"There's only one sin, and that's failing to believe you have a choice." -Jean-Paul Sartre
Question #91517 posted on 08/30/2018 7:48 a.m.

Dear 100 Hour Board,

Is West Virginia really almost Heaven?

-Jack Denver


Dear Jackie Paper,

As we have all been taught, if we want to learn truths about Heaven, there is one source we can turn to with a surety:

The Scientific Method!

First, if we are to determine if West Virginia is like Heaven, we must ask ourselves: what is Heaven like? I think the following Far Side cartoon is instructive:



From the cartoon, I posit that we can learn three important truths about Heaven:

1) There are lots of angels,

2) It is very cloudy, and

3) Everyone plays the harp.

We will now evaluate West Virginia according to these three criteria in order to determine if it is "almost Heaven."

Criteria #1: Are there lots of angels in West Virginia?

If we are to determine if there are lots of angels in West Virginia, we first must qualify what exactly an angel is. Is it any good person that got to Heaven? Is it a human-like being with wings that assists the good people in Heaven, not unlike Michael in The Good Place? Is it a mythological creature with multiple heads and only a passing resemblance to your girlfriend

For our cases, I'll assume the middle option: angels are human-like, winged beings that live in Heaven and whose purpose is to help the good souls in Heaven with all of their heavenly needs (such as frozen yogurt). 

"Well, that's all fine and dandy, Frère," you may say, "but how do we tell if any such souls inhabit West Virginia?"

Glad you asked. You see, angels are inherently good and helpful beings, meaning they cannot lie. Since they cannot lie, it stands to reason that, if you asked one of these celestial beings if they were an angel, they would have to respond in the affirmative. So how do we tell how many angels are in West Virginia?

Well, the website howmanyofme.com reports that there are 191,745 people in the United States with the name "Angel." How many reside in West Virginia? Well, West Virginia has a population of 1.816 million, which is 0.56% of the total U.S. population (325.7 million). Assuming that all the angels are distributed according to population, that would mean that 0.56% of all of the U.S. Angels live in West Virginia, which comes out to an angelic population of 1,069.

That's all well and good, but: is that a lot of angels, comparatively speaking? To get an idea, I again turned to The Good Place. When Michael addresses the neighborhood, there seem to be somewhere between 150 and 200 people in attendance; let's say the typical angel-to-person ratio is 1:175. That means that, for a group of 1,069 angels, there should be...187,075 humans.

We won't comment on that number here; instead, we'll move on to...

Criteria #2: Is it very cloudy in West Virginia?

This one is much easier, as other people have done the science for us. The Farmer's Almanac has compiled a list of the cloudiest states in the U.S., based on how many sunny days each state receives in a given year. According to them, the cloudiest state is Washington, but West Virginia isn't far behind at #6. To quote,

The Allegheny Mountains that stretch along the border between West Virginia and Virginia are responsible for much of the overcast weather in this state. Because the Alleghenies trap moisture flowing into the state from the north and west, most of the state experiences only 60 to 65 clear days per year. One city – Elkins – only gets 48 clear days a year.

Very good. We now move on to the last Criteria,

Criteria #3: Does everyone play the harp in West Virginia?

Now, you may be tempted to answer this question with some anecdotal evidence, e.g. "Well my great-grandpappy is from West Virginia and he never played the harp on account of the oath he swore when he was but a boy of twelve after a roving bard called upon his house one day and in the ensuing violence..." etc. Now, anecdotal evidence is all well and good, but is it scientific? No. So, we turn to a different method.

One does not just pick up a harp and start playing by oneself, you see. One needs a teacher. So if we can find how many harp teachers there are in West Virginia, we can take a guess at how many harp students there also are in West Virginia, bringing us to our total number of harpists. 

Before we look that up, though: how many harp students does the average harp teacher have? Let's assume that harp lessons last half an hour and each student meets with the harp teacher twice a week. Assuming that the harp teachers work from 9-5 Monday through Friday, with an hour lunch break, that gives 35 hours a week. Since each student takes up an hour total in the week, that means that each harp teacher can handle 35 students.

So, how many harp teachers are in West Virginia? After researching thoroughly, I found a grand total of...



Yeah, seven.


Let's try something else: I searched the Yellow Pages for harp lessons in West Virginia. I found 30 schools. Do all of them look like they teach the harp? Nope. I mean, "Steve Barker's Percussion Studio" seems like a sure bet, but "Renaissance Music Academy?" Doubtful. So let's assume that some schools teach many more students than the average harp teacher and some teach fewer, averaging out to the same number of students, 35. 

Then 30 music schools and seven music teachers with 35 students each gives...1,332 harp players (counting the teachers, of course). That represents 0.07% of the total population of West Virginia.

BUT! Never fear. We just need to expand our horizons a bit. We've been trading in teachers and students of "traditional" harps, like pedal harps or lever harps. Do you know what else is a harp?

A jaw harp.

Do you know what kind of music uses a jaw harp?

Bluegrass music.

And how many bluegrass bands are in West Virginia?

Like, a ton. And the thing about bluegrass bands is that most of them probably do not have an internet footprint. 

To determine their numbers, imagine this scenario: you are a proud West Virginian. Though you are not a member of a bluegrass band, your good friend plays a mean jug, and he invites you to a neighborhood concert that he and his band are giving on Friday. You go to the concert and listen to the band a bit; they're jamming (especially that jaw harp player). There are eight members of the band, and the concert has drawn in about 40 people. Assuming that your experience is typical of most West Virginians', that means that there is at least one jaw harp for every 50-or-so people. This gives us 36,320 jaw harps, and added to the players of other harps, we get approximately 37,652 harp players in West Virginia, or around 2% of the total population.

That's all the criteria accounted for, so now we move to...

The Conclusion.

What have we learned? We have seen that:

1) There is an angel-human ratio of about 1:1,656 in West Virgina (compared to a postulated 1:175 ratio in Heaven),

2) West Virginia has 48 days without clouds a year (whereas Heaven is always cloudy), and

3) About 2% of West Virginians play the harp (and we theorize that around 99% of the denizens of Heaven do).

Is that enough to qualify West Virginia as a Heavenly place?

Well, if we know one more thing about Heaven, it's that it is perfect, so any place trying to be like Heaven should be similarly perfect in its Heavenly criteria. By that standard, West Virginia falls short.



We never asked if West Virginia was Heaven: we were concerned with whether West Virginia was almost Heaven. And, thankfully, "almost" is such an ambiguous term that I feel that, given the evidence, we can firmly declare that West Virginia IS almost Heaven (Jim Gaffigan be darned). 

-Frère Rubik will defend John Denver anytime, anywhere, whether or not he's ever set foot in West Virginia