Thursday, November 10, 2005

Teens Are Making Wise Decisions About Sex

     Recently, I had the chance on three consecutive days to visit a Health class at a local public high school.  I was a monitoring the class of freshman through senior students as they were listening to presentations about sex, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), relationships and marriage.
     My initial walk through the halls on the way to class was a bit frightening.  Youth today seem more mature physically, than I recall my peers looking during the 1970s.  However, the body language between teens continues to thrive in generational perpetuity.  A couple embracing in a breezeway to cop a feel off each other and snag a deep-throat kiss during the precious minutes between classes was demonstration of how raging hormones can lead to reckless abandon.
     Expecting a guest speaker for a Health class was not enough incentive for students to arrive to class before the tardy bell rang.  However, once the presenter revealed the subject matter, the class perked up, and the usual slouching posture of teens changed to one of attention.
     The subject of sex, STDs, condoms, pregnancy, abstinence, relationships and marriage captivated the audience.  The presentation was developed by Austin LifeGuard (,  a character and sexuality education program partially funded through the Texas Department of State Health as part of its abstinence-until-marriage education effort.  As an adult, I also found the presentation intriguing.  The facts, especially the new information about the rapid spread of STDs in youth delivered a clarion call for both teens and their parents.
However, what became clear to me within the first few minutes of the short one-hour class was the students’ thirst for information about sex and about the facts – without bias – that addressed teens as decision makers over their own sexually maturing bodies.  There was no judgment delivered; only objective data, that stimulated an honest exchange of perspectives, as the class began to see the act of sex in terms of its connection to both physical and emotional awareness and arousal.  Students began connecting the dots between their own premature sexual activity and its influence on the rampant spread of STDs and its impact on self-esteem, relationships in high school and future relationships leading to marriage.
The use of and definitions for biologically and clinically correct terms like penis, vagina, fallopian tube, ovary, sperm, fetus, bacterial and viral infections, genital herpes, Chlamydia and Gonorrhea may have caught some by surprise, but broke down the walls of ignorance and opened the door to honest discussion and genuine education and learning.
Facts, through numbers and visual displays of how STDs spread and what they really look like made the presentations even more compelling and true for a generation that hungers for the truth, but is continually deflecting the onslaught of media impressions that subtly or aggressively paint a false but pretty picture on premature sexual activity.  
In the end, sexual abstinence until marriage lingered in the air as the responsible, rational and realistic step for teens to take.  The students finished the final presentation with a keener understanding how to filter the seductive come-on by a peer who uses the word, “love,” but is only seeking short-term sexual pleasure.  They clearly understood the physical steps that lead to sexual arousal, and they did comprehend that oral sex is equal to intercourse as a sexual act and as a risk for contracting and spreading STDs.
In the end, these students understood the full facts about sex.  They also understood that the decision to engage for the first time or continue engaging in sexual activity was their choice alone, and they understood the possible consequences of that choice.  
In the end, several teens made their choice to abstain from sexual activity until marriage.
Programs, like LifeGuard, that treat teens in a respectful way, recognizing them as young adults who are shaping their own values about sex based on real-life situations and real facts, are making a positive impact on the youth culture.  According to research conducted by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy (, close to six out of 10 teens surveyed (58%) said sexual activity for high school-age teens is not acceptable, even if precautions are taken against pregnancy and STDs.  The vast majority of teens surveyed (87%) do not think it is embarrassing for teens to admit they are virgins.  As a result, all Central Texas public and private high school should consider it necessary to present similar programs into their classrooms.
On my third day walking through the halls of the local high school, I felt more at ease with the student body, and I had a better understanding about the real need for parents to talk with our teens about sex and to remember we are the most influential source for shaping our children’s perspectives on the subject.  It has since become a more regular topic in my household.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Books & Libraries Remain Relevant in a Digital Revolution

Increasingly, we live and work in a society based on knowledge.  The ability to access and use information strategically is crucial to achieving success in the 21st century.  Historically, books served as the printed source of knowledge, libraries provided public access to the content, and literacy reflected success.  Today, however, it appears that the knowledge source is boundless.  It exists beyond the traditional walls of libraries, and the measure of literacy is subjective to one’s intake of bits and bites.  The dam has broken on the spiraling outpour of information, and it makes us all the thirstier.

The ease of access to digital information puts pressure on public libraries to maintain buoyancy as the Internet floodwaters rise.   The pressure to be relevant may be even greater on libraries within institutions of higher learning, as the current generation, of young learners, demands instant gratification for its thirst for information and entertainment.    

Today, bibliographies include lists of formally published books as well as sources with the World Wide Web prefix.  Reading for pleasure can mean settling into a club chair at a library holding a copy of a classic Pulitzer Prize-winning author’s work, or sipping java at a local coffee shop and flipping the pages of a digital novel with a computer mouse or stylus.  Neither form of reading diminishes the knowledge or pleasure gained.  Both are necessary for the society based on knowledge.

This understanding compelled the University of Texas to harness the capacities of the digital revolution, as a means of keeping books and their content relevant and accessible to the community at large.  

As a result, libraries as the access to knowledge are changing.  Now, the knowledge gateway is digital, and the University calls it Utopia (  UTopia provides for everyone a personalized window into the intellectual resources of UT’s libraries, collections, museums and much more.  A UT agreement with the Texas A&M Libraries, the University of Houston Libraries, Texas Tech University Libraries and Rice University Libraries will establish the Texas Digital Library.  The Texas Digital Library will become a modern venue for the assembly and delivery of information that will benefit a variety of communities, including K-12 students and their parents, university researchers and the corporations doing business within the state and interacting with its institutions of higher education.

The formal library spaces also are changing.  The University’s Flawn Academic Center, which contained the Undergraduate Library, now serves as an expanded learning commons, providing an array of coordinated information resources and instructional services.  The collections in the Undergraduate Library (some 90,000 volumes) now reside with the University’s eight million volumes in other libraries across campus.  The University of Texas Libraries collaborates with other divisions on campus to foster information literacy and creativity, in a commitment to assemble one of the world’s preeminent repositories of the human record, and in recognition that in the 21st  century we cannot ignore those vast portions of the record that are now captured in formats other than print.

We are astride two worlds right now.  The pervasiveness of the Internet, along with the popularity of audio books, sometimes evokes dire predictions about the future of the book.  Yet, not everything is available on the Internet, and in Texas, the love for books does not appear to be diminishing.    
This weekend (Oct. 29-30, 2005) we celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Texas Book Festival.  Nearly half a million people have gathered in and around the Texas Capitol, over the past nine years, to celebrate authors and their contributions to the culture of literacy, ideas and imagination.  The event has quickly evolved into one of the premier literary events in the Southwest and one of the top three book festivals in the country.

The printed book clearly remains at the center of the spiraling information universe.    Last year, the University of Texas Libraries spent just over $9.5 million to purchase books.  The Texas Book Festival in 2004 exceeded the $1.65 million mark in total grants it has awarded to Texas public libraries.  Libraries and books remain faithfully linked.

One can hardly make the case that electronic resources have supplanted the book as the cornerstone of public education.  Our libraries may look and function differently than they did just a decade ago, but they will not only continue to exist, but to flourish.   And knowledge—in all its myriad forms—will continue to be our pursuit.    

Friday, September 09, 2005

We Should Be Hungry For Better Television Programming

The decline of cable television programming spiraled further downward recently, with the premier of Starved on FX.

The network bills the 30-minute program as a sit-com.  Its storyline is built around three men and a woman who all struggle with an eating disorder.  The premise is that there is comedy in such subject matter.  However, it is hard to imagine laughter flowing from the more than 10 million women and one million men in the U.S. whose current struggles with anorexia or bulimia are no joke.  The additional 25 million Americans fighting a battle with binge eating disorder most likely do not view their collective struggle as a sit-com.

However, the joke seems to be playing out on our culture, as FX serves up a cast of characters with eating disorders in the latest blue-plate special to fill our appetites for something funny, anything funny, even if it marginalizes the real suffering that exists behind the jokes.

The estimated 40,000 Texas women between the ages of 15 and 49, who currently struggle with eating disorders, will tell you there is no joke in purging their meal before it gets digested.  They will tell you there is no joke in being admitted into an intensive care unit because their primary organs were denied the necessary protein to keep them functioning normally.  And, the parents or spouses of eating disorder victims will tell you it was not a laughing matter when they discovered their loved ones suddenly dead from cardiac arrest, only later to find out that anorexia or bulimia was the cause of death.

In fact, anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, about 12 times higher than the annual death rate due to all causes of death among females ages 15-24. This age group is the bull’s eye targeted by so many fashion magazines and retailers that project images of tall, extremely slim females whose physical frames contradict what medical examiners agree to be the appropriate healthy weight for women of such height.

As if the heat of summer and the pressure to look even slimmer in a two-piece swimsuit was not enough to push some women to the brink of physical disaster, FX makes light of the anxiety that prompts so many young people to avoid eating or to secretly throw-up what little food they consume – all for the sake of looking like the role model in the advertisement, or now because television programming validates such behavior.

For many young females – and a growing number of males – the recent return to school pulls the trigger on a mental and emotional struggle with food consumption and the need to look thinner, no matter how thin they may be already.  The mirror never reflects the reality, and in many cases the reality even escapes parents, friends, teachers and coaches.

Clothes provide the veil that covers the boney framework and the internal breakdown of the natural physical operation of the body.  Advertisements in August are more about clothes than about calculators or college-rule paper.  Parents would be wise to talk with their high school and college-age children about unrealistic expectations they may have of looking like the models in magazines and newspaper ads.  They should include in their conversations about academic performance encouraging comments about looking unique and beautiful just as they are.  Parents should be watchful of their youth who already may be thin, but who may be portraying a false sense of energy.

On the surface, the ones who are most swept up by the struggle with an eating disorder are those that seem most in control.  They are the leaders of the class, the cheerleaders, the top athletes, the ones voted most likely to achieve.  The stress of achievement and the fear of failure and rejection can be a devastating combination.  Parental or peer pressure plants the drive for success, but many times leaves no room for failure, at least in the mind of the patient.  The one thing people with eating disorders hold onto, as something within their control, is the consumption of food and control of weight.  It becomes obsessive and eventually weight control leads to a steady and slow starvation of the body.

While the lack of intake of food causes the body to burn muscle instead of fat, the female begins to experience an irregularity of her menstrual cycle.  Those who purge their food begin to experience tooth decay from the acidic flow of vomit that passes through the mouth.  The lack of protein causes the heart to atrophy and slow down to rates that are life threatening.

The beginning of the new school year already means the beginning of another mean season for those with eating disorders.  The fall season television programming of FX does no service to the very at-risk population it mocks.  The program, Starved, only perpetuates the negative stigma associated to those struggling with eating disorders.  

The irony would be for the FX program to trigger enough disgust in the public that we force  the insurance and medical communities to respond with the necessary concern, medical coverage and treatment that eating disorders warrant, yet still hunger for in Texas and throughout the country.  But first, let’s change the channel on Starved.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Wal-Mart in Vogue

It has been quite some time since my last posting, but I have been wondering lately about Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., ( and its recent advertising campaign in the September issue of Vogue. The entire campaign, developed by Austin-based GSD&M, is trying to reposition the retailer away from its lowest price perception with shoppers. Although GSD&M claims the campaign is, "just another dimension," it appears the campaign is a launch of a new definition -- and one that wants to position the brand in a space that Target ( successfully owns. This will be a challenge for the largest retailer. Sears -- once the retailing giant -- surely can relate to the effort of trying to redefine an iconic image that is emblazened upon the minds of consumers. Unfortunately, Wal-Mart's initial effort does not create enough differentiation from what consumers associate with Target. As a result, the effort may only fuel more loyality with Target customers that their look and combination of Target merhandise with other higher-end purchases stands above the new Wal-Mart offer. However, Wal-Mart's scale and influence should not be taken lightly. Let's see what shoppers think.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Hope for Innovation

About seven years ago, my family was tackling a home renovation project. My “insider” knowledge, then as an AT&T employee, influenced my decision to use only CAT-5 (Category 5 UTP used for connecting computer networks) wiring for all the telephone connections in the house. This was an innovative move, I thought, because the CAT-5 transmission speeds would be faster and the voice connection clearer. The veins of wire stretching out behind the walls of each room were demonstration of my preparedness for the future of voice and data transmission, and AT&T was going to bring the future to me.
However, after the drywall was up and the telephones were plugged into their jacks, nothing different really happened. The phones rang whenever someone called us, and there was always dial tone when I wanted it. The future of communication was a bit elusive then, and now SBC’s ( $16 billion bargain purchase of AT&T ( makes me wonder who will shape the future of the industry.
The value of the future is perception.
When it came time to sell our "wired" home, the technology behind the walls was a special feature of value. And, we were convinced that the technology angle and positioning the house as being one step closer to the future was what lured the buyers and closed the deal.
Apparently, Wall Street analysts and the boards of AT&T and SBC seem to be in the market for a similar home: one with all the technological piece parts and market power that offer hope for the industry’s future.
The hope AT&T offered was bright and continuously regenerated. However, the company’s hope and continuous innovation was only a veil over Ma Bell’s dimming eyes. The technological future for consumers, positioned always within reach, was an emotional concept that fueled the power of the AT&T brand. No one could capitalize on building the positive public perception of a company’s innovative capabilities like AT&T.
The impact created by AT&T with the transistor, the laser, the recording of sound and the transmission of digital voice and video are still rippling around the world. AT&T’s public relations machine relentlessly leveraged every opportunity to build equity into the brand with each successive announcement. Today, the national media report on AT&T as if it always existed, a testament to its brand power. In fact, the formal launch of the brand began after the U.S. Federal Court-ordered mandate to break up the Bell System monopoly in 1984. Since then, the AT&T brand has captured the essence of innovation, customer service, honesty, quality, reliability and ubiquity. The list could go on.
Nonetheless, while the AT&T brand was growing stronger, its operations were crumbling and its profits were declining. A monopoly must be inventive or face a losing battle of market share. Behind the hard work of innovation, was AT&T’s lack of velocity to be first in the marketplace with its product or service. Its heritage was rooted in a monopoly mentality that moved much slower than its ability to create expectation. Sprint was first to build a complete digital network and MCI’s Friends & Family calling plan stumped the market leader. However, a blockbuster AT&T product or service announcement every now and then backed by gargantuan public relations and marketing machines, continued to propel its public prowess. Yet, on Wall Street, its financials still communicated doubt, while through a series of acquisitions and spin-offs it strived to communicate hope for the future. The public’s perception continued to reflect belief in AT&T’s promise of hope, while investors gradually placed their bets elsewhere.
Now, AT&T’s hope is for sale, and its sale is pending. The purchase of AT&T and its lucrative base of business customers will help fund SBC’s battle with the cable industry over residential customers. SBC seems to be offering hope for the future of communication through acquisitions, while failing to bring forth any innovation of its own.
The closing date on this purchase is at least a year away. Expect distractions to consume both parties while consumers continue looking for an industry leader that will deliver on its promise for the future. SBC is fooling only itself if it does not quickly leverage the still effervescent power of AT&T and demonstrate to the public that its brand attributes are still relevant. If not, it leaves wide open the door of opportunity for real innovators in the communication industry to fill the void created by a toppling icon.