Beautiful, but difficult

This is a beautiful message from @HeardinLondon on Twitter, which has been in my head all day.  Recognising and responding to the fellow humanity of people who we might want to call our enemies, or who might call us their enemies, is no easy task, but it surely must be a part of the path to a peaceful and just world.

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WordPress, suExec, and internal server errors

(This post is mainly to document an annoying problem I encountered, and is undeniably geeky…)

While upgrading my WordPress installation from 3.0.1 to 3.0.2, I encountered what appeared to be a rather odd problem.  The automatic upgrade seemed to complete, but then trying to access any of the Dashboard/admin pages just resulted in an “Internal Server Error” page.  Examining the Apache error log file to try to get more information showed that Apache was getting a “Premature end of script headers” error when loading any page, but nothing more that that appeared in the log.

Cue much Googling and posting on the WordPress forums in search of a solution, with various things tried, including removing the .htaccess files, downloading a fresh copy of WordPress and reinstalling (none of which made the slightest bit of difference) I realised the cause of the problem:  My hosting provider use Apache’s suExec function, and for suExec to work, PHP has to be run as a CGI script (not via mod-php.)  And for CGI to work, the PHP files have to have the executable permission bit set (i.e. chmod a+x filename.php.)  But when the WordPress automatic updater runs, it overwrites the updated files and in the process resets the permissions and, crucially, unsets the executable bit.  Which means the PHP files can’t be run as CGI scripts, and so we get the Internal Server Errors, with “Premature end of script headers” in the log file.  In the end, the fix was to reset the permissions on the PHP files to make the executable again.

Short version: If you’re using WordPress with PHP running as suExec’ed CGI scripts (rather than via mod-php), after upgrading WordPress you may encounter Internal Server Errors until you reset the permissions on the PHP files to makes them executable.  If you have shell access to your web server then the following commands, run in the directory where WordPress resides, will do the trick:

find . -name "*.php" -exec chmod 755 '{}' \;
chmod 600 wp-config.php

(This may be overkill – includes shouldn’t need to be executable (I think) – but it does the job.)

Update (16 May): It’s been pointed out to me (thanks Dougie) that running the above command as I originally posted it will result in the wp-config.php file being readable by anyone with access to the server you’re running on e.g. other users in a shared hosting setup.  This is a Bad Thing™, since it potentially exposes details such as your database password to others.  The second command I’ve added above will restrict access to wp-config.php to your own user account.  (Some hosting setups may need the config file to be group-readable, in which case replace the 600 with 640.)

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Quiet amid busyness

You’ve gathered together in silence at Speakers’ Corner? Give me a moment to work that one out.

For a few years, Quakers from Westminster meeting and other meetings in London have been holding a once-a-month open-air Meeting for Worship at Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park. Perhaps unsurprisingly, we sometimes get odd reactions – as the quote above from one passer-by last Sunday points out, holding a silent meeting at a place more usually associated with noisy vocal debate and promotion of ideas is out of the ordinary even for somewhere known for attracting odd-balls.

So why do we do it?

One reason is the experience of holding a gathered, still Meeting for Worship amid the noise and busyness, not just of the Speakers but also from passers-by, people enjoying the park, the traffic round Marble Arch – in short, the city. And this is, perhaps, a unique experience. We normally hold our Quaker Meetings for Worship indoors, with the walls of our meeting houses blotting out this busyness and creating quiet space for us. By holding an open-air meeting in such an unpromising-seeming spot, we are reminded that we don’t set aside special places for Meeting for Worship, and that we can create a quiet, worshipful space in even the most unlikely of places. And many Friends who attend these meetings say that they find the meeting to be very deep and gathered, in spite of (or maybe because of) the unusual setting.

But this isn’t the only reason.

Our open-air Meetings for Worship were conceived of as a form of Quaker outreach, and this is probably a key reason why the Friends who attend do so. Many Quakers find outreach difficult – we don’t proselytise or evangelise, we don’t try to convert people to Quakerism – and for many of us, Quaker outreach consists of putting some posters up outside the meeting house and hoping to attract some interest. By holding an open-air Meeting for Worship in such a busy spot, we are taking what we have and showing it to people – not forcing it on anyone, but visibly saying “we’re here if you’re interested”.

The location of the open-air meeting is also important to the outreach element of it. The style of religion commonly seen at Speakers’ Corner is dogmatic, shouty, forceful religion; a form of religious belief which says it has the Truth, which says “we’re right, everyone else is wrong”, which puts itself in conflict with anyone who believes something different. By bringing Quakerism into the mix, we do more than just offer another religion – we are offering a different concept of what religion is. While so many at Speakers’ Corner claim to have the One True Faith and consider anyone who disagrees (or asserts a slightly different One True Faith) to be wrong, we instead present a religion of seekers which accepts and welcomes a diversity of belief, which looks for that of God in everyone, which says reminds us to “think it possible that you may be mistaken”.

So, back to the comment from our passer-by on Sunday: “You’ve gathered together in silence at Speakers’ Corner?” (He was reading from a sign one Friend was holding up, by the way.) Yes, we do, and for what I hope are good reasons. I don’t know whether we’ve introduced anyone new to Quakerism, but whether or not we have, I think we’ve had a positive impact.

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Well hello, stranger

Well, I’ve finally got around to it and set up my blog. Not much to see here yet, but be patient…

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