Monday, 29 June 2009

Truths and myths about myopia...

Or maybe plausible answers to the toughest questions. I’m not a specialist so treat it only as casual considerations which are in fact meant to summarise everything I’ve read and found out about that eye defect.

Bartek’s story
My struggle with refractive errors began when I was six, during obligatory examinations in the nursery. That was when astigmatism was diagnosed and astonishingly as it once came up it never progressed – I still need to have additional cylindrical lenses – minus 0,25 dioptres in both eyeglasses. The problem with myopia set on at the age of fourteen. That time I reported to the ophthalmologist without any referral from school nurse or GP. The sentence wasn’t heavy indeed – those were the very beginnings of myopia – minus 0,25 dioptres in the left eye, minus 0,50 dioptres in the right one – I could easily live without glasses at that time. Three years later both eyes worsened by 0,25 dioptres and I still managed to get by without second pair of eyes. At the age of eighteen I got the temporary driving licence by virtue of poor eyesight, however I took all the driving lessons and passed exam without spectacles. My eyesight deteriorated during the studies and within the last year it was increasingly hard for me to go without spectacles. In the middle of June I gave in and made an appointment with an ophthalmologist – error reached minus 1,00 in both eyes, within the last four years progressing by 0,50 dioptres in the left and 0,25 dioptres in right eye. It was the end of fending off myopia by living without specs, it’s simply gone too far to confine to using them only when driving a car.
Compared to the people who have impeccable sight I’m unlucky…
Compared to the people whom started having problem with myopia at the same age or later and now are glasses-ridden I’m extremely lucky – the progress was very slow…

When does it begin?
According to most of the studies it appears in the school age, what more or less means age ranging from six to eighteen. The biggest progress is reported at puberty. I dare to give lie to that generalised theory as I know a few people who started studying with me before three years with perfect eyesight (they were around nineteen) and now have minus 1,50 or minus 2,00 and can’t exist without glasses or contact lenses.

When does it end?
According to most of the studies the error should level off when person or their eye stops growing, what occurs around the age of twenty one. However, more and more ophthalmologists move the boundary-age up to twenty five, thirty. It might be seen as a result of civilisation changes (more time spent reading, in front of computer screen, etc.) and for sure is not reassuring for me. My doctor told me it indeed has changed over past years, however in my case the progress should be diminutive. In the past myopia used to stabilise earlier – in my mother’s case it stopped when she was seventeen and in spite of the studies (Polish philology) which required a lot of reading it has never increased. (my mother’s case is worth telling for another reason – she showed up at ophthalmologist’s after she botched up her test in Russian cause she couldn’t read the letters from the blackboard – her error was… minus five. My grandmother (also nearsighted, but only a bit) allegedly passes out. Later on her defect reached minus 7,00 and minus 9,00, she couldn’t make a driving license because of it). On the other hand my ex-girlfriends father had his myopia diagnosed when he was eighteen, his sight deteriorated until he turned forty and reached minus 5,5 dioptres! Hopefully that scenario is out of question for me.

Does it recede?
In theory not, doctors say the simple mathematical calculations with pluses and minus don’t apply to human eyes and after one hits forty myopia doesn’t back off. I know a few people who needed less powerful glasses with ageing. My mother switched from her minus 7 and minus 9 to minus 6 and minus 8 in her late forties, few moths ago, facing increasing problems with reading and stabbing pains in eyes she switched to even less powerful spectacles – minus 5,5 and minus 7,5 and as I checked she can read everything what I can read in my glasses.
My father, in turn hasn’t had any problems with eyes until the age of forty five. Then, as it usually happens, he had to start using reading glasses, but about two years ago it turned out he has to use positive glasses to see distant things clearly, so now he must use one pair of glasses for reading and another to drive a car, watch TV, etc. Once again, astonishing that a man in his fifties had to resort to glasses to see distant objects sharply.
Any conclusions for me – if I took some eye genes after my parents and my eyes will be prone to get positive with time maybe in thirty years I won’t be nearsighted, although the medicine doesn’t reckon it. If not, it’s quite possible I won’t have to use reading glasses as majority of our population do.

What influences myopia?
Hard to tell it – it’s said that hundreds of hours spent staring at the computer screen, reading books with poor lighting, etc. contribute greatly to progress of myopia… I read a lot, spend too much time before computer, but try not to overtire my eyes, so I can’t prove that theory. The more probable for my is the theory of genetic factors (mostly in a version of replicating some traits in second generation). In line with that theory I took it after my grandmother, I don’t want to speak out what threatens my children… It’s even quite common that the nearsighted’s children are also bespectacled… Bad genes?

What do the ophthalmologists do?
Their basic fault I’ve noticed is the standard approach when a patient shows up for the first time. I had that luck that I didn’t end up at such doctor’s, but many of my friends claimed they had had their first glassed prescribed by a typical quack. The doctors of that kind without thorough examination prescribe minus 0,5 glasses for both eyes and that’s the beginning of the end – imprecisely corrected myopia thrives. Scientists have been bending over backwards to establish, whether the less powerful glasses can clamp down on error’s progress. Some of the doctors prescribe a bit less powerful spectacles to let the eye work, some say when myopia is fully corrected the eye doesn’t get tired and the error doesn’t go up. I’ve even read a study in which there was an attempt to prove that wearing stronger glasses can cure myopia. I can’t believe it at any rate.
I can add two things. Firstly, eye adjusts to the corrective lens, undeniably, every short-sighted person notices it after they take off their glasses, it’s nevertheless very hard to determine it’s influence on eyesight’s deterioration. Secondly, it’s impossible to match up ideal glasses, for one simple reason – refractive power of an eye changes, that’s why sometimes I see in my minus one glasses ideally, sometimes I could do with a bit stronger, sometimes I see better with my left, sometimes with my right eye…

I’ve applied Bates method some time ago, it didn’t bear coveted results – very little improvement, maybe they slowed down worsening?

For the ones who can’t come to terms with myopia the only way out is a laser surgery. It supposedly carries very little risk, but costs about five thousand zlotys and isn’t reimbursed. The candidates should rather turn to the best clinics and do not shun the more expensive ones which guarantee higher quality or safety. Also watch out for contraindications and don’t try to conceal anything what could result in complications when being qualified for the surgery. Personally I didn’t consider it for my myself, maybe in some time, if myopia progresses more?

It is estimated that up to two billion people might suffer from myopia, in the future more than a half of world’s population may be afflicted by it.
It’s very sad – it’s a very common disorder but still didn’t find any cure for it and still know very little about.

Can anybody enhance what I’ve written?

Friday, 26 June 2009

A big yawn!

Cause I feel really sleepy. I apologise for the lack of new posts in the passing week – catching up with all the stuff I’ve dropped behind with took it out of me. But am I right to say that it’s better to write nothing than write about nothing?

Today I had the first assessment center ((Br)EN: assessment centre) in my life. I still wonder why did the company I had applied to decide to stage something like that while looking for a candidate for a simple position of intern, but never mind. I approached it very calmly and tackled all tasks rather laid back, and so my group mates (theoretically rivals) did. That’s probably the best recipe and the those are perhaps the best advice to everyone who would take it is: treat it as fun and don’t pretend to be somebody else. The psychological feedback reports are going to be sent to us on Monday, next week the recruiter from the employer’s company will get in touch with the short-listed candidates.
I tried to observe my colleagues’ behaviour to infer who would stand a chance of being hired and I couldn’t figure out, to be honest. Out of four applicants (not counting me in), one didn’t show up (what boosted the odds of remaining our four), one was really energetic but lost her temper, got carried away and lost her temper a few times, one was for me too shy and reticent, another one seemed to be a bit of chaotic. I’m going to find out what my faults were on Monday. Time will tell, as usually.

Before setting off to take the session on Sadyba, I phoned the examination centre where I had passed my London Chamber of Commerce and Industry English for Business Level Fourth exam. If the consultant didn’t make an error it appears that I was given the highest grade (distinction) in both speaking and writing parts. They got the results but the certificates will turn up not earlier than at the beginning of July. I’ll believe when I see it! But hang on… Have the requirements towards the candidates fallen so low? Or
Have the made allowances for my stress under which I undeniably had been? Or
Have I been too critical about my English?

I’ll stick to what I wrote on April Foul’s (sic!) Day: “after I pass it I’ll finally be able to indulge in learning English as a hobby, without worrying about stupid certificates”.

The great comeback of Bartek’s posts is on the horizon – today I’m really worn-out so good night!

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Saved from oblivion?

Yesterday on my way home from the last English class, passing by the estate of housing blocks in Mysiadło I spotted a middle-aged man, having a tracksuit on, carrying a pile of old books towards the bins… That very view aroused a bit my curiosity, I’ve always wondered why people trash out books. One doesn’t throw books away, one needs to have respect for books, I was taught it by my parents, who amassed more than one thousand volumes during their lives – it was even hard to fit all of them into our terraced house, I’m even afraid to think what will happen, if one day I want to sell the house and move to a smaller flat. I won’t dump them – I’ll give them away, sell off for a song on allegro, put them on consignment or donate to local libraries, in case I don’t want to keep them.

I approached the man and asked what was he going to do with the books. Throw away – he replied bluntly. I persuaded him to let me glance through the heap of books, before they wound up in the bin. Actually there was nothing really worth attention, nothing, apart from the one item (real jewel!) which I took and probably saved from being recycled and turned into lavatory paper (unless someone else wouldn’t root about in the bin and wouldn’t rummage it and take it away). The English textbook I found (on the photo below, on the left) was published in Poland in 1968 (clicking on the photo you’ll see some details) and was destined for the university students.

I flicked through it and in a way it met my amazement. I was raised on the different type of books for learning foreign languages, prepared by the methodologists from English-speaking or German-speaking countries (mostly from the UK, in case of English), with lots of pictures, various exercises, plays, etc, meant to facilitate memorising new words, structures, etc. The one I procured yesterday brings to my mind one word – “austerity”. This book is a kind of embodiment of austerity. Pages are already faded, on some there are notes written with a navy pen, there’s a picture of a witch flying on the broom on the back of the cover, also made with that pen. As all the scripts from those times (późny Gomułka, wczesny Gierek) it’s typewritten.

The method of teaching is also utterly different – every word is translated into Polish, rather than explained in English, there are scores of practical exercises, including phrasal verbs and idioms, after each chapter there’s a glossary. As the title suggests, it’s indeed somewhat of C1 (Effective operational proficiency) level, I’ll surely go over it, I’m sure I’ll learn something new from it (when learning any language one’s mind can absorb new knowledge endlessly) and perhaps I’ll find a few errors to pick on.

The new find made me mull over the evolution that took place in the methods of teaching within lat forty years – compare with the current book I’ve been using for the last few months. Probably those methods have been improved but after getting it into my hands I feel like turning back the clock and checking out those out of ark approaches – the book doesn’t leave much room for fancy exercises, it focuses on ‘hard learning’, I’m somehow craving for – a thorough exploration is still ahead of me!

I also thought over the issue of learning English in Poland, which I’m going to elaborate on one day (inspiration, come over! Please come over!). Today every Wyższa Szkoła Wszystkiego i Niczego (EN: university of everything and nothing), as I call those private universities which mushroomed after the downfall of communism and for huge sums of money produce lousy and under-educated graduates, offers studying English philology. In the People’s Poland learning western language wasn’t a big distinction as it is sometimes thought (my both parents learned English, my father after five years of learning in technikum, forty years ago, would still communicate in basic situations, to my astonishment), however, as my parents say, there was no incentive to learn. As I’ve read in the Internet one could study English philology on only few biggest universities at the time, people would declare it was “sleazy” (PL: zapyziały – any better translation of that word into English? / updated on 22th June - indeed, dodgy fits better, thx), except one, at the University in Poznań, where the head of that faculty was professor Jacek Fisiak – who by the way collaborated overtly with communist secret service (PL: SB) and expelled everyone who hadn’t fallen into line with the system (mostly in the 80’s for membership in Solidarity), but falling into line allowed students to spread their wings, go on the scholarships abroad, etc. I have a dictionary, the chief editor of which was Mr Fisiak – it’s “sleazy” nonetheless. Today every school gives the opportunity of studying English philology but I’m bitterly disappointed with the level some graduates represent, many of them let me down, some even know English worse than me. Maybe I should say “we all have feet of clay”, but if I decided to spend five years focusing almost only on exploration of foreign language, I would strive to reach a level of proficiency which features a well-educated native speaker. Sometimes it appears to me that their studies could have been an endless binge with some breaks taken for the exams…

That must have been a stroke of fate – one book which accidentally changed hands evoked so many thoughts and reflections…

Friday, 19 June 2009

Red tape – a student’s bogey...

After the morning trip to my school, took almost in vain. In vain I deluded myself that I’d manage to fix a date of my BA final exam (PL: obrona – deliberately I don’t translate in literally, the words ‘defence’ and ‘defend oneself’ sound confusingly). It can be done only after all lecturers deliver the exam protocols to the dean’s office, what in my case won’t occur earlier than on 30th June (all the attempts of speeding up the process were fruitless). Then I'll have to wait for Pani Małgosia to tap the grades into the internal system and then close down the last semester and give me a credit. Yesterday I talked with the friend of mine, who studies at UMK in Toruń. For no apparent reason she doesn’t have her MA thesis graded by the supervisor (PL: promotor) nor reviewed, but has the date of her final exam already set for 14th July. I finished writing my thesis in February, had it graded in March and put it in on 5th May, I also know I’ve passed all exams and know the grades – doesn’t matter – I won’t catch through…

To boot, to receive the diploma, I’ll have to lay down my student card – that means I’ll be deprived of the status of student and all my rights (including discounts, mostly fare discounts) will be taken away from me for two months (August and September). But it’s going to shape up, it has to (either way I can also ship out, not recommendable).

The only formality I got on with was the clearance slip (PL: obiegówka), all the departments put their stamps on the card, so I’m clear with the school…

After a supposedly free week I suppose I fell victim to a procrastination (BTW – the next example of young Poles willing to show off with their English, they came up with the word ‘prokrastynacja’, instead of calling it simply ‘zwlekanie’) not in terms of learning but other stuff to handle. I put everything what could wait back to these weeks in the second half of June, so I’m still running errands – good for me – I never could spend my time idle, at least I’ll enter the second half of the year without a ‘list of things to do’ piled up relentlessly . Although the final exam and bureaucracy which enrolment on MA studies involves won’t let me have such quiet summer holidays like last year (combining internships and learning English).

SGH authorities should think seriously about renaming our school into “Warsaw School of Officialdom” (Szkoła Główna Biurokratyczna). Candidates would know what they’d be in for, it would render the main thing student tussle with there – not learning but legwork, paperwork, getting to grips with WD, etc.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

End of the rainbow

The previous year was abundant in odd weather optical phenomena, but this year I had to wait for something remarkable for two months since the onset of summer storm season.

Initially I planned to capture a double rainbow, however what I saw and snapped today was much more curious – I’ve never seen it before.

Below – the small part of a rainbow, sneaking out (or into) the cloud. I’m not sure if the rainbow was actually obscured by the cloud or was cut off without a reason. The end of the colourful phenomenon was nowhere else but in the vicinity of a local shopping centre (supermarkets, shopping arcades, petrol station) – almost like a legendary pot of gold…

Monday, 15 June 2009

The next nagging question...

I received this piece of paper today, by traditional mail… and raised my eyebrows – today’s bank’s proposal beat the one I got over a month ago, when opening a deposit.
I can’t catch on how did the credit analysts figure out such sum? Over seventy eight thousand zlotys? And a monthly instalment of more than two thousand. How did they measure my creditworthiness? I’m a student, I have no steady monthly income and the money I get from my school as scholarship for good grades and my remunerations for part-time jobs are transferred into my account in another bank.
I rung up bank’s call centre, the nice lady explained me the sum had been worked out by their internal credit scoring system on the basis of the history of my account. Idiotic, all the money I keep there wouldn’t even serve as a decent collateral, moreover – if I needed money I would firstly draw on my own resources and withdraw it from the bank and only then, surely in desperation apply for a loan. If a bank was only a bit like sound, it wouldn’t give me more than two thousand zlotys, although it should not give me even a single zloty…
Predictably, the lady from the call centre was intently trying to flog me the “urgent loan”. May that ridiculous incident be the example of what people can resort to, to meet the stupid sales targets.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Tax freedom day...

The symbolic date when we stop earning for the government and start earning for ourselves. This year it fell in Poland today, one day earlier than a year before. Today, together with alleged coup in Iran the topic hit the headlines. One of the journalists made me laugh as he said that we should envy the Hungarians who celebrated it in May this year. The situation of the Hungarian economy is really enviable, mostly is terms of bloated budget deficit that reached ten per cent of gross domestic product. GDP which, unlike ours, contracted by few per cent... Perhaps next year we’ll outrun Hungary, whose government is quite likely to raise taxes, in order to fill up the yawning hole in its state budget.

Today Nowa Iwiczna seemed even more God-forsaken than one week ago, in the election day. Did my neighbours go away for a long weekend or did they just decide to lie in or sit on their sofas and stare at TV screens?

I felt a bit otherworldly during today’s stroll. As I was treading from one sleeper of the local siding to another (the distances between them do not comply with the length of my legs) I heard the Gary Moore’s song from 1983 – Empty rooms resounding around the track… Explicable?

Loneliness is your only friend.
A broken heart that just won't mend
is the price you pay.

It's hard to take when love grows old.
The days are long and the nights turn cold
when it fades away.

You hope that she will change her mind,
but the days drift on and on.
You'll never know the reason why she's gone.

You see her face in every crowd.
You hear her voice, but you're still proud,
so you turn away.

You tell yourself that you'll be strong.
But your heart tells you,
this time you're wrong.

You hope that she will change her mind,
but the days drift on and on.
You'll never know the reason why she's gone.

Empty rooms,
where we learn to live without love.
Empty rooms,
where we learn to live without love.
Empty rooms,
where we learn to live without love.

Empty rooms,
where we learn to live without love.
Empty rooms,
where we learn to live without love.
Empty rooms,
where we learn to live without love.
Empty rooms,
where we learn to live without love.

All alone in an empty room.
Loneliness is your only friend, hooh.
Oh, she's gone and you're at the end.

Saturday, 13 June 2009


SKO – stands for Szkolna Kasa Oszczędności (EN: School Savings Association). An invention with the long, tracing back to 1920’s, tradition, under the umbrella of partly state-owned PKO Bank Polski (this bank is a monopolist when it comes to that very product). SKOs are aimed at pupils, mainly of primary schools, aged under 13. The idea behind the whole deception is to instil the pupils ability and habit of saving. End is indeed commendable, but end justifies the means.

According to the bank’s statement, in which it declares it can’t decline to run SKOs as it is one of activities arising from its articles of association, the primary goal of the scheme (do not mistake for scam) is the financial education. Probably it even sounds loftily but there’s a hitch which can’t pass unnoticed. In the normal economy the value of money rises with time, this is called inflation. In the normal banks people get interest for the money they deposit, so that by inflation of four per cent and interest rate on their deposit of five per cent their money turns a real profit of about one per cent. At least depositors’ savings retain their real value – but that’s the shape of things in the normal bank, not in SKO. Here, indeed the deposit is interested, at 0,01 per cent (to illustrate it by an example, imagine that you pay ten thousand zlotys, pounds, dollar, etc. and after a year you get one zloty, pound or dollar as interests), what in practise means that a child would take out exactly as much as it paid in.

Case study:
A child puts aside money for a new bike, which costs 600 zlotys. Each month (at the beginning) it pays 50 zlotys into SKO, or into bank savings account set up by its parent with the interest rate of 5%. In the former variant it gets no more and no less than 600 złotys, in the latter approximately 613,95.

You might say that additional almost 14 zlotys is a little sum. It is, for one child, but it teaches that saving pays dividends. We deposit our money in the banks instead of putting them under the mattress to get more then we put – that’s the logics behind it. Children, although bank may highly speak about it’s action, are taught something different – taking into account inflation they pay out in real terms less than the paid in. Isn’t it in contradiction with the idea of financial education? It’s pathology, something like this should not be allowed to function. A normal man would not save on his current, bearing no interest, account, a financial surplus is transferred into savings account so that it works there.

But many people are unaware of another aspect of the situation. Banks doesn’t keep the collected money in the safe deposit box. It has it at its disposal and can lend it to another bank at the WIBOR rate (currently about 4,6 per cent). So, the conclusion is that bank makes money on poor, still naive children, doing them out of due interests.

Bank explains that the interest earned on the deposits of pupils is turned into precious prizes, like school trips for the best associations. The next lie and pathology – namely unfair redistribution of interest income – children from the whole country finance the trip of one, chosen school. That’s the con, although it may raise the spirit of competition among children – but the more they save, the more profit the bank can make on it. It may only discourage children from saving, as they see it doesn’t beat any fruits. If such programme is to be held, it should be held under market conditions – so depositors should be paid interests.

A traditional piggy bank is a better solution. One won’t get more anyway, the basic assumption is fulfilled and big fishes in expensive suits won’t get their bonuses from children.

The post was inspired by a short article from yesterday’s issue of Gazeta Wyborcza.

“Dziś oszczędzam w SKO, jutro w PKO!” – a fool and his money are soon parted!

Monday, 8 June 2009

Voting (ir)regularities – shortish electoral account

Voter turnout reached, as I envisaged yesterday 24,53 per cent (I predicted 24 per cent), elections were won by Civil Platform which will get twenty five out of fifty seats that will fall to Poland – after one and a half year of rule of the party the support for it does not diminish. As I noticed within the last days, the interest in the politics is still rather low – people shrug off their rights and resort to various excuses to justify their reluctance to exercise their rights. During Saturday English class only two of thirteen people declared they would go to the polls, the rest did not care. Today as I talked with my fellows at school they also had various excuses like “I’ve lost my ID”, “the way to the polling station was uphill”, etc. One of my friends placed on Nasza-klasa and photos of himself casting a ballot… But the hell did he go to the polling station in the tracksuit (with three stripes)?

The pendulum of political preferences has swung right in the Europe, the ranks of European Parliament will be joined by a few extreme-right-wing parties and freaks like tow deputies of “Pirates party” from Sweden…

My mother went today to the public library in Piaseczno, where the polling station for the centre of the sub-Warsaw town was. She stopped for a moment to peek at the results slips hanging on the entry door. To her (and mine) surprise Danuta Hubner did not get any, literally any vote in this station, nor any other runner from the Civil Platform – a bit shocking. Electorate of Piaseczno voted for Law and Justice, Union of Real Politics and Left Democratic Alliance. Not a vote for Civic Platform…

Marian Krzaklewski was not elected – that only borne testimony how ridiculous the idea of pulling him onto Platform’s list in Podkarpacie was. CP should not try to identify itself with Law and Justice – its voters do not expect it from it. They want a strong pro-European, forward-looking party!

Wojtek Olejniczak is going to pursue his career in European Parliament, thanks to the votes of sixty fife thousand voters. He’ll finally polish up his English!

Politicians of Law and Justice make a purge within their party and call for holding responsible the ones who contributed to the poor result of the party. Jarosław Kaczyński has said one of rare wise things in his life – called Zbigniew Ziobro on learning foreign languages, unless he wants to become a second-class deputy. My standing ovation!

And the jewel in the crown (you know the word irony, don’t you?) of Polish journalism – Rafał Ziemkiewicz has had a slip-up last night – he showed himself in his true colours, sadly applauded by accompanying journalists. No comment…

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Sunday, 7 June 2009

Poles to the polls!

Initially the post was meant to be titled “Nie bądź kaszalot – cast a ballot”. Eventually I chose the pun instead of Polish – English rhyme.

I’ve just come home from my polling station in Nowa Iwiczna. According to the first turnout figures announced by The National Electoral Commission percentage of voters who cast ballots until 12:00 (within first four hours of voting) reached only 6,65%, less than one per cent point more than five years ago. My parents and I were at the time the only people in the station, few young couples with children were hanging around the school complex where the polling station is located, but nobody seemed eager to get in and fulfil their duty. Three women sitting behind the desk, checking IDs and giving out ballot papers were waiting for the end of their shift (at 3:00 p.m.). I put my signature on the huge sheet with the breakdown of the voters, noticing none of my neighbours has already come, marked a cross next to my candidate’s name and marched towards the ballot box… Nothing extraordinary, the next occasion to vote will be in October 2010, so in sixteen months…
I was a bit struck by the passivity of our electorate, however, I keep in mind that many of Nowa Iwiczna’s residents are registered somewhere else – along with the official data, number of residents of my village does not exceed one thousand, but I estimate about four thousand people really live here. That thesis might be backed by number plates of cars parked in front of the houses – lots of them have Warsaw plates, with WN (Ursynów), WW (mostly Wilanów), WE (Mokotów) and WI (Śródmieście) prevailing. Some of them are for sure company cars, but some of my neighbours are registered somewhere else.
I bet the ultimate turnout will be in the range of twenty to thirty per cent, somewhere around twenty four. A bit sad…

And some terrible news… Yesterday my parents spotted first grey hair on my head… Today I spotted next three – two are on the left side of my head, two on the right, aligned in ideal symmetry…

In the age of twenty one – much too early…

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Twenty years of Independence...

Approximately, there is no definite date of the end communism in Poland. It was a long-lasting process, which began in August 1980, was frozen in December 1981, then was revived back in the late eighties. Many factors contributed to it, with the thaw-out in the Soviet Union and deteriorating economic situation in Poland on the fore. The latter seems to be crucial as the authorities lost control over the weakening economy and inflationary spiral. Did they want to share responsibility for scooping the country out of the economic decline? Some IPN-like commentator claim we are still living in quasi-communist system, but fortunately the overwhelming majority think in 1989 we hammered out the freedom.

On occasion of this anniversary I have drawn a timeline on which I marked twenty most important political, economic and social events of the last two decades. Of course, the list is subjective, but I hope you will go along with some of my views…

Before we get there… A short reference to the massacre on Tiananmen Square which took place exactly on 4th June 1989, when Chinese authorities cracked down on the students and workers protesting and claiming reforms leading up to democratisation. The photo taken one day later, on 5th June, by Jeff Widener has made a history and become one of the most recognised photos ever taken.

Today Chinese authorities, although their country has moved forward within last twenty years, are trying to pass over the anniversary and put down the remembrance of the dreadful events.

Getting on into our timeline…

1) 4th June 1989 – first semi-free parliamentary elections, ninety nine (per cent of) seats in upper house and all in the lower house. Thus Polish society showed red card to the ruling Polish United Workers’ Party and hit the final nail in the coffin of communism. It triggered gradual democratisation and market liberalisation reforms. From the moments which followed semi-free election one should mention appointing Wojciech Jaruzelski the president of Poland on 19th July 1989 and the inaugural address of first prime minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki, during which he passed out.

2) 29th December 1989 – The Lower House changed Poland’s name into “Republic of Poland”, the day before it also enacted Balcerowicz’s plan. Both went in motion on 1st January 1990.

3) 25th November and 9th December 1990 – in first free presidential elections Lech Wałęsa defeated Stan Tymiński, according to what some people say, in the face of a man coming out of nowhere with a black briefcase. The Wałęsa’s term was stormy and sometimes hilarious, but to my mind he still remained a trade union leader, simpleton a bit unfit for this office – I cannot deny his merits, however by dint of his mentality and traits I think he has never grown into such function…

4) 4th June (again!) 1992 – the government of Jan Olszewski was brought down by no-confidence motion. This date has become significant for the right-wing commentators and politicians who regard Third Republic of Poland as an extension of People’s Poland and symbolises the suppression of the political grouping swimming against the tide and disputing ideology of “salon” circled around Adam Michnik and “Gazeta Wyborcza”.

5) 5th November and 19th November 1995 and maybe 8th October 2000 – the next two presidential elections, both won by Aleksander Kwaśniewski. In the first ones his victory was commonly called into question (the reason was the lie of Mr Kwaśniewski who declared he had graduated university, when actually he had only received all credits but had not received the diploma). In 2000 Kwaśniewski was elected in a first round, getting more than fifty per cent of votes, what showed the scale of support for him. He gained notoriety for his alcohol overindulgence and other misdeeds, but at least he tried to be the president of all Poles, did not wrangle with the opposition when AWS-UW coalition was in power, as fiercely as the current president does. In spite of all his shortcomings he was a better president than his predecessor and successor.

6) 2nd April 1997 – Polish Parliament passed a constitution, then it was approved by voters in referendum on 25th May and took effect on 17th October 1997. It is effective until now, was amended twice, in 2006 and 2009. In spite of the plans made before elections in 2005, there were no serious talks about a new one. The legislators gave voice to the broad social compromise – that is the key virtue of this document for me…

7) July 1997 – the flood of the Millennium – the biggest natural disaster within last twenty years. Politically famous for Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz utterance “this the next case which confirms the still uncommon truth that one should be foreseeing and take out insurance policy”.

8) 1st January 1999 – four reforms of Jerzy Buzek’s Cabinet went into motion. They encompass: administrative division, health service, education and pension system. The ones who know me better know which was to my mind “the most successful”… (malice seeps out a bit)

9) 12th March 1999 – Poland joins North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, thus concluding the first stage of integration with West European structures…

10) 11th September 2001 – the attacks of 9/11 should not probably be placed here, but as the most significant event after the fall of communism deserve being mentioned. They indeed changed the world and are one of those events which are etched in my memory – I remember mostly that I had a huge homework to do for the next day’s Polish classes (I was thirteen at the time) and could not keep track of the commentary in television, however it seemed to look like a carefully planned show…

11) 13th December 2002 – during EU summit in Copenhagen prime minister Leszek Miller concluded the negotiations with EU, clearing the way to our admission onto its structures, his decision was approved in national referendum on 7th and 8th June 2003.

12) 27th December 2002 – “Gazeta Wyborcza” published an extensive article which unveiled so-called “Rywin’s scandal”. It finished a certain chapter in Polish politics, laying bare the corruptibleness of politicians, their propensity for embroiling in tie-ups with businesses and gave rise to the right-wing parties’ ideology of moral revolution and fourth republic…

13) 1st May 2004 – after years of negotiations and haggling Poland joined European Union – that was probably the most remarkable date within last two decades, the accession has had the biggest bearing on our economy, development prospects, labour market, agriculture, etc. The list could be much, much longer… The next day prime minister Leszek Miller handed down his resignation.

14) 2nd April 2005 – no matter how sceptical you are, doesn’t matter if you are a believer, a catholic or not – you can’t just wave aside the death of Pope John Paul the Second. Within those few days of national mourning Poles united their hearts, politicians ceased quarrelling. Poles loved and still love Pope but most of them do not follow his teachings or comply with them selectively…

15) 25th September and 23rd October 2005 – respectively parliamentary and presidential elections in Poland. Both, against the opinion polls and against all odds won by Law and Justice. In parliament Kaczynski’s party did not form the coalition with runner-up Civic Platform, on 23rd December Lech Kaczyński was sworn in as president. Those dates were meant to mark an onset of moral revolution and revival. The outcome turned out to be a travesty…

16) 5th May 2006 – the turning point in the rule of Law and Justice – the coalition with League of Polish Families and Self-Defence was formed. I burst out laughing when Roman Giertych was appointed minister of education, exactly one week after I completed my education in secondary school!

17) 7th September 2007 – by the decision of lower house of Polish Parliament, taken at 21:43 the term of parliament was shortened – the parliament was dissolved, the next day president called elections to be held on 21st October. Both main parties decided on holding elections willing to either strengthen its power or to stem the further march towards travesty of fourth republic.
My small interlude: I was deeply against the rule of Law and Justice and its coalitional partners, however, I would not demonise that period. I turned eighteen, completed secondary school and passed school leaving exams (matura) with flying colours, I got in university, I passed my driving exam at first take, found my first job. Grimy politics was looming somewhere in the distance, but away from joys and worries of day-to-day life…

18) 21st October 2007 – the most important elections since 1989, in which Poles settled on the direction Poland should go. They have chosen progress instead of raking up the past, looking forward instead of looking back, peace instead of PiS, advance instead of backwardness. Lots of Poles voted not for but against a certain party, the two-year long rule of Law and Justice undoubtedly mobilised voters to go to the polls and express their disgruntlement with the semi-democratic methods of exercising power…

19) 21st December 2007 – Poland joins Schengen Area – the next stage of our integration with European Union – border controls have been abolished on all borders with other EU member states.

20) 15th September 2008 – a symbolic date of the outbreak of current economic and financial crisis, which affected Poland and as a part of global economic machine. Until now our country managed not to plunge into recession (hopefully it will not do) and our economy holds firm. However, the aftermaths of the crisis are already noticeable and it is too early to speak about the light at the end of the tunnel…

If you think there was something more important what deserved being included on the list, or have your own recollections of any of those events, I’m waiting for the feedback, in any language convenient to you.

Może w ogóle powinienem to napisać po polsku?

Monday, 1 June 2009

The dark side of Polish banking?

The title speaks for itself, below I paste an article from the today’s issue of “Dziennik”, which gives an overview of malpractices and pathologies of target schemes in force in our banks. I’m getting on (successfully) with my examinations so I can’t find time to translate the whole article into English, some key or curious excerpts are translated (or rather summarized) under the Polish version. I won’t comment on it, all the readers of this blog are wise enough to draw their own conclusion. With this food for thought – good appetite!

The confession of four bankers “ashamed of walking down the street”. Bankers bend the rules just to live up to their superiors’ expectations. They foist bank products on their friends, acquaintances, members of families, sometimes the product sold them becomes a burden, that’s why one of the bankers is afraid to look in his friend’s face… They take up roles of debt collectors, hounding the defaulting creditors… All four interviewed bankers are no longer under illusion of bright future. When they started their careers in banking a few years ago banks were reputable institutions and the profession of banker was held in high esteem. Today mud is slung on bankers, however they deserved their fate. Some of them cannot resist the pressure, quit their job or turn to tranquilizers to get by. The key factor to blame is the remuneration scheme – bankers have a diminutive fixed salary, which is supplemented by commission, of course depending on the sales figures. The amount of money they get is conditioned on the amount of innocent clients dragged into the mire of current accounts, credit cards, insurances, etc. The ones who fail to meet the target (PL: wyrobić plan) are sacked. In spite of the crisis, nonetheless the targets were not cut back – an “advisor” is expected to sell as many loans as before the collapse – but nobody deigned to notice the number of creditworthy clients shrunk by a half!
That’s why bank salespeople resort to various tricks to meet the targets…
a) Stealing one another clients – to get the colleagues commission – mean?
b) Opening accounts, credit cards, etc. for the family members, friends, etc. Employees of one of the bigger banks were taking down the deceased’s names from graves and opened accounts for them, even paid the account fees for them just to get the commission.
c) Opening the accounts and flogging credit cards to the credit applicants (allegedly to make a credit decision) – a patent of one of the banks
d) Lying to the clients about the terms of insurance, fees, etc.
Some of the banks added to their salespeople’s scope of duties debt collection – what makes them similar to the loan sharks like Provident – uncivilized world in a word… The bankers are bound to visit the defaulters in their crack houses (any better translation of Polish word “melina”?), some come back jittery, like Provident’s agents they risk their health and lives.
Another remarkable example: one of the bankers foisted a loan, insurance policy and mutual funds on his professor. Having got drunk the bragged about his feat, then someone blabbed it to the professor, to save his face, the guy had to sell his car and clear his own bank account.
In some branches salespeople even pass the hat round to pay off the bad debt… Just to get the commission. Commission which has become a deity for them…

The pathology runs deeper – it’s source should be traced back to the unprincipled, full of themselves, SMALL bank executives who set infeasible targets.

In the centrally planned economy directors of the state-owned plants lower their capacities to exceed the plan and get the bonus. In the market economy bankers lean over backwards to meet the target and do not hesitate to play foul to do that.

Few weeks ago I found out how it feels like – after opening a deposit in the bank saleslady asked me if I didn’t need a cash loan in the amount equal to the amount of deposit. At first I asked myself if she really thought I was an idiot – if I had needed that money I would simply have spent it instead of paying it into a bank and taking out a loan on the much higher interest rate. Not much later I realized she asked me hoping to make the next step on her way to reach the target…

Sorry for the quality – I’ve been writing this post in haste. The next one comes on Thursday!