Sunday, 28 April 2013

Pension system in Poland – pending overhaul…

The topic of private-run pension funds in Poland (the biggest scam in the history of Poland after 1989 IMHO) has been shelved on this blog over two years ago. Back then I outlined a relatively decent (how modest of me) summary of its workings and the government’s plans at that time. As I see no point in flogging the dead horse, if you need to catch up, please revert to ample previous posts where you can find both my private opinion on the workings (and pathologies) of second pillar of Polish social security system, as well as an unbiased description of it.

By the end of first half of 2013 the government plans to carry out a long-awaited comprehensive review of the whole pension system in Poland, the review is bound to cover not only the private-run pension funds, but also other contemptible features of it, such as privileges for many groups of professionals that need to be funded from taxpayers’ purse.

As the results of the review have not come to the light, there have been speculations regarding what the government might do to enhance workings of the private-run pension funds. As some of the government-liked economists claimed, any outcome was conceivable, including fully scrapping the pension funds and moving assets from there to state-run social security fund (running deficit for years), if their existence was deemed detrimental to future pensioners and public finances. This most abject plan has been given up, as one of three main rating agencies threatened to downgrade the rating of Poland if the government seized assets accumulated there. The Polish government is aware that you shouldn’t mess with ruthless financial markets and it quickly backed out of such option, declaring it had never come into play. I’m in two minds about such stance, but it’s hard to deny the government the foresight in this respect. Lucky streak of low debt service costs will not last forever…

Now to the point. Pension system is an element of public discourse; several economists, politicians and, let’s speak it out, lobbyists make several statements to shape Poles’ opinions on it. The problem is some of them are not home truths. I will confine to pointing at just three most blatant… Distortions? Misleading statements? Departures from truths? Misrepresentations?

Misrepresentation 1: Money amassed in pension funds are Poles’ private savings.

The sentence above could be a nice illustration of the English idiom “pack of lies” – let’s count how many lies can you pack into one sentence.

“Money” – what money? Pension funds are a pool of assets, including two key types: government bonds – ca. 55% and shares of publicly traded in Poland companies – ca. 40% (the rest are miscellaneous assets, also cash and bank deposits). These assets are hence securities which represent either a government obligation to redeem its bonds, or ownership stakes in companies.

“Private” – further on, pension funds keep records of their participants in relevant registries, thus each participant is allocated a share in the pool of assets (recorded as number of “settlement units” allocated to them), each share has the same composition of assets. Now how come it is “private”? How come many claim those “money” belong to future pensioners, or is even owned by them? Let’s look at some facts? On 4 June 2008 the Supreme Court of Poland handed down a ruling (quoted and linked in one of previous posts) which clearly stated assets in pension funds are a part of public social security system, hence contributions to pension funds are obligatory. This should dispel all doubts – whatever assets are allocated to the account assigned to you in a pension fund, they are owned by the state. If however, just like many other people, including dr hab. Leszek Balcerowicz (interesting why everyone titles him “professor”, if Mr. Balcerowicz does not hold this academic title, it is only his position at the university I graduated from), claim this is your money, ask yourself a few fundamental questions:
If it is your money – why can’t you withdraw it and spend it the way you want?
If it is your money – why can’t you have influence on how it is invested?
If it is your money – why can’t you use this assets as a collateral for a loan you wish to take out?
If it is your private money – why are you forced to pay huge load fees to private companies managing it?
The only advantage of it “savings” in pension funds is that they are inheritable. There are of course some restrictions aimed to keep “money” in the system, but indeed there are case when contributions, depleted by fees charged by management companies, can come out of system in real cash. Unfortunately the only such circumstance is death…

“Savings” – peculiar are savings funded by debts run up by the Polish state of the taxpayers… With some “little” help of 14 useless, yet expensive intermediaries. No comments…

Misrepresentation 2: Pension funds fetch high profits.

Remember the adage there are “lies, damned lies and statistics”? You could add financial reporting tricks to that list. Here the trick is simple and only recently somebody bothered to analyse its impact on returns brought by pension funds.

The mechanism is very simple – what in all statistics is presented as rate of return is a growth in value of “settlement unit” – a book record representing market value of some portion of assets in a fund. Example: let’s assume now your contribution to a pension fund is 100 PLN. The moment you make a payment one settlement unit is value at 10 PLN. 100 divided by 10 is 10, so you should have allocated 10 settlement units to your account. And here’s the catch! Because load fee for each contribution is 3.5%, only 96.50 PLN out of 100 PLN is invested in assets in the pension fund, the rest goes to oil the wheels of the pension system, majority of which to private management companies. Now let’s assume the value of funds’ assets rose by 4% over the reporting period, so the end-of-period value of one settlement unit is 10.40 PLN. Now recall you bought 9.65 settlement units. Value of assets allocated to you is 9.65 times 10.40 = 100.36 PLN. Your rate of return is 0.36%! Surprised? Now let’s face some other facts: I omit management fees, as they are included in valuation of settlement units, at the reform inception load fee was 10%, then 7% and some 3 years ago it went down to 3.5%. Imagine then break-even rates of return, i.e. by how much market value of funds’ assets had to increase to let their participants earn at least a nominal return (answer: they are respectively: 11.11% and 7.53%), let alone above-inflation one. To recap, given that yields on government bonds run near inflation rate and returns on stocks are very volatile, this system cannot (has a built-in inability to) generate profits to future pensioners. The only beneficiaries are private companies administering it.

Misrepresentation 3: Obligation of the state in form of issued bonds, purchased by pension funds, better secures future pensioners’ interests than promise in form of book record in state social security fund.

Giving lie to this statement takes very little. Let’s look at the example of Greece on the verge of bankruptcy. Bondholders had to accept 53.5% face value haircut, which means out of each single Euro they recover 46.5 Euro cents. Most pensioners have not seen their benefits declining by such percentage, usually in nominal terms their benefits fell by 30%. Media reported single cuts by 60% or 70%, however these hit most privileged Greek pensioners. Moreover in November 2012 Greek Supreme Court declared pension cuts unconstitutional. The same, under the current legal framework, would probably happen in Poland, if it, heaven forbid, was nearing default. Get real! Promise on form of bonds has no higher value than constitutionally protected right to participate in the social security system!

One more misrepresentation is in the calculation of state’s liabilities towards future pensioners. Pension funds advocates claim thanks to existence of pension funds, they become explicit, while in the state-run social security fund they are hidden. They also calculate book record of sum of liabilities on technical accounts with social security fund. They only forget about one detail – these are all contingent liabilities – the state does owe that much to people, as this worst-case scenario comes to a pass only if all people reach pension age. Once somebody dies before retirement, liability towards them is erased. There is no indecency in it, as social security system in Poland functions as insurance – if you pay contributions, you may, bit not have to get the benefit.

Hope it has given you some food for thought, and not for the last time.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

"It depends"

Is probably the best answer to (most of) the questions below…

How can you define love? *

How many kinds of love can you distinguish?

Should love be unconditional? **

What can love be mistaken for? Desire? Passion? Fascination? Infatuation? Craving? Obsession? Affection? Care? Friendship? Dedication? Sacrifice? Something else?

Why do people pair off? Just driven by the feelings (?) named above? Not to be alone when they grow old? To have a shoulder to cry on? For practical / economic reasons? To bring offspring to the world? Out of primeval instinct of preserving the mankind? Because it’s socially acceptable? Because others do it?

Why do people decide to formalise their relationships by getting married? Does the institution of marriage reinforce the bond between them? Do they think due to formalised procedure of breaking up (divorce) they can make the other one stay by their side? Does the ring on the finger change the way of thinking of the opposite sex? For same reasons as in the paragraph above?

What keeps people together for decades? *** What does it take to put up with each other for such long period of time? Patience? Tolerance? Friendship? Something else?

What put relationship to a test? Parting for a longer period of time? Extraordinary hardships (incurable disease, accident, disability) or the down-to-earth problems (she spends too much money on clothes, he scatters his dirty socks around the flat)? ****

Does a relationship between two people, casually called “love”, has to go through specific stages? If psychology attempts to define such stages, is its approach universal? Does every relationship have to go through the same path? How about the concept of “love at first sight”? *****

Why do mating rituals differ with age? A silly question, but… Why a teenager who wants to go out with a girl acts differently than his ten years old counterpart?

How much freedom should there be in a relationship? To what extent can we influence, and to what extent tolerate our partners choices?

Is there such thing as destination? If somebody says two people were meant for each other, is it just a metaphor? ******

How quickly can a relationship between two people turn sour? How short can be the distance between love and hatred? If it can turn into hatred, or any other negative feeling, has it ever been a true love?

How is it easy to break a promise*******? If a promise is given before the countenance of God (church marriage), is it harder to break it, compared to the pledge made in a registry office? Is the time factor important – i.e. the more time goes by from making the promise, the more brittle the value of it is? If the other party breaks the promise, are we still bound by the promise we’ve given?

How come people hurt people they love? Do they do it deliberately or inadvertently? If the former, is it, again, genuine love? Should a “normal” human being feel guilty after hurting a fellow human? Is it inhuman to take pleasure in causing pain to other people?

Why sometimes it takes so little to fall out of love? Does it prove fragility of human feelings?

Why sometimes it’s the opposite – why is it so hard to let go? Does being unable to break away from a dead-end affection bear any testimony?

Is there a return from the point of no return? If so, it is true some wrongdoing can be forgiven, but never forgotten? Why some people after breaking up can still be friends and some hate each other guts?

The list could have been longer, yet extending it will get me nowhere nearer to the revelation, so I choose to take a bike from the garage and have a shake-down ride :-)

* Don’t just think of love as a feeling between two people of (usually) different sex.
** Consider manifold facets of love, including the concept of divine love, a deity giving its love to mankind.
*** Good timing for such question – five days after my parents celebrated 30th anniversary of their wedding and half a year before my paternal grandparents celebrate their 65th anniversary.
**** From what I’ve observed, living together is the best test. From the phase when you spend together only the best moments, you go to another one, when you have to get accustomed to your partner’s habits, share mundane household chores, begin to have a common budget, you get up the bed of roses and walk into the thorns…
***** I’ll dare to answer this question right away – it’s simplification / misnomer – there might be a fascination, affection, desire at first sight, but it can become love later.
****** My own take on this problem is that there is more than one “second half” to every one of us, hence odds of meeting at least one of them are much higher.
******* Having lived long enough to see people tying the knot before God and then watching their relationship falling into pieces I find this question immensely justified.

In fact, these are all questions to which there is no one clear answer. The realm of humans’ emotions is governed by an indefinite set of vague rules. It’s where its beauty consists in…

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Winter timeline 2012/13

It all started in late October. Snow showers began on Saturday, 27 October 2012 around 7 a.m. and continued until next day’s morning. Over that time ground has been covered with some 10 centimetres of heavy wet snow, while roads got covered with slush. Most drivers were caught naked by the winter with summer tyres on. Those who proved their foresight and changed tyres in time should not have sat behind wheels of other cars unprepared for the winter incident lasted five days. The lowest temperature (-7C) was recorded on 29 October 2012. Snows fully melted on the first day of November when temperature topped +7C.

November 2012 was another one in a row of warm Novembers in recent years (2006: +5.9C, 2008: +5.2C, 2009: +5.7C, 2010: +6.0C). Average temperature in Warsaw was +5.8C (vs. long-term average of +3.1C). After October snows melted in the first two days of the month, no sign of winter was in sight.

1 December 2012 – 5 December 2012
Winter creeping in. Temperature stays below 0C even over the day, snowfalls are meagre – less than one centimetre on 3 December

6 December 2012
A beautiful sunny, uplifting day is followed by frosty evening. On my way home around 7 p.m. car thermometer reads –6C. Forecasters warn of first heavy snowfalls, but I’m sceptical about this…

7 December 2012
It begins to snow around 3 a.m. and goes on for 12 hours. In the afternoon some 4 centimetres of white powder linger on the ground. Road clearance services have risen to the task – this year winter has not taken them aback and roads are clear, what cannot be said about slippery pavements. Around –4C over the whole day.

8 December 2012
Forecasters missed it by a long shot, not –6C at night, not –3C over the day. The temperature in the morning is –8C and refuses to go up over the day. A single sunbeam cannot break through thick fog. Long-term forecasts show snow showers next weekend and a big frost wave starting around the middle of the month and lasting until Christmas…

9 December 2012
Frosty, but beautiful morning. –12C at sunrise and the sun does illuminate swathes of land adorned by hoar frost. By midday it clouds over and beauty of the winter loses it charm. Chilly.

10 December 2012 – 12 December 2012
Three moderately frosty (single-digit below zero) and snow-shower-free days. Bearable winter gloom

13 December 2012
In afternoon sun breaks through the clouds for an hour before sunset. As the skies have cleared up, temperature plummets. Around 7 p.m. it’s –9C. Cold night ahead.

14 December 2012
Right on! –12C in the morning, clear sky. A beautiful scenery to try out a new camera. Only chilly wind takes the gloss off delighting in gorgeousness of the winter. Wind chill of –20C

15 December 2012
Light frost and icy rain mean everything is slippery. Good it’s Saturday and after morning to the shops I can stay at home and focus on pre-Christmas household chores. In the evening it begins to snow

16 December 2012
Temperature above 0C all day long, fallen rain has frozen on the ground and at least by midday most trails for pedestrians and vehicles are treacherously slippery. Besides, we have a mild, short-lasting thaw. Long-term forecasts show a frosty and snowy period before Christmas, followed by annual tradition of Christmas thaw…

17 December 2012
Little frost (range of –5C to –3C), some freezing sleet and in the evening I can indulge in one of my two favourite winter sports – defrosting the car. I’m in a luck – unlike many other vehicles my car does not resist to open.

I don’t know whether anyone predicted it, but I wake up to the sight of over ten centimetres of fresh snow. Half an hour in the morning to clear the drive out of snow and off I go to work. Both ways not that bad on the roads – I must say this time road clearance (on main routes) services are up to the mark again. In the evening I experience a freezing drizzle (rain falling at –5C) – icy.

19 December 2012
No snow today, it’s still icy. First truly white Christmas since 2002 ahead! To the right – unacceptable example of clearing only a small part of windscreen before setting off…

20 December 2012
Kind of frosty morning, -10C, followed by a bright, sunny day

21 December 2012
The world doesn’t end, but it’s –14C in the morning and again we enjoy beautiful clear skies. High pressure system doesn’t let off and temperature doesn’t climb to single digits over the whole day. In the evening –13C

22 December 2012 – 23 December 2012
A lovely weekend, weather is ideal for Christmas – frosty and sunny. Unfortunately I cannot lap it up as I’m down with flu in bed. Chilly, -16C on Sunday morning is this winter’s low so far. (with hindsight – it’s been)

24 December 2012
Morning, -6C and freezing rain. Ghastly weather for drivers. First nuisance is clearing your vehicle off ice, but even if you keep it in a garage, you’re not much better off, as roads are very slippery. Over the day temperature soars, breaks 0C shortly before 11:00 a.m. and hits +4C in late afternoon. Annual Christmas thaw begins! Weather never breaks tradition…

25 December 2012
Gloomy Christmas Day. Day-time high of +5C. Snows are melting rapidly… Long-term forecasts say true winter is not expected to return within a fortnight…

26 December 2012 – 28 December 2012
Let it thaw, let it thaw, let it thaw…

29 December 2012
Ooops, -8C in the morning and everything is covered with a thick layer of hoar frost. Nature again shows its beauty. Sunny most of the day, but temperature stays below zero.

30 December 2012 – 2 January 2013
Let it thaw, let it thaw, let it thaw. Above zero almost all the time, and sunny on most days in this period.

December 2012 was cool. Average temperature in Warsaw was –3.1C (vs. long-term average of –0.7C). Much colder than a year ago… Stats:
- month-time high: +8.2C on 26 December 2012 (unsurprisingly, around Christmas)
- month-time low: –16.1C on 23 December 2012 (hey, it’s also around Christmas, how temperature soared)
- the warmest day: 26 December 2012 (daily average of +5.6C)
- the coldest day: 21 December 2012 (daily average of –12.5C)

3 January 2013
Still balmy (+4C both in the morning and in the evening), but rain pours down and chilly wind takes the gloss off the warmth. Frosty winter expected to come in mid-January.

4 January 2013 – 6 January 2013
Hideous, chilly thaw. Barely above zero, windy, with no sunshine. Weather could after all settle for something – either a proper winter with snow and frost, or proper thaw as it was a week earlier.

7 January 2013 – 8 January 2013
Temperature below zero all the time, but weather not typical for winter, ground is free of snow precipitation.

9 January 2013
Little overnight snow plays havoc with traffic. Winter is back for more than a week.

10 January 2013
Heavy, wet overnight snow is much worse than yesterday. It’s much warmer (about –1C in the morning, day-time high of +3C), but driving conditions are dreadful. Slippery roads are not that scary; poor visibility is a more serious problem, the worst thing is when you can’t discern lines marking out lanes.

11 January 2013
Light winter, little snow, more snow showers expected over the weekend.

12 January 2013
Woke up to behold new supplies of fresh snow. This time flurry is beautiful, fluffy and crisp, but falls over the whole day. Instead of forecast –3C some –7C in the early afternoon. Abundant snowfall is much better on weekend than on a business day. I hope snow showers cease by Monday morning…

13 January 2013
Snow showers ceased at night. Morning is frosty (-10C), but sunny and so is the day. To the right – plants in the garden shrouded in white powder.

14 January 2013
The coldest morning in January so far (-12C), another bright and sunny day

15 January 2013 – 16 January 2013
Getting warmer (between –4C and –1C), in return – another portion of nagging flurry, and accompanying nuisances – slush, slippery pavements, etc.

17 January 2013 – 18 January 2013
No snow falling, enough is on the ground, temperatures plunge to range of –10C to –6C. Not very chilly, even despite howling wind.

19 January 2013
TGIS – Thank God it’s Saturday. Snowing begins shortly before dawn and continues for the whole day. –10C when the day is breaking and no warmer than –8C in the afternoon. Snow is crisp and flakes are tiny so clearing it with a shovel is easy, but road clearance services find it hard to keep streets clear of snow. The lower the temperature, the less effective putting down salt and grit is.

20 January 2013
A day of respite from snow, sky stays overcast and it’s chilly – no warmer than –7C.

21 January 2013
Snow showers begin around 6 a.m. During rush hours, morning and evening ones, city road clearance services bugger up all the way, for the first time this winter. –10C in the morning, -10C in the evening, wind chill makes it below –15C. And around 6 p.m. there’s a mini-blizzard that brings traffic almost to a standstill

22 January 2013
After overnight snow main roads are clear. –9C in the morning and not much warmer over the day, wind chill of –18C persists. Snowflakes launch an assault around 10 a.m., here we go again.

23 January 2013 – 24 January 2013
Snows keep plaguing. Road clearances have given up for sure, pedestrians waddle in a slush. Weather station says snow cover reached 26 centimetres in Warsaw – still little compared to 53 centimetres on 16 February 2010, the thickest in my lifetime. Temperature between –10C and –6C. Enough is enough. Thaw on the horizon, but before it happens, a frosty weekend.

25 January 2013
Forecasters get it wrong. Was supposed to be a clear-sky night and temperature was supposed to go down to –11C. In the morning I wake up to find 2 centimetres of fresh white powder and it’s –7C. Over the day – no warmer. Snow cover reaches its peak of 27 centimetres. From now it will subside.

26 January 2013
Forecasters get it wrong. Was supposed to be a clear-sky night and temperature was supposed to go down to –15C. This time there’s little flurry in the morning and temperature dropped to mere –11C. In the afternoon a few hours of glorious sunshine make my day. To the right – big icicles hanging down from my roof Pink glow on the sky signifies a frosty night ahead.

Forecasters… Same old story. Was supposed to be –17C and beautiful sunshine by midday, actually it’s slightly warmer, -16C, 0.5 degrees warmer than on 23 December 2012. The coldest morning this year, but not this winter. In the afternoon it’s sunny, but temperature goes up to –11C, wind chill of –16C, unpleasant. Waiting for the big thaw, expected to commence tomorrow.

28 January 2013
From –11C in the morning, to –1C in the evening, weather walks towards the thaw. Its companions are snow (1 centimetre today) and fog swathing everything from 8 p.m. into the night.

29 January 2013
Temperature turns positive, its snows and then rains, but as the ground is frozen, precipitation freezes on pavements which turn into ice rinks. Beware.

30 January 2013
Big thaw & big melt in overdrive. Temperature tops +7C (at 8 p.m.!!!) and snows melt rapidly. Everything flows. Dull, but relief from snow and chill is pleasurable.

31 January 2013
Thaw continues and is unlikely to give in…

January 2013 was normal. Average temperature in Warsaw was –3.5C (vs. long-term average of –1.9C). Stats:
- month-time high: +7.7C on 4 January 2013
- month-time low: –15.6C on 27 January 2013
- the warmest day: 4 January 2013 (daily average of +5.9C)
- the coldest day: 27 January 2013 (daily average of –13.2C)

1 February 2013 – 5 February 2013
To put it briefly – no true winter, sometimes it feels like late autumn, sometimes like pre-spring. Temperatures slightly above zero, occasional showers, scarce moments of sunshine. May the weather take a turn in any direction…

6 February 2013
Light dusting of snow in the afternoon and –1C. Not a winter though…

7 February 2013
Has anyone predicted several centimetres of wet snow falling today? Day-time high above zero; snow shower begins after midday, an hour after sunset there are more than 5 centimetres on the ground.

8 February 2013
Snowfalls ceased at night and we have more than 10 centimetres of fresh snow. To the right, snow-covered P&R Stokłosy car park. Some of it melts over the day when temperature creeps above zero, in the evening it’s again –3C

9 February 2013
The coldest morning this morning so far –7C before midday and thick fog lingers. What a beautiful winter :)

10 February 2013
Kind of chilly, despite temperature creeping above freezing, yet without flurry. Forecasters envisage mild winter with occasional snow showers over the coming days, but no harsh winter.

11 February 2013 – 15 February 2013
Very busy week at work; from what I notice it’s around zero – slightly below at night, slightly above over the day. Plus it doesn’t snow – we’re on a verge of winter

16 February 2013
Just below freezing and some snow showers…

17 February 2013
Was supposed to be near zero and with sunny intervals, in fact it gently snows and –4C persists…

18 February 2013
Light winter continues, very light dusting of snow over the days and temperature gently below zero. Snow nightmare ahead!

19 February 2013
Not as disastrous as forecasters would scare. Even if those 10 centimetres of snow have fallen, some of it have melted in above zero temperature. Slush, peddles, slippery, grotty…

20 February 2013
Time to speak it out – enough is enough, everyone’s had enough of winter. In the morning again – slippery – what melted yesterday froze over. Over the day still below zero and some little snow into late evening…

21 February 2013 – 22 February 2013
A two-day respite from falling snow. Gloomy, except for one hour of sunshine on Friday morning. Waiting for the spring…

23 February 2013
A few centimetres of heavy, wet snow linger on the ground after the night. Before midday thaw shyly comes over and it all begins to melt. Sleet in the evening.

24 February 2013 – 25 February 2013
Pre-spring thaw in its filthiness… Not much above zero, overcast sky, chilly wind and some drizzle…

26 February 2013
The first whiff of spring is felt in the air. Temperature tops +5C, gusty wind has the scent of warm breeze. Around 3 p.m. skies clear up and Warsaw enjoys two hours of sunshine. Spirit-lifting weather.

27 February 2013 – 1 March 2013
Spring still in the air, gusts of chilly wind sometimes take the gloss off it. Not much sunshine though…

February 2013 was normal. Average temperature in Warsaw was –0.4C (vs. long-term average of –1.0C) And numbers below prove weather was far from going into extremes. Stats:
- month-time high: +6.4C on 5 February 2013
- month-time low: –8.9C on 22 February 2013
- the warmest day: 1 February 2013 (daily average of +4.0C)
- the coldest day: 9 February 2013 (daily average of –4.5C)

2 March 2013
Light frost in the morning is a prelude to a sunny, warm day… A great opportunity to take a longer walk

3 March 2013
Very windy today, so day-time high of +5C cannot be felt, unless you find a shelter from the wind. Forecasts of blast of spring have been revoked…

4 March 2013 – 5 March 2013
Two days of gorgeous weather – clear blue skies, about –3C at the crack of dawn, day-time highs of +5C on Monday and +11C on Tuesday

6 March 2013
Light frost (-1C) before sunrise, then temperature soars to +15C in the afternoon. Gorgeous weather – clear blue skies, gentle southerly wind. Probably the last day of such great weather. Weather forecast is mind-boggling. I’m basking in the sun (day off to wash cars after winter) while tells me in five days (on 11 March) it will be –7C and snow…

7 March 2013
The last day of pre-spring episode. Temperature tops +10C, but sun is hidden behind clouds…

8 March 2013
Winter comes back. It begins to snow before midday; during first hours it melts, in the afternoon white powder begins to linger. Ghastly in the evening…

9 March 2013
After overnight snow shower everything is cloaked in over 5-centimetres-thick layer of snow. According to official readouts from W-wa Okęcie weather station temperature doesn’t rise above zero over the whole day, but snow melts… Puzzling…

10 March 2013
Flurry kicks off around 7 a.m., short before I wake up. I hatch the theory why the snow melts despite sub-zero temperature – it’s because the ground is still warmed up after the recent spring spell. No warmer than –2C and gloomy. End of winter on the horizon! (how premature it was…)

11 March 2013 – 12 March 2013
Ghastly, chilly, with light snow showers. Temperature actually hovers between –5C and 0C, but wind chill makes it feel as if it was below –10C. And this late winter spell grossly contrasts with length of day – it’s before in the evening, it’s not yet dark (though no longer light) and it snows. On Tuesday morning I take a walk to Ogród Saski… (to the right)

13 March 2013
New supplies of fresh, crisp snow are dropped overnight, in the morning it’s –7C, snow ceases to fall shortly before midday. Over the day – no warmer than –4C. Amount of salt on roads and pavements is horrifying…

14 March 2013
Really cold, -11C in Warsaw just before sunrise. In some parts of northern Poland temperature drops to –20C, which is atypical for mid-March. Clear blue skies over the whole day. Day-time high of –2C.

15 March 2013
Woken up by the howling… It’s just –5C, but feels like –13C, over the whole it doesn’t get much warmer. Warsaw is spared snow, while south-eastern swathes of Poland are fighting an assault of winter – 20 centimetres of snow & blizzards. Snow happens…

16 March 2013 – 17 March 2013
Large temperature variations are typical for late-winter high-pressure systems. The one which has come over Poland is bringing arctic masses of air. Outcomes: double-digit frost around sunrise and near 0C in the afternoon, cloudless skies, 12 hours of sunshine, chilly northerly wind. Funnily enough, temperature soars on Sunday. From –11C at 5 a.m. to +1C five hours later is a quick warm-up…

18 March 2013
Morning brings slightly higher temperature than yesterday, mere –8C. Clear skies lift spirits by midday, then sky gets overcast, but at least it doesn’t snow. Another winter assault is imminent and watch out, long-term forecasts don’t show spring on the horizon.

19 March 2013
Woke up at 3 a.m., looked outside the window, no snow – what a relief! I rolled out of bed at half past five and by that time snow shower kicked off and didn’t cease for the whole day. Not very frosty – above zero for a few hours over the day…

20 March 2013
Spring creeps up two minutes after midday (CET), greeted by temperature around zero and sleet. Temperature in the afternoon goes markedly above zero, shrinkage of snow cover is then noticeable.

21 March 2013
First day of spring doesn’t give a warm welcome – double digit frost at five in the morning. Some two hours later it’s –7C, but thick fog lingers and limits visibility to less than 50 metres. To the right – can you tell, from the distance of 50 metres, whether the traffic light is green, or red? Foggy spell last half an hour to give way to sunbeams. Around midday sleet takes over, then around 4 p.m. temperature drops below 0C from day-time high of +2C and it simply snows. It snows and won’t cease for hours to come…

Was supposed to snow all day, but forecasters got it wrong. Snow showers (over 5 centimetres of crisp, light snow overnight) give way to sunshine before midday. Cold, no warmer than –1C…

23 March 2013
As for late March, extremely chilly – sky is cloudless and when the day breaks temperature can drop as low as to –13C, over the day sunbeams quickly heat the air up, but just to some –4C. Glorious… but why not spring?

24 March 2013
This time –12C in the morning and the full range of winter moods of weather – moderate flurry which doesn’t linger, overcast skies and sunny intervals… -3C in the afternoon – winter doesn’t ease off.

25 March 2013 – 26 March 2013
Getting warmer – only single-digit frost in the morning, slightly above 0C in the afternoon and clear skies from sunrise to sunset. The last of the winter

27 March 2013
Spring is in the air. It sounds absurdly if you bear in mind morning brings again –7C, which is very cold as for late March and day-time high hits +3C. The sky slowly clouds over. Much of the snows melt.

28 March 2013
Instead of forecast sleet, day full of sunshine, no single raindrop nor snowflake, and on top of this a few hours of positive temperature.

29 March 2013
Blizzard kicks off before midday. It’s just one or two degrees below zero, so the snow is wet and heavy and continues to fall late into the night. Ghastly outside… It’s not just a spell of winter, it’s a proper winter. Only long daylight period signifies something is amiss… To the right – Ursynów, Al. Ken – late afternoon blizzard…

30 March 2013
After a light dusting of snow in the morning, thaw comes over. Gloomy, +2C and feels like late February…

31 March 2013
Clocks go forward overnight… When meteorologists warned of oncoming intense snowfalls I thought this would be harmless as temperature over the day was forecast to reach +2C. In fact temperature was just below zero and precipitation was one of most abundant this winter – some 10 centimetres of heavy, wet snow… To the right – on our way home from day spent celebrating Easter with family. Having dropped off my grandparents in Konstancin, we’re heading towards Piaseczno…

March 2013 was very frosty. Average temperature in Warsaw was –1.8C (vs. long-term average of +2.7C). This month will go down in the history of weather in Poland as extraordinarily chilly and snowy. This was also the coldest March in my lifetime (average temperature in second coldest March 1996 was –1.6C), but the second half of the 20th century saw colder ones in: 1987 (-2.5C), 1969 (-2.5C), 1963 (-3.0C), 1964 (-3.9C), 1958 (-3.9C), 1952 (-4.7C). Stats:
- month-time high: +14.7C on 6 March 2013
- month-time low: –13.1C) on 24 March 2013
- the warmest day: 6 March 2013 (daily average of +5.7C)
- the coldest day: 23 March 2013 (daily average of –8.8C)
Good I’ve cleared the drive yesterday around 5 p.m. Thanks to that prudent move in the morning I need to remove only some six centimetres of wet, heavy, white blanket. It snows all day and the only positive thing is temperature… To the right – the sight I woke up to on Easter Monday, not a laughing matter…

2 April 2013
Most of the day above 0C with some intermittent and harmless snow showers – white powder melts immediately…

3 April 2013 – 4 April 2013
At night – below zero and snow lingers and shovels come in useful in the morning. Over the day – above zero and snow melts instantly. Warsaw road maintenance service has run out of money for snow clearing. Can be felt in the morning rush hour… And this must be the last gasp of winter…

5 April 2013
Breakthrough – little snow at night, night-time low of –1C, proper thaw in the day. Foggy and gloomy…

6 April 2013
Out of line with weather forecasts, temperature doesn’t even reach +2C and no single sunbeam reaches snow-covered swathes of land…

Winter falls back. First sunny day after clocks went forward. After a frosty morning, day-time high of +6C. At last…

And then winter said a long-awaited farewell…

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Guardian Angel conversation – follow-up

Exactly six months have gone by since I posted here the memorable (imaginary) dialogue between my Guardian Angel and me. One could argue whether it makes any sense to revert to it, my Guardian Angel has seen everything from above, the affection even half a year ago was in a point of no return, so why? Firstly, to satisfy curiosity of those readers who wonder how I’ve moved on; secondly (and mostly, given number of understatements in this post and how much is written between the lines) for myself, to bear testimony of my state of mind and to save it for posterity.

Chapter 1 – “No pieces to pick up”

October 2012

First days are an intense battle with several ups and downs. I tell my Soulmate about the dream of bleeding. To my surprise, she changed her mind very quickly. She had persuaded me to fight till I hit the wall and now she claims the purport of the dream is not coincidental – I should stop bleeding, any sacrifices will get me nowhere, I need to purify my soul…

With time I learn to control my psyche. Whatever it is – defence mechanisms, coping strategies or resilience, I learn how to cope with emotional pain. A friend interested in psychology tells me these mental safety valves I’ve taken control of should work in my subconscious and if a human learns how to manipulate them to ease the pain, it’s a pathology. Her claim makes sense, I’ve grown immune to some emotions, but on other hand I’ve become emotionally numb. Have I been actually doing well? I could tell everyone znieczulenie (literally: anaesthesia) worked fine… Side effect – three kilograms down within one month and I’m on the verge of being underweight according to Body Mass Index (by today I’m put on only two out of those three).

November 2012

The znieczulenie seems to work well, but some days I feel like somebody cuts off morphine… One day I hear this and it brings about revelation – I embrace the naturalness and indispensability of what I feel…

Around the middle of the month defence mechanisms break down, coping strategies pack up and resilience is called into question. For the last two days before leaving for two weeks off before the exam I simply feel like yelling… Two days of separation and it ceases to haunt me. I manage to focus on learning and swot up at full steam.

1 December 2012

Exam day. I turn up to the exam centre far before check-in gates open, just like a Pole cautiously arriving early at the airport :) During the wait I recall Her words “You’re young, you have to learn a lot to earn a livelihood for a family, I still hope somebody will earn a livelihood for Me”. Was I supposed to read between the lines the message She wanted me to do it for Her, or was it just a general statement? Here and now I can be only sure I’m taking this exam for myself. During the midday break my thought again drift away in the wrong direction… I ask myself why? She doesn’t care… I return to the cold room, pull myself together and get ahead.

Chapter 2 – “No dust to sweep”

First week of December 2012. Upon my return She tells me she hopes I pass it and doesn’t want me bring shame on our employer. I smirk… From the very beginning I’m overloaded with work and catch-up for the “holiday” period. In a surge of laziness I tell my Soulmate I lack energy to plug away. She advises me to take a sick leave. I say there is no reason why any doctor would write it out for me. The Soulmate points out her friend got it for a “broken heart”, so why I couldn’t I. I reply immersing in work might be a cure for a broken heart, but not in my case. Everyone around can hear it, some look at us with dread or astonishment. There’s nothing to be proud about, but have I done something I should be ashamed of?

11 December 2012

My 25th birthday. She stand-offishly congratulates me on entering the adulthood and shakes my hand. Her palm is cold and bony, her grip no longer gentle and delicate. The distance between us is longer than ever…

Soon after

Her birthday. She’s older than me. In a year it will be a round number. I wish Her that all He dreams come true and that She is always happy, minding myself to stay at least one and a half metres away from Her. In Scandinavian culture this is the borderline of intimacy I promise myself not to overstep (never again). This all plunges me into another yelling phase.

I return home and begin to browse job advertisements… I find an opening for a very similar position with a renowned competitors of my employer. I update my CV and string together a very decent letter of application, then send the set of documents. When I realise I’ve done it not for job-related reason, but in a fit of pique, a potential employer has my application in its HR inbox.

When I return to the state of full sanity it occurs maybe new job is not a bad idea. I begin to play hard with my current employer – if I’m about to stay, why not getting a compensation for having to see Her? I bluff to my manager I’m about to have a commitment letter from another employer and threaten to potentially leave in February. My declaration strikes him out of the blue and wipes the smile off his face. He seems determined to keep me in…

In the meantime the “Natalia story” plays out in the background. There were two other women I met at that time, one before Natalia, one before it falls apart and after. Lesson learnt: never try going out with somebody out of desperation.

January 2013

I accept an invitation for an interview with another employer. I think I’m doing quite well, because I’m warned by would-be manager is an arsehole. I’m self-assured, self-confident and at times rude. This impresses him… I ask myself whether I’d want to sell my soul to a devil. My current boss is anything, but complex-ridden, we have the same sense of humour, are generally on the same wavelength and he instantly launched the process of persuading me to stay… Is it worth losing it? Lesson learnt: decisions impacting career should not be taken when you’re overcome by emotions.

22 January 2013

I get the exam results. I call my manager to pass on the good news, in return he informs he’s received all approvals for my promotion and pay rise. I ask him to make this pass unnoticed, he agrees. I step up efforts not to let Her find out about my successes. Seemingly it’s over, so why do I act like this? Tit for tat? My boss hands me annex to job contract in private, news of passed exam are dosed selectively – those who ask get the news, She doesn’t… Promotion and considerable salary hike are not a breakthrough, nor add me any self-confidence. Nothing actually changed. What a funny twist of fate…

Chapter 3 – “Not a single particle of oxygen to let it breathe”

For all this time life has run its course. Heart and mind had parted company long before and their path have not converged till now. It’s even better, I’ve always stayed totally sane (with a small exception of applying for a job, but that’s done me only good), done well at work and in everyday life.

Let’s face the truth. It not only couldn’t work out… It not only stood no chance to work out… It had no accursed right to work out and on top was doomed to fail…

She wouldn’t be happy with me. I wouldn’t be happy with Her. For Her part, She needed somebody of Her age, offering Her stability and financial safety, something I could give Her within a few years, but not when I was 24… and not when we had a “common” source of income. And for She was on that stage of life when a woman runs out of time for waiting… Formal obstacles can be gone around, if you want, you’ll always find a way, but age difference does matter and will always make itself felt. For my part, there’s one fundamental reason why there was no chance for a happy ending – you can’t be with somebody you don’t trust… I’d never really trusted Her and time only proved my intuition right…

It no longer hurts, but it still itches. We see each other almost every day, but apart from “hi” we talk only when we really have to. I still find this mind-boggling… She would whisper to me about Her inmost desires, fears and plans for future. We both were gradually cutting short the flow of information between us, now I know nothing about what happened in Her life over the last months. I would hazard a guess She’s generally happy, but judging only by the way She behaves, you wouldn’t tell it. I suppose She’d prefer not to see me any more (I’d also rather not see Her) and given all the circumstances, Her reasoning is to some extent justifiable. To some extent, yet not entirely. The last thing I wanted to do was to hurt Her (and I’ll probably never find out whether I did it) and let’s speak it out… it takes two to tango… So maybe She has remorse…

A few months ago I was telling myself I would break away if I understood what this actually was. I had to give up on it. There are more questions and answers and odds to strike a balance between are close to zero. Understanding is out of reach and despite this I’ve broken away… I’m free, yet wounds haven’t fully healed, but I’m sure it’s just a matter of time.

Monday, 1 April 2013

News review

It’s Easter, festive period then tradition should be nurtured. One of such “traditions” during my English classes when I was a third- or fourth-year student was delivering to the group a “news update” twice in each semester – five topical news items, preferably from world of business and politics. Let’s bring back those beautiful days and see what’s going in Poland on this silent, snowy Easter Monday.

Stooq, portal for speculators cites Information Radio Agency which, at behest of the Central Tax Office reminds restaurant-owners and waiters about their duty to pay tax on tips. Tips, received either directly by waiters serving clients, or collected by restaurant owners in jars, are nothing else but income which is subject to taxation and concealing such money from the tax office is a tax evasion. The case is serious, as tax rate on concealed, but eventually detected income is 75%. Waiters do not hold back their outrage at the obligation to pay the tax and declare collective disobedience. informs about a revolutionary idea hatched by the Polish Ministry of Finance. The guts-hated, country-wide network of speed cameras will be developed under public-private partnership. As early as in July 2013 every citizen will be allowed to put up their own speed camera and snap speeding motorists, provided they link it the police’s database. Each camera-owner will have a share in income from collected fines of 10% - 20%. This income, just as tips in restaurants, will be subject to taxation. An important remark is that income, thanks to advanced IT solutions creating links between database of camera-owners and fined drivers will be automatically offset with due fines, so speed-camera owners will not have to pay fines directly, they will be deducted from their income at they end of each year. Such venture is not a cheap one in terms of start-up costs though. A brand-new speed camera will set you back some 10,000 PLN, therefore the Ministry of Finance declares to run a new scheme of preferential loans called “speed camera for the poor”, allowing to purchase a camera on 0% instalments. Moreover, the unemployed who cannot afford to buy a camera might lease it… provides with a link to a page containing a long-awaited recipe how to check who’s been viewing your profile on facebook. Check it out! Finally you’ll be able to find out who’s been stalking you, who’s interested in you, etc. There’s a loophole in Facebook page’s source code. One line added to a system file on a computer from which you log-on to the social networking site activates the much-desired facility…

In the meantime, Warsaw pages of notify of a new regulations concerting sorting rubbish. For the time being you had to segregate glass, paper and plastics, from July 2013 the list of types of litter will be extended to seven items: white glass, coloured glass, paper, tins, plastic, other litter and organic waste. The very last item is the most controversial, as the capital’s authorities put forward to encourage dwellers of detached, semi-detached and terraced house to recycle this kind of waste on their own and to give them compost bins and grant a 10 PLN reduction in litter collection charge. The idea brought about uproar among councillors. Probability of the new decree taking effect as of 1 July 2013 is kind of low, as there’s too little time to put out a tender for servicing such advanced system of sorting out rubbish…

One of the most popular portals,, disturbs peace of its readers with a horrific weather forecast. The ongoing winter spell will last by June. Sub-zero temperatures and abundant snow showers will linger for two months on. Ministry of economy encourages road-clearance companies and property administrators to stock up in salt, as salt depots are running low of stock, despite salt mines running at full capacity… brings great news for those longing to be invisible. Scientists publishing in “New Jurnal of Phisics” claim the coat they have invented is made out of the thinnest material ever used and they are just a step away from conjuring up the chemical substance letting a creature cloaked in it become invisible… This has not been the first attempt to come up with such an invention. I only wonder if moves of such an invisible man would be audible. If so, they would give them away, giving scientists another opportunity to improve their work. covers the draft of a new EU directive aimed at disciplining car users. Each car, even used will have to be equipped in a display, put up above the rear-view mirror, showing if the passengers have fasten their belts. The device should be visible from outside and thus force passengers to obey the safety rules. Social pressure harnessed to reduce the death toll on the roads. How commendable and why so late? The worst thing is that obligatorily installed device will set back every car owner about 250 EUR. Was any lobbyist involved?

Wirtualna Polska sees the end of traditional tills. They will be superseded by small, mobile devices and space saved on this will be utilized to increase showroom areas. The solution is now being implemented in the United States, if you happen to prove successful and increase profits of merchants, they are likely to take root around the world.

And for the very end, a quick look at gullet press website. I stare at (Polish daily for the least demanding readership) and have absolutely no idea what is true and where authors could have played prank. Absurdities overwhelm me…

And the weather outside the window… funnily enough is not a joke… 0C and it keeps snowing…