Saturday, the 12th of May
Just the name 'Hawaii' evokes a tropical beach scene, replete with surfboards, flower leis and the gentle lilt of ukulele music. The prehistoric beauty of Kauai and the manufactured glamour of Waikiki beach are world-renown. But another of Hawaii's most distinctive qualities is perhaps less so - its volcanos. Right now the most active one is spewing molten rock across the largest island and threatening blow its top in a violent fashion.
An oozing river of fire consumes homes along the East Rift. PHOTO: Bruce Omori / EPE-EFE
This latest spurt of volcanic activity began a little over a week ago on what is aptly known as 'The Big Island'. But before we go too far, here's some context on the sheer geological immensity of the situation. The Big Island comprises five volcanos, two of which can only be described as gargantuan. The distinctive twin peaks - Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa - are a pair of shield volcanos that rise 4,000m above sea level. If one takes into account their height below sea level, they stand 10km tall - more than a kilometre higher than Mount Everest. The older one, Mauna Kea, erupted for nearly one million years and now lies dormant; Mauna Loa has erupted for 700,000 years and remains active to this day.

Yet it's Kilauea which is currently setting the south-east coast of the island alight. It is smaller, younger and arguably the most active volcano in the world. Curiously, there is no exact definition for 'most active' but Kilauea is certainly spoken of in the vein as Eyjafjallajökull, Etna and Sakurajima. The reason is simple: it has been erupting continuously since 1983.

Kilauea, (also a shield volcano defined by its low, gentle slopes rather than a pronounced peak) began arousing suspicion when its crater dropped inwards a fortnight ago, sending stored magma further underground. Ominous ash clouds began to emerge from the Pu'u'O'o vent. Then last Thursday the island was struck by the strongest earthquake (measuring 6.9 on the Richter scale) in over four decades. The seismic activity was enough to collapse the main crater and open up fissures along its slopes. While spectacular lava fountains spurted 100 metres into the sky, it was the the unseen terror of toxic gas that caused the greatest panic. Poisonous sulphuric dioxide continues to escape from deep under the earth.

Aftershocks then pried open the earth to the east of Kilauea; creating 12 volcanic vents directly in the middle of Leilani Estates. As the media put forth round-the-clock videos of lava emerging in suburban backyards, an entire generation of adults raised on the films 'Volcano' and 'Dante's Peak' shivered. But as one resident said, "The lava doesn't chase you down the road like in the movies. It moves slow. You can see where the real danger is." Well-drilled authorities evacuated some 1,700 residents of Leilani Estates and the nearby Lanipuna Gardens. Thankfully there have been no reported injuries or deaths, but the locals can do nothing now but watch as rivers of lava slowly, inexorably torch and swallow much of the community. As of late in the week some 26 properties had been destroyed and the lava had spread out across 36,000 square metres. 

As destruction creeps across the suburbs of Puna, the island's vulcanologists are hard at work studying the flows. The chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Hawaiian Volcano Observatory Christina Neal sees an opportunity, "When all of this is over and we digest the reams and mountains of data that we are collecting, we will know a lot more about Kilauea as a volcanic system". Yet even the specialists concede that these eruptions and aftershocks may go on for weeks, if not months. There is also a real risk that prolonged seismic activity could spark an explosive eruption. Such an event might send missiles of rock hurtling over a kilometre away and release a staggering amount of lava. The locals - now safe on the north side of the island - are praying for a less violent eruption.

Kilauea is special for another reason too; in Hawaiian tradition it's believed that the fire goddess Pelehonuamea lives within its caldera. Her name means "She who shapes the sacred land". And it seems she's doing just that. Little wonder then that the vulcanologists, seismologists or urban planners of the world can do little about it.
Mahathir emerges victorious in his third (or fourth) comeback. PHOTO: Lai Seng Sin / Reuters
This week Najib Razak's brazen corruption scandals caught up with him and for the first time since 1955 Malaysia has a new ruling party. On Wednesday Malaysians voted in a nail-biting election that saw 92-year-old political fox Dr Mahathir Mohamad oust Razak's United Malay National Organisation; an outfit that has ruled since independence was won from Britain. On Thursday Mahathir was sworn into office (now the oldest head of state in the world) at the royal palace in Kuala Lumpur. The vanquished Barisan Nasional (of which UMNO is the senior member) has been left to pick up the pieces of its sprawling, sclerotic and now broken political machine

Mahathir's unlikely victory is the crowning achievement of a lifetime spent within (or close to) the corridors of power. The former UMNO member served as Malaysia's prime minister for two decades in what is best termed as a colourful rule (he famously brushed aside human rights campaigners, jailed dissenting judges and muzzled journalists). His towering presence in Malaysian politics stretches back decades; in fact, Razak himself was a protege of Mahathir. The rag-tag coalition of opposition parties Pakatan Harapan ('Alliance of Hope') that now finds itself in power will govern with a long list of old grievances. High on the list will be proper investigation of the billions of dollars that Razak's cronies siphoned out of government coffers.

In another stunning twist, the jailed former leader Anwar Ibrahim (a former ally, then enemy of Mahathir) who was jailed by Razak will be pardoned by the king. Lots of intersections and roundabouts in KL. 
An interceptor missile is launched from a burning Damascus. PHOTO: The Independent 
In the tense days following Trump's withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, Israel struck. Another salvo of missiles slammed into Iranian facilities in southern Syria, only this time Iran fired back. In the early hours of Thursday morning Iranian forces fired 20 surface-to-surface missiles at Israeli positions inside the occupied Golan Heights. Tel Aviv's response dwarfed that attack; hitting at least a dozen more Iranian bases. This lively exchange of munitions is a new development for the two old rivals, although no further escalation is apparent. It appears to have been, if anything, performative; Bibi Netanyahu had sought assurances from Vladimir Putin a day earlier than Russian anti-air defences wouldn't be engaged (they weren't). 

While one of Trump's decisions takes the world closer to war, another appears to be staving it. With the date and location now set (June 12, Singapore) for a meeting with Kim Jong-un, Trump is glowing. A 13-hour trip to Pyongyang by America's newly-minted Secretary of State has yielded positive results for both sides. This week Mike Pompeo flew back from North Korea with three Americans who had been imprisoned by the regime: Kim Dong-chul, Tony Kim and Kim Hak-song. It's an unambiguously good step after the highly regrettable death of Otto Warmbier last year. Will Trump achieve peace with one hand while crushing it with another?
Rihanna as The Young Pope. PHOTO: Justin Lane / EPA
  1. The Met Gala in New York drew dazzling, improbable costumes with the theme, "Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and Catholic Imagination"; it raised funds for the Metropolitan Musuem
  2. Meanwhile in New York, the state's top law officer resigned over abuse allegations; Attorney General Eric Schneiderman pushed for stronger sexual harassment laws before his swift downfall
  3. One-time Chinese presidential hopeful Sun Zhengcai was handed a life sentence this week for taking $27m in bribes during his tenure in Beijing and Chongqing 
  4. Rescue workers worked day and night late in the week to pull survivors and bodies from the muddy wreckage of a village in Kenya's Rift Valley after a farm dam broke
  5. India's Supreme Court lambasted the country's archaeological bureaucracy for not keeping the Taj Mahal clean; the 17th century Mughal mausoleum's marble is turning green
  6. A group of international scientists urged the World Health Organisation to tackle the spread of an ancient retrovirus (dubbed HTLV-1) that has taken hold in central Australia
  7. Walmart took its fight with Amazon to India this week when it bought a 77% stake in Indian e-commerce powerhouse Flipkart for $16b
  8. On Monday Russian President Vladimir Putin was sworn in for a fourth term in the Grand Kremlin Palace; no meaningful opposition ran against him during the election
  9. The incoming chief of the Central Intelligence Agency - Gina Haspel - explicitly defended her role overseeing its Washington-sanctioned torture program during a confirmation hearing
  10. In a bizarre case, the daughter of Dubai's ruling Sheikh tried to escape the UAE by boat and has since been detained by father, her lawyers have petitioned the United Nations for help
Do your genes want you to be sun-kissed or burnt? PHOTO: Getty
Beyond a basic rule of thumb (people with red hair will get burnt) it's been a bit of a mystery to scientists as to who gets burnt and who doesn't. But, a more scientifically rigorous rule may eventuate now thanks to a team of researchers at King's College, London. Using data from 200,000 different people the scientists managed to identify the section of DNA that controls whether you'll be more or less susceptible to sunlight. This has huge implications for treating sun cancer - one of the most commons cancers worldwide. 

New Zealand's new Labour government has announced a housing program to ensure that no homeless person sleeps rough this winter. PM Jacinda Ardern said that in a country as wealthy (and cold) as New Zealand there are no excuses for allowing people to be left out in the elements. The first tranche of the $NZ100m package will target 1,500 domiciles to be used as short-term housing for the countries estimated 40,000 homeless (many are living in tents, cars and garages). 
A mother laments her loss in the rubble of a collapsed school in Sichuan.  PHOTO: AFP
Today marks the ten-year anniversary of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake; one of the deadliest natural disasters in Chinese history. A powerful quake measuring 8.0 on the Richter scale struck near the Sichuan capital of Chengdu, toppling buildings across the entire province. Just shy of 70,000 people died in the initial tremor and a further 15,000 perished as a result of aftershocks. Despite the billions of renminbi invested over the past decade, some Sichuan cities remain ghost towns. 

Cambodia's last democratically-inclined newspaper is no more. The Phnom Penh Post had defiantly pushed back against Cambodia's increasingly autocratic leaders for years, only to be laid low from the inside. The Post was recently sold to Malaysian businessman Sivakumar Ganapathy. But over the weekend The Post revealed that Ganapathy's PR firm has links to the current Cambodian strongman Hun Sen. The editor was promptly fired for publishing such an embarrassing article, which in turn triggered resignations from five more journalists. With Hun Sen's influence creeping in over the Post it's unlikely to continue its tradition of fearless reporting. Press closures are a worrying trend around the globe.
Your weekend long read... How to survive in the Premier League. This 4,000-word gem from the FT features writing par excellence. Enjoy kicking back with this one!

Quote of the week... “Everyone thinks so, but I would never say it” - Donald Trump prevaricates when asked whether or not he deserves the Nobel Peace Prize

What we're reading... From The New Yorker's Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow, the piece that brought down Eric Schneiderman, 'Four Women Accuse New York's Attorney General of Physical Abuse'.

One last thing... If you haven't purchased an inkl plan as yet, we're offering you a month for just 99c. That's just 3 cents a day to read the world's best news coverage. Help us help the news help you.

Have an excellent weekend.

Tom Wharton for inkl.