Lead Story

In February the New York Times reported on Artificial Life, a Hong Kong company that plans to make its virtual-girlfriend software available on video-friendly third-generation cell phones–in Asia and Europe this spring, in the U.S. possibly by the end of the year. For a monthly subscription (about $6) plus airtime charges, users will be able to go on dates with an animated image named Vivienne (she can converse on 35,000 topics) and buy her virtual gifts (some of which require small real-world fees). Vivienne will invariably fend off sexual advances–Artificial Life hopes her audience will include teenagers whose parents might disapprove of anything too racy–but she’s open to getting married (after which the user will start receiving calls from an intrusive mother-in-law). On hearing a description of Vivienne, one Hong Kong arcade patron said, “It’s a little bit for the losers.”

Names in the News

Arrested in Lewisville, Texas, in February on charges of drug possession, driving while intoxicated, and driving without a license: Fred Flintstone, 34. Taken into custody in Miami in February to begin serving a one-year sentence for his participation in an alien-smuggling conspiracy: King Kong, 52. And buried in San Diego in November: Dom Perigion Champagne, 18. (His parents are Jeron Champagne and Perfect Engelberger.)

Least Competent Criminals

In January Richard Graybill, 42, pleaded guilty to unauthorized use of a vehicle. He had taken a car awaiting repairs from a mall parking lot in West Sadsbury, Pennsylvania, but was discovered by the car’s owner when he happened to pull up to the drive-through window at the Wendy’s where she worked. When she confronted him he drove away but returned a few minutes later and tried to persuade her to sign over the title to him, saying he’d put a lot of effort into getting the car running again. She agreed to meet him for the transfer, then called police.

Least Competent People

Richard Arredondo, 18, and two friends had to be rescued by a sheriff’s department helicopter in California’s San Bernardino National Forest on February 5 after getting lost while mountain biking; on February 6 they went back to retrieve their bikes, but again got lost and had to be rescued by helicopter.

Advanced Irony

In 2002, 17 U.S. pilots who had been captured in the 1991 gulf war and tortured in Iraqi prisons filed a lawsuit seeking compensation. Ordinarily foreign nations are immune from being sued, but a 1996 congressional act stripped this immunity from Iraq and six other nations identified as supporting terrorism. In 2003, a federal judge ruled in their favor and awarded them nearly $1 billion, to be paid from Saddam Hussein’s frozen assets. But the Bush administration intervened, arguing that the president’s emergency powers allowed him to set aside judgments against Iraq and remove it from the list of states sponsoring terrorism, and that the money was needed to rebuild the country. A U.S. court of appeals sided with the government–which, according to the POWs’ lawyers, has refused to even discuss a settlement–and threw out the suit. The Washington Post reported in February that the POWs have petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the case. (The Post also pointed out that defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld told a Senate committee last year he supported compensating Iraqi prisoners for abuse suffered at Abu Ghraib–the same prison at which many of the POWs were tortured in 1991.)

Payback Time

According to Transportation Security Administration officials, New Jersey psychiatrist Esha Khoshnu got “mouthy and snippy” with agents at a Mesa Airlines ticket counter in Phoenix last month, reportedly saying, “If I had a bomb, you wouldn’t find it.” She was promptly detained for questioning by the FBI, causing her to miss her flight. Her luggage, however, made it aboard; security personnel therefore stopped the plane on the runway upon arrival in San Diego, where a bomb squad removed her bag, inspected it, and detonated it. No charges were filed.

According to a February report by Agence France-Presse, a three-year-old mastiff named Pako was electrocuted in the northern French town of Wavrechain-sous-Denain when it urinated on a lamppost with a loose wire.

Finer Points of the Law

In June 2004 Beth Rice and Stanley Blacker held a lavish wedding weekend in Las Vegas, exchanging vows and rings in a traditional ceremony before a rabbi and 50 guests, after which they honeymooned in Europe, then returned to their house near Tampa. However, a judge ruled in January that because the couple never got a marriage license (a deliberate failure on their part), legally Rice had not remarried–she and Blacker wouldn’t be able to file a joint tax return, he pointed out–and so her ex-husband Michael Rice had to keep paying her $5,000 a month in alimony.

In 2003 the Cook County Circuit Court dismissed a lawsuit filed by Dr. Richard Phillips of Chicago against Dr. Sharon Irons of Olympia Fields. Phillips, who had been ordered to pay $800 a month in support to Irons after DNA testing established he was the father of her child, claimed that he and Irons had never had intercourse during their 1999 affair and accused Irons of impregnating herself with sperm she’d surreptitiously saved following oral sex. Last month the Illinois appellate court reinstated part of the suit: the judges ruled that if Phillips was telling the truth he could sue for emotional distress but not for theft or fraud, agreeing with the lower court’s decision “that when [Phillips] ‘delivered’ his sperm, it was a gift–an absolute and irrevocable transfer of title to property from a donor to a donee.”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Shawn Belschwender.