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Daily Archives: July 26, 2022

Map: Where the Contraceptive Pill Is Available Over-the-Counter

Source : Statista

Humour

Chart: In 2023, Global Emoji Count Could Grow to 3,491

Source : Statista

America Was in an Early-Death Crisis Long Before COVID

Ed Yong wrote . . . . . . . . .

Jacob Bor has been thinking about a parallel universe. He envisions a world in which America has health on par with that of other wealthy nations, and is not an embarrassing outlier that, despite spending more on health care than any other country, has shorter life spans, higher rates of chronic disease and maternal mortality, and fewer doctors per capita than its peers. Bor, an epidemiologist at Boston University School of Public Health, imagines the people who are still alive in that other world but who died in ours. He calls such people “missing Americans.” And he calculates that in 2021 alone, there were 1.1 million of them.

Bor and his colleagues arrived at that number by using data from an international mortality database and the CDC. For every year from 1933 to 2021, they compared America’s mortality rates with the average of Canada, Japan, and 16 Western European nations (adjusting for age and population). They showed that from the 1980s onward, the U.S. started falling behind its peers. By 2019, the number of missing Americans had grown to 626,000. After COVID arrived, that statistic ballooned even further—to 992,000 in 2020, and to 1.1 million in 2021. Were the U.S. “just average compared to other wealthy countries, not even the best performer, fully a third of all deaths last year would have been prevented,” Bor told me. That includes half of all deaths among working-age adults. “Think of two people you might know under 65 who died last year: One of them might still be alive,” he said. “It raises the hairs on the back of my neck.”

These counterfactuals puncture two common myths about America’s pandemic experience: that the U.S. was just one unremarkable victim of a crisis that spared no nation and that COVID disrupted a status quo that was strong and worth restoring wholesale. In fact, as one expert predicted in March 2020, the U.S. had the worst outbreak in the industrialized world—not just because of what the Trump and Biden administrations did, but also because of the country’s rotten rootstock. COVID simply did more of what life in America has excelled at for decades: killing Americans in unusually large numbers, and at unusually young ages. “I don’t think people in the United States actually have any awareness of just how poorly we do as a country at letting people live to old age,” Elizabeth Wrigley-Field, a sociologist at the University of Minnesota, told me.

Although Bor’s study has yet to be formally reviewed, Wrigley-Field and five other independent researchers vouched for its quality to me. “The paper is extremely important, and the researchers who produced this know what they’re doing,” Steven Woolf, a population-health expert at Virginia Commonwealth University, told me. “It builds on, and considerably expands, what we’ve already known.”

Several studies, for example, have shown that America’s life expectancy has tailed behind other comparable countries since the 1970s. By 2010, that gap was already 1.9 years. By the end of 2021, it had grown to 5.3. And although many countries took a longevity hit because of COVID, America was once again exceptional: Among its peers, it experienced the largest life-expectancy decline in 2020 and, unlike its peers, continued declining in 2021. But Bor says that people often misinterpret life-expectancy declines, as if they simply represent a few years shaved off the end of a life. Someone might reasonably ask: What’s the big deal if I die at 76 versus 78? But in fact, life expectancy is falling behind other wealthy nations in large part because a lot of Americans are dying very young—in their 40s and 50s, rather than their 70s and 80s. The country is experiencing what Bor and his colleagues call “a crisis of early death”—a long-simmering tragedy that COVID took to a furious boil.

In every country, the coronavirus wrought greater damage upon the bodies of the elderly than the young. But this well-known trend hides a less obvious one: During the pandemic, half of the U.S.’s excess deaths—the missing Americans—were under 65 years old. Even though working-age Americans were less likely to die of COVID than older Americans, they fared considerably worse than similarly aged people in other countries. From 2019 to 2021, the number of working-age Americans who died increased by 233,000—and nine in 10 of those deaths wouldn’t have happened if the U.S. had mortality rates on par with its peers. “This is a damning finding,” Oni Blackstock, the founder and executive director of Health Justice, told me.

The crisis of early death was evident well before COVID. As many studies and reports have shown, since the turn of the 21st century, “midlife ages are where health and survival in the U.S. really go off the rails,” Wrigley-Field told me. “The U.S. actually does well at keeping people alive once they’re really old,” she said, but it struggles to get its citizens to that point. They might die because of gun violence, car accidents, or heart disease and other metabolic disorders, or drug overdoses, suicides, and other deaths of despair. In all of these, the U.S. does worse than most equivalent countries, both by failing to address these problems directly and by leaving people more vulnerable to them to begin with.

Consider how many years the missing Americans would have collectively enjoyed had they survived—all the birthdays and anniversaries that never happened. In other rich countries, the total “years of life lost” have flatlined for the past five decades. In the U.S., they have soared: In 2021 alone, the 1.1 million missing Americans lost 25 million years of life among them. That number doesn’t account for the events that preceded many of these deaths—the “years of disability, illness, and loss of human potential, creativity, and dignity,” Laudan Aron, a health-policy researcher at the Urban Institute, told me. And, especially in the case of middle-aged deaths, they left behind young dependents, whose own health might suffer as a result. The sheer number of missing Americans, and the “profound ripple effects” of their absence, are “really hard to wrap one’s head around,” Aron said.

These staggering numbers also help contextualize COVID’s toll. The coronavirus caused the largest single-year rise in mortality since World War II, becoming the third leading cause of death in the U.S., after only heart disease and cancer. But this enormous tragedy unfolded against an already tragic backdrop: The number of missing Americans from 2019 is larger than the number of people who were killed by COVID in 2020 or 2021. This isn’t to minimize COVID’s impact; it simply shows that in the Before Times, America had “very successfully normalized to an extremely high level of death on the scale of what we experienced in the pandemic,” Justin Feldman, a social epidemiologist at Harvard, told me. And when COVID drove those levels skyward, America proved that “we’ll accept even more deaths compared to our already poor historical norms,” Feldman said.

Such deaths, though obvious on a graph, are hidden from Americans with social privilege. In the summer of 2020, Bor remembers having an outdoor barbecue with a friend who grew up in a low-income housing project. “At that point, six months in, he knew six people in his close circle who had been killed by COVID,” Bor told me. “I still don’t.” The fact that half of the working-age Americans who died last year should still be alive “isn’t visceral if you haven’t lost anyone,” he said.

The current mortality crisis was long in the making. In terms of mortality, America’s peer countries—many of which had been hammered by World War II and its aftermath—began catching up with it in the mid-1970s before overtaking in the early 1980s. That was a pivotal era, when globalization, automation, and a growing service industry led to huge losses in mining, manufacturing, and other blue-collar sectors. The U.S. profoundly failed to protect its citizens from these changes. Its social safety net—state assistance for parents, or people facing job, food, or housing insecurity—was meager; its public-health system was languishing after decades of underinvestment; and unlike every other wealthy country, it lacked universal health care. These factors “privatized risk,” Bor and his colleagues wrote in their paper, “tying health more closely to personal wealth and employment.” As labor unions declined and minimum wages stagnated, more Americans had fewer resources to lean on if their health declined. Poorer Americans already lived, on average, shorter lives than rich ones, and that gulf started to widen.

Other particularly American choices exacerbated the stresses on the health of the country’s citizens, again weighing more heavily on less wealthy people. A growing mass-incarceration industry punished them. A deregulatory agenda that began with Ronald Reagan’s administration left them vulnerable to unhealthy foods, workplace hazards, environmental pollutants, guns, and opioids. “America basically says: If you’re poor, you don’t have access to safe choices,” Bor told me.

Factors like social inequalities and frayed social safety nets are the fundamental weaknesses of American society, which more specific problems like opioids, metabolic disorders, and COVID exploit. During the pandemic, for example, poor and minority groups were more likely to be infected because they lived in crowded housing, distrusted medical leaders, and couldn’t work from home or take time off when sick. And instead of addressing these foundational problems, policy makers instead focused on personal responsibility.

America’s drastic underperformance in health also stems from its history of segregation and discrimination. Racist policies have obviously harmed the health of minorities. But as the policy expert Heather McGhee and the physician Jonathan Metzl have independently argued, elites have long marshaled the racial resentment of poor white Americans to undermine support for public goods that would benefit everyone, such as universal health care. Per Frederick Douglass and other Black leaders, “They divided both to conquer each.”

COVID, for example, disproportionately killed Black, Latino, and Indigenous Americans—a trend that, when highlighted to white people, reduces their concern about the pandemic and their support for safety measures. But in 2021, young white Americans still died at three times the rate of the average resident of other peer nations, while young Black and Indigenous Americans died at rates five- and eightfold higher, respectively. “There are thousands of racial-disparity studies that compare Black people to white people—but white Americans are a terrible counterfactual,” Bor told me. They’re frogs in the same pot, boiling more slowly but boiling nonetheless. By using them as a baseline, we ignore how “everyone is harmed by the status quo in the U.S.,” Blackstock told me, while also underestimating how dire things really are for people of color. (The same problem applies to income inequality: White Americans living in the richest 1 percent of counties still have higher rates of maternal and infant mortality than the average residents of wealthy countries.)

So, “what happens now?” Bor asked me. “Are we going to have 1 million missing Americans a year, every year, going forward? Or more?” His study doesn’t suggest a reason for optimism, but it does provide a defense against nihilism. The entire concept of missing Americans is rooted in a comparison with other countries, which shows that these early deaths aren’t inevitable. The U.S. could at least start moving in the direction of its peers by adopting policies that work elsewhere, such as universal health care, minimum-wage increases, federally required paid sick leave, and better unemployment insurance.

But “the inability of our politics to generate policies that manage health threats is grim,” Bor said. None of the weaknesses that COVID exposed have been addressed; some, like the chasm-sized health gaps between rich and poor or white and Black, have been widened. Vaccines significantly reduce the risk of dying from COVID, but their power is blunted by low uptake, new variants, the lifting of almost all infection-thwarting protections, and the looming loss of COVID funding. Reactionary laws that hamstring what public-health departments can do in emergencies will make the U.S. vulnerable to the new viruses that will inevitably assault it in future years. America’s already underperforming health-care system has been badly battered by the pandemic, and weakened by waves of health-care-worker resignations. In recent months, the Supreme Court has constrained both gun and carbon-emission regulations, while clearing the road for states to restrict or ban abortions—a move that could easily boost America’s already sky-high maternal mortality rates. The climate is still changing rapidly, exposing people who have no choice but to work outside to the ravages of heat.

As much of the country returns to normal, Bor’s study makes plain what normal actually meant—and, as I wrote in 2020, that normal led to this. “A lot of Americans may be under the impression that we had a bad go of it during COVID, and once the pandemic is over, they can go back to having the best health in the world,” Woolf told me. “That is a gross misconception.”


Source : The Atlantic

University of Hong Kong Makes National Security Law Course a Mandatory Graduation Requirement

Candice Chau wrote . . . . . . . . .

Undergraduate students at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) will have to take an introductory course on the Beijing-imposed national security law in order to graduate.

According to an email sent to all HKU students on Monday seen by HKFP, pupils will have to enrol in a non-credit bearing course titled “Introduction to the Constitution, the Basic Law and the National Security Law.” The requirement will kick in from the 2022/23 school year.

The course will be conducted online, and will adopt “a self-directed learning approach,” according to the email. More details will be announced on September 1 when the new school year begins.

Including HKU, all eight University Grant Committee-funded (UGC) universities in the city have launched or will launch national security courses.

Ming Pao reported on Monday that national security courses at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and the Hong Kong Polytechnic University will begin next school year.

Hong Kong Baptist University, the Education University of Hong Kong, Lingnan University, and City University of Hong Kong have already incorporated national security content into their curriculum in forms of seminars and workshops, Ming Pao reported.


Source : HKFP

赴天宫相会 向星河“问天”

记者: 余建斌 . . . . . . . . .

  7月24日,中国空间站问天实验舱成功进入太空。作为中国空间站首个科学实验舱,也是国家太空实验室的重要组成部分,问天实验舱将为航天员在轨工作生活提供更大空间,也为空间科学研究提供更大平台。

比天和核心舱更高、更大、更重

  中国空间站问天实验舱全长17.9米,直径4.2米,发射重量23吨,比空间站天和核心舱更高、更大、更重,将为航天员提供专用的生活和工作场所。问天实验舱竖起来有6层楼高,体积和重量跟北京地铁13号线列车的一节车厢差不多,是全世界现役在轨最重的单舱主动飞行器。

  问天实验舱配置了与天和核心舱一样的航天员生活设施,包括3个睡眠区、1个卫生区和厨房等设施,未来可与核心舱一起来支持两艘载人飞船轮换期间6名航天员的生活。科研人员说,问天实验舱的加入,使得空间站空间更大,航天员活动空间更充裕。比如,可以把太空自行车从天和核心舱拆到问天实验舱,增加通道通过性。未来,太空授课也会“搬”到问天实验舱进行。

  结构上,问天实验舱由用来完成科学实验的工作舱、支持太空出舱的气闸舱及储备上行物资的资源舱3部分组成。

  问天实验舱的工作舱长达9米,是目前我国航天器中体型最大、承载最重的密封舱,也是世界第二大单密封舱体,这里还是航天员的生活工作场所。工作舱的储物空间也不小,达60立方米以上。为提升航天员的居住舒适度,中国航天科技集团五院空间站结构与机构设计团队进行了大量人性化设计,如可翻转式柜门设计,让储物效率更高。航天员的3个独立“卧室”,每间自带防辐射舷窗,在休息时可安心欣赏舱外风景。舱内设置的独立卫生区,进一步提升了私密性。设计人员还在舱壁上设计了防护结构,使得密封舱能够在严酷的太空环境中坚固耐用、稳定运行。

  问天实验舱的一大特点是配置了全新的出舱气闸舱,这是未来空间站完全建成后航天员的主用出舱口。新的气闸舱出舱口朝下,更为宽敞,航天员出舱更方便。

  与以往传统密封舱不同,气闸舱首次采用“外方内圆”的构型方案,视觉效果十分独特,是空间站系统唯一一个看上去是方形的舱体,里面则为圆柱状。作为我国最大的专用气闸舱,出舱口比以往舱门更大、保护装置配备更齐全,在轨组装应急舱门则为航天员出舱活动提供了双重安全保障。航天员通过新的气闸舱进行出舱准备和舱外返回时,可以更舒展、更从容,出舱活动、开展舱外实验更为便利。由于出舱口变宽,航天员还能携带大个头的设备出舱工作,舱外工作能力大大提升。

  与天和核心舱相比,问天实验舱还具备更强的超万瓦级的供电能力、千兆级的信息传输能力。问天实验舱同时具备对空间站组合体的管理和控制功能,可以接管对空间站组合体的操作,从而在整体上提高空间站的可靠性。

柔性太阳翼单翼展开面积可达110平方米

  在外形上,问天实验舱与天和核心舱有明显不同,前者尾部有一对巨大的“翅膀”,也就是太阳能帆板或称柔性太阳电池翼。

  问天实验舱配置的是目前国内研制的最大面积可展收柔性太阳翼,单翼全展开状态下最长达27米,展开面积可达110平方米。无论是展开面积还是供电能力,这对“翅膀”都达到了天和核心舱太阳翼的两倍之多。

  在太空运行中,问天实验舱的这对太阳能帆板能以最佳角度面向太阳,避免飞行过程中被其他舱段遮挡阳光。问天实验舱的每天平均发电量,能为空间站运行提供充足的能源,足够一个普通家庭用上一个半月。

  问天实验舱是空间站系统中舱外活动部件最多的舱体,大量的舱外设施设备更好地保障了出舱活动,也为更精细的舱外操作提供了支持。在问天实验舱气闸舱外,配置了一个5米长的小型机械臂。这套7自由度的机械臂小巧、精度高,最大负荷能力达3吨,虽然拖动能力小于核心舱的大机械臂,但方便抓取中小型设备,操作更为灵巧。它既可以单独使用,也可以跟核心舱的大机械臂组合为15米长的组合臂,能在整个空间站不同舱段之间“爬行”,共同完成航天员的出舱、舱外设施照料、巡检等任务。

  在问天实验舱舱体上,还集成了结构健康监测系统,对舱体结构的健康状态进行实时监控。一旦出现空间碎片撞击或舱压异常下降事件,系统会立即自动响应、快速报警,并对撞击进行高精度定位,为航天员显示出撞击区域图形,大大减少航天员详细定位撞击漏孔的时间,进一步保障太空驻留安全。

  据航天员系统专家介绍,此次问天实验舱还搭载了航天员生活、工作所需的部分产品,包括全套厨房设备。这相当于空间站组合体有了两套太空厨房,提高了航天员生活的便利性。为了方便航天员在轨使用手机、平板电脑和其他便携式电子产品,问天实验舱也配套了与天和核心舱相同的充电设备,和地面使用的电源适配器功能类似,有效扩展了空间站的便携式电子产品充电能力。

  此外,航天员系统还在问天实验舱内配套了全套舱外航天服的出舱支持设备,出舱活动任务期间可支持航天员的舱载供氧、制冷等过闸功能。平时气闸舱可支持舱外航天服贮存、在轨检测、航天员训练。

  当问天实验舱和天和核心舱对接到位,航天员将会使用专用扳手打开实验舱闸门,启动舱内生命维持系统,完成科学实验柜的组装,并开展科学实验。

将进行空间生命科学研究

  以天和核心舱、问天实验舱和梦天实验舱为基本构型的天宫空间站完成建造后,意味着国家太空实验室也将建成,并将开展长期、多领域、大规模空间科学与应用研究。

  载人航天工程空间应用系统副总师、中科院空间应用中心研究员吕从民介绍,问天实验舱以生命科学和生物技术研究为主,在空间生命科学与生物技术、微重力流体物理、空间材料科学、空间应用新技术试验等领域规划部署了研究主题。通过这些科学项目的实施,关注生命生长发育和人的健康,探索人类长期太空生存所面临的一系列科学问题。

  作为空间站内进行空间生命科学研究的主要场所,问天实验舱舱内配置了生命生态实验柜、生物技术实验柜、科学手套箱与低温存储柜、变重力科学实验柜等科学实验设施,就像把一个大型科学实验室搬到了太空。其中,两个生命科学实验柜和变重力科学实验柜是开展科学实验的场所,科学手套箱为航天员对科学样品精细操作提供安全、高效支持,低温装置用于实验样品在轨存储。

  吕从民说,生命生态实验柜以多种类型的生物个体为实验样品,将开展拟南芥、线虫、果蝇、斑马鱼等生物的空间生长实验,揭示微重力对生物个体生长、发育、代谢的影响,促进人类对生命现象本质的理解。这意味着空间站里也会“种草”“养鱼”。

  在问天实验舱舱外,还部署了能量粒子探测器、等离子体原位成像探测器等,用于获取空间环境要素数据,为航天员健康、空间站安全运营提供保障支持,并用于空间环境基础研究。


Source : 新华网