Pic of the Day

A Douglas DC-3 is one of a number of old warplanes to have been given a makeover by graffiti artists as part of the Boneyard project at the Pima Air and Space Museum

As a rule, I think graffiti sucks and the vandals involved should be put to useful tasks. Like this one.

We really know how to put out the Unwelcome Mat

As Americans, we like to imagine our country as we think of ourselves: open-hearted and welcoming; efficient and practical; easygoing, above all. These values are the foundation of our culture, of an open economy fueled by ideas and immigration, and of our soft power — America’s ability to change the world simply because it is admired.

Whatever foreigners think of the American experiment, though, it’s unlikely the experience of crossing our border has made them think better of it.

Imagine that you’re the citizen of a prosperous, democratic ally like Britain, Spain or Japan, and you’d like to visit America. Before traveling, you must pay $14 to complete an online United States government form called ESTA, short for Electronic System for Travel Authorization.

ESTA asks for basic personal data, like your name and birth date. It also asks whether you are guilty of “moral turpitude,” whether you’re planning crimes or “immoral activities” and whether you suffer from “lymphogranuloma venereum” (don’t ask). If you’re involved in terrorism or genocide — and for some reason you’ve decided to take this opportunity to inform the United States government — there’s a box for that. And if you’re a spy — a particularly artless one — please let us know…

…ESTA also duplicates the personal data that passengers must still provide for the separate Advance Passenger Information System…

Before landing, travelers (including Americans) must additionally complete a paper customs form. But asking travelers whether they are carrying snails or “disease agents” is as futile as asking whether they collaborated with the Nazis (another ESTA question)…

Americans may be surprised by the conclusions of a 2006 survey by the U.S. Travel Association, which found that foreign travelers were more afraid of United States immigration officials than of terrorism or crime. They rated America’s borders by far the least welcoming in the world. Two-thirds feared being detained for “minor mistakes or misstatements…”

Add in long lines and senseless, disparately enforced rules — for instance, agents shouting at travelers for using cellphones in some arrival halls, while at others, such technology is treated as something other than a threat to the republic — and we give the strong impression of an authority-minded culture that’s coming slightly unhinged…

No country’s border staff is perfect, as every traveler knows. But America — a land where strangers greet one another in elevators, waiters act as if they like you, stores deploy professional greeters and government serves the people — should aim to be the best. That means a smile or “hello” as we approach every agent, a “please” and “thank you” to bookend every official request and an occasional “welcome” as we cross a secure border.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for any of that to happen, though.

Protest in Morocco grows against rape/marriage law

Amina’s mother and sister at her grave

Several hundred women’s rights activists have demonstrated outside Morocco’s parliament to demand the repeal of a law on sexual violence. Morocco’s penal code allows a rapist to marry his victim if she is a minor as a way of avoiding prosecution.

A 16-year-old girl, Amina Filali, killed herself a week ago after being severely beaten during a forced marriage to her rapist…

The parents of Amina Filali were at the protest, says the BBC’s Nora Fakim, in the Moroccan capital, Rabat. They say their daughter was pressured by a local court into marrying her rapist, who then abused her.

She died after swallowing rat poison on 10 March.

Her case has shocked many in Morocco. Women’s rights groups have started an online campaign to have the law – article 475 – repealed…

The protest is an attempt to change attitudes concerning sex before marriage, especially in cases of rape, where the woman can sometimes be regarded as the criminal rather than the victim in order to preserve the family’s honour…

The demonstrators want women’s rights to be respected, not violated, and they want to help poor women such as Ms Filali to be able to stand up for themselves…

In poor, conservative rural areas such as this, it is unacceptable for a woman to lose her virginity before marriage – and the dishonour is hers and her family’s even if she is raped…

Ms Filali’s father said that when he reported the rape of his daughter, he was advised of the option to marry by court officials. “The prosecutor advised my daughter to marry. He said, ‘Go and make the marriage contract’,” Lahcen Filali told an online newspaper, goud.ma.

Campaigners are also calling for the judge who allowed the marriage and the rapist to be jailed.

This is one of those threads common to so much of fundamentalist religion — passed off as imperative to common law. Whether it’s Shari’a or Santorum doesn’t make much of a difference. Holy men make rules for women – even if the women in question have been attacked and assaulted by men.

Hypocrisy, a lack of respect for the rights of all human beings continues as characteristic of superstition, traditional custom maintained by fear-filled little minds afraid, unable, unwilling to confront a modern world.

Nazi loot must be returned to the family it was stolen from — Why is this even a question?

A Jewish man has won his fight against a German museum for the return of thousands of rare posters stolen from his father by the Nazis in 1938.

Berlin’s Federal Court of Justice ruled Peter Sachs, who now lives in the US, is the rightful owner of the posters. The judges said that not returning the posters “would perpetuate Nazi injustice”…

The Berlin museum said in a statement that it “accepts the ruling”, bringing an end to the seven-year legal battle…

Hans Sachs, who managed to escape to the US after being held in a concentration camp, is thought to have collected up to 12,500 posters, of which only 4,529 have been identified.

The German Historical Museum only displayed a few posters at any one time after becoming part of its collection following the fall of the Berlin Wall. But it argued the collection, which includes advertisements for exhibitions, cabarets, films, and political propaganda, was invaluable to researchers.

Peter Sachs, 71, only became aware of the collection in 2005, and immediately began legal proceedings to get them back.

In an email to news agency the Associated Press, Peter Sachs, said: “It feels like vindication for my father, a final recognition of the life he lost and never got back.”

His lawyer Matthias Druba, said: “Hans Sachs wanted to show the poster art to the public, so the objective now is to find a depository for the posters in museums where they can really be seen and not hidden away.”

And make that NOT a museum in Berlin that feels it has research needs that take higher priority than the return of property stolen by the worst monsters of the 20th Century.

Democratic Senators warn of the abusive use of the Patriot Act

The spring winds clockwise, right?

For more than two years, a handful of Democrats on the Senate intelligence committee have warned that the government is secretly interpreting its surveillance powers under the Patriot Act in a way that would be alarming if the public — or even others in Congress — knew about it. On Thursday, two of those senators — Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Colorado — went further. They said a top-secret intelligence operation that is based on that secret legal theory is not as crucial to national security as executive branch officials have maintained.

The senators, who also said that Americans would be “stunned” to know what the government thought the Patriot Act allowed it to do, made their remarks in a letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. after a Justice Department official last month told a judge that disclosing anything about the program “could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security of the United States…”

The senators wrote that it was appropriate to keep specific operations secret. But, they said, the government in a democracy must act within publicly understood law so that voters “can ratify or reject decisions made on their behalf” — even if that “obligation to be transparent with the public” creates other challenges.

“We would also note that in recent months we have grown increasingly skeptical about the actual value of the ‘intelligence collection operation,’ ” they added. “This has come as a surprise to us, as we were initially inclined to take the executive branch’s assertions about the importance of this ‘operation’ at face value.”

The dispute centers on what the government thinks it is allowed to do under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, under which agents may obtain a secret order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court allowing them to get access to any “tangible things” — like business records — that are deemed “relevant” to a terrorism or espionage investigation.

There appears to be both an ordinary use for Section 215 orders — akin to using a grand jury subpoena to get specific information in a traditional criminal investigation — and a separate, classified intelligence collection activity that also relies upon them…

The letter from Mr. Wyden and Mr. Udall also complained that while the Obama administration told Congress in August 2009 that it would establish “a regular process for reviewing, redacting and releasing significant opinions” of the court, since then “not a single redacted opinion has been released.”

Am I surprised? Unless this is your first visit to this site, you shouldn’t be. I’ve been confronting the Feds over crap like this for over a half-century. And I ain’t alone.

The sad part is that this is happening under the administration of a President who is a constitutional scholar. He knows better. Maybe he believes the rationales, the excuses and lies offered by the intelligence community. I didn’t think that was possible since the demented days of J. Edgar Hoover.

Not the lies. The gullibility. The political opportunism.

‘March madness’ offer — get a free pizza with every vasectomy

An enterprising Massachusetts doctor is marking America’s ‘March madness’ basketball season by offering a free pizza with every vasectomy.

Evan Cohen, manager of Urology Associates of Cape Cod, says his patients will be able to watch games as they recover from the 20-minute operation while enjoying their favourite margarita, pepperoni or Hawaiian pizza.

According to Mr Cohen, March is the most popular month for vasectomy procedures, with men preferring to recuperate in the early spring rather than during the summer months.

Millions of men – and many women – take sick days from work during March Madness to watch the NCAA’s college basketball tournament, which features a series of 68 knock out-games on television all through the day and evening for much of March.

Vasectomies usually take between two days and a week to recover from, meaning men who have the procedure will be able to take advantage of the time of year to stay at home and watch basketball on television.

Mr Cohen told ABC: “We see about 100 consults in March, when we typically may only have 20 to 30 [in other months]. We wanted men to relax, and give them an excuse to watch the game.”

I can dig it. And a terrific excuse for time off from work.