Tuesday, April 29, 2008

My Family When I Am at Work

Most of the people who helped run the lab this year.

From left, Harsha Gangadharbatla, Brandon Nutting, Nikki Siegrist, Wes Wise, Jessica Freeman, me, Kelli Brown, Justin Keene, Wendy Maxian, and Glenn Cummins.

Wreck 'Em!


Monday, April 28, 2008

Poor Miley: Did Vanity Fair Exploit?

Photo courtesy of Vanity Fair magazine.

Poor Miley Cyrus. You might know her as Hannah Montana.

I have four daughters, three of whom are of television viewing age. So I know Hannah Montana.

Now some risque pictures in Vanity Fair magazine have raised eyebrows.

Until now, many parents were pro-Cyrus because the 15-year-old didn't dress like, well, a whore.

These new pictures will surely shock some of our more Puritan residents. From the behind-the-scenes shot published early online, they're not that crazy.

That is, there are no Janet Jackson-esque style wardrobe malfunctions.

For one, Cyrus was posing for renowned photographer Annie Leibovitz, and there was surely pressure to push the envelope a little bit. They are in the business of selling magazines, after all.

But Cyrus also has the pressure to stay relevant to her fans. She cannot be a little girl forever. Her fans are getting older every day, too. And that wholesome image loses traction over time.

Britney got breast augmentation before she was legal. These pictures hardly cross that line.

Perhaps they show the evolution of a young woman.

The public opinion backlash will be interesting to watch.

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Friday, April 25, 2008

Blog Falls Behind at Semester's End

AUSTIN, Texas -- I am in the state capital presenting research to colleagues.

Life is crazy busy, and the blog has fallen behind on the priority list.

Next week will, hopefully, be better.


Sunday, April 20, 2008

Propaganda Sadly Alive and Well in America

When I started my journalism career, I attended a lunch paid for by Memorial Medical Center, then the sole hospital in Las Cruces, N.M. I was flat broke at the time, and my wife was pregnant with our first child. Nonetheless, after the event, I wrote a personal check to MMC to pay for the lunch to avoid any appearance of impropriety.

The evidence suggests that one cannot believe a single word ever uttered by a military analysis on U.S. television news since before the start of the war in Iraq.

Critics will write this off as bashing by the liberal media. But if you take the time to read all 11 pages of this story, I cannot imagine how you fail to be moved. Everything that is good and sacred about the First Amendment is brought into question herein.

From Sunday's New York Times:

Message Machine
Behind Military Analysts, the Pentagon’s Hidden Hand
Published: April 20, 2008

The Pentagon has cultivated “military analysts” in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the Bush administration’s wartime performance.

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TV Keys Happiness; World End Surely Near

From Gallup's: TV Ownership May Be Good for Well-Being: Benefits of TV ownership largely independent of income

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In most countries the world over, Gallup data show that people who have televisions in their homes report greater well-being than do those who do not have televisions in their homes.

When asked where they currently stand on a "ladder" scale on which "0" indicates the worst possible life and "10" indicates the best possible life, people with televisions in their homes report mean scores about one step higher than those without televisions report. Relative to people living in households without televisions, those with televisions also say they are more optimistic about their futures.


The beneficial effects of owning a TV hold up even after taking into account many of the desirable things that often go hand in hand with TV ownership, including wealth and access to electricity and running water. Even when comparing people with identical incomes, TV owners still enjoy higher levels of well-being and optimism. That is, in country after country, when equating TV owners and non-owners for income, TV owners still felt better about their current lives and their likely futures.

Really, I have not much to say here. Although Gallup used control variables, I am sure that they failed to measure all of the relevant possible confounding variables.

Nonetheless, this kind of makes me sad in my heart.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

My Life's All a Twitter

The devil made me do it, really.

I have added another social networking site to my life.

The devil, by the way, is named Tim Laubacher.

I called him out in a blog post yesterday for not using Facebook or MySpace.

His retort suggested that he was, indeed, using Twitter, which appears to be a stripped-down social networking site that has only status updates.

In my never-ending quest to learn more about "new" media, I signed up for Twitter. You can now follow me there if you are deathly bored and care what I am up to.

You can also follow me via Twitter on the little box in my sidebar (likely down and to the right).

I'm still not sure how this helps my life, but it has caused me to learn how to update my Facebook status using SMS text messages, so that is a bonus.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Juno Blankets Social Networking Sites

The released-today DVD Juno is on my mind ... especially since there was an ad on MySpace this morning and a free Juno "gift" to give on Facebook this morning.

Apparently social networking site users are the target market.

Advertising executives such as Tim Laubacher would never know about this since they have an irrational phobia of social networking sites.

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Affordable College: Just around the Corner

My educational career -- as with so many facets of my life -- is full of starts, stops, and direction changes.

At the end of the day, I am very happy about where I sit professionally, so those fits and starts were worth it. Garth Brooks sings a song with the line, "Some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers."

I'm not sure about all that, but I do believe in the sentiment. We're often better off for not having gotten what we originally wanted -- especially if we are able to use the process as a learning experience.

Reading today's New York Times online, I ran across a story titled, "Fewer Options Open to Pay for Costs of College."

The story caused me to reflect upon my own education, which has spanned from community colleges to the Ivy League. I started college as a pre-medical student, and I ended with a joint Ph.D. in mass communications and cognitive science from a Big Ten research university (Indiana). The journey has been anything but linear.

After I was done with high school (itself a tale for another day), I worked at my family's advertising agency in Kansas City for a time before college. I was also part of another brief family business venture. Then one day, I decided it was time for college.

Close to two decades have passed since that day, but I can remember driving down a particular stretch of highway talking it over with then-girlfriend, now-wife, Emily. As she has always been, she was supportive.

I wanted to attend the University of Kansas, but the admissions deadline for Fall 1991 already had passed. So I enrolled at Johnson County (Kan.) Community College.

As with so many happenstance events in my life, luck followed me to JCCC. It's one of the top community colleges in the country, and I cannot imagine a better first semester in college. Rather than massive lecture halls, I took introductory courses in small groups with dedicated teachers.

Early in spring semester 1992, my dad was offered -- and accepted -- a new job in Phoenix, Arizona. That July we moved to Phoenix. Once again, my timing was off, and Emily and I had missed the deadline to apply to Arizona State University.

It took a little bit of searching (remember no Internet then), but we discovered that Paradise Valley Community College was a little more than 4 miles from our north Scottsdale home, whereas ASU was more than 15 miles away. In addition, tuition was half price at PVCC.

Although we intended to transfer after a year, we simply enjoyed PVCC too much to leave. We had great instructors, the campus was brand-new, and we didn't seem to miss the big-time athletics typical of universities such as Indiana, where I would eventually earn my doctorate.

We completed the first two years of our undergraduate education with no class more than (I estimate from memory) 29 other students. Many of our instructors were still working on their doctorates, but they seemed genuinely interested in teaching. I never once sensed that I was an obligation keeping a professor away from research.

During these two years, Emily and I paid the bulk of our own tuition, and we did so with minimal student loans. I got at least one scholarship along the way, and there probably would have been more had we taken time to apply.

Fast forward to Fall 2001 when I started doctoral work at Cornell University, one of eight Ivy League universities. I took one joint seminar in psychology that mixed graduate students and upper-division undergraduates. So I got a first-hand peek at Ivy League undergraduate education.

I no longer have exact numbers, but tuition at Cornell was dozens of times greater than Paradise Valley. Yet there is no way that the education was dozens of times better. In many cases -- especially large lecture halls -- it surely was worse.

Yet the Ivy Leagues remain the gold standard, and two-year colleges are the pariah of higher education. If you open almost any issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education, you will find some variation of an article addressing this status difference of two-year schools.

To me it seems ludicrous to read that article in the same week that the New York Times talks about the difficulties paying for education.

I am a professor at Texas Tech University. Thus I have some vested interested in recruitment to Tech. But I would have a difficult time encouraging a high school senior to attend a university of this size (nothing about Tech in particular).

If you want to be a famous academic, then it would really behoove you to study with the top researchers in the field. This is most easily accomplished at the Ivy League schools, but top public institutions, such as University of Texas and The Ohio State University also have more top scholars than mid-size universities.

You get what you pay for. Tuition at OSU is close to double Tech's rate. So does this position the mid-size four-year university (such as Tech) as the bargain choice? No. Because 360 miles southwest of here lies New Mexico State University, where Emily and I eventually earned our bachelor's degrees. Tuition there is about half what it is here.

And your neighborhood community college tuition is about half of NMSU.

The main difference between Tech and NMSU? Tech's football team wins more often. And sadly -- and without realizing it -- this is how too many high school students choose a university.

Murray Sperber outlines this case brilliantly in the book, Beer and Circus: How Big-Time College Sports is Crippling Undergraduate Education.

I attended two of the better community colleges in the nation. Both were a result of missed deadlines. But both were great choices. My wife and I got excellent educations, and we did so with a minimum of student loan debt (that came from graduate school).

I feel for families who struggle to pay for college. This may be a real concern for me one day, as I have four kids. But perhaps I worry more for the family who goes into massive debt for 6 Saturdays in the fall, when Junior can watch the home team. Because undergraduate education need not necessarily be tied to Beer and Circus.

Instead affordable education -- and small class size -- is probably just around the corner. Sure, the Greek life will suffer, and the student union probably is a bit smaller. But you'll save thousands and probably learn more. And I think that is supposed to be the goal.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

I Love Spring; I Hate Spring

Why does this beautiful weather have to come at the craziest time of the academic year?

So much sunshine outside. So much work to keep me inside.

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Home Town Ends 20 Year Title Drought

I have a very weird relationship with televised sports.

Mostly, I hate watching sports. This is because I am insanely competitive, yet I can do nothing to influence the outcome of a sporting event.

So watching a favored team play is much like laying on a bed of nails, or at least that is what I imagine. It hurts.

During most high-pressure sporting events, I just keep thinking "I want this to be over. I just want to know who wins." I also yell, scream and occasionally throw things. And I don't drink much, so I cannot even blame the beer.

Really I hate the anguish.

But I watch anyway.

The search function on this blog does not work as well as I like, but I am sure that I have told this story before (one part here). Growing up, I attended Pembroke Country Day School in Kansas City, which later became The Pembroke Hill School. The school is located, literally on State Line Road in Kansas City, Mo. However, I used to park my car in a school parking lot located across the street in Mission Woods, Kan.

Since it's a private school, students come from both sides of the state line. This created an intense rivalry between fans of the Missouri Tigers and the Kansas Jayhawks. If there were any fans of the K-State Wildcats (where I would subsequently earn a master's degree), I was not aware of it at the time.

Parsing my allegiance is no easy task. I was born in Missouri, but I came home from the hospital to Kansas. My first driver's license was in Kansas, as was my first job. I earned my first college credit in Kansas, and if not for a complete lack of talent, I once intended to walk on to the KU football team.

So, mostly I am a Kansan. And I grew up a Jayhawk hoops fan.

The blossomed, not surprisingly, in 1988 when KU won the national title at home at Kansas City's Kemper Arena.

This national title came fewer than three years after the Royals won the world series.

It was a good time to be a teen-age sports fan in Kansas City.

Little did I know that it would begin a drought of two decades.

By my account, the Chiefs have suffered early playoff defeats after three 13-3 seasons. The Royals have won about 12 games since 1985, and Kansas State found a way to will themselves out of the national title game in 1998.

Derrick Thomas died following a stupid no-seatbelt automobile accident.

The NCAA left town.

Buck O'Neill got shafted by the baseball hall of fame.

And Roy. Oh, Roy.

Roy's a whole separate chapter of therapy.

Roy found new ways to break hearts in Kansas. He cried every March. And despite conference titles, Final Four appearances, and an embarrassment of McDonald's All-Americans, the NCAA title evaded Roy.

I was living in Manhattan, Kan., in 2000. That was the first time the University of North Carolina came calling. For what seemed like an eternity, I was glued to the Internet. Would Roy stay or would Roy go?

He stayed. And he said he'd retire a Jayhawk. Retire. His word. Not mine.

Three years later, he bolted after another of his Kansas teams choked to Syracuse in the 2003 title game.

If you're not from Kansas City, you'll never understand. Or maybe you will. Maybe you're from someplace you love that other people make fun of. Maybe you've explained 100 times that, yes, the streets are paved.

Kansas City is not No. 1 in a lot of things. Barbecue, yes. But we have Kansas Basketball. The first coach was the guy who invented the game. Invented! James Naismith if you're scoring at home. He was followed by Phog Allen. Dean Smith played there. Many others.

So when Roy jilted Kansas, I cannot quite explain the emotion. I felt the ultimate betrayal.

Follow the logic.

Dean Smith was a Kansas boy. He played at Kansas. He got a job coaching at North Carolina. He built his own program. When Kansas called, he said "no."

Roy Williams was a North Carolina boy. He played at North Carolina. He got a job coaching Kansas. He built his own program. When North Carolina called, he should have said "no."

But he didn't.

And it would have hurt if he had left in 2000, but he said he was going to "retire" at Kansas. No one forced him to say that. And one thing about how I was raised in Kansas City: I was taught that my word meant something.

Even worse was watching Williams win the title at UNC in 2005. I even watched in person when Roy came to town and beat my Indiana Hoosiers.

Some of that pain was exorcised when Kansas punished North Carolina in the 2008 national semifinals. For a long time against Memphis, I thought that revenge against Williams was going to have to be good enough. The Jayhawks seemed content to have exorcised a few demons.

Every call seemed to go against Kansas until Joey Dorsey fouled out. Then Mario Chalmers hit the 3 that no Jayhawk will ever forget to send the game into overtime after being down 9 with just more than 2 minutes remaining.

Overtime had its drama after KU built a small lead. There was failure to block out after a free throw (Lou Henson was surely thinking of 1989 if he was in attendance). Then a slip out-of-bounds. Really? An elite collegiate athlete, and all you have to do is remain vertical, but no?!?!?!?

In the end, the 20 year drought ends. Kansas wins its 3rd national title, and my home town's drought is over.

This might even be worse, however. I went into Monday's game assured that there was no way a Kansas City area team could win. They never did.

Now my hopes are up.

The Royals are off to a fast start. How soon until they end my sure-to-be-short-lived optimism?

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Monday, April 07, 2008

Oil Prices Drop, Gas Follows ... or Not

This morning I read on CNN.com that oil prices have dropped considerably since Friday.

So, of course, I saw a change in prices at the pumps on the way to work.


Wait ... what?

That's funny because when I read a story about the price of oil going up, the pumps always show an immediate increase.

Nah, those gasoline folks aren't unethical scum. Not at all.

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Saturday, April 05, 2008

Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk: On to Title Game

I won't go into the details of my history as a Kansas basketball fan tonight.

But it is sweet to see traitor Roy Williams suffer defeat!

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Value Menus: Bad Health and Bad Business

I've been thinking about food advertising a lot lately. Bad thoughts.

On Saturday I moderated a panel on Food and Diet Advertising at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Advertising in San Mateo, Calif. Five excellent papers were presented, and the picture is grim.

Recently former Indiana colleagues of mine from Indiana University performed a large-scale content analysis on food advertising.

In May, my lab group and other Texas Tech colleagues will present research on rural Hispanics and diabetes at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association in Montreal, Canada.

During that research project, we learned that fast food value menu items were a substantial cause of problem. Unfortunately for public health, value menus solve two problems: time and money.

You can eat quickly and inexpensively on the dollar menu. Unfortunately, it's bad for your health.

All of which is a long introduction to explain the joy I had today when I opened the Advertising Age that came in the mail to see the headline "Value Menus Cost Operators Dearly: Burger King franchisee in New York shutters stores, blames dollar offerings."

Thousands of people will die prematurely -- and society will pay countless dollars in public health bills -- because of these value menus. I am glad to see that value menus are becoming bad business for the franchisees.

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