The Silly Season


By Brantley Thompson Elkins


Every once in a while, we see something in the news that leaves us shaking our heads, and thinking, ÒYou canÕt make this stuff up.Ó But lately we seem to be seeing it a lot more than once in a while.


Like the case of a four-year-old girl in Manhattan who accidentally ran into an 87-year old woman with her training wheel-equipped bike. A Supreme Court judge has ruled that sheÕs old enough to be sued in a personal injury action. Like the nursing student in Michigan who advertised on her church bulletin board for a Christian roommate and was sued by the Fair Housing Council.


People used to talk about the Silly Season: the summer months of slow news when all sorts of frivolous stories would make the papers – or the airwaves. Only the silly season seems to last all year now, and the stories can be unsetting instead of merely silly. As in the case of that four-year old Juliet Breitman, whom Judge Paul Wooten held liable for the bike accident.


ÒThere are no exhibits containing evidence as to the defendant-movantÕs lack of intelligence or maturity, nor are there any other mitigating factors apparent in the record that would indicate that another child of similar age and capacity under the circumstances could not have reasonably appreciated the danger of riding a bicycle into an elderly woman,Ó he wrote.


Wooten didnÕt explain just how the girl was supposed the pay damages if the dead womanÕs family won its case. From her parentsÕ resources? But her parents were already being sued. So, would she alone be liable – with the debt mounting up at interest until she became old enough to get a job and spend who knows how many years paying it off?


Then thereÕs the business of that 31-year old woman (unnamed in press accounts) who is being taken to court on a civil rights violation because she wanted to have a roommate of her own faith. The right-wing media have had a field day with this, as you might imagine; the left wing media seem to have ignored it – although one suspects that if the woman were a Muslim seeking a Muslim roommate, theyÕd jump in on her side.


ÒItÕs a violation to make, publish or print a discriminatory statement. There are no exemptions to that,Ó explained Nancy Haines, director of the Fair Housing Center of West Michigan. YouÕd think the woman must own an apartment complex, and be trying to keep out anybody who isnÕt a Christian.


But no, all she wants is a roommate, somebody to share her own home. As if that werenÕt ridiculous enough, Haines admitted that there was nothing to stop the woman from accepting only a Christian roommate – just saying so. Of course, that means Haines thinks non-Christians should waste their time calling her up or knocking on her door or whatever.


These Silly Season stories mostly made the inside pages, but there was one the same week that rated banner front-page headlines in the New York tabloids, the Daily News and the Post: Charlie Sheen getting high on drugs and trashing his hotel room after getting into an argument with a prostitute.


About the same time, there were rumblings about China threatening to cut off exports of rare earths to the United States as well as Japan (Japan had been targeted because of a row over fishing rights near some disputed islands.). Rare earths are essential to the manufacture of computers and other high-tech equipment, some of it for the military.


America has only a three-month supply, and it would take at least a year to reactivate an abandoned mine in the Southwest to make up for an embargo by China. China seems to have backed off for now, butÉ the possibilities are scary, really scary. Only the story has gotten relatively little coverage, compared to all the stuff about Charlie Sheen, Lindsay Lohan, or even rundowns on political attack ads.


That reminds me. There was an election yesterday. I even voted in it. IÕll bet most of the people who won donÕt have a clue about things like rare earths.