Theodore 'Dutch' Van Kirk, the last surviving Enola Gay crew member, dies at 93

July 30, 2014

The navigator and last surviving crew member of the Enola Gay, Theodore "Dutch" Van Kirk, died Monday in Stone Mountain, Georgia. He was 93.

Born in Northumberland, Pennsylvania, Van Kirk became an Army Air Forces cadet in 1941. He flew 58 missions in Europe and North Africa, The New York Times reports, and went to Utah in 1944 for training. At the time, he didn't know he was preparing to drop an atomic bomb. In 2005, Van Kirk told Time that his colonel said to him, "'We're going to do something that I can't tell you about right now, but if it works, it will end or significantly shorten the war.' And I thought, 'Oh, yeah, buddy, I've heard that before.'"

During an interview with The New York Times, Van Kirk recalled flying over Hiroshima and the moment of impact. He said he felt "a sense of relief," and upon returning to the base was greeted by "more generals and admirals than I had ever seen in one place in my life."

He retired in 1946 as a major, and received the Silver Star and Distinguished Flying Cross. Van Kirk went back to school and earned bachelor's and master's degrees from Bucknell University, eventually becoming a marketing executive with DuPont. He never shied away from the role he played in ending World War II, saying, "We were fighting an enemy that had a reputation for never surrendering, never accepting defeat. Where was the morality in the bombing of Coventry, or the bombing of Dresden, or the Bataan Death March, or the Rape of Nanking, or the bombing of Pearl Harbor? I believe that when you're in a war, a nation must have the courage to do what it must to win the war with a minimum loss of lives."

Foreign affairs

After investigation, Mexico declares 43 missing students dead

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The 43 college students who have been missing from southern Guerrero state in Mexico since September have been declared dead by Mexico's attorney general, Jesus Murillo Karam.

Murillo Karam cited confessions from suspects and forensic evidence from the scene where he said the students were killed after being captured by police and handed over to a gang in the city of Iguala. "The evidence allows us to determine that the students were kidnapped, killed, burned, and thrown into the river," he said during a press conference.

Murillo Karam said that a local gang, Guerreros Unidos, thought the men were rival gang members, but analyst Alejandro Hope told The Associated Press this motive makes no sense, as several suspects say they knew they were students. "We know the who, the what, the when and the where," he said. "We don't know the why. They have yet to tell a compelling story of why this happened. It doesn’t matter how many people they detain — unless they answer that question, the whole thing will remain under a halo of mystery."


Rep. says Hillary Clinton willing to testify again regarding Benghazi

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Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said she will testify again in front of Congress about the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya.

"She said, I'll do it, period," Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland), the ranking Democrat on the House Select Committee, said, according to The Hill. "If the committee wants her to come, she's willing to come."

On Tuesday, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-South Carolina), chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, said that he planned to summon Clinton. "Every witness who has relevant information needs to be talked to," he told reporters. If she didn't testify, it would be "an incomplete investigation." The attack killed four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, and an inquiry by the House Intelligence Committee found that "there was no intelligence failure prior to the attacks."


Study finds sugary drinks connected to earlier menstruation

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A new study has found a link between drinking sugary drinks and earlier menstruation in girls.

Researchers looked at data from 5,583 girls between the ages of 9 and 14 who had not yet started their period. From 1996 to 1998, they answered a diet questionnaire annually, and by 2001, 159 had still not yet started to menstruate. After controlling for maternal age at menarche, physical activity, several behavioral and dietary factors, and birth weight, researchers discovered that girls who drank one-and-a-half 12 ounce cans of non-diet soda or sweetened iced tea had their first period an average of 2.7 months earlier than girls who drank less than two cans a week.

"Our findings are robust, and not dependent on body mass index," lead author Karin B. Michels, an associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard, told The New York Times. "Sugared beverages are not healthy to begin with, and there should be heightened attention to avoiding them." Studies have already shown that starting menstruation at an earlier age is associated with an increased risk of endometrial and breast cancer later in life.


Obama drops plan to cut tax benefits on 529 savings accounts

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On Tuesday, President Obama dropped his proposal to remove the ability for people to withdraw money tax-free from 529 college savings plans.

The administration said that the tax break disproportionately benefited the wealthy, with more than 70 percent of accounts held by families who make at least $200,000 annually, and wanted to redirect more money to the middle class, The Washington Post reports. The White House faced criticism from parents and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, who said the accounts are one of the best ways for families to save for college. "The President's plan has the puzzle pieces necessary to bring the middle class back, but this particular piece didn't fit," Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) said.

Officials say the backlash became "such a distraction" that it was decided the plan needed to be abandoned.


Former Russian spy may have been poisoned twice

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In London, an inquiry is now underway into the death of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, who was poisoned in late 2006 and died weeks later.

Lawyer Robin Tam said that evidence would be shown that Litvinenko "was poisoned with polonium not once, but twice," the Los Angeles Times reports. In November 2006, Litvinenko met with two Russians for tea at a hotel in London, where his drink was spiked. He died a few weeks later after being hospitalized for radiation poisoning, but before he passed away, Litvinenko said Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the hit. Russia denied the allegation and said it would not extradite the men Britain identified as the prime poisoning suspects: Dmitry Kovtun and Andrei Lugovoi.

Tam said this wasn't the first time that Litvinenko became ill after being with the men; following a meeting in mid-October, Litvinenko complained of not feeling well. Ben Emmerson, a lawyer for the Litvinenko family, said he was killed because he had shared information with countries looking into ties between organized crime syndicates and the Kremlin: "He had to be eliminated — not because he was an enemy of the Russian state itself or an enemy of the Russian people — but because he had become an enemy of the close-knit group of criminals who surround Vladimir Putin and keep his corrupt regime in power."


Scientists just found a way to 'unboil' an egg

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Anyone can boil an egg, but scientists have figured out a way to "unboil" one, The Huffington Post reports. University of California, Irvine, and Australian scientists reversed the effects boiling has on proteins found in egg whites.

"In our paper, we describe a device for pulling apart tangled proteins and allowing them to refold," researcher Gregory Weiss said in a news release. "We start with egg whites boiled for 20 minutes at 90 degrees Celsius and return a key protein in the egg to working order."

Reconstituting proteins could streamline manufacturing cheese and other foods. It could also speed up development of drugs used to treat cancer.

outer space

Huge ring system around distant exoplanet is heavier, bigger than Saturn's

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The sixth planet from the sun has nothing on J1407b, a giant expolanet with rings 200 times larger than Saturn's.

The planetary ring system was discovered in 2012, and is the first of its kind to be found outside of the solar system. In Astrophysical Journal, researchers write that the scale of the rings is even greater than first thought: More than 30 individual rings are tens of millions of miles in diameter, and between each ring there are gaps that point towards the presence of exomoons, Discovery News reports.

"The star is much too far away to observe the rings directly, but we could make a detailed model based on the rapid brightness variations in the star light passing through the ring system," lead author Matthew Kenworthy of Leiden Observatory said. "If we could replace Saturn's rings with the rings around J1407b, they would be easily visible at night and be many times larger than the full moon."

the hackers are coming

Government revamps social media security after Central Command hack

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Remember the embarrassing U.S. Central Command hack on Twitter and YouTube from earlier this month? No classified information got out, but there were a whole lot of pro-ISIS posts.

The General Service Administration released new social media security guidelines Tuesday to stop that from happening again (they hope), BuzzFeed News reports.

Agencies should set up "social media stakeholder teams" to quickly respond to incidents like Central Command's, the guidelines say. They should also set up two-step verification for all logins and follow federal recommendations for setting up strong passwords. Oh, and ensure no former employees have access to the accounts.

Check out the full list of guidelines here.

do you want to build a snowman?

Snowstorm forecasts weren't actually that far off

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Yana Paskova/Getty Images

As New Yorkers woke up to less snow than anticipated, many questioned the validity of weather forecasts predicting a possibly historic blizzard. But forecasters and atmospheric scientists said the models weren't far off.

The storm was extremely powerful, but the intensity hit 50 to 100 miles east of forecasts, and New York City fell just outside the blizzard range.

"In the big picture, this was not a bad forecast," Columbia University atmospheric scientist Adam Sobel told The New York Times. "But if you sit in New York City, this was a bust."

Arguably, some New Yorkers should be thanking the skewed forecasts for getting them a day off work.


Apple smashes revenue expectations behind massive iPhone sales

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Apple Inc. on Tuesday reported a record profit for the last fiscal quarter, which ended Dec. 27, thanks in part to enormous sales totals of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.

The tech giant sold 74.5 million iPhones in that three-month span, a 44 percent spike from the same quarter last year. The sales surge helped the company post $74.6 billion in quarterly revenue — a 30 percent increase from last year's $57.6 billion haul, and well above the roughly $67.7 billion analysts expected.

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