination, and subject to civil service protections; instead, all new ALJs are now political appointees, who can be replaced or fired at will.

While the order doesn't affect existing judges, it allows nearly infinite court-packing.

I previously believed that this would also affect immigration judges, which would potentially be the most serious case of all: any judge who failed to "get with the program" could instantly be replaced. But I've heard some good information that immigration judges, at least for the moment, aren't affected by this.

This is sure to be challenged in court: the appointment status of these judges was set by the Administrative Procedure Act of 1946, which would imply that an executive order can't change that. But I'm not even remotely an expert on this chunk of the law, and it's hard to guess how this will pan out.

But this is extremely serious: it's a direct assault on the rule of law.
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I've heard a lot of discussion about Universal Basic Income and Job Guarantees of late. Some of it seems like a good idea, but I've also seen some very thoughtful critiques (from both the Left and the Right) which have convinced me that neither is quite what we're looking for.

I spent some of a lazy Sunday evening thinking about this some more, where these ideas succeed and fail, and what some of the building blocks of a better solution might look like. Here's where I am right now — and I should warn you that far from being a perfect answer, these are preliminary thoughts, still uncertain and subject to much revision as we continue to discuss.
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Every time I see this picture it looks like Darth Vader is just off-screen, force-choking her.
He showed up to a rally to defend immigrants. ... She showed up too, in her MAGA hat, and screamed, “You are going to be the first deported" ... " dirty Mexican!”
He is 14 years old. She is an adult. Make the picture black and white and it could be the 1950s and the desegregation of a school. Hate is real, y’all. It hasn’t even really gone away.
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"What does it mean, 'the process is the punishment'?"

That the American system of justice is so broken that a guilty plea is in many ways a better option than a verdict of not guilty.

Let's say that I'm involved in a shooting. I claim self defense: the government claims I was motivated by animus. My lawyer is very certain we can meet our burden of proof for my affirmative defense. The prosecutor also knows he can't prevail at trial. Unfortunately, there's some reason that putting me in the slammer is in the prosecutor's best interests: maybe he's running for re-election on a gun control platform and I used one of those evil black AR-15s, whatever.

The prosecutor makes me a deal: he'll allow me to plead an Alford ("I didn't do it but I want to take advantage of the government's plea deal") to criminally negligent homicide with a two-year sentence recommendation. It lets him walk away with a technical win just ahead of his re-election campaign and I get out of minimum security in two years. I can do that standing on my head and I know it.

My lawyer is screaming at me to not take the deal. I'm innocent, after all. Of course, defending my case will cost about $500,000. (That's not an unrealistic number, incidentally: for violent deaths you're looking at about a quarter million minimum, and it only goes up from there. That's the number my real-life, non-hypothetical attorney cited me when I asked what I'd be looking at for bills in a straightforward case of justifiable homicide: $250,000 just to take me to the trial date, and it only goes upwards from there.)

On the one hand I can pay $500,000 and walk away from it a free man, or I can forsake two years of income, reduce my lifetime earning potential, and hit pause on my life for two years. That would be a hard, hard choice for me. On balance, after a lot of thought and consideration, I tell my lawyer to take it to the jury. I'm a free man, but I'm now $500,000 in debt: it's unlikely I'll live long enough to fully pay off the bill.

Maybe I made the wrong call.

The process is the punishment. We like to think punishment starts only once the jury has found you guilty, but the reality is punishment starts at the moment of arrest.

One more thing to consider: my calculus made it a really close call. I make pretty good money and the prospect of losing two years of income, plus future earning potential, is what made going to trial and getting a not-guilty verdict worthwhile.

How would it change if I was a lower middle class guy working at a $15/hr job making $30,000 a year? I can pay $500,000 to walk away a free man and know that for the rest of my life I will never, ever, ever break out of poverty... or I can take the deal. I'm giving up two years of my life, some future earnings, and $60,000 of income. That's so much better than $500,000 to be a free man that the two aren't even in the same ballpark.

The process is the punishment: and the lower you are on the socioeconomic ladder, the more the process punishes.
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There's nothing I can add here. h/t to +blanche nonken for sharing it.
Every day I learn something new on the internet, that history lessons in school never taught me.
Today my lesson was: "Why are there no black people in Argentina?"
..... My head is spinning...


"As I watched the Argentina and Iceland match today and wondered why there were no black players in the Argentinean team when other South American teams had black or biracial players, I remembered a conversation I had last year.

It was while I was on a cruise from Florida to the Grand Cayman Islands in the Caribbean.

Between an Argentinean doctor and myself, who had walked up to me during lunch one day and struck up a conversation with me.

There was no hiding the attraction.

We had bonded much to the chagrin of her three Argentinean friends.

On the deck of the ship that day, she kept going on about how she loves black men and looks forward to traveling so she can meet them.

I asked her.

"Don't you have black people in Argentina?"

She said with a matter of fact candour.

"No. Long time ago, after slavery, we killed them all."

I was taken aback.

She smiled.

And continued.

"Very bad. I am ashamed of my people. It was very systematic though. Very well thought out. First they forced most of the men to fight for Argentina against Paraguay. They knowingly sent them into battles that were poorly planned so that the Paraguay army will do for them what they couldn't themselves do. Kill the blacks. Most of them died there. The remaining of them they forced to live in this province were there was a plague. A disease that the government refused to curb so that it can also do for them what they couldn't do. Kill the blacks. The refused to set up hospitals, clinics, adequate shelter, food outlets, nothing. They created the best environment for the disease to thrive. It killed the rest of the men that had survived the war. The darker you are, the higher the chance they will send you to that place to live or to the war to die. The lighter skinned women they forced them to sleep with the white men, so that their children are biracial, then they forced the children when they grew older to sleep with white men, so that the blackness of the skin of the children became whiter and whiter until there was no longer any visibly black people seen. It was so bad that blacks fled to Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil and even Paraquay where they were better treated even though not as well as they should be treated as human beings deserving full equality. Atleast those ones did not want to kill them and accepted to give them protection and a means of livelihood. As a matter of fact in Chile, there was a city called Arica where Black people were so accepted and respected that in the 1700s two black free man, one called Anzuréz were elected mayors. But the white colonial masters from Spain came six months later and nullified the elections, they were afraid of other cities giving black people too many rights. But the blacks who had found succour did not complain, they sent word for others to flee Argentina and come join them. Afterall what was cancelled elections compared to certain death?"

Then she went silent as though trying to replay the magnitude of the crime in her mind again. Then she said it in a sombre tone in order to drive it home to me.

"The ones the Argentineans did not kill through war or disease, and rape and impregnate, fled the country and ultimately we got rid of the blacks."

I listened in rising sorrow.

She continued academically.

"So although they abolished slavery in 1815 in Argentina, it continued until 1853, after that the main preoccupation of the leaders was how to get rid of the black slaves and their descendants. Our president who ruled us from 1868 to 1874, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, wrote in his diary in 1848, this was long before he became president and slavery ended that - 'In the United States… 4 million are black, and within 20 years will be 8 million…. What is to be done with such blacks, hated by the white race?' - It shows that he was already thinking of how to eliminate black people before he became President and when he became President, he succeeded."

"Didn't the world say anything?"

"No. They ignored it. I am sure most of them wanted to do the same thing but failed. At that time, they admired them. I remember when I will go to Brazil as a child, my father's friend will say in disgust as he looked at the black Brazilians - we should have had your guts and finished them off. All of them. Make Brazil white just like Argentina."

"And the Europeans?"

She laughed.

"It is an open secret, just like King Leopold and his genocide in Congo. No one talks about it, but they know about it. Atleast the older ones do. The younger ones not so much. Why do you think all the Nazis ran to Argentina after World War 2?"

I was silent.

She continued.

"Because it was the perfect place for the most evil racists in history to live."

Then she looked out to the infinitely blue sea around the ship and sighed audibly before she continued.

" Sadly, to some extent, it still is welcoming and accomodating of racial hatred. We took the Tango from the African slaves and made it our own. In Argentina, not one person will tell you the true history of that dance. They don't want to associate it with Africa. In fact if you ask them about black people in Argentina they will tell you that there has never been black people in Argentina. They teach them in schools. They rewrite the history. They make it all white. And as I said it is all underneath the surface. They never come out and say we hate black people. Argentina is only for whites or anything like that. They have just fixed the country to only be for white people."

I looked at her friends, Argentineans like her, who were lounging on the chairs on the deck, clad in their tiny bikinis, drinking pina coladas and smiling.

She followed my gaze and then turned to me.

"Don't be fooled by all those smiles, scratch the surface and you will see that all they want is for you to disappear."

I watched the Argentina and Iceland match today and wondered why there were no black players in the Argentinean team when other South American teams had black or biracial players, I remembered a conversation I had last year.
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This is a great family tree of alphabets — and isn't very conjectural at all, since we actually know how writing spread. The color codes are by kinds of writing.

The oldest forms of writing are true pictograms, not shown here; these are scripts like the earliest forms of Egyptian, Sumerian, and Chinese writing, which are basically pictures (slightly stylized) of physical objects. These aren't full writing systems, in that they can generally only code things like "three sheep, four barrels of wine..."

These quickly evolved into logograms, a few of which are shown here in blue — not only the bulk of ancient Egyptian, but also modern Chinese and part of modern Japanese writing as well. In logograms, a small group of symbols represents a word, not phonetically but conceptually. (This is why the different Chinese languages, which sound almost nothing alike, can nonetheless share a single writing system! The writing codes ideas, not sounds.)

A common extension of logograms is to add sound representations, typically starting with using words to represent homonyms, and then adding logographic marks to indicate "the word symbolized by <X> which sounds like <Y>" to clarify synonyms, and so on. Nearly all logographic writing systems adopted this.

Ancient Egyptian did in particular, and an entire subbranch of its writing system started to adopt this more seriously, starting to use purely phonetic representations — that is, symbols that described sounds instead of concepts. This is one of the earliest forms of alphabetic writing.

This kind of "phonetic writing" then has a history which you can see here.

Abjads are scripts like Hebrew and Arabic, where each letter represents a syllable, but only uniquely describes the consonants; you're supposed to know the vowels from context. These work well in languages where the vowels vary following predictable rules and primarily indicate parts of speech, and so are still used in such languages to this day. (The name "abjad" comes from the first four letters of the old Arabic alphabet, a, b, j, and d.)

Abugidas (green) and alphabets (red) take this further, adding accent marks (in abugidas) or separate letter-signs (alphabets) for the vowels, as well. As Barry Powell argued in Homer and the Origins of the Greek Alphabet, this likely emerged as a pattern whenever abjads reached areas where the local language didn't have the same kinds of rules for vowels as Semitic languages, and the ability to explicitly code vowels was important for telling words apart — and, critically, for recording poetry and verse.

Finally, featural alphabets take the march towards phonetic clarity even further. The classic example of this is Hangul, the script invented for Korean in the 15th century. In these writing systems, symbols go beyond coding for sounds — they code for individual features, like "plosive sounds" (you stop the air and then suddenly release it, like t or p), "aspirated sounds" (with a breath), and so on. So for example, ㅌ can be immediately recognized as a voiceless, aspirated, alveolar plosive, or tʰ.

English is in many ways a strange case in this family. The Latin alphabet that it uses is a true alphabet: someone reading Latin immediately knows how to pronounce any word they see, just like someone reading Spanish or Polish would. But English both assembled its lexicon from a bunch of languages, and standardized its spelling system much earlier than most other modern languages — and unfortunately, did so not too long before a major change in how words were pronounced, which gives it all sorts of oddities like "silent e," how tough it is to cough through a rough slough, and so on. (There are not many languages where "being able to spell things correctly" is a televised sport!) In fact, despite its use of an alphabet, English is in many ways moving back towards being a logographic language, where you have to know what a word is (and which language it comes from) to know how to pronounce it.

Via +John Hardy
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Quick tech post for the day: I had to migrate DNS service from Google Domains (which is a registrar + DNS service) to Google Cloud DNS (DNS service, with much better API's, including the ability to handle ACME DNS-01 challenges so you can provision SSL certs automatically).

Unfortunately, certain parts of this where what you might call "not very well documented." So here are my notes, for anyone else who finds themselves needing to do the same.
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How do you reintegrate people who have participated in mass violence into society? We don't often think about this, but our past successes, and failures, to do so have defined our world profoundly.

I wrote this as a follow-up to a side comment I made in a tweet thread this morning about ICE's child seizure policy. ( I decided to dive more deeply into it, because it's something most people don't know much about the history of, and it's important.
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