Monday, 26 December 2011

It won’t cease soon

Some people say if you don’t have a profile on facebook or another social networking website, you simply don’t exist. I’m not in favour of this theory, but there is a grain of truth in it. Over the week when I was offline, my high-school classmates organised a Christmas meet-up and notified me via facebook. I learnt about the gathering the day after it was held. I wouldn’t have turned up anyway, as it was held at the same time as Christmas party of my company, but no one considered any other way of getting in touch with me…

The other thing I spotted on facebook last Saturday after logging in was a message from my middle-school classmate. Let’s name him Marek (name deliberately changed, again, I’m sure he at least once visited my blog and is aware of its existence). He asked me to give him my phone number and tell when he could call me, implying the sooner the better. I’m generally sensitised to all requests when I feel I can lend somebody a helping hand and felt a bit guilty, as his message was dated 14 December and I read it three days later. I went for a walk, grabbed my mobile and dialled his number (how come I had his number, he didn’t have mine?).

Marek was more than happy to hear my voice in the receiver. Without even exchanging pleasantries, he cut to the chase and asked if I had lent any money to our classmate, Karol. He left me a bit speechless for a moment, but instead of telling him I had done this mistake, my reply was: “has your money also gone down the drain?” (też utopiłeś pieniądze?).

Marek and I have known each other since we were six. He lived with his mother and sister in a neighbouring block of flats in Piaseczno, we went to the same group in the nursery school and then attended the same class and primary and middle school. We even chose the same high school, I surmise his choice was a bit influenced by mine. Marek’s life has always been uphill. He grew up without father and most of time without any financial aid from him. He has never been really talented (truth be told, even if it’s bitter), but as long as he could, he has made up for his by hard work and consistency. He has always aimed high and never liked to give up on his plans.

Despite financial hardship, Marek managed to put aside some money. In August 2010 he lent a large chunk of it, i.e. 8,000 PLN to our ex-friend, Karol. Unlike me, he secured his interests by signing a loan agreement with the hapless debtor. Until now Karol and his mother have paid him back 5,000 PLN, while 3,000 PLN remains outstanding and odds of getting it back are dwindling. As it turns out, precedence of creditors depends on their capacity to claim their money back. My loan to Karol was backed by gentleman’s agreement; Karol’s mother claims she respects it, yet when others threaten to take steps to recover their money, it’s not hard to guess who’ll be paid off first. Marek is not even better-off, just because his recovery ratio is 62.5%, while mine is 0%. For me 1,000 PLN is not a big sum, compared to my savings and earnings, for Marek 3,000 is much, much more and currently he desperately needs that money.

[insertion: it just occurred to me I could help Marek out and lend him 3,000 PLN, but I won’t…]

With the legally binding obligation to return the money, Marek is going to take the case to the court. Some law students who provide other students with legal advice free of charge have helped him write a claim and in the new year he intends to file a lawsuit against Karol. The case was if I would testify. Without much hesitation I agreed to appear before court. After all I’ll be telling the truth, but maybe I’ll help the guy who’s had it uphill all his life and doesn’t deserve to lose much of his savings. Testifying will not fray my nerves, as I’ve got over the lost money long ago and I won’t forget the story of a guy who used to my good friend, who was an up-and-coming talent and who squandered all opportunities life had offered to him, anyway.

On 9 December I sent to Karol’s family a Christmas card. I packed in an envelope and didn’t sign sender’s name at the back of it, just to give it a chance of not landing in a rubbish bin before being opened.

Just after finished the call with Marek I rang Karol’s mother, immensely curious to find out how the family are doing. What I heard from her has not impressed nor touched me, actually nothing I would hear about Karol would surprise me. Apart from what I listened about misery of Karol’s father who had undergone a surgery and Karol’s senile grandparents (all their ailments are somehow related to Karol having fallen into troubles), I have been informed that Karol is doing a sentence for unpaid debts and since his mother and I last talked, he tried to take away his life three times and is determined to try it again.

The shock came after hanging up. It sank in to me that this woman was at the end of her tether. She’s so tired of what she’s gone through that she doesn’t even appear to be moved by the fact his son wanted to commit suicide it even seems she has already come to terms with the inexorable eventuality of Karol’s suicidal departure.

Maybe the story is not apposite for the Christmas tide, but this the time, when apart from rejoicing, we should think about fellow people’s misery. Remember Band Aid’s “Do they know it’s Christmas”, peaked with Bono’s verse “Well tonight thank God it’s them, instead of you”? Cherish what you have, if you can read this post, I bet most people have it worse than you and your problems are laughably small, compared to theirs.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

X-mas wishes

Dear readers, wish you all, peaceful and joyful Christmas. may it be a stress-free time of rejoice, spent with your family and friends. Recharge your batteries, as you never know what the future holds and the only thing we can be sure of is that the coming year, at least for economists and so called "financial markets" won't be boring.

Sunday, 18 December 2011


Went through an involuntary Internet-rehab over the last week. The extent of the therapy wasn’t actually full, as I had access to most websites at work, but access to private e-mail, blogs, bank and brokerage accounts, allegro or facebook is blocked there, hence I was devoid of some entertainments offered by the Web. Truth be told I didn’t miss surfing the Net much, so it seems I’m not addicted to it(yet), but having no access to the Internet is inconvenient. I couldn’t read nor comment on any blogs, I couldn’t speculate in stocks, paying bills on-line was impossible, I didn’t know how my friends were keeping. Maybe the reason why I didn’t miss it much was that I had to work overtime over the week and back at home I wouldn’t have found much time to turn the computer on anyway. In fact my notebook was switched off for five days (antivirus software warnings of outdated protection popped up immediately), for the first time since September 2009

The reason for being cut off the rest of the world was a defective Huawei (pron. ch**owy) modem delivered by Cyfrowy Polsat (hereinafter: CP). Buying their services was a memorable rough ride, but using it was all downhill since then. Until it worked…

The Chinese modem (piece of sh*t) began to spin out of control in November. It developed a despicable habit of disconnecting and reconnecting whenever it felt like doing so. This was a bit annoying, but I put up with this, as it didn’t impede much using the Internet. On 5 December it also began to transfer data at its discretion. Over the previous week most of time it didn’t upload nor download any data, but at times it roused up and did its job, until it went into a stand-by mode again. Last Saturday I went with it to several shops of CP, but none had any other modem to lend to us for the time of the repair. Finally an assistant recommended us to skip the intermediation of CP’s customer service and turn directly to Huawei repair centre, located in Piaseczno, who should check the modem off-hand and fix it overnight.

On Sunday, just after publishing the post on the blog, my modem gave up the ghost for good. My father took the modem to the repair centre on Monday. They promised to check it overnight and get in touch as soon as possible. They hung back on contacting us, so my father called them on Tuesday. They replied the modem was broken down beyond repair and under warranty would be replaced for a new one, free of charge. Unfortunately they had just run out of the devices and waited for the delivery of new ones. We called them for a few consecutive days and asked them when they expected the delivery. Finally on Friday they blatantly declared Christmas was coming and the new supply wouldn’t come in by the end of the year. The sods there didn’t give a shit about the fact that their customer would have to stay offline for some four weeks and pay the monthly fee for the Internet connection as usual. Shocked by the insolence of the repair centre I demanded my modem back, but it turned out it wasn’t an easy task for the sods to reverse the order which was being effected. I saw red, but despite having my blood pressure sent rising, I quickly realised they couldn’t do it to me. I was the owner of the modem and the sods could not seize my belongings, so I threatened to sue them for stealing my stuff. It worked. I called my father and he picked it up, together with the repair report, in the meantime I arranged borrowing another modem from CP shop in Piaseczno. My father did me a favour, handled the complaint procedure again and brought the lent modem home.

On Friday evening (or night) I returned home late from a corporate X-mas booze-up, additionally I looked like a drowned rat, as the pouring down rain left me totally sodden. Sodden and moderately befuddled, I didn’t feel capable of operating technical devices, so I decided to plug in the borrowed modem on Saturday. On Saturday I made an attempt to use the device, but it also turned out defective. The modem from CP shop lacked drivers and software and my computer couldn’t detect the content of its internal disk. I drove (no hangover so I assumed alcohol level in my blood was negligibly low) to CP’s shop and asked there to transfer modem drivers and CP software to my pendrive. I had to go there twice because for the first time they had given me the wrong software (from a different modem) and at last I needed to call CP customer service helpline to get the support in installing it…

Now it works, but things haven’t straightened out yet. I don’t how long my modem will be under repair, I don’t know if the opinion of the repair centre will be the same and if the new one will work properly. Right now I’m thinking how to get back on CP for the quality of their customer service. I’m not vindictive towards people, but powerful corporations that mistreat their customers must not go unpunished and their sins won’t be absolved. What sort of compensation should I demand? I don’t need apologies, they’re duty bound to provide me with a new modem under warranty, but how about claiming exemption from monthly Internet connection charges? Am I entitled?

Two readers marked my previous post as “well-argued / clear”, so a quick follow up – I’m still emotionally unstable and the magnitude of instability is very volatile.

Maybe due to what I described last week I’ve become disturbingly indifferent to current political and economic issues. I wasn’t focused the outcomes of EU summit held on 8 and 9 December, sovereignty marches staged on 30th anniversary of declaring martial law haven’t impressed me (my take on the martial law hasn’t changed since two years), nor did the end of Polish presidency to the EU. Yesterday in the evening, back online I found out stock markets are poised for a very bearish Christmas period (technical analysis and macro factors back this scenario) and may hit this year’s new low by the end of the year. Cesaria Evora and Vaclav Havel passed away - happens

I let things drift, every destiny should be fulfilled.

What no man can own, no man can take.
(U2, Yahweh)

You miss too much these days if you stop to think
(U2, Until the end of the world)

The two quotations reverberate in my mind and emerge from an enormous tangle occupying my head and giving way to clear thinking only when I concentrate at work or drive a car.

I let things drift, let the destiny fulfil itself.

Next week – another follow up to the story of my ex-classmate.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

When children grow rebellious...

Time goes by, entourages change. Gone is the period of formal education when every day I used to meet my peers who look at the world from roughly the same perspective as I do. People I am surrounded by these days, at least a few years older than me, have different problems, grew up in different times, spend their leisure time differently. What we usually have in common is a certain part of our background – we are almost all graduates of Warsaw School of Economics. And despite this we are all “normal”, I mean we do not fit the image of a stereotypical rat-racer. This is what probably marks the boundary between slightly “backward” Polish commercial banking and Anglo-Saxon overgrown financial sector which favours alpha-males with specific set of traits and predispositions

All (except one, single girl aged 28) my colleagues have spouses and most have children. Their offspring are usually in pre-school or early-school age, only one colleague’s children are in their teenage years. He sometimes talks over his observations of his daughter (aged 16) and son (aged 14) with a woman from the other department whose son is also adolescent. While listening to their conversations, I finally realised what sort of problems I will have to tackle in several years, when my currently unborn children grow to the age of defiance. From what I observed, my colleagues strike a good balance between strictness and leniency in upbringing their children. They are aware it is natural that teenagers begin to have their own opinions, often totally opposite, as a matter of principle, to their parents’ views, want to dress the way they want, spend the time the way they want, meet with who they want and arrange their lives in their own way. They talk a lot to their children and forgive some misbehaviours (one-off occurrences of returning home inebriated or nasty behaviour at schools).

I sometimes butt in to their talks and present them my point of view, but more often they make me look back on over past ten years, from the moment I came into age of adolescence, until my 24th birthday. Much can be said about me, but I was anyone, but a problem child / problem teenager. For some reason, maybe because my parents would talk with me a lot, I did not have inclination stir up troubles. I always did good at school; in good and bad times, for 12 years of primary, middle and high school I passed with flying colours. I did not have to retake a single exam during four and a half years of my studies and unlike fellow students I finished my studies in time. There were some incidences of inappropriate behaviour at school, but they have never been really inexcusable and never sullied my good reputation. There were some disputes between my parents and I, there was a time when I was 16 and in a relationship with two years older girl, when we argued a lot. They told me she was not good for me, after a few months time and my ex-girlfriend proved them right. I have never experimented with drugs, never had a cigarette in my mouth (I owe it to my parents, until November 2003 chain smokers, whose addiction filled me with abiding disgust for smoking), I would hit the bottle from time to time, I used to come back home tipsy, yet in my lifetime I have not got hammered more than five times and never I had I drunk so much that I could not remember what I had been doing; I have never let the alcohol turn my stomach. Plus I was a “frugal” child – I did not need private tuition (korepetycje), I did not demand from my parents that they bought me some stuff others had.

Yet my colleagues, who patiently put up with their children, point out it is better if teenagers get through a period a defiance before they grow adult, because this has to come sooner or later, and the later it comes, the higher the magnitude of cheekiness is and the more severe outcomes of stupid decisions might be. I suppose the belated adolescence crisis has hit me recently. I am putting it down to changes that have taken place over the last year around me. The transition from school-oriented to work-oriented life, drifting apart with my schoolmates and hitting it off with older, more mature people, gaining the long-awaited financial independence; all these factors have been a source of joy and excitement, but to some extent they turned my life upside down, I am not a man I used to be a year ago. To put if briefly – I sometimes feel as if I was living someone else’s life… Some changes are positive – at work I can spread my wings. I left behind the unpleasant experience of being one of hundreds of anonymous students, which used to hurt during the years spent at SGH. I realise this might be an illusion, but where I work at least I am recognised and my accomplishments are appreciated (one day someone might recall my name and put it on a redundancy list – would it pay off not to stand out and keep a low profile?). Some changes, i.e. aforementioned tangle in my head, are a bit disturbing. When making up for the time wasted on being an obedient child, I hold off on taking stupid, emotion-rather-than-consideration-driven decision and wait. I believe by the 25th birthday it should pass…

Sunday, 4 December 2011

The meek and the outraged

Once upon a time there was a prosperity...

In one country in which several years ago one could rise from rags to riches, everyone, including drunkards having no jobs, no assets and no income, could get a mortgage without having to prove their creditworthiness. They could buy dreamt-up houses they had never afforded to buy and everyone was happy.

In another, once poor country, government, trade unions and employers entered into a social partnership, which gave rise to over a decade of fast, yet sustainable growth. When natural growth ran out of steam, economy was boosted by construction boom that did not last long, as everything what is credit-fuelled and based on low-efficiency sectors. They government would run budget surpluses thanks to rising property taxes and people could afford to buy houses despite prohobitive prices, thanks to easy credit conditions. Everyone was happy...

Once a country, which was facing bankruptcy in 1998, got up off its knees and rose to prosperity thanks to huge revenues from export of gas and oil... Only tycoon were happy... The rest were only proud of their new empire.

Another country, which joined the European Communities in 198,1 could rig statistics, wheedle out subsidies from the EU and live off the backs of German taxpayers. But actually eveyone was happy.

Once the biggest CEE economy was run by reckless politicians who at the same time cut taxes, raised government spending and despite this had a nearly balanced budget. But people weren't happy and in early election kicked out those magicians.

The times of living beyond one's means are gone. Good times will roll in sometime, but I suppose not before long. Come to terms with it, there's no such option as 'ship out' now.

Then the house of cards fell apart and Mr Crisis knocked on our doors. Believers of American Dream were evicted from their over-mortgaged houses and complex securities engineered by brainy quants from investment banks turned out to be a load of junk scattered all over the financial system. The government rushed to help out the troubled, but those bailed out were financial institutions. The case was that someone had been arranging the world in such way that banks had grown too big to fail and their collapse could trigger a knock-on effect, i.e. their bankruptcies would wipe out the 'real economy'. Thus the bankers were helped out and got away with the punishment and things went on.

At that time voices of people outraged at policies focused on big players, rather than ordinary people, were heard. But nothing, virtually nothing has changed.

As part of tacking the crisis, zillions of money wer pumped into financial system and some money was even injected into real economy. Economies somehow revived, but did not thrive as good as the financial system did. Drip of newly printed dollars flowed into banks' balance sheets and the banks did not, as the decision-makers had intended, turn them into loans for firms and individuals, but put them on financial markets. Between late winter of 2009 and mid-spring of 2011 stock prices doubled and commodity price tripled, not really reflecting economic recovery (often, like oil prices, threatening to hamper it).

In the meantime countries using fiscal stimuluses to prop up their economic, nations living beyond their means and those whose growth prior to the crisis had been totally unsustainable (these were the countries that had experienced property booms) fell into trouble. In 2011 banks are solvent (unless they have bought up too much "risk-free" Greek bonds), in 2011 the governments are about to go bust.

Poland got off the first wave of the crisis lightly. In early 2009 it was the only economy in Europe that did not contract. Neither the current (PO-led), nor previous (PiS-led) government could take credit for it. Accolades go to resilient Poles and their remarkable consumer confidence (in fact verging on profligacy), sound monetary policy pursued by the Polish central bank, wise financial supervision that curbed lending and resilience of Polish entrepreneurs. But lower budget proceeds and higher expenditures and inevitable in economic slowdown and so Poland as well has to tighten the belt...

But not only us. People feel it and someone roused up and discerned that ordinary people are paying for the crisis, while bankers, still untouched, are doing well. In 2008 Barack Obama won by promising the 'change'. The matter (or rather lobbyist) proved too resistant, and the change has not been brought about, leaving more and more people livid. They gathered in one New York district and dubbed themselves Wall Street Occupiers. The movement gained popularity in many countries, but I didn't think it would fell on a fertile fround in Poland. Yet for a moment it did. On 15 October hundreds of protesters marched through Warsaw's streets, but who were they? As right-wing journalists claimed, those were children of wealthy parents who thought it would be fun / trendy to protest again cruel capitalism and spent afternoon in such way. They even received support from a prominent leftist politician who came to the demonstration in his brand-new Jaguar...

In all countries they protested against the palpable distortions of capitalism, yet did not come up with any counter-ideas. Some of their postulates are even self-contradictory - how can you raise public spending and cut public debt at the same time? I don't feel affinity with those people. We are simply worlds apart, and not because we have different descents, but because our mindsets are worlds apart. I have a job that gives me a lot of satisfaction and offers me financial independence (limited, as without ruining my personal finances I cannot afford to move out from my parents' house) and... I'm afraid of losing the job, for reasons other than my performance. They are often jobless and with bleak future prospects. But where we are now is a result of how we got there and this in turn is a testimony of effort or lack of it over the past years.

And no, you are no longer entitled!

While others are outraged, I stay disturbingly meek. VAT increased by one percentrage point - other fulminate against the government, I say it is essential to bring extra revenues to the state budget. Raising the retirement age - my colleagues say they won't make it until they hit 67, I declare to toil away even longer without murmur to make budget'e ends meet. Scrapping tax deductible expenses - others are livid as they will not be allowed to claw back some money from the state, I happily commend the idea which simplifies tax system. I was even asked by my colleaugue, with a big tinge of malice, how I would be fixed for shortening paid holidays by some five days each year, cutting sick leave benefit, raising social sickness benefit contributions and restoring tax rates and brackets effective until 2008 (19% / 30% / 40%). Without much hesitation I said I would approve this, if only the money collected thus was spent wisely, i.e. on investments in infrastructure, education or, above all, contributed to reduction of public debt.

All in all, I have all makings of a ruthless technocrat who could turn an almost bankrupt country around and leave the office after four years, hated by 95% of the society. Or am I simply a naive sucker?

PS. This post written without effort. Was it read without pleasure?

Thursday, 1 December 2011

So whose speech Mr Sikorski delivered?

Being rather short of time over the working week, I was not aware Mr Sikorski was going to put in an appearance in Berlin. I found out about his comment-provoking speech from Charles Crawford's (former British ambassador to Poland) blog, to which W-wa Jeziorki links, on Monday late evening. I went through the post quickly and recalled Janusz Korwin-Mikke's (Polish ultra-rightist politician) words that if your enemies (for many wacky politicians almost every politician from abroad, except our beloved allies from the United States, who incidentally not only do not know where Poland lies, but also do not give a shit about our well-being) praise you, you might be in trouble. Then I put myself to bed and simply forgot about the speech. The next day the row over the content of Mr Sikorski's speech, verging on accusations of high treason, broke out. Along with politicians of ruling coalition and leftist and liberal opposition, I would (silently) stand up to Mr Sikorski's efforts to mark our presidency. Today, while sipping tea after lunch I popped by TVN24 website to learn that Mr Crawford could have authored the outstanding speech.

Bearing in mind that Mr Sikorski, despite having studied and spending over ten years in the UK, is not a native speaker of English, it surely was a wise step to hire a skillful native to have the speech polished up by a professional speechwriter. I do not believe it was Mr Crawford who wrote the speech himself. Polish foreign office, Mr Sikorski and Mr Crawford claim in unison Mr Sikorski took Mr Crawford's advice regarding content and style of the speech and it seems to be a fair account of former British ambassador's contribution.

What I find appalling anyway is the glowing praise coming from Mr Crawford. If he really contributed to the speech, he should have dissociated himself from dissecting and extolling it. Blowing one's own trumpet in such a coarse way somehow does not befit a renowned diplomat...