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 aged 5, 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, stating that "it was a gift, an absolute and irrevocable transfer of title to property from a donor to a donee" and that, without a specific agreement to return it, it was hers to do with as she pleased.
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."
GROUNDHOG DAY FOR BIKERS
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.
BUSTED IN BEDROCK
From the crime column of the Lewisville (Texas) Leader, Feb. 14: arrested on charges of drug possession, driving while intoxicated, and driving without a license: Mr. Fred Flintstone, 34. Taken into custody in February in Miami to begin serving a one-year sentence on alien-smuggling charges: a Chinese national whose given name is King Kong. And an obituary from the ort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram, Dec. 2: Mr. Dom Perignon Champagne, whose parents were Mr. Jeron Champagne and Ms. Perfect Engelberger.
Porchia Bennett of Philadelphia was last visited by her father, Lester Trapp, when she was 1, then virtually abandoned by her drug-addicted mother, Tiffany Bennett, at age 2, to fall to the custody of Tiffany's drug-addicted sister and the sister's boyfriend, who lived in rat-infested squalor and who are now charged with killing Porchia at age 3 through starvation and physical abuse. In February, Trapp and his parents filed a lawsuit against the city of Philadelphia for failing to protect Porchia (with Tiffany also entitled to share the proceeds as Porchia's "beneficiary").
DUDE, THAT'S MY CAR
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, saying he had put a lot of effort into fixing the car up after he took it.
THE HOLE THING
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.
BUSH SIDES WITH SADDAM
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 Saddam'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 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.
DO AS WE SAY, NOT AS WE DO
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. And a February report from the White House's Office of Management and Budget (OMB), grading federal departments and agencies on five administrative performance criteria, concluded that the second-worst-performing agency was OMB.
THE HOLY DO-OVER
The Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, in a cost-cutting move in the wake of its priest-sexual-abuse settlement, announced in 2004 that it would close several churches and schools, including Our Lady of the Presentation in the struggling neighborhood of Oak Square. Rather than sell the school to an eager community group at market price, the archdiocese is converting it into offices for processing marriage annulments. (Americans are granted 70 percent of all Catholic annulments, and the total has increased 90-fold since the 1960s.)
In January, a coalition of lawyers, including two from the Legal Aid Society, asked a judge for $9 million in legal fees after San Francisco's school system agreed to demands to modify its buildings to increase access for disabled students. The sum included rates of $552 an hour for Legal Aid lawyers to $810 an hour for a partner at the top-drawer Skadden Arps firm (which boasts of "pro bono" civic-mindedness). The school system said a $1 million reduction in fees could pay for 14 new teachers, but the lawyers said the fees could be paid off merely by selling surplus school property.