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Up and away in 150 beautiful balloons: US lawn-chair aviator succeeds in 235-mile flight of fancy

lawn-chair pilot travels over 200 miles

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CAMBRIDGE, Idaho (AP) — Using his trusty BB gun to help him return to Earth, a 48-year-old gas station owner flew a lawn chair rigged with helium-filled balloons more than 200 miles across the Oregon desert Saturday, landing in a field in Idaho. Kent Couch created a sensation in this tiny farming community, where he touched down safely in a pasture after lifting off from Bend, Ore., and was soon greeted by dozens of people who gave him drinks of water, local plumber Mark Hetz said.

"My wife works at the City Market," Hetz said. "She called and said, 'The balloon guy in the lawn chair just flew by the market, and if you look out the door you can see him. "We go outside to look, and lo and behold, there he is. He's flying by probably 100 to 200 feet off the ground. "He takes his BB gun and shoots some balloons to lower himself to the ground. When he hit the ground he released all the little tiny balloons. People were racing down the road with cameras. They were all talking and laughing."

up and away in 150 helium balloons

Couch covered about 235 miles in about nine hours after lifting off at dawn from his gas station riding in a green lawn chair rigged with an array of more than 150 giant party balloons.

Sandi Barton, 58, who has lived her whole life in this town of about 300, said she and her brother-in-law were the first ones to reach Couch and shook his hand. "Not much happens in Cambridge," she said, adding that about half the town turned out. "He came right over our pea field," she said. "He was coming down pretty fast." She said Couch gave some of his balloons to local children. It was not clear where Couch went after he landed.

Kent Couch lifts off from his gas station in lawn chair rigged with more than 150 giant party balloons, Saturday, July 5, 2008

It began after Couch, clutching a big mug of coffee, kissed his wife and kids goodbye, then patted their shivering Chihuahua, Isabella, on the head. After spilling off some cherry-flavored Kool-Aid that served as ballast, Couch got a push from the ground crew so he could clear light poles and soared over a coffee cart and across U.S. Highway 20 into a bright blue sky.

"If I had the time and money and people, I'd do this every weekend," Couch said before getting into the chair. "Things just look different from up there. You've moving so slowly. The best thing is the peace, the serenity... Originally, I wanted to do it because of boyhood dreams. I don't know about girls, but I think most guys look up in the sky and wish they could ride on a cloud." Couch's wife, Susan, called him crazy: "It's never been a dull moment since I married him."

Kent Couch smiles as he prepares to take off Saturday, July 5, 2008, in his latest attempt to fly from his gas station in Bend, Ore., more than 200 miles to Idaho in a lawn chair rigged with more than 150 giant party balloons.

This was Couch's third balloon flight. He realized it would be possible after watching a TV show about the 1982 lawn chair flight over Los Angeles of truck driver Larry Walters, who gained folk hero fame but was fined $1,500 for violating air traffic rules. In 2006, Couch had to parachute out after popping too many balloons. And last year he flew 193 miles to the sagebrush of northeastern Oregon, short of his goal. "I'm not stopping till I get out of state," he said. To that end, he ordered more balloons. Dozens of volunteers wearing fluorescent green T-shirts that said "Dream Big" filled latex balloons 5 feet in diameter, attached them to strings and tied clusters of six balloons each to a tiny carabiner clip. Each balloon gives four pounds of lift. The chair was about 400 pounds, and Couch and his parachute 200 more. "I'd go to 30,000 feet if I didn't shoot a balloon down periodically," Couch said.

Head rigger Kimi Feuer makes final adjustments to Kent Couch's lawn chair Saturday, July 5, 2008, before tying on more than 150 giant party balloons in Bend, Ore. Couch lifted off successfully in his third bid to fly from his gas station in Bend, to Idaho, a distance of more than 200 miles

For that job, he carried a Red Ryder BB gun and a blow gun equipped with steel darts. He also had a pole with a hook for pulling in balloons, a parachute in case anything went wrong, a handheld Global Positioning System device with altimeter, a satellite phone, and two GPS tracking devices. One was one for him, the other for the chair, which got away in the wind as he landed last year. For food he carried some boiled eggs, jerky and chocolate. Couch flew hang gliders and skydived before taking up lawn-chair flights. He estimated the rig cost about $6,000, mostly for helium. Costs were defrayed by corporate sponsors.

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Photos courtesy of AAP, Aero-News Network, Inc., and AP Photo/Jeff Barnard

Original Source: AP

"These truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal". $656 bil. for Iraq War? or for 37 mil. Americans in poverty?

Mount Rushmore: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln

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Today marks the birth of a notion as well as a nation

July 4, 2008

By Jerry Davich Post-Tribune metro columnist

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for a pampered, privileged, and not-so-patriotic newspaper columnist to finally take the time to read his nation's most hallowed document, it must seem like a sad state of affairs, I agree. Yet here I am, a 46-year-old Yankee Doodle Davich who not once has read every word in the Declaration of Independence, arguably the most masterfully written political prose of Western civilization. Oh, sure, I can be a patriotic pretender and regurgitate its revolutionary highlights, such as "self-evident truths," "unalienable rights," and "all men are created equal." But what does that all mean in 2008, in a country that went from 2.5 million people in 1776 to 305 million today, with who knows how many here illegally or what that really means?

Portrait of President George Washington

In a country that riveted its global identity to become the economic leader, only to predictably lose that title to China. Or which has so far allocated $656 billion for the war in Iraq while millions of Americans go without food, health care, and proper education. And a country which only recently experienced its first "mountaintop moment" regarding civil rights, and possibly the not-so-self-evident truth that all men are created equal.

On June 28, 1776, Thomas Jefferson finished drafting the first version of the Declaration of Independence. On June 28, 2008, I began studying the final version in earnest. On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress adopted the document, and it later served as an autographed preamble for the birth of a nation. On July 4, 2008, I'd like to use this space as a preamble for the birth of a notion: Between the cookouts, parades, and fireworks, how about we pause to reflect how the Declaration has stood the test of time. And what better time, on the nation's 232nd birthday, to spark a conversation of sovereign thought among free people.

What would they think?

I can't help but wonder what our founding fathers would think of America the Bountiful in the 21st century, in all its hope and hype, gore and glory, fakeness and flag-waving.

37 million: Number of Americans who live below the official poverty line - 12.6 percent of the total population. Millions more struggle to get by

Would they condemn, condone, or celebrate a racially mixed presidential candidate? Or a middle-aged woman for that matter? Would they embrace or be aghast over the proliferation of guns? Or the recent Supreme Court ruling on the right to bear arms? Would they be surprised or surly over our global trade agreements with other countries, including the $107 billion of trade each year with the United Kingdom, our adversary in 1776, but our sixth-leading trading partner today? These are the questions I asked myself while reading the Declaration and its 56-signature endorsement.

Also, it seems our founding framers' clear, concise, and candid public declaration in 1776 has been replaced by red, white and often untrue political decoration in 2008, an election year. Rhetoric has replaced reasoning. Sound-bites have replaced sound thinking. Image has replaced imagination. Maybe my star-spangled skepticism seems un-American, but I feel there's a thin line between how we praise a "patriot" versus how we torment a "traitor."

Isn't it still our duty to be the watchdog of government, to secure our life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, and if necessary to indict our leaders, just as the Declaration indicted King George III? Isn't it our duty to question whether our personal freedoms are being protected, protracted, or politically pawned away? Isn't it our duty to reconsider exactly what defines our so-called unalienable rights? Two centuries later, does the term still adhere to our basic human rights, or do we view them as more national than natural?

The Prayer of George Washington at Valley Forge

Who's a patriot today?

And where does the "Creator" still fit into this 232-year-old marriage between church and state? A recent poll showed an overwhelming majority of Americans are "absolutely certain" that God exists, but many of them don't believe in worshipping on a regular basis. Is there a parallel with those same Americans who genuinely believe in democracy but are not absolutely certain about our government?

And what defines a patriot these days, "a person who loves, supports, and defends his or her country and its interests with devotion," according to my dictionary. Or someone who must symbolically wear an American flag pin to prove it?

On the morning of July 4, 1776, church bells rang out when the Declaration was finally, and formally, adopted. But, I discovered, two statesmen ended up not signing it. John Dickinson clung to the idea of reconciliation with Britain, and Robert R. Livingston thought the Declaration was premature. Today I can only wonder about all the statesmen in 21st century America who would have joined Dickinson and Livingston, refusing to put their necks on the line for the birth of a notion, and a nation.

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Images courtesy of Getty Images and Center for American Progress, and paintings by Gilbert Stuart and Arnold Friberg

Original Source: Post-Tribune and Center for American Progress

Golden Globes award goes to Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt and they are expecting twins!

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie

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Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's love for children is by no means limited to their own: The couple has donated $1 million to help kids affected by the war in Iraq, the Education Partnership for Children of Conflict announced.

The organization will distribute the donation, made through the couple's Jolie-Pitt Foundation, to four organizations working on behalf of children who have lost parents, homes and schools in Iraq. Children in the U.S. who have lost parents in the conflict will also benefit.

Voice actor Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt arrive for the screening of the animated film 'Kung Fu Panda'

"These educational support programs for children of conflict are the best way to help them heal," said Jolie in a written statement from Education Partnership for Children of Conflict, which she co-chairs.

"We hope to encourage others to give to these great organizations," Pitt added in the statement.

The Pitt-Jolie family: with children Maddox, Zahara, and Shiloh

The Jolie-Pitt Foundation has given $500,000 to three groups in the war-torn country which will provide aid for some 5,700 children, said the Education Partnership for Children of Conflict.  read more »

History in less than 2 minutes in Olympic sport - Natalie Coughlin snatches back the world record of 100-meter backstroke

Natalie Coughlin swims the 100-meter backstroke en route to setting a new world record of 59.03 during the U.S. Olympic swimming trials in Omaha, Nebraska

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OMAHA - Call it the one-heat world record. For about two minutes, Hayley McGregory was on the top of the world. Swimming in the second-to-last heat of the preliminaries for the 100-meter backstroke at the United States Olympic Trials, the 22-year-old from Texas clocked a 59.15, breaking the world record by .06 seconds.

When McGregory made the turn at 50 meters on world-record pace, the Qwest Center crowd got firmly behind her, cheering loudly. Natalie Coughlin, whose record McGregory broke, was standing over McGregory’s lane as she finished, getting ready to race in the final heat. The plan was for Coughlin, who this year has recorded three of the five all-time fastest times in the event, to conserve her energy and deliver a nice, easy performance, maybe a second or so faster than her personal best.

Natalie Coughlin reclaims her world mark in the 100-metre backstroke one heat after Hayley McGregory took it down at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials

When Coughlin saw McGregory’s time, she switched gears. Swimming with a sense of urgency seldom seen from a top swimmer early in the day’s heats, the 25-year-old Coughlin one-upped McGregory with a time of 59.03. McGregory will go down as the world-record holder for less than two minutes. "Not even a whole minute, really," McGregory said with a chuckle. "It’s still awesome." Looking ahead to Monday night’s semifinal, she said, "I’m really excited to race next to her."

The top 16 finishers will race again Monday night, after which the field will be pared to eight finalists, who will compete Tuesday for the two berths to Beijing. "I was planning on going a lot easier this morning," said Coughlin, the gold medalist in the 100 backstroke at the 2004 Olympics with a time of 1:00.37. McGregory’s swim, she said, "gave me motivation to swim a little faster than I was originally planning." Coughlin, a Californian who came into the race with five of the 10 fastest swims in the event, looks at the 100 backstroke as her baby. She wasn’t going to let somebody take it from her without putting up a fight. "I didn’t really want her to have it long," Coughlin said. After all, Coughlin had held the mark uninterrupted since 2002 when she became the first woman to break the minute barrier in this event, going 59.58 six years ago.

Natalie Coughlin swims the 100 meter backstroke en route to setting a new world record of 59.03 during the U.S. at the Swimming Olympic Trials on June 30, 2008 at the Qwest Center in Omaha, Nebraska

Either Coughlin or McGregory, or both, could conceivably take the record down even more in the semifinals later tonight. McGregory may have popped up on Coughlin's radar in a big way, but the 22-year-old from Longhorn Aquatics in Texas is no pretender, having shown sub-minute speed in the event, going 59.46 at a meet in Austin earlier this month. She started her career at the University of Texas, transferred to USC and found herself a bit adrift when the program changed hands from Mark Schubert to Dave Salo when Schubert joined USA Swimming.

The rest of morning preliminaries went to form. Jessica Hardy (1:06.85) of Trojan Swim was the fastest qualifier in the 100 breaststroke, edging her teammates Rebecca Soni, who went 1:06.90. In the men's 100 backstroke, Randall Bal had the fastest time in 53.28. World-record holder and Nike endorser Aaron Peirsol, who experimented with Speedo's LZR Racer, was sixth in the 100 backstroke, going 54.14. "The way everyone's swimming, it looks like it's not that big a deal anymore," Peirsol said, joking of the four world records set here in less than two days.

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Photos courtesy of Al Bello, Donald Miralle/Getty Images, and KCRA

Original Source: NY Times and LA Times

Fuel change breakthrough: biodiesel-powered speedboat Earthrace, around world in 60 days, beats record set in 1998 by 14 days

bio-diesel powered Earthrace

*Update Jan 6 2010* - Blue Roses to Earthrace Ady Gil: 100% biofuel, spirit of ocean, stands for life, saves crew, sunk by whaler, rests in sea...

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Team Earthrace, led by New Zealand Skipper Pete Bethune, has smashed the world circumnavigation record for a speedboat by almost 14 days. Almost five years of preparation, planning and two record attempts have paid off leaving the bio-diesel powered Earthrace team to claim the round the world speedboat record.

Possibly the coolest powerboat on the planet, the space age, wave piercing trimaran Earthrace took bio-fuel into history as the 78 foot, (24 metre) boat crossed the 'Round the World' finish line in Sagunto, Spain. In just 60 days Earthrace has powered almost 24,000 nautical miles around the world. Earthrace left Spain on Sunday April 27th at 14:35 local time (1325 GMT) and headed west on the long voyage around the world. The previous record for a powerboat to circumnavigate the globe was 74 days 20 hours 58 minutes 30 seconds, set by the UK boat ‘Cable & Wireless Adventurer’ in 1998.

Team Earthrace is led by New Zealand Skipper Pete Bethune  read more »

Livelihood. Alternative energy / commute when price is unaffordable? German man to give up job, torch own BMW in protest

To protest unaffordable fuel prices, man in Germany sets his BMW on fire

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A man who said he had to give up his job because he couldn't pay for the gasoline required for his commute set fire to his own BMW car in front of the German city of Frankfurt's most iconic skyscraper Friday to protest soaring fuel costs. Police said the man, who identified himself only as Michael, parked the car in a grassy area near the tower, poured a canister of gasoline over it and set it alight. Lettering painted on the car said "Gas Profiteering" and showed the address of his protest site on the internet.

By the time police and fire crews arrived, the car had been gutted. Police detained the man, 30, who lives in neighboring state of Bavaria. They said the damage, including the loss of the car, totaled about 10,000 euros ($15,700 dollars). The man had said he had wanted to burn the car in Berlin, but it had been too far to drive.

He said he had left his job 23 days earlier because he had had to pay 250 euros ($394) a month for fuel to drive to his place of employment located 80 kilometers (50 miles) from his home. Police spokesman Karlheinz Wagner said the protester would probably be charged with pollution and would receive a hefty invoice from the fire brigade. "The guy was quite lucky because the gas tank did not explode," he added.

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Original Source: Deutsche Welle

Comic pioneer George Carlin dies at 71 before he can receive the annual Mark Twain prize for American humor this November

George Carlin’s impact on the English language and modern culture will be felt for years to come

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George Carlin, an extraordinary standup comedian whose dark social satire won him multigenerational popularity and a starring role in the most famous broadcast obscenity case of modern times, died Sunday of heart failure in Los Angeles. He was 71.

In his 50-year career, George Carlin put out 22 solo albums and three best-selling books

Late last week the Kennedy Center announced he would receive its annual Mark Twain prize for American humor this November. The TV network Comedy Central in 2004 named him the second best standup comedian of all time, behind Richard Pryor.

Carlin became one of the most popular standup comedians in America in the 1960s and early 1970s through programs like "The Ed Sullivan Show." Carlin was one of the first comedians to dress "naturally" for a standup routine, in jeans and a beard, and his most famous routine became "Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television."

The early 90s saw Carlin dabble in family-friendly fare as the conductor on 'Shining Time Station'

"He was a genius, and I will miss him dearly," Jack Burns, who was the other half of a comedy duo with Carlin in the early 1960s, told The Associated Press. "He had an amazing mind, and his humor was brave and always challenging us to look at ourselves and question our belief systems, while being incredibly entertaining. He was one of the greats," Ben Stiller said.

Carlin appeared in three of Smith's films: 1999's 'Dogma,' 2001's 'Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back,' and 2004's 'Jersey Girl' (seen here, with Raquel Castro)

The comedian, who toured college campuses for years and made a name for himself delivering biting social commentaries, had released 22 solo albums and three best-selling books, including "Brain Droppings," a collection of essays and routines, and "Napalm and Silly Putty," a collection of his stand-up material. Both won Grammy awards. His third book, "When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?" was nominated for a Grammy. He earned several gold comedy albums and five Emmy nominations.

stand-up was Carlin's bread and butter, and he was inducted into the Comedy Hall of Fame in 1994

Carlin first appeared on radio in 1956 at age 19, while serving in the Air Force. He took a number of TV and movie roles over the years, introducing himself to a new generation of fans with the "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" series and an even newer generation with children's shows like "Thomas the Tank Engine." He did voiceovers in films that included "Cars" and in 1993 he got his own sitcom on Fox, "The George Carlin Show." He played George O'Grady, a New York cab driver, and the show ran 27 episodes. In the 1990s he appeared in the Barbra Streisand- Nick Nolte movie "Prince of Tides." Other film roles came in "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" and "Dogma," with Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. He was the first host of "Saturday Night Live" and appeared some 130 times on "The Tonight Show."

Carlin on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno in 2003, a show he appeared on many times, even filling in for Johnny Carson as guest host in the 80s

The death of his wife of more than 30 years, Brenda Hosbrook Carlin, on Mother's Day 1997 was particularly hard for Carlin. "See ya Dink," he wrote on his Web site. "Miss you a lot."

Last year, Carlin released "George Carlin: All My Stuff," a 14-DVD collection of his HBO specials from 1977 to 2005. He had shown no signs of slowing down. Just last week, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts announced Carlin would be awarded the 11th annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. The center is scheduled to honor Carlin at a tribute performance by former colleagues on Nov. 10, which will be broadcast later on PBS.

a note and a flower are seen on the star of comedian George Carlin on the Walk of Fame in Hollywood

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Photos courtesy of LA Times, The Money Times, Reuters/Mario Anzuoni, Lisa Falzon, Galella/WireImage

Original Source: NY Daily News and LA Times

Image Gallery: George Carlin 1937-2008

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