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How Can US Citizens Legally Travel to Cuba?

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Musical power couple Beyoncé and Jay-Z jetted down to a tropical and somewhat-forbidden destination last week for their fifth wedding anniversary: Cuba. Because of travel restrictions to the country, the couple’s trip raised the eyebrows of some U.S. lawmakers, particularly Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, a Cuban American and vocal critic of U.S. travel to Cuba. Rubio announced he wanted a full explanation of the trip, though it apparently was properly and fully licensed as a cultural trip by the U.S. Treasury Department. 

When Fidel Castro took power in 1959, relations between the U.S. and its southern Caribbean neighbor were severed. The U.S. enacted a hard-line trade embargo that restricted travel, and to this day U.S. citizens looking to visit Cuba have to acquire permission from the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets (OFAC). OFAC “prohibits persons subject to the jurisdiction of the United States from engaging in transactions in which Cuba or a Cuban national has any interest whatsoever, direct or indirect, including transactions related to travel,” reads the official documentation on Cuba sanctions, available here

Travel restrictions stemming from the embargo have eased over the years, however, particularly during the Clinton and Obama administrations. (George W. Bush reversed a number of Clinton’s measures, which Obama then reenacted.) Today, travelers do not need pop star-worthy connections to hop a plane and visit the island, though mounds of paperwork and patience likely are required. Today, Cuba travel restrictions are as lenient as they have ever been—more people and types of trips, such as cultural, academic, and religious, are eligible to receive the proper licensing.

In particular, the “people-to-people” license has brought more legal U.S. travelers to the island. First created by Clinton and then reinstated by Obama, the licenses make it possible for conceivably any curious traveler with the funds to visit Cuba legally with a licensed tour operator. The tours have to be booked solid with a “schedule of educational exchange activities that will result in meaningful interaction between the travelers and individuals in Cuba,” as the Department of Treasury guidelines state. In short, travelers should not expect many idle beach hours.

The “people-to-people” license falls under the “specific” license category for travel to Cuba. Citizens can apply for a “general” or “specific” license depending on the purpose of their trip, details of which are available in the PDF “Comprehensive Guidelines for License Applications to Engage in Travel-related Transactions Involving Cuba” available here on the Department of Treasury’s resource page. 

“General” licenses include visiting “close relatives” who are Cuban citizens, licenses for journalists, research, educational and religious licenses, as well as certain commercial marketing licenses. “Specific” licenses include reasons such as academic seminars or conferences and visiting “close relatives” who are neither Cubans nor employed by the U.S. Interests Section, which exists in lieu of an embassy or consulate in Cuba.

The OFAC recommends hopeful travelers begin the license application process no later than 45 days before their scheduled departure. Applicants can take care of the paperwork online, but then have to print, sign and send the final application. For the logistics, visitors must make sure their transportation is via an authorized service provider. The official list of such providers is available here.

There are tales of sneaking across the border, often by catching a flight from Mexico or Canada, but Department of Treasury documents have some ominous-sounding text on the subject: “Th[e] restriction includes tourist travel to Cuba from or through a third country such as Mexico or Canada … Travelers who fail to comply with Department of the Treasury regulations could face civil penalties and criminal prosecution upon return to the United States.” Still, a quick online search will pull up plenty of hits about tips and tricks for making it happen scot-free. There’s always the chance someone like Marco Rubio might want answers, though.

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Big Questions
Can You Really Go Blind Staring at a Solar Eclipse?
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A total solar eclipse will cut a path of totality across the United States on August 21, and eclipse mania is gripping the country. Should the wide-eyed and unprotected hazard a peek at this rare phenomenon?

NASA doesn't advise it. The truth is, a quick glance at a solar eclipse won't leave you blind. But you're not doing your peepers any favors. As NASA explains, even when 99 percent of the sun's surface is covered, the 1 percent that sneaks out around the edges is enough to damage the rod and cone cells in your retinas. As this light and radiation flood into the eye, the retina becomes trapped in a sort of solar cooker that scorches its tissue. And because your retinas don't have any pain receptors, your eyes have no way of warning you to stop.

The good news for astronomy enthusiasts is that there are ways to safely view a solar eclipse. A pair of NASA-approved eclipse glasses will block the retina-frying rays, but sunglasses or any other kind of smoked lenses cannot. (The editors at MrEclipse.com, an eclipse watchers' fan site, put shades in the "eye suicide" category.) NASA also suggests watching the eclipse indirectly through a pinhole projector, or through binoculars or a telescope fitted with special solar filters.

While it's safe to take a quick, unfiltered peek at the sun in the brief totality of a total solar eclipse, doing so during the partial phases—when the Moon is not completely covering the Sun—is much riskier.

WOULDN'T IT BE EASIER TO JUST TELL YOUR KIDS THEY WILL GO BLIND?

NASA's website tackled this question. Their short answer: that could ruin their lives.

"A student who heeds warnings from teachers and other authorities not to view the eclipse because of the danger to vision, and learns later that other students did see it safely, may feel cheated out of the experience. Having now learned that the authority figure was wrong on one occasion, how is this student going to react when other health-related advice about drugs, alcohol, AIDS, or smoking is given[?]"

This story was originally published in 2012.

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If Beer and Bread Use Almost the Exact Same Ingredients, Why Isn't Bread Alcoholic?
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If beer and bread use almost the exact same ingredients (minus hops) why isn't bread alcoholic?

Josh Velson:

All yeast breads contain some amount of alcohol. Have you ever smelled a rising loaf of bread or, better yet, smelled the air underneath dough that has been covered while rising? It smells really boozy. And that sweet smell that fresh-baked bread has under the yeast and nutty Maillard reaction notes? Alcohol.

However, during the baking process, most of the alcohol in the dough evaporates into the atmosphere. This is basically the same thing that happens to much of the water in the dough as well. And it’s long been known that bread contains residual alcohol—up to 1.9 percent of it. In the 1920s, the American Chemical Society even had a set of experimenters report on it.

Anecdotally, I’ve also accidentally made really boozy bread by letting a white bread dough rise for too long. The end result was that not enough of the alcohol boiled off, and the darned thing tasted like alcohol. You can also taste alcohol in the doughy bits of underbaked white bread, which I categorically do not recommend you try making.

Putting on my industrial biochemistry hat here, many [people] claim that alcohol is only the product of a “starvation process” on yeast once they run out of oxygen. That’s wrong.

The most common brewers and bread yeasts, of the Saccharomyces genus (and some of the Brettanomyces genus, also used to produce beer), will produce alcohol in both a beer wort
and in bread dough immediately, regardless of aeration. This is actually a surprising result, as it runs counter to what is most efficient for the cell (and, incidentally, the simplistic version of yeast biology that is often taught to home brewers). The expectation would be that the cell would perform aerobic respiration (full conversion of sugar and oxygen to carbon dioxide and water) until oxygen runs out, and only then revert to alcoholic fermentation, which runs without oxygen but produces less energy.

Instead, if a Saccharomyces yeast finds itself in a high-sugar environment, regardless of the presence of air it will start producing ethanol, shunting sugar into the anaerobic respiration pathway while still running the aerobic process in parallel. This phenomenon is known as the Crabtree effect, and is speculated to be an adaptation to suppress competing organisms
in the high-sugar environment because ethanol has antiseptic properties that yeasts are tolerant to but competitors are not. It’s a quirk of Saccharomyces biology that you basically only learn about if you spent a long time doing way too much yeast cell culture … like me.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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