What I missed while I was in West Virginia

Well, I spent the last week road tripping to West Virginia on business, and I came back to find that the United States is the closest it’s been to nuclear war since the Cuban Missile Crisis more than five decades ago.

For the record, it was my first time in West Virginia, and while I try hard not to stereotype, everybody there looked exactly like I expected them to. Lots of flannel shirts and trucker hats. The only disappointment was that people weren’t walking down the streets wearing coal miner uniforms.

But I can safely say that I didn’t meet a single unkind person in my brief time in the state. The more I travel south, the more I can confirm that southern hospitality is indeed a real thing.

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They don’t call West Virginia the Mountain State for nothing

Now I can cross West Virginia off my travel bucket list … said no one ever.

And while being surrounded my mountains affords you a certain feeling of detachment that lets you distance yourself from the rest of the world, I did still try to keep up with the news. Turns out a lot happened while I was away.

As we all know, North Korea is a rogue nation that is recklessly building up its nuclear arsenal. Their government is a true dictatorship to the core, with a history of starving and imprisoning its people for even the tamest of offenses. Simple accommodations like electricity and television in homes are scarce, bordering on nonexistent.

And led by such an unstable figure such as 33-year-old Kim Jong-un, the situation obviously requires a great deal of subtlety and diplomacy to avoid setting off a domino effect that ends with nuclear catastrophe.

So naturally, Donald Trump is the perfect man for the job! Subtlety and diplomacy just happen to be his strong points.

North Korean officials have publicly stated that any threats to their nation would be met with a nuclear strike. They may be bluffing. But that’s not something I want to find out, and it’s hard to feel comfortable when we have nearly as unpredictable of a leader making our decisions.

Kim Jong-un

Sound bites like “the era of strategic patience is over” may sound good on TV, but could realistically have devastating effects. Pretending you’re sending a naval armada may look tough, but in reality, it’s the nuclear equivalent of lighting a match in a tinderbox.

I always figured that one day this blog would end because I became too busy or too lazy, and not because of nuclear extinction. So we’ll see.

What else happened last week? Well, Arkansas, still embattled in legal wrangling over their 10-day execution fest, was able to go through with one execution of African-American prisoner and convicted murderer Ledell Lee, after the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to let it happen. A double execution is also planned for Monday night.

Which means that Neil Gorsuch’s first decision as a Supreme Court Justice was to kill a black man.

Sounds about right.

But by far the biggest news that happened over the last several days is the French French electionspresidential election. The nation picked its top two candidates on Sunday, choosing centrist Emmanuel Macron and right-wing sensationalist and known Muslim hater Marine La Pen, who will now compete in a runoff next month in what is set to be a major turning point in the history of Europe.

Political experts foresaw this as a watershed election not only for France, but the entire continent and the future of the European Union. And now, the French people have a choice to do what the United Kingdom and United States failed to do – reject populism and xenophobia and join together behind a more unifying force.

This upcoming vote deserves a lot more attention, and I’ll devote a post to it in the near future in lieu of making this one too much of a currents event overload.

Bearing that in mind, I fortunately was unable to even touch on Bill O’Reilly!

Pun absolutely and horribly intended.

Go home, Arkansas, you’re drunk

It took eight years, but I am finally going to talk about a state that no one would know existed if it wasn’t for Bill Clinton and the Little Rock 9 – Arkansas.

But sometimes obscurity is a good thing. Because when anything, be it a person or a place, gains national attention, half of the time it’s for something negative.

And in the case for Arkansas, the 25th state admitted into the Union, it’s not on the good side.

The state has made national headlines in recent weeks after its Republican governor, Asa Hutchinson, ordered the execution of eight prisoners over the span of 11 days in late April, before the state’s supply of lethal drugs reached its expiration date.

Arkansas has not carried out an execution since 2005. Since capital punishment resumed in the United States in 1977, no other state has conducted as many executions in the same month.

But Arkansas decided to go big or go home. There was originally scheduled to be eight executions, but one was just recently granted clemency. All seven felons were convicted of murder.

Arkansas executions

With just days to go, the executions are being appealed in federal court on the argument of cruel and unusual punishment. Which is perfectly logical. When you rush what is supposed to be a carefully performed and meticulous process such as an execution, a lot can go wrong.

This isn’t rushing to assemble seven couches you bought at IKEA before a Super Bowl party. If just one little thing goes wrong, then these people – despite their dubious past – will suffer terribly. And that’s not what we do in America.

At least that’s not what we try to do. Oklahoma says hi.

There’s another oddity in this situation – state law requires executions to be witnessed by six to 12 witnesses who are non-family members of the inmate or victim to ensure that it’s being carried out legally.

That means Arkansas needs at least 42 witnesses, something they’re having trouble finding. They’re so desperate that a state official attended a local rotary club meeting to solicit volunteers. Hey, I’m sure somebody was free one of those nights and decided they had nothing better to do than watch somebody die. If they arrive early they can catch a double feature!

It’ll be very interesting to see over the next few days if these executions go on as planned.Arkansas executions2

What I find most befuddling is that Arkansas is so eager to fast-track these executions that they’re willing to take unprecedented steps to get them done. While most states are scaling back on executions, Arkansas is rushing people to the express lane.

You can basically line up all their mug shots together and it’ll look like an inmate Brady Bunch.

The good news is that they have just enough inmates to qualify for the seven-executions-or-less self-checkout line.

Which reminds me, I need to go grocery shopping tomorrow.

*Makes mental note not to forget to buy ZICO coconut water*

What was I talking about again? Oh, right, seven people being put to death at the same rate that Fast and the Furious movies reproduce.

But Arkansas still has three days to realize it’s trying to do something pretty crazy.

And with that, I completed a blog about Arkansas. That leaves only Montana, Idaho and Wyoming as the only states I’ve yet to discuss.

I’M WATCHING YOU.

General rule of thumb: don’t compare the Holocaust to anything

It’s been about a week since I discussed politics, and since then, the entire world has basically changed course.

And that’s not really much of an exaggeration.

Early last week, the world was exposed to shocking visceral images of incapacitated children, poisoned by sarin gas in what appears to have been a chemical weapons attack by the authoritarian Syrian government led by President Bashar al-Assad. The use of chemical weapons is not only outlawed by the United Nations, but also in an agreement between Syria, Russia, and the U.S. in 2013 after the country used chemical weapons against its people the first time.

In response to the horrific attack, President Trump – who categorically denounced any type of intervention in Syria four years ago – launched a surprise missile attack on a Syrian air base.

Russia, who has helped prop up the Assad regime during the country’s six-year civil war to protect its own interests in the region, condemned the attack.

The United States, in turn, accused Russia of covering up the Syrian government’s role in the attack. And this was all on the eve of Thursday’s meeting between Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Vladimir Putin, which, until the two finally sat down, no one was sure was actually going to happen.

And just like that, the Trump-Putin bromance has finally come to an end.

Sean Spicer

While many have praised Trump for his decisive action, others have been critical of his spontaneous action that in all likelihood was taken without an overall strategic plan. Others say it’s a smokescreen to distract us from discussing U.S.-Russia collusion.

But this, without a doubt, begins a new chapter in our country’s role in the Middle East, as well as our relations with Russia. We knew Trump’s footprint would be left on the geopolitical landscape. This is it. And now we see where we go from here.

Unbelievably, these seismic events were still outshadowed this week by the incomprehensible remarks by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who, without any provocation, essentially downplayed Adolf Hitler’s cruelty and rewrote history to pretend like he never gassed and murdered more than six million Jews.

The statements were made during a White House press briefing, which drew audible gasps from reporters in attendance, and led to Spicer issuing an apologetic statement afterwards. But the outcry over his remarks was so great that he appeared on camera on CNN to issue a further apology later in the day. He then spent all of Wednesday on an apology tour.

Oh, Sean. I mean, the man has the hardest job in the world, being forced to justify the nonsensical actions, statements and tweets of Donald Trump to the press. But watching him try to back away from his own words was like watching a trainwreck in action.

Adding insult to injury, he referred to Nazi death camps as “Holocaust centers,” as if they were some type of museum, and misstated the name of the Syrian president.

And on top of that, he said it during Passover.

It’s pretty much common sense. Whether you’re talking to a friend, a colleague, your pet dog, or especially the entire national press corps, do not draw comparisons to the Holocaust. And don’t show sympathy for Adolf Hitler.

It’s pretty much the basic rule of humanity.

Melissa McCarthy … you’re up.

Oops, United Airlines did it again

Since the election, we’ve learned that if anyone besides Donald Trump or a member of his administration becomes the focus of national outrage, it means they screwed up really badly.

I’m talking an epic screw-up.

It was just two weeks ago when United Airlines accomplished this dubious honor by denying two young girls entry to a flight because they were wearing leggings.

Not long after, United Airlines was off the hook when Pepsi stole the spotlight with their shockingly tone deaf commercial that trivialized the racial and political unrest that fuels public protests.

But United Airlines apparently missed the notoriety spotlight, and would not be denied.

And they’re back, baby! All it took was the roughing up of a Chinese doctor and dragging his semi-conscious, bloody body off an airplane.

You all have heard about this in some capacity, as it’s made headline news over the last two days.

The video looks terrible. What we see is a law enforcement official savagely pulling the limp human body of a man who paid to be on the flight, and had already been boarded and had been seated – all because the airline overbooked the flight and needed to clear seats for flight attendants who were scheduled to work on a different flight.

If you think this should result a shitstorm of backlash and fury towards United Airlines, then you’d be exactly right.

But there is a lot to digest here.

UA passenger

For one, the incident has brought to the spotlight the practice of airline overbooking. This is unfortunately a fairly common practice, as we forget that airlines don’t just exist for our own traveling purposes, but to actually make money. In anticipation of flight no-shows, airlines will frequently overbook flights to maximize the odds of every seat being filled.

But when overbookings occur, it should seem like common sense for the airline officials to remove passengers before they board, right? If I’m sitting at an airline gate for two hours, and then proceed to board the plane and stow away my luggage, then you’re damned right that I’m going to be pissed off too if I’m suddenly asked to get off.

After the man initially refused to leave, witnesses say that he somehow ran back onto the plane after he was forcibly removed the first time. Then the chaos that we all saw on video ensued. And it’s not a pretty sight.

The resulting public fury was inevitable.

The American public greatly empathized with this situation because we’ve all had our own airport misadventures. We’ve all experienced a time when we wanted to wish nothing but fire and brimstone on a specific airline.

However, when your flight is delayed, we are mostly powerless. Sure, you can curse out an airline on Twitter, and while that feels very invigorating in the moment, it ultimately accomplishes nothing.

But this was our moment. Now, we all get to take out our combined rage on an airline, over an incident that was created by their own mistakes, overlaid by an overbooking practice that we all despise.

Not even another Pepsi screw-up is going to get United Airlines out of this one.

And it’s not just America that’s pissed. This has apparently ignited an international incident, reaching front page news in China, and fueling the belief of many in that country that the western hemisphere behaves in a discriminatory manner towards Chinese people.

But after the public fury failed to dissipate, United Airlines finally took full responsibility for the episode, with CEO Oscar Munoz publicly apologizing and ordering a complete investigation of the procedural mistakes that led to this incident. The officer seen dragging the passenger was also suspended.

The damage, however, is done. There are calls to boycott the airlines. An online petition titled #ChineseLivesMatter calls for a federal investigation into the matter, the Internet memes are out in full force.

So, United Airlines, you’re not getting off the hook this time. I don’t care what the Trump administration says or does, this time you —

Wait, what’s that? White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer evoked an ill-advised and insensitive comparison to Adolf Hitler when discussing Syria?

United Airlines, you can pretty much get away with anything for the next four years.

My 30th birthday with Paris Hilton

It was in the pool party night club on Saturday, April 8 at Harrah’s in Atlantic City, one day after my 30th birthday, when Paris Hilton and I locked eyes.

There was an instant connection. We slowly approached one another amid the booming dance music, held hands, and I swept her off her feet in one swooning, romantic gesture.

It was a scene right out of a movie.

Paris and I spent all night together, sharing secrets and life stories. We laughed together. We cried. It was love at first sight. Within 24 hours of meeting, we knew we were meant to be together forever.

And that, ladies and gentlemen … is absolutely not what happened.

But here is what did happen: it was indeed Saturday night, and it was the day following my 30th birthday. And Paris Hilton was there. But we did not lock eyes from across a crowded club. We did not join hands or cry together into the wee hours of the morning.

Rather, it was 3:30 in the morning, and Paris Hilton had just finished her late-night Paris Hiltoncelebrity DJ set at the Atlantic City nightclub.

She approached the remaining crowd to take selfies, and that was when I proceeded to bum rush the stage. Sensing an opening, I pushed through some other gawking fans, and screamed, “Paris, it’s my birthday!”

Somehow, Paris heard me, and next thing I know, she’s alongside me posing for a selfie. Because I am an extremely inexperienced and indifferent selfie-taker, I first took the picture with my iPhone camera facing the wrong direction.

I fixed it, then tried again, and proceeded to hit the wrong button, which turned my screen black.

That’s when Paris looked at me and said, verbatim, “You’re the worst sefie taker ever.”

I asked her to bear with me while I loaded up my camera once again. To her credit, she did. With the camera facing the right direction, and with my finger over the correct button, I snapped the photo.

And that is how I managed to snag a selfie with Paris Hilton.

The 36-year-old socialite has mostly avoided negative press since her infamous 20s, which involved a sex tape, a brainless reality show, and a stint in prison. Perhaps turning 30 finally switched on a light bulb inside her head.

Either way, I am a man of very few principles. But if there is one general rule I follow, it’s that I will become tenaciously loyal to any celebrity who agrees to take a picture with me.

And on Saturday night, she truly looked like she was enjoying herself while DJing. Sure, the soundtrack may have been pre-produced, and her laptop and headphones may have been as much of a prop as a steering wheel you give a 5-year-old in the back seat of a car.

But Paris Hilton helped me ring in my 30s. And I will never forget that. Plus she called me the worst selfie taker ever.

After years of selfie hating, it’s the best compliment I’ve ever received.

My last post in my 20s

One of the cool things about writing a daily blog is to look back at earlier posts and see how you have evolved over time.

While this venture has been very different than a journal, where you divulge your thoughts and feelings on a regular basis, a quasi-pop culture/news blog such as this still allows me to see what was at the forefront of my mind at any given day over the last seven-plus years.

And the evolution is startling.

In the first couple of years of this blog, I was basically talking about Jersey Shore and recapping my drunken nights. I had yet to start my first full-time job when I created this thing in late 2009.

Now I’m foraying into European politics and talking about the Supreme Court.

I guess it speaks towards the evolution of all young men and women, though. I started this blog as a 22-year-old.

And tomorrow, on April 7, I will become a 30-year-old.

I always assumed you’re supposed to feel a certain way when you turn 30. TV shows and movies often dramatize it as being a major turning point in a person’s life, when they finally figure out what exactly they are meant to do in this world.

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But as I write this, in the final hours of my 20s, I don’t really feel any type of emotional catharsis. Who knows, perhaps it will sink in after the fact, like the first time I input the number “30” in the gym treadmill when it asks me my age. I don’t know.

I’ve never been a believer in setting age-oriented milestones. Everyone moves at their own pace. Anything that I wanted to accomplish in my 20s can also be done in my 30s.

Will I miss my 20s? Sure. You do feel a bit of youthful exuberance when your age starts with the number 2. But will I miss the late-nights staying out until 4 a.m. getting drunk? No. Will I miss the indifference I had towards starting a career? No.

Even now, I reflect on how I behaved for most of the last decade. I was a dope. I acted as if I could do anything and get away with it. To this day, my past recklessness terrifies me.

If I had the ability to push a button and suddenly become 25 again, I don’t even think I would. I like the person I’ve become. I enjoy spending hours immersed in a book or news articles, trying to enhance my knowledge or understand a complex situation. I enjoy enlightening myself to new experiences and different cultures that I didn’t bother to concern myself with in my 20s.

Over the last couple of years, I feel like I’ve undergone a transformation, and it’s made me a better, well-rounded person. I feel like I’ve done a better job gaining empathy for people who are different than I am.

And that continued evolution is what I see defining the next chapter of my life — my 30s. I want to keep filling gaps in my knowledge. I want to continue to travel and experience new things. I want to be a better person. And I plan to do just that.

I find that exhilarating. I’m not dreading my 30s. I’m thrilled for the person I am going to become over the next 10 years.

There’s so much that this world has to offer. And I’m just one person trying to figure it all out.

That’s my mission for my 30s. And I won’t accomplish it.

But that won’t stop me from trying.

I’ll see y’all on the other side.

It’s so much easier to be mad at Kendall Jenner than Donald Trump

Being angry at Donald Trump is like being mad at a tornado.

It’s an indestructible force, unleashing mayhem on whatever sits in its path. Any territory it passes through is left in significantly worse condition than when it first got there.

But there’s nothing you can do anymore to stop it. It’s too powerful.

Coincidentally, tornadoes are ravaging the Southeast as we speak. I blame Trump.

But my point isn’t that we shouldn’t react to Trump anymore, but rather, it’s just frustrating how powerless we are against his wrath.

As much as we harness all our hatred towards him, as much as our friends all join together to mock him, and as disastrously low his approval ratings sink, he is still president. It’s maddening.

So it’s a lot easier to conserve at least a portion of your hatred towards a much easier target – like, for instance, Kendall Jenner!

For the most part, Kendall Jenner has been the least antagonized among the Kardashian clan. She doesn’t really do much to garner attention, but just by virtue of her familial ties, she began her public life in an uphill battle to earn approval. And if you’re a Kardashian or a Jenner, it’s one strike and you’re out.

Kendall Jenner

Well, Kendall didn’t even strike out. She got walloped in the head by a 99-mile-per-hour fastball.

As many of you heard, the Internet was livid yesterday over a new Pepsi ad starring Jenner that exploited public protesting to advertise its product.

It’s nothing new for companies to capitalize on social issues for their own personal gain. But this one clearly struck a chord with the general public, especially in light of today’s divisive politic atmosphere and racial tension.

Protests have become ubiquitous since Donald Trump took office. They’re so commonplace that when we hear about a new one, it kind of goes in one ear and out the other.

But we forget that before Trump, protests stemmed out of desperation from those who found no other ways to have their voices heard, from the disenfranchised to the discriminated.

These public displays were much more consequential, and significantly more violent. People have died in protests. They’ve been beaten. They’ve been arrested.

It feels like a long time ago, but places like Baltimore and Ferguson are still emotionally scarred from the conflicts that took place in their cities between civilians and police, particularly young black Americans who feel like they’ve never been given a fair chance in life.

So for Pepsi to trivialize the issue by suggesting that all can be solved with a sugary carbonated beverage was bound to piss a lot of people off.

And of course, Kendall Jenner, who probably signed a million-dollar contract to be in the commercial before she even knew what it involved, somehow got caught up in the mess.

As always, when something controversial happens, the Internet responds tremendously. This was no exception.

And on Wednesday, their voices were heard. Pepsi has pulled the commercial, explaining that they failed in their goal of “trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding.”

So, we successful protested the protest commercial.

Yay?