Sunday, 4 December 2016

The Ninth Commandment*

Do you remember when we first met? An evening dinner after a workshop, hundreds of kilometres away from Warsaw. You drank red wine, I drank vodka. I did not notice a ring on any of your fingers, so I began flirting with you. You said you were married and giggled, but I carried on.

This was what chemistry is like. You don’t need to think what to say, what move to make, what step to take. You know what you should do and the other one also knows. You don’t even notice when everything falls into place.

Yes, I fell for you. We met when I yearned for a soulmate, yearned for a friend, when I felt let down by lukewarm people around me. You showed interest, you cared, you understood me what I wanted to say even if I did not open my mouth. You fostered the bond between us from the very beginning.

I got scared when after two weeks you called us friends and grabbed my hand. We barely knew each other while after I, having been hurt several times in life, will think several times before I call anyone a friend while you did it at ease.

You accepted me the way I was, with all my good traits and shortcomings. I didn’t even try to pretend to be someone better. I appreciated that and offered the same to you.

Though we have lived hundreds kilometres from each other and met only when opportunities arose, we talked and wrote to each other several times a day. I felt guilty of taking away mother from you little daughters whose photos you showed me so many times.

I have never wanted to break up a family or build happiness on someone else’s suffering, especially at your daughters’ expense. I have never expected you to quit your husband, I have never hoped you did it.

So many times you told me what your husband was like. I infer he loves you to bits and what has he gotten in return?

Have you told your husband about me? Frankly speaking, I don’t care. Your marriage, your business. I hold dear autonomy, but I wouldn’t like my girlfriend or wife to have such close someone as I used to be to you.

Do you remember when I told you when my parents passed away, there would be a risk I might have nobody to spend Christmas with? You invited me over to your house, while I asked if your husband knew. You turned my question into a joke and said “yes, provided you dress up as a Santa Claus”.

The day you had a surgery and called me right after that to moan out you were alright. Had you talked to your husband before that?

Intimacy has two dimensions, emotional and physical. On top, each dimension several degrees. The top ones should have been reserved for your husband.

You could tell me I was accepting terms of that unwritten contract between us and the initiative was on my side too. You surely wonder what prompted me to change me mind. Quite recently I told somebody the story of us and when I put all events together, the picture of us which emerged was unbearably ghastly. As it turns out, I needed to put in words to realise what I’d been into…

Yes, I have cut you off. I knew I would do it when we last met. I apologise for not picking up the phone and not replying to messages for three days. I lacked courage to tell it openly to you. When I finally called you back I said I needed to take a break from you. You hang up but I wonder whether you think I’ve had enough of your problems or the whole of us.

I’ve been running out of power to carry your burdens. I am emotionally exhausted.

Does it hurt? Officially not. Over the recent weeks my role was giving, your role was taking. If I am to be sincere, it does hurt. It’s gone too far to pass me by painlessly. But hadn’t I quit, I would hurt much more before long.

No, I haven’t fallen in love, fortunately.

Yes, I am selfish, I want a normal relationship, not dead-end tease and denial, not an endless string of emotional swings. I quit not only for myself, but to keep your family together. I will be missing you for a while but the longing will wane.

Some time ago you asked me how to carry on without me. It's simple - same way as you’d carried on before we met.

You want me to find a girlfriend, while with you around I can’t be true to any woman. If you want me to be happy just leave ma alone.

Dear reader! I am a sinner, I don’t want your sympathy, but deep down I hope you won’t condemn me (especially because before publishing in a surge of auto-censorship I have shortened the post). I longed for a soulmate too much, it took me a while to realise I was waddling in a mire.

You can’t have a cake and eat it…

* According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Thou shalt not covet neighbour's wife might also be a part of the tenth commandment

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Who takes the strain?

The more frequently I travel in business, the less exciting I find it. Trips taken as part of my duties, an inevitable element of my job, come as a scourge even if I happen to visit a new place or drop in on a long unseen but likable one.

This week was particularly wearisome. As I had to take three business trips on three consecutive days. The prospect had been ghastly from the day I had learnt the New Factory had nearly run out of the (tight anyway) travel budget for 2016, so sleeping in hotels along the way would have broken the bank… Literally…

On Tuesday I drove to Poznan to take part in a workshop. After looking at the train timetable and how far out destination was from the train station, I had chosen to go by car. Given there were three of us, the choice was also economically justified – cost of my mileage allowance (covering also motorway tolls and parking charges) was over 150 PLN lower than cost of three second-class return train tickets, not to mention two taxi rides in Poznan. Woke up at four a.m. to pick up my two colleagues from Warsaw at half past five and to make it to outskirts of Poznan before nine a.m. The workshop finished at four in the afternoon. The drive to Warsaw, including stopover at the petrol station in Poznan, took three hours. Choosing the car had the big advantage to all of us – we were nearly three hours earlier at homes (we would not make it to catch the 16:34 Intercity service from Poznan, while for the next at 18:40 (arriving to Warsaw at 21:15) we would have had to wait for nearly two hours at the station or around. The (not brand-)new car has now over 1,000 kilometres higher mileage than when I took it over two weeks ago. I was only negatively surprised by fuel consumption – more than 10 litres per 100 kilometres on average on a motorway… I expected the smaller engine with sixth gear to be more economical…

On Wednesday I let the train take the strain. Woke up at quarter past four to catch the 6:40 a.m. Pendolino to Gdansk to a conference. I travelled on my own, so this choice was more economical and practical, since in the train, using my smartphone as wi-fi router, I caught up with work (at least handled all e-mail from the previous day and delegated some stuff to an intern). I don’t know how PKP IC has fixed it, but currently there are nearly no problems with mobile internet coverage aboard. Besides, journey duration of less than 2 hours 50 minutes on a 372 kilometres route is impressive. To compare it with driving you would need to add time necessary to get to a station some time ahead of train departure and from a station to your destination (door-to-door), yet in the meantime you can have a rest, read a book or work!

On my way back from a conference venue to the train station, I strolled along Długi Targ, part of Gdansk old town. The day was chilly (+3C) and foggy, dusk was nearing. Few locals and tourists roamed around. In the distance, Neptun’s fountain, a landmark in that part of the city.

Closer to the station and looking in the opposite direction. More lights ere on, fog lingers lower and swathed the church tower. The place had its charm, yet the weather was not conducive to sightseeing. Indeed one should work harder in this dark and gloomy period of year and enjoy more time outdoors from April to September.

Approaching the train station, as the file date suggests, it was around four p.m. The street was jammed, unlike in western Poznan a day earlier, where I covered the distance of 6 kilometres between Komorniki junction and the destination in fifteen minutes both in the morning and in the afternoon.

At the woe-fully organised conference (the event was free-of-charge, therefore it was a promotional show of dobra zmiana and commercial sponsors) I learnt over 66 billion zloty is to be spent on modernisation and development or railway routes by 2023, so in the coming years, especially in 2019 and 2020 we should expect investment boom on railways and… lengthened journey times. Several experts doubted whether spending such vast amount of money was feasible and advised the Ministry of Infrastructure and PKP PLK (rail infrastructure owner and administrator) to focus on priorities so that the possible large part of the funding is properly spent. Whatever happens, by the end of the investment boom travelling by train on many routes might be a nuisance.

On (I woke up at six a.m., what a relief!) Thursday I went to a city roughly somewhere between Gdansk and Warsaw to meet a client. I drove my colleague’s company car (she does not feel particularly confident driving long distance, so for our safety and comfort I offered to sit behind the wheel) so not a chance to sit back and relax (though I like driving) for a single moment. At least the meeting was fruitful.

Had it all been arranged in a civilised way, I would have taken a train to Poznan on Tuesday morning, took a train from there to Gdansk, checked in to a hotel in Gdansk for a two-night stay on Tuesday evening, took a train from Gdansk to somewhere between Gdansk and Warsaw and then a taxi to a client on Thursday and returned from there by company car to Warsaw. The additional cost would have been less than one thousand zlotys…

Compared to private holiday trips, business travels are a school of hard knocks. An indispensable element of such journeys is rush. Agendas are always tight, you are always in a hurry. Organising logistics, if you travel on your own, might be a challenge, but if many people take the same trip, logistics becomes an ordeal. If you travel for private purposes and pay for something, you only care whether it is expensive and you can afford it. In business trips, you need make sure you get the properly issued invoice and that each of your expenses is justified and qualifies for reimbursement. When you return to the office, you have to account for travel expenses, scan all invoices and tickets, send original documents to accounting department, fill in several formulas, get sign-offs, etc. Stopping by for a moment or sightseeing are rare exceptions, I cherish them whenever they crop up.

Since mid-October I have been in the same mode as a year ago (seasonality, fourth quarter of each year in my profession is the most busy period) and wondered many times what I have been chasing after… Working well more than 50 hours per week and travelling leaves little time for looking after one’s own affairs and is fatiguing. I must say, I am much more exhausted physically than mentally. Intense work and stress have not taken much toll on my brain and psyche, but my body apparently wishes to resist it…

Sunday, 20 November 2016

One year into PiS in power

As the PiS government stages a splendid conference to boast of plentiful attainments of its first year in charge of Poland, I feel obliged to tack on some facts to remind of and underline the most recent success stories credited to this government and contributing to the outlook of blindingly bright future for Poland

Poland’s GDP grew by mere 2.5% in 3Q2016, falling short of economists’ consensus of 2.9% and being the worst readout since late 2013. The figure is just a preliminary estimate by stats office and has not been broken down into components, but judging by the trend observed in recent quarters, the drop in investments could have been the main factor behind the meagre expansion. Mr Morawiecki, Poland’s Development and Finance Minister (and deputy prime minister) claimed the slowdown was temporary and upheld his ministry’s forecasts of 3.4% GDP growth in 2016 (to make it happen, the Polish economy would need to expand by approximately 5% in 4Q2016 on simplifying assumption there is no seasonality, but by all accounts by more than 4%).

I have no idea why the former CEO of Santander-owned Bank Zachodni WBK belies reality. I only wonder whether he knows he is in the doghouse or so deeply believes the policies he pursues are appropriate. Whichever supposition is right, I am kind of sure with such figures budget deficit is likely to rise above 3% of GDP in 2016. Mr Morawiecki is somewhat right while assuring GDP is not the uppermost measure of economic well-being, but in the same interview he stresses importance of investments for the Polish economy. The problem is however that in the meantime investments are falling back.

Fortunately the bright spark of the Polish nation, an ordinary deputy Jarosław Kaczyński (balancing on the verge of paranoia) has found a scapegoat to take the blame for poor GDP growth – these are entrepreneurs linked to opposition who halt their business plans and give up on profits they could make just to spite the government.

Yields on Polish 10-year bonds have soared above 3.5%, meaning their price is the lowest since over 2 years. Partly to blame is the victory of Donald Trump in the US presidential election which led to more uncertainty on financial markets. The choice made by Americans is cherished by advocates of the PiS government. I hope they have noticed it has twofold impact of Poland’s debt service costs, via increased yields at which new government bonds are issued and via higher balance of debt denominated in foreign currencies (PLN has depreciated against major currencies recently).

This week the lower house of the Polish parliament passed a draft law reinstating pension age of 60 for women and 65 for men, thus reversing the retirement age increase brought into law by the previous PO-PSL government in 2012. While governments across the world raise the pension age and tackle inevitable demographic changes to sustain the proportion of labour force to those receiving benefits from the public purse, Poland takes a step back while the bill will be paid in the next decades. The only bright side I discern is that benefits for early retirees will be low enough to effectively discourage people from pensioning off.

When it comes to pursuit of PiS’ economic agenda, the fewer promises they keep, the better for the economy (not necessarily for social spending beneficiaries, especially multi-child poor families receiving the 500plus child allowance). Having the choice between two evils, I prefer they get busy with dead-end Smolensk religion whose cost (except for pain for families of crash fatalities) is thousands times lower than of “reforms” mentioned above. By the way, preliminary results of late president Kaczynski and his wife’s autopsy indicate a transport accident as death cause, the only thing in question is whether the plane capsized before hitting the ground.

Time passes by and level of absurdities around soars. The day before yesterday PiS politicians commemorated the 14th anniversary of Lech Kaczynski taking office of mayor of Warsaw. I hence put forward official celebrations of Lech Kaczynski:
- being born in 1949 (18 June),
- finishing studies in 1971, receiving PhD in 1979 and doctor habilitowany titles in 1990 (dates to be ascertained),
- getting married in 1978 (27 April),
- becoming a minister of justice in 2000 (12 June),
- being appointed the governor of Najwyższa Izba Kontroli in 2001 (14 February),
- being elected the president of PiS in 2001 (29 May),
- being sworn in as president of Poland in 2005 (23 December),
- telling a drunkard to go away in 2002 (spieprzaj dziadu) (4 November).

Also on Friday came to the light news of prosecutors from Gorzów Wielkopolski who have been chasing after Hanna Zdanowska, mayor of Łódź since February 2016 and accused her of loan frauds, allegedly committed in 2008 and 2009. Oddly enough a bank which granted a loan has not filed any charges against Mrs Zdanowska and the loan, as each and every fraudulent loan, has been repaid… This is one of first examples of PiS-controlled prosecutors clumsily attempting to sling mud at politicians of opposition.

On Friday I attended a conference during which one of renowned speakers told despite not just a flash in pan, populism will  wear down, as any other ideology. Neoliberalism and neokeynesianism have worn down and have had destructive influence on economies in last stages of their prevalence; the same path will be taken by populism. The only worry we should all have at the back of our heads is that damages inflicted to societies and economies by populists will be more painful.

But as the speaker said, we have to let things drift. Populism will not be eradicated by educated minorities. These must be masses, currently enchanted by populists that will have to realise they would have been double-crossed. It will take time and involve a price to pay, but after we persevere it, a better world might emerge. Or our civilisation might conceivably wind down irreversibly, a scenario which I have feared over the past months.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Donald Trump

Makes no sense coming up with a more ambitious title to this post. The US president-elect’s name stands for the sound of the world diving helplessly into the unknown.

After Mr Trump’s victory, headlines were hit by news of polls buggering it up and senseless questions “how come?”. Against what you are still told and regardless of slip-ups of both candidates, Mrs Clinton was bound to lose that battle, resulting in yet another one in a string of shifts in power aimed at capsizing the well-established, predictable, though at times seized-up machinery of liberal democracy.

I wrote on facebook on Wednesday it was the second such bad day this year (the first one fell on 24 June 2016, when Brexit referendum results were announced). The magnitude of US presidential election binding result, impacting indirectly all countries in the world, is far larger than of the Brexit referendum, which formally has been just an indicator of Brits’ opinions (now to be handled by the parliament somehow).

Fearful of implications of Mr Trump taking office? No worries. The upside of the situation is the habitual track record of various populists going back on their promises. Mr Trump’s silly waffle was meant to win him voters – words he was whispering to disgruntled electorate were music to their ears. In his wildest declarations he pledged to bring about a change deeper than the one Mr Obama had pursued. Before he is sworn in on 20 January 2017 he will get insight into intricacies of US politics and I believe the reality check will tone him down (in terms of knowing the ropes of politics he is incompetent, but has his head screwed in well enough not to spoil it all the way).

Having written that, I still believe Mrs Clinton, though definitely imperfect, was a far better choice for the United States and for the whole civilised world.

So what prompted the nation which has held foundations of democracy so dear to elect Mr Trump? He was the first prominent politician to have rejected political correctness; thus several voters perceived him as frank and straightforward. He was not a part of (discredited in eyes of many) political elite and scorned at murky establishment, a clique of spongers living off politics and pooling wool over electorate’s eyes for decades. He has struck a chord with millions of impoverished, aggrieved voters, victims of de-industrialisation, who indeed felt America was in ruins and needed to be lifted from misery.

“CHANGE” was the buzz word or Mr Obama’s campaign and a change is what Americans have longed for. Each change involves costs and benefits one should analyse before one opts for or against it. Majority of voters have chosen a soft change, or the lesser of two evils, however since the vote is indirect and in most states Mr Trump received the most votes, he was selected to become the successor of Mr Obama.

I do respect the choice made by US citizens who have exercised their right to vote and the election result, being the aftermath of electoral college votes mechanism in place. I am holding back from forejudging the presidency of Mr Trump. Before I revisit the topic, I am waiting for the story to unfold. The first public appearances of Mr Trump fill with hope he is not a lunatic and his policies will fortunately differ from the visions he outlined during the campaign.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Selling the car

As in early September my plans of relocating to another European capital went down the drain, it became clear I would still need a car in Poland and thus no longer on hold was my parents’ decision to upgrade to brand-new Megane IV and donate their current Megane III to me. Actually, it was not the desire to possess a new model which has just crossed factory gates that drove their decision. It was rather their concern about the condition of my over 13-year-old car and its imminent unreliability, cost and hassle related to it. I did not care I drove an old car and actually was reluctant to change it before buying and arranging a flat, so my parents, mindful of it, communicated they had ordered the car and expected me to take their current vehicle…

As the date of picking up the new car drew nearer (it is due before the next weekend), I had to post an advertisement in the Internet. I cleaned the car inside (one man-hour), washed the bodywork, rubbed dry and snapped the car (another man-hour) and put up a notice on the most popular automobile classifieds service in Poland, stating I wanted to sell a car:
- bought in a Polish dealership and serviced there ever after,
- garaged and having history of no accidents nor prangs,
- kept in one family since brand-new,
- with five-digit mileage (in kilometres) despite advanced age (and recent frequent longer trips).

The first call came (literally) from the other side of the fence. My neighbours, who were looking for a car, immediately spotted the ad less than two hours since I had published it and knowing everything written in the advertisement was true. My first thought was they were stalking me, but then I put faith in coincidence, but grew resistant to seeing my car changing hands to somebody I know (not a friend, yet somebody I know). I openly expressed my inhibitions to them, yet they insisted we met on Saturday. They did insist. First call was from brother-in-law of my neighbours’ daughter, the next from their daughter, who would use the car. On top, the neighbour came to my father to reserve the car.

The string of phone calls from other potential buyers was a travesty. The most quaint questions they asked were the following:
“Is everything you have written in the advertisement true?”
“Why are you selling the car?” (My response: “Because I finally want a brand-new”)
“How serious are the scratches on the bodywork?” (My response: “Just come and see and I will tell you the story of each of them”)
“Has it ever been smoked inside?” (My response: “Come and sniff”).

A few buyers were arranged to turn up yesterday in the afternoon, while I agreed to meet with the neighbours around 10 a.m. The conversation was quite frank. They told they realised a car of such age would require next repairs, I spoke out about my hang-ups and then confessed which parts of the car are most worn-out and most likely to break down in the coming future. I also took them for a ride to show the car runs like a clockwork. I thought I would deter them by claiming the interest from buyers does not convince me to get into haggling over the steep asking price (some 30 – 40% higher than average for a Megane II produced in 2003). It did not work. Just like other serious potential buyers they preferred to pay more than to buy a pig in a poke. Finally we agreed on handover of the car and the money on Tuesday evening, ahead of two days off which I take to handle (plenty of) formalities and to pick up the new car together with my father. I called off other buyers scheduled to show up in the afternoon.

As I write it I am not seriously convinced selling the car to somebody I know is a good step, yet in a situation in which they found the ad and got in touch with me, they could also take serious umbrage if I refused to sell them the car. I have chosen the lesser of two evils I was facing. I did not conceal anything from them, so I theoretically I should have no remorse. My main fear is that in the hands of someone who is learning to drive and who will almost certainly not look after the car as I did, the vehicle is more likely to pack up sooner than later…

A farewell to my first car, mine for over five years, marks an end of era of demonstrating being aesthetic (giving up a car has been out of question, not even because I find driving convenient, but because I find it pleasurable). In a financial industry, whose employees tend to show off their wealth, a guy who chooses to drive a car whose market value does not differ much from his monthly salary makes people wipe their eyes in astonishment. However more often they were amazed at the car’s condition which justified why I found it practical to possess it.

While staying indifferent to any sort of prestige associated with possessing a newer car, the upgrade brings two reasons to be cheerful: the new(er) car will be more friendly to my wallet and environment (fewer repairs in the coming years, lower petrol consumption and gas emission) and will give me more comfort, since probability of breakdown (and subsequent legwork and expenses) is also lower.

No more posts on this. I have driven this car several times, took in for three longer trips, know what the driving impressions will be. Megane IV is also a nice car, I had a test drive and I must say its only major drawback is that it could do with a larger engine that 1.2 litres 130 hp turbocharged engine, kind of too downsized for a compact car.

An intensive week ahead, take care!

Sunday, 30 October 2016

On soft competencies

Since in the recent days I have focused most on getting by and struggling not to lag behind with piling-up stuff to handle at work, today I’m sharing some odd, unstructured concepts from a workshop on improving workplace relationships I attended a few days ago.

It does not take a psychologist to notice that sets of traits specific people display pre-destine them to take up different jobs. A salesman who has to solicit new clients should be sociable, extraverted, determined, but does not necessarily need to have an eye for detail and might acceptably be chaotic while chasing several opportunities at the same time. An analyst in turn is rather introverted, has stronger analytical than social skills, is well-organised and keeps stuff in good order. Those two types of personalities need to interact with one another to move a corporation forward, yet because their perceptions of how work should be done vary by a long shot, salesmen and analysts tend to clash.

Workings of a corporation indispensably brings to mind the ever-up-to-date question, namely, if things go wrong, is the system or are the people to blame? Consider a situation in which a salesman’s goal is to acquire new clients, while an analyst has to evaluate whether taking on new clients is profitable, monitors and reviews portfolio of current clients. An analyst needs inputs from salesmen to prepare applications submitted to decision makers and to compile review papers for clients within allotted deadlines. An analyst then relies on inputs from salesmen to meet their own goals, yet delivering inputs to analysts is quite low on a list of salesmen’s priorities. Because goals of the two groups are not aligned, analysts keep chasing up salesmen to get their inputs, while salesmen do not give a damn and focus on their priorities. If additionally senior managers leniently treat salesmen who fail to deliver what analysts need to get on with their work, the system is to blame. If misconduct is tolerated by executives, salesmen get the message that it is acceptable and carry on not giving a damn.

The coach who delivered the training wanted to prove us the stick and carrot approach would not work in the hands of analysts attempting to motivate salesmen to co-operate in a proper manner. He pointed out punishments meted out by analysts (truth be told, they must not be severe) would not induce salesmen to deliver high-quality inputs to analysts timely. Because of analysts’ role in the organisation, they actually are not permitted to use the stick, so they should be beware and double-think not to harm themselves. The carrot, i.e. rewarding salesmen for professional behaviour also would not work, since no matter what they do, analysts need to do their job anyway – hence analysts, having higher comfort at work, are the main beneficiaries of giving out carrots, not salesmen, who at the end of the day are indifferent.

Another concept dwelled upon during the workshop was dealing with individuals claiming to be morally superior. As one theory states, the more morally superior one feels, they more they believe hurting others is justified and the less remorse they have over causing pain to others. The typical example is a husband who bullies his wife (because the soup was too salty) and because he believes his wife is a bad wife, while he is a good husband, he has the right to mistreat his wife (another example workshop participants instantly pointed at is Jarosław Kaczyński, who also claims to be morally superior)… In earnest, working (not to mention living) with such people is difficult, since if they abuse you, they feel they are empowered to do so and treat such situation as natural.

How much empathy should one demonstrate to one’s colleagues only seemingly is a simple question. Stepping into someone else’s shoes, understanding their standpoint, motivations and goals is a vital step towards improving workplace relationships, yet the issue is more intricate. Goals of individuals do not necessarily line up with those of a corporation. The most vivid example is applying work-life balance in practice. A corporation demands that a task is completed in unreasonably short time (which in practice requires staying overtime), while an employee wants to go home to look after their children. Human empathy tells you to let a worker go home, while interests of the corporation are at odds with human feelings are induce to motivate your colleague to stay in the office.

Manipulation as a method of attaining one’s goals brings out negative associations. This first impression, as the coach argued, and I hold the same view, is misleading. It all depends on goals and means one resorts t in order to meet them. As long as no crime, misconduct, violation of procedures nor other immoral deeds are involved, manipulation boils down to a set of actions aimed to steering others behaviours so that they help you reach your goals. Besides, if you feel your colleagues try to manipulate you crassly, the response in similar manner is a sign to them you are aware of their techniques and are armed with the same weapons. 

Corpo-reality is not a bed of roses, in order to survive you need thick skin and have to conform to the rules of that wicked game (to the extent your conscience lets you, if you approach a boundary, the only option might be to quit).

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Poised for failure?

The question above pertains to Donald Trump’s candidacy in the oncoming US presidential election. Despite recent serious slip-ups which arguably could disqualify him straight away, he is not yet bound to lose it all.

According to a popular (don’t know to how extent it is true) belief, a president of the United States should boast of set if traits which pre-destine them to take this office. To cut the long story short, the president should be successful in all areas of life: should have a first spouse (to whom they are faithful) and children, boast about brilliant professional / academic / political career, be an exemplary citizen (e.g. not evade taxation, donate money to charities), crystal-clear in terms of honesty (no outstanding criminal charges / accusations), plus they should display impeccable manners and class.

Even if the description above is just a stereotype, it would not hurt if the bar for the president of the United States was raised that high. Bearing in mind the above, they very nomination of Donald Trump as Republican Party’s candidate has been mind-boggling. The very list of his numerous wrong-doings (BTW, an excellent summary containg what I miss in Polish journalism, i.e. citing sources substantiating each paragraph, hats down to the author):
- allegations of several attempts of sexual harassment,
- tax evasion,
- mistreating his wives, cheating on them,
- four bankruptcies of casinos he controlled,
- various cases of misconduct in running real estate business (dealing with tenants),
- mistreating his employees, including failing to pay contractors and workers, or hiring migrants illegally,
- running shady businesses, including a foundation, an university and an institute, all Trump-named,
is long enough to put a bunch of ordinary people into prisons, yet despite unprecedented slew of controversies around his name, the republicans decided he would run for presidency.

The recordings disclosed over a week ago, caused more uproar, but have not been a nail to his coffin. I would safety bet as the tapes of Mr Trump bragging about seducing married women and telling technical details on how he was making a pass on them could win some voters.

There will always be voters who would expect someone akin to them to hold such office. Mr Trump did what several males do when females are not around, proved he is a regular guy, not a spick-and-span well-mannered politician, but an ordinary chap from the neighbourhood, some who despite his richness has common ground with the underclass.

There is a theory that a statesman should adhere to higher moral standards than an ordinary citizen. The concept holds water in general, but conduct which is acceptable cannot be unambiguously defined. I am a straightforward man and never take umbrage when public figures commit the same sins as I do in their private time. I swear like a trooper (as many educated people in this Poland), even when there is no reason to use foul language. Swear words have become for me a part of communication with all people who have developed the same despicable habit, especially in the workplace (unfortunately foul language is tolerated there by everyone and hence thrives). I should be ashamed of it, yet if I broach this topic, I prefer to admit it that to pretend my civility is beyond reproach. Besides, I might not disapprove of eavesdropped politicians who swear in private conversations; by stooping so low, I have denied myself that right. The locker-room talks also do not shock me, since though I have never talked about any particular woman in such vulgar way, I am familiar with that style of language, but use it rather in self-deprecatory context (e.g. asked my a mate if I am fine, instead of straightforwardly confessing it could be better I tell him that “nobody wants to do me a blow-job”).

What might really drag down Mr Trump’s chances in the race of presidency was his declaration in the last debate he would not accept the victory of Mrs Clinton and would look into it fairness of the election procedure. By undercutting the foundations of democracy, Mr Trump moved closer to Mr Kaczynski who also implied several times elections won by PO or its nominees had been rigged.

Incidentally, Mr Kaczynski, as a bachelor, having no children, having not accumulated any property over more than 40 years of adult life, never taking private travels abroad as an adult, not having a driving license and not fending for himself over most of his adult life, also does not fit the profile of a statesman, yet for totally different reasons than Mr Trump.

The very existence of Donald Trump is not a problem, as there are many freaks roaming around our planet. His very willingness to run for presidency, if he can afford it, is not a problem as well. The issue is that for some reason he earned the nomination of the Republican Party and the biggest issue and a puzzle is why people want to vote for him. We need to bear in mind he does not tread the path of PiS in Poland and does not pamper the poorest with benefits raising their standard of living and does not resort to the most blatant economic populism for masses. The possible answers lean towards ideological reasons: Mr Trump wants to reinstate law and order, lift America from its knees, revise relationships with other countries, wants to make the United States an empire again, is a backbone of conservatism, finally some voters would sooner kiss their own arse than vote for a democrat.

Not being actually fond of Mrs Clinton, I keep fingers crossed for her victory on 8 November, thus I am keeping fingers crossed for well-being of the whole civilised world.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Not alone, but going it alone

If the blog is a form of a diary, I am catching the right moment to revisit what I wrote half a year ago. With hindsight I know I have committed my sorrow to the blog shortly before I reached a breaking point and thus left the mark of how I felt then to posterity. Most probably writing that piece was one of many essential steps on my way to recovery.

The vital notion I have explored over these six month is that I prefer to be alone than to spend my time with anyone, especially if that “anyone” is a drag for me or spoils my well-being. A human is not doomed to solitude. To realise why this sentence is not wrong, you need to realise solitude cannot be placed at the very bottom of relationships with people. In the language of maths, solitude can be assigned the value of zero, while relationships with people can have values other than zero; positive or negative. Relationships with people who abuse or harass you can have sub-zero values. Most people out of fear of solitude do not break away from such toxic relationships, while often only freeing oneself from people who impair our lives is the only way to build satisfying (having positive values) relationships with other humans.

If I am to draw any conclusions from the previous post, the paramount one is stunningly straightforward – I am not alone. I am surrounded by several wonderful people, many of which I could call friends (though I tend not to overuse that word), but I have developed a habit of going it alone in most of difficult situations. My choice has been shaped by experience of the past, but also by understanding and accepting how my friendships look is impacted by my age. If nearly all my friends either have families or are in long-lasting relationships, we cannot spend as much time together as I would like to, but I have learnt to appreciate the time we spend together, as each scarce good.

Any relationship is about giving and taking. Theoretically, giving and taking should be balanced. In practice, there should be no striking imbalance between the two. Various circumstances in humans’ lives often predestine one party to be a giver and the other a taker. Sometimes life reverses this arrangement, sometimes not. And on top of that, some people are born givers. I have been repeatedly told I am a type of donor.

The question I have faced recently is whether I do not want to take, do not need to take, or do not know how to ask to be given. Probably, all three answers hold partly true, with the very former being least valid. Being a giver brings me enough joy and satisfaction and I do not require my friends to reciprocate it with the same dose of support since if they reciprocated it, they would kill me with kindness. I am accustomed to cope with most of my troubles on my own, but when I desperately need to take comfort in somebody, I quickly find a guardian angel.

I wonder what qualities and individual should possess to become a confidant to their friends. What makes a man trustworthy?

On one of recent nights I found myself in a hotel room with my good friend (and workmate) after an off-site booze-up. The chap, ten years older than me, husband and father to two children, was pissed out of his head, I was moderately inebriated, since I was bound to sit behind the wheel in a few years to reach my next destination. All of a sudden he broke into tears and confessed he had fallen into love with his team-mate (also married and having children) and was running out of power to cope with it. Just one hour later, during the piss-up, he would tell folks around he had never cheated on his wife and would probably never dare to do so. I was so shell-shocked and the chastised him in foul language typical for our casual conversations. Needless to say the next morning we carried on as if that confession had not been uttered. He probably did not remember it and definitely had he not been tanked-up, as every civilised husband and father would have kept his mouth shut.

I still have not got over that confession and temporarily lack anyone to talk it over with, since I must not pass it on to anyone who knows him. The problem is that my closest friend is now his team-mate, the one he claimed to have lost his head for. Besides, I am amazed by how I have controlled myself and averted the problem he has. She is definitely my kind, yet before I realised it I knew she was married and having children and my conscience prevents me from breaking up a family. Besides, she lives and works in a different city, so we see each other on average once a month which helps keep a safe distance.

Besides, as I have counted, every single week I am asked by someone to have a conversation that stays between us only. Sometimes what I am told becomes a burden, I am not a professional helper and cannot absorb other people’s quandaries like a sponge. Getting it off my chest sometimes involves sharing what I have been entrusted with someone else. This looks at odds with keeping it for myself, therefore I need to talk it over, I do it with a person who has never met a person whose secrets I share. Should I feel guilty about it?

At the end, questions for next half-year period I shall revisit in April 2017.

1. I have noticed with some people I hit it off instantly without any effort on my side, while with others I struggle to make it play, but it does not work anyway – why?

2. How to handle an introvert? I have observed I am afraid of such people and find it hard to take first steps in building a relationship with such persons. I have read introverts are not unsociable, but are kind wary of new friends and it takes a lot to win their trust. How to overcome it?

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Wołyń – film review

Rushed to the nearest cinema yesterday to watch Wołyń by Wojtek Smarzowski, the film which had premiered the day earlier. Mr Smarzowski can boast of track record of directing films which authentically, yet sorely lay bare the darkest side of the human nature. I have watched all his films, except Róża, and reviewed Drogówka and Pod Mocnym Aniołem on the blog.

A dose of historical knowledge is essential if you are to fully understand the film which depicts the run-up to and the very Volhynia carnage and unless somebody is familiar with the topic, a thorough catch-up before the trip to a cinema is highly recommended. Despite me doing the homework beforehand, I was kind of astounded to see the joy of Ukrainians who greeted Red Army soldiers in 1939 as liberators setting them free from Polish tormentors and two years later, disillusioned with the new occupier, gave a warm welcome to Nazi army.

The film is less coarse and naturalistic than most previous films by Mr Smarzowski, though sexist scenes of crude intercourses appear to be an indispensable common denominator of all his pieces. In Wołyń, illustration of ordinary life, including its darkest aspects, is skilfully balanced with depiction of historical background of the carnage. The background which reminds a genocide is never a spontaneous misdeed, hatred needs a fertile ground to grow wild.

Dosage of atrocity in the film is, must I say, quite moderate. The film is meant to leave its audience mentally black and blue and renders appositely how the massacre in today’s territories of Western Ukraine actually looked. After reading historians’ records of how cruel the genocide was, the picture of murders comes out mild.

Comparing methods Ukrainian nationalists made use of to kill Poles, I believe most victims of Gestapo and NKVD at least had enviably short deaths. Prisoners of Nazi concentration camps were closed in gas chambers and fell asleep, breathing in lethal gases (most online sources I found while writing the post describe gassing as painless). NKVD officers killed their victims with one shot in a head. Both totalitarian regimes during WW2 ran industries of mass murder meant to annihilate Poles, quickly and efficiently. Ukrainian nationalists, though the death toll of the genocide committed by them is several times lower than number of victims of Nazis or Stalin, wanted not just to eradicate Poles from their homeland, but also did it with inhuman atrocity.

The film is a vital step towards truth and I hope it brings closer the carnage to Poles, as the matter is less known than several other acts of violence against Poles during WW2. The Wolhynia slaughter has also not been the subject of broader debate for the sake of building good relationships with independent Ukraine (how could it be possible without facing the truth?).

Germany has apologised and atoned for its WW2 felonies.

Russia, as a heir of the Soviet Union, has not atoned for its WW2 sins and cruelty, yet in 1993 when Russia seemed to be a civilised country (I longer consider it so since March 2014) its president Mr Jelcyn apologised to Poles for Katyn and in November 2010 its parliament passed a resolution condemning Katyn massacre. Today these might appear as hollow gestures, yet some steps were undeniably made towards reconciliation.

In 2001 president Kwaśniewski on behalf of Poles apologised to Jews for Jedwabne massacre.

Ukrainian intellectuals and artists have apologised for the Volhynia carnage to Poles several times, but Ukraine’s governments still take efforts to sweep the topic under the carpet. Remember the visit of former president Komorowski in April 2015? Mr Komorowski delivered a speech in the house of parliament, while a few hours later deputies passed a resolution glorifying Ukrainian nationalists responsible for genocide on Poles. Soon after the Smolensk disaster, Katyń by Andrzej Wajda was broadcast in Russian TV. In today’s Russia it would be unimaginable, however I doubt in the foreseeable future Wołyń could be watched by masses in Ukrainian TV.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Black Monday tomorrow


No, I am not predicting a stock market crash tomorrow. The black colour stands for solidarity with thousands (if not millions) of Polish women who are about to go on an all-out strike tomorrow, a protest akin to the one staged by females in Iceland in 1975, when a one-day walkout virtually paralysed the small country, yet has gone down in the history as a day when women successfully called out for their rights.

The initiative of the strike in Poland is the reaction to a proposal of tightening the already restrictive (by European standards) abortion law, i.e. banning the abortion at all, regardless of circumstances. The widespread voice of objection is similar to many Pole’s reaction to PiS (unfortunately successful) attempts to tamper with constitutional tribunal nearly a year ago. Yet, while independence of judiciary power and separation of three powers is an issue far in the background for an ordinary citizen, changes to the abortion law may have tremendous impact on lives of several families.

The current abortion so-called compromise allows for abortion in three general situations: when a pregnancy is an aftermath of rape, when life of a future mother is in danger or when a child is bound to be born incurably ill, disabled, handicapped or dead. Recently the parliament received two draft laws, drawn up by civic movements. One, putting forward liberalising access to abortion, has been turned down right away, while the other, submitted by ultra-pro-life activists, prohibiting abortion at all, has been pressed ahead to further proceedings.

PiS, seeing Poles’ approach to ban on abortion (nearly 50% of the surveyed are in favour of retaining the status-quo “compromise, around one-fourth would liberalise the abortion law, while slightly less than 20% would forbid it all) and bearing in mind the draft law is not their own, is going go back down and ease off some the most brutal provisions of the pro-life’s proposal, but the abortion law in its new shape will very likely be more restrictive in than today’s wording. The outcome is predictable – we will see more gynaecologists’ offices in basements offering “triggering menstruation” and more women will travel to Czech Republic and Germany to terminate pregnancies.

I hope the purport of the protest will be broader than standing out against tightening the abortion law. The strike in Iceland is reported to have brought the country’s society closer to partnership model of marriage / relationship. Although there has been improvement in Poland in this respect, many Polish men still need to be reminded traditional division of rules ought not to be imposed on women. Raising children and running the house and the accompanying obligations should be shared more or less equally among spouses, unless they both agree on a different apportioning of roles. The problem in Poland is still that a man who returns home from work is tired enough to lie back on a sofa, sip beer and watch TV, while a woman starts her second unpaid job, namely cooking, washing up, cleaning up, ironing, doing homework with children etc.

Tomorrow in the office I am standing in for a female colleague who is going to take a day off on demand, therefore I will co-ordinate a regular bi-weekly committee. Besides, I have offered to stand in for any woman willing not to turn up to the office. Though actually I do not expect the scale of the protest at the New Factory to be impressive, as in any private corporation where political views are hardly ever flaunted.

To make it clear, just like any human of sound mind, I am not in favour of abortion. Pregnancy termination is always an evil, but in situations in which I believe it is justified, especially those in which it is currently permitted, it is a lesser of two or more evils. Nonetheless, I am supportive of whatever can be done to avoid abortions which are often a result of unwanted pregnancies. Consequently, I am rooting for unbiased sexual education in schools, including familiarising youngsters with contraception. I am also calling for access to morning-after pills (which I believe is a late contraception method).

The discussion on abortion is not just about facts but about beliefs. If I am convinced a bunch of cells which might develop into an embryo, than into a foetus and be born, is not yet a human being, but just a bench of cells, my approach to abortion is pro-choice. Pro-life activists believe a zygote is already a human being, therefore a natural implication of their reasoning is that even taking a morning-after pill is a murder. The current abortion compromise rests on the foundation that pregnancy cannot be terminated at the stage when a foetus can survive (aided by medial devices or not) out of mother’s womb, this borderline moment is the 24th week of pregnancy.

Some people believe killing animals in order to eat their meat is an atrocity and therefore become vegetarians. Some people believe pregnancy must not be terminated, no matter of circumstances. I am of the opinion in situations when abortion is permitted by law, doctors should present it to their patients as one of two options and not encourage a woman neither to carry the child until birth nor to terminate the pregnancy. It is a matter of patients’ consciences and beliefs, so give them the choice!