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Briefs (right)

Legal Stance May Pay Off For Merck

By Alex Berenson

at least for the moment. On Wednesday, a California jury ruled that Merck’s painkiller Vioxx did not cause the heart attack that Stewart Grossberg, who is now 71, had in September 2001. The case was Merck’s second consecutive victory, following a win for the company in New Jersey last month.

Lawyers on both sides agree that Merck’s victories, and its stated strategy of trying every case rather than settling any, are discouraging plaintiffs with weaker claims. Already, lawyers for plaintiffs have recently withdrawn more than 300 federal suits, mainly after finding that their clients could not produce adequate evidence that they took the drug.

Merck, however, still faces 14,000 federal and state suits over Vioxx, covering about 27,000 plaintiffs.

Merck’s recent victories have helped propel its stock up 27 percent in the last two months.

Merck stock closed Thursday at $41.59, up 56 cents, and less than 10 percent below the levels where it traded before Merck stopped selling Vioxx.

Merck withdrew Vioxx in September 2004, after a clinical trial showed that it caused heart attacks and strokes.

Since then, Merck has insisted that it behaved legally and that it will contest every suit brought by people who claim that they were injured after taking Vioxx.

Whiff of Elvis or Tinge of Jealousy Sets Dog Ravaging Rare Bears

By Alan Cowell

For these teddy bears, it was no picnic.

On Tuesday night, at a tourist attraction called Wookey Hole Caves in western England, Barney, a Doberman pinscher guard dog, briefly went berserk, running amok among a collection of teddy bears, including a 1909 German Steiff bear called Mabel reputed to have belonged, once upon a time, to Elvis Presley.

“It could have been the scent of Elvis” that triggered the attack, said Daniel Medley, a spokesman for the 70-acre site near Wells in Somerset.

In any case, something was hounding Barney, and whatever it was, Barney chewed, tore, ripped and otherwise savaged about 100 teddy bears before his handler, Greg West, was able to restrain him.

“I still can’t believe what happened,” West said. Either it was a “rogue scent,” he said, that “switched on Barney’s deepest instincts, or it could have been jealousy. I was just stroking Mabel and saying what a nice little bear she was.”

Photographs of Barney in British newspapers on Thursday showed the Doberman with what may or not be an expression of canine contrition, sitting on his haunches amid a detritus of stuffing, glass eyes, amber fur and other ursine innards. On the other hand, the expression may just have been saying, “Oops!”

Clash Over Water Access Leaves 17 Dead in Sri Lanka

By Shimali Senanayake

At least 17 civilians were killed Thursday when shells hit four schools being used as shelters on the fourth day of clashes between Sri Lankan security forces and rebels in the eastern part of the country.

It was the highest number of civilian casualties since the latest fighting began, effectively reviving the two-decade civil war in Sri Lanka after four and a half years of a tenuous truce. On Wednesday, a civilian hospital in the eastern town of Muttur was hit by shelling, and four staff members were wounded.

There was no independent accounting of who was responsible for the strikes on the schools in the same town where the civilians had taken shelter. The government blamed the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who in turn blamed the military. Civilians have moved into several schools, churches and mosques seeking protection from the fighting.

The latest clashes are over the control of an irrigation channel near Muttur. The government accuses the rebels of blocking the flow of water from a reservoir that sits in rebel-held territory and depriving 15,000 families, most of whom are of the ethnic Sinhalese majority, of vital irrigation water. The rebels say that it is a protest measure by ethnic Tamil civilians who are demanding more water for their villages.

Publishers Try to Sell Words With Moving Pictures

By Claudia H. Deutsch

Book publishers are unlikely to concede that a picture is worth a thousand words. But many of them are hoping that some well-placed pictures can help sell their words.

Random House, Workman Publishing, Scholastic and other publishers are running the equivalent of movie trailers on the Internet, all aimed at drawing fresh audiences to their books. The videos are not confined to sites catering to avid readers; they are also appearing on sites as general as Yahoo and YouTube.

The idea has received a thumbs up from the Association of American Publishers. “People want to know what a book is about before they buy, and these videos are a great new way to tell them,” said Patricia S. Schroeder, the association’s president.

Perhaps more important, in an industry that is notorious for penny-pinching on marketing for all but the best-known authors, it is also a cheap way to tell people about books. Companies like Expanded Books offer to film and place book videos for as little as $4,000. The Book Standard, an online publishing information service that is owned by VNU (the Dutch company that also owns Kirkus Reviews, Billboard and Adweek) has devised a contest in which film students compete to come up with book videos.