Sunday, November 30, 2008

Mile of London Tunnels for Sale, History Included

Steve Forrest for The New York Times
David Hembra of the BT Group, Britain’s largest phone company, in one of the secret tunnels built during World War II as bomb shelters for London residents.


LONDON — For sale: a vast tunnel complex in central London. Former tenants include Britain’s secret service, the famous hot line between America and the Soviet Union during the cold war and 400 tons of government documents. The asking price is $7.4 million.

After years of lying unused beneath the traffic-jammed streets of the city, the tunnel complex — one mile of underground corridors and adjacent rooms — is now for sale by the BT Group, Britain’s largest phone company. BT hopes the site’s special features will attract buyers even as the property market above ground is going through its biggest downturn in decades.

Appearing more like the set of a James Bond movie than prime real estate, the complex still has a bar and two canteens, not in use, and a billiard room, not to mention functioning water and electricity supplies.

The tunnels were built during World War II as bomb shelters for about 8,000 people and were designed to allow them to survive for five weeks shut off from the outside world.

An eclectic range of would-be buyers has asked about the space, including an overseas billionaire seeking a spot to hold his board meetings. Others who have expressed interest include those looking for a location for a wine collection, London’s police and local electricity companies, said Niall Gallagher, the realty agent at Farebrother Chartered Surveyors in charge of finding a suitable buyer.

“It’s a weird and wonderful space,” Mr. Gallagher said. “It really captured people’s imagination. There were many inquiries, and we received one or two interesting offers.”

The tunnels were built in 1940 during the blitz, when Britain came under sustained air attacks from Nazi Germany. The government decided to create eight underground bomb shelters in London, as the city’s subway stations were not big enough to accommodate all those seeking refuge.

But the BT tunnels, and one other, were never used by the public because the government needed them for its own operations. The BT tunnels soon became a temporary base for troops before D-Day while another tunnel was turned into the European headquarters of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower.

In 1944, the tunnels became a base from which the Allies helped resistance movements in Nazi-occupied countries. Members of the secret service, in offices equipped with telephones and teleprinters hidden beneath the war-torn streets, helped coordinate as many as 10,000 men and women gathering support against the Nazi regime across Europe.

After the war, the tunnel network became an important operations center for the company once known as British Telecommunications. In recent years, though, BT has used the space mostly for storage. The company decided to put the tunnels up for sale a few weeks ago.

Though some may fantasize about buying the space and living a secret life in a cavernous underground world filled with gadgets suitable for the Bat Cave, the reality would most likely be harsher.

The air is dry, hot and stale. The constant rattling of London Underground trains rushing through a separate tunnel system a few feet above and the sound of giant ventilation fans make the tunnels a noisy environment.

Turning the tunnels into a nightclub or hotel is out of the question because only two elevators link them to the outside world; even a small fire would be difficult to contain.

The tunnels are closed to the public, but the people who still work there, mostly for maintenance, enter through an inconspicuous iron door on Furnival Street, a quiet path behind busy Chancery Lane, close to the Royal Courts of Justice and not far from the River Thames. Apart from an old industrial crane attached to the facade of the windowless building, nothing hints at the vast underground labyrinth below it.

The tunnels’ history gives them an aura of mystery, kept alive by the handful of BT employees still working there.

David Hay, a BT historian, said legend had it that the government wanted to keep the location of the tunnels so secret that it hired foreign workers with no knowledge of the London streets to build them. BT staff members are still under strict orders not to reveal the exact location of the system, though incomplete maps have surfaced on the Internet.

“We just don’t know what the future owner will want to use it for, so we can’t disclose more information,” David Hembra, one of the maintenance workers who now visits the tunnels several times a week to check for gas leaks and other problems, said.

When Mr. Hembra started to work in the tunnels 10 years ago, their pivotal years were behind them, and little remained from the turbulent days of World War II. The offices were removed after the war ended, when new tenants moved in. Britain’s public records office needed the space to store more than 400 tons of documents.

But it was not long before the documents had to be moved again to make room for a secure international telephone center that the government deemed necessary as relations between Washington and Moscow grew tense. During the cold war, the British government instructed its telephone department, which later became BT, to set up a secret communications system based on the latest technology that would be able to survive a nuclear attack.

It was the beginning of the busiest period for the tunnels, with almost 200 workers spending their days and nights underground to route up to two million calls a week across the 6,600 phone lines. In 1963, the hot line established between Moscow and Washington after the Cuban missile crisis ran through the London tunnels.

The buzzing complex soon became known as “underground town,” with its own recreation room complete with dartboards and billiard tables, a movie theater and two dining halls. Workers often spent the night in sleeping rooms.

By the early 1980s, technology had advanced so much that the tunnels’ telephone center became obsolete, and BT’s technicians moved back above ground.

Today, anyone wandering the vast corridors is still reminded of their place in history as a bank of telephone cables stands next to colossal electricity generators from the 1960s. Remnants of that life are visible amid the brown-and-orange wall decoration in the old bar, color photographs of the world above in the restaurant and a canteen kitchen equipped with potato-peeling machine, dishwasher and a menu board offering sausages and peas.

“In the winter months, if you didn’t come up at lunchtime, you never saw the light of day,” John Warrick, a former worker, wrote on the Web site Subterranea Britannica, remembering his days in the tunnels. “Life down there was a little like living in a submarine.”

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Let's Talk About Sex

What men need to know about women's sexual health.

By Sally Wadyka for MSN Health & Fitness
Let's Talk About Sex// Frustrated man and sleeping woman (© Getty Images/Image Source)

If you're like most guys, you probably think you already know everything there is to know about sex. But it's what you don't know—or don't bother to ask—that could hurt you. We're not talking about satisfying your partner (although that's important too!), but about issues that impact both her as well as your own sexual health. Read on to learn valuable lessons about birth control, menstrual cycles, and when you're most likely to get your partner pregnant. Anything else you don't know? Well, don't be afraid to ask!

Why she's just not in the mood

You could blame her lack of interest in sex on a variety of factors—from fatigue to stress to emotional issues. But there's another libido-killer you may not be considering. "Many commonly used anti-depressant drugs can have a negative impact both on libido and on ability to achieve orgasm," says Nanette Santoro, M.D., professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. If you're in a new relationship—and she hasn't yet revealed to you that she's even taking antidepressants—you might be left frustrated and wondering if you've suddenly lost your touch. For some women, being on the Pill can also diminish their interest in sex—probably because the Pill works by suppressing various hormones, including testosterone (the hormone that usually fires the sex drive).

PMS: It's not all in her head

"That time of the month" may be the topic of countless jokes, but if your partner is suffering from premenstrual symptoms, it's no joke to her. "About 80 percent of women suffer from some type of PMS symptoms—from physical complaints like bloating and breast tenderness to emotional ones like mood swings and irritability," says Santoro. Throughout a woman's monthly cycle, hormone levels fluctuate. And right before her period arrives, there's a huge drop in estrogen, and the brain respond to the lack of estrogen by also dropping serotonin production. Serotonin—known as the "feel-good hormone"—is what gives you a sense of well being. Not surprisingly, when it drops, your girl will get cranky, and may also crave the sort of high-carb comfort foods that boost serotonin levels. So be sensitive to her PMS symptoms, and consider yourself lucky that your hormones don't wreak this kind of havoc on you!

Her sexual history is now yours

"You are now sleeping with [whomever] she has slept with in her past, and you are subjecting yourself to any sexually transmitted diseases she may have gotten from previous partners," says Santoro. And while it's not necessarily important to divulge exact numbers and all the intimate details of your previous sexual partners, it is important to know how she has protected herself in the past and when was the last time she was tested for sexually transmitted diseases.

What she can do if the condom breaks

If you've had unprotected sex—because the condom broke, because you thought she was on the Pill, or because neither of you bothered to bring up the subject of birth control in the heat of the moment—there is an option for helping to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. The so-called "morning-after pill" is available without a prescription under the brand name Plan B (you need to request it at the pharmacy counter, but need not get a prescription from your doctor). "There are many theories as to how it works," says Santoro. "It might prevent a pregnancy from implanting in the uterus or it may interfere with the fertilization of the egg." It needs to be taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, and involves two doses, so if an accident happens, talk to you partner about her willingness to take it and urge her to do it quickly.

Sex may make her suffer

Blame it on anatomy, but women are more prone to suffer from yeast infections, vaginal infections, and urinary tract infections as a result of having intercourse. "Semen is much more likely to disrupt a woman's normal vaginal pH and aggravate or precipitate an infection," says Santoro. "It's pretty unlikely for a man to get a yeast or other infection from a woman." So when she pops out of bed to pee immediately after sex (which doctors recommend to prevent bladder infections)—or won't have sex with you because she's got a burning infection down below—have pity on her and be glad your anatomy keeps you safer from such insults.

Know what she's doing to prevent pregnancy

"Any man who sleeps with a woman without intending to sign on for life as the father of her baby—and leaves the contraception totally up to her without thinking about it—deserves the paternity suit he is risking!" warns Santoro. Seriously, this is a conversation you simply have to have before you get busy. When in doubt (even if she says she's on the Pill or using a diaphragm), wear a condom. "If you don't know her well enough to know exactly how careful she is about taking the Pill or using other protection, then don't take the risk," says Santoro.

Find out her most fertile days

If your goal isn't to become a father right now—and your partner is not using hormonal birth control (like the Pill or Depo-Provera)—it pays to know a little about her cycle. It's a commonly held belief that all women have a 28-day cycle, and ovulate midway through—around day 14. Even if that is the case with your partner, there is still a several-day window surrounding ovulation during which she can get pregnant. Since sperm can live in the fallopian tubes for up to 72 hours, she can get pregnant if you have unprotected sex at any time during the three days before she actually ovulates, as well as the day after. And more importantly, cycles can vary from woman to woman, and even from month to month. "Just because she says that her period comes every 28 days like clockwork, you should still assume there's room for error in that number," says Santoro. And yes, a woman can even get pregnant during her period. "If her menstrual cycle is short (like 25 days or so) and she bleeds for several days, she could potentially still be bleeding but also be ovulating," Santoro explains.

STDs—the one thing you don't want to share

While it is easier for a man to pass most sexually transmitted diseases to a woman (as opposed to vice versa), you both need to be concerned about protecting yourselves and each other. And don't make any assumptions about how safe you are. "It is important to remember that STDs cut through every social stratum, so ask your partner about any known STDs she has and talk about when you were both last tested," says Santoro. And while they don't offer absolutely foolproof protection, condoms are still your best defense against sharing infections. Some of the most common STDs include chlamydia (which afflicts about 28 million people each year) and HPV, the human papilloma virus, which affects about 20 million. HPV is so easily spread that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that a sexually active woman has about an 80 percent chance of contracting it in her lifetime. And be very careful of herpes. If she has a cold sore (oral herpes), it can be passed to you via oral sex and manifest as genital herpes—and you could do the same to her. If the relationship seems like it might have legs, it's a good opportunity to go get tested for the full range of STDs. "Going together and getting screened for STDs can be a very romantic gesture," says Santoro.

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Study: HIV Could Be Eliminated In A Decade

LONDON — The virus that causes AIDS could theoretically be eliminated in a decade if all people living in countries with high infection rates are regularly tested and treated, according to a new mathematical model.

It is an intriguing solution to end the AIDS epidemic. But it is based on assumptions rather than data, and is riddled with logistical problems. The research was published online Tuesday in the medical journal, The Lancet.

"It's quite a startling result," said Charlie Gilks, an AIDS treatment expert at the World Health Organization and one of the paper's authors. "In a relatively short amount of time, we could potentially knock the epidemic on its head."

Gilks and colleagues used data from South Africa and Malawi. In their model, people were voluntarily tested each year and immediately given drugs if they tested positive for HIV, regardless of whether they were sick.

Within 10 years, HIV infections dropped by 95 percent. Other initiatives like safe sex education and male circumcision were also used.

The strategy would cut the estimated number of AIDS deaths between 2008 and 2050 by about half, from about 8.7 million to 3.9 million, leaving only sporadic HIV cases.

Experts think the strategy's cost would peak at about $3.4 billion a year, though expenses would fall after an initial investment.

"This is certainly beyond the bounds of the current infrastructure for many countries, but that is not a reason not to think big," said Myron Cohen, of the University of North Carolina, who has done similar research. He was not involved in the WHO study.

Only 3 million people are currently on AIDS drugs. Nearly 7 million people are still awaiting treatment, and about 3 million more people were infected last year. Worldwide, WHO guesses that about 33 million people have HIV.

Increasing access to testing and drugs would stretch already weak health systems in Africa, which has most of the world's HIV cases.

"This is not like giving someone a Tylenol," said Jennifer Kates, director of HIV policy for the Kaiser Family Foundation in Washington, DC. Once people start AIDS drugs, they must continue indefinitely. "The idea should be explored, but it's a huge leap," Kates said.

Handing out AIDS drugs to everyone who tests positive could also worsen drug resistance.

In addition, doctors don't know if it's safe to take AIDS drugs for decades; the oldest drug combinations have only been around for about a dozen years.

Other experts questioned whether the strategy might infringe on patient's rights. Once people test positive for HIV, they would be advised to start treatment, even if they weren't sick.

That would benefit the community, but not necessarily the patients themselves. AIDS drugs come with side effects including vomiting, liver failure, and heart attacks.

WHO emphasized that the study findings do not signal a policy change. "This is only a theoretical exercise," said Dr. Kevin De Cock, director of WHO's HIV/AIDS department. He said WHO would hold a meeting next year to study the idea more closely.

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Research on mice links fast food to Alzheimer's

LONDON (Reuters) - Mice fed junk food for nine months showed signs of developing the abnormal brain tangles strongly associated with Alzheimer's disease, a Swedish researcher said on Friday.

The findings, which come from a series of published papers by a researcher at Sweden's Karolinska Institutet, show how a diet rich in fat, sugar and cholesterol could increase the risk of the most common type of dementia.

"On examining the brains of these mice, we found a chemical change not unlike that found in the Alzheimer brain," Susanne Akterin, a researcher at the Karolinska Institutet's Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, who led the study, said in a statement.

"We now suspect that a high intake of fat and cholesterol in combination with genetic factors ... can adversely affect several brain substances, which can be a contributory factor in the development of Alzheimer's."

Alzheimer's disease is incurable and is the most common form of dementia among older people. It affects the regions of the brain involving thought, memory and language.

While the most advanced drugs have focused on removing clumps of beta amyloid protein that forms plaques in the brain, researchers are also now looking at therapies to address the toxic tangles caused by an abnormal build-up of the protein tau.

In her research, Akterin focused on a gene variant called apoE4, found in 15 to 20 percent of people and which is a known risk factor for Alzheimer's. The gene is involved in the transport of cholesterol.

She studied mice genetically engineered to mimic the effect of the variant gene in humans, and which were fed a diet rich in fat, sugar and cholesterol for nine months -- meals representing the nutritional content of fast food.

These mice showed chemical changes in their brains, indicating an abnormal build-up of the protein tau as well as signs that cholesterol in food reduced levels of another protein called Arc involved in memory storage, Akterin said.

"All in all, the results give some indication of how Alzheimer's can be prevented, but more research in this field needs to be done before proper advice can be passed on to the general public," she said.

(Reporting by Michael Kahn; Editing by Catherine Bosley)

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Why left-handed men earn five per cent more every HOUR than right-handers

By Laura Clark

Left-handed boys underperform at school but enjoy greater financial success in later life than right-handers, studies suggest.

They appear to adapt well to life in a right-handed world and end up earning around 5 per cent more per hour.

Researchers from Bristol University and Imperial College London tracked 12,000 children from birth to 14 and found that left-handers were behind when they started school and in tests at 11 and 14.

Actor Robert Redford - shown here in the 1998 movie 'The Horse Whisperer' - is a leftie

And academics at University College Dublin, who studied 18,000 men and women in their thirties, found that left-handers earn £1,112 more per year, 5 per cent extra.

Around 10 per cent of people are left-handed, a phenomenon more common among men than women.

Until quite recently, left-handedness was seen as sinister, the Latin word for left. Some children were even forced to switch to their right side by their teachers or parents.

Robert Redford, for example, started life as a left-hander but now writes with his right hand.

Professor Carol Propper, who co-authored the Bristol study, said her research suggested that the idea that left-handers were more often highly intelligent was wrong.

The study also found that any difference in the attainment of right and left-handed boys at school by the age of 14 was probably explained by some trauma early in life.

The researchers found no pure 'left-handed effect' - either positive or negative - although the study said 'a minority of left-handers may have brain advantages that have positive pay-offs in later life'.

Left-handed boys were found to be slightly behind at the start of school before beginning to catch up. The findings from both studies were not so positive for left-handed women. Researchers found that they were not only behind at school at 14 but go on to earn 4 per cent less than right-handed female colleagues.

'Our findings might provide a possible answer to the paradox that at early ages left-handed boys suffer, while in terms of earnings as adults, they do better than their right-handed counterparts,' the Bristol study said.

'It may be the case that non righthanded children experience problems early in life, because they have not fully adapted to being in a right-handed world but that once they adapt - at least if they are male - they do better.'

Dr Kevin Denny, who worked on the Dublin study, theorised that a section of the brain which divides the left hemisphere from the right appears to be larger in left-handed men and could point to improved communication.

'We cannot be exactly sure why these differences occur but one explanation is that the corpus callosum - the information superhighway which helps the two hemispheres of the brain communicate - is significantly larger in left-handed men, compared to their right-handed colleagues and women,' he said.

'However, it is a long way to go from the structure of the brain to the labour market.

'Other explanations for why male left-handers seem to earn more could be the fact they appear to be more creative than right-handed counterparts, something which is not distinguished in women.'

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New Smokeless Tobacco Worries Experts


Camel Snus, the latest smokeless tobacco product to hit the American market, is not your grandfather’s chaw.

Paul Hansen for The New York Times

Snus originated in Sweden. Each single-serve pouch can contain as much as eight milligrams of nicotine.

Available in three flavors and packaged in attractive tins, Snus does not have to be spit out and therefore can be used just about anywhere -- “at a concert, right in front of security guards,” “on a jet from Miami to L.A.,” or at an “overpriced tapas restaurant,” a promotional brochure suggests.

And Snus delivers a powerful dose of nicotine: eight milligrams in each pouch, a spokesman for the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, which manufacturers Snus, acknowledged on Wednesday. A pouch amounts to a single dose.

That’s far more nicotine per gram than is present other popular chewing tobacco products, according to some researchers, who are concerned that Snus may turn out to be both carcinogenic and highly addictive.

Chewing tobacco regularly increases the risk of developing oral cancers; recent studies have associated heavy use with increased odds of pancreatic cancer, as well. The European Union banned sales of an earlier formulation of Snus in 1992 after a World Health Organization study determined the product could cause cancer. Snus is still sold in Sweden, where it originated, and in Norway.

Health officials in West Virginia analyzed a version of Snus marketed earlier this year in parts of the United States and found it contained five milligrams of nicotine per gram of tobacco, or about two milligrams per pouch serving, said Robert Anderson, deputy director of the prevention research center at West Virginia University.

Since then, he said, the amount of tobacco and the concentration of nicotine in each pouch appear to have increased. “The nicotine in these products doesn’t happen by accident,” Mr. Anderson said.

The latest packaging does contain more tobacco, 0.6 grams per pouch instead of 0.4 grams, and therefore more nicotine, according to R.J. Reynolds spokesman David Howard.

The disclosure dismayed some public health officials.

“It’s so high in nicotine that the probability of becoming addicted to it with utilization of just one tin is going to be very high,” said Bruce W. Adkins, director of the division of tobacco prevention of the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health in Charleston, W.Va.

R.J. Reynolds is hoping Snus will appeal to adult tobacco users because it “meets societal expectations as well,” Mr. Howard said. “There is no second-hand smoke, no spitting.”

But by providing users a nicotine fix without lighting up, Snus may tempt consumers to ignore initiatives designed to reduce tobacco use, such as indoor smoking bans, experts said.

Since Snus can be used discreetly, it may also appeal to teenagers, Mr. Anderson said. “The surreptitious aspects of it will be very obvious to them.”

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Tesla Says Money Shouldn’t be Diverted to Bailout Car Makers

Germany Wants One Million Electric Cars on the Road by 2020

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Selenium may slow march of AIDS

Contact: Amitabh Avasthi
Penn State

Increasing the production of naturally occurring proteins that contain selenium in human blood cells slows down multiplication of the AIDS virus, according to biochemists.

"We have found that increasing the expression of proteins that contain selenium negatively affects the replication of HIV," said K. Sandeep Prabhu, Penn State assistant professor of immunology and molecular toxicology. "Our results suggest a reduction in viral replication by at least 10-fold."

Selenium is a micronutrient that the body needs to maintain normal metabolism. Unlike other nutrients, which bind to certain proteins and modulate the protein's activity, selenium gets incorporated into proteins in the form of an amino acid called selenocysteine.

These proteins – selenoproteins – are especially important in reducing the stress caused by an infection, thereby slowing its spread.

Upon infecting a person, the virus quickly degrades selenoproteins so that it can replicate efficiently. It is unclear just how the virus is able to silence these proteins but Prabhu and his colleagues believe that stress inflicted on cells by the rapidly dividing virus, which produces a key protein known as Tat, is the likely culprit.

Tat is one of about 14 odd proteins produced by HIV during the first stage of infection. The job of these proteins is to trigger the expression of all the other genes that the virus needs to sustain itself. In addition, Tat also plays a key role in helping the virus replicate.

One of the proteins that targets Tat is a selenoprotein known as TR1.

"Since HIV targets the selenoproteins, we thought that the logical way to deal with the virus is to increase the expression of such proteins in the body," explained Prabhu, whose team's findings are outlined this week (Nov. 28) in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

Researchers first isolated blood cells from healthy human volunteers who did not have HIV, and infected those cells with the virus. Next, they added tiny amounts of a selenium compound – sodium selenite – into the cell culture to see the effect on viral replication.

Results from the tests indicate that the addition of selenium inhibits the replication of HIV at least 10-fold, compared to cell cultures in which no selenium is added. When the researchers selectively reduced production of the selenium containing TR1 protein, they observed a 3.5-fold increase in viral replication.

"This confirms that while increasing the expression of TR1 has a negative impact on the replication of HIV, reducing it helps the virus replicate more efficiently," explained Prabhu. He believes that TR1 works by upsetting the chemical structure of Tat, which in turn reduces the virus' ability to replicate.

"Once we fully understand the function of these selenium proteins, it will give us a handle to come up with more effective drugs," said Prabhu, whose work is partly funded by the National Institutes of Health.

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Swedish doctors predict spray-on skin

STOCKHOLM, Sweden, Nov. 28 (UPI) -- Doctors predict that spray-on skin cells will be used as a common form of sore treatment in the Swedish healthcare system within a few years.

Gunnar Kratz from Linkoping, participating in an ongoing leg wound symposium in Gothenburg, said he was keen for Sweden to introduce the method, the Swedish news agency TT said.

The treatment of leg wounds has made major advances over the past decades, with the reintroduction of maggot therapy a contributory factor. Most severe wounds do now heal, even against heavy odds.

Some wounds are simply too big for modern dressings and treatments to be fully effective. As an alternative, medical experts are currently developing skin cells that can be sprayed over the surface of a sore. And a number of studies have shown promising results.

"I believe this form of treatment will be available in the non-institutional healthcare system within the next couple of years," Kratz said.

© 2008 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Report: 36 million Americans food insecure

More than 36 million Americans, including 12.4 million children, are food insecure, officials of a U.S. non-profit group said.

Feeding America, a U.S. hunger-relief organization, said the actual number of Americans forced to skip meals and survive without adequate nutrition is even greater than the report indicates because it is based on statistics from 2007.

"It is important to note that the U.S. Department of Agriculture numbers released today are 2007 figures and do not take into account the unprecedented economic crisis that our country is currently facing," Vicki Escarra, president of Feeding America said in a statement.

"Feeding America believe that this is just the beginning of a downward trend and we expect things to get worse before they get better," Escarra said.

The organization serves more than 200 food banks that provide food to the vast majority of food pantries, soup kitchens and emergency feeding centers nationwide. More than 4 million people stand in line every week for a few bags of groceries to help feed themselves and their families, Escarra said.

"Our food banks are calling us every day, telling us that demand for emergency food is higher than it has ever been in our history," Escarra said.

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Japanese car design on show

By David Millward, Transport Editor

It includes everything from futuristic concept cars to designs tailored to the peculiar needs of the Japanese internal market, with the country’s crowded cities.

“Japan Car” looks at the vehicles as “mobile cells”, based on the philosophy of Kenya Hara, one of the country’s most prominent designers.

“Although the history of cars in Japan began with an attempt to emulate the West’s automotive technology and culture, the context of Japanese lifestyles and Japan’s particular route to industrial development has given Japan’s cars their own unique characteristics and individuality,” Hara said.

Mr Hara believes that the car will be seen as a driver’s private space, with greater emphasis on internal comfort rather than speed.

“Cars are being designed from the inside out,” said Andrew Nahum, the Science Museum’s principle curator of technology.

“They are increasingly being seen as somewhere where you spend part of your life and they are your private space.”

This is reflected in some of the cars on show, like the Nissan Cube or Daihatsu Tanto – boxy affairs which could hardly be described as slender or elegant.

Some will be familiar to British eyes such as the Mazda MX-5, which is now commonplace on our roads.

Some have claimed it is little more than a copy of the classic British two-seater sports car – but with greater reliability.

But to the Japanese it is drawn from the “soil and spirit” of the country, even if it was inspired by classic cars from Britain.

Now Japanese manufacturers are at the forefront of developing new low-carbon designs, with the petrol/electric Toyota Prius hybrid now commonplace on Britain’s roads.

But others will follow and some are also on display at the museum, including the similarly powered Honda Insight hybrid, which is also on sale in the UK.

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Friday, November 28, 2008

German court rules big boobs are not a medical problem

A COURT has ruled that insurance companies do not need to cover the cost of breast reduction surgery.
The court ruled ruled that having a large bust is not a medical problem and as such insurers will only have to pay to correct breasts which are deformed.

The case was brought by a 38-year-old woman who suffered orthopaedic and physical problems due to the weight of her boobs, reports.

She had been advised by doctors to have breast reduction surgery.

But her insurance company didn’t see it as a necessity and therefore refused to cover the costs of the operation.

It claimed she was suffering from back problems because she was overweight.

The court agreed with the insurance company and the woman lost her case.

Two and a half years ago, the same court rejected the case of a woman who thought her breasts were too small.

She wanted her medical insurance to cover a breast enlargement operation and claimed that she was physically harassed for her small boobs. The court declared then that small breasts are not an illness.

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10 Ways to Save Money on Health Costs During the Recession

By Scott Mowbray


Whatever the prospects for health-care reform, the sick economy is going to put lots of pressure on Americans. Unemployment will be up, the number of uninsured will rise, companies will surely cut health benefits to employees, and all this stress will be, well, unhealthy.

Although there is some evidence that recessions can actually improve certain health trends (e.g., people may indulge in unhealthy behaviors less often when they have less money), it is surely true that health-related money anxiety will rise.

But there are ways to prevent and lessen health-money woes. Here are 10 to start with, along with links to more detailed explanations of how to make these changes.

1. Make a prevention resolution. If you’re overweight (millions of Americans are prediabetic and don’t know it), get your weight down to reduce your risk of diabetes. It will also help with hypertension and other problems that can cost you big. Prevention isn’t a cure-all, but it’s a good bet if you want to avoid situations that can lead to major health bills.

2. Stick to your meds. If you’re on regular medication—a statin for high cholesterol, or aspirin to prevent a heart attack, for example—take your medicine. Failure to comply (including skipping doses to save money) is a common behavior, but it can reduce drug efficacy. If you lose your insurance coverage, you may be able to find a cheaper version of the drug, and most drug companies have programs to help people who cannot afford their medicines. But don’t stop taking a med without consulting your doctor.

3. Go generic if you can. Always ask about costs when your doctor prescribes a medicine. Request the cheapest effective drug—an older formulation or generic may cost less and do the same good.

4. Find cheap, good sources of medication. There are safe Internet options, and stores like Wal-Mart offer significant savings. There are also money-saving strategies such as buying pills in bulk, splitting larger-dose pills into the prescribed dosage, and more.

5. Eat better, save more. Healthy eating and cheaper eating can dovetail nicely. Reduce portion sizes to healthy levels and move whole grains and vegetables to the “center” of your diet: You’ll save money and be healthier. Simpler, natural healthy foods—dry beans, inexpensive vegetables—are often cheaper than unhealthy processed foods. And less costly cuts of meat can have more flavor when cooked properly. For hundreds of easy, healthy recipes, visit’s new Recipe Center.

6. Commit to recovery. If you’re recovering from surgery and facing rehab, follow the recovery regimen diligently. Get your physical therapist to maximize your “homework” routine to save on clinic visits. But don’t put off the pain: Incomplete healing can lead to reinjury or permanent disability.

7. Know your rights. If you lose your insurance, study the COBRA rules and 62-day insurance “gap” rules to avoid a costly coverage error, particularly if you have a preexisting condition.

8. Fight claim denials. Experts say that 70% of health-insurance claim appeals are successful, and there are Web resources and people who can help.

9. Get organized. Many people are sloppy about keeping copies of prescriptions, test results, insurance claims, and the like. If you have your documents in order, it will be easier to win a disagreement with an insurance company, and it can lead to more efficient appointments with your doctor.

10. Bargain down costs. Both doctors and hospitals will actually negotiate, and sometimes adjust their bills based on patient needs, ability to pay cash, and other factors. And if you’re facing a hospital stay, there are things you can do before and after to avoid overcharges, including packing your own drugs, keeping a treatment log, and asking for an itemized statement.

Original here

Meet Millie, 7, who still smiles despite disease so rare it affects just FOUR people worldwide

By Daily Mail Reporter

Brave Millie Smith can still break into a beaming smile despite suffering from a medical condition which is so rare that it has no name and affects just four people in the world.

She was diagnosed at 16 months when tests revealed she had strands missing from her eighth chromosome.

The condition has left the seven-year-old with severe learning difficulties, low muscle tone and visual problems.

Millie Smith

Unique: Millie Smith has a lust for life, despite suffering from a rare genetic disorder that affects just four people in the world

But there is little chance of experts finding a cure as there are too few sufferers to justify wide-scale research.

Her mother Alex Smith, 37, who cares for her full-time at the family home in Linden, Gloucestershire, said it was not easy for her daughter but she was 'always smiling'.

'She's a lovely girl but it's quite hard for children like her because even though she enjoys talking to people sometimes they feel very awkward with her.

Millie Smith

Play time: Millie has no trouble amusing herself with one of her baby dolls

'She can't dress herself or do a lot of things we take for granted and because she doesn't look disabled people often don't understand why she can't respond.

'Unfortunately, there's not enough money to make it worth researching such a rare disorder. Hopefully it will be given a name when more sufferers are found.'

There are less than 100 people in the world who have problems with their number eight chromosome but only four with similar breaks and symptoms to Millie.

Millie Smith

Still smiling: Millie, pictured aged three, has always been a happy little girl

She has to be cared for full-time by her mother, but window-fitter father Andrew Smith, 37, and her brother Aaron, 13, also help out.

Millie's rare condition means she will require constant care for the rest of her life and doctors say she may never advance beyond the emotional age of a three-year-old.

Human cells normally contain 23 pairs of chromosomes and genetic problems such as Down's Syndrome - which occurs when there is an extra pair - are relatively common.

Millie's precise disorder is an 'inverted duplication with a partial deletion in the smaller half of her number eight chromosome, or inv dup del 8p'.

Beverly Searle, chief executive of Unique, an international charity for people suffering from rare chromosome disorders, said the problem is so rare it does not 'warrant a name'.

She said: 'All chromosome disorders can cause huge problems to those affected by them and even a tiny genetic change can lead to many different medical conditions.

'In this case the inverted duplication with a deletion of the number eight chromosome is an extremely rare condition.

'Our purpose as an organisation is to collate information on specific disorders and as more research is undertaken rare disorders like this will be named.

'But because there are so few children with this condition there is too little material to warrant doctors naming it like the more common Down's syndrome.'

Original here

Pig organs: Ready for humans at last?

Double lung transplant surgery, carried out in 2007
 at the Department of thoracic surgery, Foch hospital, Suresnes, France (Image: Foch/Phanie/Rex Features)

Double lung transplant surgery, carried out in 2007
 at the Department of thoracic surgery, Foch hospital, Suresnes, France (Image: Foch/Phanie/Rex Features)

by Andy Coghlan

IN THE not too distant future, a person in need of a heart transplant could be offered a pig's organ. That's the hope of a group that met in China last week to agree global guidelines for the first clinical trials of "xenotransplants".

The meeting of clinicians, researchers and regulators in Changsha, Hunan province, which was organised by the World Health Organization, resulted in the so-called Changsha Communiqué - a document that should eventually guide global regulation of xenotransplants.

It sets out principles for research, recommends how the WHO and individual countries should monitor such research, and includes guidelines for trials (see "Trials and transplants"). Perhaps most importantly, with human organs in desperately short supply, it reflects how far research has come since a decade ago, when some of the problems associated with xenotransplants seemed insurmountable.

For example, one big concern related to porcine endogenous retroviruses (PERVs). These are dormant viral DNA present in the pig genome that researchers feared would reawaken in an organ transplanted into humans, who, unlike pigs, might not be able to keep the viruses dormant. Pigs have now been genetically engineered either to lack PERVs entirely or to carry RNA interference molecules primed to sabotage any that become active. "Most of us now agree the risk is quite manageable," says Megan Sykes of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, who attended the meeting.

The first pig tissue to find its way into humans probably won't be an organ, but insulin-producing islet cells from the pancreas, to treat people with diabetes. Two years ago, Bernard Hering's team at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis reported injecting unaltered pig islet cells into the livers of diabetic monkeys, along with immunosuppressive drugs. The monkeys were able to go without insulin injections for the duration of the 100-day experiment (Nature Medicine, vol 12, p 301). Hering is now in discussions with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about how to proceed with a human trial.

David White and his colleagues at the Robarts Institute in London, Ontario, Canada, are also talking to the FDA about a possible trial next year. To make islet cells less likely to be rejected, White mixes them with Sertoli cells from pig testes, which contain a molecule that seems to damp down attacks by human T-cells. White explains that Sertoli cells are equipped with the cellular machinery to protect sperm, which would otherwise be vulnerable to attack by the immune system because they have half the chromosomes of other cells.

Rafael Valdés-González of the Children's Hospital of Mexico in Mexico City, who first pioneered the Sertoli cell technique, has already tested it in a small number of people and claims that one patient is still insulin-independent as a result (Clinical Transplantation, DOI: 10.1111/j.1399-0012.2007.00648.x).

Also some grounds for optimism come from a handful of trials of pig islet cells in countries where regulation is less tight. In Russia, the New Zealand company LCT claims to have had some success treating five patients with pig islet cells, which they disguised from the immune system by encapsulating them in alginate, a substance from seaweed that allows nutrients and hormones to diffuse in and out but prevents contact with immune cells. Last month, LCT won authorisation to begin a trial in New Zealand.

Sykes hopes that success with initial islet trials will bring greater public acceptance of xenotransplantation, leading to the really exciting prospect of transplanting full organs. These naturally pose greater problems, though, mainly because they must be hooked up to a blood supply and so face the full force of the immune system.

In 2002, researchers at Revivicor, a company based in Blacksburg, Virginia, found a possible way around this. Their "knockout" pigs lacked the gene for the alpha-gal protein - the molecule that indicates the presence of foreign cells to the human immune system. Other Revivicor researchers have inserted "complement regulator" genes into pig organs, which prevented monkey antibodies from attacking them.

One problem that is proving more difficult to solve is clotting. "We think antibodies bind to blood vessels of the pig graft, and these activate coagulation factors," says David Cooper, a pioneer of xenotransplantation at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in Pennsylvania who collaborates with Revivicor.

To deal with this, two groups have produced pigs carrying human genes for anti-clotting substances. Revivicor has inserted a gene for a protein called tissue factor pathway inhibitor, which neutralises tissue factor, a key trigger of clot formation. And at the University of Melbourne in Australia, Anthony d'Apice and his colleagues have bred pigs that make human CD39, a protein that stops platelets from aggregating into clots. The hope is that these substances will only be produced locally, preventing clots in the transplanted organ but not disrupting vital clotting elsewhere (Transplant Immunology, DOI: 10.1016/j.trim.2008.10.003).

Even with these interventions, powerful immunosuppressant drugs would still be needed, weakening the body to other invaders, including cancer. To minimise this problem another idea is taking shape: engineer the organ to make its own immunosuppressant. CTLA-4 Ig, for example, prevents T-cells being switched on, and is already used as an immunosuppressant for transplant patients.

One company is engineering pigs to produce an immunosuppressant in specific organs

Revivicor is now combining all these ideas in one animal by engineering pigs that make CTLA-4 Ig and an anticoagulant in specific organs, have the alpha-gal knockout and make the complement regulator throughout their bodies. D'Apice also claims to have created a pig with four added genes.

Because of the potential success of such experiments, guidelines are essential now. Peter Doyle, a delegate at the meeting and former secretary of the now-defunct UK Xenotransplantion Interim Regulatory Authority says: "Xenotransplantation has the potential to treat millions of people, but the threatened dangers are worrying unless it's properly regulated globally."

Trials and transplants

  • Global regulation of trials needed to monitor for dangers such as viruses

  • Trials banned in all countries incapable of effective regulation

  • All trials and recipients must be registered

  • Trial regulation must include scientific and ethical assessment, and "involve the public"

  • First recipients of xeno-organs must be carefully selected to ensure they and their families accept lifelong vigilance for any signs of novel disease

  • All source animals should be kept in closed colonies free from pathogens

  • "Compelling justification" needed for trials, including adequate evidence of safety and efficacy from animal studies

  • Original here

    Spotting a sociopath

    Mark Easton

    How could anyone do those unimaginably cruel, inhuman things?

    baby pThat is the question that, to most people, immediately flows from hearing the ghastly details of both the Sheffield man who fathered nine children by raping his two daughters and, of course, the tragic story of Baby P.

    We seem to have any number of inquiries and investigations now under way into trying to find what went wrong, but I wonder whether the real answer lies buried in that initial question.

    The 56-year-old Sheffield businessman who raped his children and the woman and two men who tortured a baby in Haringey would all appear to fit the definition of sociopaths: individuals with a deficit or absence of the social emotions (love, shame, guilt, empathy and remorse), but with a clear facility to deceive and manipulate others.

    Mr X, as the rapist was known, refused to attend court to hear his sentence but in a letter to his brother said: "I haven't got any regret over what has happened. It's too late for that. It shouldn't have happened."

    Also referred to as "anti-social personality disorder", the behaviour of such people is beyond comprehension to most people because it does not equate with our understanding of what makes us human.

    Academics calculate that sociopaths account for about 3-4% of the male population and less than 1% of the female population. Professor Robert Hare from the University of British Columbia is one the world's experts on sociopaths and psychopaths. He writes of people "completely lacking in conscience and in feelings for others".

    He describes how "they selfishly take what they want and do as they please, violating social norms and expectations without the slightest sense of guilt or regret".

    Such people are, however, very difficult to spot.

    In her book The Sociopath Next Door: The Ruthless vs. the Rest of Us, American clinical psychologist Dr Martha Stout explains why she thinks this is:

    Since everyone simply assumes that conscience is universal among human beings, hiding the fact that you are conscience-free is nearly effortless. You are not held back from any of your desires by guilt or shame, and you are never confronted by others for your cold-bloodedness. The ice water in your veins is so bizarre, so completely outside of their personal experience that they seldom even guess at your condition.

    The individuals that society puts in the front line to try and spot the threat from sociopaths could hardly be more different. Social workers, doctors and teachers are, usually, natural carers - people who empathise easily with others. They are wired to see the best in people, to develop trust.

    And most of the time, that is exactly what we want such professionals to do - to support and to help people through their difficulties. But we also demand that they retain a deep cynicism about the individuals they work with - constantly questioning and imagining the very worst.

    Sometimes they must make professional judgments about people who are wired completely differently to themselves - people who do not share the basic qualities that define humanity as they understand it.

    victoria climbie inquiryIn his report [pdf] into the death of Victoria Climbie in Haringey in 2000, Lord Laming wrote of the need for "respectful uncertainty" when dealing with a child's family and of "critical evaluation" of what professionals are told. He has spoken of the "over optimism" he encountered, the way in which social workers tend to "travel with hope".

    When one reads the appalling details of 25 years of abuse and suffering in the Sheffield case, it does seem incredible that it went on for so long and without anyone in authority noticing.

    But perhaps it is the very incredibility that explains why.

    Original here

    Electric MINI E Bows at LA Show

    MINI E Photo: Rod Hatfield
    By Mike Meredith
    New electric version of MINI Cooper offers MINI fun with zero emissions.
    Click image to enlarge
    MINI E Photo: Rod Hatfield
    MINI E Photo: Rod Hatfield
    Click image to enlarge
    MINI E Photo: Rod Hatfield
    MINI E Photo: Rod Hatfield
    Click image to enlarge
    MINI E Photo: Rod Hatfield
    MINI E Photo: Rod Hatfield
    Click image to enlarge
    MINI E Photo: Rod Hatfield
    MINI E Photo: Rod Hatfield

    Related Multimedia

    Already a lot of fun to drive and environmentally efficient, the popular MINI Cooper will soon gain even more favor with environmentally conscious drivers as the electric-powered MINI E debuted at the 2008 Los Angeles Auto Show.

    Based on the MINI Cooper and powered by a 150kW (204 horsepower) electric motor, the MINI E will boast a range of 150 miles due to the use of a high-performance rechargeable lithium-ion battery. The zero-emission vehicle is nearly silent, with power delivered to the front axle through a single-stage helical gearbox.

    Since entering the U.S. market as a 2002 model, the MINI Cooper has enjoyed tremendous popularity as a premium compact vehicle that delivers excellent fuel economy. Now, 500 select private and corporate customers in California, New York and New Jersey will have the opportunity to experience a completely emissions-free MINI.

    With 162 lb-ft. of torque on tap, the MINI E will accelerate from zero to 62 mph in 8.5 seconds on the way to a top speed of 95 mph. To match the handling and driving enjoyment of the MINI Cooper, the suspension has been tuned to match the even weight distribution of the MINI E, which weighs in at 3,230 lbs.

    MINI E will initially be available as a two-seater, with the latest lithium-ion battery technology specifically engineered for the MINI E. The battery unit combines high output and ample storage capacity in the form of three battery elements stored where the rear seat would normally be, leaving a small storage area behind.

    Using similar technology as the power supplies for mobile phones and portable computers, the MINI E can be plugged into any standard power outlet to charge. Charge time varies depending on voltage and amperage, and for U.S. owners all MINI Es will include a wall box that can be installed to enable higher amperage to allow the MINI E to be fully recharged in 2.5 hours.

    The BMW Group, which manufacturers MINI automobiles, plans to use the experience gained from 500 electric vehicles on the road in real-world driving conditions to move toward “medium term” series production of an all-electric vehicle as part of its Number One strategy.

    Original here

    Neal Stephenson

    Interviewed by Tasha Robinson

    Neal Stephenson became a hero to the science-fiction world in 1992 with Snow Crash, a jazzy, funny, prescient dystopic novel about a Mafia pizza-delivery boy caught up in a plot that crossed ancient cultures with virtual reality. It wasn't Stephenson's first novel, but it made him an instant name among the William Gibson crowd, drawing attention to his previous books—the collegiate send-up The Big U and the eco-thriller Zodiac—and guaranteeing an instant audience for his follow-up, The Diamond Age. Over the past decade, Stephenson's bestselling novels have gotten progressively denser, more ambitious, and more celebrated, from the monster techno-thriller Cryptonomicon to the three-volume historical series known as the Baroque Cycle to his new 937-page science-fiction outing Anathem. His books tend to range broadly across theoretical and intellectual topics, while delving deeply into one or two concepts: Anathem, for instance, takes place on a world where scientist-philosophers dwelling in monastery-like strongholds (small ones are "maths," large ones are "concents") avoid the secular world for periods marked and enforced by giant clocks, and devote themselves to logic and thought experiments, which Stephenson explores at length while building to a series of events that disrupt their system. Stephenson recently spoke to The A.V. Club about the soundtrack for Anathem, making up words, and reading philosophy so you don't have to.

    The A.V. Club: What started you writing Anathem?

    Neal Stephenson: It comes out of conversations I've been having with Danny Hillis, Stewart Brand, Alexander Rose, and others at the Long Now Foundation going all the way back to the mid-1990s on the subject of the Millennium Clock, a.k.a. the Clock Of The Long Now. In 1999, I sketched out an idea for a tall clock tower surrounded by a system of walls, with gates in the walls that would be opened by the clock mechanism at regular intervals, and "clock monks" who might live inside the walls, insulated from the distractions of the outside world. This was just me doodling for the hell of it—not a serious proposal. The Long Now Foundation guys have their own ideas as to what they want to build, and it looks nothing like what I'm talking about.

    At that time, I wasn't conceiving of this as a book idea, but in 2005, when I was looking for a next project, I found that I couldn't get this idea out of my mind, so I set to work on it.

    AVC: What sort of topics did you wind up researching before writing it? How organized or results-driven are you about research?

    NS: Depends on the book. For the Baroque Cycle, I just read lots of books and took notes without having much of a plan. In the case of Anathem, most of the research had to do with philosophy and metaphysics. Reading this sort of thing has never been my strong suit, so I actually had to be somewhat more "organized and results-driven" than is my habit. I just made up my mind that I was going to have to read some of these philosophy tomes, and I forced myself to read something like 10 pages a day until I had bashed my way through them.

    AVC: Why base a book in part on topics that you yourself aren't passionately interested in reading about?

    NS: I was trying to run something to ground that had come to my attention when I was working on the Baroque Cycle. That series, of course, was about the conflict between Newton and Leibniz. Leibniz developed a system of metaphysics called monadology, which looked pretty weird at the time and was promptly buried by Newtonian-style physics. Later I learned that some eminent 20th-century thinkers, including Bertrand Russell and Kurt Gödel, had been interested in Leibniz's work, and that Leibniz had been adopted as a sort of patron saint by some of the people working on Loop Quantum Gravity. When I finished the Baroque Cycle, I still felt as though this was a loose end. In part, Anathem is an attempt to tie up that loose end. To do this, I had to read Kant and Husserl and some other stuff that Kurt Gödel apparently thought of as light reading.

    AVC: Has this happened before with any of your books, where you had to fight your way through source material on some specific topic to get what you wanted for the book?

    NS: All the time. I read this so you don't have to. It's all part of the service.

    AVC: Do you tend to try to do all your research up front before starting to write a book?

    NS: No in general, and especially in the case of Anathem. At the beginning of the project, I wasn't certain that I could come up with an engaging storyline and cast of characters in this world, so I had a strong bias toward actually writing, and worrying about research later. In other words, I was afraid that I'd devote a year or two of my life to grinding through Kant and Husserl, then discover that there simply was no novel to be written here.

    AVC: Do you enjoy the actual process of research? Do books tend to be inspired by your reading, or do you start with the idea for a book and then do the reading to supplement the idea?

    NS: The story is everything, so it always begins with a story. Research is a kind of scaffolding built underneath the story as I go along. My enjoyment level varies, but in general, I'm writing about topics I find interesting, so I can't gripe too much.

    AVC: With that in mind, do you wind up with other ideas for books as you're researching or plotting? Are you the kind of writer who ends up with notebooks full of "maybe someday" plots and ideas as you're working?

    NS: No, I'd find that extremely distracting. I'm strictly a one-project-at-a-time kind of guy. If I came up with a compelling idea for a different book while working on a project, I'd probably abandon the first project and go with the new idea.

    AVC: Has that ever happened? Or, in keeping with your comment about starting Anathem before you knew there was a story there, have you ever gotten significantly into a project and decided not to pursue it?

    NS: I think it has happened so early in certain projects that I have long since forgotten about the originals. It would be quite unusual for me to get deep into a project and then shitcan it. One of the advantages of having done this for a while is that I have a better sense than I used to of when something is or isn't working. Until I developed that sense, this was a pretty dicey career for me, both in terms of paying the rent, and emotional wear and tear.

    AVC: You've addressed in other interviews the way some people have complain that Anathem starts slowly, that it's hard going at first for the first 100 or 200 pages, before the actual plot begins. What went into deciding where to begin it, and figuring out how much readers needed to know about the world before they could absorb the story?

    NS: It's easy to imagine writing a 250-page version of Anathem that ends before what you call "the actual plot" even begins. If I'd done that, it would have been more of a small literary novel, meant to be read as a statement about the relationship between the bookish and non-bookish parts of our society. But I'm not a small-literary-novel kind of guy, and once I'd developed the world in the first couple of hundred pages, I felt that there was potential here to go on and write an engaging story set in that world. So that's what I did. This probably ruins things both for the people who want small literary novels and for those who want action-packed epics, but anyway, it's what I wrote.

    AVC: Was the way you put the story together influenced by the fact that this was a first-person narrative? Was it more difficult getting exposition and description of the world into this book than others?

    NS: Early on, I settled on the first-person strategy as a way to deal with exposition and world-description issues. As long as the book is, it could have been far longer had I gone with an omniscient third-person narrator, or multiple point-of-view characters, since either of those would have enabled me to impart much more detailed information about the history and geography of the world. As it is, we see everything from the narrator's point of view, so exposition about the world is limited to what impinges directly on him and the story he's telling. Considering how old the world is, we learn very little about its history, which I think is a good thing.

    AVC: There are a lot of neologisms in your books in general—in Anathem, largely iterations of or plays on existing words, in Snow Crash and The Diamond Age, invented words for invented futuristic concepts. Do you have a method for making made-up words sound sensible, for avoiding the terrible-made-up-word disease that hits so much science fiction and fantasy?

    NS: "Method" is an awfully dignified word for it, but here goes: In the room where I work, I have a chalkboard, and as I'm going along, I write the made-up words on it. A few feet from that chalkboard is a copy of the full 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary, to which I refer frequently as a source of ideas and word roots. Whenever I get distracted or bored, my eyes wander over to that chalkboard and I read the words. Some of them grow on me, and others annoy me. I attack the latter with eraser and chalk, and keep nudging at them until I like the way they look and sound. Others never make the cut at all and simply get erased. Perhaps one day I will sell these on eBay to RPG players who need names for characters or alien races.

    AVC: Speaking of made-up words, did you see the xkcd strip about the book, or any of the subsequent discussions online?

    NS: I saw the strip, but not the discussions. Note that the dependent variable in the graph is "probability that the book will be good" and not "quality of book," which means that I still have some statistical chance of writing a good book even if it's full of neologisms.

    I'm alternately baffled and intrigued by all of the attention that has been paid to the made-up words in Anathem, since it seems to me that it doesn't have a hell of a lot more such words than most other fantasy and science-fiction books. To me, it's always been a normal part of reading F/SF that one encounters unfamiliar words and learns their meaning as the book goes on. Every kid in the world knows the meanings of "horcrux," "wizengamot," etc. Right now I'm reading Stephen King's Dark Tower series, which is stuffed with made-up words. So when I see discussion of neologisms in Anathem, I find myself considering a couple of hypotheses:

    1) Maybe Anathem is being read by a lot of people who are not in the habit of reading fantasy and science fiction and who simply aren't accustomed to encountering neologisms in literature.

    2) Maybe it's just another example of shortened attention spans. People don't have time to read. This is not me criticizing others—I'm exhibit A of someone who doesn't have time to read! Only reluctantly do they pick up a book as fat as Anathem. When they find it has new words in it, they get even more impatient.

    But those are just guesses. For me, it is still something of a mystery as to why people are so preoccupied with this. Maybe I'm just underestimating the difficulty of figuring these things out from context. My own tastes run toward the "just let me figure it out" end of the spectrum. The alternative is big chunks of naked exposition.

    AVC: Was the glossary in the back of Anathem your idea?

    NS: It wasn't my idea, but once I assembled the list of words, I saw that it was a good idea.

    AVC: You explore word evolution throughout the Baroque Cycle—the way the iterations of "fantasies" evolved, for instance—and in Anathem you expressly seem to be having fun iterating words. And linguistics has been a theme in your plots as well. Why is it such an interest for you?

    NS: Hmm, I think that this vein is close to being mined out already, but I'll say that my knowledge of and talent for linguistics are quite limited and I'm not aware of being a hell of a lot more interested in that topic than I am in others.

    AVC: Your books deal with pretty weighty concepts, but they're generally accessible to the layman—in some cases, like with cryptography in Cryptonomicon and logical thought in Anathem, it feels like you're presenting readers with a 101 course. Between that and the college lectures you've done, do you have any interest in teaching?

    NS: You must be talking about the Gresham College lecture that's up on the Internet. That's not a college lecture in the normal sense of the term. Gresham College doesn't have students; it's a public lecture series that's been going on in London since the reign of Elizabeth I.

    Coming up with lectures is a huge amount of work. I was willing to do one lecture for Gresham because I was honored to have been invited, but to create lectures for a class would probably require that I shut down everything else and concentrate on lectures for a couple of years. Then there would be many, many other skills that I'd have to learn, such as how to sit through a faculty meeting, how to deal with students, etc. It is really not in the cards for me. It's not who I am or what I do. I'm a novelist.

    AVC: Do you think about accessibility when you're writing? Do you worry about whether readers will be able to keep up?

    NS: Anathem is about as far as I'm willing to go in the direction of asking the reader to bear with me. Some of the especially technical stuff, I relegated to appendices. The appearance of technical appendices in a work of art is not necessarily a bad thing, but it's definitely a warning, like hitting the rumble strip on the edge of the highway.

    AVC: How conscious are you as you're writing of your style in general? Do you try to steer it?

    NS: I try to find a style that matches the book. In the Baroque Cycle, I got infected with the prose style of the late 17th and early 18th centuries, which is my favorite era. It's recent enough that it is easy to read—easier than Elizabethan English—but it's pre-Victorian and so doesn't have the pomposity that is often a problem with 19th-century English prose. It is earthy and direct and frequently hilarious. So a lot of what you see in the Baroque Cycle is me wanting to be one of those guys. In the case of Anathem, I needed something that was more formal, less flashy, as if it had been translated from the classical language of another planet, but enlivened with slang terms that a teenage narrator would enjoy throwing around.

    AVC: How do you go about finding the voice on the page once you've determined what it should be? Is there any trial-and-error process in the writing?

    NS: This is one of these questions that requires a higher level of self-scrutiny than is really good for me. In general I have difficulty answering any question that includes the word "process," partly because I'm not that self-aware, and partly because there is no process.

    AVC: Do you think of yourself as having messages to get across, or trying to educate your readers, or interest them in specific topics?

    NS: I really am just trying to tell stories. But stories are often grounded in larger events and themes. They don't have to be—there's a big literature of trailer-park, kitchen-table fiction that's just about goings-on in the lives of ordinary people—but my own tastes run toward stories that in addition to being good stories are set against a backdrop that is interesting to read and learn about. In Tale Of Two Cities, you have a good story set against the backdrop of the French Revolution. In Moby Dick, you have a good story that happens to take place in the context of a whaling ship. I think it would lead to a pretty bad relationship between author and reader if the latter felt that the former were tugging on their sleeve trying to impart a message or educate them, but it seems to work fine to set a story in a larger context that the reader can get interested in and learn about as they go along.

    AVC: When we last talked to you back in 1999, you said a lot about your method and how it had evolved since your earliest days as a writer. Has it changed since then?

    NS: Sorry, nothing new to report here! The only thing that has changed since 1999 is that I write with a fountain pen on paper.

    AVC: How did the music for Anathem on your website come about? Are there any plans to release it as a companion to the book?

    NS: Yes, I think it's available on iTunes and CDBaby.

    The music was composed by my friend David Stutz. He is retired from Microsoft. He sings bass in two local early-music groups, Cappella Romana and The Tudor Choir. When I was working on Anathem, I would go to concerts by these groups as a way of getting into the mood of the mathic world. I reckoned that the avout would have musical traditions that were similar to those developed in Europe during the Middle Ages, except that the themes of their music would be mathematics, philosophy, and science rather than religion.

    About a year and a half ago, David and I and our wives were going to a concert by Trio Medieval, which sings similar music. We had dinner beforehand. Over a bottle of wine, I told David about the book project, and we came up with the idea of actually trying to create the music that the avout would sing. I was thinking that I'd hear no more of it after we had sobered up, but David took the bit in his teeth and went to work on it in a serious way. My participation was minimal. We would cast about for ideas from the world of mathematics that might make good fodder for a work of music. Then David would disappear for a couple of months and get up to speed on the mathematics and figure out a scheme for translating the structure of the math into musical form. You can see some of David's liner notes at

    In about March of 2008, David started to get singers into studios in Portland and Seattle to lay down tracks for the CD. A rough-cut CD was included with the galleys of the book in May. Over the course of the summer, some additional tracks were completed, and the CD was released on September 9, on the same date as the book. We got some of the singers down to San Francisco to perform at the launch event.

    AVC: What's next? Are you in that "looking for a new project" stage, or do you have a follow-up in mind or in progress?

    NS: At the moment I'm writing a short piece for a compilation volume. No plans after that.

    Front page image by Bob Lee

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