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The rise in murders in American cities, explained

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As if the Covid-19 pandemic wasn’t bad enough, American cities are also seeing a surge in homicides this year.

A new report, by the Council on Criminal Justice, found that the homicide rate increased sharply this summer across 27 US cities: “Homicide rates between June and August of 2020 increased by 53% over the same period in 2019, and aggravated assaults went up by 14%.” Other data, from crime analyst Jeff Asher, found that murder is up 28 percent throughout the year so far, compared to the same time period in 2019, in a sample of 59 US cities.

It’s not clear if this is a nationwide phenomenon, or if it’s isolated to urban centers, because we don’t have good data outside of larger cities. But the increase in homicides is large and widespread enough to raise serious alarms for criminologists and other experts — and a trend that’s likely to come up in this week’s debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden.

So what’s going on?

Some experts have cited the protests over the police killings of George Floyd and others — which could’ve had a range of effects, from officers pulling back from their duties to greater community distrust in police, leading to more unchecked violence. Others point to the bad economy. Another potential factor is a huge increase in gun purchases this year. Still others posit boredom and social displacement as a result of physical distancing leading people to cause more trouble.

Above all, though, experts caution it’s simply been a very unusual year with the Covid-19 pandemic. That makes it difficult to say what, exactly, is happening with crime rates. “The current year, 2020, is an extreme deviation from baseline — extreme,” Tracey Meares, founding director at the Justice Collaboratory at Yale Law School, told me.

That offers a bit of good news: It’s possible that the end of the pandemic will come and homicide rates will fall again, as they generally have for the past few decades in the US. But no one knows for sure if that will happen, or if we’re now seeing a shift in long-term trends.

Uncertainty about what’s going on isn’t exactly new in the field of criminal justice. Rates of crime and violence have plummeted over the past few decades in the US, yet there is no agreed-upon explanation for why. There are theories applying the best evidence, research, and data available, ranging from changes in policing to a drop in lead exposure to the rise of video games. But there’s no consensus.

That a decades-long phenomenon is still so hard to explain shows the need for humility before jumping to conclusions about the current trends.

“We don’t know nearly enough to know what’s going on at the given moment,” Jennifer Doleac, director of the Justice Tech Lab, told me. “The current moment is so unusual for so many different reasons that … it’s really hard to speculate about broad phenomena that are driving these trends when we’re not even sure if there’s a trend yet.”

All of that said, here’s what we do know.

Homicides are up this year in large US cities

There are several good sources, from criminologists, economists, and other data analysts, for what’s happened with crime and violence so far this year: an analysis by Jeff Asher; a Council on Criminal Justice report written by Richard Rosenfeld and Ernesto Lopez; and City Crime Stats, a website from the University of Pennsylvania set up by David Abrams, Priyanka Goonetilleke, Elizabeth Holmdahl, and Kathy Qian. They all focus on major cities, because we don’t have good data — and likely won’t until 2021’s federal reports — for other places.

Crime analyst Jeff Asher offers the most recent data, looking at violent crime and property crime trends in 59 US cities in 2020 so far compared to 2019. He found murders are up 28 percent. Despite previous comments by Trump blaming the increase on Democratic-run cities, Asher found murders are up 29 percent and 26 percent, respectively, in cities with Democratic mayors and those with Republican mayors. In a smaller sample of US cities, he found that violent crime overall is flat and property crimes are down.

The Council on Criminal Justice report, updated this month, looked at crimes in 27 US cities, ranging in size from Los Angeles to St. Petersburg, Florida, through August. The authors looked for “structural breaks,” in which reported crime increased or decreased more than would be expected, based on data from previous years.

They found structural breaks in homicide and aggravated assault increases starting in late May and early June. There were also increases in the spring or summer in gun assaults, domestic violence, and robbery, but they weren’t up much, if at all, compared to 2019 (although the data for domestic violence is fairly limited). Other kinds of crime, including larceny and drug offenses, decreased.

Here’s the graph for homicide increases:

A chart of the weekly homicide rate in large US cities. Council on Criminal Justice

That certainly suggests there were more homicides. But it’s hard to say if that’s a result of more shootings, as some news reports have suggested, given that numbers of reported gun assaults weren’t significantly different. It’s unclear what could be driving the increase in homicides if more shootings aren’t. It’s possible that gun assaults are just going unreported, while homicides aren’t.

“It does look like violence is up in a number of cities,” Rosenfeld, one of the report authors, told me.

City Crime Stats’ data complicates matters a bit, comparing the 2020 crime trends in 28 major cities to a five-year baseline. With this approach, the homicide increases don’t seem quite as dramatic in many cities, and other types of crime appear to be mostly down as well. Still, homicides do seem to be significantly up in many of the cities included in the City Crime Stats data set.

Here, for example, is Chicago, which shows this year’s rate (the red line) rising above the five-year baseline (the gray line and shading) at several points throughout the year:

A chart of homicides in Chicago in 2020 versus previous years. City Crime Stats

There’s a lot of variation from city to city. Minneapolis, Milwaukee, New York City, and Philadelphia are on the high end of homicides or seeing a flat-out increase. Baltimore, Boston, and Columbus are in line with historical trends or actually down.

Overall, though, Abrams said that his data suggests there was a significant increase in homicides from May to June: “We did find a statistically significant increase in homicides — about 21 percent — in aggregate in the cities we looked at in the month after versus before those protests,” he told me, cautioning that we can’t say with any confidence if the protests were the cause. “Same for shootings, but that’s from a smaller number of cities.”

In Chicago, as well as some other cities, the apparent increase in homicides began before the protests over the police killing of George Floyd. And in some cases, as in Chicago, the spike abruptly ended almost as quickly as it started, only to surge again weeks later, after the protests had died down. So it’s hard to blame only the protests for a spike — especially because we know that other factors likely played a role, such as the start of summer, when crime tends to go up, and the end of stay-at-home orders.

City-by-city variation isn’t unique to 2020. It’s expected, even when talking about national crime waves or declines, to see some places go up and others go down for different kinds of crime. The US is a big country, and a range of local factors can affect different kinds of crime.

Still, there’s enough in the three data sets to draw some conclusions: At least in major US cities, homicides are up overall this summer — in some cases, significantly higher. But other kinds of crime, including violent crime overall, aren’t up and may actually have decreased so far this year. There was also a brief spike in burglaries in major cities starting in late May — an increase that was so brief and contained to specific cities that experts told me it was likely due to riots and looting surrounding some Black Lives Matter protests.

As Asher noted on Twitter, a disconnect between murders and other crimes would be odd: “Violent crime and murder almost always move in the same direction and they are never this far apart nationally.”

One way to reconcile this may be the nature of crime reporting. All of this data is based on reports to governments, typically local police departments. But with people stuck at home, and no government agency operating normally this year, perhaps these reports are just less likely to happen or get picked up this year, especially lower-level crimes involving drugs or stolen property.

At the same time, it’s far harder for a homicide to go completely unreported — it’s difficult to ignore a dead person. This is why, for much of US history, the homicide rate has been used as a proxy for violent crime overall: The nature of homicide made it a more reliable metric than others for crime.

In other words, it’s possible that other kinds of crime are up this year, but they’re simply going unreported. At any rate, homicide does seem to be up overall, at least in major US cities.

One note on domestic violence: Some activists and experts worried it would increase this year as people were forced to stay home more often. The Council on Criminal Justice report and City Crime Stats’ analysis suggest that’s not the case, showing no significant change or a drop in some places. But there’s reason for skepticism: Both sources are pulling data from a limited number of cities. And reporting limitations may especially apply to domestic violence, since this year victims are potentially more likely to be trapped with their abusers and unable to make a phone call for help.

There are plenty of caveats to all this data. It only represents the trends in large US cities, which means it might not be representative of the country as a whole. And it only covers 2020 through August or part of September, depending on the report.

But the trend in some places, particularly with homicides, is alarming.

We know less about why there might be a spike, but there are some theories

So why did homicides increase in some cities?

When I posed this question to experts, they again cautioned that no one can say with certainty what’s going on. That said, they offered some possible explanations, based on the limited information we have so far:

1) The pandemic has really messed things up: Looming over absolutely every discussion about 2020 is the Covid-19 pandemic. That’s no different for discussions about crime and violence. This year is very unusual, with many forced to stay at home and living in fear of a new, deadly virus. That could lead to all sorts of unpredictable behaviors that experts don’t understand yet, and that might take us years to explain.

2) Depolicing led to more violence: In response to the 2014 and 2015 waves of Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality, officers in some cities pulled back, either out of fear that any act of aggressive policing could get them in trouble or in a counter-protest against Black Lives Matter. While protesters have challenged the crime-fighting effectiveness of police, there is a sizable body of evidence that more, and certain kinds of, policing do lead to less crime. Given that, some experts said that depolicing in response to protests could have led to more violence — what some in years past called the “Ferguson effect,” after the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Missouri, over the police shooting of Michael Brown, and also seen in Baltimore after the 2015 killing of Freddie Gray.

3) Lack of trust in police led to more violence: In response to the “Ferguson effect” in 2015, some experts offered a different view of what was happening: Maybe people had lost trust in the police and, as a result, they relied more on street justice and other illegal activities to resolve interpersonal disputes — an interpretation of “legal cynicism,” explained well in Jill Leovy’s Ghettoside and supported by some empirical research. Perhaps Floyd’s murder and the ensuing protests led to a similar phenomenon in some cities this year.

4) More guns led to more gun violence: There’s been a massive surge in gun buying this year, seemingly in response to concerns about personal safety during a pandemic. And as the research has shown time and time again, more guns mean more gun violence. A recent, preliminary study from researchers at UC Davis already concluded that gun purchases led to more gun violence than there would be otherwise through May this year. That could have further exacerbated homicide increases.

5) Overwhelmed hospitals led to more deaths: One way to explain a flat or dropping violent crime rate as homicides rise is that the violent crime was deadlier than usual. With health care systems across the US at times close to capacity or at capacity due to Covid-19, maybe hospitals and their staff had less ability to treat violent crime victims — increasing the chances they died this year. That could translate to more deaths, and homicides, even if violent crime remained flat or declined.

6) Idle hands led to more violence: Throughout the pandemic, a lot of people have been bored — with forms of entertainment, from restaurants to movie theaters, closed down. Schools are shut down too, and millions are newly unemployed. Other support programs that can prevent violence were shuttered due to the lockdowns. All of that could have led to conflict, and possibly more crime and violence. But, experts cautioned, this is speculative, with little evidence so far to support it.

7) A bad economy led to more violence: With the economy tanking this year, some people may have been pushed to desperate acts to make ends meet. Disruptions in the drug market, as product and customers dried up in a bad economy, may have led to more violent competition over what’s left. The bad economy also left local and state governments with less funding for social supports that can keep people out of trouble. All of that, and more, could have contributed to more crime and violence, but this, too, is still very speculative.

Another possibility: None of these explanations is right. With limited data in strange times, it wouldn’t be surprising if it turns out we have no idea what’s going on right now. “We can bet on it being unpredictable,” Doleac said.

Again, there’s still no consensus about what’s caused crime to decline since the 1990s. In that context, it’s no surprise there’s nowhere near a consensus as to why a homicide spike that may not even be a national or long-term phenomenon has occurred so far this year.

The trends could change after a strange 2020

It’s possible that, before we understand why it’s happening, the year’s alarming homicide trends could recede. It’s happened before: In 2005 and 2006, the homicide rate briefly increased, only to start declining again before hitting record lows in 2014. In 2015 and 2016, the rates also spiked again only to start to dip after. In both instances, these years were effectively blips and the overall crime decline America has seen for the past three decades continued.

Maybe after this very weird year ends, crime and violence trends will, similarly, go back to the previous normal.

But that’s not a guarantee — and it’s not something, experts said, that we should rely on. “We don’t really understand why crime and violence went down,” John Roman, a criminal justice expert at NORC at the University of Chicago, told me. “Being able to say we should expect this unexplained phenomenon to continue strikes me as sort of irrational.”

Even if we can’t explain what may be causing a homicide spike in some cities, there are certain strategies that might help fight crime in the short term — such as deploying police in crime hot spots (though that would have to be done carefully and with reforms, given the current political climate around policing), a “focused deterrence” program that targets the few people in a community engaging in violence with a mix of support and sanctions, and using civilian “interrupters” to personally intervene in cases in which violence seems likely to break out.

Notably, a lot of this work is done at the local and state level, where the vast majority of police departments are based. The federal government can incentivize certain practices, like former Vice President Joe Biden has proposed doing, but it ultimately falls on cities, counties, and states to carry out new or revised approaches.

Many of the evidence-based approaches rely on in-person contact, which requires ending the pandemic. “The police, public health, and community approaches to violence reduction require that people meet face-to-face; they cannot be replaced by Zoom,” Rosenfeld and Lopez wrote in one of their reports. “An underappreciated consequence of the pandemic is how social-distancing requirements have affected outreach to high-risk individuals.”

So priority number one should be to end the pandemic — ending its potential ripple effects on crime and enabling evidence-based approaches that can help reduce crime. But to do that, the US public and governments will need to truly embrace strategies that have worked for countries like South Korea and Germany against Covid-19: physical distancing, masking, and testing, tracing, and isolating the sick. In this sense, Trump’s failures to address Covid-19 may be leading to more violence.

“Seeing what’s happening with these [crime] numbers can point us to or at least get us thinking about what potential policy levers we could employ that would be helpful,” Doleac said. “Otherwise, our attention is probably better focused on making sure we’re all wearing masks.”

Beyond the pandemic, police are going to have more trouble fighting crime — including any current or future spikes — if large segments of the community don’t trust them. That’s where police reform comes into play. It’s a complicated topic, separate from a possible spike in violence this year. But, in short, experts say police should, at a minimum, show the communities they serve that they understand the concerns, acknowledge mistakes, and will change how officers are deployed and targeted.

Otherwise, there’s a good chance that protests against police will flare up, just as they did from 2014 to 2016 and have again this summer. If protests lead to more violence — whether by leading to depolicing, or sowing and exposing distrust in law enforcement — that’s going to create public safety problems.

To put it another way: There’s a lot we don’t know about crime, why it happens, and how to stop it. But it’s going to be much easier to wrap our heads around these issues once things get closer to how they should be — and that means seriously addressing the pandemic and protests against police brutality.

Unfortunately, the US is going in the opposite direction, with a potential resurgence of the coronavirus this fall and winter and Trump exacerbating police-community tensions with his rhetoric and push to deploy unsolicited federal agents in US cities.

“How optimistic should we be for the rest of the summer?” Roman said. “I think the answer is not terribly optimistic, because none of these factors seem to be abating with the return of Covid.”


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Every day at Vox, we aim to answer your most important questions and provide you, and our audience around the world, with information that has the power to save lives. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. Vox’s work is reaching more people than ever, but our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources — particularly during a pandemic and an economic downturn. Your financial contribution will not constitute a donation, but it will enable our staff to continue to offer free articles, videos, and podcasts at the quality and volume that this moment requires. Please consider making a contribution to Vox today.

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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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World

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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