random feckless meanderings

Found this guy lounging on the road when I went to bring in the trash barrels.

Is it really possible to capture CO2 from air?


It is possible to process air to remove carbon dioxide.  Fractional distillation can be used to collect any particular air fraction (and is how we get most of our industrial neon and argon) but requires a great deal of energy (which would need to be produced without generating more carbon dioxide) and would probably not be able to remove globally significant amounts of carbon dioxide.  There are also chemical methods, most of them based on carbon dioxide reacting with either metallic oxides (e.g. calcium oxide) or metallic hydroxides (e.g. lithium hydroxide) to form metallic carbonates.  The resulting carbonate can then be sequestered, or treated to release the dioxide elsewhere.  These processes are not suitable for atmospheric scrubbing of the entire planet, however; their utility is mainly in avoiding toxic carbon dioxide buildups in closed environments (e.g. a spacecraft or a submarine).

The best way to remove large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is to grow more trees.  Trees are composed principally of carbon, and that carbon principally comes from atmospheric carbon dioxide.

There is no realistic way we can remove excess carbon dioxide from the planet, nor should we wish to, as carbon is literally the stuff all life is made of.  Instead, we should seek to sequester it in other forms.  The planet is already doing that for us on a geological scale, in the form mainly of coal (which is just compressed plant matter, after all).  Trees and other plants grab carbon dioxide from the air and turn it into lignins and cellulose.  These carbon-rich organic materials turn into coal (and occasionally petroleum) when they get buried and compressed over geological time.  One of the sequestration techniques that is being used is to pump carbon dioxide into abandoned mines and wells; at least this stores it far underground, and over time the carbon dioxide will react with the mineral formations, forming carbonaceous minerals.  This at least partially reverses the desequestrative effects of mining coal and oil to burn as fuel. 

The best way we can halt the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide is to stop using coal and oil as fuels.  Every ton of coal mined and burned desequestrates a ton of carbon and creates over three tons of carbon dioxide that has to be dealt with somehow.  There’s no way around that fact: that’s what happens when you burn fossil fuels.

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Does Uber discourage or prevent its drivers from moonlighting at other car services?


Uber drivers are not employed by Uber.  They are private, independent contractors who use Uber as a booking and payment processing system under a contract with Uber.  Uber does not impose exclusivity, in part because doing so would risk a legal determination that the drivers are employees of Uber, which would dramatically increase Uber’s costs and liability.

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After a movie is made, what happens to all of the props, costumes, equipment, cars, etc., that were specifically purchased or built to ma…

Answer by Gary Stiffelman:

Funny story: when the first X-Men movie wrapped they held a charity auction and I bought the motorized wheelchair built for Professor Xavier. When it was time to make the sequel, they realized they had sold it and asked me to loan it to them. I rented it to Fox for both X-Men 2 and 3. The rent income they paid me totaled more than I had paid to buy the chair, which now occupies a place of honor in my home.
After a movie is made, what happens to all of the props, costumes, equipment, cars, etc., that were specifically purchased or built to ma…

Death to the Gamer | Jacobin

A vaguely Marxist deconstruction of gamers and what the gaming community needs to do to get past its problems with misogyny. Or not.

How would the US government respond today if a vast majority of a state demanded independence?


A war was fought over this question, and a winner was declared.  No state may, acting solely on its own, secede from the United States or sever its ties from the United States; the consent of the United States as a whole is required for such to occur.  To attempt to do so by force is to rebel against the lawful authority of the federal government, and the federal government is empowered, by the Constitution, to use force, including military force, to put down rebellions within its borders.

The Articles of Confederation declared that the union of the States into the United States is a perpetual union.  Perpetual means that it cannot be broken.  The Constitution, which superseded the Articles of Confederation, states that the Constitution acts to create a “more perfect” Union than that which was established by the Articles of Confederation.  If the Union was perpetual under the “less perfect” Articles of Confederation, then surely it must also be perpetual under the “more perfect” Constitution.  Or so said the Supreme Court, in relation to an 1869 case regarding the validity of certain acts of the government of Texas during the period of its attempted secession, see Texas v. White (1869).

The settled law of the United States is that no state may secede from the Union.  The only way a state can lawfully secede is with the consent of the United States itself, expressed as an act of Congress, or possibly through the President’s treaty power.  For example, if Montana wanted to secede and join Canada, the President, with the advice and consent of the Senate, could lawfully enter into a binding treaty that acceded the territory of Montana to Canada.  But Montana cannot do so on its own.  Furthermore, since states are acceded into the Union by acts of Congress, they can presumably be removed from the Union by further acts of Congress.  This even applies to States that are States from the original formation of the Union, as two of them (Massachusetts and Virginia) have had their territories altered by subsequent acts of Congress even though their original admissions were not by act of Congress.  The sole exception is Texas, which was acceded to the Union as a state by a treaty (rather than an act of Congress), and thus Texas may enjoy the special privilege of not being able to be kicked out of the Union without its consent (although an argument for the original thirteen colonies having this same privilege can be made, based on the Articles of Confederation as a treaty between sovereignties).

In practice, for a state to successfully secede from a union of which it is a part, it needs to have the political will and might to withstand the political will and might of the rest of the union for them not to secede.  In the case of the United States, that’s an extremely high bar, and a state seeking to secede faces a basically insurmountable barrier, if nothing else in terms of the sheer military might that the United States can bring to bear to answer this question.  Secession without consent is an act of rebellion and will be responded to as such.  A state that wishes to secede, and to do so other by force, needs to negotiate a very delicate political agreement, much as Scotland has done with the United Kingdom, leading to the binding vote being held there in September 2014, and as Canada did in 1982.  The terms of any secession negotiated in such a manner will be as set forth in the instrument of secession.

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Why did nature choose to make atoms as the smallest building blocks of all matter?


This question assumes that the universe (“nature”) is sentient and capable of making decisions.  This assumption is by no means generally accepted.  It also assumes that atoms are the smallest building blocks of all matter, which is not generally accepted either; the Standard Model holds that atoms are composed of various particles, and some of those particles are themselves composed of even smaller particles.  There are some proposed models that add even more compositional layers below these.

Assuming arguendo that the universe, as it exists, is the result of conscious choices made by a sentient creator, this question essentially asks for an explanation of the decisions made by that entity.  In short, you’re seeking to probe the mind of the creator-god.  Pretty much by definition, there is no objective way to know what is in the mind of a god.  Since gods are a reflection of our own psychologies, this is an essentially self-introspective question, and whatever answer you find will be subjectively true only for you (and others who believe as you do).  Any answer you do find will depend on what god or gods you believe in.

(Asked to answer.)

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Is homophobia a type of sexism?


Homophobia is sexism insofar is that it’s disapproval of a person on the basis of behaving in a manner inconsistent with a standard where the standard of expected behavior is determined by their (apparent) sex. 

That is, if I disapprove of you because you eat ice cream in public because I think people shouldn’t eat ice cream (a fairly stupid idea, but bear with me), my disapproval is not sexism, because my standard of behavior doesn’t depend on what I think your sex is.  But if I disapprove of you for eating ice cream in public because I think women shouldn’t be seen eating fatty foods in public (but I’m fine with men doing it), then my disapproval is sexism, because my standard of behavior depends on what I think your sex is.

Since homophobia is disapproval conditioned on whether a person complies with a sex-determined standard for choosing sexual partners, it’s a form of sexism.

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Of the US’s 50 states, which would be third world nations if they were independent sovereign states?


Even the poorest part of the poorest states are palatial happy grounds compared to, say, Sudan or Chad. 

Let’s take, for example Mississippi (the poorest state in terms of per capita income), with its per-capita domestic product of around $26,000 a year.  Mississippi has about 3 million residents and receives about $11 billion in net federal payments (that is, they get $11 billion more in federal payments than the federal government collects in revenue there).  And they’d have to come up with (let’s say) $7 billion a year in sovereign defense spending (that being about what Mississippi’s per-capita share of the current federal defense budget of nearly $700 billion is).  That works out to about $6000 per year per capita in lost subsidy and increased state burden, and drops Mississippi to about $20,000 per year per capita, or somewhere between Hungary and Poland.  Still not even close to “third world” territory here.

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