On the water-fueled car.

On the water-fueled car.

“I heard there was, like, a car that runs on water … “

“Dude, no, there’ve been, like, six of them.  But oil companies bought all the patents.”

A lot of the people who attend my poetry class in jail believe in freaky conspiracy theories.  Somebody started telling me that the plots of various Berenstain Bears books are different from when he was a child, which is evidence that the universe bifurcated and that he’s now trapped in an alternate timeline from the path he was on before …

old hat(New printings of some Berenstain Bears books really are different.  Take Old Hat New Hat, a charming story about shopping and satisfaction: after the protagonist realizes that he prefers the old, beat-up hat he already owns to any of the newer, fancier models, a harried salesperson reacts with a mix of disgust and disbelieve.  This scene has been excised from the board book version that you could buy today.  Can’t have anything that tarnishes the joy of consumerism!)

I’ve written about conspiracy theories previously, but I think it’s worth re-iterating, in the interest of fairness, that the men in jail are correct when they assume that vast numbers of people are “breathing together” against them.  Politicians, judges, police, corporate CEOs and more have cooperated to build a world in which men like my students are locked away.  Not too long ago, it would have been fairly easy for them to carve out a meaningful existence, but advances in automation, the ease of international shipping, and changes to tax policy have dismantled the opportunities of the past.

Which means that I often find myself seriously debating misinterpretations of Hugh Everett’s “many worlds” theory (described midway through my essay, “Ashes”), or Biblical prophecies, or Jung-like burblings of the collective unconsciousness.

Or, last week, the existence of water cars.

In 2012, government officials from Pakistan announced that a local scientist had invented a process for using water as fuel.  At the time, I was still running a webcomic – one week’s Evil Dave vs. Regular Dave focused on news of the invention.


When scientists argue that a water-powered car can’t exist, they typically reference the Second Law of Thermodynamics (also discussed in “Ashes”).  The Second Law asserts that extremely unlikely events occur so rarely that you can safely assume their probability to be zero.

If something is disallowed by the Second Law, there’s nothing actually preventing it from happening.  For an oversimplified example, imagine there are 10 molecules of a gas randomly whizzing about inside a box.  The Second Law says that all 10 will never be traveling in the exact same direction at the same time.  If they were, you’d get energy from nothing.  They might all strike the north-facing wall at the same time, causing the box to move, instead of an equal number hitting the northern and southern facing walls.

But, just like flipping eight coins and seeing them all land heads, sometimes the above scenario will occur.  It violates the Second Law, and it can happen.  Perpetual motion machines can exist.  They are just very, very rare.  (Imagine a fraction where the denominator is a one followed by as many zeros as you could write before you die.  That number will be bigger than the chance of a water-fueled car working for even several seconds.)

When chemists talk about fuel, they think about diagrams that look roughly like this:


The y axis on this graph is energy, and the x axis is mostly meaningless – here it’s labeled “reaction coordinate,” but you wouldn’t be so far off if you just think of it as time.

For a gasoline powered car, the term “reactants” refers to octane and oxygen.  Combined, these have a higher amount of energy stored in their chemical bonds than an equivalent mass of the “products,” carbon dioxide and water, so you can release energy through combustion.  The released energy moves your car forward.

And there’s a hill in the middle.  This is generally called the “activation barrier” of the reaction.  Basically, the universe thinks it’s a good idea to turn octane and oxygen into CO2 and H2O … but the universe is lazy.  Left to its own devices, it can’t be bothered.  Which is good – because this reaction has a high activation barrier, we rarely explode while refueling at the gas station.

Your car uses a battery to provide the energy needed to start this process, after which the energy of the first reaction can be used to activate the next.  The net result is that you’re soon cruising the highway with nary a care, dribbling water from your tailpipe, pumping carbon into the air.

(Your car also uses a “catalyst” – this component doesn’t change how much energy you’ll extract per molecule of octane, but it lowers the height of the activation barrier, which makes it easier for the car to start.  Maybe you’ve heard the term “cold fusion.”  If we could harness a reaction combining hydrogen molecules to form helium, that would be a great source of power.  Hydrogen fusion is what our sun uses.  This reaction chucks out a lot of energy and has non-toxic byproducts.

But the “cold” part of “cold fusion” refers to the fact that, without a catalyst, this reaction has an extremely steep activation barrier.  It works on the sun because hydrogen molecules are crammed together at high temperature and pressure.  Something like millions of degrees.  I personally get all sweaty and miserable at 80 degrees, and am liable to burn myself when futzing about near an oven at 500 degrees … I’d prefer not to drive a 1,000,000 degree hydrogen-fusion-powered automobile.)

Seriously, I would not want this to be happening beneath the hood of the family ride.

With any fuel source, you can guess at its workings by comparing the energy of its inputs and outputs.  Octane and oxygen have high chemical energies, carbon dioxide and water have lower energies, so that’s why your car goes forward.  Our planet, too, can be viewed as a simple machine.  High frequency (blue-ish) light streams toward us from the sun, then something happens here that increases the order of molecules on Earth, after which we release a bunch of low-frequency (red-ish) light.

(We release low-frequency “infrared” light as body heat – night vision goggles work by detecting this.)

Our planet is an order-creating machine fueled by changing the color of photons from the sun.

A water-fueled car is impractical because other molecules that contain hydrogen and oxygen have higher chemical energy than an equivalent mass of water.  There’s no energy available for you to siphon away into movement.

If you were worried that major oil companies are conspiring against you by hiding the existence of water-fueled cars, you can breathe a sigh of relief.  But don’t let yourself get too complacent, because these companies really are conspiring against you.  They’re trying to starve your children.

On Gabriel Tallent’s “My Absolute Darling.”

On Gabriel Tallent’s “My Absolute Darling.”

Though we inhabit the same space, we often live in separate worlds.

I’ve written previously about differences in perception and how these steer our interpretation of the world – these differences are dramatic between humans and other species, but can be stark between two humans as well.  Political discourse has been derailed in this country because large groups of people hold such distinct worldviews, and it’s become increasingly rare for either side to strive to empathize with the beliefs of the others.

I’m guilty of this, too.  I sometimes rail about the way science is taught.  But many people believe that our purpose in life is to reach communion with God.  From that perspective, public education that distances students from religious faith needs to be disrupted, whether with alternate curricula, charter schools, or budget cuts.

33572350._UY700_SS700_In My Absolute Darling, Gabriel Tallent depicts the devastating fallout that can accompany a merging of worlds.  Turtle lives in the wilds of Mendocino, California.  Her world is utterly distinct from the place where other characters live.  Her grandfather, for instance, lives in a world where his son is gruff, demanding, perhaps overprotective … but ultimately a loving father.

His world crumbles when he sees the deep bruises mottling his granddaughter’s legs – his son has beaten her with a metal rod.  He has to confront fourteen years of misconceptions.  It kills him.

Or, when Turtle visits a friend’s home, she looks around the immaculate space, puzzled.

“Where are your tools and things?’

There had been none in the garage.


“You know – tools,” she says.

“Oh, there’s a whole bunch of tools in Mom’s workshop.  Acetylene torches and things.” [The boy’s mother is an artist.]

She says, “So what do you do when something breaks?”

Jacob looks at her smiling, as if waiting for the rest of that sentence.  Then he says, “You mean, like – are you asking, like, which plumber do we call?  I could ask Dad.”

Turtle stands looking at him.

Evil Dave versus Regular Dave, circa 2009 — stoner types burble through My Absolute Darling, many of whom share a revulsion at the corporate devastation of our world … and tourists.

They are in the same room.  But they are living in separate worlds.  The boy was not raised by an apocalypse-prepping sociopath.  No one demanded that he practice marksmanship each day.

“It’s a precaution,” she says.

“Is it, though?” he says.  “Owning a gun, you are nine times more likely to be shot by a family member than by an intruder.”

She cracks a knuckle, unimpressed.

“I’m sorry,” he says, softening.  “I’m not challenging you, or criticizing – not at all – I just want to hear your perspective.  That’s all.  I don’t really think that you’re gonna be shot by a family member.”

By this time, though – barely a quarter of the way through the novel – it’s quite clear to readers that Turtle will be shot by a family member.  Her worldview is deeply tainted by the teachings of her father.

Which was grim for me to read, as a parent.  Tallent constantly reminds readers of the control that parents exercise over their children.  Parents’ philosophies permeate their children’s souls, perhaps distancing children from the world.  Turtle’s father shows up to a school conference and rants about the utter uselessness of what his daughter is learning – and I cringed to think how reasonable his arguments against spelling memorization sounded in a world that is actively crumbling around us.

Tallent makes it seductively easy to empathize with his monster.

The book is lovely.  Brutal, but beautiful.

Once Turtle befriends two boys her own age – lost in the woods, much worse at navigation than at spinning tales about patrolling their someday garbage kingdom atop mutant iguana steeds – we see that she has kept some fraction of her world safe from the corruption of her father.  Previously, no one has known Turtle’s name.  Her father calls her “kibble,” her grandfather “sweatpea,” her classmates and teacher “Julia.”

Those people are not in her world.  As far away as someone who’d look at a mushroom’s gills and call them “louvers.”

But when Turtle meets those two boys, she knows they will be friends.  She tells them her name.  “Turtle.”  She has a world.  She’s willing to invite others in.

She might just be okay.

Evil Dave versus Regular Dave, circa 2010 — as in Carrie, Tallent’s adolescents assume everybody’s problems are equivalent.  Some worry who to invite to the school dance; Turtle struggles to survive.

On correspondence.

On correspondence.

1280px-Plasmid_(english).svgDNA plasmids are small loops of genetic information that can change the behavior of bacteria.  With the right (wrong?) plasmids, you could take innocuous E. coli and make it very dangerous.

As best I could tell from a few minutes spent skimming the USPS documents describing “hazardous, restricted, and perishable mail,” it’s not actually illegal to ship plasmids.  Many biomedical researchers have long assumed that it was illegal, though.  Not that we didn’t do it.  But we always took steps to sneakily circumvent the laws we assumed existed.

Plasmids are dangerous, after all.  Why wouldn’t there be a law?

DNA is very stable.  Its stability is probably the whole reason it exists.  Most scientists assume that life began as self-replicating strands of a molecule called RNA, which is very similar to DNA except more prone to falling apart.  Each of our cells is like a tiny factory – proteins are the machines, RNA are blueprints, and DNA is a file cabinet.

(K says this analogy is no good because a file cabinet is an “archaic technology.”  I have several early drafts of my novel – plus the entire three-year run of Evil Dave vs. Regular Dave – in a file cabinet next to our bed.  I wonder, am I an archaic technology?)

DNA is so stable that it can be dried out and shipped across the country without coming to any harm.

To send plasmids through the mail, we would draw a circle on a piece of filter paper, dab a liquid solution of it onto the paper, then slip the sheet into the center of a catalog.  The catalog would look harmless, like junk mail.  Whomever received it would flip through, find the filter paper, cut out the circle, and immerse it in water.  Voila!  The plasmid is ready to change bacteria into something new!

The good people at the post office never notice.  The only snags are undergrads – a sophomore who was working with us happened to open the mail.  Our advisor asked later, “Where is that plasmid?  It was being sent by the ______ lab.”

“We got a package from them … but it was just an old catalog.  I recycled it.”




Pink_Elephants_on_Parade_Blotter_LSD_DumboAs it happens, numerous psychoactive chemicals can wig out a human brain at concentrations low enough to dissolve on paper.  Somebody sends a saturated sheet through the mail – you cut it out and, instead of using it to transform bacteria, you get high.

Apparently this works well with suboxone – which can be used either as a treatment for or a substitute for heroin – and the THC analogs marketed as K2, spice, or synthetic marijuana.  LSD has long been sold dissolved on blotter paper with goofy cartoons.

And so the Indiana Department of Corrections recently decided to ban all correspondence to inmates that isn’t handwritten on blue-lined white paper.  No greeting cards, no photocopies, no drawings.

Photo from Pat and Steve Cole / St. Basil Greek Orthodox Church in Chicago, IL.  I first saw it in the Indy Star.

A Chicago-based church sends greeting cards to many prisoners over the holidays.  This May, the entire batch of Easter cards they’d sent to Indiana prisoners were returned with a brief note explaining the new mail policy.  Even now, it’s unclear what the policy actually is.  The only regulations for offender correspondence available from the Indiana Department of Corrections are dated September, 2015.  Even these guidelines are vague, mentioning that all decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.

For the correspondence writing workshop I run, I often send printed materials.  Because these are being mailed on behalf of a non-profit corporation, they are supposed to go through – only private mail is supposed to be axed by the new policy.

Or so we’ve been told.

When our corporation sends letters or packages sometimes they go through, sometimes they do not.  The fate of each letter depends on which guard happens to be working in the mail room when it arrives, obviously.  The policy is sufficiently vague that each enforcer will interpret it differently.

A letter’s fate also seems to depend on the identity of the recipient.  If you receive a package while in prison, I’ve been told, the guards are supposed to open it in front of you, show it to you, and then have to either give it to you or explain why you can’t have it.  But with so many and such vague rules, the guards should always be able to think of a reason to bin it.  I’ve noticed that many of our packages that get returned for flimsy reasons were sent to people with long lists of disciplinary infractions.

The rich get richer.  And those who seem to need love most … get nothing.  If you’re disliked, they can sever you from the world.

On comics.

On comics.

During graduate school, I was stuck sitting around a lot.  Even after I finished all my coursework, there were near-compulsory seminars to attend, and  lab-mates’ practice talks, and weekly group meetings wherein everyone would describe all the experiments that failed over the past few days.  Which could be a bit dull, sure, but I’m an indefatigable optimist.  When I was stuck in meetings, I would draw cartoons.

I’ve included a few episodes from my old webcomic, Evil Dave versus Regular Dave, in previous posts (here & here), but I thought that for today’s post I would slap up a few more.  The site where I’d originally posted these has apparently vanished, so unless I display them here they’ll be stuck doing the electronic equivalent of moldering in an out-of-the-way file folder.  That doesn’t help anyone!

Not that displaying these here will necessarily help, either.  Cartoons drawn in the midst of boring meetings tend more toward the absurd than uproariously funny.  Honestly, most episodes of Evil Dave versus Regular Dave aren’t humorous in the slightest.  For instance, the following: perhaps you can imagine the sort of lulling drone (“many of you in the audience today might have thought that we already understood yeast DNA replication well enough, but what I wanted to address was, what if we investigated these same processes with an eye to more rigorous mechanistic detail?”) could inspire this sort of cartoon.  Especially if the cartoonist was both an inept artist and someone who’d read too much Camus during high school.


Or the following (“I tried purifying another batch of the enzyme, and I followed Garret’s protocol exactly, but, after elution from a Q column, it precipitated.  So I tried leaving out the ion-exchange chromatography, but that time, after elution from a size-exclusion column, it precipitated.  So then I tried…”):



Even the few vaguely-humorous sentiments I included seemed to be primarily impulse control.  Rather than stand up and scream in the middle of a crowded auditorium full of emeritus professors nodding off while a colleague discusses his efforts to understand how bacteria assess optimal breeding strategies (this is called “quorum sensing,” and refers generally to the way gene expression changes as a function of population density in bacteria.  It’s also something that humans seem to be much worse at than bacteria.  Around the globe, it often seems like some of the highest rates of reproduction are found in places so crowded that infrastructure and the environment are already taxed to their limits), I’d draw something like this:



Who cares whether either Dave would really do that …  I wanted to leap up and pour juice on my head and start babbling demonic incantations!  Unfortunately, it seemed likely that my thesis committee would frown upon that sort of eccentricity.  And I’d never pour juice on my head.  Juice is too sticky, and too expensive.  For the final year or two of graduate school there was a song I sang every time I drove home from the grocery store: “There’s a hole in my head where the money goes … it’s called depression … I drink my juice.”  Although there were times when not even a ritzy juice like pomegranate or black cherry could cheer me up.

On the whole, I am much happier these days.  My current work — especially teaching the writing classes, which has a chance both to improve the dudes’ lives and to increase the chance that someone reading their work will recognize their fundamental humanity and feel ashamed of how we’ve treated them — feels meaningful in a way that my laboratory research did not.  My little family has enough money to live on. Our house is within a twenty minute walk of numerous libraries. We even have friends in town.

The only downside is that happiness, and a busy schedule, and very few doldrumish meetings to sit through, have led to Evil Dave versus Regular Dave languishing into near oblivion.  For something like two or three years while we were living in California, I posted these comics once a week.  The few I included in this post were culled from August 13th, 2009 to September 14th of that same year. There are many, many equally un-funny others. Now, it’s been ages since I’ve even looked at them.

With luck, perhaps my daughter will enjoy drawing.  Perhaps someday the strip will return, if she and I could sit and work on them together.


On Linda Tirado’s Hand to Mouth (until devolving into senseless tangents about cash transfers as medicine, the U.S. criminal justice system, work as exercise, and flawed science).

9780425277973As long as you think feeling angry is fun (does it say awful things about my personality that I do?), Linda Tirado’s Hand to Mouth is a fun little book.

Unlike Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed, Tirado’s main focus isn’t analyzing why people are poor — she states, bluntly and in my opinion correctly, that the issue is simply not enough money.  Wages are low, hours are short (with bonus structural impediments to taking second jobs in order to compensate for short hours), and debt (especially medical debt) is high.

There are a few sections with analysis like what you may have read in Ehrenreich’s work, about the high cost of financial transactions for poor people, for instance, but primarily Tirado’s book is a narrative about her own experiences feeling spiritually and physically oppressed by poverty.  And that’s great.  I’m not sure there’s another book like this written by someone who’s lived in that world (a world shared by ca. 1/3 of the populace of the United States) for as long as she has, which is part of what makes the book so compelling.

I was very appreciative to have a tour guide whom I could trust to have all the little details right.  And, yes, it’s angering.  It’s bleak and off-putting.  But Tirado has a charming sense of humor, which helps her work go down easier… and, honestly, itshouldn’t go down too easy.  I’d like to think that people better off than Tirado should hate themselves a little while reading her book; couldn’t we have done more to fix things, so that her book would’ve never been written?

I know I didn’t do enough.  I spent many years doing biomedical research; my successes might help wealthy people live a little longer.  But, in terms of maximizing well-being, more research findings aren’t what we need.

Like, okay, the ongoing HIV/AIDS crisis is something I care a lot about, and my father is an infectious disease doctor who has been researching ways to help for years, and has recently begun another research initiative in Kenya that local doctors and scientists will be participating in… but, still, is it possible that economic initiatives could ameliorate the crisis more readily than biomedical research?  Yes.  Definitely.  AIDS is still a big deal in the United States, for instance, but suffering is decidedly correlated with poverty.  If you’re lucky enough to be related to someone who works in the right clinics, you can hear stories about all sorts of people who’ve come up with a raw deal from life, but the few big news stories I’ve seen lately are set in regions of economic blight (e.g. this one, from my own home state of Indiana).

So, thank you Tirado.  I imagine most people already know what ought to be done to fix the issues she’s writing about — some minimum standard of medical care that people can receive debt free, higher wages, more worker protections (like getting rid of “at-will” employment and requiring schedules to be contracted in advance) — so I think it’s great that she wrote her book the way she did.  Specifically, not focusing on what should be done but rather presenting her own experience — which isn’t even as bad as it gets — in all its horrors.

And then, two minor responses.  I wanted to save these for the end because these sound rather like complaints, to me, but they aren’t meant to be.  Her book was good, and these are just two things I thought about while I was reading it.

She writes that the U.S. doesn’t have debtor’s prison anymore.  Just after that sentence, she does acknowledge that people can be thrown into jail for failure to pay court fees, but… how is that not debtor’s prison? Here’s John Oliver on the subject.

Like, yes, you have to be broke and violate a law before you can be thrown in jail, but it’s not really possible to live in the U.S. without violating any laws.  Which is obviously problematic in and of itself.  It’s insane to have a patchwork of laws on the books that people violate every day and then leave it to police officers’ discretion whether or not people will be charged with crimes.

For instance, when Tirado discusses driving strategies to avoid being stopped by the police, she says she always drives two miles per hour above the speed limit.  Which is illegal.  Driving one mile per hour above the speed limit is illegal.  If you really wanted to avoid breaking any laws, you’d have to drive a couple miles per hour below the speed limit… that way minor deviations wouldn’t result in an illegal speed.

At four miles per hour below the speed limit, though, you’ll get pulled over.  I’ve been stopped numerous times for driving too slowly, even at speeds only one or two miles per hour below posted limits.  And I even drive nice-looking cars!  A dent-free, rain-washed Honda Civic!  Previously a Toyota Avalon that had sufficient internal maladies that I called it “The Torpedo,” but the exterior was fine.  I’ve read that people in decrepit vehicles are pulled over more.

So it’s easy to be stopped by police and charged with something, at which point you’ll have to pay court fees, and if you don’t you’ll go to jail (as is well-documented in The New Jim Crow).  And if you try to avoid going to jail for debt by evading capture (as is depicted in On the Run), you might be executed.

I typically write these essays a few days before they go up.  I’m writing this one on April 9th; yesterday the video was released of another person being murdered without cause by a police officer, this time because he was running away (presumably because he didn’t want to go to jail for unpaid child support, court fees), and… wait, nope.  No “and.”  He was running away, so the police officer shot him, to stop him, then shot him again, and again… then planted a (ineffectual) weapon on the body to justify having murdered the man.  Why, again, would it seem reasonable to trust police officers to use their discretion in choosing which crimes should be punished?

[Note: Tirado has since informed me that the line about the U.S. not having debtor’s prison was meant to be a joke. Which was already pretty clear from her work, i.e. the immediate juxtaposition of that claim with the fact that they’ll lock you up for not paying court fees. But even though it was clear Tirado knows the score, I wrote the preceding paragraphs… how else was I going to work in the horrific idea that dudes are apparently now subject to debtor’s execution?]

The other thing I wanted to mention was, Tirado writes about how poor people generally don’t have time for / feel too exhausted for exercise.  But she also walks a lot, and her work is often physically arduous, much more so than any job I’ve ever held (which, right — I worked in laboratories for a decade, and since then I’ve been writing.  I’ve never had to endure anything worse than a little wrist pain while I was typing a lot and learning to lift a baby many times per day)… so I wanted to toss in a link to Crum and Langer’s study wherein hotel cleaning staff who were told that their day to day work is exercise became healthier.

ModelC5_1912Oops.  Okay, so, minor admission to make on my part.  I’d never read that paper until today — I simply remembered the coverage of it from the popular press — and there might be some, uh, minor problems.  My opinion is that you’d definitely want to conduct a study longer than 30 days to test something like this, especially because there are many wacky treatments that can result in short term weight loss and apparent health gains.  Indeed, another research group attempted to replicate their findings, and also continued the study for a slightly longer period of time — still not long enough if they were reporting a positive result, in my opinion, but they weren’t.  They reported seeing no change in health outcome.  Although they did see a change.  Measured blood pressure went down in their treatment group.

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this in a previous post, but reading scientific papers can be frustrating.  Normally, I don’t do it.  In general, the way I’ve been trained to engage with scientific papers is to look at the pictures and read the figure legends, then read the abstract, then jot down my own impression next to the abstract.

But I was trained to do that for a small range of fields — nothing much harder than quantum mechanics (“hard” here doesn’t mean “difficult,” btw; my preferred synonym is “intransigent”), nothing much squishier than cellular biology.  Whereas my recent research has covered a wider swath, which means I have to actually read papers, especially a review or two before I look at research results.

And it’s maddening sometimes, looking at a figure and thinking, “Oh, they’ve found this,” but then reading the text and seeing that they’ve stated “We found that.”  I’ve definitely posted a link to this previously, but Emily Willingham has written a very fun guided tour through this type of doublethink.  Or, if you’d prefer your meander through the vagaries of data interpretation be mega-bleak (i.e. about child abuse) instead of rather bleak (i.e. about sexism in academia), one of my own previous posts touches upon this idea as well.

Anyway, my apologies for the digression.  Definitely didn’t mean to go so far off topic!  It’s just that Tirado wrote about walking a lot and also said she doesn’t exercise.  Which reminded me of that study.  But how could I have expected that a high-profile psychology study might have flaws??


p.s. This essay was a bit of a downer, so I scrolled through the archives for an old “Dave vs. Dave” about economic injustice.  Here ya go!


Excerpts from some other book: Volume 3.

From Evil Dave Versus Regular Dave, a comic strip I used to draw poorly.  View the archives here.

Dr. Shaun MacGregor, adjunct professor of experimental archaeology, knows that he is going to die.  And he has accepted the fact.  Really.  He is old, he is sick, but he knows full well that he has lived a good life, that he has experienced his fair share of the ride.  And so his encroaching death, the end, does not bother him as a thing in and of itself.  Not anymore.  Not since, oh, it must have been a solid eight months after being diagnosed with lung cancer before he was ready to accept it, but he feels okay about it now.  Genuinely okay.  His lungs were removed and he had one of the accordion suction pumps installed in the central cavity of his chest, put him down four hundred thousand sure but he has always known that real quality does not come cheap, but the thing is, despite all the work he has had done to maintain his body, work that despite the university’s generous faculty health care policy has involved considerable personal expense, what Dr. MacGregor feels now is that when the time comes he will simply let the battery run down and not recharge it and that will be the end.

But he is not ready.  Not quite yet.  He knows that he will need at least one more month.  Because even though he has accepted that he is going to die, what he has not and will not accept is that his f—-ng family will just put his body in a box and leave it in the ground to rot.  That does not feel right.  Ungrateful hyperactive nieces and nephews, the lot of whom have made nothing of their lives, two children he has rarely seen, raised almost exclusively by his estranged second wife.    So Dr. MacGregor has been shooting plastifier right into his veins, small doses every couple hours because he needs for it to flow, to spread, not clump and clog and block off his blood, and soon, one more month, maybe two, he will have put enough of it into body that he will be able to shut his eyes and die in peace, knowing that his corpse will persist throughout the ages.