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Your Thursday Briefing: How Authoritarians See Mikhail Gorbachev

Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet leader whose death was announced on Tuesday, is hailed in much of the West as a visionary who brought the Cold War to a peaceful conclusion. But in other parts of the world, his legacy stands as an example of power discarded quickly and cavalierly.

This lesson has been taken to heart in China, which has cracked down on dissent and heightened the glorification of the Communist Party. President Xi Jinping, who is poised to begin his third term as supreme leader, called the collapse of the Soviet Union “a cautionary tale.”

President Vladimir Putin spoke of the Soviet Union’s fall the day Russia invaded Ukraine: “We lost confidence for only one moment, but it was enough to disrupt the balance of forces in the world.” He has called it the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.”

In a conciliatory statement, Putin called Gorbachev a “statesman” who “strove to offer his own solutions to urgent problems.” Kremlin propaganda was more critical: “Mikhail Gorbachev can serve as an illustration that good intentions of a national leader can create hell on earth for a whole country,” said a column from a state news agency.

Quotable: “All of Gorbachev’s reforms are now zero, in ashes, in smoke,” the radio journalist Aleksei A. Venediktov, a friend of Gorbachev, said in July. “This was his life’s work.”

Interview: Gorbachev spoke with The Times in 2016, shrugging off how he remained among the most reviled men in Russia. “It is freedom of expression,” he said.

That drop is staggering. Until now, experts have been accustomed to measuring life expectancy changes by months, not years.

The coronavirus pandemic is largely to blame. A rise in accidental deaths and drug overdoses also contributed, as did deaths from heart disease, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, the new report found.

Americans also suffer from an amalgam of influences that experts have called “the U.S. health disadvantage,” said Dr. Steven Woolf, director emeritus of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University. The result is a high disease burden and shorter life expectancy compared with other nations with comparable incomes.

Native Americans: The reduction has been particularly steep in Native American and Alaska Native communities, who have seen a cumulative decline of more than six and a half years on average since the start of the pandemic. That puts their average life span at 65, the same figure for all Americans in 1944.

Battling Covid: The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday authorized the first coronavirus vaccines that target Omicron subvariants. New booster doses could be available as soon as next week, but ample evidence suggests that Americans may hold back from additional shots.

Weather officials in Japan warned that the storm could drop about seven inches of rain on the islands by Thursday morning and potentially bring enough force to destroy homes.

Government forecasts suggested on Wednesday that Hinnamnor would most likely head north toward the southern tip of the Korean Peninsula.

Climate change: Researchers have found that climate change increases the frequency of major storms because a warmer ocean provides more of the energy that fuels them.

After the Taliban took over Afghanistan last year, the goalkeeper of the women’s national soccer team knew she could be killed for playing her sport. She buried her jerseys and trophies in her courtyard and narrowly escaped to Australia. This is her story.

Humpback whales go through long-range, high-speed cultural evolution, and they don’t need the internet or satellites to keep it running.

In a study published on Tuesday, scientists found that humpback songs easily spread from one population to another across the Pacific Ocean. It can take just a couple of years for a song to move several thousand miles, from whales in Australia to whales in Ecuador.

“Half the globe is now vocally connected for whales,” said Ellen Garland, a marine biologist at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and an author of the study. “And that’s insane.”

Researchers have uncovered a complex, language-like structure in these songs that male humpbacks gradually embellish, resulting in different melodies between populations. The songs may be spreading when humpbacks migrate from their breeding grounds to foraging grounds close to Antarctica, when males from different populations may swim near each other.

No one is certain why the whales sing. But scientists think that the songs may be a way to attract a mate, and a new tune could be more enticing.



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