Friday, September 26, 2008
  Centripetal and centrifugal Internet communication
Life comes from the tension of opposing "forces". Or at least liveliness does (and I suspect a good case could be made for my opening statement - I'm just too lazy, and busy, to make it this morning). Internet communications are frustrating and enlivening because of just such a tension. I have been having a cluster of "conversations" over (or under?) my morning coffee:
Photo by Steve from Geograph
  • by email and/or Flickr messages with photographers whose work I have taken and used in slides for a sermon I preached which was videoed for a CareyMedia DVD. These are people I don't know, may never communicate with again, though they have enriched my life and work, so it is nice to thank them as well as prudent to ensure we have their permission (Does a CC no-commercial use license allow a non-profit sale of a work - my sermon - that includes the licensed image - in a slide?)
  • on MSN (using Pidgin so that I could also potentially chat with one of you on Yahoo without yet another app open) with my son in the Isle of Man about his application for a job in Kenya encouraging microenterprise
  • on Facebook with Jim West, about the mysterious disappearance sometimes of the identifications Oxford or Cambridge from the officers of SOTS online - I thought it was something to do with proteraenvy by those associated with "the other place", but apparently it is merely Facebook being "helpful"
  • among the comments on my blog with Bob McD, about Hebrews' use of the Hebrew Bible
The centrifugal impetus of the web is evident in the simple fact of these conversations, none of the participants (except Tirau Dan) occupies the same hemisphere as me, yet we are drawn on the web into contact. (Notice that oddly in cyberspace - to use the archaic but descriptive term - I am the centre to which conversation is drawn ;)

This sort of experience - and yours I suspect was similar but different - is a bit like sitting in the Carey staff room, with three conversations at once ranging from the mundane to the sublime and back again. But in the staffroom the conversations intertwine, and participants from one or the other move and realign. On the Internet they remain separate, only meeting in me, this is the centripetal tendency in Internet communication. Since "I" (and you, of course, dear reader, are also "I") am the centre the conversation is fragmented.

Ah, well, play time is over, it is 8:30 and time to start work...

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Thursday, September 25, 2008
  Sermons you shouldn't have preached! What's with nuns? and a fine new biblical studies blog :)
Jim pointed to it, and it's shaping up to be a fun read... "Stupid Bible Tricks" a new column in Ethics Daily. The first does the dirty on the delightful, amazing, but false claim that the presence of the letters את untranslated in Genesis 1:1 puts Christ into the first verse of the Bible. Actually the easy way to get the series is to subscribe to Susan Piggott's blog since Ethics Daily does not make their RSS feed very visible :( that way though you'll get any other good posts Susan offers as a bonus :)

As an example of what to expect from such posts, here's an extract from one on practical ecumenism (called "My Sister the Sister") answering the questions that arise when people hear that Susan's sister is a real life cloistered nun:
Many people are quite curious when they find out my sister’s a nun. “What on earth does she do all day?” they wonder. “Doesn’t she want to get married?” others ask, mystified. “You mean she stays in that monastery all the time and doesn’t come out?” still others demand. And, there’s always the Evangelical who wants to know, “But, is she saved?”

In response: (1) she prays for the world all day and in the middle of the night, too. (2) She considers herself married to Jesus, and I’ve heard he’s quite the bridegroom. (3) Yes, except for doctor’s appointments and medical emergencies. (4) She loves Jesus with her soul and has devoted her life entirely to God. What do you think?
...But do read the whole post, as I missed out some of the best bits!

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Monday, September 22, 2008
  Letter to my MP: part 3: we could erode the stone
I said I would post the reply to my letter to Phil Goff (my constituency MP), prompted by the heartbreaking story of the gang rape of a teenager by soldiers of the Myanmar Army (I'll refer to the army as the Myanmar Army because they do not serve the interests of the Burmese people, merely the gang of general who appointed themselves to rule Burma) and the generals' response. When, two weeks later that letter had not even received a token acknowledgement, and because I came across a neat and easy way in which anyone can send an e-card about Burma to their representative, I wrote again. Persistence party off. That second message got a mechanical reply, but the two have elicited a human response (reproduced below), and the prime minister's office (Helen Clark is acting foreign minister) has been asked to respond.
Photo by by Sara.Katrina

I know that such administrative responses mean little. But, if you were also to write to your representative (you could base your note on mine if you liked - or just send an e-card which will take all of 15 seconds plus the time needed to get your representative's address) and if more than that you were to blog, facebook, twitter or whatever your action so that one or three of your friends did the same, little by little we can help wear away the stone hearted indifference with which the rich and comfortable (like most of us - since to read this you have Internet access and good command of English) respond to the suffering of others.

Here's the reply:

Dear Mr Bulkeley,

I am writing on behalf of Hon Phil Goff to acknowledge receipt of your letters dated 1 September 2008 and 18 September 2008 about the situation in Burma.

Mr Goff has sought advice from Rt. Hon Helen Clark, the Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs, about the issues you have raised and the Prime Minister will be replying to you directly on behalf of the government.

It is not uncommon for Ministerial replies to take some weeks to conclude. Mr Goff has been in contact with the Prime Minister's office, and has been advised that you can expect a reply in the near future.

Please contact us again if you have not received a reply to your correspondence within the next 10 business days.


Shannon Steven
Ministerial Assistant
How about you do your bit, find out your representative's email address, or your foreign minister's, and send an e-card, tell your friends, and help erode the stone hearted indifference!

Thursday, September 18, 2008
  Letter to my MP, second installment
It's a fortnight since I wrote a Letter to my MP and the Hon Phil Goff has so far failed to reply. I'm sure if I had written about gangs, or tax cuts or some other issue the media have decided are important in the recently announced election his staff would have sent me a stock reply. But, write about Burma and (even though he was not so very long ago our foreign minister) Mr Goff is lost for words, and so are his staff :(

This is sad, not only for what it says about the place of Burma on the NZ political agenda, but also because it underlines the way in which the NZ Labour Party has lost its heart. The NZ Labour Party today is so busy jostling for power, and after so many years of power one suspects Lord Acton's dictum may have some applicability, that they have no time to care about justice overseas, and little to care about making a decent society in New Zealand.

So, I've written to him again (this time using a simple e-card that you could use too if you are willing to spend 20 seconds to protest at the inactivity or your government in the face of brutality):

I wrote to you a fortnight ago, but have had not even a token reply. I fear that means you are too busy worrying about the election.

You should know that I am one voter who cares more about justice than vote-winning tricks. In previous General Elections I have always hoped, prayed, and voted for a Labour government. But since it seems on the issue of Burma and on so many others the Labour Party has lost its vision for a decent society in New Zealsand and for justice and peace internationally this time I fear I may have to vote for change.

I am deeply sad to be deprived of the opportunity to vote for these ideals.

Yours faithfully,

Tim Bulkeley
I plan to continue to write, and to continue to post the letters here, until I get a reply to comment on...

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  Carrots, Firefox scrolling problems and great wizardry
Back in August I complained of a mysterious Firefox scrolling problem several of you were kind enough to make suggestions. In the meanwhile, infuriatingly intermittently, I have been driven almost to the verge of Google Crome or Microsoft IE or Gengis Kahn Browse It My Way or some other hegemonic browser ;) as my dear and richly pimped Firefox kept turning scrolling into a bizarre and random experience.

Now, at length, after patient and impatient waiting, much searching of soul and the Mozilla help pages, a great and powerful wizard named Testpattern has enlightened me as to the true cause of my problems, and all is fixed :)

It was, apparently, the carrots! The Firefox is a vegetarian beast and it seems eats carrots. Pressing F7 turns "carrot browsing" on and off. F7 is curiously close on my keyboard to F8, and F8 is the magic key that starts ScribeFire and allows me to compose blog posts and web pages, while avoiding the dreaded Blogger eternal wait for publishing, or make notes to self. So, cutting to the chase, F8 gets pressed a lot, and so F7 gets pressed quite a bit by accident ;) When I accidentally pressed F7 I cut off the supply of carrots to the Firefox and in a fit of hungry pique she ruined my scrolling experience.

So thank you Testpattern, and Stanberka if you are still reading, our problem is solved. To J. P. van de Giessen and Bob MacDonald thank you for your suggestions but it required a higher magic that of which rank beginners like you are yet apt ;)

PS: if anyone is still reading Caret Browsing (so named, the oracle sayeth, because it is supposed to turn the cursor into a caret or ^ symbol, but doesn't on my computer leaving the cursor as a standard |) is a really useful feature which "allows you to navigate a web page just as you would in a word processor" except it doesn't, since CTRL and Arrow Key combinations do not work, and plain vanilla Shift Arrow Key highlights text anyway...

So now my question to all wizards and computer geeks is: is there any way to disable Caret Browsing or at least the F7 trick? I am loath to map F7 to null or some such trick since other programs sometimes have a real use for this key.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008
  What will we do when you are gone: digital life after death
In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.
[1789 B. Franklin Letter 13 Nov. in Writings (1907) X. 69] Quoted from

Indeed, as we all know, taxes can be avoided, at least by the rich. Death however, is in the end unavoidable and unpredictable, our end might be tomorrow if we fail to take due care crossing the street.

It's an issue we don't talk about, indeed until recently (at least in my experience) it is one that people online have avoided thinking about. In nthe "virtual world" we've pretended that death happens to other people. This pretence is assisted by the fact that online the dead simply "fade away", there is no new activity on the blogs and email lists and even attempts at direct contact (unless you use a phone number or physical address - which is cheating) simply go unanswered.

What happens, though, to all the effort and love that have gone into our online worlds when we die. Print books continue to reside on library shelves until the special entropy that affects libraries moves them to the stacks, and eventually to the second hand bookshop. Online it is different, as Peter discovered (aftermath of Early Christian Writings and friends) even without the extreme case of death a little inattention and your site is gone.

Of course there is the Wayback Machine.However, out of the more than 1,600 pages in my Amos commentary the best result this branch of the Internet Archive can offer is 95 pages from 2005. This blog, though it has a few less pages suffers even more the highest Wayback score is 7 pages.

Peter's problems stemmed from a failure to renew his domain name on time, I wonder who has the details of your domain registrations, hosting accounts etc. and do they know that they will be responsible for the treasures after you are gone?

Now that I've put the wind up you by introducing the extreme (if totally unavoidable) case of death, what about the other common problem, a fine resource is built up - let's call it New Testament Gateway (since a while back Mark discussed just this issue) the originator of the site loses energy or moves on to other tasks, or is simply overwelmed... Certain sites are of use to all of us, we rely on them. Yet their future is highly insecure.

What should we do?

Some suggestions for discussion:
  • individually: we should seriously think about making a list of key data for our domain names and hosting etc. and ensuring someone we trust has it and has the means to use it in the event we cease to be able to...
  • as communities (and I guess these would have to be informal ad hoc small communities) we agree on some sites that are worth maintaining and developing, and in collaboration with their founders we take steps to ensure continuance and continuity.
  • maybe: CARG should organise first discussion and them action to ensure that some of this gets done in a more organised and collective way...
If we do nothing the future of the past of biblical studies online is very insecure.

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  Bible "Style Guide"
Huge thanks to Stephen for the tip off (via email) to this brilliant resource:

The Bible Style Guide may be "a reference text designed specifically for those working within the media industry." But the "crash course in the Bible" it offers is good for far more than just "busy journalists, broadcasters and bloggers." It combines a very brief, down to earth, and wise glossary of key terms that people use when talking about the Bible. With a crash course in the nature of biblical literature, translation and the Bible in today's world. There is probably no one who can not learn something from this free 70+ page book!

Students, do you:
  • think Ebionite is a sort of ancient plastic?
  • a Codex is used to decode secret messages?
  • that a canon goes "bang"?
Just get The Bible Style Guide and look it up! The answers are neat, quick and sensible.

Kids, do you think the Bible is old fashioned but confused because you were brought up to think it a Holy Book?
Just get The Bible Style Guide and browse through it like a magazine.

Mature Christians (that's code for "not longer young" and somewhat stuck in a rut) just get the (totally free)
Bible Style Guide and discover something new and inspiring - before breakfast.

Teachers, fed up with people who do your Intro class yet still think the Catholic Epistles were written by Pope Benedict? Point all your classes to The Bible Style Guide and then warn them you'll get tough on people who have not at least mastered its under 80 pages!

Quite seriously this is the most compact, useful and easy to use Bible Handbook I have ever seen...

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Friday, September 12, 2008
  Audio Bible easy download
We are just starting to deliver the PodBible audio Bible readings in a new format. We are calling it Bible 60.

Basically Bible 60 packages chapters from the PodBible audio CEV in convenient clusters.

Each package is about 60 minutes playing time. That is perfect to dub onto a C60 cassette, or write to an audio CD, for someone who's eyesight is going. It is an easy 20-30MB download you can listen to on a journey...

We've begun Bible 60 with the first book of the Bible, Genesis:


  Amos reviewed in BTB
I have just received another review of the Amos: Hypertext Bible Commentary "volume", this time in Biblical Theology Bulletin, by Anselm C. Hagedorn of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. I will quote the concluding paragraph:
However, these concerns are probably not the ones of the users whom Bulkeley had in mind for his commentary. There is certainly a wealth of information to be found on this CD, but the present reviewer remains sceptical whether a disc can really be an adequate substitute for some standard books such as a Hebrew Bible, a lexicon, and a concordance. Also in his goal not to offer a chosen path of interpretation for the user, Bulkeley runs the risk of losing his user/reader altogether. Sometimes it would have been helpful to know what Bulkeley actually thinks about the text, since I seriously doubt that the intended user without formal training is able to judge the scholarship adequately. All these quibbles aside, amongst the commentaries available for a general theological readership this is clearly one of the better ones.
First the detail: Hagedorn says he "remains sceptical whether a disc can really be an adequate substitute for some standard books such as a Hebrew Bible, a lexicon, and a concordance." The Logos and Bibleworks programs of course demonstrate that it can ;) But I do not see HBC_ as a competitor with these. A commentary complements such tools.

The issue that Hagedorn raises with his comment that "Sometimes it would have been helpful to know what Bulkeley actually thinks about the text" is a significant one, and one about which I still have mixed feelings.

On the one hand it is frustrating that most reviewers of the commentary assume that I believe that the book of Amos was somehow written very close to the period in which the prophetic speeches it contains are set. I don't. I am still convinced that something like Wolff's reconstruction of the redaction history of the book is likely, Coote's simplification of Wolff sometimes seems better because simpler, but at other times recognition of the complexity of everyday life convinces me that even Wolff's scheme is probably an over-simplification. But we do not and cannot know. We can make intelligent guesses, like Wolff's, about the history of the redaction of the book (though by the time I finish reading Van Seters I may be convinced we can dispense with the notion of redactors ;) But all we can know is the book, and the setting in which it presents "Amos", that is what I choose to read... My readers attributing to me a naive historicism is frustrating.

But on the other hand, I have been delighted when in one week an Orthodox Rabbi and a Messianic pastor write to me thanking me for the work, I chuckle when in the same month small groups of Brazillian Catholics were using my commentary in their study of Amos, while somewhere to the north of them whole Sunday Schools of Southern Baptists were doing the same! On the whole I would not choose to exchange this delightful (if ironic) understanding of Scripture by such diverse groups to undo the misunderstanding (of my position on the possible/likely history of composition and transmission of the book) by scholars.

It will be interesting when other writers for the series have written and we can compare how different judgement calls on this issue work.

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Thursday, September 11, 2008
  Mixed emotions?
Do watch this video. Does it make you laugh? Did it make you cry? How do you respond to something like this?

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Sunday, September 07, 2008
  Free audio books
Librivox is a great project, it uses volunteers to read, edit, prooflisten and make available copyright-free audio books.

I've done several chapters in collaborative projects, and also several "solo" readings. My most popular (so far) have been:
Compare that with just 750 downloads from of my recording of the much better-known Just So Stories and you get a picture of the benefits of collaboration on a project like this!

I am just finishing Three Men and a Maid by PG Wodehouse and was really encouraged by the feedback on these recordings from Gustav evacuees (see Gustav, Librivox and Life).

In its way PodBible is another collaborative (over 300 volunteer readers and dozens of ongoing volunteer workers) reading the Bible first live over a long weekend, now podcasting the Bible a chapter a day or the whole Bible in a year, and soon to make individual books available in one hour chunks as an audio Bible you could download and put on CD or cassette for those with poor eyesight. The translation we used the CEV is designed for easy listening and is suitable for ESL listeners.

There is also a PodBible Facebook page where a different group of listeners can get a daily "fix" of the Bible.

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Friday, September 05, 2008
  Gustav, Librivox and Life
There are times, most of the time I guess, when we take for granted the multiple ways in which the Internet changes things. Then something like Gustav happens. As a spare time hobby I read (mainly English humour) out-of-copyright books for Librivox these projects get checked, for glitches, errors and/or indescipherability by proof listeners. Often Librivox as a totally web-based project involves working with people who are merely usernames - marscalling, lil'robert and the like. But occasionally through the private message service you learn a bit more anout someone and they start to become "real people".

I've been reading early PG Wodehouse comedies recently, A Man of Means by P. G. Wodehouse and C. H. Bovill was finished back in May,and since then Three Men and a Maid by Wodehouse alone. I have been praying for one of the proof listeners, so when Gustav threatened their area that became a cause for concern.

Here's what they wrote after the storm was past:
You are so correct about the separation being a very difficult part of this evacuation process. At work, I find that we have a great deal to pray about with our customers searching for family members and pets, who have been separated from each other. At one point, our interstate 59 coming from New Orleans was so backed up that a trip which normally takes 4-6 hours, took one customer 14 hours, with gas stations along the way out of gas, several people including this customer found themselves walking the evacuation route for the last 20 or more miles. Nothing on the news about this though, so all I know is to keep praying for all those who are far from home.

Something which might cheer you: I took mp3 copies of your Wodehouse project with me to work, during the rain squals (they usuallky lasted about 20 mins) I played tracks from them for the travelers standing around. Many loved the book and asked about it, one woman in particular stayed while I cooked a pizza for her family and listened to 2 tracks. It turned out she had heard of LibriVox and planned to download Three Men and a Maid when she gets back into her New Orleans area home. I can't seem to say this very well, but I'm trying to say that for at least 2 carrivans of people, your reading gave resspite, comfort and the first real laughter I'd heard all day as our friend Smith the bulldog stole the show that fateful night that auntie returned.
So, more to pray about, but some thanfulness and joy mixed with the "pleases", isn't the Internet wonderful. How else could an Old Testament teacher in New Zealand be able to brush against the lives of people far away at a time of crisis? BTW Smith the Bulldog is indeed quite a show-stealing act ;)

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008
  Letter to my MP
I have only written to my MP a very few times in my four decades as a voter, so you could hardly call me a political activist ;) But this morning I have written to the Hon Phil Goff who is the MP for my constituency. I reproduce the letter here, in the hopes that others might want to write something similar to their representatives.

Email to my Representative the Hon Phil Goff MP

Dear Mr Goff,

I am writing to you, as you are my constituency MP, and a previous Foreign Minister, and because I imagine that the Prime Minister who is (I believe) standing in as Foreign Minister currently is probably even busier than you are ;)

I am puzzled that a Labour-led government (who I would expect to be concerned for basic human rights and dignity) does not seem to have been at all active in taking steps to encourage a resolution to the twenty year old conflict in Burma where a military junta, which assumed power in the wake of protests at a previous military government, has been systematically and brutally suppressing all dissent, refusing to negotiate with either the current opposition or with the political party elected by an overwhelming majority in the last free elections, and instead setting up a bogus process which is intended to cement their own rule. The junta is guilty of documented crimes against humanity, including the use of forced labour and rape as a weapon, in their suppression of ethnic minorities.

I have not written to a politician on such a topic before, but the latest case just seems so disgusting (see the account below this message) and comes only days after we signed a free trade deal which includes the Myanmar (Burma) Junta among its beneficiaries, that I felt this time I could not simply stand by and ignore my country's complicity in these crimes.

[Account of the rape of Nhkum Hkawn Din from Sarah Armitage, Partners UK & Childcare Projects Coordinator.

On 27th July 2008 near Nam Sai village, Kachin State, Nhkum Hkawn Din left her house to take food to her brother who was working in a paddy field on their parent's farm. When her brother returned home later that day not having seen her, the family realised that something was wrong. After searching most of the evening, she was reported missing.

Towards the end of the third day of searching, her clothes and shoes were found alongside the basket she had been carrying to her brother. Her body, naked and mutilated, was finally found only 200 metres away from a Burma Army checkpoint. According to family members she had been gang raped and then further violated with knives. Her skull had been crushed beyond recognition and her facial features obliterated. Her eyes had been gouged out and her throat was cut. She had also been stabbed in the stomach and on her right side.

Local witnesses say that they saw Nhkum Hkawn Din being followed by Burma Army soldiers on her way to the paddy field and that they saw the soldiers, one of who was recognised as a Colonel, leave the area a little later on.

The local army commanders have admitted that one of their lower ranking soldiers, Soe Thu Win, carried out the attack. He was recognised by witnesses during a line-up and later confessed under interrogation. It has been stated that he will be sentenced to 20 years in jail without trial. The Colonel was not interrogated and has since been relocated.

The family have been offered $500 plus some food (1 bag of rice, cooking oil, 5 cans of milk and some sugar) as compensation.

There has been no official investigation and once again the Burma Army are getting away with murder.

Rape is systematically used as a weapon of war against ethnic minorities in Burma, more than a thousand cases have been documented. There is also a culture of impunity, where no action is taken against soldiers who rape. On June 19th The United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1820 noting that rape and sexual violence can be described as a crime against humanity.]

Yours faithfully,

Tim Bulkeley

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Tuesday, September 02, 2008
  XXXIII and 2nd
Michael Halcomb posted the 33rd carnival, a thorough day by day list with plenty to keep anyone occupied, and probably alow anyone to add yet more fine blogs to their blogroll! In case somehow you have missed it look here for the Biblioblogs Carnival XXXIII

In other news, I expect to be away "on retreat from the world" with no Internet, for a few days, preparing courses for next year, while so many in the southern parts of the USA begin to experience Gustav. The early news looks hopeful that this may not be a disaster on the Katrina scale, let alone that of Nargis.

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