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SOURCE: Gallup Poll News Service
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August 21, 2007
Congress Approval Rating Matches Historical Low
Just 18% approve of job Congress is doing
by Jeffrey M. Jones
PRINCETON, NJ -- A new Gallup Poll finds Congress' approval rating
the lowest it has been since Gallup first tracked public opinion of
Congress with this measure in 1974. Just 18% of Americans approve of
the job Congress is doing, while 76% disapprove, according to the
August 13-16, 2007, Gallup Poll.
That 18% job approval rating matches the low recorded in March 1992,
when a check-bouncing scandal was one of several scandals besetting
Congress, leading many states to pass term limits measures for U.S.
representatives (which the Supreme Court later declared
unconstitutional). Congress had a similarly low 19% approval rating
during the energy crisis in the summer of 1979.
Americans' evaluations of the job Congress is doing are usually not
that positive -- the vast majority of historical approval ratings
have been below 50%. The high point was 84% approval one month after
the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, when Americans rallied behind the
federal government. Since then, Congress' approval ratings have
generally exhibited the same downward trajectory seen in those for
President George W. Bush. Currently, 32% of Americans approve of the
job Bush is doing as president, a far cry from the record-high 90%
he received in September 2001. Bush's current job approval rating is
just three percentage points above his lowest.
There was a slight interruption in the downward trend in
congressional approval ratings at the beginning of this year when
party control changed hands from the Republicans to the Democrats
following last fall's midterm elections. In January 2007, 35% of
Americans approved of Congress, a significant increase from the 21%
who approved of Congress in December 2006. That December rating tied
the lowest in the 12 years the Republicans controlled Congress from
1995 to 2006.
But that "honeymoon" period for the new Democratically controlled
Congress was brief, as its job ratings dropped below 30% in March
2007 and have now fallen below where they were just before the
Democrats took over.
Frustration with Congress spans the political spectrum. There are
only minor (but not statistically meaningful) differences in the
approval ratings Democrats (21%), Republicans (18%), and
independents (17%) give to Congress. Typically, partisans view
Congress much more positively when their party is in control of the
institution, so the fact that Democrats' ratings are not materially
better than Republicans' is notable.
The nine-point drop in Congress' job approval rating from last month
to this month has come exclusively from Democrats and independents,
with Democrats' ratings dropping 11 points (from 32% to 21%) and
independents' ratings dropping 13 points (from 30% to 17%).
Republicans' 18% approval rating is unchanged from last month.
The decline in congressional job approval could merely reflect the
cessation of any public good will it engendered when the new
leadership arrived in January, since the current 18% rating is
similar to what it was in December 2006 (21%).
But, it could also reflect disappointment with the new Congress'
performance (especially among Democrats) and economic unease.
Americans elected the Democrats as the majority party in Congress in
November 2006's midterm election in large part due to frustration
with the Iraq war and an ineffective and scandal-plagued Republican-
led Congress. But any hopes that the elections would lead to change
have not been realized as Democrats' repeated attempts to force a
change in Iraq war policy have been largely unsuccessful due to
presidential vetoes, disagreements within their own party, and the
inability to attract Republican support for their policy proposals.
Also, many of the Democratic leadership's domestic agenda items have
not become law even though some have passed one or both houses of
As the trend in congressional approval makes clear, ratings of
Congress usually suffer during times of economic uncertainty, as
during the late 1970s and early 1990s. While Americans' ratings of
current economic conditions are not near historical lows, there is a
great deal of concern about the direction in which the economy is
headed. The latest poll finds a record 72% of Americans saying the
economy is "getting worse."
These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly
selected national sample of 1,019 adults, aged 18 and older,
conducted August 13-16, 2007. For results based on this sample, one
can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to
sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. In
addition to sampling error, question wording and practical
difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into
the findings of public opinion polls.
W.Va. University tops party school list
By VICKI SMITH, Associated Press Writer
To the disappointment of school administrators and the pride of
some students West Virginia University is No. 1 on The Princeton's
Review's annual list of the top 20 party schools.
The school has made the list seven times in the past 15 years,
despite efforts to curb underage drinking and rowdy behavior.
But not since 1997 have the Mountaineers taken the top spot. Last
year, WVU was No. 3, bested by the University of Texas at Austin and
Penn State, both of which remain in the top 10 this year.
Senior Katie O'Hara, 22, said WVU is No. 1 because "no matter what
kind of party you want it's here bars, fraternities, house
parties. ... If you want to take shots all night, there's a bar; no
matter what you want to do, it's there."
Still, O'Hara said her friends "know how to manage their time. They
know when to party and when not to," which wouldn't explain the
school's No. 1 ranking in the category of Their Students (Almost)
The rankings are contained in the 2008 edition of "The Best 366
Colleges," which is going on sale Tuesday and is based on a survey
of 120,000 college students at those schools, mostly during the 2006-
07 school year.
No. 2 on the party list was the University of Mississippi, followed
by the UT-Austin, the University of Florida and the University of
West Virginia's No. 1 ranking is just speculation, said West
Virginia sophomore Stuart Sauer.
"I think there's no way to measure that," said Sauer, 20, of
Richmond, Va. "Every school's a party school."
Incoming WVU President Mike Garrison focused on the positive rather
than the rankings, saying the students he met over the weekend and
on the first day of classes Monday are more concerned with their
futures "and with the great year we have ahead" than with partying.
"I'm focused on the way this university changes people's lives, the
research that we do and the service we provide to the state of West
Virginia," said Garrison, who officially replaces David C. Hardesty
Jr. on Sept. 1. "This is a special place, and the whole state is
proud of it."
The Princeton Review says the guide to the best schools is intended
to help applicants who can't visit every school in person.
Guide author Robert Franek said each of the 366 schools "is a 'best'
when it comes to academics.
"But as anyone visiting colleges can attest, their campus cultures
and offerings differ greatly," he said. "It's all about the fit."
At the other end of the partying spectrum is Brigham Young
University, claiming the top spot in the "Stone Cold Sober" category
for the 10th straight year.
The book has 62 categories in all, including: Best Campus Food,
Virginia Tech; Most Beautiful Campus, Sweet Briar (Va.); Dorms Like
Palaces, Smith College (Mass.); and Birkenstock-Wearing, Tree-
Hugging, Clove-Smoking Vegetarians, Hampshire College (Mass).
This year, WVU finishes among the Top 10 in several other
categories: No. 4 in Students Pack the Stadiums; No. 5 for Best
College Library; No. 6 for Lots of Beer; No. 7 for Lots of Hard
Liquor; and No. 8 for Best College Newspaper.
The Princeton Review, which is not affiliated with Princeton
University, is a New York company known for test preparation
courses, educational services and books. It published its first
survey findings in August 1992.
On the Net:
The Princeton Review: http://www.princetonreview.com
West Virginia University: http://www.wvu.edu/
New Challenge for iTunes music store
Wal-Mart, Viacom and RealNetworks make move
By Scott Duke Harris
San Jose Mercury News
Apple's online music empire is under siege. In separate
announcements, Wal-Mart and an alliance of Viacom and RealNetworks
announced business initiatives that put Apple in their cross-hairs.
Stepping up its competition with Apple's iTunes music store, Wal-
Mart Stores has started selling some of its online music catalog
without anticopying software known as DRM. The move complements Wal-
Mart's sales of MP3 players that rival Apple's iPod.
Meanwhile, Viacom's MTV Networks and RealNetworks announced a merger
of their digital-music services, hoping for a bigger share of the
growing market for downloads. The combined service will be called
Rhapsody America, Van Toffler, president of MTV Networks, said today
on a conference call. RealNetworks, based in Seattle, is the owner
of the Rhapsody music service.
The competitors are battling Apple's dominance, with its iPod and
iTunes music store, which has more than a 70 percent share of online
music sales. Digital track sales have risen 48 percent this year,
according to Nielsen SoundScan.
"We're going to do a lot more than we've ever done," Rob Glaser,
RealNetworks' chief executive officer, said on the call.
Meanwhile, Wal-Mart reached an agreement with two major labels,
Vivendi SA's Universal Music Group and EMI Group to sell "DRM-free"
single tracks for 94 cents a track and albums for $9.22.
The move shows that music industry has begun to bend to the wishes
of retailers and Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who has called upon record
companies to drop "digital rights management" software, or DRM. Most
record companies demand that DRM software be used to prevent rampant
copying. But Jobs argues that DRM has been ineffective in limiting
piracy, but has limited sales and degraded sound quality.
Apple has its own DRM, which requires iPod users to buy from iTunes
and limits iTunes tracks from playing on other devices. In late May,
iTunes started selling thousands of tracks without DRM under an
agreement with EMI Group.
Bloomberg News contributed to this story. Contact Scott Duke Harris
or (408) 920-2704.
T-rex versus Beckham? Sorry, David, you're lunch
By Michael Kahn
Tue Aug 21, 2007
The smallest dinosaur could reach speeds of nearly 40 mph (64 kph)
and even the lumbering Tyrannosaurus rex would have been able to
outrun most modern-day sportsmen, according to research published on
Scientists using computer models calculated the top speeds for five
meat-eating dinosaurs in a study they say can also illustrate how
animals cope with climate change and extinction.
The velociraptor, whose speed and ferocity was highlighted in the
film "Jurassic Park," reached 24 mph while the T-rex could muster
speeds of up to 18 mph, the study published in the Royal Society's
Biological Sciences showed.
"Our research, which used the minimum leg-muscle mass T-rex required
for movement, suggests that while not incredibly fast, this
carnivore was certainly capable of running and would have little
difficulty in chasing down footballer David Beckham, for instance,"
said Phil Manning, a paleontologist at the University of Manchester,
who worked on the study.
The smallest dinosaur -- the Compsognathus -- could run nearly 40
mph, about 5 mph faster than the computer's estimate for the fastest
living animal on two legs, the ostrich.
A top human sprinter can reach a speed of about 25 mph.
The researchers used a computer model to calculate the running
speeds of the five dinosaurs that varied in size from the 3-kg (6.6
pound) Compsognathus to a six-tonne Tyrannosaurus.
They fed information about the skeletal and muscular structure of
the dinosaurs into the computer and ran a simulation tens of
millions of times to see how fast the animals moved, said William
Sellers, a zoologist at the University of Manchester, who led the
They checked their method by inputting data of a 70-kg human with
the muscle and bone structure of a professional sportsman and found
the computer accurately spat out a top running speed just behind T-
"People have estimated speeds before but they have always been
indirect estimates and hard to verify," Sellers said. "What we found
is they were all perfectly capable of running."
Looking at how these ancient animals lived and died out is also
important in trying to predict how modern day species may cope with
future climate change, Sellers added.
This study helps to build a biological picture that scientists can
use to better understand how dinosaurs adapted to changes in the
weather just before they went extinct some 65 million years ago, he
"Knowing how these animals coped over the past millions of years
will give us clues to what is going to happen over the next thousand
years," he said. "That is why there has been more recent interest in
biology of these animals."
Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2007
World of Warcraft: A Pandemic Lab?
By Laura Blue
Who says video games are a waste of time? World of Warcraft a
virtual online world where millions of players quest for power,
wealth and magical items has got public-health experts considering
new ways to track the spread of disease.
That's the message behind a new paper appearing this month in the
journal Lancet Infectious Diseases, and also behind a separate,
similar paper published in Epidemiology earlier this year. Both
papers document the path of an unexpectedly virulent virtual disease
called "Corrupted Blood," which swept through World of Warcraft's
online characters starting in September 2005. (The game's
administrators introduced the disease as a challenge for some high-
level players; they didn't expect it to break out of the caves and
into the virtual world's cities and towns.) The disease then ravaged
the player population despite administrators' efforts to
quarantine the infected and gave World of Warcraft its first
In real life, epidemiologists have long used complex mathematical
models to predict how an outbreak of, say, pandemic flu might spread
around the world. The problem is that testing those models isn't
very easy, which makes it hard to judge whether the models are
accurate. Scientists can't just release pathogens into cities and
see how many people die. So, instead, they base their models on past
outbreaks, where information collection was imperfect, or on
people's stated (but hypothetical) beliefs about what they would do
during a future outbreak. The resulting models can be remarkably
sophisticated, but they "lack the variability and unexpected
outcomes that arise ... not by the nature of the disease, but by the
nature of the hosts it infects," according to Eric Lofgren and Nina
Fefferman, authors of the Lancet Infectious Diseases paper. For
example, they say, the failure of the World of Warcraft
quarantine "could not have been accurately predicted by numerical
methods alone, since it was driven by human decisions and behavioral
choices." In other words, no model will know whether or not people
ignore infection-control rules in the real world.
Lofgren and Fefferman along with Ran Balicer, who wrote the
Epidemiology paper hope that virtual worlds will offer a chance to
study that human variability. A few features of World of Warcraft
made the game's 2005 outbreak a surprisingly good simulation of a
real-world epidemic, they suggest. Players could teleport from one
virtual-world location to another (not unlike hopping a
transcontinental flight in the real world) and players kept pets,
which got infected, serving as reservoirs for the disease. In
response, some players with healing powers then traveled to help
heal the sick, just as medical staff would be dispatched during a
Virtual-world characters aren't a perfect mirror of human society,
of course. It's probably safe to assume that 20-year-old suburban
males are overrepresented among World of Warcraft players and that
teen mothers from Cambodia are underrepresented. We might also
assume that players become more daring with the health of their
online orc-slaying adventurers than they would be with their own
health; in real life, death can be kind of a big deal.
But Lofgren and Fefferman believe a virtual disease could be devised
to prompt a "reasonable analogue" of some real-world human
responses or at least give some sense of scale of the impact that
human variation is likely to have. Games also have a couple of
distinct advantages over real-world studies. Researchers can have a
perfect understanding of the parameters of the disease and capture
every person's response exactly, without any lost
information. "Human response is, almost by definition, difficult to
predict," Lofgren and Fefferman write. Virtual worlds may not be
perfect, but perhaps they can eliminate some of the guesswork.
August 21, 2007
Yes, Deep-Fried Oreos, but Not in Trans Fats
By MONICA DAVEY
INDIANAPOLIS, Aug. 17 The deep-fried Combo Plate may be a little
more healthful this year at the Great Indiana State Fair. So say the
fair's leaders, who, taking a step rarely seen in the realm of corn
dogs and fried pickles, have banned oils with trans fats from all
the fryers that line the grounds here.
The change is only the latest in a string of bans on artificial
trans fats. Tied to health problems including heart disease, they
have been banished by national restaurant chains, snack brands and
New York City, which forbids restaurants to use them in food
But this is perhaps the most unlikely locale yet: the nation's
classic summer fair, long seen as one final safe haven from the
Along the steamy thoroughfare here, where only sensitive palates can
distinguish among the various cuts of potato (curly fries, ribbon
fries and the old standby, French), fairgoers seemed pleased with
the switch. The food tasted the same, they said happily. And if this
meant they could indulge without guilt or have one more helping, so
much the better.
"This is a slice of heaven," said Ryan Howell, 31, as he cradled his
Combo Plate, which, for the record, consists of one battered
Snickers bar, two battered Oreos and a battered Reese's Peanut
Butter Cup all deep-fried in oil that is trans-fat free, thank
"This was an issue we wanted to tackle," said Cindy Hoye, executive
director of the fair, which spent the winter months testing various
oils and, despite the fears of some concessionaires about possible
changes to taste or costs or tradition, concluded that trans-fat-
free oils created what Ms. Hoye called a better product.
National fair officials say Indiana and at least one other fair, the
Western Washington, have led the way on a health issue that is only
now creating a buzz in the fair industry. During a national
convention of fair officials in Las Vegas this November, Indiana
representatives are to offer a workshop, "Going Trans-Fat Free,"
which, the convention program promises, will answer the
question "What is all the craze about?"
Some concessionaires here said trans-fat-free oils seemed to
leave "less of a varnish buildup" on their French fry baskets and
corn dog equipment. But Chris Coffman, who helps his brother, Sam,
operate a stand that sells the fried-dough snack called elephant
ears, was none too pleased with the new ways.
The oil they are now using has to be changed more often, Mr. Coffman
said (although some other concessionaires said their new oils in
fact required less changing). And he worried, briefly, that the ban
might also apply to the margarine that the Coffmans use to make
cinnamon sugar stick to their doughy confections; it does not, fair
And that, Mr. Coffman said, is the silly part of the whole ban: it
will barely skim the surface of fair food's inherently and
proudly unhealthful nature, he said.
"It's craziness," said Mr. Coffman, 45, who says he eats fair food
every day but who appears surprisingly trim. "They're using this for
a marketing ploy. It's a way to convince people that they can eat
more that somehow all of this is safe now and you can eat all you
want when we all know that's not true."
The calorie count? The state fair does not require vendors to
provide those numbers, and no one here would venture any guesses.
But figures from the Web site CalorieKing.com suggest that a Combo
Plate, for instance, comes to well over 700 calories. That is more
than a third of the entire daily caloric intake recommended by the
Department of Agriculture for a 30-year-old woman who is 5-foot-6
and 130 pounds and who exercises less than 30 minutes a day.
Ms. Hoye, the fair's executive director, pointed out some healthful
(if, judging from the customer lines, less popular) offerings of
salads and tomato juice here. But she was quick to acknowledge that
trans-fat-free oils will not turn standard state fair cuisine into
"When you are having fair food, you are having fun," she
said. "You're probably still going to use some calories out here.
Look, we can't control what goes in an Oreo, but we can say what
goes in our fryers out here."
Jeremy Orme, who runs Fried Creations, the home of the Combo Plate,
introduced a new item at this year's fair: deep-fried Pepsi. He
rolls out his Pepsi-based dough, dips it in a batter made with Pepsi
and deep-fries it for 90 seconds. His oil, made of soybeans, is
trans-fat free as required, and on the front of his booth he has
posted a local newspaper's account about the fair's trans-fat ban.
But inside the booth, where the air is dense with oil, workers
chuckle about the whole concept. And Mr. Orme himself rarely eats
what he cooks here.
"I stay away from fried foods," he said.