About-the world this week, 12 March to 18 March 2023: Atmospheric river storms, Bank collapses in America, and the Oscar Awards.
An ‘atmospheric river storm’ is sweeping through the West Coast of the United States (US) causing heavy flooding and hurricane-like winds in the Central and Northern California areas. And this is the 11th atmospheric river storm to hit California this winter. Due to the inundation and water entering houses and businesses, thousands were left without power.
We’ve heard of Hurricanes, Cyclones, and the kind; what then is an Atmospheric River?
An Atmospheric River (AR) is a narrow corridor or filament of concentrated moisture in the atmosphere formed by it picking up moisture and warm moist air in the tropics. It consists of narrow bands of enhanced water vapour transport, generally along the boundaries between large areas of divergent surface air-flow. AR’s are typically several thousand kilometres (km) long and only a few hundred km wide, and a single stream can carry a greater flux of water than Earth’s largest river, the Amazon River! There are typically about three to five of these narrow rivers present within a hemisphere at any given time. These have been increasing in intensity, slightly over the past century.
Since AR storms carry water vapour through the sky, when the storm reaches cooler regions and makes landfall, the weather causes the water to cool and turns it into rain and sometimes even snow. Looks like AR storms are going to be a recurring event in times to come. Gosh, mighty rivers hovering in the atmosphere above us!
Talking of other storms in America – this time about a financial storm in Silicon Valley -The Silicon Valley Bank (SVB), headquartered in Santa Clara, California collapsed. It was quickly matched, in step, by another Bank, Signature Bank.
SVB was founded in 1983 and was the 16th largest US bank before its collapse. It has operations in Canada, China, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Sweden, and the United Kingdom (UK).
The era of easy monetary policy had enabled technology companies to raise and deploy funds, and SVB benefitted from this boom, lending to early-stage technology and biotech startups and managing funds for Venture Capitalists. SVB was a preferred bank for the tech sector because they supported startup companies that not all banks would accept due to higher risks.
But the Russia-Ukraine war fuelled global inflation levels that led to Central Banks tightening monetary policy aggressively.
The collapse happened due to multiple reasons, including a lack of diversification and a classic ‘bank run’, where many customers withdrew their deposits simultaneously due to fears of the bank’s solvency.
SVB had invested most of its deposits in US Government Treasury Bonds when the interest rates were extremely low. But when the US Federal Reserve went on an aggressive plan to raise interest rates to combat inflation, SVB found its return on investment shrinking. With rise in interest rates, bond prices fell, eroding the value of SVB’s bond portfolio. And with customers beginning to withdraw deposits, they had to resort to selling the Bonds at a loss, and also other assets to meet withdrawal requests, ending up with not having enough cash to pay depositors. Hence, California regulators shut the bank down on 8th March.
SVB was large but had a unique existence by servicing nearly exclusively the technology world and Venture Capitalist-backed companies. It did a lot of work with the particular part of the economy that was hit hard in the past year. Other banks are far more diversified across multiple industries, customer bases, and geographies.
Deposits of up to USD 250,000 are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). In SVB’s case, about USD 151 billion of the bank’s total deposits of USD 175.4 billion were uninsured deposits.
The US Government has entered the scene to guarantee customer deposits, but SVB’s downfall continues to reverberate across global financial markets. The government has also shut down Signature Bank, a regional bank that was teetering on the brink of collapse, and guaranteed its deposits.
Meanwhile, HSBC stepped in this week to buy SVB UK securing the deposits of thousands of British tech companies
That’s a Silicon Valley Atmospheric Financial Storm, for sure!
In other news, early this week a Russian military jet, Su-27, intercepted a US drone, MQ-9 Reaper, and downed it over the Black Sea, kicking of a direct clash and raising tensions between the world’s leading nuclear powers. The United States said that the incident shows Russia’s irresponsible behaviour in international airspace, while Russia accuses the US of trying to escalate tensions near Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula it forcibly annexed in 2014.
And on the battlefield in eastern Ukraine, the Ukrainian forces continued to withstand Russian assaults on the now-ruined city of Bakhmut. A constant rumble of artillery, on all sides, is the order of the day.
This week, The United Kingdom banned the Social Media App TikTok from official government devices on Thursday, adding to similar restrictions imposed by allies in Canada, the European Union and the US. TikTok is not widely used by UK officials, but the measure reflects concerns about TikTok’s links to China through its parent company, ByteDance, and the possibility that the Chinese government could pressurise the companies to hand over users’ personal data.
This week, the US finally decided: after over two years, the US confirmed Eric Garcetti, 52, a President Joe Biden loyalist, as its Ambassador to India. The nomination of Garcetti was pending before the US Congress since July 2021 when he was chosen for the diplomatic post. Last week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted in favour of Garcetti’s nomination. And this week the Senate voted to confirm.
This week, the 2023 Oscars Academy Awards Ceremony – the 95th – honouring the best in film was held at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood on Sunday night, hosted by US Chat Show host Jimmy Kimmel.
He began with a monologue ruminating the past 12 months in the film industry. “They say Hollywood is running out of ideas. I mean, poor Steven Spielberg had to make a movie about Steven Spielberg,” he joked, referring to the director’s autobiographical best picture nominee, ‘The Fabelmans’. And then Jimmy Kimmel found his way through the air to James Cameron’s ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’, which he described as, “another opportunity for James Cameron to do what he loves doing more than anything else – drowning (Titanic fame)Kate Winslet”.
That set the stage for the glitz and glamour of the night, beginning with the entry of the stars walking on the Red Carpet and the beaming winners leaving with the gold Oscar statuettes. This year the Academy stood like a rock, became a ‘will smith’ ensuring there were no fist-fights or cheeky slaps.
First, the Red Carpet.
Hollywood Actress Cate Blanchett was easily one of the best dressed in an elegant blue velvet Louis Vuitton outfit, featuring a ribbon made by refugees as part of an initiative from the United Nations refugee agency: she glided on the Red Carpet while others walked! Michelle Yeoh arrived in a white fringe Dior ‘wearable cloud’ like gown accented with diamonds. Lady Gaga, who performed her song, ‘Hold My Hand’, from the movie, ‘Top Gun: Maverick’, wore a black Versace dress with a sheer corset bodice, which extended tantalisingly low, hanging by the skin of the hip. Maybe someone had to hold the bottom half of the dress and lift it up? Rihanna also sang at the ceremony, performing, ‘Lift Me Up’ from ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ in her Alaia outfit, which had leather straps and train, and lots of sheer mesh, ‘shark slits’ at her thighs, proudly showing off her magnificent baby bump.
Everyone was wondering what a ‘stranger at the Oscars’ – Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai- was doing in this part of the World when she arrived in a shimmering silver Ralph Lauren gown with ruched waist and inbuilt head-scarf. Appears she was at the ceremony as executive producer of ‘Stranger at the Gate’, which was nominated for best Short Documentary.
Indian Actress Deepika Padukone was a cynosure of many eyes wearing a stunning off-the-shoulder black bespoke Louis Vuitton gown. It had a plunging neckline along with full-length sleeves, a fitted corseted bodice, a flared pleated skirt, and trendy black opera gloves. Deepika also sported a brand new tattoo on her slender neck, which read, ’82’E’ – the name of her newly-launched skincare brand. She was more than nattily dressed-up to announce the winner of Best Original Song, from India – ’Naatu Naatu’.
Over to a short reel of Oscar history.
Only three movies have won a record number of 11 Oscars: ‘Ben-Hur’ in 1959, ‘Titanic’ in 1997, and ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King’ in 2003. Then comes ‘West Side Story’ (1961), which won 10 Oscars, quickly followed by ‘Gigi’, ‘The Last Emperor’, and ‘The English Patient’ with 9 Oscars each. Movies which won 8 Oscars are, Slumdog Millionaire, Gandhi, Amadeus, Gone With the Wind, From Here to Eternity, On the Waterfront, My Fair Lady, and Cabaret.
Ben-Hur is one of the greatest films in history and was the first movie to win 11 Oscars – a record untouched for decades until Titanic equalled it!
This year, the movie ‘Everything Everywhere All At Once’ was just about everywhere with seven awards: Best Picture, Director, Lead Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Original Screen Play, and Editing. It’s lead Actress, Michelle Yeoh, became the first Asian woman to win the best actress Oscar.
Yeoh plays a Chinese-American laundrette owner who is mired in a tax audit, stuck in a crumbling marriage, and struggling to connect with her daughter Joy. But when she discovers different versions of herself in the multiverse, she must tap into their skills in order to save the world. The dazzling multiverse adventure dominated the awards this year.
Brendan Fraser capped his extraordinary comeback after years away from the Hollywood spotlight by winning best actor for his performance in ‘The Whale’ as an overweight professor- who almost eats to death – trying to repair his relationship with his teenage daughter. Fraser transformed his appearance for the film, which also won best make-up and hairstyling. It took the team about six hours of makeup and preparation to get Fraser ready with all the ‘extra weight prosthetics’.
American Actress Jamie Lee Curtis won the first Oscar of her 45-year acting career as best supporting actress-one of the tightest categories of the Awards this year-in Everything Everywhere All At Once.
‘All Quiet On the Western Front’, Netflix’s German-language World War finished the night in second place with four awards – best international feature film, original score, production design, and cinematography.
Wakanda Forever’s, Ruth Carter, repeated the best costume design victory she scored with the original Black Panther.
The award for best documentary feature went to ‘Navalny’, about Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and the events related to his 2020 poisoning. Director Daniel Roher dedicated the award to Navalny, who is serving prison term in Russia. Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, added: “Alexei, I am dreaming of the day you will be free and our country will be free, stay strong my love.”
Other notable wins are, Best Sound for Top Gun Maverick, and Best Visual Effects for Avatar: The Way of Water.
In a way, India danced and whispered its way into the Academy Awards.
The Oscar for the Best Original Song went to ‘Naatu Naatu’ in the Indian film RRR. The music for the song was composed by M M Keeravani, lyrics by Chandrabose, and sung by Kaala Bhairava and Rahul Sipligunj. This was on expected lines with ‘Naatu Naatu’ wining almost all awards in the run-up to the Oscars. This is the first song from an Indian Film to win Best Original Song honours at the Academy Awards.
The whole of India broke into celebrations: Director Rajamouli and the star cast of Ram Charan, N T Rama Rao Jr and team have brought home the Oscar.
‘Naatu’ means native, local, countryside. Chandrabose wrote the song from childhood memories – 90% in half a day and the remaining in over 1.5 years. The sound was to the beat of folk songs in Indian Villages and Keeravani used Indian skin drums for the instrumentation in addition to mandolins for the melody. The song was shot in Ukraine at the Mariinskyi Palace, the official residence of the President of Ukraine in Kyiv, a few months before the start of the Russia-Ukraine War.
However, the biggest surprise was reserved for the Tamil Language Short Documentary Film ‘The Elephant Whisperers’ directed by documentary filmmaker Kartiki Gonsalves in her directional debut, and released on Netflix in 2022. It was produced by Sikhya Entertainment founded by Guneet Monga, who also produced/co-produced films such as ‘The Gangs of Wasseypur’, ‘The Lunch Box’, and the Tamil ‘Soorarai Pottru’.
The Elephant Whisperers won the Oscar for the Best Documentary Short Film, the first ever by an Indian film in this category. It shouted out other nominees, Haul Out, How Do You Measure A Year, The Martha Mitchell Effect, and Stranger At The Gate.
The Elephant Whisperers tells the heart-warming story of an indigenous couple, Bomman and Bellie in the Mudumalai National Park, in the Nilgiri Mountains, Tamil Nadu, India, who lovingly bring up an orphaned baby elephant named Raghu and in the process develop a strong bond with it as it grows up, forging a rare kind of friendship – an elephant-knit family.
The film is also a visual treat showcasing the marvellous diversity of nature and wildlife beauty in the Reserve, and the people and animals who co-exist in harmony with nature and the environment. It unobtrusively allows viewers understand both the elephant and the human carers with minimal, outside interpretation. And portrays the dignity of both the magnificent elephants and the indigenous people who have lived with and cared for them for centuries. The movie also provides a window into Indian culture and country’s long history of environmental preservation.
More elephantine stories coming up in the weeks ahead. Love yourself, the animals around, and nature. And listen to the whispers of World Inthavaaram.