Friday, September 30, 2005

Sweet Relief

I just got back from a meeting with my dissertation committee chair, and I feel GREAT about my dissertation. I was able to finish the first draft of my proposal last night (start picking out your tattoo design, Kari), and met with my chair to review it and talk about how I can improve it before presenting to my committee at the end of October. (By the way, I set a date for my proposal defense: October 28.)

Overall, she said that she was very impressed and did not see any major obstacles that would prevent anyone on my committee from approving my proposal. Nothing could have sounded any better to me. Of course, she suggested a few changes and wanted to read it more thoroughly before offering more advise, but overall, she believes that my purpose, theory, and structure is sound, which is the primary criteria when approving a dissertation proposal.

Even if my committee does approve it, that approval will almost certainly be contingent upon certain changes, but I can handle that. In fact, I would expect and welcome that. My greatest fear all along, based on the horror stories of some of my colleagues, was that my committee would take one look at my proposal and say, "You aren't ready to do this research. START OVER!!" I've never been through this process. I don't know about the intricate details that they expect. After today's meeting, however, I feel much better that they will see the hard work I've put into the study and the vigilance and integrity with which I've constructed the project. If my chair, who is notoriously pessimistic, says that she doesn't see any major problems, then I can't help but feel optimistic.

Now, I just need to implement the changes we discussed today (I should get that done this afternoon) and get it to my committee members. While I will still be very nervous on October 28, now I can say that I will also be completely confident in my work. Whew!

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

[Passions Take Many Forms] Song tag

Thanks, Kyle. Here you are. It gave me an excuse to post on this blog, which has really been neglected lately.

Five songs I'm currently into (no particular order):

1.      "The Advantages of Floating in the Middle of the Sea" and other songs from Sondheim's Pacific Overtures (Broadway OCR, but I'm considering getting the Broadway Revival recording)

2.      Christopher O'Riley's cover of Radiohead's "Paranoid Android" (and most of the rest of the album Hold Me to This)

3.      I. "Gandalf" ("The Wizard") from the Lord of the Rings Symphony (no relation to the recent movies) by composer Johan de Meij and performed by the Dutch Royal Military Band

4.      III. "Gollum" ("Smeagol") from same as #3

5.      "Queen Bitch" by David Bowie from The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou movie soundtrack

I'm also listening to a lot of Beck and Radiohead in general. I've also gotten into listening to Podcasts, but that's a whole other game of tag.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

On John Roberts and the Supreme Court

Because of the impending cases related to marriage, family, and the civil liberties inherent to each, I thought it would be appropriate to write about my thoughts on Roberts and the Supreme Court in general. Sorry it turned out so long, but I wanted to fully convey my stance.

Make no mistake. I am a liberal democrat who usually supports the liberal agenda and liberal causes, but I must respectfully disagree with many liberals who oppose the appointment of John Roberts to the Supreme Court. The reason is simple: Seats on the Supreme Court are not political positions, and they should not be addressed as political positions. We should not support or oppose nominees in the same way that we support or oppose political candidates (i.e. their stances on various issues) because judges and elected officials have two completely different charges.

Of course, I'm not naive enough to think that politics do not come into play when selecting justices or even in the justices decisions once they are on the bench. That is where the imperfections in the system lie. But that does not mean that we should usher in full-scale political involvement into the process. They are charged with the duty to remain politically neutral when hearing and deciding cases, regardless of their personal beliefs.

Maybe I should explain where I'm coming from. The Supreme Court was originally designed, and still largely exists today, as an independent moderator of law and policy. They are not elected, at least in part, because it does not matter what their personal views are. Their past writings and decisions are irrelevant. The only thing that matters is how they came to their decisions. Did they use clearly articulated legal precedent? Were their rulings appropriate given the statutes and the cases presented to them? When selecting a Supreme Court nominee, your agenda should be to choose someone who will interpret the law (specifically, the Constitution) as objectively and clearly as possible, with no regard to personal beliefs (acknowledging that this is an ideal, not real, circumstance). Ideally, the Court should not lean left or right on average, but be right in the middle, which is where the existing law is, whether the law is right or wrong.

I think Sandra Day O'Connor is an excellent example of this. She was a relatively conservative justice nominated by a conservative president who turned into a moderate judge. What changed? Did she change her beliefs? Maybe, but it's not likely. Rather, the kinds of cases she saw and the decisions she came to were guided by her attempts at objectively interpreting the Constitution, not what she may or may not have believed.

On the other hand, however, is Antonin Scalia, who seems to put his personal beliefs into every decision he writes. I sometimes wonder if he has even read parts of the Constitution. When Roberts was nominated for Chief Justice, I initially wondered why Bush hadn't nominated Scalia. He certainly would have had a "conservative activist" where he wanted him. Then I realized that Scalia would never have been confirmed. He is an obivous example of a juctice whose personal beliefs influence his decisions, and everyone knows it. (He might not have been confirmed for Associate Justice at all if the confirmation of Rehnquist for Chief Justice hadn't taken all of the national attention and scrutiny.)

What especially irritates me about the opposition to John Roberts's nomination is that many opponents are bringing up briefings and other writings from his days as an attorney as "proof" that he is unfit to serve on the Court. I don't think that should hold too much weight because the job of an attorney and the job of a judge are completely different. The attorney has an agenda to prove their case at any cost. They are allowed, even encouraged, to use their own beliefs and personal investment in cases. Judges, however, are charged with the duty to be neutral. They must interpret the law and rule on what is written, not what they believe.

As far as I can tell, Judge Roberts has done a very good job of showing that despite his conservative personal beliefs, he does his best to decide each case based on the letter of the law. I certainly have no reason to believe this would change when he is confirmed by the Senate. He will not be indebted to Bush, Delay, or any sort of constituency, although I'm sure Bush would prefer to have some sway with Roberts on the Court.

Of course, I could be completely wrong. All of us could be. In the end, you can't get a good idea of what kind of justice a particular nominee will be until he or she gets on the court. (Just look at David Souter and Anthony Kennedy as examples of justices that turned out to be very different than originally believed.) Their past decisions can only tell you how they came to their decisions, which is the most important information. The good justices try to temper their personal beliefs. Yes, John Roberts' personal beliefs are much more conservative than my own, and he isn't my first choice for a justice, but what kind of nominee did we expect with Bush as president? I just hope that he will temper his personal beliefs as he interprets the Constitution, and his confirmation hearings lead me to believe he will do so better than most. Besides, he is replacing arguably the second most conservative justice on the bench (Rehnquist-- Scalia being the most conservative). The real concern is over who will replace the moderate O'Connor. Will the Court's centrist bloc continue to grow (as it should), or will it begin to move to the right (or even the left)? Only time will tell.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Now performing on the main stage, Aidan Martin!!!

I realized that I haven't posted anything about Aidan and Regan in a while, so I thought I would showcase Aidan's performing abilities. He has learned "Old MacDonald" and "The ABC Song" pretty well now, and the two mp3 files below really showcase his talents. He definitely acquired the performing gene. I know I'm bragging, but I'm very proud of him, and a father can brag.

  • So if you want to hear a very good rendition of "ABCs", click here.
  • And if you want to hear Aidan's special rendition of "Old MacDonald", click here. (I swear that he was not coached or directed in any way. He came up with this all on his own.)
  • As a bonus, check out this WAV to use as a Windows sound (I don't know if this one works on Macs). Guess what he did that made Kari gasp. I'll give you a hint: He was taking a bath at the time.
And because I know you want them, here are some pictures:

We got this new bike trailer so I could take the kids to child care. Is it just me, or does this remind you of old pictures of immigrants coming to America? (Despite the look on his face Aidan absolutely loves riding in this; Regan tolerates it.)

Aidan and Regan in the bike trailer

Regan with the blanket that Jackie Fuller made for her (Thanks Jackie!)

Regan and her quilt from Jackie Fuller

The whole family on the porch of our new house (after church about a week ago)

Jason, Regan, Aidan, and Kari on the front porch

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Why I don't shop at Wal-mart

ACU Optimist Online - Wal-mart not so friendly after all

As I took a short break from my dissertation to eat lunch today, I was very pleased to see this article from The Optimist, the student newspaper at my alma mater, Abilene Christian University. It seems that The Optimist, or at least one editorial writer, has become aware of the unethical business practices and local community squeeze that Wal-mart uses to make their prices so low. She very accurately and convincingly illustrates the true cost of Wal-mart's low prices. They squeeze manufactures to lower their prices, often forcing costly outsourcing. They squeeze their employees, primarily women, to accept sub-standard wages, benefits and working conditions. And they squeeze local competition, which might cost slightly more, but usually has better customer service, better products, and a greater benefit to the local economy.

As an advocate for the desperately poor and destitute, I can't blame everyone for shopping there, however. I understand that when you can barely buy milk, bread, medication, and make the monthly rent, consumer high-ground doesn't hold much weight. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs certainly comes into play. But for everyone else (and I include myself, even though my family and I are on the tightest of tight budgets), I urge you not to shop at Wal-mart or Sam's Club. Do all of the other research you need. Visit to get even more detailed information. In the end, you will see that the low prices come at a huge price, a price that affects all of us whether we realize it or not. Then, shop at Target, Meijer's, Krogers, Costco, local grocery stores and discount stores, and other businesses that know you don't have to sacrifice humanity and ethical conduct to do business the right way.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Drop a TRAIN on 'em!

I am determined to not let this dissertation beat me. I have made a commitment (a "bargain", if you will) with Kari designed to motivate me enough to finish the proposal by the end of the month. She has said that she would get a small, discreet tattoo if I can finish the proposal by September 30. I've wanted to get matching tattoos for years, but she has wanted nothing to do with it.

The joke is on her, however. I have made a strong commitment to getting this finished because it has gone on for too long. If I don't make this deadline, it will essentially create a domino effect of delays that might prevent me from graduating in May, and that CANNOT happen. So I have all of the motivation I need. Kari has agreed to give me as much time to work before the 30th as I need. The only thing to do is to get it done. So, here we go.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Politics over policy

For the last two weeks, I've spent at least some amount of time every day working on legislative issues for the Michigan Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (MAMFT). I work for the MAMFT President, and I willingly agreed to do what I could to help her advance the MFT profession in Michigan. We are attempting to clarify the scope of practice for MFTs to better reflect what we do and how we are trained. As the MFT licensure law currently stands, it does not mention anything about doing psychotherapy, working with individuals, or assessment/diagnosis/treatment of mental/emotional/behavioral disorders. We are trained and experienced in each of those, but the law does not reflect it. Therefore, we are often unable to bill for these services and in some cases, we can't even see the client. Obviously, we're doing everything we can to change this, but we have been met with more resistance than I had anticipated.

It seems that a few other mental health professional groups (mainly the psychologists and social workers) do not think that this law should pass. They have problems with this because:

  1. They do not believe we are trained to treat individuals. (We are. The title "marriage and family therapist" may be misleading, but it refers to our theoretical approach, not scope of practice."
  2. They do not think we are trained to do psychotherapy. (Frankly, if we aren't trained to do psychotherapy, then what are we trained to do? Psychotherapy in its various forms is PRIMARILY how we are trained.)
  3. They do not think we are trained to assess, diagnose, and treat mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. (This is the big one. They are pointing to the social workers' training in psychopathology as the minimum standard for this. After thoroughly researching those requirements and comparing them to the requirements for MFTs, however, I can confidently state that we not only meet, but exceed those standards. After all, what were all of those classes on psychopathology and DSM diagnosis for?)

Essentially, we aren't trying to overstep our qualifications or get an advantage over other mental health professionals. Rather, we are simply attempting to get the State of Michigan to legally acknowledge what it is we do, which would give us legitimacy in the state in the eyes of many Michiganers.

We believe that this is good policy, but we are being met with the politics that exist in the world. The social workers and psychologists hold a lot of sway with some key state senators (for instance, the chair of the senate committee that we must go through was the sponsor of social work's recent licensure bill). Those key Senators, while very forthright and well-meaning, are faced with whether to adhere to the politics of the issue (social work and psychology have much larger constituencies) or the policy, which we believe we support with irrefutable evidence.

This has shown me a lot about the political system. I don't mean to sound like I'm blaming government or even the legislative system. I'm not. I understand that they are trying to do what is in the best interest of all the people, not just a relatively small group of MFTs. I just wish that the facts and the truth could win out over the politics and conflict. And maybe it will, but it will be a much larger struggle than it should be.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Theory and Practice

Since I began my internship at Ingham Regional, I have been met with a number of different challenges. None of these challenges are without merit; in fact, I expect that they will necessarily make me a better therapist and professional. One challenge relates to the way I use my practice. For the last three years (i.e. since I came to MSU), I haven't really been challenged to clinically apply the theoretical models that often conceptualize and direct the therapeutic process. This hasn't always been a problem, but it has given me the sense that therapy is not always as productive as it could be.

In supervision a week and a half ago, I was challenge by my supervisor to apply various theories, some of which I hadn't even thought of in years, to a particular case. This was stressful, because I couldn't always remember the various nuances of the theory. Afterwards, I made a commitment to be more theory-driven. I learned the theories, and for a time I practiced them, but I had fallen out of that practice. Of course, this makes me a better therapist by virtue of the fact that I have a road map. As a postmodern theorist, it is the collaborative nature of the therapeutic relationship that brings about change, but it is the road map that the client provides and we both interpret that gets us where we need to go. I don't change the client, and the "advice" I give (I would balk at that word anyway) doesn't change the client either. It is the co-created reality that we share in therapy that brings about change. That is an important lesson to keep in mind.

Saturday, September 10, 2005


I had never heard of Podcasts until this past July when I read an article about Christian Podcasting in our denominational magazine. Now, I hear about them everywhere. ABC News, NPR, ESPN, and every Joe Schmo now has a Podcast.

So, What is a Podcast? It is a pre-recorded radio show that you can download to your computer (or your mp3 player, such as an iPod, hence the name) and listen to at your own leisure. They are great for when you want to listen to particular genres of talk (or some music) radio, but you aren't near an internet connection or radio.

Podcasts cover every topic imaginable and can be as specialized as you want. Also, with the technology being largely free and easy to operate, anyone can create and maintain a Podcast.

I use iTunes to subscribe and manage my Podcasts (all for free), but there are plenty of other programs out there too. So what Podcasts do I listen to? Here is a sample:

  • StarStruck: A Houston Astros Podcast
  • Shrink Rap Radio: A Psychology talk and interview show
  • NPR's Sunday Puzzle
  • NPR's All Songs Considered (FYI, NPR has a ton of material available as a Podcast)
  • NOVA scienceNOW
  • MLB Radio Daily
  • Downstage Center by the American Theatre Wing (A theatre talk and interview program)

You can find out more about Podcasting here.
Learn how to create your own Podcast here.
Get some tips on how to run your Podcast here (although it's written to use with the program "GarageBand", it's helpful regardless of the program you use).
Of course, there are multitudes of other resources out there, but these can get you started.

And if anyone out there knows of other good Podcasts that I might be interested in, please let me know.