Human capital

View from Pont de la Tour restaurant, London

I am back from two days in London and still thinking about the experience. This was a different trip for me – no museums, no galleries – just long walks, some shopping, some dining, some warming up at the fireplace in the lounge at the hotel. I must not have noticed before, but this is what hit me this time: everybody we dealt with was on top of their game. I think this means if you’re very good at something, you go do it in London. Some outstanding people were:

  • The Albanian head sommelier at Gordon Ramsay’s at Claridge’s. We had very good conversations, both about wines and about Albania.
  • The South Asian saleswoman who sold me two pairs of jeans (Hudson and 7 For All Mankind) after having me try on about a dozen to find, in her opinion, the perfect fit.
  • The young pale blonde English woman who took us through the entire range of Jo Malone fragrances until we found the two that were just right.
  • The Italian maitre and staff at Pont de la Tour, where we had a festive lunch and felt at home despite eating turkey and looking out at Tower Bridge.
  • Everybody at 41 Hotel, including a concierge with the fantastically literary name of Adele Coetzee.
  • The hostess at the lounge we used at Gatwick airport, who gave us a most enthusiastic overview of her facilities and truly looked sorry we couldn’t stay longer when it was time for us to board.

This sample is, I admit, biased towards the retail and hospitality sectors, places with brutal competition where staff can’t help but being eager to please in the current downturn. But if this small sample says something about the quality of human capital in London that holds true across the board, then it must be one of the reasons why London is such a great city.

Public service post: how to have your Facebook profile NOT appear in search engine results

So, I realized today that even seasoned bloggers appear shocked at the invasion of privacy represented by the fact that anyone with a search engine can find everything you and your friends have put on your Facebook profile.

Your privacy is yours to defend. Start from this:

Facebook -> Settings -> Privacy Settings -> Public Search Listings -> deselect “Create a public search listing for me and submit it for search engine indexing” -> save.

Very much the same could be said about Italy, II: Troubles in Greece

As unique as my country is, I often read about other places that are similarly stuck in the holes they’ve been digging for themselves. But in the United States, the Obama administration has already announced that they mean business when they talk about upgrading the country’s creaking infrastructure, promoting clean energy, and fixing health care (see my previous post quoting Fred Wilson). We haven’t done that – so, the parallel no longer applies.

Today, instead, the Friends of Italy Award of the day goes therefore to Greece, described in today’s Economist in the following terms.

[…] Far more important are problems that no Greek government has tackled. To find out what they are, ask any of the Greek-born scholars, entrepreneurs, artists and other talented types who flourish all over the world but recoil at working in their homeland, much as they love it.

As any homesick Hellene can tell you, their country can be a maddening place for people with drive and flair. The world’s universities are full of Greek academics, but the country’s own campuses are dogged by poor administration, strikes and a state monopoly on higher education. In its university system Greece hews closer to the worst aspects of the Ottoman past (such as bureaucracies that block innovation) than does Turkey, with its fine range of public and private campuses.

In health, schooling and other public services, bad state provision fuels a huge under-the-counter market—creating in turn vested interests opposed to any change. Life is tough for youngsters with energy and talent but no cash or connections. To get anywhere, they spend all day in rotten state classrooms, then trek off to private night schools where the same teachers do a slightly better job in return for money. Anybody who negotiates those hurdles must then face a dismal job market—either a dreary, dysfunctional public sector or a private sector crimped by crooked tax inspectors and crazed regulators.

My hometown. A mini-essay

Note: I wrote this mini-essay several years ago as a writing exercise. Oddly enough, I still like the surreal antisocial murderous twist in the ending.

My hometown. Double- and triple-parked cars; public transport strikes; sidewalks eviscerated to hide fiber optic; the aquifer rising, cellars flooded when it rains. Hookers gain control of some streets at night, in waves, in fads: Brazilian boys; then Nigerian girls; then Albanian children. Opera, fashion, design. Two airports, no smoking signs ignored in both. Fetid railway stations, where bums and bag ladies make their home; one of them died last week; they called him “Nessuno”, nobody. Trade shows, conferences, fairs; times of the year when restaurants are fully booked and taxis are hard to find. University hospitals, research centers, places of higher learning. Multiplexes replacing traditional movie theaters. Giant bookstores opening, no one’s yet had the guts to offer customers somewhere to sit down while browsing. Sunday brunch, an imported habit; Halloween, another. Ski season approaching, well-to-do citizens wouldn’t be caught dead in the city during the weekend. Instead, teenagers from the hinterland swarm the streets of the center, with their stupid platform boots and identical piercings, you can tell they’ve grown up in homes that don’t have bookshelves because there aren’t any books, and it’s not even the kids’ fault, damn it. Outdoor advertising. Satellite dishes. Dog shit on the sidewalks. Parks teeming with syringes discarded by IV drug users. Can I choose the buildings to be torn down? The sociodemographic groups to be annihilated?

Instead, I hide indoors. And wait for a safe time. I will only come out on Easter Monday.