The Odd Truth, March 3, 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.

Farmer Finds Rare Meteorite

FAIRFAX, Mo. - Farmer Gary Wennihan may have made a meteoric rise to wealth.

Wennihan, 60, was tossing aside rocks in his soybean field to prevent damage to his combine when he picked up a strange-looking rock in the fall of 2000.

It turned out to be a rare meteorite scientists say could be worth as much as $1 million.

Ben Rogers, a Northwest Missouri State University student who attends Wennihan's church, offered to take it to his geology professor.

After polishing away the layers of rust, Rogers and assistant geology professor Richard Felton found a shiny metallic surface.

"It was beautiful, almost like chrome, it was so shiny," Rogers said.

Felton's colleague, Renee Rohs, took the rock to a University of Kansas professor who taught her about meteors. Half of it was sent to the Institute of Meteoritics at the University of New Mexico for more analysis.

A leading meteorite expert at UCLA concluded that nothing similar had ever been found.

Rohs said other meteorites have brought $500 a gram. After small samples were donated to three universities, there still were 1,800 grams - or 4 pounds - left of Wennihan's rock.

"I'm holding onto it until I get a good offer, and it may never come," Wennihan said last week. "I'm certainly not holding my breath. And in the meantime, I'm just having fun with it.

An Honest Mistake

STOCKHOLM, Sweden - The passengers were seated and the engines revving up when the captain of a passenger plane asked the tower for permission to take off.

All he got was silence.

The tower was empty because the air controller assigned to the morning shift was at home.

"The controller who was supposed to be in the tower failed to show up because of a schedule glitch," air traffic control spokesman Ulf Axelsson told The Associated Press on Monday.

The Skyways-owned plane bound for Copenhagen, Denmark, sat on the tarmac for nearly 30 minutes Saturday at Karlstad Airport, 190 miles west of the capital, Stockholm, before airport officials could find another controller to come in.

The airline didn't say how many passengers were aboard the twin-engine turboprop plane.

Hot-Rodding Granny

ROME - In the last two years, the driver had run up $140,000 in fines in a Ferrari, in a BMW and on a Honda motorcycle. A pretty impressive track record for a 97-year-old, police thought.

Investigating, police in Rome discovered that three men had used the identity documents of an elderly Roman woman to register vehicles in her name, which meant the fines for speeding and parking violations were sent to the woman, who apparently had no knowledge her name was being used. Some of the vehicles were also involved in accidents, Italian news agencies said Saturday.

One of the men was described as a family friend.

Rome police officials said that while the three men were under investigation no arrests have been made in the case of apparent fraud.

639-Year Long Concert Begins

HALBERSTADT, Germany - First there was silence – one-and-a-half years of it.

But that was just a brief lead-in for Friday's playing of the opening notes in what's planned as the world's longest concert, a 639-year piece being performed in a former church in east Germany.

With 72 years already mapped out, the concert inspired by the American avant-garde composer John Cage challenges the creativity of future generations to keep the music playing.

"This is a project that conveys optimism," said Michael Betzle, a businessman who helps run the private foundation behind the concert. "When you start something like that, you're counting on people's creativity 200, 300 years down the road."

The three notes being played Friday - G sharp, B, and G sharp - are the debut for an organ built for Cage's music, with keys being held down by weights and with organ pipes to be added over the years for new notes.

The project, driven by a group of German music experts and an organ builder, is centered around a Cage piece called "Organ2/ASLSP" - or "Organ squared/As slow as possible."

As the idea took shape in 2000, backers counted back to the 1361 inauguration of a famous organ in the Halberstadt cathedral - 639 years earlier.

They then stretched Cage's piece from a 20-minute piano concert to last just as long.

The concert actually began Sept. 5, 2001, the day Cage - who died in 1992 - would have turned 88.

It's a concept that Cage surely would have appreciated. Born in Los Angeles in 1912 and a student of avant-garde composer Arnold Schoenberg, he once wrote a piece consisting of 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence.

Clinton Summoned For Jury Duty

NEW YORK - Bill Clinton served eight years in the White House.

Now he could be serving on a jury on a federal case in New York.

Although Clinton's name was never revealed at a hearing in federal court in Manhattan yesterday, his answers, read aloud in the courtroom, provided the giveaway.

Under previous jobs held, the respondent answered "President of the United States." He also said he could be fair and impartial, despite what he described as an "unusual experience" with the Office of Independent Counsel.

Clinton's attorney David Kendall tells the New York Times the former president is willing to serve on a jury, if chosen.

The trial involves a man charged with attempted murder in an alleged gang shooting. He could face life in prison, if convicted.

Jesus Christ Sought For Tax Reform Campaign

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Susan Pace Hamill, a tax attorney and a Christian, couldn't believe what she was reading about Alabama's tax structure.

Could a Bible Belt state where so many people claim to follow Jesus really be taxing personal incomes as low as $4,600 annually for a family of four - lower than any other state - while letting wealthy timber owners pay less than $1 per acre in property taxes?

To Hamill, the whole system was immoral. She said government and the rich were profiting from the poor, something the Bible prohibits, and it was time to put Christ into the equation.

Combining her work experience with her faith, the one-time Internal Revenue Service lawyer wrote a paper spelling out the moral duty of Christians to work for a fairer tax system in Alabama.

But a century dominated for decades by land barons and racial segregationists has left the tax law difficult to change. Even some Christian groups have greeted Hamill's thesis with little enthusiasm.

Titled "An Argument for Tax Reform Based on Judeo-Christian Ethics," Hamill's paper contends Christians in overwhelmingly Protestant Alabama have a moral duty to support a rewrite of the state's tax codes, long viewed by critics as regressive and unfair to the needy.

Old Testament laws required fairness to the poor, and Jesus talked about caring for "the least of these." So believers are required to make sure the state doesn't disproportionately burden its poorest residents, Hamill argues.

"Alabama's tax structure fails to come close to meeting the moral demands that God has revealed for us in the Bible," wrote Hamill.

Off To A Bad Start

NEWARK, Delaware - A Delaware teen evidently never heard the expression "cover your tracks." Police in Newark say footprints in the snow led them to a 15-year-old robber. According to officers, the teen held up the Family Dollar Store over the weekend. Officers and a police dog followed the trail to an area home. Police says they found the money — and the boots that made the footprints — inside the house. The teenager is now charged with first-degree robbery and possession of a deadly weapon during a felony.

Supreme Court Judge Gets Drunk, Hits, Runs

SEATTLE - A state Supreme Court justice in Washington state is apologizing — after being cited for drunken driving and hit and run.

Justice Bobbe Bridge calls her behavior "inexcusable" and promises to seek a professional evaluation of her alcohol use.

Bridge was arrested Friday night after reports that a silver Mercedes had struck an unoccupied pickup truck in a Seattle neighborhood.

The car stopped after a witness pulled in front and boxed it in.

Bridge took two breath tests — registering blood-alcohol levels nearly three times the legal limit.

No charges have been filed and Washington state's chief justice says he hopes Bridge remains on the court.

Church Hires Taxis To Boost Attendance

STOCKHOLM, Sweden - Wanted: churchgoers. Place of work: Landeryd church. Salary: Good communion.

That ad was put in a local paper last week by the vicar at the Lutheran church of Landeryd, a small community 100 miles southwest of the capital, Stockholm. Desperate for more attendance, the church is even offering free taxi rides for those who don't have a car.

"I want more people to attend the Sunday services," the Rev. Bjoern Frennesson told The Associated Press on Sunday.

There are 14,300 people in the parish, but few of them live near the church.

"I want a bigger base of loyal worshippers. I want to create a spirit of community, a kind of responsibility among the churchgoers and explain that we are important," Frennesson said.

Apparently the ad had an effect. Normally there are only 20 to 40 people attending the service. This Sunday there were about 100, Frennesson said.