The Littlest Meap

Two zombies

Posted by: meaplet on: May 16, 2009

As some of you may know, I recently returned from a trip to visit Ariel in London. We did a whole lot of tourism, but not necessarily the most traditional kind. For instance, while we did go to Buckingham Palace, it was not for the changing of the guards, and while we did go to the Tower, we spent a lot of time being enthusiastic about the Princes In the Tower and the Overbury Scandal and did not see the crown jewels at all.

In general, there were three main themes to our tourism: (1) the Undead (2) Renaissance court scandals (3) Mocking the Victorians. About points (2) and (3) there may be more later. For now, I present a portion of the Molly and Ariel Undead Tour of London: Zombies Wilde and Bentham.

Zombie Oscar WildeZombie Oscar Wilde can be found near the Charing Cross tube station, Trafalgar Square, and Covent Gardens. He is officially a statue called “A Conversation With Oscar Wilde.” Created by Maggie Hambling in 1998, the original intention of the statue, as far as I can tell, was to provide an interactive statue, a bench that one can sit on and have conversations with Wilde. The base of the statue reads “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars,” which perhaps implies that this particular incarnation of Wilde is spending his time on the sidewalk looking up out of a determined effort to live out his afterlife as a quotation, just as he lived out his life.

But the bench looks like a coffin and Wilde looks like he is decomposing, from the shape of the body, to the oxidized metal that forms him, to the fact that there are, mysteriously, starfish-shaped bits in his head. So, despite the flamboyant expression and the green carnation, the net effect is really rather creepy. When I saw the flamboyant statue of Wilde in Dublin I didn’t think that there could be a creepier incarnation (the Dublin statue looks like he is about to mock or molest the passerby). It turns out I was wrong.

Zombie Jeremy Bentham is something completely different. Rather than being a creepy zombie-like statue, Zombie Bentham is in fact the preserved skeleton of philosopher Jeremy Bentham, dressed in his clothing and in his accustomed position of thought. He wears a wax head, his actual skull being stored safely in the UCL archives. Bentham’s “Auto-Icon” was created according to a mandate in his will, and has been at University College London since 1850.

Bentham was one of the founders of the branch of ethics called “Utilitarianism,” which holds that the most ethical course of action is that which does good for the most people. It’s one of those philosophical arguments that sounds sensible at first, until you find scary modern utilitarians arguing that eugenics is reasonable and that one should blow up fat men in caves. (As usual I am constructing straw men for my own entertainment. Forgive me. They were delicious. So sweet and so cold.)

For a long time I asked myself: what is the purpose, from a Utilitarian perspective, of requiring that your body be preserved in a glass case with your name on it and put in a place for people to visit? It seems like rather a lot of work that doesn’t really do anyone much good. Having now visited the Auto Icon, I can say for certain: Zombie Jeremy Bentham has high utility, because he is AWESOME. I was giddier with Zombie Bentham than I was at any other time in my trip, despite seeing the Rosetta Stone on the same day.

Some Bentham myths I learned as a philosophy undergrad, which the Bentham exhibit at UCL claim are false:

  • Rumor: Students from King’s College once stole Bentham’s head and used it as a football.
    Fact: This never happened. UCL stored his head for safekeeping for a different reason entirely.
    Response: Why do you make life less fun, UCL? And what ::are:: you protecting his skull from, if it is not dangerous football players from other academic institutions?
  • Rumor: Zombie Bentham, as a founder of UCL, attends all university council meetings and votes in the case of ties. He almost always votes in favor of the position.
    Fact: Bentham wasn’t actually a founder of UCL, just a muse for the founders. He doesn’t vote. He is a zombie. That is ridiculous.
    Response: If Bentham was not a founder of UCL, why does the tag under his name on the auto-icon claim that he was a founder of the institution? And if he doesn’t vote, how do you resolve ties?
  • Rumor: Molly claimed while visiting zombie Bentham that he was her first true love.
    Fact: Why would you think this? That is nonsense. She clearly said that they had a longstanding casual relationship that bore no reflection on primary relationships in her life. Obviously.

To find Zombie Bentham go to either the Euston Square or Warren Street Tubes. Enter UCL on Gower Street between Grafton Way and University Street. Follow the signs to the South Cloisters, enter the building. There is a map inside that will direct you to Bentham, who is at the end of the hall.

Alternately, you can make a full day of your zombie travels by walking north through the city, starting with Oscar Wilde, taking a break to visit the mummies at the British Museum, and finally wrapping up your afternoon with Jeremy Bentham. Trust me, if you like the undead it’s the ideal way to pass an afternoon.

Swine Flu

Posted by: meaplet on: May 3, 2009

Like most everyone else, I’ve spent the last week fixated on the Swine Flu/H1N1/whatever the cool kids are calling it today. I’ve been reading NPR’s Flu Shots blog, gossiping about #swineflu on Twitter, and speculating with not a little anxiety about that international trip I’ve got planned for next week.

But, geeky soul that I am, I’m a lot more excited about the epidemiological side of things than I am panicked by them. Perhaps I’ve been a little bit ::too:: excited by them, as exemplified by a few of my tweets earlier this week:

Does anyone want to be a cytokine with me for Halloween this year? We can storm things and kill them!

If Chuck Norris got swine flu, the resulting cytokine storm would kill everyone on the planet. He would survive.

I’ve been considering re-reading Connie Willis’s Doomsday Book, but fortunately my aunt has loaned me John M. Barry’s The Great Influenza, which is much more useful for my purposes. For one thing, it’s brought home exactly how disgusting cytokine storm deaths are. My enthusiasm is dampened, for the better.

Another useful lesson from the book is that while it now looks like things on the H1N1 front are slowing down and coming under control, it’s entirely possible that we could see it come back in a stronger form later this year. That’s what happened in 1918, when authorities mostly ignored a minor bug that seemed to be going around among soldiers in the spring and sent them home. It wasn’t until September of that year that young people started dying because their own immune systems were confused and attacking any tissue they could find.

As my aunt (who is, incidentally, a doctor) explains it–catch the flu now if you can, because it’s going to mutate. If it mutates to be more mild, than you won’t lose much by having the flu now. But if it mutates for the worse, getting immune now could be one of the best things you do for yourself.

(Or, if you prefer geekier descriptions of what you can do to keep yourself safe–level up your immune system by fighting the monster now. It won’t take too many HPs and gives you a crucial defense come the boss level.)

A bad week for inalienable rights

Posted by: meaplet on: March 9, 2009

Last week was not so good for inalienable rights, was it?

The week started out with Rush Limbaugh at CPAC claiming that “We believe that the preamble to the Constitution contains an inarguable truth that we are all endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights, among them life, Liberty, Freedom. And the pursuit of happiness.” Which is all well and good, except for the bitter reminder that these rights (with the exception of freedom) are outlined in the Declaration and not the Constitution. (On the other hand, I’m a pretty big fan of the formation of a more perfect union, the establishment of justice, the insurance of domestic tranquility, provision for the common defense, promotion of general welfare and the security of the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity. Schoolhouse Rocks, anyone?)

Limbaugh went on to explain that “We conservatives think all three are under assault.” And you know what, I generally disagree with Rush Limbaugh, but this is one case where I definitely agree with him. After all, later last week in arguing on the pro-Prop 8 side in Strauss v. Horton, Ken Starr claimed that inalienable rights are those that cannot be taken away without appropriate process and accordingly that in the State of California, a vote by a simple majority of the electorate constituted appropriate process. This argument had me quaking in my rights-loving boots, and I can only imagine Limbaugh was equally concerned, right?

And you know what else happened last week and the week before? The Justice Department released the Yoo memos, which the Bush administration relied upon, and which claims that rights under the First and Fourth Amendments to the US Constitution can be overturned at the will of the President for anyone assumed to be a terrorist. (Terrorists still, fortunately, can rely upon their Second-Amendment rights and are welcome to form a militia if they chose.) At least those were overturned 5 days before Bush left office, so that’s a front where I don’t currently have to worry about that particular subset of things I like to think of as my rights as a US Citizen.

So clearly I am concerned about rights, and I’m concerned about rights slipping away. I too value Life, Liberty, Freedom [to Marry Whom I Choose, for instance?], and the Pursuit of Happiness. So maybe I too am a conservative? Clearly Bush, Yoo and Starr are not, by Limbaugh’s definition.

Quarter century

Posted by: meaplet on: February 5, 2009

In honor of my twenty-fifth birthday, a few words on adulthood from

Also of moderate interest is the fact that I’m celebrating 25 on 2/5.

Good day

Posted by: meaplet on: February 1, 2009


On the topic of the cupcakes, do I have an option of taking good pictures in bad lighting that doesn’t involve purchasing an external flash?

Tea Curry

Posted by: meaplet on: January 25, 2009

This is sort of turning into a food blog, isn’t it? I keep starting posts about other things and not finishing them… But trust me, you want to eat this, so you will forgive me.

Tea Curry
Serves probably 3-4 (or in my case serves 1, 3-4 times)

1/2 medium yellow onion, diced smallish (about 1/2 inch)
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 carrot, thinly sliced
1/3 zucchini, thinly sliced
1 medium russet potato, diced smallish
1/2 small block of firm tofu, pressed and diced smallish
1/4 small head purple cabbage, about 1 inch dice
1/2 red bell pepper, in strips
Handful of baby spinach
1 can coconut milk
probably a tsp or so of curry powder (I am addicted to S&B Curry Powder in particular)
3 dried red peppers, minced
1 bay leaf
1 bag black tea, or 1 tsp loose leaf
1 dash cinnamon
1 dash allspice
salt to taste


Put some canola oil in a pan on the lowest temperature. Toss in your onions and garlic and cook until they start to turn translucent. Add the carrot, zucchini, bell pepper and potato. Let them cook a bit and then add the coconut milk and bay leaf. Add the curry powder and the red pepper.

When the coconut milk starts to boil, throw in the tofu. Rip open your tea bag and throw the tea in. And some cinnamon. And some allspice. A little bit later, add in the cabbage. This is probably a good time to start cooking your rice. Put the spinach in a couple minutes into the rice cooking. Serve the curry over the rice.

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Holiday cooking

Posted by: meaplet on: December 27, 2008

I’ve been at my parents’ house for several days now, and my primary accomplishment in that time (other than the minimal number of showers and the maximal hours of sleeping I have accomplished) has been holiday cooking.

On Wednesday night I made minestrone soup and latkes for a family Chanukah dinner. On Christmas, in addition to my traditional ownership of the mashed potatoes, I made some tasty garlic brussel sprouts and these rosemary cookies, which were a smashing success. In fact, I still have a second log of dough ready to slice and bake in some exciting time in the near future.

Fresh off of my success, today I jumped on the gingerbread bandwagon, with a bit less success.

First mistake: having looked at a few dozen cookie recipes in the last couple days, I decided to make these crisps on the mistaken assumption that they were gingery. It wasn’t until I was almost done with the flour mixture that I noticed that they were called Cinnamon-sugar crisps and not ginger crisps. Whoops?

I threw a couple dashes each of powdered cloves and ginger into the flour mixture for good measure, only to make my second mistake. More enthusiastic shaking than neccessary resulted in me finding powdered ginger on my shirt and (painfully) up my nose. Ouch!

When the mixture was pulled together I found the final mistake, on the part of the recipe author and not me. The recipe called for rolling out the cookies and cutting them up with a cookie cutter, but I had a sticky substance a bit thicker than cake batter and nowhere near the thickness of dough that would respond to a rolling pin.

I made a small test batch and determined that the consistency was nearer “muffin-top” than “cookie”, and so I made yet another last minute swap. And now I’ve got a dozen chewy, gingery, molasses-y muffins, which is definitely a good outcome in my book.


1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar (I used bakers’ sugar)
1 egg
2/3 cup dark molasses
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract

Cream the butter with a blender and add the granulated sugar. Keep blending until it stops being butter-sugar crumbs and becomes a creamy stubstance. Add the egg, the molasses, and the vanilla and almond extracts, blending each ingredient in before adding the next.

2 1/2 cups pastry flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp powdered cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda (reading error on my part; the original called for 1/2 tsp)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp powdered cloves
1 tsp powdered ginger

Sift dry ingredients together. Slowly mix into the wet ingredients.

Heat oven to 350°F. Find some muffin tins and paper liners. Put a scoop of batter in each tin to fill it approximately 3/4 full. Bake for a little over 20 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.

See, even when you mess up a recipe, you can wind up with something tasty!

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Playing Backgammon as the World Burns

Posted by: meaplet on: November 24, 2008

‘I dine, I play a game of backgammon, I converse, and am merry with my friends; and when after three or four hours’ amusement, I would return to these speculations, they appear so cold, and strained, and ridiculous, that I cannot find in my heart to enter into them any farther.’

Hume Treatise Book I Section VII

So, I have this somewhat long-standing suspicion that money is a convenient fantasy that we all carry around in our heads. Scratch that. I know for a fact that money is a convenient fantasy that we all carry around in our heads. I have this long standing suspicion that any day now, the world is going to wake up, realize that it is all a wacky lie, and the entire global economy is going to collapse when people realize that money does not really exist.

You’ve got the barter system, right? That makes sense. And then you start using metal as an intermediary, and that makes sense and makes everything a lot more convenient. And then you deal with the problem of people scraping off the edges of their coins and making new money by putting all the metal in a big repository and giving people bits of paper that say, “you can trade me for some bits of gold” and people exchange those, and that works. And then you have the eighteenth century and lots of arguing about the silver standard that never seems to have come to anything.

And then you’ve got the decision in the seventies to just say, fuck that, let’s just use the scraps of paper and say that they have inherent meaning and just go along with it, ok? And people GO ALONG WITH IT. And then you’ve got the whole matter of credit cards and the stock market and really you don’t even have scraps of paper any more.

All you have is a list of numbers telling you how much money you have, and it goes up and down on the whim of the market. And people JUST GO ALONG WITH IT. Why? We all solemnly agree now that selling mortgages to people who couldn’t afford them, and then rebundling bits and pieces of bad mortgages as triple-A bonds was a bad idea and we shouldn’t have done it.

But really now. It’s just another fake piece of an entirely fake system. We look hard at that part of it, but we don’t acknowledge that maybe letting money float off into the world free of all material restrictions was possibly a bad idea?

In September or October sometime, when commercial paper was all frozen up, I grew increasingly convinced that we weren’t just going to have a recession; the entire idea of money was going to collapse and we’d go back to the barter system. Or at least the gold standard. And as much as this idea freaked me out (my entire current value being entirely theoretical with the exception of $20 in paper in my wallet and the furniture and books in my apartment) something about this excited me too.

You see, back in Modern Philosophy I never quite followed Kant’s Copernican Turn, and so, bereft of his eloquent yet obtuse explanation for why the real world exists, I turned into a Humean skeptic, never quite confident that the world as I knew it actually existed in reality, outside of my perception of it. And to a very small degree, I live in constant hope of getting some piece of evidence of this–the universe not following the natural laws that I’ve observed. The universe keeps following those laws though. Even when it comes to even more arbitrary things that don’t even have the strength of evidence to prove their existance.

If I don’t get to see water light on fire, then at least I want to see this system go up in flames. It would be so self-validating!

Things have settled a bit since September, and while more sectors of the economy are being dragged under by the mortgage collapse and resulting tightening of credit, there no longer seems a risk of anyone but me losing faith in currency as a concept.

I make these grandiose claims, but even I’m still buying into money. Damnit, I’m still bought into the whole house of cards. WaMu has collapsed, and I still have checking and savings accounts (albiet, now with Chase constantly telling me how they are staying friendly like WaMu but are now butch). CityBank looks likely to collapse, and they are still my stock brokers. I ::upgraded my credit card last week::. But I have made one concession to my convictions.

I bought a backgammon board.


Posted by: meaplet on: November 3, 2008

As the hours tick down to Election Day, I am getting increasingly nervous. I am considering avoiding my Google Reader account for the entire day; I suspect that instead I will check it compulsively.

This is my last chance to remind all those of you who live in CA to VOTE NO ON PROPS 4 AND 8, the centerpieces of my fear.

To calm myself down, I am thinking of less scary things that will happen later in the week. For example, on Wednesday Inga and I are going to go see Repo! The Genetic Opera. Anthony Stewart Head repossessing people’s livers while Sarah Brightman sings and Paris Hilton wanders around the set is ::much less frightening:: than a world without gay marriage but with Sarah Palin as Vice President.

Have a good election day, ya’ll. May your lines be short and your decisions easy, and may the people of your state and this country agree with you.

Ok, I really only want them to agree with me, but it was a nice thought, right?

Jacobean, Post-Apocalyptic, and Liverpudlian

Posted by: meaplet on: November 1, 2008

Last night I had the best of intentions to go out to one or more Halloween parties. However, it was a long week, and so I went home and slept instead. To make up for it, tonight I did what all the cool Mission-dwellers do on a Saturday night:

I baked Theresa Nielsen Hayden’s Sausage, Leek and Apple Pie and watched the Alex Cox Revengers Tragedy. Then I followed it up by cleaning my kitchen.


I used one of the fancy vegetarian ground soy substances instead of sausage, but it was still a bit meaty for my taste–anything with ground stuff in tends to raise my hackles even if I’ve put the soy substance in myself. It was still tasty though. Tomorrow I will try the leftovers on meat-eaters and see what their reaction to the ground soy stuff is.

Following Theresa’s proportions, I wound up with enough filling for two pies. Maybe her 9-inch pie was a lot deeper than mine–I wound up purchasing a pre-made piecrust, and it was definitely on the shallow side, but very tasty–I will definitely buy the brand again the next time I make pie. I’ll have to be careful to remove the top crust from its pan before it thaws–I wound up with a glop of crust on the top of my pie since I have neither a rolling pin nor a good rolling surface. I also have a couple of pie shell recipes I want to try out soon, so I may have to bring my pie-cooking to another household the next time.

If you have whole pepper and no pepper grinder, a coffee grinder works admirably for the task. (We shall see if I cleaned it out well enough that my next cup of coffee doesn’t taste peppery.)

I made the following substitutions:

For the full celery-root, half a celery root and half a turnip. I think that next time I do this, I’ll leave out the Smart Ground and just do a general sliced root vegetable pie, with parsnips and beets added for good measure. This was the first time I’d cooked with celery root, and it was really yummy–it will defintely make it into my future root vegetable creations.

For the saffron, I asafoetida, with a bit of curry thrown in for good measure. It still wasn’t quite as flavorful as I would have liked–I ended up sprinkling more curry on top of my pie before I ate it. Mmmm, curry. (It has become obvious that I can’t cook English food without adding a lot of curry to it. Clearly India was the best thing that ever happened to the British Empire. The sun still hasn’t set on India.)

I also picked up a sharp cheddar cheese, which I totally forgot about when I was done baking the pie. I think I’ll try some of that with the pie tomorrow.

The Cox Revengers Tragedy is excellent. Fantastic, even. I would definitely recomend it to anyone who likes either the post-apocalyptic or the Jacobean, as it does both well at once. Chris Eccleston was costumed weirdly like his incarnation of the Doctor as Vindici, which was a bit distracting, but I can sort of imagine Nine running around killing people and being a ventriloquist with skulls so it was totally ok?

It also had Eddie Izzard as Lussurioso and Derek Jacobi as the Duke, and a soundtrack by Chumba Wumba, and basically the fact that it actually got made is kind of a mystery to me. But the best kind of mystery, where the universe hands you a really excellent film to watch. PS Alex Cox also directed Repo Man, which makes it ::even more mysterious::.

The special features were also a welcome surprise, primarily watching Eddie Izzard explain earnestly that the period of drama should have been called “Jamesian” and not “Jacobian.” And learning that the producer (Tod Davies) was Marjorie’s mannerisms doppelgänger! (Really Marjorie, you are required to see it all for the 5 seconds in which she describes Eccleston as “intense,” and then waves her hands, makes big eyes, and follows it up with  “like that.”)