Sunday, 22 February 2015

Miasto 44 - film review

A long-belated post… I should have written it some four months ago, when I watched the film and took down my reflections worth sharing on the blog, but each week some more important stuff came into the foreground. Poor timing of many posts (i.e. commenting on many events with a delay of at least a few days) is in my view the biggest drawback of this blog. If I am to resolve to mend my ways, realistically it will not happen before 6 June 2015…

The first question about the film that naturally comes to mind concerns accuracy of depiction of the Warsaw Uprising. Virtually all films focusing on the theme of the uprising touched upon values associated with that historical event: patriotism, heroism, sacrifice, etc. All previous films played a part in shaping the “proper” picture of the Warsaw Uprising in minds of young people, while Miasto 44 is dissimilar to what audience have got used to. The picture is naturalistic and niftily illustrates what summer of 1944 in Warsaw was. It takes just a single word to describe it: a carnage.

The uprising is seen from a young generation’s perspective, hence instead of patriotism and sacrifices, the film dwells on ordinary lives of juvenile insurgents and things of central importance for people in their late teens. Thus the war intertwines with love (and sometimes making love), hatred, family lives, friendships and common human instincts, such as survival instinct. Moral dilemmas of characters are in the forefront, yet hardly ever they are shown in the broader context of the whole uprising or future of post-war Poland. Their choices relate to personal lives of specific persons, not their homeland. Personally, I favour such picture, ruthless and cruel, yet closer to the truth than fairy tales of women ceasing to menstruate during the uprising.

The cruelty and naturalism of the film were one of the reasons why film director, Jan Komasa, faced a barrage of accusations from insurgents. Youngsters definitely have to be taught what the Warsaw Uprising was really about and despite not being wholeheartedly enchanted by the film, I appreciate the director’s intention to shoot a film which would truthfully show wretchedness of those days. Some insurgents claim the brutality in the film tarnishes the memory of their valiant battle. Faced with such arguments, we must ask ourselves whether we want to rewrite the history. Making ten-year-old boys wear helmets, handing them dummy guns and telling them to run around and play the uprising is for me an actual slap on the face and a blatant distortion of the carnage, since wiping out Warsaw from the map of Europe and death of 200,000 people was nothing else but a gruesome carnage. I prefer repulsive sights of heaps of corpses and disfigured bodies of the alive to plain cult of brave insurgents.

The film selectively shows historical background of the uprising, however the selection of facts, adroitly highlighted between the lines, deserves commendation. It is underlined when the uprising broke out, Poles hoped it would last two or three days, before Soviet army came and cracked down on the Nazi occupier. Hopes for aid from Soviets was the main reason why most mutineers were unprepared and too often unarmed. On the other hand at the beginning of the film the viewer is told after five years of being humiliated and put down by Germans, lust for fight among inhabitants of Warsaw was too strong to be tempered. The march of Soviet army was by all characters treated with proper reserve. Advance of Red army gave hope for liberation from one occupier and relief from hardships of war, yet by no means Soviet were our friends. Tactic alliance in that situation was the lesser of two evils, but everyone knew Soviets did not give a damn about Warsaw… The film also reminds some soldiers from the Berling Army seeped to the left shore of Vistula and attempted to fight in the Warsaw uprising, yet given their inexperience in fighting in the city, they dropped like flies.

Special effects come in abundance in the film, most probably to appeal to younger audience. Nonetheless, I have found plenty of them gratuitous and detracting from authenticity of the picture. Some scenes in the film are totally out of place, with two taking the biscuit: one showing intercourse in the rhythm of techno music and the other of massive slaughter taking place when a slow-tempo ich liebe dich German ditty resounds in the background. I have found the former scene most misplaced in the film, not because I have something against sexual scenes, but because sight of two emaciated, unwashed for many days and wounded young people, who all of the sudden indulge in passionate intercourse which requires some fitness, simply does not fit the story. The scene was hailed controversial, since many uprising participants claimed nobody in that time thought about any closer relationships with representatives of the opposite sex, not to mention making love…

Miasto 44 inexorably prompts ponderings upon how human psyche can be affected by such traumatic event as the Warsaw Uprising. Each of the young people who spent almost two months in Warsaw Uprising witnessed scores of human deceases and tremendous suffering. Many times their survival instinct telling them to save their lives at expense of other people’s lives, conflicted with decency telling them to make sacrifices to rescue fellow men… Human psyche combats trauma by increasing resilience. Thus, in such extreme situations, in order to not to go insane, human beings naturally grow indifferent and insensitive to what they should be sensitive under normal circumstances… The question how humans cope with traumas of such kind is unlikely to be fully answered, since most people who lived through such slaughter unconsciously try to erase memories of distress. My maternal grandmother who spent almost the whole Warsaw Uprising hidden in a basement with her sister (their mother was killed in bombardment when she ventured above ground to come by some nutrition on 6 August 1944) and was driven away to Pruszkow by Germans, refused to talk about the uprising.

Despite not being a masterpiece, the film is worth spending two hours to watch it. You may be captivated by it or not, but it does a great job of giving testimony of one of the biggest humanitarian disasters in the history of mankind without resorting to disproportionate martyrdom. And finally, although during the last thirty minutes the depiction of carnage is grisly, the last scene, with special effects falling into place, makes up for all previous flaws of the film and renders without a glitch how the last days of the Warsaw Uprising looked like. As my grandparents confirm, the glow of burning capital was visible in late September 1944 even thirty kilometres away from the blaze.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Six years into PES

Today, instead of a comprehensive note on one topic, a jumble of thoughts on manifold issues…

1. The coming Tuesday will mark the sixth anniversary of my first post on this blog. Having ridden out several crises I’m now back on the right track and not plan to give up on blogging, although increasing posting frequency is out of question. There’s life to live beyond the blog and despite drawing lots of pleasure from writing, blogging involves solitude and that’s the main reason why overindulgence in this hobby is something I shy away from.

2. In my first job, I developed a habit of starting a conversation with a fellow employee with a polite question, such as “how are you (doing)?”, “how’s life?”, “how are things going?”, etc. (to be precise, there are usually their Polish equivalents), rather than coming straight to the point in the first sentence. I also got accustomed to cheerful, yet more of less often insincere replies that everything is alright. At the New Factory such courteous question is an open invitation to an interlocutor to churn out a litany of woes. Such habits indicate my fellow colleagues are typical Poles, who’d feel uncomfortably if they didn’t have a cause to grumble. In Anglo-Saxon culture if you ask your acquaintance how they are doing, they would smile and respond “great”, even if their house has just burnt down, their car has been stolen and their animal has just popped off (it’s a simplification, I realise, but illustrates some general differences). The whole issue is about striking the balance between being straightforward and keeping a proper distance. If I ask someone how they are, should they assume I really care about their well-being or should they recognise I want to behave politely or break the ice, but deep down I don’t give a damn about their well-being? From my perspective it looks as follows: whenever someone who I don’t judge a friend asks me how I am, I smile and reply I’m doing fine. Quite often my assertions have little in common with truth, but I consider these white lies, since sincere answers would have negative value added. On the other hand, maybe I should appreciate people trust me and tell the home truth, instead of pretending everything is alright? All in all, I feel ill at ease, when I hear someone has a headache, someone else has not gotten enough sleep, feels sick, their car has broken down again, etc.

3. After yesterday’s bridge blaze, I’m strongly tempted to ask at what level of competence a journalist passes master. Headlines conveying information that “structure of the bridge is in fire” instantaneously brought out malicious comments from Internet users. Several commentators asked since when the Łazienkowski bridge is wooden, while they’d thought its structure was made up of steel and concrete which generally do not catch fire. A bridge in flames is generally a rare event and takes journalists aback, plus in such situation there’s a huge potential for disinformation as the story unfolds, but shouldn’t journalists learn more about the bridge’s structure and what actually burns before delivering a piece of information to its recipients? This is just one odd example, the more glaring from my perspective are those laying bare incompetence of economic journalists. In the context of expertise, should a journalist dealing with economic topic should be a graduate of economics (or finance or similar discipline of studies) with post-graduate diploma in journalism, or the other way round? Many times it seems to be the notion of economics is confined to cursory reading on a topic, without grasping its intricacies…

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Facing the music

In late-2014 moans on life, I avowed to wait until one year since taking up a new job passes by, before confronting benefits and drawbacks of the job change. Mere half a year into the New Factory (current employer) have gone by, but I feel overly tempted to get some matters off my chest, therefore I will indulge in sharing my thoughts on the blog…

Fully grasping why and wherefore I have decided to quit the job with the (previous) Employer involves going back in time and recalling the run-up to theday I handed in my notice. Then and now I can confess I drew a lot of pleasure from the previous job. I worked with wonderful people and although in the last months of my almost four-year stint there quite often people threw me off balance, from the current perspective I see there was really little to complain about… Just to quickly remind (also to myself) what drove my decision to move to the New Company:
(1) the Employer was in the phase of continuous downsizing – it kept losing good customers and kept laying off staff to cut by costs, however cost reduction failed to catch up with dwindling revenues,
(2) the Employer had no strategy and no ambition to grow; while competitors reported higher market share and profits, the Employer bucked that trend; I could not stand the lack of vision and motivation to outperform other players in the industry – how can a respectable CEO claim market will grow by 10% next year, but the company he is in charge of will shrink by 5% and feel comfortable with this…?,
(3) I feared if I would not have been redundant (with hindsight – I was on the informal list of employees to be retained), I would have been assigned repetitive tasks below my competencies,
(4) I totally did not identify with how the strategic investor and executives hired by it ran the company and (just like many other employees) considered with ill-running as mismanagement,
(5) given all the above, I felt my job was dead-end and despite hard work, my outcomes of my work had no chance to translate, in the long term, into my salary, in other words, money I was paid there was unsustainable.

For the next nine month the Employer has been drifting without direction (one announcement which appeared in the meantime is not meaningful in that context), but in the coming months, it should come to the crunch… Course of actions after 30 April 2014 proved had I stayed, I would not have been laid off, but tens of other employees, working in regional offices across Poland, were affected by the on-going downsizing. I pre-empted the prospective redundancy and decided to pursue my career outside the corporate structures of the Employer, having at the back of my mind the job change could be a nasty experience.

First weeks, or even months in the job are hardly ever a bed of roses. The worst shake-down period is gone, which means I do not need to rely on my colleagues’ support in getting around the new organisation. I believe it is also long enough for the first summary.

As for the upsides, no doubt there are plenty of them…
(+) Unlike the Employer, the New Factory has a clear strategy, ambition and vision how it wants develop and grow. Its senior executive are “right men for the job”. Whenever a problem is identified, solution to it is sought immediately.
(+) The New Factory is client-oriented and these are not only hollow words. Unlike most corporations whose employees can be busy all day doing presentations, analyses and reports, without having to focus on clients’ needs, the New Factory centres around its clients, who simply constitute its source of income, while reporting is whittled down to bare minimum.
(+) There is little tolerance for loafing about, incompetence, unreliability – in contrast to how the Employer put up with employees lazing away (this also contributed to me being worn down by that job), the New Factory enforces work efficiency.
(+) There is no culture of staying overtime – you are expected to work smart and efficiently during your working hours. Of course from time to time it is necessary to stay longer to close the deal, but this happens in every private company.
(+) The New Factory invests in its employees and their development – so far I have participated in more trainings than the Employer sent me to over almost four years.
(+) From financial perspective only, the improvement is visible. Not only earnings are above-market, but job security seems higher and perks are more generous.

Yet the benefits are counter-balanced by downsides…
(-) People…
(-) People…
(-) And once again people. To be fair it has to be stressed most people I work with are quite decent, but the atmosphere in the organisation is spoilt by the ‘less decent’ minority and the majority of decent folks re suppressed by overwhelming skurwienie (I have coined the term to describe with one word the state of mind of some employees and  relationships between people).
(-) Skurwienie can manifest itself in several ways:
- a new employee cannot reckon on much support from fellow colleagues and for sure not for voluntary support and I mean early days of new job, not to mention later,
- whenever you go on holiday or are sick do not expect someone will look after your stuff,
- if you generally are helpful to other people, colleagues perceive it as not as genuine help, but as an attempt to show your manager you can do something better than the person you want to lend a helping hand to,
- the atmosphere of rat race is devastating, one’s success is frequently pursued at the expense of other team members,
- your slip-up is a reason for your colleagues to be cheerful,
- all in all, end justifies the means,
- actually you can have a frank conversation with a person, but this only can be an eye-to-eye talk. If three people gather around, atmosphere of mistrust creeps in.
(-) The relationship with the boss is nowhere as good as with my boss at the Employer’s. With my previous boss, we were exactly on the same wavelength and I would not overstate if I said we understood each other without words. Here, it is exactly the other way round. Even if my boss and I communicate in plain Polish, communication is poor. The other story is that my boss is kind of dim-witted, she fails to comprehend many straightforward issues (other team members encounter the same problem) and whenever she does not understand something, she flies off the handle quickly and the situation gets only worse. If she has to deal with really intricate issues, I suppose she only pretends she understand what she is being told, since asking any question would only lay bare her glaring incompetence. Fortunately, since the beginning of February, a line manager has stepped in between my boss and me, so my interactions with the boss will be less frequent. I consider this change positive. The relationship with my line manager is even better than correct, however she still keeps her distance and seems to be wary of me.
(-) Overall contempt to other people displayed by my boss and some of team members. All other people are stupid, can do nothing right, their work is worth nothing, etc. Only their performance and outcomes of their work are superior.
What I described above does not afflict the whole New Factory. Skurwienie is characteristic to the team I have landed in. From my sounding ahead of the decision to change the job I learnt it would be nasty and it is. Since early August two people have left my team and continue their careers in other units of the New Factory. Efforts to hire new ones go in vain, since either candidates do not live up to my boss’ exorbitant expectations, or if they somehow pass muster, eventually they refuse to take up the new job, because it is known on the market this place (this team) ‘stinks’.
(-) Mutual control mechanism… Back at the Employer’s there was a unit dedicated to control the quality of your work. Once in a quarter they picked up sample of what has been produced by a specific team, put it under a microscope to look out for the tiniest errors employees made and produced merciless reports. Nobody liked them, but it was their function in the company. Here control and audit functions are kept within the team which means in regular time intervals you have to inspect what your colleagues do and pick over their mistakes. It is all done in order to ensure superior work quality. Needless to say such practices definitely enhance good atmosphere…
(-) The general disorder. Maybe it is because the strategic investor of the New Factory is from Southern Europe, maybe also because of people. There are details that wind up me such as lack of templates for frequently used documents, lack of neatness in document layouts, etc., too flexible procedures and inadequate enforcement of them. I try to combat this stuff and in my own work I have set myself higher standards and recently it has even been appreciated.

Despite more than getting by and with prospects of getting ahead, I do not see myself in the New Factory in the long-term. I can do my bit well, I will not fit in with the atmosphere of skurwienie, in which I will never feel comfortably. Being a misfit and working in unfriendly atmosphere, in unhealthy relationships lowers an employee’s motivation and leads to faster burnout. With thicker skin and having grown somewhat immune to skurwienie, I will soldier on here for a year or two more. What dissuades me from taking hasty decisions, apart from short stints looking bad in a CV, is that finding a satisfying job in the industry is a challenging task – people hold on to places where it is good, while job openings appear for positions in places where it stinks and staff turnover is high. Faced with a choice to stay in a shitty (in terms of atmosphere) place with which I am already familiar or swapping it for another place with a possibly shitty atmosphere, having to work overtime and for less money, I reasonably opt for the former…

Sunday, 1 February 2015

What causes creativity crises?

Michael’s last week’s only seemingly dull posting prompted a jumble of comments not seen under other actually content-richer posts. Sympathetic readers rushed to gee up the crestfallen blogger, a gesture being a splendid symbol of appreciation of his efforts in writing. Hats off to Michael for exhibiting first symptoms of any crisis after nearly eight years of blogging. My track record of blogging is two years shorter and I have had to overcome crises several times.

Whenever people set up blogs, they are full of passion to run it, but usually after several months they lose heart. At first they post less frequently or notes are shorter. With time a blog no longer classifies as ‘regular’ (the generally agreed definition of ‘regularly kept blog’ is the one updated at least once a week), finally they give it up all along. Polish-English blogosphere, whose best days are apparently gone, has seen many demises of blogs, while there are ones still thriving.

So what makes people cease blogging? My first and foremost guess is running out of inspiration. It may sound like an insult, but the stuff an individual has to convey to the world is finite. It takes paying continuous attention to nuances of the surrounding world and passion to commit them to the blog. The other reason is being pre-occupied with mundane aspects of life. As time goes by, one often becomes overwhelmed by family and work duties and gets too tired or has too little time to keep up the blog. It happened to me when I took up a full-time job in July 2010. Before that I had some 20 hours a week of university classes and lots of time to write. Thereafter I found time for writing a longer note only during weekends, as in the most dreadful period of combing studies and work, in late 2010, I would leave home at 6:30 a.m. and returned home at 9:30 p.m. most days of the working week. Several times I thought of quitting, but I have always soldiered on and good form would sooner or later return and again I could draw pleasure from blogging.

Initially I also thought monotony and repetitiveness of life puts people off blogging. Having mulled it over and over again, I consider this guess wrong. At some stage of life monotony is inevitable, since it simply goes together with stability, being a part of an adult’s life. Blogging, as each and every other hobby, gives a chance to break away from monotony. Moreover, brilliant blogging will not do without eliciting the extraordinary out of the ordinary. It often takes sensitivity to small stuff most people fail to discern and it does not matter whether you take delight in a beauty of winter sunrise or dissect implications of a central bank’s policy. A smart blogger has broad horizons thanks to which they will easily find a topic to comment on…

And why have I written all the above? Shortage of time is to blame for failing to share my insight on another topic (six months into the new job), but I will try to catch up next Sunday… As my I have accustomed the readership to posting in regular intervals, always on Sundays, these brief reflections on blogging are meant to fill a gap that otherwise would have shattered my credentials ;-)

Roll on spring!