Monthly Archives: July 2006

Maoist Self-Criticism at Stanford University

I spent the better part of 6 years at Stanford working on my master’s degree. My time there was mostly pleasant, and I have very fond memories of the Professors and the classes.

However, what I hated with a passion was the Eastern-European style bureaucracy that runs the admissions office. And the thing I hated the most was that they never felt it was part of their job description to notify you one week in advance that a critical date was approaching: the date to submit your registration.

As a part-time masters student, I was not on Campus every day being made aware of critical dates.

What was the consequence of missing that date? Why a 100$ fine. When you’re paying approximatley 6000$ a semester to attend stanford, that 100$ fine was insult on-top-of injury.

And you couldn’t just submit the paper work on line, no you had to go stand in-line at a time convenient to the registrar.

I thought to myself: Why it could never get any worse.


Now, in addition to making you pay the 200$ fine, they REQUIRE a type-written note explaining WHY you failed to submit the paperwork on time. The note must also ask the registrar to forgive you and let you register for the quarter.

Excuse me?

If the professor whose class I am in is comfortable with my physical presence in the classroom, then what does the registrar care? Are they going to NOT take my 6000$? Are they going to throw me out of the University? No. They just want to humiliate me. They want me to prostrate myself on the floor and beg for forgiveness.

This smacks of the kind of self-criticism you had to produce before you joined the Russian Communist Party or the kind of self-criticism required of the intelligentsia during Mao’s cultural-revolution.

In Stalin’s time they just shot you.

Just shoot me now.

Air France, Delta and North West … the trinity of horror

Over the July 4th weekend I had to travel to Greece to attend the wedding of a dear friend of mine. He and I have known each other since we were 2 years old. Because I am not as well organized as I would like I ended up buying the tickets fairly late in the game. And because I ended up buying them fairly late, there was only two airlines that had tickets I could afford, Delta and Air France.

Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!

That’s what should have been going through my head, not: Sweet!.

My wife, tried to caution my enthousiasm for cheap fares, but I was too obstinate to care.

So I took Air France from SFO to Paris Charles de Gaulle to Athens and back.

What should have been a 4.5 day relaxing trip turned into a sprint to the heroic finish.

Our adventure began with the 26 hour delay of the flight out of SFO (because … well I think the pilot just decided he’d rather watch the World Cup game in Paris than do his job ..). Because of the chaos of having 400 people missing their flight and connections we had to stand in line for three hours to get our boarding passes. We then had to suffer an additional 2 hour delay because the processing of passengers was taking too much time.

Once in the plane, the very friendly Air France staff decided that feeding us was a low priority. Well that’s not strictly true. They decided chatting with every passenger in the plane as the passengers were being fed was a priority. As a result instead of getting food almost immediately it took them 2+ hours to feed the plane. For folks that had not eaten since their light breakfast, there was a strong temptation to do some self-service feeding.
Upon arrival in CDG, we discovered that our flight into Athens was delayed by another hour.

I was hopeful the return trip would be better.


Our departure from Athens on July 4th was delayed by 20 minutes. This caused significant anxiety because our connection was very tight (55 minutes) and we were in danger of missing it. But that’s okay, the flight out of CDG was delayed by 2 hours, 30 minutes of which we spent in a shuttle on the tarmac waiting to be let into the plane.

Now why do I paint and tar Air France and Delta and North West with the same brush? Delta because I bought the ticket from Delta. And North West because they are in an alliance with those jokers. But that’s not the only reason I hate North West. In 2004 I was travelling to Athens on North West. I liked North West because I liked KLM. I had travelled thousands of miles on North West for many years. And in this one flight the callousness of their flight attendants destoyed a many year love affair. I got some coffee. The coffee was served in a defective styrofoam cup. I was sitting in the middle row of a 747. While I was getting ready to drink my cup, the stewardesses on either side of the middle row decided to pass over my head some trays. The trays almost fell on my head. In an attempt to avoid them I spilled the coffe. The stewardesses then did everything in their power to ignore my scalded leg (3rd degree burn). Even when I pointed out what happened they shrugged. A kind word, even an offer of a napkin would have been sufficient. In the end, I had to force my way into the galley and demand some towels to clean myself up.
So a pox on all of their houses.

There is honour among thieves.

Several years ago, my dad had his Mercedes stolen.

On the day it was stolen, as part of the process for getting his money from the insurance company he was required to place an advertisement in the Greek Newspaper of his choice announcing the loss and asking people if they found it. This is a pro-forma task, that is usually followed by a modest insurance payout.

Surprisingly, the thief called and said on the phone:

Prof. Roussos, I am a serious business man, a respected man of society. Stealing your car is an inconvenience to us both. I have to take it to Albania to get it cut into little pieces to resell the parts, you have to buy a new car. How about we arrive at an understanding? You pay a modest fee and I’ll return the car.

My dad agreed on condition that he see the car first.

So my dad was taken along with a bodyguard to see the car. Upon inspecting the car he discovered that the car had some scratches and was dirty.

When the thief called later, my dad complained about the defects. The thief replied:

Damn! I’ve told my employees not to damage the customers merchandise. I’ll make sure it’s fixed before you get the car.

Several days later the exchange was done. There was an aura of cloak & dagger about it. The money was placed near a phone booth in Athens, and then in another part of Athens the Merc was returned.

But the story does not end here.

Several months later, my dad got a phone call:

Journalist: Are you Professor Roussos?

Dad: Yes.

Journalist: I am a journalist for a ****.

Dad: Careful. What do you want?

Journalist: Did you have your car stolen and then returned for a ransom fee?

Dad: Why?

Journalist: Apparently the same crook stole all of my belongings and my car. He offered to return everything for a modest fee. When I started to doubt his honour, he suggested I call you up. That you would act as a reference for him. That he is an honourable man who will return my stuff.

 So my dad told him that he was an honourable thief. And who ever said there is no honour among thives.