Sunday, 31 July 2016

Civilisation winding down?

The pace of progress our civilisation has made over the last decades is impressive and incomparable with any other period of well-researched history. Mould-breaking developments have been made for instance in medicine, engineering, information technology and have left positive marks on our everyday lives.

Thanks to improvement in information exchanges and growing availability and affordability of long-distance fast transport, the world has virtually shrunk. Places out of reach a few decades ago seem now close at hand. Day-to-day unlimited communication with people is now not confined only to those who surround us. Those processes, as I notice, do not have “ever-expanding” character. We seem to be falling victim to them, or they are self-reversing. Just take a look.

Smartphones are the essential tool of information exchange for today’s youngsters, yet for many they have become the prevalent means of communication with the rest of the world. The quite frequent sight of a group of young people all staring at their phones instead of talking to one another is just one of bleak proofs of excessive dependence on technology.

Nearly any place on earth can be reached by air transport within 24 hours, and plane journeys are affordable for masses, yet there is a growing number of places being a no-go areas for tourists; places which a few years ago used to be popular destinations: Crimea, Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia, some Greek islands besieged by immigrants from Middle East just to name a few. Though Poles’ horizons have broadened, their holiday plans have been altered by new global threats, thus Baltic sea shore, despite cold water, changeable weather, wild crowds and sky-high prices of everything a tourist needs, is again the preferable holiday destination. In 1990s Poles would go to the seaside because overseas resorts were out of their reach financially or because they were daunted by the unknown exotic places. Today the seaside is a safer place (with improved tourist infrastructure one needs to admit).

Two years ago, as I roamed around Germany, I did not take into account I could become a victim of terrorist attack in a shopping mall or restaurant. Paris, Munich, Nice until recently used to have all makings of a safe place for tourists and residents. Terrorism is not an entirely new phenomenon in Europe. Munich was attacked during Olympic Games in 1972. Madrid commuter trains were blown up in 2004, London public transport vehicles in 2005. Yet the frequency of attacks and profiles or terrorists have changed. Today we do not witness Al-Kaida taking revenge for military intervention in Afghanistan. Today secret services do not observe terrorists collectively planning an attack together. Today’s fanatic killer is a young brain-washed male on a lonely, unaided mission to murder possibly many people before he dies martyr.

Societies are becoming less tolerant, I wonder whether they will become less outgoing. Will fear of and dislike for the others become a factor keeping people inside walls of their homes?

After the financial tsunami in 2008 many thought the new economic order will change workings of the world. In fact little has changed. Economies have ridden out the storm although one should be far from declaring they are doing well; had they been, interest rates would have been jacked up. Yet the societal change might be imminent. To keep going, people need to earn and spend money; produce and exchange services, yet who how flows between economic actors go no longer is a subject of economic debate, it has become more about politics and social science. From the economic point of view if in a developed economy there are low-paid jobs domestic workers are unwilling to take up, such gap is filled with migrants from less developed countries being a motivated, cheap labour force which moves the economy forward. From the social or political standpoints, migrants are becoming an unwanted element, regardless of their impact on economic growth and well-being of the whole society.

The ongoing social change is reflected in political choices and the victory of PiS in Poland last year is not the most glaring example. Donald Trump’s dreadful popularity in the United States and support for Brexit in the United Kingdom fill me with far more uncertainty regarding future.

I fear that the world is heading towards isolation, on micro and macro scale. Demise of bonds between humans is already perceptible. Decades ago people had a few close friends and had closer (though often not ideal) relationships with families. Today people have hundreds of acquaintances (a good measure is a number of connections on social networks) but despite this not seldom feel lonesome.

Besides, for most of July I felt too comfortably, too carefree, at times lethargic or numb. That state has given way to some sort of anxiety, a gut feeling something bad might afflict me personally in the close future. Hope it is just a mild version of mid-summer blues caused by to humid air ;-)

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Spine, down my spine

A few years ago, while reading results of my medical general check-up, my GP told me by the time I reached forty problems with health would not afflict me, but if I looked after myself well, I would stay healthy until I turned fifty. Then it would all go downhill anyway, since only a tiny fraction of population aged over 50 can boast about excellent health.

I can drop in on a dentist once a year to have my teeth checked preventively or at worst have one of them mended. I visit ophthalmologist at least once in two years to have my eyesight inspected. I get a medical check-up at least once in three years and wait for a spot-on comment that I have my car thoroughly serviced at least once year, so why do I care more about a depreciating tin. The last time I was on a sick leave was in October 2013, after a food poisoning, since then not a single cold caught. I am doing fine, so what’s the point in seeing doctor “just in case”, as some of my peers, who just like me have medical care packages paid by their employers, do.

This might be the thing of the past… Before each warm long weekend doctors advise people who lead sedentary lifestyle not to overstretch themselves. I heard those warnings also before the late-May Corpus-Christi weekend, but did not take them to heart. April and May were stressful, I sat long in the office to meet deadlines and once I saw the back of the dreadful streak, I wanted to make the most of days off. Swimming, cycling, garden and house works in abundance have put a pleasant strain on my muscles. On Monday following the weekend I barely got up from bed, being stricken by a pain down my lumbar spine. I thought the strain, just muscle soreness, would ease off after a day or two. It did not. With varying intensity the aches kept me company for four weeks; being a nuisance at work, at home, during business trips and private travels… I carried on, though there were days I could not remain sitting for more than half an hour; a limitation bearable in the office, yet uncomfortable during conferences or workshops when I could not stand up whenever I wanted.

Having returned from holidays I finally signed up to see my GP at Medicover; on the next day I had my spine X-rayed as prescribed. With the results and a relevant referral I marched to a physiotherapist. It turned out my spine, though not in pristine condition, is not ruined, yet if I do not want it to cause me further pains, I should take up regular exercise and change my habits. The former will not help if I do not pursue the latter.

The very sitting, inevitable if you work in an office, is not a natural position for a human spine, therefore it is crucial to minimise negative effects of sitting long hours. Firstly, do not sit on the tailbone (the Formula-1 driver position). There are two bones around the middle of your buttocks which should absorb the burden of your body as you sit. Secondly, your spine should be vertical as you sit. To allow for this, you should have a chair with properly shaped armrest, monitor ahead of your eyes (not lower, otherwise you will hunch), keyboard and mouse close to you (so that you don’t have to reach out for them and hunch).

Everyday habits also need to be changed not to strain the lumbar spine excessively. If you want to lift something heavy, bend your legs and let your thighs take the strain. Generally, I am switching from squatting and bowing down towards sit-ups and kneeling. I have quite strong legs (riding a bike a lot as a child) and they should take the strain off my spine, yet have to be careful about the knee joints. In other words time to live normally, but without encouraging the pain to keep me company. Unfortunately, over the coming weeks long (> 25 kilometres) bike trips have to be given up. Though I have chosen the bike in size corresponding to my height (XL; 180 – 195 cm), longer cycling takes its toll on my still sore spine, therefore I will most likely enjoy longer rides in late August at the earliest… Today I cycled to Zalesie Górne and back (total distance of around 20 kilometres, one snap on my fb profile) with a short break at my destination and felt I could do with a little bit longer trips, yet my spine calls for a break after some 45 minutes (or 10 kilometres) of recreational cycling…

Oddly enough, Wisła resort today had few visitors, despite conducive weather.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

History being rewritten

The Polish Internet has recently been flooded with humorous memes scoffing alleged accomplishments of Poland’s first back seat driver. The influx of mockery has been spurred by Mr Kaczynski and his servile henchmen (fellow politicians and reverent media) whose claims and deeds are aimed at changing roles of some people in Poland’s most recent history. Thus the official version of history, compiled by impious post-communist elites is set to be rewritten, to highlight roles of under-appreciated figures and to debase those whose merits have been undeservedly overrated.

Comment 1: beyond all doubt, Lech Kaczyński was one of the prominent figures in Solidarity since the inception of the movement, nevertheless no historian so far has dared to assert he had played the second fiddle in the movement.
Comment 2: beyond all doubt, Jarosław Kaczyński, despite holding no other function in the state than an ordinary lower-house deputy, is an actual leader of the group of people who formally exercise executive and legislative powers in Poland. The situation when a man actually takes decision but shuns responsibility for them is abnormal. I actually hope Mr Kaczyński takes over as prime minister.

Who is accountable for killing over forty Jews in Kielce and burning alive more than 300 Jews in a barn in Jedwabne? Minister of education in the PiS government lacked courage to admit those were Poles.
Comment 1: I would not put it down to Mrs Zalewska’s inadequate familiarity with Poland’s history.
Comment 2: A mature nation is capable of admitting to crimes its representatives committed, apologise for them and firmly condemn. Quibbling, as Mrs Zalewska did in the notorious TV interview, does not bring us closer to maturity in this respect.

You might think if Jarosław Kaczyński was not interned with the imposition of the martial law in December 1981, communist regime did not find him dangerous. Got it wrong my dear, the secret services planned to detain him, but accidentally did not do it, even though they had a chance to make up for it when Mr Kaczyński was shortly interrogated in the first days of the martial law…
Comment: You will not turn back time. On that frosty morning Jarosław woke up at ten a.m., went to church and in there found out something bad was going on. No bleak men knocked at his parents’ door to arrest him…

Who can take credit for bringing Poland into NATO? The omnipotent Leader and his crony Krzysztof Czabański! Any contribution of politicians such as Taduesz Mazowiecki, Bronisław Geremek, Aleksander Kwaśniewski? Who would care?
Comment: Wiadomości by TVP have become the most nefarious propaganda tube in Poland since 1989, beating by a long shot all previous SLD- or PO-affiliated circles of journalists and clearly biased coverage by TVN. From time to time I wrench my guts and watch Wiadomości. Selective choice of facts, failure to separate facts from comments and instructing audience what to think are now the distinguishing features of the main news programme, still financed from taxpayers’ purse.

Comment 1: rationally, why mixing up fatalities of a tragic air crash with actual martyrs who died fighting for free Poland?
Comment 2: the decision to bring in Smolensk component into each and every occasion assisted by military forces is already making people laugh it off and in effect denigrates the remembrances of crash victims.

Having vented by anger at the above, I still underline rewriting the history is less detrimental than tampering with the economy (may the clearly debt-financed child allowance programme be enough) or with democratic institutions. The five hundred zlotys per child, a tangible proof how PiS kept their flagship promise, has lifted some people from penury, raised their living standards or simply bribed them off. Other voters could not care less, a few million genuinely believe PiS are mending Poland. Thus PiSites enjoy support reaching 40%, not because they have dismantled the constitutional tribunal, not because they are ruining public finances, but because they are the only party with agenda for Poland. No matter how strongly I disagree with the vision of Poland by PiS, I cannot deny the have what other parties lack.

Below, a derisive poem I could not resist to share, nimbly offending the better sort of Poles who vote for PiS…


Był raz grafoman, wierszokleta,
Dziennikarzyna z bożej łaski.
Lecz się przedstawiał: wieszcz, poeta,
I ciągle czekał na oklaski.
Choć jego wierszy nikt nie czytał,
On niepowodzeń znał przyczynę!
Zmowa! Grubymi nićmi szyta!
Jeszcze - odgrażał się - wypłynę!
Podkreślał stale swe zasługi,
Że on jedyny pisze z sensem,
Sam się ogłosił raz i drugi,
Że niby polskim jest Brassensem.
Mając, jak twierdził, lekkie pióro,
Oceny podjął się z ochotą,
Co dobrą jest literaturą,
A szczerze mówiąc, był idiotą.

Był raz kabotyn, aktorzyna,
Przez całe życie grał ogony,
Lecz to nie moja – mówił – wina,
Że jestem wciąż niedoceniony.
Nikt do teatru nie chciał chodzić,
Oprócz lizusów i klakierów,
Lecz przekonywał: nic nie szkodzi,
To spisek bandy reżyserów.
Innych nazywał szmirusami,
Albo wyrażał się z przekąsem,
Kpił w żywe oczy, a czasami
Złośliwie mruczał coś pod wąsem.
Czy to był Hamlet czy Medea,
Do złej gry robił dobrą minę.
Chwalił się: zrobię dobry teatr!
Ale, niestety, był kretynem.

Był raz szarpidrut, muzykancik,
Blade pojęcie miał o jazzie.
O mistrzach mówił: dyletanci,
A sam rzępolił ile wlezie.
Choć jego grania nikt słuchał,
Grał w swym mniemaniu pierwsze skrzypce.
Czeka mnie – mówił - niezła fucha,
O władzy śniąc i złotej rybce.
Choć słoń nadepnął mu na ucho,
Wielkiego znawcy przyjął pozę,
Dziś z talentami – rzekł - jest krucho,
Tylko ja jestem wirtuozem.
Wmawiał, że jest muzycznym tuzem,
Choć był podrzędnym muzykantem,
Zapewniał: ja gram dobrą muzę!
A tylko zwykłym był palantem.

Był raz pacykarz, beztalencie,
Malował straszne bohomazy,
Lecz przekonany, że ma wzięcie,
Wystawiał wszędzie swe obrazy.
Nikt tych obrazów nie oglądał,
Świeciły pustką wernisaże,
Winę w kolejnych widział rządach,
Mówiąc: ja jeszcze wam pokażę!
Wszędzie miernoty i nieuki,
A ja? Świat jeszcze o tym nie wie,
Że to prawdziwe dzieła sztuki.
Reszta - gryzmoły i badziewie.
O innych mówić zwykł z pogardą,
Ja się – rzekł - znam na dobrej sztuce!
Swój kicz nazywał awangardą,
A był zwyczajnym, pardon, bucem.

Był raz polityk, nieudacznik,
Z rozdętym ego, z kompleksami.
Z nim osobnicy dość dziwaczni,
Nieudacznicy tacy sami.
Zebrał do kupy pacykarzy,
Niedocenionych wierszokletów,
Wziął dyletantów, dobrał łgarzy,
Wiedząc, że nie brak im tupetu.
Obiecał im: będziecie wielcy!
Sam przy tym się dowartościował.
Więc maszerują wierni strzelcy,
Historię pisać chcą od nowa.
A polityczna kusi scena,
Więc większość poszła jego tropem,
By ponoć z woli suwerena
Naprawiać Polskę, świat, Europę.
Dobrał frustratów, kabotynów,
Zawistnych, mściwych oszołomów.
Omamił, wezwał ich do czynu:
My nie poddamy się nikomu!
Dał szansę wszelkim grafomanom
I sam cytuje hasła wzniosłe,
To wszystko nazwał Dobrą Zmianą.
A jest zwyczajnym tylko posłem.

© MKWD (Muzyczny Kabaret Wojtka Dąbrowskiego)
Druk: tygodnik Passa, nr 26 (816), 30 czerwca 2016

Those interested in the alternative version of truth, seeking to free their minds, are advised to indulge in reading in Jarosław Kaczyński's autobiography. I am looking forward to borrowing this book, as I am not going to purchase it and support Mr Kaczynski financially nor contribute to higher popularity of the book measured by number of paperbacks sold. If I come by it, I promise to review it.

Sunday, 10 July 2016


If there is a city in Poland for which I could leave Warsaw behind…
If there is a city in Poland whose beauty enchants me every time I visit it…
If there is a city in Poland whose energy recharges my batteries instantly…
Only Wrocław meets all criteria above. Unfortunately, moving to Wrocław would involve professional demotion (it terms of duties and pay) and the vision of my career ceasing to thrive so far has prevented me from considering relocation to Wrocław.

From 1 July 2016 Warsaw and Wrocław are eventually linked by network of motorways and expressways. The missing section of A1 motorway, from Stryków junction with A2 motorway down to Tuszyn, where it meets short section of A1 built in 1980s, serves as eastern bypass of Łódź and connects with S8 expressway running straight into Wrocław. Thus once you get onto S2 or S8 in outskirts of Warsaw, via A2, A1, S8 and A8 you may cover the distance of around 350 kilometres between the capital of the country and the capital of Lower Silesia without even having to downshift from the highest gear. If you stick to speed limits, the door-to-journey should last no more than three and a half hours (compared to at least five hours five years ago), beating Pendolino trains, which, if booked early cost less (unless your car carrier at least three people) and cover the route within three hours and forty three minutes (please add to this journeys to train stations in both cities).

When choosing how to get to bigger cities in Poland, Kraków is the only one where it is definitely more comfortable to go by train. For Katowice, Poznan and Gdansk I would be indifferent between car and train – both rail and road connections are decent and while station-to-station train travel durations are unbeatable, in terms of door-to-door journey times, vehicles make up… Łódź and Wrocław are the destination preferably reached by car…

I was lucky to stay there overnight and despite tight agenda (end of workshops on the first day at 5:45 p.m. and kick-off at 8:15 a.m. on the next day) my companions and I managed to reach the market square, take a short walk around this part of city in the rain, then checked in to one of numerous eateries to lounge about there until late evening. Only the weather was playing tricks with us. Sunny all day, with one intense shower, then two intense rainfalls caught us at the beginning of our trip to town and as we were waiting for taxis to return to hotels…

Wrocław beckons and a friend has advised me how to get there cheaply and quickly. As it turns out, Ryanair offers cheap return flights from W-wa Modlin to Wrocław for mere PLN 18.00. For accommodation, I strongly recommend two Ibis Budget hotels – Wrocław Stadion and Wrocław Południe (the latter can boast about better transport link to the city centre) where an overnight stay without breakfast booked in advanced can set you back a dirt-cheap PLN 39.00 (also for a double room).

Over the week ahead for the first time since late May I am not going to spend any night away from home, nor even venture away from Warsaw for the whole day. A strange feeling. The weather in the coming two weeks is rather going to resemble what we saw in July 2011. If showers and spells of sunshine are about to alter, relief from the heat will be conducive to drawing pleasure outdoor activities) and shortages of underground waters stand a chance to be replenished. Yesterday I cycled for the first time since nearly a month, today I’m bound to take another ride.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Belated reflections on Brexit…

…because writing on one adventure needed to take precedence, as thanks to committing my thoughts to the blog, I have gotten the story off my mind, at least temporarily… From time to time I wonder whether mere writing, without hitting the “publish” button would not suffice…

Some musings on the same topic, published on the same day, here on W-wa Jeziorki.

Those familiar with the theory of economics, surely know the concept of certainty equivalent. To put it simply, individuals prefer to be certain to receive a small amount / quantity of a good rather than take a risk to get a chance to receive larger amount / quantity of the good. This notion hinges upon preference of humans to eliminate uncertainty in life and hold on to what one can be sure of. In economic and social behaviours of individuals the theorem appears to hold true, but behaviours of masses (less often in terms of economics) more and more often call it into question. Notwithstanding, I am not wiping my eyes in astonishment. Back when I was a student, I was told by lecturers interest rates could not drop below zero. How short it takes to prove wrong notions that had lasted for decades…

There is no absolutely perfect thing in life. You cannot expect to have a perfect spouse, friends, children. There is no perfect job, no perfect house, no perfect holidays, no perfect vehicle. If you thought long enough you would find something to enhance in everything that surrounds you. Imperfection is an indispensable part of our lives, hence we ought to accept it and live with to the extent it is tolerable or strive to change it where it goes beyond acceptability. Having written this, I do not condemn striving for perfection, which in essence is praiseworthy, as long as pursuit of perfection does not make you lose your mind.

The Brexit referendum, or rather its result, is a spot-on example of rejecting an imperfect, yet decent and predictable solution. Membership in the EU has not been devoid of drawbacks, yet once you throw the baby out with the bathwater, you ought to have a clear and feasible idea how to fill the bath again.

This brings back a memory of a referendum held in Warsaw in October 2013 whether to oust the then-mayor, Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz. The campaign of Mrs Gronkiewicz’s opponents focused on her presidency’s shortcomings, but did not go beyond kicking her out of office, i.e. shed no light on any plan how to improve the state of affairs in Warsaw once she is deposed. Inhabitants of Warsaw discerned this lack of constrictive alternative and voted their feet by not going to polling stations. Consequently, the referendum was deemed invalid due to turnout below validity threshold.

The Brexit referendum is astonishingly similar to Polish parliamentary and presidential elections in 2015 in Poland. Platforma Obywatelska and president Komorowski in early 2015 were akin to the EU: they offered stability and predictability, yet were self-focused, complacent and out of touch. Yet Poles and Brits have turned their back on stability and predictability and opted for a change. But watch out, in all three votes the winning side had a tiny majority. 51.89% of Brits voted to leave. 51.55% of Poles voted for Mr Duda in the run-off, PiS scored 51.09% of seats in the parliament. Mathematically such results tip the scales, yet just like a glass can be half-full or half-empty, they mean nearly half of voters who exercised their right are displeased… 

Similar tendencies are witness across the world. In Austria in the recent election, though the result has been overturned, an extreme-right candidate scored around half of votes. On the horizon looms an imminent threat of Donald Trump becoming the president of the United States, which given the country’s democratic tradition and civic awareness of its residents, is horrifying and gives lie to all fairy tales of what features a candidate for this office should exhibit.

What manifests itself on macro scale can be witnessed on the level of individuals. I have seen several people being so weary or dissatisfied with their jobs that they grabbed any opportunity to move over to a different company. Usually with hindsight they regretted their decisions and humbly admitted their previous workplaces were not that bad, but their inner desire to change was stronger than sound judgement… On the other hand, despite allegedly record-high number of divorces and informal relationship break-ups, among my friends, acquaintances and workmates aged 25 – 50, I do not see many people quitting their partners because of a crush / infatuation / fascination with someone else, or just seeking a fleeting romance to taste a change (I may have bad insight, since the latter is not something one should boast about and what is rather kept in secrecy).

A cool head tells me each decision akin to remain-or-leave question faced by Brits in June 2016, should be preceded by a substantiated cost and benefit analysis. Whatever is in question, I can bet neither of two solutions under consideration is perfect, yet if you dissect them, spot advantages and drawback of both and sensibly decide which prevail, you are more likely to make a reasonable decision, instead of letting yourself get carried away by emotions (a fodder for wicked populists) or herding instinct.

Unless ruling elites finally stop being busy looking after themselves and realise what causes masses to throw away stable and predictable schemea and dive into the unknown at any price, humanity will be on slippery slope. 

Besides, I would not simplify the matter and point at immigration (whose meaningful contribution is beyond all doubt) as main driver of voting in favour of Brexit. Europeans living in the golden age (which might be now drawing a close) for decades have not experienced war, deprivation and thanks to quite evenly distributed fruits of long-lasting high economic growth have had their needs and whims met. They have grown bored of peace and abundance and instead of appreciating what they have, keep seeking some new impulses, an undefined change, without taking heed whether it would bring more harm than good.

W dupach się poprzewracało, tyle w temacie :(