Coming soon -- Drupal 4.7, and downtime explained...

I'm a fundamentally lazy guy -- and, yes, that is a virtue in a programmer ;) -- so I while I make content updates pretty regularly, I tend to let the code base...uh...stagnate.

But Drupal, the awesome open-source CMS that powers this site, is nearing release of the next version, 4.7. I've been playing with the betas and release candidates, and it is one sweet upgrade. I'm almost tempted take the plunge and go with RC3, but the final product should be out within weeks.

So the vanilla blue theme on the site? I was using such an old theme that the most recent version of php broke it (Thanks, Chris, for letting me know!), so I'll accept the default for a couple weeks. If you're reading this in RSS, you'll never know what you're not missing. But do check out Drupal. It rocks.

RIP William Sloane Coffin -- update

My father-in-law studied with him at Yale, and every story he tells about Coffin shows a person who was just as profoundly human and caring in everyday life as he was about the big issues he tackled.

It's a sad day. His voice and vision will be deeply missed.

Obit in the Washington Post.

Update from my father-in-law, with a favorite story from Coffin's book Letters to A Young Doubter:
Bill had been meeting with a very conservative group at Yale. He always said "I think it's more important to be known by the integrity of your love than by the purity of your doctrine," but they didn't agree.

After a few discussions which went nowhere (Bill wasn't about to be converted and they would settle for nothing less) the leader of the Campus Crusade said, "Bill, you know that you will always be on our prayer list."

And Bill asked, "How close is your prayer list to your shit list?"

Are we really planning to nuke Iran?

Can the US really be ready to cede what's left of our moral high ground? Read Hersh's New Yorker piece, The Iran Plans.

If you think this a monumentally bad idea, let your representatives in Congress know, sign the petition at, and generate some noise. Hersh makes the point that because Bush is listening to his captive policy-strategy echo chamber, all he's hearing is the same kind of advice that got us into Iraq.

There is no way understand how truly savage an atomic attack is, really. The idea that this Administration would consider first strike, even against limited, military targets, is obscene. Visit the Hiroshima Peace Museum to see what actually a-bombing a city looks like, or, if you only have time for one image, take a look at Shin's Tricycle.

They came for the SubGenii and I said nothing...

Can you be a SubGenius and a mother in AmeriKa? Not according to one judge, who has used a woman's religious affiliation as evidence in a custody battle that took away her child. Boing Boing has been following this for a while, and the full transcript of the court proceding is linked there.

"The fact that, Your Honor, that it's not relevant to this case, that this child has not been exposed to the Church of the Sub-Genius, the child is not affected."

"Well, the child doesn't need to be exposed to every bizarre thing his parent does to be affected by it."

"Your Honor, there's no proof that the child has been exposed at all."

"Did you hear what I just said. Now sit down. I've heard enough of your objection. I won't hear any more argument on this particular objection, do you understand?"
[SubGenius Update: Complete transcript of Bevilacqua custody hearing]

Think what you will about Bob and the Church, but this is just insanity in a nation that ostensibly believes in religious freedom and the rule of law. How long until they start sniffing around genital mutilation or ritual cannibalism...

Delightful April 1 "Bush Third Term" leaked memo

Check out this "news" at The Register. You'll know it's fake if you've ever googled Horwitz Feinberg & Horwitz, but there's a sucker punch in its placid banality. The truly disturbing thing is that you can imagine W's bunkhouse cabinet talking their way into something just this labyrinthine and evil.

Via The Register
The US Department of Justice (DoJ) and the office of the White House Counsel are preparing a draft document laying out the President's wartime authority to remain in office past 2008, The Register has learned.

The scheme is described as an emergency "continuity presidency," made necessary by the extraordinary circumstances and unique challenges of protecting the United States from the threat of international terrorism.

"The world changed on 9/11," a confidential DoJ memo obtained by The Register explains, "and no Administration in US history is better suited to adapt productively to those changes than this one."

A pleasant April Fool's reminder that things could be – at least marginally – worse. Thanks, Chris!

Finest U.s. Commander, not King: W

I'm sick and tired of the incessant drumbeat from the liberal left, which has continued so long that now Hollywood and the media elite have felt obligated to start marching in step. The truth is out there, and when the Great Scorer comes to write it all down, the final tally will show what we all know: George W. Bush rules.

Does it really matter *why* we invaded Iraq? Isn't that country a better place now, a shining beacon of democracy for the Middle East to both admire -- and fear? If it was necessary to bend a few rules, ignore the stray data point, fire a general or two, leak classified material in wartime, heck, that's just the business of government. It's not like he got a blowjob in the Oval Office.

And speaking of blowjobs, what's up with Russ Feingold? Doesn't he understand that the President needs to do everything within his power -- even if Congress has some silly technicalities to the contrary -- to protect our Country? Real cowboys like our W don't take the worst terrorist act against America lying down. And remember, this is all about 9-11. An attack on Amerca. September 11. Terrorism. Fear. Fear. Fear. My Pet Goat. Fear. Fear.

And those folks out there who say that the Administration could have made Social Secuity solvent for another 75 years with just a part of what is being spent on Iraq, I have just two words: weapons of mass destruction. We know American seniors don't have them, thank God, but what about Saddam? Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Just the other night, on "The Daily Show," I saw one of Saddam's generals say that those weapons existed; one of his pilots told him; or a friend of one of his pilots who had once accidentally tried to dry his poodle in a microwave. That's proof enough for me.

What would Jesus do? Once he stopped puking, crying, and tearing his long, straight, Aryan hair from his oddly-white European skin, he would start kicking ass and taking names. The scientists, the quadriplegics, and the genetically disadvantaged, and all others who promote the taking of an embryo's life in the name of stem cell research would be immediately slaughtered and sent to Hell. All the members of the ACLU and EFF would be next, for fighting school prayer and the 10 commandments in court houses, defending murdering abortion mills, and opposing DRM. (Jesus has an iPod, man, and he *likes* technologies that limit your freedom. Christianity, after all, is essentially DRM for the human brain.)

About immigration, I don't know what to say. No, I mean I really don't. I'm stuck between my bedrock Republican principles, and the fear that I'm beginning to sense -- fueled by the out-of-touch, liberal elite -- that we're in for trouble in November. One of the great minds of our Party once called them the "nattering nabobs of negativism," and I couldn't be prouder of Spiro Agnew right now. Dick Cheney should emulate his example. We nailed Dan Rather's dick to the floor, but there are so many left (no pun intended) who deserve the same. Lou Dobbs, for starters.

Well, that's about all the news from Grover's Corners. They're here with the duct tape and straightjacket again, so it's back to the basement for me. Hope you enjoy the rest of your April 1.

The real AHJ conclusion: Prayer kills

There's been a lot of ink in the last few days about the study published in the American Heart Journal focussing on the impact of prayer in a population of cardiac patients. Almost everyone noticed the counterintuitive result, that people who were prayed for and knew it did worse. But the article acknowledges what cannot be spoken in Christian AmeriKa: If prayer was an OTC drug, it we would now have people screaming for it to be pulled from the shelves.

Via AHJ:
Compared with the very high level of study design, conduct, and analysis, the STEP investigators' interpretation of the study results appears to reflect more the cultural bias that healing prayer could only seriously be explored for effectiveness, not for safety issues. Culturally, “harm” resulting from prayer is generally ascribed to overtly “negative” prayer, such as hateful prayer, voodoo, spells, or other black magic. Positively intended intercessory prayer is considered a priori to be only capable of doing good, if it does anything at all. But this cultural dichotomy is medically problematic and ethically unacceptable in the setting of a clinical trial performing structured experimentation on human subjects. Particularly in the absence of mechanistic insight, outcome researchers must be vigilant in asking the question of whether a well-intentioned, loving, heartfelt healing prayer might inadvertently harm or kill vulnerable patients in certain circumstances. Although the STEP data do not actually prove that prayer had an untoward effect on coronary artery bypass graft patients, to simply write off significantly worse outcomes in one of the experimental arms as the play of chance is in striking contrast to all the other measures the STEP coordinating center and investigators took to ensure the safety of participating patients and quality of the study data. Thus, although the STEP investigators used every appropriate means of protection of the human subjects who participated in their study, the casual approach to the question of safety in the final data interpretation promotes a dangerously ambiguous message to investigators who might be inclined to do research in this area in the future.
[From efficacy to safety concerns: A STEP forward or a step back for clinical research and intercessory prayer?: The Study of Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP)]

Yeah, you read that right. Human subjects review boards are now on notice. And Padre? We see you round this hospital again, you better be wearing Kevlar.

Lead Reebok charm kills Minneapolis toddler

A 4-year-old goes to the hospital with vomiting, and is dead of lead poisoning days later. The culprit, revealed in X-ray, is a swallowed charm from a bracelet that accompanied a pair of sneakers. Turned out to be 99.1% lead.

Via the CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report:
This report describes the death of a child from acute lead poisoning caused by lead encephalopathy after ingestion of a heart-shaped metallic charm containing lead; the charm had been attached to a metal bracelet provided as a free gift with the purchase of shoes manufactured by Reebok International Ltd. On March 23, a voluntary recall of 300,000 heart-shaped charm bracelets was announced by CPSC and Reebok† (Figure). Health-care providers should consider lead poisoning in young children with increased intracranial pressure, unexplained and prolonged gastric symptoms, or a history of mouthing or ingesting nonfood items. Health-care providers also should warn caregivers against allowing children to mouth any metal objects.
[Death of a Child After Ingestion of a Metallic Charm --- Minnesota, 2006]

Subsequent tests of charms from different sales locations showed an extreme variation in lead content -- from .004% up to 67% by weight. I guess the real question is why there was any lead in these things in the first place.

In memoriam: Stanislaw Lem

This has already been a sad year for sf, with the loss of Octavia Butler, and now Stanislaw Lem, who died yesterday at 84.

It is sad that so many of the references to his passing cite him for only the most visible, mass-market part of his work, Solaris. I want to remember and celebrate one of his later collections of short fiction, Imaginary Magnitude, which is as close to true literature as anything sf has yet produced.

In this collection of summaries and introductions to future texts, Lem approaches a perfection of form and function in sf storytelling. They are clean, spare, uncluttered with exposition and infodump, and yet unutterably dense, compelling visions of intensely imagined futures, narrated entirely through artifact (in a way very reminiscent of another of sf's great literary works, LeGuin's Always Coming Home.)

One of the key stories features a description of AI-written stories, "bitistic" literature, where, once the computer has intuited the splines and textures of an author's oeuvre, it can continue to produce the works which the author never lived to complete. It is a great shame that we have no such device to see what else might have come from Lem's great mind. I'll miss his vision, and so will science fiction.

Jim Propp BoingBoinged: Web zen: testing zen

Today's BB had a neat collection of Web test links, Web zen: testing zen including a brain-edema-inducing self-referential  test by my buddy mathematician Jim Propp. A devastating critique of standardized testing delivered in a recursive little confection of a test. Yaay.