Arabic Brass Folding Tables


Here’s some Bedouin furniture and family history for y’all.

To the left, a folding brass smoking table bought by my granddad Ingemar in Punjab, India, shortly before the Great Depression. Ingemar worked as a safety match salesman for Swedish industrialist Ivar Krüger, whom the Depression would make very depressed indeed. My granddad told lots of stories of his years in India, the greatest adventure of his life. Returning to Sweden, he had wanted to become a philologist, but, lacking money, he instead went to work in his brother’s accountancy firm. The coolest thing about his career was being accountant to Björn and Benny of ABBA. Funnily enough, among Ingemar’s clients was also the owner of one of Sweden’s first pizza restaurants, Engelbrekt in Högdalen. Many years later, in the early 90s, it was run by a Chinese couple whose youngest and prettiest daughter would one day marry a grandson of Ingemar’s: me.


To the right, a folding brass smoking table that I bought in Agadir, Morocco, in the mid-1990s. Ingemar’s table is higher-end than mine: engraved and inlaid with enamel instead of just punch-decorated, and with a more intricate floral shape. But I like them both! Perfect to put your hookah on once you’ve gotten the tent erected after moving your livestock and wives and kids from one wadi to another.


A cool thing about these tables is that they represent two different directions that Arabic culture expanded in after the formulation of Islam. Ingmar’s table is from East of Arabia. It would have supported a lot of small coffee cups. Mine is from West of it, an area where the drink of choice is instead tea with fresh mint leaves. They go well together.


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Pokémon and the Financial Crisis

i-25bc79dc7e482b4e48d1e5a530dc787f-Mean Pokemon.jpg

A timely must-read: Kevin Nguyen explains the financial crisis to his kid sister using Pokémon cards as an analogy.

Kevin: Imagine that I let you borrow $50, but in exchange for my generosity, you promise to pay me back the $50 with an extra $10 in interest. To make sure you pay me back, I take your Charizard Pokémon card as collateral.

Olivia: Kevin, I don’t play Pokémon anymore.

Kevin: I’m getting to that. Let’s say that the Charizard is worth $50, so in case you decide to not return my money, at least I’ll have something that’s worth what I loaned out.

Olivia: Okay.

Kevin: But one day, people realize that Pokémon is stupid and everyone decides that the cards are overvalued. That’s right–everybody turned twelve on the same day! Now your Charizard is only worth, say, $25.

Bookaholics Anonymous

From age 16 to 26 I was an active member of the Stockholm Tolkien Society (est. 1972). This charming association is organised around a schedule of annual feasts and a roster of themed activity guilds. There’s the Medieval Dance Guild, the Gaming Guild, the gluttonous Hobbit Guild, the erudite Friends of Daeron and many others. My favourite was — and is — the Book Guild.

Though I have long since dropped out of the Society’s main activities, I still gate-crash the monthly Book Guild now and then. Last night it convened at my place for dinner, tea and conversation about books. Many reading groups have all the members read and discuss the same book. This rarely works very well, since there are always a few participants who haven’t read the book and so can’t really take part. Back in the early 90s I became Guild Master and instead introduced a meeting format that is still in use: Bookaholics Anonymous.

“Hey everyone, I’m Martin, and I’ve read a few books since last time.”


What we do is that everyone in their turn confesses what they’ve read since the last meeting. No holds barred, no thematic restrictions, and everybody gets to chime in with comments as you talk. Though the guildfolk of course like Tolkien, it has turned out that the Guild’s most popular author is in fact Jane Austen. (Several core members are very well-read women.)

I usually participate only two or three times a year, so I tend to mention only the best reads I’ve had since my last visit. These are the good books I talked about last night:

  • Will in the world. How Shakespeare became Shakespeare. Stephen Greenblatt 2004.
  • Casino Royale. Ian Fleming 1953.
  • The Enquiries of Doctor Eszterhazy. Avram Davidson 1975.
  • Collected Short Stories 1. (Penguin 1963.) W. Somerset Maugham 1920-45.
  • The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. Michael Chabon 2007.
  • The Spook’s Apprentice. Joseph Delaney 2004. (This book was recommended to me by my 10-y-o son! I’m getting good reading advice from my kid!)

What about you, Dear Reader? Are you in a reading group? Got any recommendations to share?

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Anthro Blog Carnival

The fifty-first Four Stone Hearth blog carnival is on-line at Clashing Culture. Archaeology and anthropology, and all from the perspective of mashpi’im!

Mashpia (Hebrew: משפיע‎) lit. “person of influence,” pl. Mashpi’im (Hebrew: משפיעים‎) is the title of a rabbi or rebbetzin who serves as a spiritual mentor in Tomchei Temimim (the Chabad yeshiva), in a girls’ seminary belonging to the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement, or in a Chabad community.

Submissions for the next carnival will be sent to me, not to the old submissions address. The next open hosting slot is on 19 November. All bloggers with an interest in the subject are welcome to volunteer to me for hosting. No need to be an anthro pro. But you must be a mashpia in a girls’ seminary belonging to the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement, like me.

And check out the latest Skeptics’ Circle!

Irate Christian E-Mail

A rare piece of irate e-mail.

Hi Mr. Rundkvist,

This is Gregory from the US. I was reading your thoughts on Dr. Moller and the Exodus Case. You criticize Moller for not trying to disprove his hypothesis. Tell me; do evolutionists try to disprove their theory? You know they could if they tried. It is the scientists job to gather evidence for his hypothesis. But you lefty liberals don’t want to believe in the Bible, so you go to great lengths to discredit scientific evidence that supports the Bible, no matter how irrational you sound.

1. Yes, biologists make a lot of experiments to see if evolution works or not, and so far all the data indicate unanimously that it does. Read up, don’t believe what your pastor says.

2. I don’t know about the general willingness to believe among lefty liberals. But I do know that you’re right about successful scientists: they do not want to believe in anything. They want to find out what the world is really like. And the idea that everything is exactly as set out in one of the several sets of >2000 years old religious writings worldwide, well, that’s just silly.

I wonder why the fundies tend to ignore me despite my bold posturing as a lefty liberal atheist. Probably they see me as irrelevant because I’m not an American.

Fundies everywhere, I grew up in Connecticut! I’m not only a lefty liberal atheist, I’m an elitist suburban East Coast lefty liberal atheist! I find Obama way too conservative! I favour a 30% income tax! I’m a feminist! Can’t you see, I’m even scarier than PZ!

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Astronomy Nerds In Love

Two of my favourite song writers have revealed themselves as astronomy nerds in love songs.

Frank Black in “Sir Rockaby” (1994):

How many stars girl
Can you both count
And then classify?
I’m standing here in this big swirl
Singing this lullaby

Robert Schneider of the Apples in Stereo in “7 Stars” (2007):

Seven stars in the sky
You’re feeling sociable
Silver stars in your eyes
You feel emotional
And you don’t even know my name
And I know every constellation

Search Term Poetry

Extreme Tracking keeps a list of the most popular search terms that direct readers to this blog. Read in order from the most popular one down, they form the following quatrains.

Aardvarchaeology nudity the Martin Rundkvist
Chinese lyrics, molluscum and incest
Sweden archaeology Blidmo Roger
Lamprey contagiosum — what pop, Swedish emo

Nude scintillating scotoma metal
Old humans are naked girls
For child circumcision blog review
Viking Scandinavian Mucha Medieval

Why Am I Still Skinny?


I’m 36 and still as skinny as in my teens (BMI 20). Why is that, I have wondered. I have a desk job, I eat every three waking hours, I drink sweet tea and snack on cookies, I do no sports outside the marital bedroom, I scoff at gyms and jogging. Contributing factors to my skinny-assedness are skinny ancestors, no snacking between 3-hour meals and no alcohol. But I recently realised what’s probably the capping factor depriving me of the beginning paunch that my contemporaries sport.

I cycle to work.

From my home to my dad’s house where me and my books occupy one of the guest rooms, it’s 2.6 kilometers as the crow flies. I cycle that trip at least eight times a week, until recently often with a growing little girl on the kid seat. Including rides to the train and the kids’ friends, I clock about 25 kilometres a week as the crow flies. With the other parameters being as they are, apparently that’s all I need to counterbalance my sweet tooth and remain adequately palatable to the exacting tastes of my stunning wife.

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