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The odd friends: The young liberal and the elderly conservative

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The waitress at Cracker Barrel looked confused when she stopped at our table. Among the snow globes, animatronic weasels, and ceramic pineapples, Richard and I were yet another random curiosity. A 30-something year-old woman in jeggings and a pixie cut next to her 92-year-old friend with the rodeo belt buckle and scraggly beard.

Richard flashed a gap-toothed grin at the waitress. “Hon, can you bring us one of them baskets? With extra biscuits?” he asked. He knows I like biscuits better than cornbread. At 92 with his sweet smile and wispy white hair, Richard’s “Hons” and “Sweeties” lack the demeaning quality they might have with a younger man in a position of power. Still, I studied the waitress’s face. I started to tell Richard not all women like being called “Hon,” but the waitress’s expression softened into bemusement. “Of course, Hon,” she said, then headed towards the kitchen.

In an era when the political is personal, people make assumptions about others’ beliefs based on their appearance. Many of the assumptions one might make about Richard are correct. He is a lifelong Texan and a white evangelical Christian who dropped out of school in the sixth grade. Like 55 percent of men with no college degree, Richard is staunchly anti-abortion rights. He has voted Republican since before I was born, including a vote for Donald Trump in 2016.

If Richard fulfils a stereotype, so do I. Like 51 percent of Americans aged 30 to 49, I supported Hillary Clinton. I identify as a feminist and an atheist. I earned my master’s degree from a music school on the East Coast. I organised watch parties for President Barack Obama’s election, donated to the Bail Project, and vote Democrat.

Once a week, a Facebook friend brags about ending a relationship with a friend or family member who voted for an opposing political party. I have blocked Republican friends myself, usually for posting memes or rants that incited violence or discriminated against marginalised groups. But Richard and I have been friends for eight years, despite openly discussing our ideological differences.

When the basket of biscuits arrived, Richard reached for one. Then his eyebrows shot up. His hand flew to his mouth. “I forgot my teeth,” he said, meaning his dentures. We laughed.

Leaving school at 12 and college degrees

I first met Richard in 2012 when he called me about violin lessons. To liberals, America in 2012 was a warm cocoon. Social safety nets like the Affordable Care Act told poor or sick Americans for the first time they mattered. Neo-nazis hid rather than marching down streets brandishing torches.

It was in this year that Richard, at 84 years old, decided to take up the violin. His wife had died in 2011, and he had recently found his grandmother’s violin in the attic. The local music shop had given him a list of teachers’ names and contact numbers. Mine was at the top.

At his first lesson, I handed Richard a copy of my policy and expectations for students. Nodding solemnly, Richard pulled a pencil out of his bag and took notes in neat cursive penmanship. He has practised nearly every day in the eight years and counting he has been my student.

More American millennials than any previous generation have college degrees. Like many people my age, I took for granted that my education would continue after high school. Higher education whisked me from my homogenous suburb onto a campus with peers who had different religions, abilities, ethnicities, cultural backgrounds, and sexual identities. My professors taught me to critically engage with the news, which influences my voting decisions today.

Richard, however, did not attend school past the sixth grade. One of the defining moments in his life occurred when at age 12, he asked his father for a nickel. “I haven’t got a nickel,” his father told him. “You want money, you go to work.” Shortly after, Richard left school and got a job “pearl diving” – washing dishes in a restaurant. He performed manual labour before enlisting in the army. Thirty years later, he retired from the light company where he had worked his way up to foreman.

Richard poses with his violin during a lesson [Photo courtesy of Meghan Beaudry]

The Bible and speaking your mind

During that first year of weekly violin lessons, our conversations began to extend beyond the violin. I responded to Richard’s stories of his late wife, Beverly, with anecdotes from my own recent marriage. Richard reminisced about his military tour of Japan and Korea at the tail end of World War II. I learned to appreciate his sharp wit. Once, Richard mentioned a car he had seen that had crashed into the gates of a cemetery. “People are just dying to get in there,” he said dryly. With his mischievous smile, he looked like a schoolboy who had just slipped a toad into a classmate’s desk.

I first glimpsed how much Richard’s ideology conflicted with mine several months into our lessons. Richard had offered to take my husband and me out for dinner. We met him at Spring Creek BBQ. He wore cowboy boots and a giant silver belt buckle. Richard’s devout Christianity had never been a secret, but I hadn’t realised until then how much his religion influenced his politics. Perhaps I should have. Eight out of 10 evangelical Christians say they plan to vote for Donald Trump in 2020. Once seated, he questioned my husband and me about our nonexistent religious beliefs. “You need to think about what happens after you die,” Richard urged. Then he passed out anti-abortion rights pamphlets to random diners, who accepted them with polite but confused nods. The title: God Has a Plan for Your Child.

Richard would persist in his efforts to convert us for months. Years later, I would learn to see his determination for what it was: a strong desire to save a young couple he had grown deeply fond of, in the only way he knew how. But once during a lesson, I couldn’t contain my annoyance. “Are you here to learn the violin or not?” I snapped.

Richard paused. “I am,” he said. Then he looked at me with genuine curiosity and asked what exactly I had against the Bible. I thought of the priest at the church I had attended each week as a child – of the blistering sermons condemning gay people and women, but rarely men, who had sex before marriage. I remembered the time I had endeavoured to read the entire Bible as a teenager. I got as far as Sodom and Gomorrah before closing the book forever. What lodged in my developing brain was not the allusions to homosexuality, but a father who offered up his own virgin daughters to be raped by a mob.

“I don’t think the Bible treats women well. Almost all the stories in there are about men,” I told him. “I just don’t see myself in that book.”

Richard sat in silence for a moment. I hadn’t yet visited his house and seen the dozens of Bible verses embroidered, carved into wood, or painted in frames on his walls. I hadn’t seen the dog-eared King James version on his table, bright tabs and sticky notes poking out from the worn pages. When Richard spoke, he didn’t lash out. He didn’t defend the belief system that defined his life. He complimented me. “One thing I respect about you is you always speak your mind,” he said quietly.

Hurt and friendship

For several years, Richard’s and my opposing beliefs lay between us like a faded stain on the carpet. Present, but rarely discussed. The 2016 election dragged these differences from the periphery of our relationship to where they couldn’t be avoided.

Shortly after Trump’s victory, Richard and I went out for lunch. Like many liberals, the 2016 election had sent shock waves through my life. Our new president spewed hate and threats atop the most public platform in the world. To me, a woman with serious chronic health issues, many of these threats were not existential. They were life-threatening. I worried about the gay couples I knew. I worried about my friends of colour. Which is why I stopped eating when Richard stumbled upon the topic of gender roles with all the grace of a drunken soldier careening through a field of landmines.

“It’s in their DNA,” he said. “God created men and women different. That’s just how it is.”

“So you think women are put on earth to clean up after you?” I asked.

Richard speared a tomato with his fork. “I think everyone should do their job and not complain.”

Living in a “free country” does not protect American women from being talked over, underestimated, and disregarded. Four out of 10 American women have been discriminated against at work because of their gender. One in three American women will be stalked, raped, or assaulted. Sexism had dug its claws into my life well before I had the vocabulary to name it. I began picking up after my brothers in elementary school. By high school, I was folding their underwear, scrubbing their toilet, and carrying their dishes to the sink to wash after meals. I will never understand why my time and energy was viewed as disposable, but my brothers’ wasn’t.

After that lunch with Richard, I reacted differently than he had towards me the day I told him I would never believe in the Bible. Deeply hurt, I was unable to see past the rhetoric he had espoused. At his next lesson, I told him that I would still teach him the violin, but we would no longer spend time together as friends. He hung his head, then shuffled slowly to his car.

People’s words and their character

“All lives matter. Her body, her choice. Choose life.” Taken at face value, these words are immutable truths. What begins as a reaction to injustice becomes a slogan. These slogans and chants, so necessary to mobilising people and elevating marginalised voices, pull us into their orbit. They grow to encompass a movement, attracting other slogans like paperclips to a magnet. The movement adheres itself to a political party. The party becomes an identity for supporters, even though the average American has neither the time nor resources to become an expert on the nuances of public policy. Instead, we scream slogans across the street or share video clips to our own self-constructed echo chambers. If you believe Black Lives Matter, you must want to abolish the police. If you didn’t vote for Hillary, you hate women. Even when our intentions are noble, we stop listening to any voice that doesn’t mirror our own. Like spilled red and blue ink, the opposing parties grow larger, separated only by the election on which the future of America teeters.

It took months for my hurt feelings to fade enough for me to see through Richard’s rhetoric to the person underneath: a man who took over the housework while his wife studied for her nursing degree. A man who married young and worked to support his wife while she finished high school, despite his own lack of education. A man who had been married for 50 years, yet responded with compassion and acceptance when I told him my four-year marriage had ended. Richard had once relayed to me a conversation in which a man in his forties had lamented his lack of a wife.

“I just can’t find a woman willing to submit to me,” the man had told Richard.

“Submit? Well, that’s not how any marriage I know works,” Richard had snorted.

I learned to pay attention to Richard’s behaviour rather than the slogans he repeated. I had heard racist jokes and comments from liberal friends, only to watch them flood their social media with Black Lives Matter slogans once the movement rose to prominence. Growing up, the most judgemental people I knew always seemed to be devout church-goers. Richard’s actions paint a consistent picture of who he is as a person: kind, accepting, and empathetic.

Richard and Meghan’s dog, Wilbur, who loves to snuggle with Richard [Photo courtesy of Meghan Beaudry]

Richard never said another derogatory word about women. He became the first man I had ever met who, when confronted with his own misogyny, cared enough about me to change.

It is not easy to see past someone’s words to their true character. On the campaign trail, Donald Trump spouted promises. Walls to keep America safe. Lower taxes. The return of jobs to our country. Words have the power to wound, but also to uplift and spark hope. Some words, especially when they are words we want to hear, even have the power to veil the speaker’s true character. I began to see why so many Americans were hoodwinked by him.

Curiosity, respect and empathy

My conversation with Richard about gender roles set a precedent. We began to talk frequently and openly about our political beliefs. After some experimentation, we developed a tacit set of rules: Approach conversations with genuine curiosity about the other person’s perspective. Treat each other with respect and empathy. This empathy stems from an understanding that vastly different life experiences, many of them painful, have shaped our beliefs.

One of Richard’s most deeply held beliefs is that abortion is wrong. According to Gallup’s Values and Beliefs Poll, 46 percent of Americans are anti-abortion rights and 48 percent are pro-abortion rights, with 6 percent undecided. The difficulty in discussing abortion stems from who each camp views as the victim. When anti-abortion rights advocates talk about abortion, they talk about the babies. When pro-abortion rights people talk about abortion, they talk about the women. As a feminist, I can’t imagine being forced to carry a child I didn’t choose.

Richard and his wife raised just one child – a son who never had his own children, who lives 10 hours away and has his own life and health issues. Richard spends Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter with me at my parents’ house. Richard’s wife, Beverly, suffered miscarriage after miscarriage before giving birth to their only son. One of their children that didn’t survive is buried in a cemetery without a headstone because Richard and Beverly had been too poor to afford one. To come home to a house full of light, laughter, and grandchildren is Richard’s greatest desire. As I dropped him off after a family dinner one night, I watched Richard slowly shuffle up his driveway. Then I pulled away from the dark empty house. It suddenly clicked why Richard talks about “the babies”. It was never out of hatred for women.

The shape of our wounds

I have accepted that Richard and I will never be on the same page ideologically. Our friendship and ability to discuss divisive topics hinges not on our differences, but on our similar approach to life. We both believe in treating others with respect. We both harbour a magnetic curiosity towards those who are different than us. I will always be a liberal. But I have learned it is not just liberals who dream of a better America. From my friendship with Richard, I have learned that Americans’ ideas on how to improve our country often take the shape of their wounds.

Telling stories from the past is either the privilege or burden of the old. Richard revels in this role, peppering his stories with advice like “don’t buy no strawberries but Driscoll’s.” “Never tie two cats’ tails together and hang them over a clothesline,” he warned me once quite sincerely. But I always enjoy his stories and advice the most when Richard talks about the Great Depression and World War II.

“The government found out they were spying on us and rounded them up,” he said once about America’s Japanese internment camps.

Richard’s voice hit me like a shovel to the chest. His matter-of-fact tone implied that this was something everyone knew, like the events of Pearl Harbor or the reason for the American Revolution. We like to believe we are free in America. That we are different from countries like North Korea or Russia, who brainwash their citizens with a steady diet of pro-government propaganda. Richard’s statement summed up American propaganda in one phrase.

“That’s not true, Richard. They were Americans, too,” I said.

Two years later, I would learn about the Tulsa race massacre for the first time. In school, racism had been portrayed as an evil that Americans had long since vanquished. Video footage of police murdering Black people has long since eviscerated this lie. Since Richard’s statement, I’ve often wondered who I would be if I had no access to reputable news. What would I believe if I grew up under different circumstances?

My focus on Richard’s actions rather than his rhetoric was most tested the few times he used racially insensitive language.

Racism isn’t a personality quirk. It isn’t a vestige from a quaint antebellum past, like one-room schoolhouses or horse-drawn carriages. Racism is trauma that lasts for generations. Racism is lost lives and ruined futures.

I’m a liberal. A feminist. A believer that science is real, Black Lives Matter, and love is love. But perhaps the piece of my identity most deeply rooted in my heart is teacher. For me, that has always been the identity that makes allyship possible.

I speak up. “Richard, we don’t say that any more. It’s ‘people of colour’ now.”

Richard never argues. “OK,” he always agrees.

Access to the news

“Where do you get your news?” I asked recently. No TV hangs in Richard’s living room. His home is a museum dedicated to his late wife; Beverly’s floral curtains and silk floral arrangements remain untouched by Wi-Fi or cable. No copy of the New York Times lands on his doorstep each Sunday. An old radio sits on his kitchen table.

“Mostly from what people say,” he shrugged. “And sometimes the radio.”

My heart sank. From the day we met, Richard spoke openly about his lack of education and his humble background. As a teacher, I recognised his fierce commitment to learn shining through the unvarnished front he presented. As an adult, Richard had taken flying lessons and painting lessons. He approaches the Bible the way a scholar of history would. He pores over gardening manuals and maintains an encyclopedic knowledge of the flowers and trees in his garden.

I had convinced him to trade in his flip phone with T9 texting – “it’s not a phone, Richard, it’s an ancient artefact,” – for a touchscreen Android. He has since become a connoisseur of selfies and of video clips of the American flag in his garden waving in the wind. Richard strikes me as an independent thinker – someone who isn’t fooled by con men or false political promises. But from our conversation, a clearer picture emerged: an intelligent man, but without the resources to access the news or discern its accuracy.

I scribbled a note to myself to print and bring some news articles to our next meeting. The New York Times. The Atlantic. Maybe a Christian news source with solid reporting. No op-eds – just straight news so Richard could form his own opinions.

Richard told me he had listened to the first debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump on the radio.

“I couldn’t sleep it bothered me so much,” he said. “(Trump) denied what Joe told him he’d said. But everyone very well knows what Trump said. People have ears.”

“Thou shalt not bear false witness. It says that clearly in the Bible,” Richard added with a frown.

Richard and Meghan take a selfie after playing a concert at a nursing home [Photo courtesy of Meghan Beaudry]

Past the slogans and rhetoric

As Richard has aged, the lines in our relationship have blurred from teacher to friend to caregiver. I want him to know he always has a place at my Thanksgiving table. That I’ll be there in the hospital when he wakes up from his heart procedures. That my family will keep filling his fridge so he can quarantine safely.

“You don’t have to tell me,” I said. “And if you do, we’ll still be friends no matter what. Who do you think you’ll vote for this election?”

“I believe in what our forefathers said in the Declaration of Independence. But as culture has changed, my thoughts have changed. Being Christian doesn’t mean you have to be Democrat or Republican. It means voting what you believe in,” Richard said.

Our friendship has taught me to see past slogans and rhetoric to the person underneath. That actions convey character in a way that words can’t. But in this respect, perhaps Richard is miles ahead of me.

“I think Trump has accomplished some things,” he said with his characteristic respect for our country’s leaders. “But those things might have been accomplished anyway through other people. He seems to really support all his friends and companies. Not the little man.”

“You know, I think I might vote for Joe,” he added after a pause. Outside Richard’s window, his American flag waved in the wind.

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World

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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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.

Open Sourced is made possible by Omidyar Network. All Open Sourced content is editorially independent and produced by our journalists.


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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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