BR Blog

December 19, 2014 We're Going to Cuba! (Or Not.) Sarah Hill

Photo: Kayugee

On Wednesday my social media feeds lit up like a Christmas tree in the happy prospect of travel, soon, to Cuba.

Why, we might ask, does Cuba so capture our imaginations? Is it the forbidden fruit of isolation and prohibition? A glimpse into the amber-preserved past of Rat Pack decadence? A peek into a system that purportedly privileges the welfare of people over the welfare of profits? Or maybe it is just the prospect of a new vacation target in the nearby Caribbean with a lower pricetag than any other island in the region.

Whatever draws you to Cuba, President Obama has dangled that delicious prospect in front of all us. As someone who regularly visits the island for research, let me help prepare you for inevitable disappointment.

1. Despite the Change, You Still Probably Can’t Go.

“With the changes I'm announcing today, it will be easier for Americans to travel to Cuba...”

Your first disappointment will come from the fact that regular tourism, in the official eyes of the U.S. Treasury (which oversees and authorizes U.S. travel to Cuba) is not in the works. At present, U.S. citizens need one of twelve licenses from the Treasury Department (in the...

December 18, 2014 Prosecuting on Torture Isn't Politics, It's Human Rights Adam Hosein

Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush, and Dick Cheney. Image: WIkimedia Commons

The Senate’s torture report reads like a hypothetical case study illustrating why torture should be illegal. There’s the tendency to use it where much less violent methods would do, the unreliability of the information obtained, the difficulty of controlling officially sanctioned torture, and, above all, the intrinsic moral horror of using these methods on people, especially innocent people. 

But torture, under both domestic and international law, is illegal. And there is almost no one left willing to argue that worst activities described in the report don’t constitute torture.  Even Cheney—who still resists describing the near drowning involved in waterboarding as torture—had trouble answering when asked if “rectal feeding” counts. Presumably, he would also struggle to reclassify mock burials, forcing people with broken hands or feet into stress positions, and inducing fatal hypothermia by chaining a partially naked detainee to a freezing floor. If these things aren’t torture, nothing is torture. 

So, shouldn’t those responsible be prosecuted? The case...

December 17, 2014 Boston Review's Top Articles of 2014 Boston Review

1. Against Empathy | Paul Bloom argues that empathy is overrated. Peter Singer, Sam Harris, Leslie Jamison, Simon Baron Cohen, and others debate.

2. Studying the Rich | Mike Konczal on Thomas Piketty and his critics.

3. Is Life a Ponzi Scheme? | Mark Johnston reviews Samuel Scheffler’s Death and the Afterlife.

4. Dogs Are Not People | Colin Dayan on the anthropomorphizing of animals.

5. Syria in Revolt | Eminent Syria scholar Sadik al-Azm on understanding the origins of the Syrian revolution.

6. Zero Hour | Paul Hockenos on a group...

December 15, 2014 Disassembling the Handgun Nick Admussen

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The technical challenge of translating Ouyang Jianghe’s poetry is nowhere clearer than in the poem “Handgun,” which appears three times in the collection Doubled Shadows (2012), translated by Austin Woerner. The poem appears in two separate free versions subtitled “after Ouyang Jianghe,” and once in an appendix that gives a more literal, annotated translation. The poem requires all this effort because it runs on chaizifa, the separation of words into their component characters, a practice once used for divination and fortune-telling. The most concrete example is the poem’s central object, a word that, in Chinese as in English, comprises the character for “hand” and the character for “gun": 手枪.

The poem separates the compound “handgun” for the same divinatory purposes that motivated ancient chaizifa: to understand the object, one reads its component parts. But the poem does not stop after a single layer of division and...

December 15, 2014 The Law Behind Torture Itamar Mann

Photo: Vassilena Valchanova

In Public Committee Against Torture in Israel v. State of Israel (1999), the Israeli Supreme Court held “moderate physical pressure” a violation of human dignity and of the prohibition on torture and inhuman and degrading treatment. The judgment had monumental influence the world over. To name just one example, Richard Goldstone explained: “Few countries have suffered more at the hands of terror attacks than Israel. The response of the Israel Supreme Court to torture has, however, remained uncompromising.” Four years ago, Omer Shatz and I published an article addressing the legacy of this famous judgment. We made two points.

The first point was that the decision, which seemingly denounced abusive interrogation methods, ended up entrenching them as part of the legal system controlling Israel-Palestine. In a famous obiter dictum, Former President of the Israeli Supreme Court, Justice Aharon Barak, found that abusive interrogators could enjoy the “necessity defense” under a domestic statute. If they reasonably acted to save lives, they could be...