Welcome to the weekend. Drought stricken parts of the country will be hoping for some rain this weekend to replenish the empty tanks.

Rain or sun, make sure you find some time to catch up on some of the best premium content from our international syndicators this week.

Ben Affleck tried to drink away the pain. Now he's trying honesty

Warning: This is not one of those celebrity profiles that uses a teaspoon of new information to flavour a barrel of ancient history.

This is Ben Affleck, raw and vulnerable, talking extensively for the first time about getting sober (again) and trying to recalibrate his career (again).

Advertisement

The actor speaks frankly to Brooks Barnes of The New York Times about everything from his addictive behaviour and his divorce to why he lied about that back tattoo.

Affleck said of his public relapse last year:
Affleck said of his public relapse last year: "I wish it didn't happen. I really wish it wasn't on the internet for my kids to see." Photo / Magdalena Wosinska, The New York Times

Coronavirus: cruise industry caught in the eye of the storm

Dream holidays have become a nightmare for cruise passengers caught in the middle of China's coronavirus outbreak.

About 3,700 people were marooned off the coast of Japan in quarantine for two weeks on the Diamond Princess, with more than 540 passengers showing signs of infection.

Another ship, the Westerdam, was quarantined in Cambodia after being repeatedly rerouted across the South China Sea and denied entry to five other countries.

More than 50 cruises have been cancelled, seven ports closed and thousands of holidaymakers' plans disrupted as authorities scramble to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Alice Hancock of The Financial Times looks at how quarantined passengers, cancelled sailings and worries over infection weigh on the $70 billion cruise industry.

The quarantined ship Diamond Princess anchored at a port in Yokohama, near Tokyo. Photo / AP
The quarantined ship Diamond Princess anchored at a port in Yokohama, near Tokyo. Photo / AP

The end of Australia as we know it

In a country where there has always been more space than people, where the land and wildlife are cherished like a Picasso, nature is closing in. Fuelled by climate change and the world's refusal to address it, the fires that have burned across Australia are not just destroying lives or turning forests as large as nations into ashen moonscapes.

They are also forcing Australians to imagine an entirely new way of life. When summer is feared.

Advertisement

What many of us have witnessed this fire season feels alive and monstrous. With climate change forcing a relaxed country to stumble toward new ways of work, leisure and life, will politics follow?

Damien Cave of The New York Times reports.

Firefighters on the outskirts of Bredbo, New South Wales, Australia, on February 1. Photo / Matthew Abbott, The New York Times
Firefighters on the outskirts of Bredbo, New South Wales, Australia, on February 1. Photo / Matthew Abbott, The New York Times

'If you get emotional you make errors': Saving lives as a children's brain surgeon

For parents, a paediatric neurosurgery ward is the most terrifying place in the world. For Jay Jayamohan, it's the office.

What he likes about brain surgery is basically that it's difficult. A broken leg is a broken leg, but a broken brain could be broken for any number of reasons, none of them obvious. Factor in how small his patients can be, some of them newborn, and surgery can go pear-shaped, as he puts it, much more quickly than on adults.

He tells Hilary Rose of The Times about the life and death decisions he makes every day on behalf of the most vulnerable patients.

Jay Jayamohan at the John Radcliffe hospital. Photo / BBC/Landmark Films
Jay Jayamohan at the John Radcliffe hospital. Photo / BBC/Landmark Films

At Turkish border with Syria: 'It's like the end of the world'

Hidden behind the hills of the Turkish border crossing at Reyhanli, a humanitarian calamity is unfolding on the Syrian side.

The Syrian government, backed by Russian forces, has accelerated its monthslong offensive to seize control of Idlib, the last province held by the opposition. Facing heavy bombardment of towns and villages, about 900,000 people, mostly women and children, have fled their homes since December, joining the largest exodus of Syria's civil war since it began nine years ago.

Most have headed north, toward the Turkish border, and are living out in the cold. The lucky ones are crammed into tent camps, others sleeping in the open on the surrounding hillsides and olive groves. At least 12 children have died of exposure

Carlotta Gall of The New York Times reports.

Civilians flee from Idlib toward the north to find safety inside Syria near the border with Turkey. Photo / AP
Civilians flee from Idlib toward the north to find safety inside Syria near the border with Turkey. Photo / AP

In coronavirus fight, China sidelines an ally: Its own people

Beijing has shown the world that it can shut down entire cities, build a hospital in 10 days and keep 1.4 billion people at home for weeks. But it has also shown a glaring weakness that imperils lives and threatens efforts to contain the outbreak: It is unable to work with its own people.

Li Yuan of The New York Times looks at how the outbreak has exposed the powerlessness of private charities, civic groups and others who could help the effort but whom the Communist Party considers rivals.

Workers at a hospital in Wuhan, China, moving a person who died after contracting the coronavirus. Photo / AP
Workers at a hospital in Wuhan, China, moving a person who died after contracting the coronavirus. Photo / AP

Crazy mascots flooded Japan. Can this grouchy boar survive?

The mayor of Misato, a remote village of 4,700 people in rugged western Japan, laid down an ultimatum early last year: The local mascot character, Misabo, must prove his worth. Or else.

Misabo, a gloomy boar with a mountain on his head who wears whale overalls hiked up to his snout, has the daunting job of promoting the village as a tourism destination. He waddled into the world in 2013, as a mascot craze swept Japan and hundreds of the country's greying and shrinking towns turned to colourful, often wacky characters to lure visitors and investment.

Now, as their tax bases dwindle along with their populations, communities like Misato are increasingly questioning whether the whimsy is worth the cost in public spending.

Ben Dooley of The New York Times looks at how with few success stories these colourful characters are being quietly killed off.

Misabo, the mascot from Misato, a village in the mountains of western Japan, at the Yuru-chara Grand Prix in Nagano in November. Photo / Noriko Hayashi, The New York Times
Misabo, the mascot from Misato, a village in the mountains of western Japan, at the Yuru-chara Grand Prix in Nagano in November. Photo / Noriko Hayashi, The New York Times

Unmarried, happily ever after: Why women are opting out of relationships

Despite the increasing number of dating apps, matchmakers, and love advice designed to facilitate romantic connections, many women are opting out of relationships.

Instead of moping over singledom or aggressively trying to find partners with arbitrary deadlines in mind, they are declaring to be happily unmarried and proudly find solace in living solo.

Hilary Sheinbaum of The New York Times reports.

Many women prefer being single. Photo / 123RF
Many women prefer being single. Photo / 123RF

Is coffee good for you?

Coffee is steeped into our culture. Just the right amount can improve our mood; too much may make us feel anxious and jittery.

For years, coffee was believed to be a possible carcinogen, but over time new research and data has tipped the scales in coffee's favour.

So is it actually good for you?

Dawn MacKeen of The New York Times looks at how that all depends on the kind of coffee and the quantity.

Is your daily flat white good for you? Photo / 123RF
Is your daily flat white good for you? Photo / 123RF

The original Renegade: The teen who created the viral dance

Jalaiah Harmon is coming up in a dance world completely reshaped by the internet.

She trains in all the traditional ways, taking classes in hip-hop, ballet, lyrical, jazz, tumbling and tap after school at a dance studio near her home in the Atlanta suburbs. She is also building a career online, studying viral dances, collaborating with peers and posting original choreography.

Recently, a sequence of hers turned into one of the most viral dances online: the Renegade.

Taylor Lorenz of The New York Times looks at how nobody really know that this 14-year-old created one of the biggest dances on the internet.

Jalaiah Harmon, 14, performing the Renegade, a dance she created that has blown up on the internet. Photo / Jill Frank, The New York Times
Jalaiah Harmon, 14, performing the Renegade, a dance she created that has blown up on the internet. Photo / Jill Frank, The New York Times

Sooner or later, Zoe Kravitz was going to be a star

It feels like Zoe Kravitz has always been famous — an indelible screen presence and iconic parents will do that — even though for years she's been on the fringes of the action. But that's about to change.

Alex Pappademas of The New York Times sits down with the star.

Zoe Kravitz is taking on the lead role as a record store owner in a gender-flipped TV adaptation of High Fidelity. Photo / Ana Cuba, The New York Times
Zoe Kravitz is taking on the lead role as a record store owner in a gender-flipped TV adaptation of High Fidelity. Photo / Ana Cuba, The New York Times