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“The slight figure alone at the big table”: The enduring image of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing, in the summer of 1993, was a no-drama affair. As a judge on the DC Circuit of the US Court of Appeals, Ginsburg had a reputation for her quiet, almost retreating demeanor, her meticulousness, and her preference for building consensus rather than defining herself by one political ideology or another. This controlled sensibility was on full televised display as she was questioned by the Senate Judiciary Committee, led by chairman Joe Biden.

“If there is such a thing as a judicial temperament and it can be recognized on the screen, Judge Ginsburg surely has it. The unshowy mien; the moderate language; the carefully focused answers; the disinclination or inability to break into arias,” reported the New York Times in a story analyzing Ginsburg’s presentation during her confirmation hearing.

“Although no reviewer has suggested that Judge Ginsburg is a show-stopper, she grows on you,” the article read. “There was something moving about the slight figure alone at the big table, with husband, children and grandchildren basking behind her.”

Ginsburg in her signature large glasses, statement jewelry, and low ponytail affixed with a scrunchie at her Supreme Court confirmation hearing in 1993.
Jeffrey Markowitz/Sygma/Getty Images

In its coverage of Ginsburg’s career until this point — from her hiring as Columbia Law School’s first full-time female professor to her sex discrimination arguments before the Supreme Court to her nomination to the DC appellate court by President Carter — the Times had paid Ginsburg’s physical appearance little mind. Women are disproportionately assessed for their looks rather than professional accomplishments, and perhaps the newspaper purposely refrained from describing her as a very small woman occupying a series of increasingly big jobs. But when she was appointed as the second-ever female Supreme Court Justice, the biggest of big jobs, the image proved too powerful to ignore.

Ginsburg died at the age of 87, following complications from pancreatic cancer. In her later years, her physicality was a key piece of how we, the public, understood her. In her 80s, Ginsburg became a feminist and liberal avatar, her likeness immortalized on T-shirts and mugs and as an action figure. We knew the oversized glasses, the big earrings, the scrunchies, the distinctive collars she paired with her black robes, including the glittering neckpiece she wore to issue dissenting opinions. We knew that “slight figure,” which grew smaller with age.

“She does look vulnerable — she is this tiny little person — and that is somehow in contrast with being the ferocious defender of minorities and women and certain kinds of ideals,” said NPR’s Nina Totenberg in RBG, a 2018 Oscar-nominated documentary about the Justice’s life.

What the New York Times wrote in July 1993 rings true decades later: There was something moving about the sight of Ginsburg, especially to women and to anyone who had ever felt underestimated. Despite graduating at the top of her class from Columbia Law School, tied for first place, she couldn’t get a job at a law firm because she was a woman. Nevertheless, Ginsburg advanced to the highest position in her field, arguing cases that advanced gender equality along the way. Her visible femininity — those lace collars and scrunchies — made her all the more compelling, emphasizing her presence as a woman on the court and the challenges she overcame to get there. Her smallness only underscored her intellectual might.

Ginsburg embraced her meme status, even carrying a tote featuring her likeness at a 2017 event at Georgetown University.
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Critics questioned whether it was prudent to turn a Supreme Court Justice into a superhero in the way we did with Ginsburg, or if it was belittling to transform one of our greatest legal minds into a keychain bobble. It may have been. But with so few women in this country with real power, Ginsburg’s image resonates. A woman like Ruth Bader Ginsburg becomes the person on whom other women project their most ardent hopes, dreams, and fears — a sense of identification only magnified by its rarity.

An increasingly conservative Supreme Court changed how we perceive Ginsburg

The perception of Ginsburg as a dissenting liberal firebrand developed relatively late in her career. It was facilitated in part by changes in Ginsburg’s voice as a Supreme Court Justice, but more so by a shifting court.

When President Carter was weighing nominating Ginsburg to the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, a high-profile position and a feeder to the Supreme Court, there was concern that she was in fact too liberal for the job. Liberalism itself was not the issue; the problem was that Carter had already named a number of left-wing judges.

“There was a long, anxious period in which she really wondered if she was going to get the appointment,” Jane De Hart, the author of the 2018 biography Ruth Bader Ginsburg: A Life, told Vox in an interview before Ginsburg’s death.

President Bill Clinton and Ginsburg walk to the White House Rose Garden to announce her nomination to the Supreme Court.
David Ake/AFP/Getty Images

Ginsburg felt that she had a neutralizing job to do when she started as an appellate court judge in 1980, so she staked out a position as a centrist, a judge’s judge. She prized collegiality and bridged political differences, famously becoming good friends with the late Antonin Scalia, a fellow opera lover and her colleague on both the DC Circuit and later on the Supreme Court.

That moderate reputation propelled her onto the Supreme Court in 1993. Announcing Ginsburg’s nomination in the Rose Garden of the White House that June, President Clinton said, “I believe that in the years ahead she will be able to be a force for consensus-building on the Supreme Court, just as she has been on the Court of Appeals, so that our judges can become an instrument of our common unity in the expression of their fidelity to the Constitution.”

In the Rose Garden, Ginsburg wore a cobalt blue double-breasted suit dress with teal and red accents on the pockets. On the first day of her confirmation hearing, she wore a jacket in nearly the same shade of blue, with a high, rounded collar and bright silver buttons running down the front; the following day, she wore a leopard print shirt under a blue blazer. They were eye-catching outfits, but ones conservative enough for stuffy DC. It’s clear that Ginsburg took joy in clothing, as many women do — she wasn’t one to shy away from color, pattern, or a good glove in her nonjudicial wardrobe — and while she didn’t dampen her sense of style when the spotlight was on her, she didn’t peacock, either.

An off-duty Ginsburg reads to a group of children in honor of Reading Rainbow’s 10th anniversary.
Wally McNamee/Corbis/Getty Images

Clinton’s prediction held true, at least at first. When Ginsburg dissented with the court’s opinion, she did so using neutral language and an impersonal air, eschewing the personal, fiery style of justices like Scalia. But with the confirmations of John Roberts in 2005 and Samuel Alito in 2006, the Supreme Court took a marked turn for the conservative during President George W. Bush’s administration. This change in the dynamic of the court, which persisted into the Obama and Trump eras, pushed Ginsburg in an increasingly liberal direction.

“She really, I think, was quite frustrated with the direction of the court,” said De Hart.

Ginsburg began dissenting more frequently than before, and in a different, more pointed way. Her dissents were still reasoned and rooted in precedent, but they were no longer so neutral. She started issuing zingers that went viral. During oral arguments for United States v. Windsor in 2013, she said the Defense of Marriage Act created two classes of marriage for gay and straight couples: “full marriage, and then this sort of skim milk marriage.” In her dissent to 2013’s Shelby County v. Holder ruling, which effectively dismantled states’ requirement to get federal preclearance before changing their voting laws, thus potentially enabling voter suppression, Ginsburg wrote: “Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

This is when Ginsburg started becoming a larger-than-life pop culture hero. A wave of dissents, and particularly Ginsburg’s dissent in the Shelby County case, inspired a NYU law student named Shana Knizhnik to start a Tumblr called “Notorious RBG,” named in reference to the late rapper Biggie Smalls, also known as the Notorious B.I.G. The blog blew up, the name took hold, and photoshopped images of Ginsburg in a crown like Biggie’s spread across the internet.

Ginsburg, along with Sandra Day O’Connor, wore feminine jabots with her black robes during her early days on the court.
Jeffrey Markowitz/Sygma/Getty Images
Ginsburg later chose more stylized collars.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

And no collar would be complete without a scrunchie.
Melina Mara/The Washington Post/Getty Images

“It is a pretty marked contrast to her reputation on the DC Circuit, and even during the Rehnquist court,” said De Hart. “I don’t think it’s that her basic views changed that much, but the court changed.”

While certain key elements of Ginsburg’s self-presentation also remained the same — the big glasses, the big earrings, the low ponytail in a scrunchie — the collars that she wore with her black court robes evolved over time. Earlier in her Supreme Court career she was often seen in a white lace collar, or “jabot,” which gave a feminized spin to the judge’s uniform. (“The standard robe is made for a man, because it has a place for the shirt to show, and the tie. So Sandra Day O’Connor and I thought it would be appropriate if we included as part of our robe something typical of a woman,” Ginsburg explained in an archival clip included in the RBG documentary.) Her collection of collars grew in number and style, most notably with the addition in 2012 of a somewhat rock-n-roll Banana Republic necklace that she wore to offer dissenting opinions.

Or to dissent more generally. It’s what Ginsburg wore on the bench following President Trump’s election, presumably as a silent form of protest.

As Ginsburg became a pop culture icon, her image turned into a meme and a merchandising opportunity

With notoriety came many, many products bearing Ginsburg’s likeness. The earliest burst of Ginsburg-inspired merchandise started in 2012 or 2013, the journalist Irin Carmon, who co-wrote Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg with Knizhnik, told Vox.

“Most of what initially followed was spontaneous and relatively uncommercial — people making nail art and zines and needlepoint, tattooing themselves. It’s gotten much bigger in the past couple of years,” Carmon wrote in an email in February 2019.

Shana Khizhnik and Irin Carmon, authors of Notorious RBG, sell merch with Ginsburg styled like rapper Notorious B.I.G.
Notorious RBG

These pins are just one of many Ginsburg-themed items sold on Etsy and beyond.
TheCardBureau/Etsy

This cottage industry spanned fairly faithful representations of the justice — in the form of enamel pins, say — and giant leaps of imagination, like a T-shirt with a drawing of Ginsburg throwing up two middle fingers. Her “dissent collar” was replicated as a necklace, a baby onesie, and an adult-size T-shirt. You could find Ginsburg’s face in the splotches of a leopard-print shirt.

Meanwhile, fans routinely dressed up as Ginsburg on Halloween, a tradition that, like the business of Ginsburg paraphernalia, is unlikely to dissipate any time soon. Kate McKinnon portrayed her with feisty swagger on Saturday Night Live starting in 2015, issuing lines like, “That’s a third degree Gins-burn!” Asked during the RBG documentary whether McKinnon’s impression reminded her of herself, Ginsburg said with a laugh, “Not one bit. Except for the collar.” Did accuracy matter? Ginsburg was bigger than herself by that time, the subject of a stirring 2018 biopic called On the Basis of Sex starring the British actress Felicity Jones.

Ginsburg was perfect fodder for impersonations, posters, and costumes because her style was so consistent and recognizable, with the glasses, the lace collars, and the earrings. And there was something else at play: A delight in upending societal attitudes toward aging women by celebrating this little 85-year-old as a badass. For younger women who feared the judgment and invisibility that can come with age, expressing enthusiasm about Ginsburg seemed to bolster all women’s futures.

Kate McKinnon’s Saturday Night Live portrayal of Ginsburg of course involved glasses, collars, and earrings.
Dana Edelson/NBC/Getty Images

A woman’s public image is a complicated thing, though, and some worried that idolatry could slip into condescension. Wrote Jill Lepore in the New Yorker:

“Trivialization—R.B.G.’s workout tips! her favorite lace collars!—is not tribute. Female heroes are in short supply not because women aren’t brave but because female bravery is demeaned, no kind more than intellectual courage. Isn’t she cute? Ginsburg was and remains a scholar, an advocate, and a judge of formidable sophistication, complexity, and, not least, contradiction and limitation. It is no kindness to flatten her into a paper doll and sell her as partisan merch.”

When I asked Carmon about the line between expressing enthusiasm for Ginsburg’s work and turning her into a commodity, she said she didn’t have a problem with people wearing Ginsburg-themed T-shirts. She and Knizhnik have sold products with the image of Ginsburg in a crown.

“There are some products that I’ve flinched at when they come my way — if they seem disrespectful, if they evince absolutely zero connection to the causes that RBG stands for or are super-corporate with no significant charitable component,” wrote Carmon. “But I also think it’s easy to mock something because women (young or any age) like it, and wrong to assume that just because someone drinks out of an RBG mug they know nothing about the Supreme Court.”

De Hart, too, sees a seriousness in young people’s fascination with Ginsburg. A sub-category within the Ginsburg merch market are products that say something along the lines of “Ruth Is the Truth.” Younger Americans, De Hart said, responded to Ginsburg’s integrity at a time when there didn’t seem to be a great deal of it among politicians. She was appealing precisely because she wasn’t a politician, because her impressive career was built on the opposite of bluster and falsehoods. Hers was a contained presence, with jabs and style artfully deployed.

Ginsburg arrives to President Barack Obama’s address to a joint session of Congress in 2009.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Getty Images

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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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