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Real Housewives Fan Accounts Are Boycotting the New Season of ‘RHOC’

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There’s a lot that can be said about the stars of The Real Housewives of Orange County. After all, their shrill screams and wine tossings have kept viewers of the original incarnation of the franchise—which just kicked off its 15th season last week—entertained for years. But at least one constant when it comes to the overly-fillered ladies of the historically Republican region of Southern California is that their lack of socio-political awareness is often glaringly obvious. Recently though, the heavy lean to the right from one housewife in particular has led Bravo universe talking heads to boycott the season.

Kelly Dodd has long been a controversial figure on RHOC. The brash 45-year-old came to the series in 2016 for its 11th season, bringing a level of crassness and explosive reactiveness that wavered between overkill and entertaining. Dodd has regularly made offensive or full on racist statements both on and off the show (“I am disgusted by this vulgar, vile display from Kelly. I cannot physically sit here,” former housewife Heather DuBrow once said of Dodd during an episode when Dodd called castmate Shannon Beador a cunt), but since beginning a romantic relationship with Fox News reporter Rick Leventhal last year (the couple married this month), and regularly espousing dangerous views on the public health measures tied to COVID-19, many fans and critics have had enough.

It all came to a head when Dodd posted a photo from her bridal shower earlier this month wearing a novelty hat that read “Drunk Wives Matter.” After a wave of backlash, Dodd posted a clarification on Instagram, before deciding to go harder on Instagram Stories, explaining that the hat was a gift and “people that can’t get a joke, go fuck yourselves.” (She also dropped an “all lives matter,” in case you were wondering where she stood on that front.) In response, in what appears to be a first, a collective of Bravo podcasters and fan pages have come together to boycott the season, refusing to recap, post about, or discuss RHOC on their various platforms, and calling on Bravo to fire Dodd.

The parties in question range from Instagram accounts like @bravoingtogether (“Two friends getting through life one bravo quip at a time”), @MainlyBravo (“Bravo/reality tv obsessed bitch watching this shit like it’s my job”) and @bravooomg, plus those with podcasts, such as Mixing with Mani and Andy’s Girls. Other popular accounts, like @bravobetch (“Bravo memes, Bravo news”) and @bravohistorian (“I’ve been following the lives of these bitches for 10+ years”), have posted memes that mock Dodd and call for her firing.

The Bravo community is huge and strong; some of these pages boast anywhere in the range of 10,000 followers to well over 400,000, not to mention the listens their various podcasts get. It’s the kind of fandom that made BravoCon, a convention the network started in 2019 (this year’s was canceled due to COVID), such a success, with thousands of fans from all over the world convening with Bravolebrities and indulging in their favorite pop culture obsessions. The Bravo viewership is fervent, and makes it known on social media when they’re not happy with a cast member, series, or the network.

The fire under Dodd’s Louboutins started with leading Bravoholics (as they’re known) privately and publicly discussing boycotting this season of RHOC, ultimately banding together to not watch or amplify the show. And while there’s no evidence that the boycott is to blame, and a number of long time cast members weren’t asked back after last season, ratings for last week’s season premiere were the lowest in three years.

“I think that her immediate jumping into the MAGA world as soon as she got into a relationship with a Fox News correspondent has really opened a lot of our eyes to the fact that this woman isn’t deserving of any attention, regardless of whether or not she’s a Housewife,” Sara Galli, host the popular podcast Andy’s Girls, told VICE.

Indeed, Dodd has taken to the life of a celebrity conservative in 2020: in December, she posted a photo at Fox News correspondent Jesse Waters’ wedding alongside Eric Trump, Donald Trump Jr., and Kimberly Guilfoyle, marveling at the “impressive guest list” while noting, in all caps, she is “NOT AT ALL POLITICAL.”

Though Dodd might not see her actions that way, her flagrant embrace of the current presidential administration and its talking points have brought to a head a tension brewing within the reality television landscape for some time. Plenty of fan favorites in the Real Housewives universe are Trump-voting Republicans, including “OG”‘s Ramona Singer and Teresa Guidice. The stars of the Real Housewives franchises have been cast because their bubbles of wealth, privilege, and ignorance, and penchant for shade and drama makes them compelling television. Their lives offer a level of escapism viewers can aspire to, laugh at, or want to dissect in blogs, Facebook groups, or the group chat.

But sidling up to members of the United States’ current fascist regime seems to be too far for some, though it hasn’t come out of left field: Dodd has made antisemitic remarks on the show before; has called Black Lives Matter protests “terrorism on our land”; and has been extremely outspoken about her views on masks, making news recently for her bridal shower and wedding, which were partially mask-off affairs.

As Dodd’s lean towards the right has continued, the landscape around her has shifted too.  In June, Bravo announced Stassi Schroeder, Kristen Doute, Max Boyens, and Brett Caprioni from Vanderpump Rules would not be returning to the show after a range of racist statements and actions (in Schroeder and Doute’s case, potentially life-threatening ones against a Black castmate)—a move most certainly made at least in part because of outside pressure. The rabid fan bases that have made the shows wild successes expect consequences, and Bravo has been slow to dole them out or have a set standard across the board for all their network stars—instead, in Dodd’s case, her “political beliefs and tone-deaf jokes” have been teased in her bio on the network’s website in advance of this season.

“Listen, we all watch stuff we love to hate, right?” Ellen Brenchley, who runs the Bravo fan page @bravoingtogether with Kristina Overland. “This is beyond that. This is something that’s dangerous. This is someone who is spreading misinformation, who is hurting the Black community.”

“What she has done to this day with the spread of misinformation as relating to corona[virus], and essentially celebrating not wearing a mask and ridiculing people who are who are is grotesque,” said Galli, who even expressed concern that Dodd’s posts about COVID could “possibly [kill] people.”

The Drunk Wives Matter hat was the “final straw” for Galli, who said it exemplifies Dodd’s ignorance, racism, and deepens the trauma felt by Black viewers and Black talent on the network. “It feels like we’re now at a space where we have to decide, like, are we going to participate in this by watching Orange County and amplifying Kelly’s hate and give her more attention,” she said, “or we’re going to say this is too much.” While Galli doesn’t plan to watch or discuss this season of RHOC on Andy’s Girls, she said she might change her mind at some point in the future, and won’t bar guests from bringing up Dodd or the season if they choose to discuss.

“The Bravo audience [is] saying, Hey guys. Where’s Kelly’s employer in all of this?” Galli said. “She’s saying these crazy things and she’s getting a check. Why is there nobody combating that?”

“I think as we’re being pushed to hold people in power accountable, platforming racist white people for entertainment value is also supporting racism,” said Brenchley. “For us, we do have a platform. We have over 15,000 followers. We don’t want to platform that.”

The podcasters and page moderators VICE spoke to all began their platforms as a space to share jokes and pick apart the happenings on their favorite shows. For most, it’s a hobby that happens to have a huge following. According to Brenchley, most pages aren’t making much, if any, money on their Bravo-based endeavors.

Brenchley believes that giving Dodd any press only feeds the beast, and adds to the aura of controversy Dodd courts on and off screen. The frustration also lies in Bravo’s inconsistent track record of holding its Bravolebrities accountable for racist, homophobic, transphobic, and other offensive behavior. While the house cleaning done at Vanderpump Rules and the recent firing of Below Deck: Mediterranean star Peter Hunziker was, according to Brenchley, the right move, as were the specials on Black Lives Matter the network put on with activist and cast member of Real Housewives of Atlanta Porsha Williams and comedian/culture critic W. Kamau Bell, she believes the lack of consistency in action on the network’s part creates confusion and frustration when Dodd and other controversial figures like VPR’s Jax Taylor remain employed. “We want to understand, what’s the protocol?” she said. “Because if this isn’t grounds for firing, then none of those other people should have been fired either. I think they should have been fired. Let me be very clear. But there’s no consistency here so it feels like there’s no real justice.”

Mani Marcus, who hosts the podcast and runs the page Mixing with Mani, also decided not to watch the new season to avoid discomfort, a feeling she’s had to contend with for years as a Black Bravo viewer and talking head. On her podcast and other platforms, she dives into the happenings on the many Bravo offerings from her perspective as a Black woman. “Most of these shows on Bravo—with the exception of a couple at a time—are not marketed towards me,” she told VICE. “I just don’t feel like I need to relive my experience of 2020 as a Black person, as someone who’s trying to stay clear of a pandemic, through these women.”

RHOC has certainly been one of the whitest casts in the Housewives franchises. Dodd, who is part Mexican, has long used her ethnicity as a cover for her bad behavior, often claiming she’s “not racist” because “she’s Mexican” when called out by cast mates and critics. (That same Bravo bio also refers to “Her fiery Latin lineage and unfiltered opinions.”) Racism from a reality TV star, amplified on a series and network that severely lacks diversity and tends to segregate its series (Married to Medicine, Real Housewives of Atlanta, and Real Housewives of Potomac feature an all-Black or predominately Black cast, and are often viewed as Bravo’s Black series’) is unfortunately nothing new to Marcus. The network has made strides to bring greater diversity to different franchises, with the addition of Garcelle Beauvais as the first Black cast member on Real Housewives of Beverly Hills last season, the announcement of Eboni K. Williams cast on Real Housewives of New York next season (where she’ll also be the first Black Housewife on that series), and the upcoming premiere of Real Housewives of Salt Lake City, which will boast one of the most diverse casts of all the franchises, but much of that progress has felt like it’s been pressured from the outside, not inside the network.

“We knew what we signed up for and we knew the potential discomfort and racism that can come from Bravo or any reality TV when we signed on,” Marcus said. “We’re not new to this as people of color. We watch the show and we know exactly what these women are capable of.”

Brenchley believes Bravo will only make a more concerted effort to hold Dodd accountable when it “hits their pocketbook.” (As for Dodd herself, when fan pages began posting about not supporting the current RHOC season, she responded on Instagram by calling them “whackjobs.”) Even so, completely ignoring the season will be impossible with such a rabid and extremely online fanbase, and every source for this piece said they were open to changing their mind in the future; the hope is to use any talks to continue having productive conversations about the harm Dodd’s presence on the show causes, and holding Bravo accountable for their part in amplifying her.

While Galli, Brenchley, and other white Bravo fans and critics have been outspoken about Dodd and their plans not to watch RHOC this season, Marcus’ boycott adds greater weight to what Bravo’s lack of action says to Black viewers, especially during a time when Black Lives Matter protests are still taking place and when COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting the Black and Latinx community. For Marcus, watching a group of white women on RHOC fumble through the early days of COVID and ignorantly discuss BLM feels like too much to take, especially since we’re “still in it”—meaning both issues are ongoing.

“I don’t really need to watch my personal rights, and that of people who look like me, as a human being be debated, or my anger, my anguish, my hurt, my anything be debated, on television by people who are not us,” Marcus said. “That’s not fun TV to me…I frankly don’t need that to be a part of the conversation while I protest and try to post resources…I really don’t want to be reminded that this is a population of people that think like this.”

The escapism that makes shows like RHOC fun for Black and brown viewers is no longer possible, not just in content but in conscientiousness. For Marcus and others, it’s also a matter of self-care. “[Black people] don’t want a situation where we’re watching and trying to enjoy just something messy, fun, and shady, and we feel attacked,” said Marcus.

It’s hard to quantify if their boycott will have an impact. “I want to believe that Bravo wouldn’t have had BravoCon if they didn’t understand the importance of this community,” said Brenchley. “I want to believe that they understand the importance of this community and how much we are invested. But again, do I think that they’ll do anything without there being an effect to their bottom line first? I can’t answer that. I don’t know. I want to believe that they would, but they haven’t yet, so it’s discouraging at this point.”

That won’t keep them from pushing, however.

“We know Kelly’s a troll so at a certain point the dialogue to me, on Andy’s Girls and off, veers away from Kelly’s behavior—because we know who she is, she’s telling us repeatedly—and more toward this community, the foundation of which was created and is ongoing because of the work and voices of Bravoholics and Bravo accounts, who are now saying to the network, do better for us and yourselves, and they’re not,” said Galli. “That’s a conversation that’s going to go on regardless of Kelly’s employment in the future, and it’s one the network doesn’t appear to want to have, but we’re going to have it anyway. It’s going to happen regardless of their participation. But if they don’t participate, I don’t know what that says about this community. Like, I don’t know if Bravo the network wants to be a willing member of the Bravo community in the ways that we hope they would.”

While the network hasn’t made any public statements regarding Dodd (and hasn’t responded to a request for comment from VICE; neither has Dodd herself), producer Andy Cohen did drop a shady, if dodging, comment on his show Radio Andy last month, saying, “I think that her posts show how woefully uninformed we all are and what a horrible job that this administration has done to inform us about this disease…And, concurrently, if you are going to Kelly Dodd for advice about what to do in the face of the coronavirus, there is a problem. I think that, you know, [you should] consult your doctor. Do some research. Maybe don’t consult your plastic surgeon.” Perhaps it’s time the network consults with some experts themselves—they’re ready and waiting.

Alex Zaragoza is a senior staff writer at VICE.

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All the products we found to be the best during our testing this year

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(CNN) —  

Throughout the year, CNN Underscored is constantly testing products — be it coffee makers or headphones — to find the absolute best in each respective category.

Our testing process is rigorous, consisting of hours of research (consulting experts, reading editorial reviews and perusing user ratings) to find the top products in each category. Once we settle on a testing pool, we spend weeks — if not months — testing and retesting each product multiple times in real-world settings. All this in an effort to settle on the absolute best products.

So, as we enter peak gifting season, if you’re on the hunt for the perfect gift, we know you’ll find something on this list that they (or you!) will absolutely love.

Coffee

Best burr coffee grinder: Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder With Digital Timer Display ($249; amazon.com or walmart.com)

Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder
Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder

Beginner baristas and coffee connoisseurs alike will be pleased with the Baratza Virtuoso+, a conical burr grinder with 40 settings for grind size, from super fine (espresso) to super coarse (French press). The best coffee grinder we tested, this sleek look and simple, intuitive controls, including a digital timer, allow for a consistent grind every time — as well as optimal convenience.

Read more from our testing of coffee grinders here.

Best drip coffee maker: Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker ($79.95; amazon.com)

Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker
Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker

During our testing of drip coffee makers, we found the Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker made a consistently delicious, hot cup of coffee, brewed efficiently and cleanly, from sleek, relatively compact hardware that is turnkey to operate, and all for a reasonable price.

Read more from our testing of drip coffee makers here.

Best single-serve coffee maker: Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus ($165; originally $179.95; amazon.com)

Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus
Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus

Among all single-serve coffee makers we tested, the Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus, which uses pods that deliver both espresso and “regular” coffee, could simply not be beat for its convenience. Intuitive and a snap to use right out of the box, it looks sleek on the counter, contains a detached 60-ounce water reservoir so you don’t have to refill it with each use and delivers perfectly hot, delicious coffee with a simple tap of a lever and press of a button.

Read more from our testing of single-serve coffee makers here.

Best coffee subscription: Blue Bottle (starting at $11 per shipment; bluebottlecoffee.com)

Blue Bottle coffee subscription
Blue Bottle coffee subscription

Blue Bottle’s coffee subscription won us over with its balance of variety, customizability and, most importantly, taste. We sampled both the single-origin and blend assortments and loved the flavor of nearly every single cup we made. The flavors are complex and bold but unmistakably delicious. Beyond its coffee, Blue Bottle’s subscription is simple and easy to use, with tons of options to tailor to your caffeine needs.

Read more from our testing of coffee subscriptions here.

Best cold brewer coffee maker: Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot ($25; amazon.com)

Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot
Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot

This sleek, sophisticated and streamlined carafe produces 1 liter (about 4 1/4 cups) of rich, robust brew in just eight hours. It was among the simplest to assemble, it executed an exemplary brew in about the shortest time span, and it looked snazzy doing it. Plus, it rang up as the second-most affordable of our inventory.

Read more from our testing of cold brew makers here.

Kitchen essentials

Best nonstick pan: T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid ($39.97; amazon.com)

T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid
T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid

If you’re a minimalist and prefer to have just a single pan in your kitchen, you’d be set with the T-fal E76597. This pan’s depth gives it multipurpose functionality: It cooks standard frying-pan foods like eggs and meats, and its 2 1/2-inch sides are tall enough to prepare recipes you’d usually reserve for pots, like rices and stews. It’s a high-quality and affordable pan that outperformed some of the more expensive ones in our testing field.

Read more from our testing of nonstick pans here.

Best blender: Breville Super Q ($499.95; breville.com)

Breville Super Q
Breville Super Q

With 1,800 watts of motor power, the Breville Super Q features a slew of preset buttons, comes in multiple colors, includes key accessories and is touted for being quieter than other models. At $500, it does carry a steep price tag, but for those who can’t imagine a smoothie-less morning, what breaks down to about $1.30 a day over a year seems like a bargain.

Read more from our testing of blenders here.

Best knife set: Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set ($119.74; amazon.com)

Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set
Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set

The Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set sets you up to easily take on almost any cutting job and is a heck of a steal at just $119.97. Not only did the core knives included (chef’s, paring, utility and serrated) perform admirably, but the set included a bevy of extras, including a full set of steak knives. We were blown away by their solid construction and reliable execution for such an incredible value. The knives stayed sharp through our multitude of tests, and we were big fans of the cushion-grip handles that kept them from slipping, as well as the classic look of the chestnut-stained wood block. If you’re looking for a complete knife set you’ll be proud of at a price that won’t put a dent in your savings account, this is the clear winner.

Read more from our testing of knife sets here.

Audio

Best true wireless earbuds: AirPods Pro ($199, originally $249; amazon.com)

Apple AirPods Pro
Apple AirPods Pro

Apple’s AirPods Pro hit all the marks. They deliver a wide soundstage, thanks to on-the-fly equalizing tech that produces playback that seemingly brings you inside the studio with the artist. They have the best noise-canceling ability of all the earbuds we tested, which, aside from stiff-arming distractions, creates a truly immersive experience. To sum it up, you’re getting a comfortable design, a wide soundstage, easy connectivity and long battery life.

Read more from our testing of true wireless earbuds here.

Best noise-canceling headphones: Sony WH-1000XM4 ($278, originally $349.99; amazon.com)

Sony WH-1000XM4
Sony WH-1000XM4

Not only do the WH-1000XM4s boast class-leading sound, but phenomenal noise-canceling ability. So much so that they ousted our former top overall pick, the Beats Solo Pros, in terms of ANC quality, as the over-ear XM4s better seal the ear from outside noise. Whether it was a noise from a dryer, loud neighbors down the hall or high-pitched sirens, the XM4s proved impenetrable. This is a feat that other headphones, notably the Solo Pros, could not compete with — which is to be expected considering their $348 price tag.

Read more from our testing of noise-canceling headphones here.

Best on-ear headphones: Beats Solo 3 ($119.95, originally $199.95; amazon.com)

Beats Solo 3
Beats Solo 3

The Beats Solo 3s are a phenomenal pair of on-ear headphones. Their sound quality was among the top of those we tested, pumping out particularly clear vocals and instrumentals alike. We enjoyed the control scheme too, taking the form of buttons in a circular configuration that blend seamlessly into the left ear cup design. They are also light, comfortable and are no slouch in the looks department — more than you’d expect given their reasonable $199.95 price tag.

Read more from our testing of on-ear headphones here.

Beauty

Best matte lipstick: Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick ($11, originally $22; amazon.com or $22; nordstrom.com and stilacosmetics.com)

Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick
Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick

The Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick has thousands of 5-star ratings across the internet, and it’s easy to see why. True to its name, this product clings to your lips for hours upon hours, burritos and messy breakfast sandwiches be damned. It’s also surprisingly moisturizing for such a superior stay-put formula, a combo that’s rare to come by.

Read more from our testing of matte lipsticks here.

Best everyday liquid liner: Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner ($22; stilacosmetics.com or macys.com)

Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner
Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner

The Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner is a longtime customer favorite — hence its nearly 7,500 5-star reviews on Sephora — and for good reason. We found it requires little to no effort to create a precise wing, the liner has superior staying power and it didn’t irritate those of us with sensitive skin after full days of wear. As an added bonus, it’s available in a whopping 12 shades.

Read more from our testing of liquid eyeliners here.

Work-from-home essentials

Best office chair: Steelcase Series 1 (starting at $381.60; amazon.com or $415, wayfair.com)

Steelcase Series 1
Steelcase Series 1

The Steelcase Series 1 scored among the highest overall, standing out as one of the most customizable, high-quality, comfortable office chairs on the market. At $415, the Steelcase Series 1 beat out most of its pricier competitors across testing categories, scoring less than a single point lower than our highest-rated chair, the $1,036 Steelcase Leap, easily making it the best bang for the buck and a clear winner for our best office chair overall.

Read more from our testing of office chairs here.

Best ergonomic keyboard: Logitech Ergo K860 ($129.99; logitech.com)

Logitech Ergo K860
Logitech Ergo K860

We found the Logitech Ergo K860 to be a phenomenally comfortable keyboard. Its build, featuring a split keyboard (meaning there’s a triangular gap down the middle) coupled with a wave-like curvature across the body, allows both your shoulders and hands to rest in a more natural position that eases the tension that can often accompany hours spent in front of a regular keyboard. Add the cozy palm rest along the bottom edge and you’ll find yourself sitting pretty comfortably.

Read more from our testing of ergonomic keyboards here.

Best ergonomic mouse: Logitech MX Master 3 ($99.99; logitech.com)

Logitech MX Master 3
Logitech MX Master 3

The Logitech MX Master 3 is an unequivocally comfortable mouse. It’s shaped to perfection, with special attention to the fingers that do the clicking. Using it felt like our fingers were lounging — with a sculpted ergonomic groove for nearly every finger.

Read more from our testing of ergonomic mice here.

Best ring light: Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light ($25.99; amazon.com)

Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light
Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light

The Emart 10-Inch Standing Ring Light comes with a tripod that’s fully adjustable — from 19 inches to 50 inches — making it a great option whether you’re setting it atop your desk for video calls or need some overhead lighting so no weird shadows creep into your photos. Its three light modes (warm, cool and a nice mix of the two), along with 11 brightness levels (among the most settings on any of the lights we tested), ensure you’re always framed in the right light. And at a relatively cheap $35.40, this light combines usability and affordability better than any of the other options we tested.

Read more from our testing of ring lights here.

Home

Best linen sheets: Parachute Linen Sheet Set (starting at $149; parachute.com)

Parachute Linen Sheets
Parachute Linen Sheets

Well made, luxurious to the touch and with the most versatile shopping options (six sizes, nine colors and the ability to order individual sheets), the linen sheets from Parachute were, by a narrow margin, our favorite set. From the satisfying unboxing to a sumptuous sleep, with a la carte availability, Parachute set the gold standard in linen luxury.

Read more from our testing of linen sheets here.

Best shower head: Kohler Forte Shower Head (starting at $74.44; amazon.com)

Kohler Forte Shower Head
Kohler Forte Shower Head

Hands down, the Kohler Forte Shower Head provides the best overall shower experience, offering three distinct settings. Backstory: Lots of shower heads out there feature myriad “settings” that, when tested, are pretty much indecipherable. The Forte’s three sprays, however, are each incredibly different and equally successful. There’s the drenching, full-coverage rain shower, the pulsating massage and the “silk spray” setting that is basically a super-dense mist. The Forte manages to achieve all of this while using only 1.75 gallons per minute (GPM), making it a great option for those looking to conserve water.

Read more from our testing of shower heads here.

Best humidifier: TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier (starting at $49.99; amazon.com)

TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier
TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier

The TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier ramped up the humidity in a room in about an hour, which was quicker than most of the options we tested. More importantly, though, it sustained those humidity levels over the longest period of time — 24 hours, to be exact. The levels were easy to check with the built-in reader (and we cross-checked that reading with an external reader to confirm accuracy). We also loved how easy this humidifier was to clean, and the nighttime mode for the LED reader eliminated any bright lights in the bedroom.

Read more from our testing of humidifiers here.

Video

Best TV: TCL 6-Series (starting at $579.99; bestbuy.com)

TCL 6-Series
TCL 6-Series

With models starting at $599.99 for a 55-inch, the TCL 6-Series might give you reverse sticker shock considering everything you get for that relatively small price tag. But can a 4K smart TV with so many specification standards really deliver a good picture for $500? The short answer: a resounding yes. The TCL 6-Series produces a vibrant picture with flexible customization options and handles both HDR and Dolby Vision, optimization standards that improve the content you’re watching by adding depth to details and expanding the color spectrum.

Read more from our testing of TVs here.

Best streaming device: Roku Ultra ($99.99; amazon.com)

Roku Ultra
Roku Ultra

Roku recently updated its Ultra streaming box and the 2020 version is faster, thanks to a new quad-core processor. The newest Ultra retains all of the features we loved and enjoyed about the 2019 model, like almost zero lag time between waking it up and streaming content, leading to a hiccup-free streaming experience. On top of that, the Roku Ultra can upscale content to deliver the best picture possible on your TV — even on older-model TVs that don’t offer the latest and greatest picture quality — and supports everything from HD to 4K.

Read more from our testing of streaming devices here.

Travel

Best carry-on luggage: Away Carry-On ($225; away.com)

Away Carry-On
Away Carry-On

The Away Carry-On scored high marks across all our tests and has the best combination of features for the average traveler. Compared with higher-end brands like Rimowa, which retail for hundreds more, you’re getting the same durable materials, an excellent internal compression system and eye-catching style. Add in smart charging capabilities and a lifetime warranty, and this was the bag to beat.

Read more from our testing of carry-on luggage here.

Best portable charger: Anker PowerCore 13000 (starting at $31.99; amazon.com)

Anker PowerCore 13000
Anker PowerCore 13000

The Anker PowerCore 13000 shone most was in terms of charging capacity. It boasts 13,000 mAh (maH is a measure of how much power a device puts out over time), which is enough to fully charge an iPhone 11 two and a half times. Plus, it has two fast-charging USB Type-A ports so you can juice a pair of devices simultaneously. While not at the peak in terms of charging capacity, at just $31.99, it’s a serious bargain for so many mAhs.

Read more from our testing of portable chargers here.

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Trump’s misleading tweet about changing your vote, briefly explained

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Open Sourced logo

Searches for changing one’s vote did not trend following the recent presidential debate, and just a few states appear to have processes for changing an early vote. But that didn’t stop President Trump from wrongly saying otherwise on Tuesday.

In early morning posts, the president falsely claimed on Twitter and Facebook that many people had Googled “Can I change my vote?” after the second presidential debate and said those searching wanted to change their vote over to him. Trump also wrongly claimed that most states have a mechanism for changing one’s vote. Actually, just a few states appear to have the ability, and it’s rarely used.

Twitter did not attach a label to Trump’s recent tweet.
Twitter

Trump’s claim about what was trending on Google after the debate doesn’t hold up. Searches for changing one’s vote were not among Google’s top trending searches for the day of the debate (October 22) or the day after. Searches for “Can I change my vote?” did increase slightly around the time of the debate, but there is no way to know whether the bump was related to the debate or whether the people searching were doing so in support of Trump.

It was only after Trump’s posts that searches about changing your vote spiked significantly. It’s worth noting that people were also searching for “Can I change my vote?” during a similar period before the 2016 presidential election.

Google declined to comment on the accuracy of Trump’s post.

Trump also claimed that these results indicate that most of the people who were searching for how to change their vote support him. But the Google Trends tool for the searches he mentioned does not provide that specific information.

Perhaps the most egregiously false claim in Trump’s recent posts is about “most states” having processes for changing your early vote. In fact, only a few states have such processes, and they can come with certain conditions. For instance, in Michigan, voters who vote absentee can ask for a new ballot by mail or in person until the day before the election.

The Center for Election Innovation’s David Becker told the Associated Press that changing one’s vote is “extremely rare.” Becker explained, “It’s hard enough to get people to vote once — it’s highly unlikely anybody will go through this process twice.”

Trump’s post on Facebook was accompanied by a link to Facebook’s Voting Information Center.
Facebook

At the time of publication, Trump’s false claims had drawn about 84,000 and 187,000 “Likes” on Twitter and Facebook, respectively. Trump’s posts accelerated searches about changing your vote in places like the swing state of Florida, where changing one’s vote after casting it is not possible. Those numbers are a reminder of the president’s capacity to spread misinformation quickly.

On Facebook, the president’s post came with a label directing people to Facebook’s Voting Information Center, but no fact-checking label. Twitter had no annotation on the president’s post. Neither company responded to a request for comment.

That Trump is willing to spread misinformation to benefit himself and his campaign isn’t a surprise. He does that a lot. Still, just days before a presidential election in which millions have already voted, this latest episode demonstrates that the president has no qualms about using false claims about voting to cause confusion and sow doubt in the electoral process.

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Nearly 6,000 civilian casualties in Afghanistan so far this year

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From January to September, 5,939 civilians – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded – were casualties of the fighting, the UN says.

Nearly 6,000 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first nine months of the year as heavy fighting between government forces and Taliban fighters rages on despite efforts to find peace, the United Nations has said.

From January to September, there were 5,939 civilian casualties in the fighting – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a quarterly report on Tuesday.

“High levels of violence continue with a devastating impact on civilians, with Afghanistan remaining among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian,” the report said.

Civilian casualties were 30 percent lower than in the same period last year but UNAMA said violence has failed to slow since the beginning of talks between government negotiators and the Taliban that began in Qatar’s capital, Doha, last month.

An injured girl receives treatment at a hospital after an attack in Khost province [Anwarullah/Reuters]

The Taliban was responsible for 45 percent of civilian casualties while government troops caused 23 percent, it said. United States-led international forces were responsible for two percent.

Most of the remainder occurred in crossfire, or were caused by ISIL (ISIS) or “undetermined” anti-government or pro-government elements, according to the report.

Ground fighting caused the most casualties followed by suicide and roadside bomb attacks, targeted killings by the Taliban and air raids by Afghan troops, the UN mission said.

Fighting has sharply increased in several parts of the country in recent weeks as government negotiators and the Taliban have failed to make progress in the peace talks.

At least 24 people , mostly teens, were killed in a suicide bomb attack at an education centre in Kabul [Mohammad Ismail/Reuters]

The Taliban has been fighting the Afghan government since it was toppled from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.

Washington blamed the then-Taliban rulers for harbouring al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden. Al-Qaeda was accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks.

Calls for urgent reduction of violence

Meanwhile, the US envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said on Tuesday that the level of violence in the country was still too high and the Kabul government and Taliban fighters must work harder towards forging a ceasefire at the Doha talks.

Khalilzad made the comments before heading to the Qatari capital to hold meetings with the two sides.

“I return to the region disappointed that despite commitments to lower violence, it has not happened. The window to achieve a political settlement will not stay open forever,” he said in a tweet.

There needs to be “an agreement on a reduction of violence leading to a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire”, added Khalilzad.

A deal in February between the US and the Taliban paved the way for foreign forces to leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which agreed to sit with the Afghan government to negotiate a permanent ceasefire and a power-sharing formula.

But progress at the intra-Afghan talks has been slow since their start in mid-September and diplomats and officials have warned that rising violence back home is sapping trust.

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