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.


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.