Way up north, in the depths of the Arctic Ocean, lies the Doomsday Seed Bank

The Syrian Civil War has been getting more attention by the day. It is the primary cause of the refugee crisis that’s confounding Europe, and this week, a major source of contention between presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin.

Because it’s an ugly war, and one so far away from America, it’s something that many people choose not to think about. But it’s happening. And as we all know, war, no matter where in the world it is, has far reaching ramifications.

Including all the way to the North Pole.

Well, about 800 miles south of the North Pole. One of the coolest things that nobody knows about is that on the island of Svalbard, located in the Arctic Ocean between continental Norway and the northernmost point on Earth, lies a global seed bank — often called the Doomsday Bank — that holds more than 860,000 duplicates of seed samples from around the world for safekeeping in case of a global catastrophe.

The underground vault is built into a mountain on the Norweigan island. Only an entrance way is visible above ground, Svalbard seed bankmaking it look like the most impeccable secret hideout imaginable. It makes the fort you once built as a 6-year-old look like complete dog shit.

Its purpose is to preserve seeds for hundreds, and possibly thousands of years (the doomsday vault, not your shitty fort). In other words, it’s designed to withstand an apocalypse. The seeds are cooled at -18 degrees Celsius (-.4 Fahrenheit), and are further chilled by the tundra’s permafrost.

I don’t think you really need to be a science geek to appreciate this. And in its seven year history, nothing has ever been removed from the vault. Until now.

Another seed vault, based in Syria, is requesting backup copies of certain seeds back from the Arctic vault, to replace samples they have lost in the Syrian Civil War.

This is much more interesting than the pope visit last week. Especially in light of the revelation that Francis not only secretly met with Kim Davis, the intolerant county clerk from Kentucky, but wished her words of encouragement. Seriously, that bombshell might singlehandedly drop the pope’s popularity level in the U.S. from Bernie Sanders-level to Donald Trump. And that’s pretty much as low as it gets, I don’t care what the damn polls say.

I want live footage from the doomsday vault withdrawal. I want Anderson Cooper in a North Face jacket reporting at the scene. I want Wolf Blitzer to go there and never come back.

Unfortunately, it took a tragic situation like the Syrian Civil War to bring this interesting vault into the spotlight.

But at least in the future I now know where to inject my seed.

I can’t believe how many people believed this Facebook copyright notice was legit

Facebook feeds across the world were barraged the past few days with a declaration that people amazingly thought would legally protect them from any invasive policies the social networking giant imposes in the future.

Posts like this that get recycled over and over are annoying enough. It’s like the Facebook version of an AOL chain letter. But when they’re so obviously fictitious, and people still somehow believe they’re real, it really makes you shake your head.

The hoax copyright notice went something like, “As of September 29, at 9:30 p.m. Eastern time, I do not give Facebook or any entities associated with Facebook permission to use my pictures, information, or posts, both past and future…” and rambled on for several more sentences of nonsense to make laypeople think it was legit.

Firstly, the fact that people thought simply copying and pasting this message constituted a legally binding document is maddening enough. I’ll admit, I have some Facebook friends who did not surprise me in the slightest by posting this. But there are some other people I now learned are much less smarter than I thought.

HoaxThis message pops up every few months. And it’s always immediately shot down as fake. 

Even Facebook basically laughed about it.

The other thing that peeves me is that if you possess a Facebook account, you just have to concede that you are a slave to them. If you haven’t deleted your account yet, you’re never going to.

Facebook can do whatever they want, and we’ll stay right there with them. If you actually care about your information and photos being taken and disseminated, then don’t publish anything that you’d regret being seen. It’s that simple.

Anyone who actually wants to enlighten themselves as to what Facebook does do with your information simply needs to click on its Terms page, which is easily accessible on everyone’s homepage. However, I’d fathom a guess that there are maybe nine people in the world who have ever bothered to read a terms of service page. And those nine people also probably read the instructions before playing board games.

It’s especially bothersome because this stupidity detracted from another piece of news this week that is scientifically groundbreaking. Mars has liquid water. It’s a discovery that means life could exist there.

Just bear in mind that life does not mean aliens. Minuscule things like bacteria and microbes are also alive.

However, if Martians did exist, it makes you wonder if they’d be as stupid as Earthlings.

I guess there’s only one way to find out. Give them a Facebook account, and if they post, “As of September 29, at 9:30 p.m. Mars time, I do not give Earth or any people associated with Earth permission to use my water,” then yes, they are as stupid us.

The Weinblog goes midwest

In the past few days, the pope completed his three-city tour in the U.S., the Speaker of the House of Representatives announced his resignation, a supermoon coincided with a lunar eclipse, and on a more personal note, my beloved New York Mets clinched their first division title in nine years.

But I missed most of that because I spent the last four days in … Minneapolis and Iowa City. All of the places to go in the world, and I choose the Midwestern U.S.

Long story short — a friend of mine recently began a postgraduate program at the University of Iowa. Figuring I’d never head that way otherwise, I planned a trip to visit him, while tacking nearby Minneapolis onto my itinerary as well.

DSCN3473

Downtown Minneapolis

Actually, that was a pretty short story. Something I really enjoy doing is experiencing different cultures and ways of life. When we get caught up in our normal day-to-day routines, we sometimes forget how small of a vacuum we really are living in, even if you’re only 20 miles away from the most vibrant city in the world, as is my case here in New York.

Minneapolis is a very concentrated, but bustling city with a considerable commercial presence. There’s a lot going on in a small area, and is very navigable by car or on foot. Points of interest there included the Mall of America, the largest mall in the U.S., and as a baseball aficionado, a Minnesota Twins game (complete with a Thirsty Thursdays promotion of $2 draft beers one hour before the game.)

A key discovery was Caribou Coffee — an excellent local coffee chain that, in my mind, is vastly superior to Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts. Unfortunately it has no locations in the Northeast.

Kinnick Stadium, home of the Iowa Hawkeyes

Kinnick Stadium, home of the Iowa Hawkeyes

But let me tell you, you’ve never seen what “nothing” looks like until you’ve driven five hours from Minneapolis to Iowa City. I saw more cornfields this weekend then I ever expected I would in my entire life. It was, quite literally, the middle of no where. Although, I did make a spontaneous stop at Iowa’s largest frying pan. So there’s that.

Iowa City, however, is a much more prosperous, modernized area that’s clearly been developing to accommodate the more than 30,000 students that live there. As we were there on a Saturday, it was yellow and black T-shirts everywhere in support of the Iowa Hawkeyes, who romped North Texas 62-16 with yours truly in attendance.

Another highlight was the Airliner Bar, known for its delicious pizza as well as the location at which Ashton Kutcher was discovered, which could actually be be a detractor, depending on your perspective.

The Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa

Me at The Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa

But what stood out to me most was the Midwestern attitude. People don’t treat each other like they’re an inconvenience, which unfortunately could become the norm in the Northeast. Waiters are happy to split checks for large parties, and bartenders are glad to give out multiple samples of unique beers. People are just more laid back there, but not too laid back.

Finally, the trip culminated with a visit to the site of one of my all-time favorite sports movies — The Field of Dreams, in Dyersville, Iowa. The baseball diamond surrounded by crops has been preserved since the movie was filmed there 26 years ago, and I got to stand on it, run the bases, and walk slowly into the vegetation hoping I disappear into some blissful otherworld a la James Earl Jones at the film’s end.

And from now on, when I see that movie, I can always say I was there.

If you build it, the Weinblog will come.

We’re all one kiss from the pope away from lifelong immortality

I can safely say that I’ve never before wished to be kissed by a dude.

And I had to actually think about that for a second. I’m not homophobic or insecure in the sense that I’d immediately become insulted and answer defensively if somebody asked if I’ve ever before longed to be kissed by a male. And not even on the lips. Just a soft peck on the cheek or forehead.

But nonetheless, the answer is no. I’ve admired men for their looks, don’t get me wrong, but never craved any type of physical contact besides a firm fist bump.

I’m going somewhere with this. I promise.

All of that changed today. When I was watching the coverage of Pope Francis arrive at the White House this morning, followed by a mini-parade in which he waved to onlookers surrounding Capitol Hill, I couldn’t help but notice the Secret Pope Francis visitService bring him two babies and a young girl to kiss. I’m guessing — or rather, hoping — it was at the urging of their parents. And the pope obliged.

Those children had no idea what was going on. But how cool of a story will it be when they are older to tell people that they were kissed by the pope? The freaking pope. Basically the human version of God.

And not just any pope, but arguably the most popular and modest one ever. At least in our lifetime.

Forget needing to go to confession, or even praying ever again. If I was blessed by the pope, I would live the remainder of my life as if I could do no wrong. I’d feel immortal.

And I don’t mean that I wish I could go back in time for it. I want Pope Francis to give me a smooch on my forehead, right now, as a 28-year-old man.

In that instant, all my past misgivings would be forgiven. It’s almost like being given a free pass.

Pope Francis is here for six days, and scheduled to visit New York and Philadelphia after Washington. He’s already spoken about immigration, climate change and poverty today, and I’m sure he’ll have a lot more to share before he departs. It’s his first visit to the U.S. — not even as pope, but in all his 78 years of living — and he’s the fourth pontiff to make the trip stateside.

And I demand a kiss on the forehead.

Taylor Swift clearly isn’t going to give me one, despite my constant requests on Twitter, so maybe the “People’s Pope,” as they call him, will acquiesce.

Otherwise, him and I will have Bad Blood.

A glimpse into the controversial world of pharmaceutical drug price gouging

Internet users reacted strongly today when they were made aware of a common business technique among pharmaceutical companies — often chided as price gouging — in which they drastically raise the cost of a specialty drug used fight severe infections or diseases, in order to make a profit.

The company in question that stirred people’s emotions is New York-based Turing Pharmaceuticals, which purchased a drug called Daraprim last August, and raised its price from $13.50 a tablet to $750 overnight — a 5,000 percent increase.

The drug is the standard form of treatment against toxoplosmosis, a life-threatening parasite infection that can especially harm people with compromised immune systems, like those with HIV, cancer, or even pregnant women.

DrugsNow, it’s so incredibly easy to point blame at this company — and especially its CEO, Martin Shkreli, who has a face and certain aura about him that just asks to be hated — but the truth of the matter is that this is a problem that has been going on for a long time.

Specialty drugs that treat serious conditions can cost tens of thousands of dollars per year. Meaning even those with good insurance will still have to dig deep into their wallets to get the medicine they need.

My biggest question is why this is even allowed to happen. It’s the pure essence of price gouging — a company, owning a drug that is the only one that can fight a specific disease, and facing no competition, prices it however they please, knowing that people have no choice but to buy it.

Companies justify their tactics by saying they give away their drugs at a discounted cost to the neediest of people, and that they plan to use their profits to invest in increasing education and research for the disease their drug fights, and even try to create a better antidote.

To his credit, Shkreli went on CNBC on Monday to explain his motives for raising the price of Daraprim.

People need a face to physically hate when they hear about a problem, or else it doesn’t resonate. Shkreli is that man for today. The same thing happened this summer when a Minneapolis dentist killed a well-known lion in Zimbabwe. The TPproblem was big-game hunting, not the dentist, whose name no one even remembers anymore. (It’s Walter Palmer, who also has a very punchable face.)

The actions of Turing Pharmaceuticals prompted Hillary Clinton to outline a plan to stop pharmaceutical price gouging. Bernie Sanders has also been on top of the issue.

The bottom line is sick people are being financially burdened because these companies are given free rein to run wild, facing little regulations when determining pricing for their drugs. It’s hard to blame people like Shkreli for taking advantage of a flawed system.

Shkreli reportedly backed down by the way, telling NBC News Tuesday evening that the public outrage will make his company reassess its price hike.

Nothing interests people more than a classic tale of good versus evil. In this case, it’s corporate greed against the weak and the sickly. It’s the biggest David versus Goliath story since Harry Potter defeated Voldemort in the Battle of Hogwarts.

And now it’s time politicians to step up, be useful for once, and Dumbledore the shit out of this problem.

When will famous people realize that social media Q&As are almost never a good idea?

With the microscope that famous people live under in today’s ever increasing digital world, everyone’s game plan should be simple — don’t ever drawn any attention to yourself, if you could avoid it.

Heck, even non-famous people should live by that rule. Don’t tweet anything stupid. Avoid incriminating photos of yourself popping up on Facebook. And absolutely do not start your own blog. (Shit.)

And quite possibly the most daring form of attention seeking is hosting your own social media question-and-answer session.

These type of online conversations that break down the barrier between celebrities and their fans first became popular on Reddit, where they’re known as “Ask Me Anything.” It’s since moved over to Twitter and occasionally Facebook. And it’s often used by celebrities to plug their projects, or to engage in a public relations campaign.

Donald Trump2But putting yourself in such a public spotlight and inviting commentary about yourself is only asking for trouble.

Some people can get away with it. If you’re famous for exclusively positive reasons, then by all means, demand attention at your own risk. For example, Justin Timberlake can get away with anything. Everyone loves him. Teenage Nobel Prize recipient and Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai would receive only praise. And a Q&A with Jesse Pinkman would be everyone’s dream come true.

And no, I don’t mean the actor Aaron Paul. I mean the actual Breaking Bad character. I don’t care if he’s not real.

If you have any reason for people to not like you — any reason at all — a social media Q&A is probably not a good idea. One by infamous NHL headhunter Chris Neil last year is a perfect example of that. Fifty Shades of Grey author E.L. James was also publicly flogged earlier this year after she implored questions using the hash tag #AskELJames.

Now, can you guess the last person in the world who should ever do this?

If you said Donald Trump, you were right. And it went exactly how you’d expect. 

It’s easy to understand why he did it. He’s running for president and his campaign has relied entirely on making headlines, whether for good or bad reasons. But as arguably the most polarizing figure in the world — and definitely in the U.S. — right now, this was a disaster in the making.

“When did you get the idea to steal Hitler’s racist appeal?” asked one person. “Why are you such a misogynistic, racist, sexist person?” inquired another.

One dude even posted a photo of a potato and asked Trump if he thought it looked like him.

But what else would you expect from a guy who has already participated in a Comedy Central roast?

Speaking of which, has it occurred to any one that if Trump is somehow elected president, it means the most important person in the world’s most powerful country will have once been publicly shit on by Snoop Dogg and Michael “The Situation” Sorrentino?

Only in America, folks. Gotta love it.

Is the world ready for a Facebook ‘dislike’ button?

Oh my god that Republican debate.

I thought the one last month hosted by Fox News was bad, but last night’s took it to another level. It was so obvious how hard CNN was trying to bait the candidates into arguing with one another, that it actually became painful to watch.

Donald Trump actually made fun of people. And not like, insulted their policies or their campaign strategies, but the way they look. What the hell? Is this a presidential debate, or middle school cafeteria banter?

Although, I think it occurred to me last night why Trump appeals to so many people. He’s totally incompetent to be president, no doubt, but he’s quick on his wits. When challenged to defend himself, he doesn’t waste time, and he usually gives a sarcastic or condescending remark. He’s almost like a sitcom.

And that’s America in a nutshell. We’re sarcastic. We’re loud. We’re pretentious. People see Trump doing that on a grand Republican Debate2stage, and they say: “That. We want that.”

But anyway, it’s time to talk about something that matters more than who our next president is — the possible addition of a “dislike” button on Facebook.

As everyone knows, we have the option to “like” people’s statuses and photos, which is accompanied by a thumbs-up. It’s a simple, easy way to voice our approval towards something. However, since Facebook’s inception some 10 years ago, people have been calling for an opposing method of one-click response.

I’ve heard a lot of different opinions on this very important subject over the past few days, and it’s clear that most people haven’t bothered to read what Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg intends with such a button. Which I’ll get to in a second.

I agree that there is enough negativity in the world that we don’t need to add the ability for us to dislike people’s statuses. Trust me, I mentally dislike 99 percent of the statuses I read, but I would never indicate it publicly. That could lead to anger and hurt feelings. So to even give people the ability to do that is just unnecessary.

But it appears that is not Facebook’s plan at all. According to Zuckerberg, the intent is to allow people to express Dislikeempathy when others post sad news on Facebook, as in a family member’s passing, or an article about a tragic subject.

So it won’t be a simple “dislike,” but rather, a more complex way to voice sympathy and condolences. And if that’s the case, then I don’t see how you can object with it at all. He even made it clear that he wants it to be nothing like Reddit’s “upvote” and “downvote” style.

Personally, I don’t think anything posted on social media is worth getting worked up about. If anything, I advocate for Facebook too add an ‘I Don’t Care” button.

Or better yet: “Was This Really Worth Posting?”

How about this one: ‘Holy Shit, This Republican Debate Was So Embarrassing That I Want To Actually Leave The Country.”

I’d click that button. All day, err day.