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LEAD STORY: Vivienne, an interactive companion accessible on powerful, "third-generation" cell phones, was recently introduced by the Hong Kong company Artificial Life as a high-maintenance, video-image "girlfriend" who goes on dates with you, kisses, speaks six languages, converses on 35,000 topics, accepts flowers and diamonds, and may even marry you (though you also acquire a troublesome mother-in-law). Vivienne so far is prudish (no nudity, no sex), owing to Artificial Life's aim at marketing in modest cultures, but she will appear in Europe and some U.S. cities by the end of this year (at about $6 a month plus airtime). Said one Hong Kong video game player, characterizing Vivienne for the New York Times, "It's a little bit for the losers."

Least Competent People: In January, Richard Graybill, 42, pleaded guilty in Chester County, Pa., to unauthorized use of a vehicle. He had taken a car that had been parked, awaiting repairs, at a shopping center, but he was later discovered by the car's owner when he happened to pull up to the drive-thru window at the Wendy's restaurant where she worked. She confronted him, and he sped away, but he returned a few minutes later and tried to persuade her to sign over the title to him, in that he had put a lot of effort into fixing the car up after he took it.Richard Arredondo, 18, and two pals had to be rescued by sheriff's personnel in California's San Bernardino National Forest on Feb. 5 after getting lost while mountain biking; on Feb. 6, they went back in to retrieve their bikes, but again got lost and had to be rescued.

According to a study released in the Journal of Advanced Nursing in February, only 3 percent of people with nipple or genital body piercings sought professional health-care advice despite the fact that two-thirds eventually experience problems ranging from infections to interruptions in urinary flow.

Ironies: In 2002, 17 U.S. pilots captured and beaten by Saddam Hussein's forces in the 1991 Gulf War filed a lawsuit asking for nearly $1 billion from Hussein's assets frozen by the United States, and in 2003, a federal judge ruled in their favor. However, an appeals court tossed out the case, citing a 2003 post-invasion law that removed jurisdiction for the lawsuit at the behest of the Bush administration, which wants to reserve the frozen assets for rebuilding Iraq. An even larger irony is that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has publicly conceded that the Iraqi detainees who were abused in 2003 at the Abu Ghraib prison should be compensated, even though the U.S. pilots endured perhaps worse abuse at the same Abu Ghraib facility in 1991.A large portion of the materials on plagiarism on the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh's Writing Center website was revealed in February to have been taken verbatim from Purdue University's Web page on plagiarism.

What Goes Around, Comes Around: According to Transportation Security Administration officials, New Jersey psychiatrist Esha Khoshnu, in a stopover in Phoenix en route to a professional meeting in San Diego in February, got "mouthy and snippy" with Mesa Airlines agents who wanted to examine her luggage, reportedly saying, "[Even if] I had a bomb, you wouldn't find it." Agents, following TSA protocol, detained her, causing her to miss her flight, and her luggage, loaded onto another flight, was eventually detonated on the tarmac at Lindbergh Field in San Diego.

Finer Points of Law: In June 2004, Beth Rice and Stanley Blacker of Florida held a lavish wedding weekend in Las Vegas, before friends and family, said their vows, exchanged rings, with a rabbi presiding, in a traditional Jewish wedding. They came home, moved in together, and opened a joint bank account. However, according to a January report in the St. Petersburg Times, the couple purposely failed to get a marriage license. As a result, a judge ruled in January that under Florida law, Rice had not "remarried" and that her ex-husband must continue to honor the couple's divorce settlement and pay her $5,000 a month. Six years ago, during a brief affair in Chicago, Dr. Sharon Irons manually inseminated herself with sperm from Dr. Richard O. Phillips, following oral sex. The result was a daughter, now age 5, for whom Phillips has reluctantly been paying $800 a month to support while his lawsuit against Irons for deception travels through Illinois courts. A trial judge had dismissed all of his claims, but in February, the Illinois Appeals Court granted a partial reversal, ordering a trial on whether she inflicted "emotional distress" by a legally "outrageous" act. However, the court dismissed Phillips' claim that Irons had "stolen" his sperm.


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