Guantanamo Bay is home to the United States’ oldest overseas base. And since it was established in 1903, the base has been a bone of contention in U.S. and Cuban relations. Melissa Block talks to Vanderbilt History professor Paul Kramer.
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The latest quarterly report on U.S. spending in Afghanistan was released on Thursday. Conspicuously missing were figures on how more than $50 billion is being spent on training and equipping Afghan military and police forces. Those figures have been classified for the first time in years of such reporting and the general who ordered keeping them secret says it’s to keep enemies from sharpening their attacks. Key senators disagree.
Ice hotels have sprung up around the world, but Sweden’s Icehotel is the original — now celebrating its 25th anniversary. Each winter, the hotel is carved from scratch out of the frozen Torne River.
On a recent winter’s day in the village of Jukkasjärvi, Sweden, it’s 22 degrees below zero — or -30 Celsius. Whatever you call it, it’s way below freezing.
Sculptor Jens Thoms Ivarsson stands over a block of ice with a razor-sharp chisel, turning a bare room into an ornate Spanish mosque made entirely of ice.
Here, 120 miles above the Arctic Circle, sits a frozen institution: Icehotel, the original.
Other hotels made of ice have popped up around the world, but Icehotel, celebrating its 25th anniversary this winter, was the first. The destination is more than a hotel: It’s also an art exhibition, one that changes every year as artists like Ivarsson build it anew.
Beneath his chisel, the ice transforms. Some of it is crystal clear, some of it looks like snow and some of it is textured like rough stone.
Ivarsson, who has been design director at Icehotel for the last two years, used to work with stone, wood and concrete.
“I always like to bring out the qualities [that are] in the material,” he says. “For this — I mean, here it’s just water.”
Icehotel is located 120 miles above the Arctic Circle. The temperature outside is well below zero, but inside the hotel — while still, of course, below freezing — it’s much warmer, hovering in the low 20s.
This 55-room lodge is built from scratch every fall, entirely from the frozen Torne River. Every spring, it melts back into the water from which it came.
As an artist, Ivarsson says, that impermanence frees him from the pressure of carving something seemingly permanent out of marble or granite.
“When I work with the ice and snow, it’s very liberating — because I know already when I start on the drawing board, that this will disappear,” he says.
Every year, more than 100 artists from around the world compete to design rooms here. Fifteen are chosen, and Icehotel flies them to nearby Kiruna, Sweden. Many of the sculptors have never worked with ice or snow before.
“That’s what we want,” Ivarsson says. “For us that’s important.”
He says everyone has seen swans and eagles before; he wants artists to find something new in the ice.
There are rooms that look like forests or cathedrals. One room has typeface set into the wall, and another is pure angles, telescoping and spiraling inwards.
Each room has a bed in the center, covered in reindeer hides, because people actually sleep here.
Tour guide Paola Lappalinen says the building provides a level of insulation. So even if the temperature outside is, say, minus 22 F, inside the hotel rooms it’s never colder than 19 to 23 F.
And that, she says, is “really warm.”
Then she says something even harder to believe: “Even sometimes when we go and wake people up in the hotel rooms, they say it was too hot to sleep there.”
Inside the hotel, there’s a warm room where people leave their luggage and electronics. The front desk hands out snow suits, balaclavas, boots and sleeping bags heavy enough for the Arctic.
Visitors walk past icy decorations at Icehotel. Artists from around the world compete for the chance to design rooms in the Swedish landmark, and every year the hotel is rebuilt from scratch, with new sculptures.
But the minute you step outside that room, the inside of your nose begins to tingle with frost. Your eyelashes become thick and heavy with white ice crystals.
Many hotel guests duck into the ice bar, to drink Swedish vodka out of glasses made of ice.
Gary Armstrong, visiting with his wife and adult daughter, says, “I was just saying how crazy it is with the English always complaining about the weather — and then we come here in January. You know, 5 degrees under for us is a nightmare, and then we come to 30 degrees under … it’s bizarre, really.”
Why do they do it?
“We have no idea,” he says with a laugh.
But it’s not so bizarre, really.
People come because it’s like experiencing a fantasy world, borrowed from the river, which will return to the river again in the spring.
Tankers are berthed beside the Fawley oil refinery on Jan. 7, in Southampton, England. With low oil prices, some traders are buying oil and storing it in tankers, hoping the price will rise soon so they can sell it at a profit.
Matt Cardy/Getty Images
Matt Cardy/Getty Images
Matt Cardy/Getty Images
There’s a term traders use when the price of a commodity like oil has fallen because of oversupply but seems guaranteed to rise again.
It’s a market that’s “in contango,” says Brenda Shaffer, an energy specialist at Georgetown University. “It almost sounds like a sort of great oil dance or something.”
And Shaffer says that some oil speculators see an oil market that is in contango in a major way.
“Some people out there think that oil is going to get more expensive so it’s worthwhile now to buy oil, lock it in, and have those supplies, have them stored and have them available to sell a few months down the line, if you actually believe it’s going to go up,” she says.
The last time this happened was in 2008-2009, after the price of crude oil plummeted to about $35 barrel amid a global downturn. At least 70 million barrels were stored on tankers until the price rebounded.
Crude oil is now selling for less than $50 per barrel, less than half its price last summer. It’s almost certain to go up again. But when?
Some international traders are betting that the price will head north soon. They are buying oil, putting it on tankers, anchoring the ships — and waiting it out. Basil Karatzas, a ship broker and adviser, says the tanker market is very active right now.
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“Especially tankers for crude oil and particularly for very large crude oil carriers, the supertankers for transporting 2 million barrels of oil each time,” he says.
It costs about $15 million a year to store the crude oil on one oil tanker, according to Karatzas. Only a few international traders have the heft to buy and sit on this much oil, he says, companies such as Vitol, Trafigura and Gunsor Beheer. He says he’s inundated with calls from investors who want to take advantage of the contango and buy and store oil. But it’s not so easy to do.
“You have to have a special license; you have to be a registered trader with oil producers like Saudi Arabia,” he says. “If you are just a financial institution, you cannot just show up in Saudi Arabia and tell them I want to buy 2 million barrels of oil because I want to speculate. They will not sell it to you.”
Ken Medlock, senior director of the Center for Energy Studies at Rice University, says oil companies and countries are also trying to take advantage of the soft market.
U.S. companies store oil in huge tanks onshore. Medlock says producers such as Saudi Arabia, the largest oil producer in the world, are looking further afield.
“The Saudis have been very active themselves creating storage capabilities,” he says. “There was an announcement a few months back of an expansion of storage capability in Asia. So they’ve been playing into this as well.”
Medlock says the risk for traders is that the price could keep dropping and stay low for a prolonged period.
“Then the oil you’re holding on to, that you’ve been hoping to sell forward, if you haven’t fully contracted that out, you’re going to sell at a loss,” he says.
Medlock says trading in international oil is not for the fainthearted. But if prices turn in their favor, the traders stand to make a huge profit on the oil they are now storing.
The Jordanian government says it might trade a notorious attempted suicide bomber for a pilot being held by the self-proclaimed Islamic State, or ISIS.
Robert Siegel talks to Rula Al Hroob, member of the Jordanian Parliament, about how people in Jordan feel about a prisoner exchange for a pilot captured by ISIS in Syria.
Robert Siegel talks to Amy Myers Jaffe of the University of California, Davis, Graduate School of Management about how falling oil prices impact production.
This week President Obama traveled to India with his wife Michelle to meet with the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. But Mr. Modi’s wife was nowhere to be seen. In fact she has never appeared in public with her husband and Mr. Modi only admitted her existence last year. Melissa Block talks with Annie Gowan of the Washington Post, who has interviewed Mrs. Modi.
Melissa Block speaks with Rajaa Al Sanea, a dentist and Saudi writer best known for her novel, Girls of Riyadh. She talks about how women’s rights changed and expectations for the new king.
Alexis Tsipras has been sworn in as Greece’s new prime minister, but there are doubts about whether he can fulfill his campaign promise to increase public spending while ending austerity measures.