Not for sale. PHOTO: Reuters
A pair of dramatic thefts led to eye-catching headlines this week, but they could not have been more dissimilar. One involved a broken iron grille on the side of a historic castle, the other was executed with nothing more than lines of code.Dresden Palace was the focal point of power in Saxony and Poland for a sizeable chunk of the last millennium. The original keep was built around 1200, but the Baroque castle visible today was rebuilt by Augustus II the Strong, Elector of Saxony, some three centuries ago. The hulking ruler – who later also became the King of Poland – accumulated a vast treasure of gold, silver, and diamonds. Among them were diamond-encrusted sabres, broaches inlaid with rubies, and so on. You get the picture. These riches were stored in the ornate Green Vault, where they were on display – until Monday. The thieves came armed with an axe and a stolen Audi. They dressed all in black, as any self-respecting robber ought. In order to gain entry they torched a nearby fuse-box, plunging the Baroque flourishes of Dresden Palace into darkness. Under the cover of darkness, they entered through a window – the height and small dimensions of which have led to wild speculation about the athleticism and size of the thieves. Around 5am, they smashed open the displays in the Green Vault, and purloined the most valuable pieces. Security guards eventually saw them on CCTV and alerted the police, but by then the damage had been done. Augustus the Strong's treasure, the prized jewels of all Saxons, had disappeared into the night. It is believed that this was the largest heist in Europe to occur outside of wartime. There have been a few half-hearted attempts to value the stolen items. Most land around the €1 billion mark. One 49-carat diamond alone would fetch €12m. But in another way the jewels are priceless. Not in the sense that they don't have a price – they will undoubtedly be recut or melted down in such a way that makes them suitable for resale – but in that they are of inestimable cultural value to the proud people of Saxony. The police are searching valiantly but have had little success other than in locating the thieves' burnt-out getaway car. To make matters even worse, it seems none of the items in the Green Vault had been insured.

The digital vault

Two days later, on Wednesday afternoon, the South Korean cryptocurrency exchange Upbit discovered that 342,000 units of Ether, the world's second most-valuable cryptocurrency, had vanished from its ledgers. Both Upbit and the South Korean police are frantically investigating the theft because 342,000 ether coins are valued at $49.2 million. A robbery shy of $50 million might not seem like a lot when compared to the Dresden jewel heist, but consider this: in the first nine months of the year, cryptocurrency heists netted a truly heroic $4.4 billion for hackers. That is a 150% increase on the paltry $1.7 billion stolen last year. And that's without counting the last quarter of 2019.

Interestingly, the cryptocurrency markets did not buck wildly like they have upon news of similar heists over the last two years. Perhaps the markets are inured to the prospect of thefts. Or perhaps, as many industry analysts believe, the edicts of China's hot-and-cold Central Committee are of far greater import and concern for the future of cryptocurrencies, than individual thefts. This may be a sign that the market is maturing, which would be a good thing for the average holder of Bitcoin or Ether. But it's even better for those who would steal cryptocurrencies, and plunder crypto-exchanges.

Why go to the risk of robbing a museum when you can clean out hapless cryptocurrency investors from the comfort of your own home?


This photo screams prestige. PHOTO: Jacques Demarthon / AFP

It's one of the great quirks of human civilisation that a publication which started as a map of places where you could get your tires changed in Europe will be remembered as the ur-fine food guide. Yes, the vaunted Michelin guide has come a long way since its inception; one wonders what Édouard and André Michelin would make of the fact that modern editions strike fear into the hearts of chefs everywhere. Not to mention the many hilarious disputes that the Michelin Guide gets drawn into as the authoritative voice on what's yummy and what's not.

On Wednesday French celebrity chef Marc Veyrat (pictured at right, above) launched legal action against the Michelin Guide to reclaim his third star. His restaurant, La Maison des Bois, lost the coveted three-star ranking after a Michelin inspector wrote that (judging by the colour of the cheese soufflé) the chefs had used English cheddar instead of French beaufort or reblochon. It was, as you can imagine, a most serious allegation. And, according to Veyrat, an incorrect one. He contends that the yellow cheesy colour of his soufflé was attributable to his inclusion of saffron, rather than of inferior products from across the Channel. Sacré bleu indeed.

And that wasn't the only rolling controversy for the institution this week; the beloved doyen of sushi , Jiro Ono, was stripped of not just one, but all three of his stars. The reason? His famed 10-seat Tokyo eatery has become so exclusive that the guide no longer considers it a public venue.

And lastly, while most chefs and owners are clamouring to get into the guide, Eo Yun-gwon is suing to have his restaurant removed from it. The South Korean chef has spurned the recognition from what he described as, "the cruellest test in the world". He continued, "It is humiliating to see my restaurant given a rating in that unwholesome book ". But what rights, if any, do we have to not be judged by others? It's food for thought.

No action is too radical to halt warming below 1.5°C. PHOTO: Reuters

This week the European Parliament voted 429-225 in favour of declaring a 'climate emergency' . The continental action is an exemplar of the kind of politics that are required to confront this species-wide threat. That is to say, radical solidarity, unionism and bloc-politics. Equally affirming is the fact that that the incoming European Union chief Ursula von der Leyen has called for a €3tr investment in climate change mitigation over the next decade.

But that's where the good news stopped.

New figures released this week showed that greenhouse gas emissions reached record highs in 2018. The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) announced that the previous year's emissions also exceeded the average yearly increase of the preceding decade. The failure of reasoning and imagination that abets this situation cannot be condemned enough. In a similar vein, the United Nations Environmental Programme this week revealed that the only way to now keep our planet below the 1.5°C ceiling is with a five-fold increase in decarbonisation targets. In real terms that represents an emissions cut of 7.6% per year between now and 2030.

We are not thrilled about the prospects of success, given the current and past track record of countries such as Australia, which is the most vulnerable to climate change amongst advanced economies, but continues to exalt in climate change denial .


A very, very helpful discovery. PHOTO: Getty

Forget nearly everything you know about E.coli. It is both a spectre of the gut and the workhorse of the biotechnology industry. Simple and competent. And now Israeli researchers have rewired the metabolic function of the E.coli bacteria to consume carbon dioxide, rather than carbon. The possibilities are truly endless.

More stolen rocks

The North American Space Agency and the European Space Agency are collaborating on a project to drill up some Martian rock and bring it back here. It's an extremely complex operation that will be predicated on the success of the 2020 Mars Rover mission.


Twice as fatal, half the attention. PHOTO: AFP
It's a sad fact of life that short attention spans and a hyperactive media conspire against long-term aid delivery. The world has been focused on the ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, while failing to take heed of a deadly measles outbreak there. So deadly that it has killed over 5,000 people, which is twice as many as ebola, most of whom were under the age of 5. Their deaths ought to register.

The new plague of Egypt

The once fertile estuarine region at the mouth of the Nile is running dry. It is a mighty river, one that has shaped the course of human history, and today it is dying. Upstream dams, booming population growth and predatory extraction by foreign companies have grievously damaged the Nile. There is no higher moral here – just the cold calculus of how much water you can take out of a river system before it destroys the livelihoods and lives of those reliant on it.


"Wiwi as one"

– A perfect update on the motto of the South East Asian Games, "We win as one". The tournament has been marred by terrible (and hilarious) construction and administrative bungles, of which the best may be the toilet cubicle with two toilets . 'The magic of therapy llamas'

The Independent .

US Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE). The loathed American agency provoked a heady wave of incredulity, and cynicism, this week. It transpired that the feds had not only created a fake university but fabricated the official accreditation. ICE officials then arrested dozens of migrants for the crime of breaching their immigration agreements by – you guessed it – attending an unofficial education institution. Kafkaesque doesn't even begin to cover it. Some choice long-reads

Tom Wharton

@trwinwriting