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