Finding Accurate Coronavirus Information

Conflicting reports, inaccurate data, partisan media, misinformation campaigns, and more–where do we turn to be informed on the SARS-CoV-2 crisis? Even respected organizations have shaken the public’s confidence.

It’s true that things are constantly changing. Finding information in a time of uncertainty means waiting for the dust to settle. But the dust isn’t settling in some areas, and questions still exist. Many facts should be clear from prior research. Yet 6+ months after COVID-19 was discovered, basics escape us. We don’t even know if six feet is enough for social distancing

To be fair, virology is a new science. The first detailed images of viruses came with the invention of electron microscopes in 1931. But considering microbiology’s importance to the survival of humanity, one would think we’d know more. Instead, a lot of things are mysteries.

Here’s what we know (and don’t know) on masks, ventilators, hydroxychloroquine, and more.

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Is the Chase Sapphire Reserve Worth A $550 Annual Fee?

This week Chase Bank announced partnerships with Doordash and Lyft to bring extra benefits to holders of Chase credit cards. In exchange, Chase will raise the annual fee on its premium Chase Sapphire Reserve from $450 to $550. Now a lot of people asking whether this change is worthwhile for consumers. And the answer is: it depends. Like all other credit cards. Everyone’s spending habits and needs are different, but we can do calculations and comparisons.

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The 5 Weirdest Metal Albums of 2019

Metal as a genre is always pushing boundaries. Which bands did more pushing than their peers in 2019?

1. Öxxö Xööx – Ÿ

This French band seems to like pushing the limits of music while defying categorization. Sometimes their music is overly technical, with cold production, and could be viewed as being weird for the sake of being weird. But that’s not quite the impression I get, even if half their lyrics are written in a made-up language. Bands which try too hard at being weird tend to be obvious about it. For example: iwrestledabearonce, Okilly Dokilly, or “Swamp Slamming Shrekcore” band The Ogre Packet Slammers. Öxxö Xööx, on the other hand, has a method to the madness. There’s no way that Ÿ isn’t #1 for weird albums of 2019.

Stream on Bandcamp

2. Warforged – I: Voice

Another band which defies categories. Warforged uses elements of death metal, black metal, post-metal, and jazz. Difficult to categorize and refreshingly new while remaining undoubtedly metal. Their record label (The Artisan Era) has high standards for releases and this is no exception.

Stream on Bandcamp

3. The Number Twelve Looks Like You – Wild Gods

New Jersey’s The Number Twelve Looks Like You return with their first album in a decade. The result is eclectic, fun, and has plenty of heavy moments. Particularly “Ruin The Smile,” where the first 70 seconds sound like Swedish gothic doom veterans Draconian. I think the album is a hard sell for most metal fans though, given the influences from metalcore, screamo, and noise-rock. The Number Twelve Looks Like You isn’t even listed on Metal Archives. But that doesn’t mean anything when it comes to enjoyability. As Simon Handmaker wrote on Heavy Blog is Heavy: “…they encapsulate much of what matters to me with heavy music. Sure, I like riffs for the sake of riffs as much as the next person, but heavy music to me has always been about mood, atmosphere, a vibrant and robust emotional tone…. My favorite metal bands are those that, regardless of their genre(s) of origin, can turn their slab of auditory marble into a cohesive and evocative sculpture without turning away from the sound of heavy music or relegating it to the parts of ‘lesser importance’…”

Stream on Youtube

4. No One Gets Out Alive – Die Like the Rest

This self-professed “Banjo Slam” band does exactly what’s promised on the surface. Simple death metal riffs entwined with acoustic banjo, hillbilly lyrics, and the occasional gunshot.

That’s really all which needs to be said.

Stream on Bandcamp

5. Inter Arma – Sulphur English

“Sulphur English” isn’t especially weird compared to the other bands on this list. Certainly nowhere near the level of Öxxö Xööx. But it’s still an odd progressive death metal album which dips into other genres and moves music forward. Inter Arma is like a combination of Neurosis and Edge of Sanity, with their own flair.

Stream on Bandcamp

Honorable mention: ‘Empath’ by Devin Townsend

Devin Townsend is always trying to do something new. And after 17 albums, it seems difficult to make something which stands out on its own. Yet Devin is still doing it even on his 18th. The music video for “Genesis” is all the proof one needs.

USA-China Trade Deals, Technology, and Decoupling

On December 13th, 2019, President Trump and China’s Vice Minister of Commerce Wang Shouwen confirmed an incoming “phase one” trade deal. Full details weren’t immediately available. The timing of the announcement—after months of negotiations—is interesting. A few days prior, the Financial Times reported “Beijing has ordered all government offices and public institutions to remove foreign computer equipment and software within three years, in a potential blow to the likes of HP, Dell and Microsoft.” Recent articles didn’t mention if this was addressed in today’s deal. If it wasn’t, that’s not a surprise.

It also wouldn’t be shocking if either party backed out of the newest trade agreement, since they’ve done that before. Robert Lighthizer even said it’s “wise to be skeptical of whether China would deliver on certain agreements.” If the deal goes through, that might be a big win for Trump. Especially since it comes on the heels of his new USMCA agreement. From PBS: “On Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Democrats had reached a compromise with the Trump administration…. Mexico ratified the deal back in June, but the revised agreement will now head back to the country’s legislature for votes. Canada is expected to ratify the deal in parallel with the U.S., but that process may extend into the new year due to American politics.”

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Presidential Campaign 2020: Democratic Candidates (Part 2)

I wrote my first post in April 2019. Now that we’re in December, about to enter 2020, let’s see where things stand. Currently, 15 people are vying for the position of Democratic Candidate.

The Candidates

Alphabetical order by last name, then their primary political experience:

Michael Bennet (Senator)
Joe Biden (White House)
Michael Bloomberg (Mayor)
Cory Booker (Senator)
Pete Buttigieg (Mayor)
Julián Castro (White House)
John Delaney (Representative)
Tulsi Gabbard (Representative)
Amy Klobuchar (Senator)
Deval Patrick (Governor)
Bernie Sanders (Senator)
Tom Steyer (No political experience)
Elizabeth Warren (Senator)
Marianne Williamson (No political experience)
Andrew Yang (No political experience)

Poll Data

RealClearPolitics poll average for 11/21-12/1, top 10:

  1. Biden 27%
  2. Sanders 16%
  3. Warren 14%
  4. Buttigieg 11.4%
  5. Bloomberg 4%
  6. Yang 2.8%
  7. Klobuchar 2.4%
  8. Booker 1.8%
  9. Steyer 1.6%
  10. Castro 1.4%

Everyone else is polling at 1% or less.
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Optimizing Credit Cards For Everyday Spending Without Annual Fees (2019)

About 70% of American adults have a credit cardCredit history has become increasingly important since the 1970 Fair Credit Reporting Act. But how many people are getting a good deal out of this? A CNBC survey found that 55% of credit card holders carry debt on those cards (an average of $4,293). This can cost thousands of dollars in interest. Collectively, Americans owe more than $1 trillion in credit card debt. FOR ANYONE WITH CREDIT CARD DEBT, PAY IT OFF ASAP. The interest rates are higher than everything except certain personal/payday loans (36-400% interest). Alternatively, a balance transfer to a 0% APR card may buy time.

For those without credit card debt, it’s the opposite: using rewards cards can add up to thousands of dollars in benefits. A survey from CreditCards.com found “57 percent of U.S. adults have at least one rewards credit card. Cash back cards are the most popular (43 percent), well ahead of other types of rewards cards… Nearly three out of every four rewards cardholders (72 percent) have at least one card with no annual fee.” 

Some cards offer zero or sub-par benefits. My first credit card didn’t do anything except build a little credit history. No cash back or other perks. For maximum value, one has to juggle multiple credit cards. So what’s the best strategy? The problem is a lack of one-size-fits-all solutions. Everyone has their own needs and budget concerns, making certain cards more valuable than others due to circumstances. In general, the best place to start is rotating-category cashback cards, and fill in the blanks with cards that don’t have an annual fee. That’s what this post will focus on. Cards which charge an annual fee may have higher value, just evaluate the costs vs benefits and see if it works. I won’t detail all the options of signup bonuses or extras, just cash back for fee-free basic utility. That’s what most people like anyway, according to the above survey.

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Solving Anthropogenic Climate Change

Climate change is an “unsolvable” issue because of the variables, but let’s take a look. The human element (anthropogenic) is something we can change.

The first obstacle is the politicization of the debate and how and facts don’t always change people’s minds. That’s part of why climate change is still a debate. It’s a spectrum of debaters with extremists on both sides, often shouting uninformed or illogical arguments. Not that my opinion is that of an expert—this blog post is me thinking out loud and consolidating recent reading. I like to work out ideas as I go. This is a complex topic with too many aspects to take into consideration at once.

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Presidential Campaign 2020: Democratic Candidates

There are a lot of people running on the Democrat side, so I decided to make a list and put my initial thoughts on how likely I think they are to become president. I’d make a post for the Republican side as well, but Trump is the only real contender and he doesn’t warrant an entire post. Everyone has a general idea of what he’ll say and do as he campaigns for re-election, and the primary threat to that is the economy according to investors, analysts, and plenty of voters. There is one person running against Trump in the primaries so far, Former Governor Bill Weld, and no one expects him to have a real chance. Also, I’m a registered Democrat, so I’ll have to figure out which person to vote for.

The big test for Democratic candidates will be initial fundraising and support. It’s a crowded field and garnering enough publicity to stay in the top 10 is essential, which means the first step is qualifying for June’s debate. Most of them actually have. The DNC will be limiting the stage to 20 people just in case that many qualify, they’ve increased the thresholds for the third debate. (Which could eliminate half the current candidates.)

The Candidates

Alphabetical order by last name, then their primary political experience:

Michael Bennet (Senator)
Joe Biden (White House)
Cory Booker (Senator)
Steve Bullock (Governor)
Pete Buttigieg (Mayor)
Julián Castro (White House)
Bill de Blasio (Mayor)
John Delaney (Representative)
Tulsi Gabbard (Representative)
Kirsten Gillibrand (Senator)
Mike Gravel (Senator)
Kamala Harris (Senator)
John Hickenlooper (Governor)
Jay Inslee (Governor)
Amy Klobuchar (Senator)
Wayne Messam (Mayor)
Seth Moulton (Representative)
Beto O’Rourke (Representative)
Tim Ryan (Representative)
Bernie Sanders (Senator)
Tom Steyer (No political experience)
Eric Swalwell (Representative)
Elizabeth Warren (Senator)
Marianne Williamson (No political experience)
Andrew Yang (No political experience)

Poll Data

 

RealClearPolitics poll average for 3/21-4/21, top 10:

  1. Biden 29.2% 
  2. Sanders 22.2% 
  3. Harris 8.2% 
  4. O’Rourke 7.4% 
  5. Buttigieg 6.8% 
  6. Warren 6% 
  7. Booker 3.2% 
  8. Klobuchar 1.6% 
  9. Yang 1.2% 
  10. Castro 1.2% 

RealClearPolitics poll average for 7/27-8/5, top 10:

  1. Biden 32% 
  2. Sanders 17.2% 
  3. Warren 15%
  4. Harris 9.3% 
  5. Buttigieg 5.3%
  6. O’Rourke 3% 
  7. Booker 1.8% 
  8. Yang 1.3% 
  9. Castro 1.2%
  10. Gabbard 0.8% 

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A Year Without (Most) News

In March 2017 I decided to try an experiment: What would happen if I stopped reading the news? (Spoiler alert: I don’t regret it in the least.)

I used to read a lot of news, seek out articles on a regular basis, and even condense it to figure out the essential information. It was a good exercise in critical thinking and analyzing modern journalism. Plus, there’s nothing wrong with staying informed on current events. But after some time, I started to suspect this was a trending-negative experience. Reading every piece of major news didn’t feel helpful. After some thought I wrote “Is Staying Informed Overrated?” – my most popular post so far, which received some interesting responses.

So that month I decided to quit the news. More or less. I would glaze over headlines as they passed by in social media feeds, and I wouldn’t read any articles unless they seemed exceptionally interesting. I didn’t make any effort to watch or read anything news-related. The opposite of what I did for my weekly news summaries on this blog.

Here we are in March 2018 and I’m going to continue my experiment – which isn’t so much an experiment anymore as it is a permanent(?) lifestyle change. I feel better and have more energy/time to devote to things which matter in my life. I skimmed some old news to see if it’s still relevant, and 99 percent of it isn’t. Most news isn’t important and will soon fade from the collective conscious.

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