Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Languages…

Thursday, July 20th, 2017

When you get to be my age—old but young-at-heart—you start wondering if you had to do it all over again, what different choices would you make. Life is about choices, of course—choices covering an entire spectrum, from small to big. You might have some regrets too. That’s only human.

I don’t regret the choices I’ve made in my personal life. Given the same circumstances, I’d make the same ones. I wouldn’t have minded if some of them had turned out differently—I’d like to decrease the bad experiences and amplify the good ones—but I generally wouldn’t change the choices I made that led to these experiences.

I started publishing my fiction 10+ years ago (the first edition of my second novel, Full Medical, was published in 2006). At an early age, I knew I wanted to be a writer. I’m a practical person, though, so I made the choice to become a scientist, figuring that being a successful writer was too much like winning the lottery. It is, no matter what some authors or writing gurus say. Don’t give up on your day-job just yet. I think Dean Koontz’s wife gave him a year or so to achieve success. That’s unheard of nowadays, unless you win the lottery like Hugh Howey, J. K. Rowling, or Mark Weir. Writing good fiction is a necessary condition; there are no sufficient ones.

Science might not seem like a career that forms a basis for writing success (except maybe for sci-fi—many successful sci-fi writers are ex-scientists). One can wonder what careers are best for that. A love of languages has always accompanied my love for writing. I have a modest ability with languages. Given other circumstances, I might have become a linguist. That seems to be a fulfilling career for putting food on the table while you write stories and wait for some modicum of success. Probably not as lucrative as hard science and technology, though, which everyone calls STEM nowadays. While a journalism degree is probably better than an MFA (the former produces more understanding of and exposure to the human condition), the study of languages is undeniably related to what a writer does all the time: putting ideas into words and choosing the right words and logic to do so.

Of course, any writing career does this, even writing verses for Hallmark. But the study of languages goes far beyond writing skills. Understanding the linguistic history and structure of languages, especially one as dynamic as English, offers the future and present writer an incredible base for the logical choices s/he must make in her or his writing.

I don’t own many print books now. Although I have enough to keep bookshelves sagging, I generally find ebooks more practical—they’re easy to read, very accessible, and don’t take up any physical space beyond my Kindle. But there’s one print book on my reference shelf that I greatly value, David Crystal’s The Stories of English. Even if you ignore current dialects and regional variations, English is a complicated amalgam of many bits and pieces that has seen a dynamic and rapid development. The Spanish reader can still read Cervantes; we struggle with Shakespeare. And these men were almost contemporaries (Shakespeare died one day after Cervantes).

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Irish Stew #63…

Wednesday, June 28th, 2017

International

Trump’s Saudi policies. Saudi Arabia wasn’t on Trump’s list of countries whose Muslim immigrants, many escaping horrible situations in their home countries, are the targets of his bans in his executive orders, contradicting his belief that all Muslims are terrorists. And Mr. Trump negotiated a weapons deal with the duplicitous Saudis to make the military-industrial complex happy during his whirlwind tour in the Mideast.

The Saudis aren’t our friends. They’re not even the enemies of our enemies. They are the enemy. The majority of the 9/11 terrorists came from Saudi Arabia because the Saudi royal family’s state-sponsored religious schools have a continuing policy of brainwashing young boys and men to hate the West. And they have continuously attacked Yemen where they are responsible for mass murders of innocents. They probably support ISIS too, because ISIS hates Shi’ites, and they’re the Saudis’ enemies.

Sad! Trump is supporting duplicity and murder. Guess he believes in that.

National

Malthusian politics? The CBO hasn’t published its financial analysis yet, but the Senate’s proposed healthcare bill is meaner than the House’s. They’re both an attack on the middle class and poor, especially those who don’t have any financial means and depend on Medicaid as a life preserver—elderly in nursing homes, people with serious disabilities, and very sick children. Too many without any other coverage.

Not just sad but doing the Grim Reaper’s work so the GOP can give tax breaks to the rich elites. These aren’t healthcare bills—they’re thinly disguised tax breaks. And Rand Paul thinks they don’t go far enough? This guy has no compassion at all. No wonder he was a failed doctor! Next thing we’ll see from the GOP? Maybe death ovens for the sick and infirm with Dr. Death running them?

Is Obama to blame? Not as much as the GOP and American media are saying! They’re still supporting the attack on the ex-president for not divulging what he knew about Putin’s personally directed attack on our electoral system. Why? It’s not “fake news” if they hide the real truth that Obama’s desire to secure bipartisan support to inform the American public was rejected by the GOP members of congress Obama approached. OK, maybe Obama was stupid to believe that HRC was a shoo-in, but Trump had been yammering all during the campaign that the system was rigged. What if Obama had decided to divulge all he knew? They’d have said he was unfairly supporting HRC! Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

For eight years the GOP practiced obstructionism against the Obama administration. And Trump dares to accuse the Dems and Obama of being obstructionists? Of course, I’m waiting for HRC to say Obama was responsible for her losing. Sad! You can’t trust politicians or the media these days.

Wild weather. Last Saturday morning NJ received a taste of Midwest weather. I saw my first tornado in Kansas when I was thirteen visiting my grandfather—an awesome sight even if it was off in the distance. Now we had two in Howell, NJ. A smack across the face from Mother Nature to wake us up to the problems of climate change? She should concentrate on Trump who believes it’s all a hoax. Hey Mother Nature, why don’t you go after Mar al Lago or one of his many golf courses—Bedminster would be a good start? Just give the innocents a warning.

Sports etc.

Cosby and Hernandez. I never bought into the theory that the ex-Patriot tight end committed suicide. He had just won acquittal for one charge and was going to appeal the conviction that put him in jail. Why would he be suicidal?

MA law says a conviction that is being appealed must be vacated. Sleazebag prosecutors want to change that law. They must be related to the DA prosecuting Bill Cosby.

DAs who are running for office or have nefarious agendas shouldn’t be allowed to prosecute anyone because they are just trying to win points for being “tough on crime.” Political campaigns interfere with objectivity. So do many careers in general. Of course, most lawyers, prosecutors or defense attorneys, aren’t known for objectivity or a commitment to the truth—they’ve sold their souls to the Devil for their clients.

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And so it goes…

California dreamin’…

Tuesday, June 6th, 2017

The state of my birth is becoming a world leader and taking up the slack when Washington (AKA Trump, his minions, and the GOP) fails. San Francisco recently was the site of a meeting involving Canadian and Mexican environmental ministers who discussed maintaining the Paris Accord, among other things, with state leaders. The state’s legal team is getting ready to block any Washington attempt to push back on their tough laws for vehicle emissions. Gov. Jerry Brown (AKA Gov. Moonbeam) is traveling to China to discuss global warming with Chinese officials. And the state is moving toward single-payer healthcare for all—the Cal Senate just approved it.

Calling it “slack” on the part of Washington is a bit too nice, of course. Trump and his cronies are attacking the environment in any way they can. From supporting the coal industry, which has done more to hurt our climate than almost anything else (it’s ironic that even in coal states, they’re moving away from coal in power plants), to emasculating the EPA and rolling back provisions to protect the environment to favor their rich friends in other industries, Washington seems bent on ruining the planet for our children and grandchildren—maybe us too, if they keep up with the onslaught. Remember Trump is the candidate who declared global warming a hoax. Should we put him on that Antarctic ice shelf and see what happens when it breaks off? Maybe the lobby of Trump Tower will be the first to be flooded when the sea level rises by six feet, as predicted.

The U.S. as a whole is the world’s second worse polluter—only China is worse. California doesn’t accept this all-out attack on the environment by Washington. They have led the nation in positive environmental actions and have boldly stepped up their efforts to counter the evil dark lord in the White House and his GOP goblins. Other states—all blue, of course—try to follow along with the state’s defense-of-environment plans. As the most populous state in the union, the food provider for much of the nation, and estimated to be the sixth or seventh most powerful nation in the world if it ever separates from the union, the Golden Bear is a heavyweight. If Washington doesn’t listen, the rest of the world does. California doesn’t need Washington, but the United States does.

Saving the environment is a no-brainer. This means that Washington is now brainless and California is an Einstein. Even China is getting on board, while Trump backed out of the Paris Accord, incurring the wrath of the rest of the world. It’s hypocritical for states with so much at stake—tourism to national parks in many red states, for example—to become anti-environment. Most big game hunters are NRA members who are hypocritical too—wild animals are part of the environment. Aquifers are being damaged all over the country, but you can bet the anti-environment zombies will be the first to complain when their water turns bad. I can go on and on, but the truth is being insensible to what we’re doing to the environment and the flora and fauna of the world is idiocy. No. Anyone who does this is immoral and evil. There’s a reason that the Pope has an encyclical on the environment. He gave a copy to Trump; will he ever read it? He certainly took no heed of the Pope’s advice when he made his decision to withdraw from the Paris Accord. And his comment about Pittsburg v. Paris is the height of stupidity—Pittsburg went overwhelmingly for Clinton in 2016.

California has been leading environmental protection efforts for a long time. They did so out of necessity. If other American cities and states and countries in the world wait until necessity spurs them to action, it will be too late. If others don’t care, Earth will eventually end up like Mars. We all share this planet. Let’s be good tenants by keeping it clean and healthy. And letting the naysayers remain in power at the ballot box will make us accomplices of the thugs who would destroy the environment. Vote green today, not GOP-red. And work to get California rules to protect the environment adopted in your state.

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Rembrandt’s Angel. To what lengths would you go to recover a stolen masterpiece? Scotland Yard’s Arts and Antiques Inspector Esther Brookstone goes the extra mile. She and paramour/sidekick Bastiann van Coevorden, an Interpol agent, set out to outwit the dealers of stolen art and recover “An Angel with Titus’ Features,” a Rembrandt painting stolen by the Nazis in World War Two. Their efforts lead to much more, as they uncover an international conspiracy that threatens Europe. During their dangerous adventures, their relationship solidifies and becomes a full-blown romance. Published by Penmore Press, this novel is available in ebook format at Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, B&N, and Apple, and in print through Amazon or your local bookstore (if they don’t have it, ask them to order it). Great summer reading!

And so it goes…

Waging war against Gaia…

Tuesday, March 21st, 2017

I’m expecting a bloodbath in the EPA, NASA, NOAA and possibly other agencies as Mr. Trump wages war on the environment. Many employees there are civil service, but that might not stop Il Duce AKA Narcissus le Grand—he’ll just close down the agencies if he wants to get rid of them. The EPA, NASA, and NOAA are where many of those “bad scientists” can be found who disagree with the GOP claim that climate control and taking care of the environment have low priority. Narcissus le Grand even believes global warming is a hoax.

What’s driving all this is Trump’s desire to end all environmental regulations so that companies, his included, can pollute and destroy the environment as much as they want, a particularly virulent and dangerous example of capitalism without controls. Even now, they ship high-tech toxic waste and other crap to places like Bangladesh. Il Duce and his minions probably think it would be cheaper just to dump it somewhere in the U.S. How ‘bout not doing it at all?!

Disasters like that BP oil well in the Gulf, destruction of the Great Barrier Reef, poisoning wells and water supplies—those kinds of things are just part of doing business, according to Trump and his cronies. He names Pruitt to head the EPA and one of the gnome’s first public acts is to deny the role of CO2 in global warming. C’mon!

Many scientists are worried. A week before Il Duce’s inauguration, more than 250 volunteers met at UPenn for a two-day binge of downloading climate data and storing it on independent servers. “If you don’t want to do anything about climate change,” said Texas A&M atmospheric scientist Andrew Dessler, “you are in a stronger position if you get rid of the data.” Gretchen Goldman, research director for the Center of Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists said, “With a president who doesn’t respect scientific information, one abuse could be data mysteriously disappearing from websites, or government scientific websites may suddenly have misinformation.” Most of the data that was saved was from NOAA, EPA, DoE, and NASA.

One of those infamous executive orders from Narcissus le Grand could restrict data access from outside the U.S. Trump’s evil minions are already talking about clamping down on the internet and allowing service providers to have multi-tier systems—that’s been on the GOP hit list for some time. And shortly after the inauguration, Trump ordered the EPA to delete climate change pages from the EPA’s website, but he then backtracked on that order when the roars of protest became deafening. The order for EPA scientists and other agencies’ scientists not to post on social media or communicate with reporters still stands, though. Inside the agencies that do climate-related research, Goldman says “morale is low. People are scared.” Scared for their jobs, because Il Duce likes to fire people who disagree with him!

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Post-mortem of a speech to Congress…

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017

In some dilating time machine or Mr. Trump’s parallel universe, ages have passed since he gave that speech to Congress. In real life, it was only a week ago—can you believe it? Everything he said is meaningless now, so dissecting that rambling rhetoric of a delusional man is anti-climactic. But let’s do it anyway because the president left the Twitter-sphere long enough to sound presidential and hide his narcissistic psychosis.

It’s curious that the media, after the president declared them to be the “enemy of the American people,” fell all over themselves to state that his “state of the union” (read: state of Trump’s parellel universe, that one that circulates among the dark energy and matter of his mind) set a new tone. Il Duce was even called presidential because he sounded presidential. But not for me—he’s not my president! He never will be my president, and isn’t the president of a majority of the American people.

What I heard was empty rhetoric reminiscent of Goebbels’s 1930’s propaganda in Germany—in other words, fascistic spin and appeal to populism playing on the fears of good Americans. His handlers, Bannon, Conway, and Miller, who take turns at the puppet strings—yes, he’s a marionette, even stringing himself along—carefully planned this atrocious display. If it was some crazy attempt to reach across the aisle, Dems won’t buy the snake oil from this charlatan, and didn’t—the thumbs-down from the Dem women in white were refreshing and evidence for their general mood—Trump the misogynist is women’s rights worst enemy. Narcissus the Wonderful shows no concern about women’s issues—we know he sees them only as objects—and on abortion, he’s as much a right-wing bigot as they come.

Let’s consider a few points. On trade, Trump might have sounded a wee bit like Sanders. There’s a huuuuge difference, though. Both men were born in Brooklyn, but the two are light years apart—Trump might actually live in one of those other multiverses where his marionette strings are tangled with those of general string theory. In particular, where Bernie was an earnest and honest champion for the working class, Il Duce doesn’t really give a rat’s ass about their plight—it’s all just show. He follows the time-tested fascist strategy of pretending to do so, of course—that’s how Franco, Hitler, and Mussolini came to power in the 1930s! U.S. workers should be wary about buying anything from this snake-oil salesman. Pay attention to his false promises at your own risk!

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Apocalypse redux…

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

Redux = brought back, revived. We’re talking about the apocalypse again. Apocalypse is the event. While a dystopian society can cause it or be its aftermath, post-apocalyptic is reserved for the aftermath. There is a resurgence in these themes now. Everyone knows the reason: what’s happening in the U.S. right now as well as across the world has frightening parallels with 1930’s Germany, Italy, and Spain as well as with the darkest days of the Cold War. There’s nothing religious about this apocalypse.

Most dystopian, apocalyptic, and post-apocalyptic tales in the past were associated with the two world wars or the Communist threat. Brave New World was dystopian; Ape and Essence was post-apocalyptic. Even The Time Machine was post-apocalyptic. 1984 and Animal Farm were dystopian. Later sci-fi novels like Not This August were post-apocalyptic. Many classics can be found in these subgenres. Many soon-to-be classics like Wool are too. They all are warnings about what could happen. It’s common that interest in books and movies in these subgenres reflect troubled times in the world.

The bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki changed the world. As that hand on the Doomsday Clock inches toward midnight, these sci-fi subgenres become more popular. Some readers ignore them, burying their heads in the sand by reading schmaltzy romances and fluffy adventures that avoid most serious themes of any type. Which group is right? Beats me. I just tell stories. If one of them comes out apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic, so be it. Almost all my stories have serious themes, though, but not all of them are in the aforementioned subgenres.

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Is nuclear power off the table?

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

In my forthcoming novel, Gaia and the Goliaths, #7 in the “Detectives Chen and Castilblanco Series,” Detective Castilblanco considers some of the pros and cons about nuclear power. The novel’s main theme involves climate and environmental issues, pro-environmental activism, and attacks on the environment waged by corporations and their political sycophants.  Russia, known for its lack of concern about the environment and the Chernobyl disaster, plays an important role too. These issues are current ones now, considering the new U.S. administration that will invade Washington D.C.

Mr. Trump and his cabinet choices will probably set back any progress we’ve made on environmental issues, except for states like California that are far more progressive than Washington, and there are plenty of willing accomplices for Trump’s team in the GOP-dominated Congress. The new president thinks global warming is a hoax and climate control isn’t necessary. But questionable actions have been taken by Dems too. There is a general consensus among politicians that nuclear power is bad, so let’s get rid of it.

For example, Governor Cuomo of New York has championed the closing of the Indian Head power plant on the Hudson, mentioned in my novel, without having any viable alternative for replacing the power the plant generates. Many European countries depend on nuclear power, as does Japan. Is it dirty energy? Are nuclear power plants accidents waiting to happen? Have politicians created a Frankenstein monster in order to win votes from environmental activists?

First, let’s state for the record what affects global warming and is bad for the climate, namely fossil fuels. Presumably Cuomo, who has no technical background and is apparently channeling Van Helsing in his pursuit of nuclear energy as an evil vampire, will replace Indian Head’s power output with coal-burning or natural gas power plants. Those are worse for the environment. We need to reduce the carbon footprint, not augment it. Any environmental campaign must be anti-fossil fuels because there is no way to use them that won’t damage the environment. Period.

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Irish Stew #56…

Monday, December 12th, 2016

[It’s been awhile. I use this potpourri of news when I want to make a lot of mini-op-eds about current affairs—hence the name. Or, if you like, my Irish temper blows, and then I stew. Because I already had a political op-ed set for tomorrow about the healthcare crisis, I decided to pair this with “Monday Words of Wisdom” and clear my writing to-do list a wee bit. Let’s go to it…]

International

More Saudi duplicity. I’ve often railed against the duplicitous Saudis in this blog. Sometimes I feel like a voice crying in the wilderness. Here’s yet another example of their duplicity: while we’ve been fighting the Taliban, among others, in Afghanistan for years, the Saudis have been playing both sides, but more in support of the Taliban! To quote a recent Times article: “Saudi Arabia is critical [in Afghanistan] because of its unique position in the Afghan conflict: It is on both sides.” Was Machiavelli a Saudi? They represent the primary source for destabilization in the Middle East and are indirectly (if not directly) responsible for countless tortures and murders of innocents. They are NOT our friends.

Taiwan calling. This is one case where government intervention was required—lots of it! During the election, Trump bloviated a lot about his loathing of the People’s Republic of China (like many communist naming inventions, it’s not a republic and certainly doesn’t belong to the people). He took a congratulatory call from the Taiwanese president. Big deal! Irony?  Obama can call a brutal and murdering dictator in Cuba and Trump is criticized for accepting a call from a democratically elected leader?

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Cosmological distances…

Thursday, September 15th, 2016

Some excitement was caused recently by the announcement of an E-type exoplanet, Proxima b, a planet orbiting the red dwarf Proxima Centauri in the Alpha Centauri triple-star system (Alpha A is a G-type star like the sun, while B is a K-type star, but both are much brighter than Proxima). That system is about 4.3 light-years from Earth, or 40.14 trillion kilometers. (Conversion lesson: convert to statute miles.) The size of the Milky Way is about 100, 000 light-years, so Proxima is right around the corner. Right? Wrong! Even distances in our galaxy are “huuuuge,” to borrow a word abused by two recent presidential candidates and the SNL comics.

More excitement was caused by the report from scientists at the RATAN-600 radio telescope at Zelenchukskaya in Russia. They detected a strong signal apparently originating in the direction of the G-type star HD 1611595, known to have one warm Neptune-like planet (40-day orbit). This star is 94 light-years away. The Russian report to the SETI committee was made without many details.  The star might have rocky E-type planets too, so many UFO-ET enthusiasts and sci-fi addicts are in a frenzy, spurred on by the meaning of the acronym—“Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence.” While some other Russian scientists wrote the whole thing off as terrestrial interference (covering their butts?), the scientific jury is still out (comments updating this are welcome).  95 light-years is many times 4, of course, but still small in comparison relative to galactic distance markers—4 is a walk to your neighborhood convenience store; 95 is a short car ride to the nearby Dunkin’ Donuts.

Let’s counter some knee-jerk reactions to these reports first. Coincidentally, SETI has a new focus on red dwarf stars. They can live billions of years longer than G-type stars, where SETI’s emphasis has traditionally been, because we know at least one G-type star, ours, has an intelligent civilization (although “intelligent” might be a questionable word to use sometimes). That extra stellar lifespan might allow a red dwarf like Proxima Centauri to be home to an ancient civilization far advanced beyond ours (and actually be intelligent?). The hurdles are enormous, though, for any kind of life in such a system, because livable E-type planets would have to orbit the parent star so closely that they would be tidally locked, one face always turned toward the star. That means life as we know it could only exist in that transition zone between eternal day and eternal night.

The second report is a bit more difficult to put down in this way: an E-type planet could exist farther out from HD 1611595 and have life. Without knowing the details of the signal (I only know it’s strong), one can’t use it to mark the source as being intelligent. If it were narrowband, seemingly coded, and beamed directly at us (how could they know to do that when radio had just been invented on Earth 90 years ago?), you might have something. But consider this: one scientist estimates that ten-to-the-thirtieth (one followed by thirty zeroes) watts would be needed to broadcast this signal if omnidirectional (i.e. not specifically aimed at us), and ten-to-the-fifteenth watts if beamed directly. The first corresponds to a Kardashev Type II civilization, one that harnesses all energy emitted by its sun (Dyson sphere?—that’s physicist Freeman Dyson, not my author-friend Scott Dyson); the second to Type I, a civilization that “only” harnesses all the energy falling on its planet.

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Common sense in a nonsensical world…

Tuesday, September 6th, 2016

If your perception about U.S. policies is that they don’t make sense, you are correct—most of the time they don’t. Not necessarily in order of importance, here’s why: First, the courts are stuck in the 19th century because the laws are. Second, American foreign policy is still based on the credo that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Third, the people running everything, the super-rich, don’t give a rat’s ass whether things are done right, as long as they get richer. I could go on, but you get the idea. Sure, problems in the 21st century are complex, but incompetent people and institutional resistance to change for the better make them more so.  My definition of conservative: someone who’s so satisfied with what they have that they don’t want any change. There’s a place for that attitude, but not in the three points I mentioned.

I’ve suffered in my life with both types of judicial systems, English and Roman. In the first, precedents are given weight so that there’s continuity to “justice” (the meaning given to that word could be a fourth problem–just ask the innocent victims of gun violence or those who think Hillary Clinton should be in jail). In the second, the system inherited from the Romans and popular in Latin countries, you can do anything the law doesn’t specifically prohibit (that’s why those countries’ constitutions, if they have one, are so long).  Both are unwieldy. The first practically precludes adapting to changing times, a conservative’s delight. For example, the internet was invented in 1983 (ARPANET) and only assumed something resembling today’s chaos in 1990—let’s give it thirty years. Adding to that the fact that most justices and juries (formed from users, not techies) have no tech background at all, you can see that the justice system can’t possibly make informed decisions about scientific and technical issues most of the time.

Roman justice has a similar problem. Its laws tend to be more “written in stone,” so new science and technologies occur without any control whatsoever. It’s impossible to prohibit something when it hasn’t even been invented yet, and when it is, it might be too late to prohibit it. Progress occurs so fast nowadays that neither judicial system can keep up. Unscrupulous people will take advantage of that, human nature being what it is. Common sense tells me that technical regulatory boards are called for to keep pace with the progresses in science and technology—groups of high-tech “philosopher kings” in the sense of Plato, incorruptible individuals serving limited terms. Again, given human nature, that word “incorruptible” is key. Do such individuals exist? But there’s no doubt the current system is broken and must be fixed.

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