Last member of Enola Gay crew dies at age 93

Van kirk tibbets

The last surviving crew member of the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the first atomic bomb on Japan near the end of World War II, has died.

Capt. Theodore Van Kirk, who served as the navigator aboard the Enola Gay on Aug. 6, 1945, died Monday of natural causes at the Park Springs Retirement Community in Stone Mountain, Ga. He was 93.

Kirk, called “Dutch,” was 24 years old at the time of the famous flight, piloted by Col. Paul Tibbets, in which their B-29 Superfortress bomber dropped an atomic bomb code-named “Little Boy” on Hiroshima, killing 140,000 people.

Three days later, the US would drop a second atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Nagasaki. On Aug. 15 the Japanese surrendered, ending the Second World War.

Van Kirk navigated the Enola Gay from Tinian in the Mariana Islands to Hiroshima, on the Japanese island of Honshu, a six-and-a-half hour flight, within a few seconds of its original estimated time of arrival.

The New York Times described the ensuing moments in its obituary of Van Kirk:

Major (Thomas) Ferebee released the bomb, known as Little Boy, and 43 seconds later, at 1,890 feet above ground zero, it exploded in a nuclear inferno, leaving tens of thousands dead or dying and turning Hiroshima into scorched devastation.

Colonel Tibbets executed a diving turn to avoid the blast effects, but the Enola Gay was buffeted by a pair of shock waves. A flash of light that Mr. Van Kirk likened to a photographer’s flashbulb engulfed the cabin.

‘The plane jumped and made a sound like sheet metal snapping,’ Mr. Van Kirk told The New York Times on the 50th anniversary of the Hiroshima raid. ‘Shortly after the second wave, we turned to where we could look out and see the cloud, where the city of Hiroshima had been.’

He added: ‘The entire city was covered with smoke and dust and dirt. I describe it looking like a pot of black, boiling tar. You could see some fires burning on the edge of the city.’

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American flags, from 1767 to 2014, and a lot in between

american flags

If there’s one thing Americans like, it’s a good flag. We’ve certainly had our fair share over the years.

The folks at Pop Chart Lab were kind enough to condense nearly 250 years of the American flags into a single poster, beginning with the Sons of Liberty’s 1767 banner to today’s familiar 50-star pattern.

This, however, likely isn’t all the flags used to represent the United States over the many decades, as the poster jumps from 1877, when there were 37 states, to 1912, when there were 48 states.

Given the concept of adding a star for each state in the Union, one supposes that the flag was altered every time a new state – or perhaps group of states (six were admitted between Nov. 2, 1889, and July 10, 1890, for example) was admitted – which would seemingly have resulted in other versions of the flag during the years in between.

Or perhaps the US government was so hell-bent on expansion that they simply decided to wait until they had filled in all the space between Canada and Mexico before coming up with the 48-star design in 1912.

Personally, I’m partial to the Gadsden Flag, although it’s pretty much been co-opted by the Tea Party rabble, the Moultrie Flag, which closely resembles today’s South Carolina flag, and the Green Mountain Boys Flag. Old, but interesting.

(HT: Fast Company)

It’s a dry heat, like the inside of a baker’s oven

feels like

Given the above comes courtesy of the military-oriented blog Bring the heat, Bring the Stupid, it’s likely that the reading was taken at a US military base somewhere in the Middle East.

My first reaction was, well, it only feels like it’s 106.

Somehow, that’s likely small consolation to folks in that area of the world, particularly if they’re dressed in uniform and lugging around gear and weapons.

Note also there’s absolutely no hint of a breeze. Conditions more akin to the inside of an oven than, say, an inhabitable planet.

I’ve experienced temperatures as high at as 111 degrees (44 Celsius), in California’s Sacramento Valley – not a lot of fun, even for someone who revels in heat. I couldn’t image what another 10 degrees without any wind whatsoever would have been like.

Living in a world shaped by World War I and its aftermath

verdun cemetery

As the centennial marking the beginning of the Great War nears, we would do well to remember the sea change brought about by the 1914-18 conflict.

Beyond the more than 10 million killed, the onslaught of the Spanish influenza in 1918 which claimed an additional 50 million lives worldwide and the collapse of four major empires, World War I reshaped the world, and continues to impact us today.

The seeds for a second, much great world clash a generation later were planted in the peace treaties following the Great War; boundaries were drawn that still exist today, with countries created along arbitrary lines that served as catalysts for future tension and strife; and government control over areas such as trade and travel were forever altered and often restricted.

As Margaret MacMillan of Oxford College, the author of The War that Ended Peace: The Road to 1914, writes in the Wall Street Journal, the conflict not only changed the course of history but sent the world down a dispiriting path that likely didn’t have to happen.

Before 1914, Russia was a backward autocracy but was changing fast. Its growth rate was as high as any of the Asian tigers in the 1960s and 1970s; it was Europe’s major exporter of food grains and, as it industrialized, was importing machinery on a massive scale. Russia also was developing the institutions of civil society, including the rule of law and representative government. Without the war, it might have evolved into a modern democratic state; instead, it got the sudden collapse of the old order and a coup d’état by the Bolsheviks. Soviet communism exacted a dreadful toll on the Russian people and indeed the world—and its remnants are still painfully visible in the corrupt, authoritarian regime of Vladimir Putin.

The war also destroyed other options for Europe’s political development. The old multinational empires had their faults, to be sure, but they enabled the diverse peoples within their boundaries to live in relative harmony. Both Austria-Hungary and the Ottomans were trying to work out ways of encompassing the demands of different groups for greater autonomy. Might they have succeeded if the war had not exhausted them to the point of collapse? We will never know, but since then, the world has suffered the violence and horrors of ethnic nationalism.

The armistice of 1918 ended one gigantic conflict, but it left the door open for a whole host of smaller ones – the “wars of the pygmies,” as Winston Churchill once described them. Competing national groups tried to establish their own independence and to push their borders out at the expense of their neighbors. Poles fought Russians, Lithuanians and Czechs, while Romania invaded Hungary. And within their borders, Europeans fought each other. Thirty-seven thousand Finns (out of some 3 million) died in a civil war in the first months of 1918, while in Russia, as many as a million soldiers and many more civilians may have died by the time the Bolsheviks finally defeated their many opponents.

The war had brutalized European society, which had grown accustomed during the largely peaceful 19th century to think that peace was the normal state of affairs. After 1918, Europeans were increasingly willing to resort to other sorts of force, from political assassinations to street violence, and to seek radical solutions to their problems. The seeds of the political movements on the extremes of both the right and the left – of fascism and communism – were sown in the years before 1914, but it took World War I to fertilize them.

The war aided the rise of extremism by weakening Europe’s confidence in the existing order. Many Europeans no longer trusted the establishments that had got them into the catastrophe. The German and Austrian monarchies were also overthrown, to be succeeded by shaky republics. The new orders might have succeeded in gaining legitimacy in time, but that was the one thing that Europe and the world didn’t have. The Great Depression at the end of the 1920s swept the new regimes away and undermined even the strongest democracies.

The death of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, on June 28, 1914, was, sadly, just one of a number of high-profile assassinations that had taken place in the previous few decades, including those of US President William McKinley, Czar Alexander II of Russia and King Umberto I of Italy.

But by the time Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip killed Ferdinand and his wife Sophie on a street in Sarajevo, the world was, quite simply, bound on a course for destruction.

One hundred years later we would do well to study the Great War and the world it made.

(Top: Cemetery at Verdun, France, scene of some of the worst fighting of World War I.)

College 200 years ago was for the few, the erudite

South_Carolina_College_Horseshoe_1850

Few will question that college has changed dramatically over the past two centuries. Today, post-secondary education is often geared toward preparing an individual for employment, where 200 years ago the goal was to provide a classical education.

In the early 19th century, very few people went to college, but it would appear that those who did were extremely well educated.

Consider this description, taken from The Life and Times of C.G. Memminger (1893), a biography of the Confederacy’s Secretary of the Treasury, of the knowledge necessary to gain admittance to South Carolina College (today’s University of South Carolina) in 1819:

“A candidate must be able to sustain a satisfactory examination upon Arithmetic and Elementary Algebra and English Grammar; upon Cornelius Nepos, Caesar, Sallust, and the whole of Virgil’s Aeneid in Latin; and in Greek upon the Gospels of Sts. John and Luke, the Acts of the Apostles, and the Greek Grammar.”

And that was just to get into the school!

The description goes on to add that “The studies to be pursued in the Freshman year are Cicero’s Orations and Odes of Horace in Latin, Xenophon’s Cyropaedia and Memorabilia in Greek, Adam’s Roman Antiquities, Vulgar and Decimal Fractions, the Equations and Extractions of Roots, English Grammar and Rhetoric.”

My first thought is one would be hard pressed to find a college student today proficient in the above in their mother tongue, never mind in Latin and Greek.

Some of the names listed above are familiar, others not so much.

Cornelius Nepos was a Roman biographer whose simple writing style made his passages a standard choice for translation on Latin exams.

Gaius Sallustius Crispus, often known simply as Sullust, was a Roman historian and politician whose works include The Conspiracy of Catiline.

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Local TV news: Exploiting the exploitable since 1955

suspicious flashlight

It has been said that television news is for crabby old white people who are afraid of everything outside their yards, but that’s likely too narrow a definition. TV news instead appears to be geared toward the easily scared of all ages and races, with its ultimate goal being to so paralyze viewers with fear that they’ll be afraid to move and change the channel.

Take a news story from Savannah, Ga., television station WTOC which detailed a Georgia man’s battle with Necrotizing Fasciitis, or, as the station hypes repeatedly, the dreaded “flesh-eating bacteria.”

According to the story, Joseph Allen was fishing in the Ogeechee River last week when he had to get into the water to fix a problem with his boat. He apparently had a sore on his arm and it became infected with Necrotizing Fasciitis. Allen is now in critical condition.

After describing Allen’s symptoms – “The arm that had the little cut on it was now purple from the wrist to the shoulder” – and including a plea from his wife to “try to get the Savannah Riverkeeper, the EPA, and government; someone involved that will clear up this river,” WTOC reported in the third-to-last paragraph that this is “at least the third case (of Necrotizing Fasciitis) reported in Georgia in the last few years.”

Wow: The third case in the entire state of Georgia – 59,425 square miles – in the past few years. And neither of the previous two cases occurred in the Ogeechee River, which stretches nearly 300 miles. I’m surprised the World Health Organization hasn’t quarantined all of North America.

Television news is great for a couple of things: Exploiting tragedies and throwing in quotes from the suffering, even if their comments add no context or visible value to the story.

If this is, as it appears, the first recorded case of Necrotizing Fasciitis in the Ogeechee River, it doesn’t necessarily indicate that there’s a major problem with that body of water. One can’t blame the anguished wife for her comments; she’s upset, is likely no expert on the ecology of the river and probably felt compelled in her time of sorrow to say something.

It’s the media’s job, however, to edit stories so the information provides value to consumers, instead of gratuitously manipulating the suffering.

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Bidding adieu to the last of the original Ramones

It was rocker Neil Young who sang the lyric “it’s better to burn out than to fade away,” but few groups embodied that concept better than the Ramones.

They played fast – very fast, almost too fast – and eschewed musical luxuries for the basics of two guitars, drums and a vocalist.

The last original member of the Ramones, Tommy Ramone, died Friday at age 65, essentially closing the book on a remarkable bit of rock history.

Despite their stripped-down style, anti-establishment look and the fact that to the untrained ear the Ramones’ sound, described as a “wall of noise,” could come across as little more than a jumble of yelling and musical anarchy, they influenced not only a generation of musicians, but of music aficionados, even as mainstream radio ignored them for decades.

The group was formed in the New York City neighborhood of Forest Hills, Queens, in 1974. All four members adopted pseudonyms ending with the surname “Ramone,” although none were related. They took the name Ramone from an alias Paul McCartney used to check into hotels.

They group wore ripped jeans, black leather and bad haircuts, and came to embody American punk rock with tunes such as “I Wanna Be Sedated,” “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker,” “The KKK Took My Baby Away” and “Blitzkrieg Bop.”

Tommy Ramone, 65, was born Thomas Erdelyi in Budapest, Hungary, to Jewish parents who had survived the Holocaust by being hidden by neighbors. He died of bile duct cancer.

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