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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
Why Do They Build Oil Rigs in the Middle of the Ocean?
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Ryan Carlyle:

We put the rigs where the oil is!

There aren’t any rigs in the “middle” of the ocean, but it is fairly common to find major oilfields over 150 km off the coast. This happens because:

  • Shallow seas often had the correct conditions for oil formation millions of years ago. Specifically, something like an algae bloom has to die and sink into oxygen-free conditions on the sea floor, then that organic material gets buried and converted to rock over geologic time.
  • The continental shelf downstream of a major river delta is a great place for deposition of loose, sandy sediments that make good oil reservoir rocks.

These two types of rock—organic-rich source rock and permeable reservoir rock—must be deposited in the correct order in the same place for there to be economically viable oil reservoirs. Sometimes, we find ancient shallow seas (or lakes) on dry land. Sometimes, we find them underneath modern seas. In that latter case, you get underwater oil and offshore oil rigs.

In the “middle” of the ocean, the seafloor is primarily basaltic crust generated by volcanic activity at the mid-ocean ridge. There’s no source of sufficient organic material for oil source rock or high-permeability sandstone for reservoir rock. So there is no oil. Which is fine, because the water is too deep to be very practical to drill on the sea floor anyway. (Possible, but not practical.)

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

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Why is Friday the 13th Considered Unlucky?
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Today, people around the globe will feel uneasy about getting out of bed, leaving their homes, or going about their normal daily routines, all because of a superstition. These unfortunate folks suffer from paraskavedekatriaphobia, a common neurosis familiar to us all: the fear of Friday the 13th. But just where did this superstitious association come from, and how did it catch on?

The truth is that no one is absolutely sure where the idea that Friday the 13th is unlucky originated. Donald Dossey, the founder of the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Asheville, North Carolina, suspects the fear can be traced back to a Norse myth about 12 gods who had a dinner at Valhalla—the fabled hall where legendary Norse heroes feasted for eternity after they died—that was interrupted by a 13th guest, the evil and mischievous god Loki.

According to legend, Loki tricked Höðr (the blind god of winter and son of Odin, the supreme god in Norse mythology) into shooting his brother Baldr (the benevolent god of summer who was also a son of Odin) with a magical spear tipped with mistletoe—the only substance that could defeat him. Thus the number 13 was branded as unlucky because of the ominous period of mourning following the loss of such powerful gods by this unwanted 13th guest.

For whatever reason, among many cultures, the number 12 emerged throughout history as a "complete" number: There are 12 months in a year, 12 signs of the zodiac, 12 Gods of Olympus, 12 sons of Odin, 12 labors of Hercules, 12 Jyotirlingas or Hindu shrines where Shiva is worshipped, 12 successors of Muhammad in Shia Islam, and 12 tribes of Israel. In Christianity, Jesus was betrayed by one of his 12 Apostles—Judas—who was the 13th guest to arrive for the Last Supper. Surpassing the number 12 ostensibly unbalances the ideal nature of things; because it is seen as irregular and disrespectful of a sense of perfection, the number 13 bears the stigma of misfortune and bad luck we know today.

WHY FRIDAY?

Friday joins in the mix mostly because all of the early accounts of Jesus’s crucifixion agree that it took place on Friday—the standard day for crucifixions in Rome. As Chaucer noted in The Canterbury Tales, "And on a Friday fell all this mischance." Yet perpetuating Friday as an unlucky day in America came from the late 19th-century American tradition of holding all executions on Fridays; Friday the 13th became the unluckiest of days simply because it combined two distinct superstitions into one. According to the Oxford University Press Dictionary of Superstitions, the first reference to Friday the 13th itself wasn’t until 1913. (So despite actually occurring on Friday, October 13, 1307, the popular notion that the Friday the 13th stigma comes from the date on which the famed order of the Knights Templar were wiped out by King Philip of France is just a coincidence.)

The repercussions of these phobias reverberated through American culture, particularly in the 20th century. Most skyscrapers and hotels lack a 13th floor, which specifically comes from the tendency in the early 1900s for buildings in New York City to omit the unlucky number (though the Empire State Building has a 13th floor). Some street addresses also skip from 12 to 14, while airports may skip the 13th gate. Allegedly, the popular Friday the 13th films were so-named just to cash in on this menacing date recognition, not because the filmmakers actually believed the date to be unlucky.

So, is Friday the 13th actually unlucky? Despite centuries of superstitious behavior, it largely seems like psychological mumbo jumbo. One 1993 study seemed to reveal that, statistically speaking, Friday the 13th is unlucky, but the study's authors told LiveScience that though the data was accurate, "the paper was just a bit of fun and not to be taken seriously." Other studies have shown no correlation between things like increased accidents or injuries and Friday the 13th.

And Friday the 13th isn't a big deal in other cultures, which have their own unlucky days: Greeks and Spanish-speaking countries consider Tuesday the 13th to be the unluckiest day, while Italians steer clear of Friday the 17th. So today, try to rest a little easy—Friday the 13th may not be so unlucky after all.

Additional Source: 13: The Story of the World’s Most Popular Superstition.

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