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Elephants’ long march adds urgency to China’s conservation efforts

A herd of wild elephants marching through villages and towns in south-western China’s Yunnan province has generated a frenzy among admirers online and added urgency to the country’s efforts to protect the animals’ natural habitat.

Last spring, 16 Asian elephants began walking north from a nature reserve in Xishuangbanna, a tropical region that borders Myanmar and Laos in the south of the province. 

By June, the group, now down to 15 and including a newborn calf, had travelled 500km, close to Yunnan’s sprawling capital, Kunming. In the process, they became a national obsession.

Chinese media has checked in on the herd daily, sharing the latest instalments of drone and security camera footage of the elephants sauntering through tea plantations and down high streets. 

A fleet of vehicles and an army of officials have been mobilised to escort the elephants. On one day this month, authorities sent 360 emergency response and police personnel, 76 police cars and dump trucks, five excavators and nine drones and fed 16 tonnes of food to the elephants, according to state-owned news agency Xinhua.

Although some users on China’s Twitter-like Weibo microblog platform noted the damage elephants inflicted by smashing down doors in search of food, most focused on pictures of sleeping elephant calves huddled around their mother or noted the creatures’ intelligence.

In one widely shared video, an elephant walks up to the front gate of a village home and uses its trunk to turn on a tap so the herd can drink.

In another, an elephant calf appeared to become intoxicated from eating fermented grains, inspiring a local musician to write a song about Yunnan’s drunk elephants. 

As the herd approached Kunming, Chinese experts urgently debated the precise causes of the migration and how to deal with elephants roaming the periphery of a city of 8m.

Zhao Huaidong, former director of the IFAW Asian Elephant Protection project in Xishuangbanna, which educates local villagers about how to safely handle elephants, called the herd’s northerly migration “very unusual” because it did not follow a fixed route.

“In the past 20 years, protection of Asian elephants means their numbers have increased but declining virgin forest outside protected areas has reduced their living space and caused the elephants to spread to areas where humans are active,” he said.

The renewed attention on elephants’ habitats comes as Kunming prepares to host the UN Biodiversity Conference in October. Environmentalists hope China will use the opportunity to strengthen commitments to protecting endangered wildlife and expand nature reserves.

The fact that the elephant herd was able to move through villages unmolested represents a step forward for the conservation of China’s protected species compared with the past, environmentalists said © via Reuters

Asian elephants receive China’s highest level of species protection. Hundreds of years ago, herds would roam far into what is now central China, but in recent decades the country’s population of about 300 elephants has been confined to Yunnan province.

Local authorities have launched a campaign to keep the animals away from Kunming. They have blocked roads and laid trails of pineapples, sweetcorn and other foods to lure the animals away from densely populated areas.

Zhou Jinfeng, director of the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation, warned that attempts to drive the elephants back would be the wrong approach, and could lead to a greater risk of clashes with humans.

“My proposal is that we shouldn’t totally halt their migration but rather establish migration corridors,” he said.

According to Zhou, villagers’ tolerance and lack of violence towards the elephants was a marked shift from the past and a positive sign of acceptance of the protected species. “That’s something that has made me especially relieved,” he said.

Additional reporting by Emma Zhou in Beijing

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Italy open Euro 2020 by putting three past ideas-free Turkey

Turkey 0 — Italy 3

Italy emerged from Friday night’s opening match of the Euro 2020 football tournament in Rome as plausible contenders for the title. Their co-ordinated pressing game tired out the Turks and belatedly paid off with three second-half goals — the biggest haul for the Azzurri in a European Championship game.

A disappointing and overly defensive Turkish side barely got a chance on goal. Ominously for the rest of the pack, Italy are now unbeaten in 28 games since September 2018.

With only 16,000 spectators in the stands, the Stadio Olimpico was not exactly a seething cauldron and Turkey hadn’t come to enhance the atmosphere. Their tactic was to keep nine men behind the ball and hope to counterattack through their burly 35-year-old centre-forward and captain Burak Yilmaz. Turkey have more to offer than that, but their veteran coach Senol Gunes didn’t trust them to try here.

By contrast, Italy in recent years have aligned themselves with the orthodoxy of the world’s leading teams, playing an attacking pressing game in the opposition half. They have mastered the pressing aspect best, almost always robbing Turkey of the ball within five seconds. But good as the little Neapolitan Lorenzo Insigne is at seeing space between the lines, Italy lacked a world-class creative player able to break open the serried Turkish ranks. The first half was anticlimactic — overshadowed, in fact, by the tenor Andrea Bocelli’s prematch rendering of Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma”, a harking back to the 1990 World Cup in Italy when it was sung unforgettably by Luciano Pavarotti.

Finally, on 53 minutes, Italy’s winger Domenico Berardi, who was having a poor game, advanced into Turkey’s penalty area, and fired in a cross. Central defender Merih Demiral was insufficiently adroit to get out of the way, and the ball bounced off his chest into the net. It was the first European Championship to open with an own-goal — a start in keeping with the drab football up to that point.

But then Italy reaped the benefits that often accrue to a passing, pressing team: the opposition, tired out by chasing the ball, especially on a hot Roman night, and dispirited by going one down, starts leaving spaces open. On 66 minutes, an Italian passing move split the Turkish defence, Italy’s marathon man left-back Leonardo Spinnazola got a good shot in, keeper Ugurcan Cakir did well to push it out, and Lazio’s centre-forward Ciro Immobile netted the rebound.

Lorenzo Insigne celebrates after scoring Italy’s third goal © Getty Images

The Roman crowd chanted his name, a reminder of the advantage that the nine teams playing games in their own country will have in this tournament with its unprecedented format of using stadiums across the continent.

Once the Italians were 2-0 up, they had no difficulties holding on to possession through their skilled ballplayers Insigne, Jorginho and the young Sardinian Nicolò Barella. At times in the second half, Italy looked more like a good Spanish team than like the Azzurri of old. On 78 minutes an amateurish pass from Cakir was intercepted, and Immobile found a totally unmarked Insigne, who got the goal he deserved — whereupon he was immediately substituted by coach Roberto Mancini, who knows he needs to keep him fresh for the serious end of the tournament.

With home games against Switzerland and Wales coming up, Italy can hardly fail to qualify for the round of 16 now, given that three out of four teams will make it from four of the six groups.

The Turks were free of ideas and did not have a threatening shot all match. On the rare occasions they got forward, they were silenced by Italy’s ancient Juventus centre-backs Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, leaving 22-year-old keeper Gianluigi Donnarumma the gentlest of initiations at a major tournament. Turkey could still easily go through, but their president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a keen footballer himself, will have hoped to make more nationalist capital out of this team.


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Billionaire Invenergy founder hit by hacker extortion attempt

The clean energy company Invenergy said on Friday that it had been hacked but that it did “not intend to pay any ransom”, after one of the world’s most notorious ransomware gangs threatened to leak embarrassing details about its billionaire chief executive. 

The Chicago-based private company, best known for building big wind and solar farms, said that it had “investigated unauthorised activity on some of its information systems” and was complying with all regulations that require disclosure of data breaches. 

Invenergy said that its operations had not been impacted by the attack, adding: “Invenergy has not paid and does not intend to pay any ransom”. 

The admission came after Russia-linked REvil, among the most prolific criminal ransomware hacking cartels, claimed on its dark web site that it had compromised the company, downloading 4 terabytes of data including information on projects and contracts, according to screenshots seen by the FT.

It also claimed that it had “very personal and spicy” information about the company’s chief executive Michael Polsky. According to the hackers, this includes the energy magnate’s personal emails, compromising photos, and details about his divorce from his first wife Maya Polsky. Invenergy did not comment on the claims.

Mr Polsky amassed a $1.5bn fortune by building electric power companies after emigrating to the US from Soviet Ukraine in 1976 with $500, according to Forbes. In 2007, a judge ruled that Ms Polsky should be awarded half her husband’s cash and assets at the time — around $180m — in what was then one of the most expensive divorces in history. 

The Invenergy incident comes amid the growing scourge of cybercriminal activity, which has included ransomware attacks, in which hackers seize data and only release it when a ransom is paid, potentially crippling a victim’s business, as in the recent hack of the Colonial pipeline in the US.

REvil’s victims in recent months have included the Taiwanese Apple supplier Quanta and the FBI has also accused the group of being behind last week’s attack on meatpacker JBS.

Recently, ransomware groups have started threatening to leak data as extra leverage to pressure targets to pay up. Many operate “leak sites” on the dark web where they will publish threats to their targets and later publish stolen data if those targets refuse to pay. 

Some hacking groups claim to have fully moved to an exfiltration-only model known as “extortionware”, relying solely on the threat of reputational damage to win payment, typically in cryptocurrency.

Invenergy said that “no data was encrypted” by its attackers, suggesting that REvil either opted not to encrypt the company’s data and disrupt its business, or an encryption attempt failed. 

“Threat groups are . . . increasingly using any embarrassing information they obtain as leverage against executives who may be in a position to influence the decision as to whether or not the demand is paid,” said Brett Callow, threat analyst at cyber security group Emsisoft. 

“Unfortunately, it’s a strategy that likely works. Even the claims are false, some companies may be willing to pay simply to make an embarrassing situation go away.” 

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Meritocracy is no match for the alpha-couple

In my favourite novel, The Red and the Black, the colours denote a low-born Frenchman’s only means of ascent. In the end, it is neither the red tunic of the army nor the black robe of the church so much as the white linen of the boudoir that elevates our fool-hero. A mayor’s wife and a marquis’s daughter are among those who usher him to within grasping distance of his longed-for status. That titular “red”, I still think, is a sly joke: the colour not of war but of sex, the age-old friend of the parvenu.

Or at least former friend. The last two centuries have opened more professional routes out of one’s class than there are nameable colours. At the same time, they have closed off the older method of hypergamous romance. “Assortative mating” is the fittingly cold phrase for the intermarriage of educated people, who compound their material and cognitive advantages in the process.

In the middle of the last century, the following observations would have marked me out as a curiosity. I hardly know a straight person of my age with a degree who has a spouse without one. Of the couples where one partner earns vastly more, the other tends to bring cultural clout, grander relatives, a handy passport or some such equaliser. (Looks are of insufficient strategic value to close the gap.) As for the bachelors, of the hundred or so dates the most active ones sit through each year, around 90 are with graduates of research universities. A transgressive evening is one spent with an art or drama school alumnus.

There is a notion that only female graduates are reluctant to marry beneath their credentials. I am sure this gets cause and effect all jumbled. When high-status men routinely ended up with less educated wives, it did not reflect preference, necessarily, so much as a want of alternatives. Once access to universities and the workplace spread to women, both sexes were freed up to be snobs. How lavishly we have used the licence since. My conscience is untroubled by almost every habit of the metro-liberal class that has been so tarred and feathered in recent years. Its romantic insularity is the exception. Not even private education does as much to forge an imporous caste.

This is why, along with its remorseless erudition, I have been carried along by The Aristocracy of Talent. In his new book, Adrian Wooldridge tries to salvage meritocracy from the ossified over-class that Aldous Huxley foresaw. Like all the best works of argumentative nonfiction, it falls down at the stage of policy fixes. Ideas of the “upgrading vocational education” sort can improve life chances, no doubt. The tax code can cut into the racket of inherited wealth much more than it does. But soon enough, a serious meritocrat comes up against the untouchable borders of the personal realm. Parents rig life for their children with a zeal that is no less antisocial for being natural. And the most skilled of these self-dealers will be the graduate double-teams. It is not for society to “do” anything about so intimate a choice as marriage. It just falls to society to count the costs.

And these go well beyond the gumming up of social mobility. What stands out about the modern alpha-couple is not ladder-raising self-interest so much as grinding blandness. Hypergamy recurs in drama — Balzac, kitchen-sink films, Cinderella — because it has a fascination that is not quite there when someone at UBS weds someone at Freshfields.

The supposed subversiveness of inter-class sex is not the point (there is, after all, still plenty of that around). It is the contact and ultimately the synthesis of two distinct experiences of life. Any children that result from it, to the extent they absorb a bit of each, stand to be all the more rounded and imaginative in turn. The assortatively mated constitute perhaps the most disciplined, competitive and high-functioning ruling class the west has ever known, but also the least original. Wooldridge is never better than when he charts the distance between their bohemian self-image and the monoculture of their private lives.

Email Janan at [email protected]

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GSK consumer chief plans deal spree after split from pharma

The chief executive of GSK’s consumer healthcare business expects the newly separated company to make deals in growth areas such as vitamins in a sector ripe for consolidation. 

Speaking ahead of a much-anticipated investor day detailing the split between GSK’s pharma and consumer divisions, Brian McNamara told the Financial Times the business would be able to do smaller deals, despite being loaded with debt.

He said the new company — which will be named ahead of a spin-off next year — would look to sell more brands online directly to consumers, convert more prescription drugs to over-the-counter purchases, and expand in China.

“This vitamin mineral supplement side of the portfolio continues to have opportunities,” he said. “A lot of the opportunities in that space are not massive acquisitions . . . I believe we would have the ability to do that if it made sense for the business and it provided the right return.”

GSK is under pressure to impress investors on June 23 after the US hedge fund Elliott Management took a multibillion-pound stake in the company to lobby for change. Some shareholders have expressed doubts about whether Emma Walmsley, GSK’s chief executive who previously led the consumer business, should lead the new pharmaceutical company as planned, as they are concerned she will not be able to revive its lacklustre pipeline.

The consumer healthcare business, which owns brands such as Centrum vitamins and Sensodyne toothpaste, is a joint venture with Pfizer, formed in late 2018 and due to be carved out by summer 2022. It also includes Novartis’s consumer healthcare business, after GSK bought the Swiss drugmaker out of a joint venture earlier in 2018. 

At the strategy day, GSK will tell investors how it plans to structure the spinout, which some analysts have said is likely to make the consumer health business a target for acquisition itself. In 2020, revenue grew by 4 per cent to £10bn, but it will have net debt to adjusted earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation of 3.5 to 4 times. 

McNamara said the split would enable shareholders to benefit from the “upside” in the business. “Frankly, separation for us means we can operate as an independent company, we can set our own strategy, our own capital allocation priorities,” he said. “This is not going to be a little company, it’ll be somewhere in the FTSE 10 to 20.”

He added that there was still an opportunity for “consolidation” in the sector. GSK is the largest participant in the fragmented industry of consumer health — which includes products such as painkillers, vitamin and mineral supplements, cold remedies, and other drugs bought without a prescription — with 9.1 per cent of the market, according to Euromonitor.

Its three biggest rivals are also pharmaceutical companies — Johnson & Johnson, Bayer and Sanofi — but healthcare has been an area of growth for consumer goods companies such as Reckitt Benckiser and Procter & Gamble.

Vitamins, minerals and supplements received a particular boost from the pandemic, with GSK reporting 16 per cent sales growth in 2020 compared with a year earlier.

Multinationals have been snapping up supplements brands, with Nestlé this year agreeing to buy the main brands of US-based The Bountiful Company, which makes Nature’s Bounty vitamins, for $5.75bn.

“This consumer interest in, and focus on, their personal health and well being . . . really drove incredible growth in the vitamin minerals and supplements,” McNamara said. 

He added that the company was “looking across multiple brands” that it might sell directly to consumers after launching a US website for the ChapStick lip balm last year, viewing direct sales as “an opportunity in sales and in first-party data”.

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Ransomware attacks must be stopped — here’s how

The writer is a former head of MI6, Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, and a founding partner of Vega Cyber Associates

It is easy to feel helpless in the face of a threat as amorphous and apparently random as ransomware. But, like all cyber security issues, it is not so much a technology problem as a human problem. And it is one that humans can solve.

The recent ransomware attacks on the Colonial pipeline in the US and the Irish healthcare system should be a wake-up call. Things are bad and are going to get a lot worse because the incentives to mount such attacks are strong and growing.

There is no silver bullet that will make this problem go away. But there are things states, organisations and individuals can do which, together, could persuade ransomware actors to employ their undoubted skills elsewhere. 

First, we have to recognise that this is not merely a criminal problem but a national security and geopolitical one, too. The people behind these cyber attacks need places to live and to enjoy their ill-gotten gains. It will not have escaped many people’s notice that most ransomware operators have a “no eating in Russia” policy. The reality is that many are in Russia, and as long as they don’t intrude on Russian interests, they will be left alone. President Vladimir Putin has made it clear that he does not believe that he owns the problem.

There are longstanding links between the hacking community and the Russian security services. And while it is not true to say that the state is behind these attacks, it is clear that the perpetrators could not function as they do if the FSB domestic security service were deployed against them.

US president Joe Biden has said this issue is top of the agenda for his meeting with Putin next week. That is where it should be. And he should use the full range of geopolitical carrots and sticks to get the ultimate exponent of realpolitik to take the problem seriously.

I was cheered by the FBI’s success in gaining access to the bitcoin wallet used by the Colonial hackers and reclaiming a large part of the ransom. The ransomware threat posed is now such that the application of high-end national capabilities is entirely appropriate.

The incentives for such criminal activity should be addressed, too. As chief of the Secret Intelligence Service, I saw first-hand the effects of the non-payment of terrorist ransoms policy adopted by the UK and our allies in the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing group. Such a policy is often heartbreaking to implement, but it is the right thing to do. The alternative is to finance the very activity that you are trying to prevent. 

There is a case for bringing such an approach to ransomware. Opponents ask if forbidding payment in a life-threatening situation could ever be justified on moral grounds. They have a point. But a partial ban, which allowed payment in “emergency” circumstances, would simply incentivise attackers to create such a situation. And that would be the worst of all worlds. 

If one accepts that this is a national security problem, then it becomes hard to defend the suggestion that governments should simply leave these decisions to private citizens. As a first step, I think it should be mandatory to disclose payments publicly and in detail. Attackers seek to present payment as the easy option. We have to change that. 

We also need to look at insurance and the risks of moral hazard. Often attackers gain access to insurance policies in advance and know exactly how much they can get away with asking for. However, insurers now expect to see evidence of good quality cyber security before they write business.

Then there is the question of cryptocurrency. It is arguable that the problem would not exist without crypto, which allows for ransom payments to be made in a way that preserves the anonymity of the recipients. This is not to argue for a ban on such currencies, which are obviously here to stay. But it is to urge the development of robust know-your-customer and anti-money laundering laws fit for the digital age.

Cryptocurrencies are not untraceable: they sit on the blockchain and sometimes are more easily traced than cash. The difficulty law-enforcement agencies face is discovering the real identity, or at least the real intent, of the recipient or originator. The good news is that data and modern analytics can combine in such a way as to allow good transactions to be distinguished from bad.

And then, an irony. Often, the software used by attackers is based on code written with the best of intentions by penetration testers who help organisations probe their systems for vulnerability. While there are significant practical obstacles, we need to draw on our experience of counter-proliferation licensing techniques and identify ways in which we can restrict the use of such code to its intended purpose. 

It follows that governments can and should do more but not to the point of absolving individuals and firms of their own responsibilities. A surprisingly large amount of this is about getting the cyber security basics right.

Ultimately, this is about human agency. Individually, we are easy to pick off and intimidate. But collectively, we are far from helpless. These attackers are bullies. And bullies come back for more, unless you bully them back, preferably in company. If anything good comes out of the recent attacks, it will be that the day that happens has come closer.

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Market veterans mourn slow death of historic trading pits

When a young law student called Leo Melamed arrived at 110 North Franklin, Chicago, for a job interview at what he thought was a legal firm in 1952, the chaotic scene he witnessed blew him away.

Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Beane was actually a brokerage, and the job was for a “runner” who shuttled messages around the trading pit of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange where financial contracts were settled on everything from onions to eggs. 

The maelstrom of people in coloured jackets shouting and jostling, marking deals on enormous blackboards and recording the end-of-day results with Polaroid cameras hooked the young Melamed. After finishing law school and quickly aborting a stint as an actual lawyer, he returned to “The Merc”, and rose to be its chair in 1969. 

“We were a bunch of guys who didn’t know the difference between turkey or Treasury bills, or Swiss francs and cattle,” he said. “I fell instantly in love with everyone and everything.”

Traders and clerks work the floor of the Eurodollar trading pit at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange in 2001 © Tim Boyle/Getty

Covid-19 has killed off some of the last bastions of “open outcry” trading. Traders who prefer to negotiate deals face-to-face scored a rare victory this week when the London Metal Exchange reversed an earlier plan to permanently close “the Ring” — the last significant traditional trading pit in Europe.

But last month Melamed’s alma mater, now called CME Group, announced that it would permanently close the trading floors that were first shuttered by the pandemic a year ago, with the sole exception of the eurodollar options pit. For many in Chicago’s trading community, it signalled the end of an era. 

Column chart of Share of daily CME trading volumes in futures and options showing The last death rattle of traditional 'open outcry' trading

The trading pits where Melamed and many other titans of finance learned their trade — and immortalised in popular culture by the movie Trading Places — had been slowly dying out even before the pandemic. Over the past few decades, trading has overwhelmingly shifted into the world of algorithms. Today, even the New York Stock Exchange is largely a TV studio, with most of the actual trading taking place at its data centre in New Jersey.

Others have survived, including the NYSE’s Arca options floor in San Francisco and the Box Options Exchange in Chicago. Bucking the trend, CBOE Global Markets, where the Vix volatility index is traded, is building a new and bigger trading floor to accommodate hundreds of traders, and will move there in 2022.

By keeping the Ring open, the LME is trying to placate both traditional members, who preferred the open outcry pit, and its larger merchant trader and financial participants, who backed the move towards electronic trading.

Matthew Chamberlain, chief executive of the LME, said he hoped a hybrid approach would extend its longevity. “I love the Ring, I think everyone at the LME loves the Ring — it’s a big part of the culture, a big part why many of us joined the organisation. We love the community, the excitement. From a personal point of view, I hope it’s here in 10-20 years’ time.”

Waylaid Ni, head of eurodollar options at DRW, a big Chicago trading firm, said having someone in the CME eurodollar options pit was still valuable, and predicted its surviving open outcry floor would remain open for many years to come. 

“Many of the strategies traded in this product are complicated,” he said. “It’s far more efficient to execute that type of complex trading when all the parties are talking to each other in real time versus seeing flashes on a screen.” 

Data centre for London International Financial Futures
Servers at an out-of-town data centre have replaced the old London International Financial Futures (Liffe) trading floor © ICE Futures Europe

The pandemic offered a live test of what would happen if markets that relied on floor trading were suddenly shut. The results were not encouraging for open outcry, argues Thomas Fitch, founder and chief executive of RV Assets, a UK company that provides trading algorithms for market makers and proprietary traders.

Despite the eurodollar options market going from about 60 per cent pit-traded to entirely electronic overnight, volumes and the difference between the prices that people will buy or sell was entirely unaffected, according to Fitch.

But since the pit was reopened and hybrid trading resumed, the spread has widened by about 0.15 cents per contract. In a market that trades 1.5m contracts a day, that amounts to $1.35bn of extra costs to the end user, Fitch said. “Why has it moved back? It suits the people who execute trades, the brokers and the market makers.”

Many veterans are increasingly resigned to the fact that open outcry pits will soon perish. “Open outcry trading took a lot longer to die [than people expected], and it’s still not completely dead, but it will be bled to death as electronic trading takes more and more of the volume away,” said John Lothian, who started in the pits before writing a well-read industry newsletter.

After the death of a former pit trader friend in 2011, he started an oral history project to collect the memories of veterans of the open outcry era, modelled loosely on the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project. “We’re losing so many of the open outcry traders every day, and I thought it was important that we captured how markets operated for so long during our history,” Lothian said. “It was face-to-face commerce, where you could do deals for millions of dollars on just an exchange of hand signals.”

The shift has been emotionally charged for many traders that remain attached to the era, and the camaraderie and creativity it engendered. Melamed remembers how he was once lambasted by some CME brokers as “Darth Vader” for eventually embracing electronic trading, but admits to “sadness” at seeing the final closure of most of its open outcry venues. “The floor was a crucible of ideas,” he said. “That’s what you lose.”

Trading on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange floor 1978
Frenetic trading on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange floor in 1978 after an unexpected interest rate rise © Chan Kiu/South China Morning Post/Getty

But they have been losing a battle that began in the early 1980s when pioneers such as Thomas Peterffy hooked up their data feeds to basic computer programmes that performed the same functions traders performed — scanning the market for mispriced quotes. At that point, humans still executed the trades.

Peterffy still remembers his first day in a trading pit, the silver options floor of New York’s Comex in 1967 (the commodities exchange where the climax of Trading Places was later filmed), which left an indelible mark. “It was serious money, and very exciting,” Peterffy said. “Numbers on a computer can also be exciting, but not as much as people yelling at each other.” 

He eventually saved up enough money to buy a seat on the American Stock Exchange in 1977, the NYSE’s scrappy little brother that initially started as an outdoor market on Broad Street in lower Manhattan. But being slight of build and with a heavy Hungarian accent, other floor traders struggled to hear and understand Peterffy in the maelstrom of the Amex floor, which proved the impetus for his efforts to bring trading into the computer era. 

Like many other veterans of the open outcry era, Peterffy is nostalgic, but tempers it with realism. “It was a great experience, but things change. It was also exciting to drive a horse and carriage”.

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Olympic volunteers find doing same work as paid staff is not playing the game

The Tokyo Olympics is struggling to retain its army of volunteers after it emerged that organisers were hiring paid staff to do similar work, in the latest obstacle for the long-delayed games in Japan.

About 10,000 volunteers have quit in recent weeks, according to the organisers, out of about 110,000 who are the welcoming face of Tokyo 2020 — working as guides, drivers, event staff, medical first responders and interpreters.

But with no foreign spectators to welcome and a Covid-19 state of emergency in Tokyo, enthusiasm among volunteers is running low, highlighting the difficulties of staging the world’s biggest sporting event during a pandemic.

Japan’s government and the International Olympic Committee insist the games will start as planned on July 23, despite warnings that celebrating fans could spread coronavirus, and a delayed vaccination campaign that has given a first dose to only about 13 per cent of the population.

The latest blow to volunteer morale came when adverts appeared on the internet offering wages of ¥1,700 ($15.50) an hour to work as front-of-house staff at a “large-scale international sports event” in July and August.

Although Olympic minister Tamayo Marukawa said last month that volunteers would have different duties to paid staff, the advertised tasks include guiding spectators and taking their temperature.

One advert for a “marine sports venue” said it would be like working in a holiday resort, with food and accommodation provided. Two agencies called by the Financial Times confirmed the jobs were with the Olympics.

Takamichi Ueno, a freelance photographer from Tochigi prefecture, said he was still looking forward to his role for the cycling road race and hoped to meet the riders. But he said he was annoyed when he heard the games were hiring staff to work alongside volunteers, since he had to travel to the Fuji International Speedway — where the road race finishes — and find accommodation at his own expense. “I don’t agree with it,” he said.

Katsuji Yoshioka, a retiree, said he resigned as a volunteer in April after he was asked to sign up for nine-hour shifts as a driver. “They called it a driving supporter,” he said. “They were looking for shifts like 2pm to 11pm, which would mean it was tough to get the last train.”

Yoshioka said he thought the work schedule was too strenuous for an inexperienced volunteer and that it would be easy to catch Covid as a driver. He felt vindicated when he heard that Tokyo 2020 was hiring paid staff. “It’d be a joke if I’d been doing that work alongside people who were getting paid for it,” he said.

In an effort to make the games safer and turn public sentiment around, Japan is debating whether to vaccinate all the volunteers before the Olympics, moving them ahead of others in the queue. At present, Japan is only vaccinating the over 65s, but it will start letting large companies vaccinate their staff from June 21.

“We’ve agreed to go in that direction,” said Marukawa in response to a parliamentary question this week. “But there are a number of practical issues.”

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US lawmakers launch bipartisan push to rein in Big Tech

Members of the US House of Representatives have introduced five different bills seeking to tame the power of the world’s largest technology companies, in the biggest legislative threat to Big Tech in years.

If passed, the proposals would together constitute the biggest shake-up of US monopolies law in a generation, curbing tech industry takeovers of the kind that cemented Facebook’s dominance of social media and limiting the ability of Apple, Amazon and Google to use their platforms to favour their own products.

“Right now, unregulated tech monopolies have too much power over our economy,” said David Cicilline, the Democratic chair of the antitrust subcommittee in the US House of Representatives, when announcing the bills on Friday.

Big tech companies “are in a unique position to pick winners and losers, destroy small businesses, raise prices on consumers, and put folks out of work”, he said.

US politicians have promised for years to pass landmark tech regulations, such as a digital privacy bill, but have been hampered by a lack of bipartisan agreement on the issue.

House members signing on to support the five bills, however, include both Democrats and Republicans, a sign of the anger felt in both parties towards global technology companies.

Ken Buck, the most senior Republican on the antitrust subcommittee, said: “Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google have prioritised power over innovation and harmed American businesses and consumers in the process.”

The bills would enact many of the recommendations made in a 448-page report published by Cicilline’s subcommittee last year, which accused all four companies of abusing their market power and followed hearings including one featuring the four chief executives. That report was only signed by Democrats, suggesting Republican members of Congress have since shifted their position.

If passed by the House of Representatives, the main hurdle to the bills becoming law would lie in the Senate, where Republicans have enough votes to filibuster new legislation. Mitch McConnell, leader of the Senate Republicans, is generally regarded as supportive of big business, but has said relatively little about Big Tech.

Neil Bradley, chief policy officer at the US Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement: “Bills that target specific companies, instead of focusing on business practices, are simply bad policy and are fundamentally unfair and could be ruled unconstitutional.”

Google declined to comment. Facebook, Apple and Amazon did not respond to requests to do so.

Additional reporting by Hannah Murphy, Richard Waters, Dave Lee and Patrick McGee

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Rock music and women cyclists: resistance in Iran’s holiest city

For Iranian rock musician Pooyan Ghandi, the roar of the crowd and the thrill of live performance are things he can only dream about.

The 34-year-old lives in the religious city of Mashhad where concerts have been banned for more than a decade after hardliners in the theocratic state argued that they were against Islamic teachings.

While such restrictions are rare elsewhere in Iran and in Tehran it is possible to see live music, Ghandi and musicians like him in Iran’s holiest city spend their days composing music that they are unlikely ever to play to a crowd.

“There are many like me in Mashhad who are sitting in their room and work with one computer, upload their music and post it on audio streaming platforms,” Ghandi said from his studio in his family home.

“Music in Mashhad has turned into [a symbol of] muscle flexing” between reformists and hardliners, he added. “It is not rooted in religious beliefs because the call to prayer is music. Reciting the Koran is music.”

With centrist president Hassan Rouhani set to step down after two terms, hardliners hope to secure the presidency in a June 18 poll. Three of the seven candidates, including frontrunner Ebrahim Raisi, have their roots in Mashhad, home to the largest shrine in Iran where the eighth Imam of Shia Muslims, Reza, is buried, and a stronghold for hardliners.

If Mashhad’s experience is anything to go by, Raisi’s victory could signal greater social and cultural repression. Raisi’s father-in-law, a leading figure in Mashhad, is one of the country’s most controversial clerics. Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda, 76, banned concerts in Mashhad and has said that women have no right to cycle in the city. The ayatollah has previously voiced concern that some Iranian women were more likely to model themselves on Sophia Loren than Fatemeh, the daughter of Prophet Mohammad.

Rock musician Pooyan Ghandi lives in the city, where concerts have been banned for more than a decade © Najmeh Bozorgmehr/FT

When Raisi last ran for president four years ago, it was rumoured, jokingly, that he would build walls in pavements to separate men and women. “Raisi will manage the cultural sector based on Islamic values,” said Hamid-Reza Taraghi, a hardline politician in Mashhad, voicing his opposition to concerts that promote western values and allow men and women to dance together. This month his daughter said on state television that her father created a women-only section at the Mashhad shrine. He would, she said, make “bridges” for men and women not walls.

But even if Raisi tries to replicate his father-in-law’s plan, analysts say the Mashhad experience makes clear the difficulty of ensuring compliance even in this most conservative of cities.

Despite the religious ban, women can still be seen cycling. Cafés playing recordings of western music have opened. Young women are dressed fashionably and the obligatory head scarves are sometimes worn on their shoulders. Private parties are common. The main difference with other big cities, analysts say, is that if you are arrested for drinking alcohol you will almost certainly be sentenced to lashing with whips.

“Hardliners, if elected, may try to impose more restrictions in the cultural sector but it is very difficult to put Iranians back to the pre-internet, pre-Instagram era,” Majid Fouladiyan, a professor of cultural sociology at Ferdowsi University of Mashhad.

The tougher restrictions in Mashhad have if anything fostered an identity of resistance in the city, he said, a view echoed by others. Mashhad now has the most private music studios in the country, said Ali Alavi, the editor of Khorasan daily newspaper, a conservative outlet in Mashhad. He added: “More than 40 years of ruling shows us that the policies announced cannot be [necessarily] forcefully implemented.”

For most ordinary Iranians, the biggest concern is not moral or social issues but the economy. “We have one of the world’s biggest economic cartels in Mashhad [affiliated to the shrine] but there are people who eat bread with tomato paste in this city,” one analyst said.

With sanctions hitting the economy hard and disillusionment rife, the poor could yet become the biggest threat to the Islamic republic, “maybe even an existential threat”, the analyst said. The first riots against economic hardship were in 2017 and began in Mashhad, which has a population of 3m, and “we can see signs of the uprising of the hungry and bare-feet people here as one-third of Mashhad population live in poor suburbs”, he said.

the eighth Imam of Shia Muslims, Reza, is buried
Shrine of the eighth Imam of Shia Muslims, Reza, who is buried in the city © Najmeh Bozorgmehr/FT

For many in Mashhad, this disillusionment has fed into a reluctance to vote. “I’m not going to vote ever again. I’ve not been able to save a penny over the past four years,” said Reza, a 37-year-old shopkeeper in a grocery store. “The managers are either weak and powerful or strong and powerless. Why shall I make a fool of myself?”

Still other voters question the hardliner focus on regional policies. For Cyrus Milani, a singer and musician in Mashhad who like Ghandi also works from home, it is difficult to rationalise Iranian support for Syria and Palestine “where they have live concerts” and yet concerts are banned at home. “I am very upset and have little income but I cannot do anything other than making my music,” he said. “This is the first year that I do not know who is running for president and have no plan to vote.”

Other values matter too, people in Mashhad say, not least probity in public affairs and equity. Not far from where Ghandi lives, a 33-storey residential block is under construction by a politically connected man in his 30s, workers at the site said. The English-language billboards suggest the building will have billiard and banquet halls as well as a spa.

For Ghandi, lack of income and restrictions on performance have affected his creativity.

“We would have been able to achieve beyond our dreams. We could have helped promote people’s music taste, performances and quality of music,” he added. “We now see what has happened to music, is happening to bread and butter, too. When a tree [Iran] is not looked after well, first the leaves [music] drop and then it gets closer to the roots.”