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The Odd Truth, March 31, 2003

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The Odd Truth is a collection of strange but factual news stories from around the world compiled by CBSNews.com's Brian Bernbaum. A new collection of stories is published each weekday. On weekends, you can read a week's worth of The Odd Truth.

Grave Corruption

BEIJING - In what might be called a case of grave corruption, a former Chinese official is under investigation for building himself a lavish tomb using public funds, state media reported Sunday.

Former state tobacco company deputy manager Feng Wenchao has been kicked out of the Communist Party and turned over to prosecutors, the official Xinhua News Agency and newspapers said.

Feng ordered the grave built in his hometown of Qianjiang in the western region of Chongqing province between 1991 and 1998, Xinhua said. The grave covered an area of 790 square yards and cost more than $12,000, the news agency said.

Worse still, Feng had an epitaph carved into the headstone using ancient terms of praise for imperial officials to describe his merits, Xinhua said, adding that created a "pernicious political effect."

China is believed to lose billions of dollars a year to embezzlement of public funds by government officials and state enterprise managers. Courts have handed down harsh sentences, including the death penalty, to corrupt officials in an attempt to curb public anger over the problem.

Beer Strikes Back

SALT LAKE CITY - Call it the Great Salt Lake Beer Party.

Claiming he was a prime target of the beer tax bill that mostly Mormon state lawmakers passed last month, brewer Greg Schirf says he will assert his free-speech rights by pouring the first kegs of his new 1st Amendment Lager into Great Salt Lake.

On Thursday, Schirf says he'll dress up as founding father and notorious tippler Ben Franklin, and, in an updated version of the Boston Tea Party, protest taxation without representation.

"We're a brewery with a political agenda," Schirf said Friday. "We have a political statement to make, but we want to do it with a smile on our face."

The Wasatch Brewery owner and managing partner of the Utah Brewers Cooperative hopes tax bill sponsor Sen. Mike Waddoups will be listening.

Offended by Wasatch Brewery's billboard showing busty beer icon Provo Girl next to the caption, "Nice Cans," Waddoups promised to cite its "bad taste" during the bill debate.

"Our First Amendment rights were impacted because (he) told us to shut up or (he'd) come after us, and (he) did," Schirf said.

With the tax now $12.80 per barrel, Utah suds are among the most expensive in the nation. That's fine with Waddoups, who said Friday his main reason for the tax hike proposal was to continue funding the state's anti-drunk driving measures.

The Republican acknowledged Schirf's billboard was part of the equation. "I personally was more offended by that particular company than the whole industry," Waddoups said.

Barking At Police Dog Ruled Free Speech

ATHENS, Ohio - A man was exercising his free speech rights when he barked back at a police dog, a state appeals court has ruled.

The 4th Ohio District Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of charges against a man who answered the barks of Pepsie the dog in this southeast Ohio city in September 2001.

Jeremy Gilchrist, then 21, encountered the dog, who was in a police cruiser, as he walked with friends.

His attorney said he was trying to be funny when he barked back.

"The mere fact that the police dog had commenced the barking did not entitle it to a solo performance," attorney Patrick McGee wrote.

State law makes it illegal to taunt, torment or hit a police dog or horse. Officer Krishea Osborne testified that Gilchrist's barking made the dog "work himself up into a frenzy."

However, Athens County Municipal Judge Douglas Bennett threw out the charges last June, saying the law violated the right to free speech. The appeals court agreed Wednesday.

Bennett also said Gilchrist wasn't a threat to the animal or public safety because he was 30 feet away from the cruiser.

City Prosecutor Lisa Eliason argued in the appeal that taunting can occur from any distance. No decision has been made whether to file another appeal, she said Friday.

Surfing With Disaster

ABERDEEN, Wash. - Talk about riding a wave.

Jens Eventyr went to Westhaven State Park near Westport last week to do a bit of surfing. He did much more, getting caught in 12-foot swells in the Pacific Ocean that pushed him away from shore and had him clinging to his board through a stormy night at sea.

He finally got back to land the next afternoon, 18 miles north of where his impromptu adventure had begun.

"I can't even explain how horrible it was," Eventyr, of Olympia, told The Daily World newspaper. "Think about the worst nightmare of your life, but it goes on all night long."

Eventyr, 32, went out alone to the Pacific coast and wasn't terribly worried even when he was first sucked out by the current at about 5 p.m. Through the night, he hung onto his board in the 50-degree water, pelted by sporadic rain, seasick and vomiting.

Two Coast Guard helicopters and some boats scoured the area as search crews on foot — including his wife, friends and family — looked for him along the beaches.

To the north, the same current that had sent Eventyr away from the beach began changing direction. He tried to catch a wave to ride in to the beach. After a few attempts, he caught one.

"That man really had a will to live," Petty Officer Clint Strayhorn said. "It's amazing. That will be a story for the grandkids."

Vatican Asks McCartney To Keep It Down

LONDON - Paul McCartney may turn down the volume when he plays to an expected 300,000 fans outside Rome's Coliseum in May — to avoid disturbing the pope.

Organizers of the free concert said Monday that the former Beatle may drop some of his louder rock numbers, including "Back In the USSR" and "Live And Let Die," so the concert will not disturb the 82-year-old pontiff at his quarters in the Vatican nearby.

"We have been advised by Italian contacts that the show could keep His Holiness the Pope up all night," said tour promoter Barrie Marshall.

"Obviously, we do not want to cause any offense or sleeplessness to His Holiness and, because of the closeness of the Vatican to the show at the Coliseum, we are now considering our position on performing loud rock songs."

A spokesman for McCartney said, "We don't want to tone down the rock and roll element in the set — we reckon the pope may actually enjoy a boogie. But we don't want problems with the neighbors."

McCartney's first European tour for a decade, which kicked off in Paris last week and comes to Britain this weekend, includes at least 15 Beatles songs such as "Lady Madonna," "All My Loving" and "I Saw Her Standing There."

Dam Smart Beavers

KNOWLTON TOWNSHIP, N.J. - Beaver dams have caused flooding on town property and blocked fire hydrant pipes for years, but officials say they're done trying to outsmart the critters.

Instead the town will celebrate the beavers that haven't been deterred by having their dams knocked down, or by the earthen berms and pipes that were put in to stop them.

Township Mayor Frank Van Horn said he has designated June 21 as Knowlton Township Beaver Day. The beaver also has been declared the township's official animal.

When township workers remove dams to prevent flooding, the structures are quickly rebuilt by the beavers. Pipes put in to prevent clogs caused by dams are covered right up by the animals.

"We figured we couldn't win," Van Horn said. "Even the State of New Jersey said we've got some of the smartest beavers in the world."