Recent News and Updates
Compassion is the feeling that naturally arises when you learn of the suffering of another, and that motivates you to want to do something to help. Far from being just a social nicety, compassion has a great evolutionary purpose: Human offspring are the most dependent and vulnerable of any species, and need the most care from others to survive. This total dependence is why Charles Darwin said that sympathy is humanity’s strongest instinct. Simply put: Without compassion we wouldn’t survive.
If you find yourself feeling less moved than you’d like—or maybe your empathy muscle has grown a bit weak from lack of use—here are some ways to strengthen it. You, and every other living creature, will benefit from the results.
1. See Beneath the Rough Exterior
When someone acts unpleasantly or is just generally difficult, it’s hard to feel compassion for them. But there’s almost always a reason for such behavior. If we can pause and try to recognize this, our heart can soften and create an opening for the possibility of greater connection and healing. Is there a “tough personality” in your life that you can try to see in a different light?
2. Create Ripple Effects
Turns out, kindness and generosity are contagious. A 2010 study discovered that when we witness generosity, it inspires us to be more generous. In fact, researchers found that the ripple effect of this kindness spreads by three degrees. Acting compassionately does the same thing. Where can you pay it forward today?
3. One Thing a Day
Look around and notice who in your life is having a difficult time and could use some support. The gesture can be big, such as bringing a meal to the infirm, or relatively small, such as sending an email or note to let someone know you’re thinking of them. Begin the practice of doing one thing each day for someone else.
4. Try Understanding
So often our disconnection from one another stems from a lack of understanding. Yet striving to understand where a person is coming from naturally elicits feelings of compassion and connection. This doesn’t excuse bad behavior, but it does give us perspective and help us to not take things so personally.
5. Practice Gratitude
Most of us have been the recipient of kind and compassionate gestures at some point in our lives—an introduction that led to a new job; a compliment or kind word at just the right moment; an unexpected gift. Take a few moments to recall one of these experiences and see if you can tap into the gratitude you felt at the time, and maybe still do.
6. Be Kind to Yourself
Sometimes it’s easier to feel compassionate for another than for yourself. But true compassion doesn’t discriminate. The next time you’re having a difficult moment, see if you can offer yourself some kindness. You might be surprised at how much it helps—and helps you to feel kinder toward others.
7. Celebrate Imperfection
One of the most corrosive sources of self-criticism comes from believing we need to be “perfect.” Far from making us “better,” this attitude can cause us to spiral into obsessive thinking, anxiety, and depression. Try this instead: If you make a mistake or aren’t perfect at something, lift your arms and yell “Hooray” or “Woo-hoo!” Taking a more playful approach to life is a great act of self-compassion, as it trains your brain to let go, learn from mistakes, and, simply, to begin again.
8. Just What the Doctor Ordered
Research shows that feeling compassion is good for us. It causes our heart rate to slow, which makes us more relaxed and calm; it leads to the release of the “bonding hormone” oxytocin, which helps us to feel more connected and loving toward others; and it activates regions of the brain linked to empathy, caregiving, and pleasure.
9. Reach Out and Touch Someone
In 2006 James Coan, psychologist and researcher at the University of Virginia, found that holding the hand of a loved one significantly reduces the brain’s reactivity to electric shocks. When a loved one is struggling, see if it’s OK to give a hug or to hold their hand. If you’re the one struggling, notice what happens when you place your hands on your heart or stomach.
10. Happier Genes
Researchers have discovered that people who actively practice compassion and altruism have lower levels of inflammatory gene expression and higher expression of antiviral and antibody genes than people who lived for greater self-gratification or pleasure. “Doing good” and “feeling good” may be different things, but through “doing good” you can have both.
11. Meet Your Self-Critic
You probably run the same self-defeating stories, the same criticisms over and over again. Make a “Top 10 Hit List” of self-critical thoughts. As you notice them arise (as they inevitably will), acknowledge it: “Ah, there you are. I was wondering when you’d show up.” Then, take a nice deep breath, and say, “May I be free from being so hard on myself, may all people be free from being so hard on themselves, may we all live with ease.”
A Box of Simple Advice
Turn Values Into Verbs
When asked what they value most in the world, people will often say things like “peace,” “compassion,” or “connection.” But in order to make this real we have to turn these values into verbs, making them more specific and practical. If you value compassion, what does that look like daily? Take out a piece of paper, write “Compassion” at the top and create a list of actions, small to big, that you can start doing immediately. This is how we live Gandhi’s words: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
Update as of September 18th, 2006
Global Warming -- Signed, Sealed and Delivered
Scientists agree: The Earth is warming, and human activities are the principal cause.
By Naomi Oreskes, NAOMI ORESKES is a history of science professor at UC San Diego.
AN OP-ED article in the Wall Street Journal a month ago claimed that a published study affirming the existence of a scientific consensus on the reality of global warming had been refuted. This charge was repeated again last week, in a hearing of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.
I am the author of that study, which appeared two years ago in the journal Science, and I'm here to tell you that the consensus stands. The argument put forward in the Wall Street Journal was based on an Internet posting; it has not appeared in a peer-reviewed journal — the normal way to challenge an academic finding. (The Wall Street Journal didn't even get my name right!)
My study demonstrated that there is no significant disagreement within the scientific community that the Earth is warming and that human activities are the principal cause.
Papers that continue to rehash arguments that have already been addressed and questions that have already been answered will, of course, be rejected by scientific journals, and this explains my findings. Not a single paper in a large sample of peer-reviewed scientific journals between 1993 and 2003 refuted the consensus position, summarized by the National Academy of Sciences, that "most of the observed warming of the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations."
Since the 1950s, scientists have understood that greenhouse gases produced by burning fossil fuels could have serious effects on Earth's climate. When the 1980s proved to be the hottest decade on record, and as predictions of climate models started to come true, scientists increasingly saw global warming as cause for concern.
In 1988, the World Meteorological Assn. and the United Nations Environment Program joined forces to create the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to evaluate the state of climate science as a basis for informed policy action. The panel has issued three assessments (1990, 1995, 2001), representing the combined expertise of 2,000 scientists from more than 100 countries, and a fourth report is due out shortly. Its conclusions — global warming is occurring, humans have a major role in it — have been ratified by scientists around the world in published scientific papers, in statements issued by professional scientific societies and in reports of the National Academy of Sciences, the British Royal Society and many other national and royal academies of science worldwide. Even the Bush administration accepts the fundamental findings. As President Bush's science advisor, John Marburger III, said last year in a speech: "The climate is changing; the Earth is warming."
To be sure, there are a handful of scientists, including MIT professor Richard Lindzen, the author of the Wall Street Journal editorial, who disagree with the rest of the scientific community. To a historian of science like me, this is not surprising. In any scientific community, there are always some individuals who simply refuse to accept new ideas and evidence. This is especially true when the new evidence strikes at their core beliefs and values.
Earth scientists long believed that humans were insignificant in comparison with the vastness of geological time and the power of geophysical forces. For this reason, many were reluctant to accept that humans had become a force of nature, and it took decades for the present understanding to be achieved. Those few who refuse to accept it are not ignorant, but they are stubborn. They are not unintelligent, but they are stuck on details that cloud the larger issue. Scientific communities include tortoises and hares, mavericks and mules.
A historical example will help to make the point. In the 1920s, the distinguished Cambridge geophysicist Harold Jeffreys rejected the idea of continental drift on the grounds of physical impossibility. In the 1950s, geologists and geophysicists began to accumulate overwhelming evidence of the reality of continental motion, even though the physics of it was poorly understood. By the late 1960s, the theory of plate tectonics was on the road to near-universal acceptance.
Yet Jeffreys, by then Sir Harold, stubbornly refused to accept the new evidence, repeating his old arguments about the impossibility of the thing. He was a great man, but he had become a scientific mule. For a while, journals continued to publish Jeffreys' arguments, but after a while he had nothing new to say. He died denying plate tectonics. The scientific debate was over.
So it is with climate change today. As American geologist Harry Hess said in the 1960s about plate tectonics, one can quibble about the details, but the overall picture is clear.
Yet some climate-change deniers insist that the observed changes might be natural, perhaps caused by variations in solar irradiance or other forces we don't yet understand. Perhaps there are other explanations for the receding glaciers. But "perhaps" is not evidence.
The greatest scientist of all time, Isaac Newton, warned against this tendency more than three centuries ago. Writing in "Principia Mathematica" in 1687, he noted that once scientists had successfully drawn conclusions by "general induction from phenomena," then those conclusions had to be held as "accurately or very nearly true notwithstanding any contrary hypothesis that may be imagined…. "
Climate-change deniers can imagine all the hypotheses they like, but it will not change the facts nor "the general induction from the phenomena."
None of this is to say that there are no uncertainties left — there are always uncertainties in any live science. Agreeing about the reality and causes of current global warming is not the same as agreeing about what will happen in the future. There is continuing debate in the scientific community over the likely rate of future change: not "whether" but "how much" and "how soon." And this is precisely why we need to act today: because the longer we wait, the worse the problem will become, and the harder it will be to solve.
Update as of September 8th, 2006
NORWICH, England (Reuters) -- Many people have experienced the phenomenon of receiving a telephone call from someone shortly after thinking about them -- now a scientist says he has proof of what he calls telephone telepathy.
Rupert Sheldrake, whose research is funded by the respected Trinity College, Cambridge, said on Tuesday he had conducted experiments that proved that such precognition existed for telephone calls and even e-mails.
Each person in the trials was asked to give researchers names and phone numbers of four relatives or friends. These were then called at random and told to ring the subject who had to identify the caller before answering the phone.
"The hit rate was 45 percent, well above the 25 percent you would have expected," he told the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.
"The odds against this being a chance effect are 1,000 billion to one."
He said he found the same result with people being asked to name one of four people sending them an e-mail before it had landed.
However, his sample was small on both trials -- just 63 people for the controlled telephone experiment and 50 for the email -- and only four subjects were actually filmed in the phone study and five in the email, prompting some skepticism.
Undeterred, Sheldrake -- who believes in the interconnectedness of all minds within a social grouping -- said that he was extending his experiments to see if the phenomenon also worked for mobile phone text messages.
Update as of September 6th, 2006
The World Health Organization (WHO) today expressed concern about the emergence of virulent strains of tuberculosis (TB) that are virtually untreatable with existing drugs and called for the strengthening of prevention measures.
Extensive Drug Resistant TB (XDR-TB) is resistant to not only the two main first-line TB drugs – isoniazid and rifampicin – but also to three or more of the six classes of second-line drugs.
Recent findings from a survey conducted by WHO and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that XDR-TB has been identified in all regions of the world but is most frequent in the countries of the former Soviet Union and in Asia.
“XDR-TB poses a grave public health threat, especially in populations with high rates of HIV and where there are few health care resources,” said WHO in a statement issued in Geneva.
Separate data on a recent outbreak of XDR-TB in an HIV-positive population in Kwazulu-Natal in South Africa found alarmingly high mortality rates, said WHO. 52 out of 53 patients identified with XDR-TB died within 25 days on average, including those benefiting from antiretroviral drugs.
WHO noted that its recommendations for managing drug-resistant strains of TB include strengthening basic TB care, ensuring prompt diagnosis and treatment of drug resistant cases, increasing collaboration between HIV and TB control programmes, and boosting investment in laboratory infrastructure.
On Thursday, WHO will join other TB experts at a two-day meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa, to assess the response required to critically address TB drug resistance, particularly in Africa.
Update as of September 4th, 2006
Global warming is affecting the intensity of Atlantic hurricanes, according to a new study by a university professor in Florida who says his research provides the first direct link between climate change and storm strength. Reuters
What Is the Latest Thing to Be Discouraged About? The Rise of Pessimism
NY Times- The early stages of the Iraq war may have been a watershed in American optimism. The happy talk was so extreme it is now difficult to believe it was sincere: “we will be greeted as liberators”; “mission accomplished”; the insurgency is “in the last throes.” Most wildly optimistic of all was the goal: a military action transforming the Middle East into pro-American democracies.
The gap between predictions and reality has left Americans deeply discouraged. So has much of what has happened, or not happened, at the same time. Those who believed New Orleans would rebound quickly after Hurricane Katrina have seen their hopes dashed. Those counting on solutions to health care, energy dependence or global warming have seen no progress. It is no wonder the nation is in a gloomy mood; 71 percent of respondents in a recent Associated Press-Ipsos poll said the country is on the wrong track.
These are ideal times for the release of “Pessimism: Philosophy, Ethic, Spirit,” by Joshua Foa Dienstag, a U.C.L.A. political theorist. Mr. Dienstag aims to rescue pessimism from the philosophical sidelines, where it has been shunted by optimists of all ideologies. The book is seductive, because pessimists are generally more engaging and entertaining than optimists, and because, as the author notes, “the world keeps delivering bad news.” It is almost tempting to throw up one’s hands and sign on with Schopenhauer.
Pessimism, however, is the most un-American of philosophies. This nation was built on the values of reason and progress, not to mention the “pursuit of happiness.” Pessimism as philosophy is skeptical of the idea of progress. Pursuing happiness is a fool’s errand. Pessimism is not, as is commonly thought, about being depressed or misanthropic, and it does not hold that humanity is headed for disaster. It simply doubts the most basic liberal principle: that applying human reasoning to the world’s problems will have a positive effect.
The biggest difference between optimists and pessimists, Mr. Dienstag argues, is in how they view time. Optimists see the passing of time as a canvas on which to paint a better world. Pessimists see it as a burden. Time ticks off the physical decline of one’s body toward the inevitability of death, and it separates people from their loved ones. “All the tragedies which we can imagine,” said Simone Weil, the French philosopher who starved herself to death at age 34, “return in the end to the one and only tragedy: the passage of time.”
Optimists see history as the story of civilization’s ascent. Pessimists believe, Mr. Dienstag notes, in the idea that any apparent progress has hidden costs, so that even when the world seems to be improving, “in fact it is getting worse (or, on the whole, no better).” Polio is cured, but AIDS arrives. Airplanes make travel easy, but they can drop bombs or be crashed into office towers. There is no point in seeking happiness. When joy “actually makes its appearance, it as a rule comes uninvited and unannounced,” insisted Schopenhauer, the dour German who was pessimism’s leading figure.
As politicians, pessimists do not believe in undertaking great initiatives to ameliorate unhappiness, since they are skeptical they will work. They are inclined to accept the world’s evil and misery as inevitable. Mr. Dienstag tries to argue that pessimists can be politically engaged, and in modest ways they can be. Camus joined the French Resistance. But pessimism’s overall spirit, as Camus noted, “is not to be cured, but to live with one’s ailments.”
President Clinton was often mocked for his declarations that he still believed “in a place called Hope.” But he understood that instilling hope is a critical part of leadership. Other than a few special interest programs — like cutting taxes on the wealthy and giving various incentives to business — it is hard to think of areas in which the Bush administration has raised the nation’s hopes and met them. This president has, instead, tried to focus the American people on the fear of terrorism, for which there is no cure, only bad choices or something worse.
Part of Mr. Bush’s legacy may well be that he robbed America of its optimism — a force that Franklin Delano Roosevelt and other presidents, like Ronald Reagan, used to rally the country when it was deeply challenged. The next generation of leaders will have to resell discouraged Americans on the very idea of optimism, and convince them again that their goal should not be to live with their ailments, but to cure them.
Update as of September 3rd, 2006
- A New study on mice suggests exposure to ultrasound to effect fetal brain development, researchers say the findings should not discourage pregnant women from having ultrasound scans for medical reasons-CNN
- Alzheimer’s drug galantamine protects guinea pigs from the effects of compounds in pesticides and poisons that attack the nervous system, researchers at the Univ of Maryland School of Medicine report-CNN
- In just one meal high unsaturated fat can quickly prevent “good” cholesterol from protecting the body against clogged arteries, a small study shows-CNN
- A 6.7 earthquake reported off coast of Vanuatu US geological survey says, pacific tsunami warning center reports higher initial reading of a 7.0 magnitude but said that there is no Pacific Ocean wide tsunami threat. – CNN
- Philippines troops and officials evacuated tens of thousands of villagers as the restive Mayan volcano showed more signs of an imminent eruption. CNN
- UN’s Humanitarian Chief describes Gaza as a “ticking time bomb” the head of a key foreign and donors meeting. BBC
- Zimbabweans express outrage at proposed legislation to monitor telephone calls and Internet use. BBC
- Nigeria’s police are planning to buy 80,000 new firearms ahead of New Year’s Elections, a spokesman says. BBC
- Police say that a Connecticut lawyer has been charged with 1st degree murder for allegedly stabbing his 59-year-old neighbor to death, after being told the neighbor had sexually assaulted his two-year-old daughter. CNN
- Rules to stop convicted pedophiles from committed sex abuse abroad are being evaded, campaigners say. BBC
Update as of August 31st, 2006
Almanac Predicts Unusually Cold Winter
LEWISTON, Maine -- After one of the warmest winters on record, this coming winter will be much colder than normal from coast to coast, according to the latest edition of the venerable Farmers' Almanac.
The nearly 190-year-old almanac, which says its forecasts are accurate 80 percent to 85 percent of the time, correctly predicted a "polar coaster" of dramatic swings for last winter, editor Peter Geiger said. For example, New York City collected 40 inches of snow even though it was one of the warmest winters in the city's history.
This year, predicts the almanac's reclusive forecaster, Caleb Weatherbee, it will be frigid from the Gulf Coast all the way up the East Coast.
But it'll be especially nippy on the Northern Plains -- up to 20 degrees below seasonal norms in much of Montana, the Dakotas and part of Wyoming, he writes.
And, he says, it'll be especially snowy across the nation's midsection, much of the Pacific Northwest, the mountains of the Southwest and parts of eastern New England.
Last winter was the fifth-warmest on average in the lower 48 states. Forty-one states had temperatures above average, according to the National Climatic Data Center. That reduced energy demand by an estimated 11 percent, it said.
This year's retail edition of the Farmers' Almanac is the biggest ever, at 208 pages. It includes traditional charts on astronomy, average frost dates, and planting and gardening calendars. It also has the usual down-home features and cornball humor.
Update as of August 26th, 2006
EU restricts imports of US long grain rice
Brussels (dpa) - The European Commission on Wednesday slapped stringent testing requirements on imports of American long grain rice in a bid to restrict entry of unauthorized genetically modified foods (GMOs) into the 25-nation bloc.
The commission, the European Union's executive body, said all imports of US long grain rice would now have to be certified as free of the unauthorised GMO LL Rice 601 before being exported to the EU.
"The decision has been taken in light of the recent announcement by the US authorities that this unauthorised GMO had been found in samples of commercial rice on the US market," said a commission spokesman.
The emergency measures mean that, with immediate effect, only consignments of US long grain rice that have been tested by an accredited laboratory using a validated testing method and accompanied by a certificate assuring the absence of LL Rice 601, can enter the EU, the spokesman added.
"We have strict legislation in place in the EU to ensure that any GM product put on the European market has undergone a thorough authorisation procedure based on scientific assessment. There is no flexibility for unauthorised GMOs - these cannot enter the EU food and feed chain under any circumstances," said Markos Kyprianou, EU chief for health and consumer protection.
Under EU rules, national authorities are responsible for controlling imports at their borders and for preventing any contaminated consignments from being placed on the market.
In addition, controls will be carried out on products already on the market, to ensure that they are free from LL Rice 601. European importers will also have to ensure that the products they import from the US are free of the banned GMO.
The commission decision will be reviewed by national EU experts within ten days. Once approved, the measures will remain in place for 6 months, after which the situation will be reviewed again.
The US is a major supplier of rice to the EU, followed by India, Thailand and Guyana.
US authorities informed the commission on August 18 that trace amounts of non-authorised genetically modified rice had been detected in samples of commercial long grain rice on the US market.
The EU decision has been criticised by environmental group Greenpeace International as "a minimal response to a serious contamination problem."
Greenpeace said the EU should stop reacting to contamination "accidents" and start preventing them instead.
Brussels and Washington have often crossed swords on GMOs in recent years, with US officials complaining of overly-strict EU requirements which they say act as a trade barrier.
The EU has argued that its hardline stance is only prompted by concerns for the safety of consumers.
Update as of August 21st, 2006
Scientists measure the 'dark matter' of the universe
Across the tapestry of the night sky, hundreds or perhaps thousands of stars are doing frantic dances of death, spinning wildly around each other and shooting off waves of invisible gravitational energy like interstellar beacons.
In one of the most exotic observatories in the world, Fred Raab is waiting for those waves to wash up on the shoreline of Earth. When they do, they could change our understanding of the universe.
"We've spent 400 years since the invention of the telescope looking at a small portion of what exists," said Raab, head of the LIGO laboratory in the high desert of southeastern Washington.
LIGO -- the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory -- could reveal the rest.
"This gives us an observational tool to probe the dark, strong-gravity part of the universe, which we've never really done," said Kip S. Thorne, a California Institute of Technology physicist who is one of the world's foremost experts on relativity.
Like the first bathysphere diving into deep-sea trenches, the $300 million LIGO project, conceived more than 25 years ago, is expected to uncover exotic creatures, such as dancing neutron stars and binary black holes, circling each other like heavyweight fighters. Physicists also may uncover the mysterious "dark matter" that is believed to be all around us but has never been measured. Some think they might find gateways into extra dimensions.
What makes LIGO different from other observatories is that it doesn't "see" the cosmos by detecting electromagnetic energy in the form of light, radio waves or X-rays. It feels it, measuring waves of gravity that wrinkle space-time like ripples on a lake.
One advantage to gravity-wave science over light-wave science is that whereas light bounces off solid objects, gravity waves go through everything -- planets, stars, people's bodies.
Raab, Thorne and about 500 other scientists around the world caught up in the race to measure the first gravity waves are essentially giving birth to a new science.
It has been gestating 90 years, since Einstein theorized that large bodies moving through space would give off waves of gravity, traveling at light speed, that would shrink and expand space-time itself.
The problem with gravity waves is that they are so difficult to detect that many physicists long doubted they would ever be found. In November, however, LIGO reached a level of sensitivity at which Thorne and other experts believe they might detect waves.
Now excitement has gripped the scientific community as it awaits word.
It can be felt inside the LIGO control room, where Raab studies a series of constantly changing graphs flashed up on the wall. Like a man translating a foreign language, Raab points to one squiggly line that he says is traffic passing on the main road a dozen miles away. Another is construction in the nearby cities of Richland and Kennewick.
If you know what to look for, Raab said, you can pick out the seismic signature of ocean waves hitting the shoreline of western Washington -- 200 miles away.
In the dun-colored desert-scape of southeastern Washington sits the Hanford nuclear site. Plutonium for the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki was made here. Now, the signs of decay and rust are everywhere. The site has become a relic of the Cold War.
Down a twisting side road, LIGO appears out of the Russian cheatgrass and mustard plants, a bulky apparition with two tubes extending at right angles into the desert.
The 2.4-mile-long tentacles are the heart of LIGO. They are at right angles so that incoming gravity waves will shrink one arm while lengthening the other. An identical facility sits in a forest in southern Louisiana, so that the readings made at one observatory can be cross-checked almost 2,000 miles away.
The National Science Foundation has provided the funding.
Inside the arms is a laser interferometer, which works by splitting a laser beam and sending one of the two resulting beams down each arm. The beams then bounce around 100 times on a set of mirrors before being sent back to a photodetector.
The two beams should recombine at exactly the same time because they travel an identical distance.
But if a gravity wave passes by, the beams will be thrown off as the arms are alternately stretched and squeezed.
Detecting such a minute signal has required extraordinary steps.
Because the site had to be as flat as possible, satellites were used to survey the land, which was eventually graded to within three-eighths of an inch over five miles.
To get around the problem of air molecules shaking the mirrors, workers sucked the air out of the tubes down to a billionth of an atmosphere. But that still wasn't good enough to make sure the speed of light would be constant throughout the tubes. So the team had to get the tubes down to a trillionth of an atmosphere.
The surface of the four 10-inch mirrors in the arms is so smooth it doesn't vary by more than 30-billionths of an inch. Thirty control systems keep the lasers and mirrors in alignment. The vibration isolation system is so sophisticated, the only thing approaching it is the mechanics used by semiconductor chip makers to etch circuits on the chips.
Even though ground was broken for the LIGO project more than a decade ago, it was only in November that the facility was ready to hunt seriously for gravity waves.
"We're operating right now where we can see changes a thousandth the size of a proton," Raab said.
Some vibrations still manage to get through.
"A bulldozer 10 miles away knocks us offline," he said.
One recent problem was caused by a stunt pilot practicing loops.
Since the November data run began, LIGO has managed to get 10 weeks of clean data.
The hunt is on.
On the wall outside Thorne's cluttered office at Caltech are framed letters containing the bets he has made with other prominent scientists, including two with physicist Stephen Hawking. Thorne won both.
In fact, Thorne has lost only two bets, and both were over gravity waves. In 1978, he bet a dinner that gravity waves would be found within a decade. It didn't happen.
The second time, he bet a case of good California wine that the first gravity wave would be detected by Jan. 1, 2000. Once again, he had to pay up.
Thorne is no longer taking bets on when gravity waves will be found. But found they will be, he said.
It just might not be with this version of LIGO. Even though LIGO is operating within the range where gravity waves are thought to exist, it's just barely there.
"We're at a level now where we could see one every 30 years to every three years," said Jay Marx, executive director of the LIGO program.
Those aren't great odds. The solution is Advanced LIGO, a $200 million upgrade that will increase the sensitivity by a factor of 10. Among the improvements are a more powerful laser and more sophisticated vibration isolation hardware. Work is expected to begin sometime after 2008.
After the improvements, a gravity wave could be detected every three weeks, Marx said.
Thorne said: "We are at a level where we could see waves now. After the upgrade we will be operating in a domain where we are likely to see waves."
And if they don't find waves?
"That would show something is wrong with our understanding of the universe," he said.
Update as of August 2oth, 2006
Long after mosquito bite, ill effects could linger
By: KRISTINA HERRNDOBLER, The Enterprise
It has been more than three years since Laura Booker was bitten by a West Nile-infected mosquito - a bite she thinks might have caused her declining health.
A new study suggests that Booker's ongoing health problems could be linked to West Nile virus, an illness once thought to rarely cause long-term effects in those who survive it.
More than a year after being diagnosed with West Nile virus, half of the patients have continuing health complaints, including fatigue, memory problems, extremity weakness, depression, tremors and headaches, according to an article in the current issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases, a medical journal.
Booker said joint pain and tremors, among many other problems, prompt frequent doctor visits.
"I don't know if all of it is because of West Nile," said Booker, 47, of Nederland. "But I was perfectly healthy. I was never sick. And now all the sudden I have all these problems."
The new study concludes that abnormalities in motor skills and executive functions are common long-term problems among patients who have had the West Nile viral infection.
"Patients with milder illness are just as likely as patients with more severe illness to experience adverse outcomes," it states.
The majority of people infected with West Nile virus develop no symptoms, but about 20 percent experience a flu-like illness called West Nile fever, according to the study.
About 1 percent of patients develop more severe diseases such as meningitis or encephalitis, it states. Patients who develop meningitis or encephalitis often are hospitalized and some die, but the fever generally is considered benign and self-limiting.
That might be about to change, the study suggests.
"What we found is that there is a substantial amount of ongoing symptoms, both among those patients diagnosed with West Nile fever as well as those with the more severe diseases, encephalitis and meningitis," Dr. Paul Carson, lead author of the study, said in news release.
The study involved testing and surveying 49 patients, all from eastern North Dakota, who had lab-confirmed West Nile virus infections.
Beaumont physician James Holly said the problem with long-term effects is that they are incredibly subjective.
"It is very hard to control for those subjective symptoms," he said, adding the study contradicts what the medical field currently thinks about West Nile virus.
Holly himself was infected with West Nile in June. He had a fever, became weak and had severe muscle soreness before being tested for the virus, he said.
He said on the day he first experienced symptoms, he spent 66 minutes on a treadmill. This week, he has only been able to stay on the treadmill for 30 minutes - and that was at a reduced incline and a slower pace, he said.
But Holly does not believe he will have long-term health problems because of the illness. He said it will take up to two months to get back to his pre-West Nile strength.
"There is no doubt there is a physiological price you pay for having this illness," he said. "But it is not a permanent physiological price until you allow it to change your life."
Jefferson County officials Thursday said there have been eight confirmed West Nile cases in Beaumont this year. Five of those were in Beaumont. One person who had West Nile died, according to the Beaumont Public Health Department. There have been no confirmed cases of West Nile in humans in Jasper or Newton counties, officials there said.
There have been at least a half dozen West Nile-related deaths in Southeast Texas since 2002, when someone died in Jefferson County, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Statewide, there have been 47 confirmed cases of meningitis or encephalitis caused by West Nile this year. There have been five deaths, according to the department.
Department spokeswoman Emily Palmer said these numbers only include cases confirmed in state labs. They do not, for example, include the recent West Nile-related death in Beaumont.
In 2005, there were 128 human cases in Texas, including 11 deaths, according to state statistics.
Nationwide, there have been 388 confirmed human cases in 26 states this year, according to the most recent U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention numbers, released on Aug. 15. Thirteen infected people have died.
West Nile has been confirmed in mosquitoes or animals in 40 states this year, according to the CDC.
West Nile virus first appeared in North America in 1999, many decades after it was first reported elsewhere, the CDC reports. It was first isolated in the West Nile District of Uganda in 1937.
Toni Matherne, 38, of Mandeville, La., became ill with West Nile in 2002. She spent a week and a half in the hospital, but has generally recovered, she said.
"The only thing I noticed long-term is that my immune system is not as good," she said. "It is a coincidence that ever since getting West Nile, it has been like that."