Saturday, January 2

A Compendium

'Tis the season for reflection, resolution, and football. I've enjoyed some of the "best of" and "worst of" lists for the 1st decade of this century and I think there's some value to limiting one's recollections to a sort of top ten list. Mine for 2009? My job with my former employer slowly slipped into some weird organizational abyss and I was fortunate enough to make a move elsewhere. I stopped teaching at Wheaton and started teaching at Trinity. Good for me and, I hope, good for Trinity. Other than that the year was filled with ups and downs mostly meaningful to me. Resolutions? Get a tattoo, go to 5 Guys in Deer Park, write some letters by hand, try to keep up with my readings and my blogs.

DOT legislation will ground planes. Nice job.
Steve Chapman wrote a commentary about the airlines and travelers. We want to fly inexpensively, but apparently we still want amenities. I gave up looking for amenities a long time ago; I’m just hoping seatbelts on the plane or the seat don’t start to fall into that category. You may laugh, but I’ve been on a commercial flight elsewhere where seats being bolted to the floor seemed optional and seat belts were more cosmetic than useful. It could happen here. But the point of Chapman’s piece was the recent DOT regulation about planes on the tarmac and the so-called passenger bill of rights. So now airlines cannot keep planes on the runway for more than two hours without furnishing food and water or risk extraordinary fines.

The response? Anyone who has flown commercial airlines over the past few years knows that, without a doubt, more flights will be canceled. Too bad those nincompoops in the DOT are so poorly informed.

Chapman points out that planes stuck on the tarmac for an extended period of time get a LOT of media attention. Of course they do. It’s dramatic to talk about people stuck in a confined tube for an extended period of time. And incidents like the one in Mesaba, Minnesota contribute to such media attention. But, as Chapman notes, there are only 1,500 flights stranded on the runway for more than three hours. Keep in mind that over 9 million flights depart airports each year. That’s 9,000,000,000 flights. Chapman asserts the new regulation targets a situation that “occurs once for every 6,200 flights.”

So I’m irritated by this new invasion of the government that seems to believe no organization can run anything as well as it can. Please. Check the budget again, if you don’t mind. Double-check those last few bills you passed and see how many earmarks managed to pile on. What’s absolutely nauseating, however, is the attitude of the Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood, quoted in the Mesaba, Minnestoa story, by the way, who seems to believe that airlines and all of the air traffic control people are not capable of managing timetables and flights.

Chapman writes: "The DOT rule flows from two presumptions common in Washington: 1) that private businesses have insufficient motivation to satisfy their patrons; and 2) that government regulators are capable of making better operational decisions than the people whose livelihoods are at stake."

As with Harry Reid’s Senate and the so-called health care reform, I think it’s possible to say that just because a task was completed does not mean it was done well.

Book review
I’ve recently read the first three books of the 5-book Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. I see the 4th is out in paperback, so a trip to my local bookstore is imminent. I’ve enjoyed these books by Rick Riordan. The premise is that the Greek gods are still alive and petty; that half-bloods are the children of an affair between a god and a mortal; that Kronos, the King of Titans, is being reconstituted and gathering his evil forces to overthrow the Olympians and regain his place.

Riordan does not assume his readers, especially his targeted readers, are familiar with the Greek gods or the epic battle between the Titans and the Olympians. He portrays them without any pedantic overtures, so these books could be used to supplement study of Greek mythology.

There are a few things that intrigue me about these books. First, Riordan’s portrayal of the gods and the way he intersects with well-known stories, such as Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey. Second, just as the Greeks may have used the gods to explain the unexplainable, the people in his stories use the gods and the battles between them to explain the unexplainable, although the Mist the gods use to manipulate what mortals can and cannot see is a nice device to dissemble why we mere mortals cannot see the mythic monsters in our midst. Probably just as well. The ones we can see are scary enough.

Anyway, the last thing that intrigues me isn’t really about these books but how J.K. Rowling has influenced, and some may say ruined, the way we read such plots. Percy is an adolescent whose powers and parentage have been hidden from him. He just knows weird things happen and have been happening more often as he gets older. Percy isn’t always too quick on the uptake; he’s fiercely loyal to his friends (this, we are told, is his fatal flaw as a hero); he’s a bit impetuous and doesn’t always listen well. His sidekicks are Annabeth and Grover, a satyr who is willing and loyal but not always so very brave, though, like another male sidekick we know, he has his shining moments. Annabeth is the daughter of Athena, goddess of wisdom (among other things) and, interestingly, the companion of heroes and goddess of heroic endeavors. You might want to re-read or skim Athena’s role in The Odyssey. And, of course, Annabeth is level-headed and smart. So it makes sense that Annabeth would accompany Percy on his quests. The Kronos plot line reminds me of a certain notoriously evil character who had been badly damaged by his enemies and dependent on his minions to make him whole again and help him regain his evil bad self and strength. And, like the eerie connected relationship between Voldemort and Harry Potter, Kronos and Percy have a weird mind meld thing going on.

So even though the series reminds me of Harry Potter and his quests, Percy Jackson and his quests are fun stories with mythic creatures and monsters and epic battles. And no small smattering of Greek mythology along the way. Percy Jackson and the Olympians, then, unlike the Harry Potter books, can offer some legitimate educational benefit. And if you don’t care about learning about the Greek gods and monsters, they’re a pretty fun read.