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December 30, 2012

Sassi di Matera

The Sassi di Matera (meaning "stones of Matera") are ancient cave dwellings in the Italian city of Matera, Basilicata. Situated in the old town, they are composed of the Sasso Caveoso and the later Sasso Barisano.
Matera has gained international fame for its "Sassi". The Sassi originate from a prehistoric (troglodyte) settlement, and are thought to be the second oldest city in the world.

The Sassi are houses dug into the rock itself locally called "tufo". Many of these "houses" are caves, and the streets in some parts of the Sassi are located on the rooftops of other houses. The ancient town grew in height on one slope of the ravine created by a river that is now a small stream. The ravine is known locally as "La Gravina".

In the 1950s, the government of Italy forcefully relocated most of the population of the Sassi to areas of the developing modern city. Riddled with malaria the unsanitary conditions were considered a shame for Italy. However, people continued to live in the Sassi, and according to the English Fodor's guide:
Matera is the only place in the world where people can boast to be still living in the same houses of their ancestors of 9,000 years ago.
Until the late 1980s this was considered an area of poverty, since these houses were, and in most areas still are, mostly unlivable. Current local administration, however, has become more tourism-oriented, and has promoted the re-generation of the Sassi with the aid of the European Union, the government, UNESCO, and Hollywood: one of the benefits of the ancient city, is that there is a great similarity in the look of the Sassi with that of ancient sites in and around Jerusalem. This has caught the eye of film directors and movie studios.
Principally due to this reason the Sassi were the set of many films, as for example "The Gospel According to St. Matthew" (Pasolini, 1964), "King David" (Bruce Beresford, 1985), "The Passion of the Christ" (Mel Gibson, 2004) and "The Nativity Story" (Hardwicke, 2006).

Ernesto Sirolli: Want to help someone? Shut up and listen!

In this funny and impassioned talk, he proposes that the first step is to listen to the people you're trying to help, and tap into their own entrepreneurial spirit. His advice on what works will help any entrepreneur.

December 25, 2012

Spanish Crisis Video

For those wondering what is happening in Spain worth checking this good documentary on the Spanish Crisis and its construction bubble crash:

December 16, 2012

How successful is your country?

Goldman in his recent study notes that the competitive strengths of companies often stem from the advantages of the countries they reside in.

These include a combination of resource availability (food, energy, mining and others), demographics, trade positioning, infrastructure quality and above all, the presence of strong, inclusive institutions that encourage innovation.

So, what follows is Goldman's attempt to map the various success drivers of the world’s countries.

Goldman divides the drivers into four categories:

Patents per capita, R&D as a percentage of GDP, venture capital as a percentage of GDP and the birth rate of companies.

Confidence in national institutions, days aken to enforce a contract, the cost of starting a business and the GINI co-efficient that measures income inequality.

Net crude oil exports/(imports) as a percentage of consumption, per capita food surplus/(deficit), copper + iron ore + aluminum surplus/(deficit) and retirees as a percentage of population.

Transport (airports per capita, railways per sq km), electricity production per capita and internet penetration.
Italy again scores among the worst countries in Europe just after Greece; in brief its institutions are weak, Internet penetration is appalling and when it comes to enforce contracts; it is the worst country in Europe and far behind many third world countries like Nigeria or Kenya who rank much better than Italy on this aspect.

The overall scorecard...

and a close up on Europe... (click image for huge version)

Source: Goldman Sachs

December 5, 2012

New Tiburtina Station Rome

Tiburtina station is becoming the main stop on long distance and high speed trains increasing its visitors from 22 to 50 million annually. 
The new design is a bridge over the existing spinal chord of the rail tracks. It aspires to be a station at international level and a meeting point at neighbourhood level. It is a bridge but also an urban boulevard that is reconnecting two areas that had long been separated by the tracks: the residential Nomentano and the more rundown Pietralata.
The Bridge-Station is designed with flexibility of space in mind: inside, suspended multi purpose volumes have been created and vertical support structures have been eliminated to help reduce the impact of vibrations coming from the trains whizzing past below. Similar to the tongue of a bell, thanks to gravity each suspended space soften the vibrations transmitted by the container.
The station is a 240m long glass parallelepiped raised 9m above the ground, measuring 50m in width at a constant height of 10.5m. The 8 floating rooms housing caf├ęs, VIP lounges, control rooms and restaurants are connected to the ground level by escalators and lifts and to the other volumes by a runway along the side of the bridge. The 2 squares at either side of the entrances to the station have been redeveloped to accommodate the offices of Italian railways, a new metro line, a bus terminal, a shopping centre, offices and parking spaces.

Europe at a glance: Drunkest, fattest, laziest countries

Some interesting updated stats on Europe courtesy of the The Washington Post

Despite common perceptions that the French sip wine all day or that Scandinavians muddle through the long winters with the aid of aquavit, Luxembourg actually tops the list of Europe’s alcohol consumers, with nearly 15.3 liters bought per capita annually — a 12 percent increase since 1980. (The OECD points out, however, that foreigners actually purchase much of that because of Luxembourg’s lower-than-average alcohol taxes.) Not counting Luxembourg, Latvia and Romania top the charts of alcohol consumption among adults:
Screenshot: OECD

Meanwhile, the supposed dolce vita of the Italians has become more temperate. They’ve reduced their alcohol consumption by nearly 60 percent since 1980, to a modest 6.9 liters.
And even though higher taxes and more rigid advertising laws have caused alcohol consumption in the E.U. to decline by 15 percent since 1980, the region still has the highest level of alcohol consumption in the world, and alcohol is the third leading risk factor for disease there, after tobacco and high blood pressure.
The problem is that as parts of Europe sober up, other countries have been drinking more — and new types — of alcohol:
There has been a degree of convergence in drinking habits across the European Union, with wine consumption increasing in many traditional beer-drinking countries and vice versa.

The rate of obesity has doubled over the past 20 years in the E.U., to 17 percent, making it a “major public health concern,” the authors write. Hungarians are the most obese people in the E.U., at 28.5 percent, closely followed by Britain.
Hungary’s neighbors, the Romanians, are the most svelte:
Screenshot: OECD

The authors note the use of taxes on fat and sugar — such as those recently passed in Finland, France and Hungary — as potential solutions. However, one such measure in Denmark was recently repealed after it was found to have too detrimental of an impact on consumers and businesses.

Physical activity:
Overall, only one in five children in the E.U. member states say they exercise regularly. The study didn’t measure physical activity among adults, but if sedentary children become pudgy grown-ups, the Italians are in trouble. Just 7 percent of girls and 12 percent of boys there reported daily physical activity, while the Austrians were most active:
Screenshot: OECD

Source: Washington Post
Health at a Glance Europe 2012

Italy is the most corrupt developed country

Here the new report on world corruption, the Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index 2012, outlines how corruption is a major threat.
Corruption destroys lives and communities, and undermines countries and institutions.
The Corruption Perceptions Index scores countries on a scale from 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean).
While no country has a perfect score, two-thirds of countries score below 50, indicating a serious corruption problem in the world.
Italy ranked 72nd worst than South Africa,Bosnia Ghana and Macedonia, the only developed country aside from Greece to be ranked so bad.
 In Transparency's words: "Corruption amounts to a dirty tax, and the poor and most vulnerable are its primary victims."

Corruption translates into human suffering, with poor families being extorted for bribes to see doctors or to get access to clean drinking water. It leads to failure in the delivery of basic services like education or healthcare. It derails the building of essential infrastructure, as corrupt leaders skim funds.