The recent Supreme Court decision concerning gay marriage came as a surprise to many on both sides of the debate. I myself had forgotten that such a case was still before the high court. But there it was, a five-four edict that brought with it instant societal change. The decision was a troubling one, not because of what it says about marriage or homosexual rights, but because of what it says about the childish, demanding ways of twenty-first century Americans.

Like most societies, America took the one-man, one-woman thing in marriage for granted. Some cultures are fine with polygamy, but until about fifteen years ago, I had not heard of any state-approved same-sex marriages. Yet even if history is on the side of traditional marriage, institutions, whether rightly or wrongly, do change over time. Interracial unions were frowned upon in the early decades of this nation, but demographics show that they are quickly becoming the standard for husbands and wives. That the definition of marriage would change can be shocking, but not completely unexpected. Women can vote, prohibition has come and gone, and cable TV is giving way to online methods of entertainment. Big changes happen all the time.

Such changes typically come with upheaval and conflict, with at least one side kicking and screaming the entire time. In dealing with the slavery issue, for example, America’s Founders understood that the elimination of that peculiar institution would bring with it economic, agricultural, relational, and political transformations, and perhaps even violent, bloody war. George Mason, a member of the 1787 Constitutional Convention and himself a slaveholder, warned of future trauma borne out of the slave trade and the push to eliminate it: “Providence punishes national sins by national calamities.” The association between wholesale change and societal disruption was no surprise to those who had just come through a decisive, even revolutionary, war with England.

But today’s society changers no longer speak of trauma. The current generation suffers from the delusion that massive societal change is by default trouble-free. “Fundamentally transforming the United States of America” is now declared at the highest levels as a right, and one that should not raise a single disagreeing eyebrow. An era of relative peace, financial comfort, and happy endings has dulled us to the reality that life is complex, and change is hard. Instead, when things we don’t like threaten to unnerve us, we impose solutions that maintain inner peace at the expense of reason.

Conflict avoidance stunts the intellect, preventing us from grappling with life’s most difficult challenges. This risk-averse stance is a major reason for the nation’s large financial debt; throwing borrowed money at a problem is less jarring than battling over no-win divisive issues. The Supreme Court’s action on gay marriage took away the need for Americans on either side of the issue to think deeply about the why of marriage equality, or to think at all. The saddest aspect of this is that many Americans find the elimination of intellectual rigor to be an overall benefit.

Those who supported the court’s decision do not believe in the core tenants of representative democracy and its need for an educated electorate. Instead, they support a representative dictatorship, an environment where difficult political and societal concerns always have one, simple, unchanging solution, and that solution is mandated by national leaders. Anyone who doubts the wisdom of a declaration is branded a bigot, or worse, stupid. It’s the reason that the White House was able to express its agreement with the high court decision so comfortably with a lighted neener-neener display of rainbow colors.

Gay marriage is a contentious issue, as it should be. It’s new, untried, challenging, and a little shocking for a large swath of the American public. That doesn’t automatically mean that it’s wrong. But it does mean that its introduction will—and should—come with some level of angst and turmoil. That arguments arise as to its validity should come as no surprise. But arguments are not harmful. Debating worldviews is healthy, and historically American. Fiat declarations that cheat us out of the growth and maturity that comes of conflict are not.

[Image Credits: The White House]

This article was posted on July 6, 2015. Related articles: Commentary, , , .

Footnotes for “Why Instant Societal Change Sucks”

  1. Millions of Americans were acutely aware that marriage equality was before the Supreme Court and have been waiting for some time for the acknowledgement that they, like other Americans, deserve the right to marry the person they love whenever and wherever they wish. Yes, this change should be met with rational thought. I am not sure that angst and turmoil are necessary.

  2. I don’t believe that angst and turmoil are necessary either. I’m not fretting that much over the particulars of the decision. But there does seem to be a level of gloating by some over the decision that wasn’t just a “We’re so excited because we won” response, but instead a “We won, and everyone who opposed us is an idiot and deserves to be ridiculed” response.

    My core concern was not with the case itself, but with the process of introducing societal change in America. The 50 states were well on their way to making gay marriage the law of the land. Many of them, like the Supreme Court, did so through fiat decision, but others did so properly through the legislative process. While there was ebb and flow on the issue, I think that over time, all states would have legalized gay marriage anyway, and in a way that was less dictatorial.

  3. I agree that there is gloating. It has been all over the media and it may seem as though I am part of it myself, though that is not my intention. For those who have religious beliefs that are in direct conflict with this decision, I am sorry and I am trying to understand how troubling this might be. The worst thing we can do is condemn those who we perceive as rigid and then turn around and do the same ourselves. I try to remind myself of this when I begin to think I have the only answer.

    Marriage equality is an issue about which I feel strongly. Those of us who are very close to gay individuals know the struggles they already face. My reaction to this decision and, perhaps, that of some of those who appear to be gloating, is joy. It is joy for those I love. In my mind, these are fine, highly moral individuals who deserve respect and freedom.

  4. The fifty states may have been on their way to making marriage equality the law, but I don’t believe this was guaranteed. What about states that might not have agreed? Should couples living in those states have to give up on the idea of marriage? Should they have to move to another state?

  5. Not guaranteed, but likely. On all big issues, all states have eventually come to agreement, either through natural societal change, federal legislation, civil war (in one case), or constitutional amendment. Long ago, the answer to “should they have to move to another state” would have been, “Of course.” The 14th Amendment (especially its equal protection clause) and the judicial extensions that came from it changed that viewpoint, not just for social issues like marriage, but on business and political issues as well. Such is the nature of national politics.

    I think that federal regulations, in large part, made the gay marriage issue much more contentious than it needed to be. Thanks to HIPAA, IRS regulations about who can share income, child adoption rules, and other similar privacy and relational mandates, marriage equality became a need, not just to be happy, but to deal with so much red tape.

  6. My view about this issue is simplistic, I know. Still, I am firm in my belief.

  7. Tim, you should have done a book report on S. Coontz, “Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage” (Penguin 2005). I don’t know whether Justice Kennedy is on GoodReads, but evidently he did.

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C#-Visual Basic Bilingual Dictionary

My latest book, the C#-Visual Basic Bilingual Dictionary, is now available for you to enjoy! This reference work documents all features of the C# and Visual Basic programming languages, and provides example source code showing how to use each feature in the other language. It’s like a French-English bilingual dictionary, but for .NET developers!

You can purchase the book today from Amazon.com and other online retailers. The text is available in a handsome 448-page paperback edition, or in equally handsome EPUB and MOBI ebook formats. To get a full list of stores, visit my new publishing web site, Owani Press. Or, enjoy this description from the book’s back cover.

Built on Microsoft’s powerful .NET Framework, C# and Visual Basic are complete equals in terms of coding power and application development possibilities. In today’s multi-platform environment, an understanding of both languages is a job requirement. The C#-Visual Basic Bilingual Dictionary unifies the languages by providing clear, functional equivalents for all syntax and grammar differences.

  • Complete coverage of all language keywords. Nearly 900 dictionary-like entries cover every Visual Basic and C# keyword and grammar feature, including VB’s “My” namespace.
  • Examples in both languages. Hundreds of code samples in both C# and Visual Basic make translations between the languages clear and easy to understand.
  • Full support for Roslyn. Each chapter covers the latest language features from Visual Studio 2015 and Microsoft’s “Roslyn” compiler.

Whether you work on a team that uses both languages, or just need to understand a technical article written in that “other” language, the C#-Visual Basic Bilingual Dictionary is an essential resource for developers crafting Microsoft software solutions.

To jump to the Amazon.com page for the book right now, click here.

This article was posted on May 31, 2015. Related articles: Other Books, Technology, , , , .

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Top NBC news anchor Brian Williams lied in public, and now he has to spend the next six months in solitary news confinement. If his lies were an exercise in self-aggrandizement, as seems to be the buzz, then it’s hard to feel sorry for his plight.

Despite his troubles, Mr. Williams’ actions don’t really have much of an impact on how I experience the nightly news. His alleged lies were about his own actions on the sides of news stories. His false claim that Iraqi baddies shot at his helicopter didn’t alter the reality that War Is Hell, or change the fact that good soldiers are shot down with depressing frequency. An inaccurate quip on his arrival at the felling of the Berlin Wall puts him in a bad light, but it has no impact on the victory over tyranny that the Wall’s destruction meant to those behind the Iron Curtain.

Williams’ fibs are bad news for news, but there is a worse trend in modern reporting, one where a reporter’s lies stem not from self-interest, but from a clear break with reality. Consider one report from the 2014 election a few months back. In the online article, “GOP takeover: Republicans surge to Senate control,” AP reporters David Espo and Robert Furlow tried to explain the surprising electoral outcome that saw strong Republican victories across the nation. In a bit of predictable spin, the reporters opined that “a majority of those [voters responding to exit polls] supported several positions associated with Democrats or Obama rather than Republicans—saying immigrants in the country illegally should be able to work, backing U.S. military involvement against Islamic State fighters, and agreeing that climate change is a serious problem.” (Emphasis added.)

I get the parts about climate change and illegal aliens. Democratic officials frequently offer up these two issues as key planks in their legislative agenda. But “backing U.S. military involvement against Islamic State fighters”? That can’t be right. The current Democratic president ran for office in part on his promise to rid Iraq of its pesky American military presence. He has changed his tune a bit with the rise of ISIS. But even in his recent request to Congress concerning his plan for battling ISIS, President Obama went out of his way to state that his formal military request did not represent a return to troops on the ground. Military might in Iraq is not typically associated with the Democratic Party; it’s viewed as a Republican thing, and has been at least since Bush’s infamous “Mission Accomplished” message back in 2003.

The AP entrusted these two reporters with communicating one of the most important news stories of election week, and they blew it. The authors of the article were either woefully ignorant of party views on foreign affairs in this country over the past decade, or willfully deceptive in communicating the state of those same views. In either case, it does much more damage to news reporting than any of Brian Williams’ verbal escapades. Even if the AP story was an innocent mistake, it went unchallenged and uncorrected by that news organization, and their web site still includes the errant content.

The problem is not just with these reporters. It’s with readers who will pass by the statement with nary a thought as to its veracity. The polarization of this age has produced a generation of weak-willed news consumers who demand reporting that confirms their prejudices. Republicans (or Democrats, depending on one’s political bent) are evil, and news stories must confirm that. Obama (or Bush) is a hack and a sell-out, and any story that deviates from that narrative is verboten. There is a modern insistence that all the trouble in the world be personally trouble-free, that reporting not ruffle the feathers of news consumers lest they should have to react and turn the channel or click away from the web site.

And so military action in Iraq becomes a Democratic hallmark, because it jives with the sensibilities of a reporter or an audience who know in their hearts that this president, and only this president, has always had the right response to Islamic aggression. The facts are irrelevant; this is news! This isn’t a case of political disagreement. It’s a situation where disagreement doesn’t exist because a political viewpoint is deemed the only that that can ever be classified as real. Not just true or right, but real.

Poor Brian Williams. Despite his flaws, he seemed genuinely interested in being the best talking head in the industry. This charge might mean the end of his career, but probably not. In a world that values perceived reality above facts, Williams might be the new poster child for news reporting.

[Image Credits: NBC News]

This article was posted on February 16, 2015. Related articles: Commentary, , .

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Graduation Cap

Purchasing and maintaining a home has always been a major cost for American families. The “Great American Dream” is a dream precisely because the effort and funds needed to buy a home go beyond the mundane. But in recent years, two new expenses—healthcare costs and college tuition—have risen to Great American Dream levels thanks to politicians who think that wishes and hopes are more dependable than basic economics.

We’re only a month or so into 2015, and President Obama has already taken the prize for the biggest lack of understanding about how prices work. In his State of the Union speech on January 20, the President called for a new federal strategy that would “lower the cost of community college to zero.” His goal is admirable: increase job prospects for America’s high school graduates by providing more education without the burden of tuition. He even had an example young couple there in the audience, Rebekah and Ben, who were suffering under the heavy weight of student loans. The program, if enacted, would certainly benefit some anecdotal youths like Rebekah and Ben. But it would not “lower the cost of community college.” In fact, it would do the very opposite.

As you might recall from your free enterprise classes back in high school, prices are driven by supply and demand. When the supply of some item increases or demand decreases, the price goes down. Conversely, when an item is scarce or demand increases beyond current supply levels, prices go up. My college political science professor described price increases as “too many dollars chasing too few goods.” Monopolistic practices or a weekend sale can override a default price temporarily, but the overall ebb and flow of prices are still driven by the quantity of a product or service, and the number of buyers who want it.

The President’s plan to make community college free will increase costs because it will increase demand without adjusting supply. His goal, naturally, is to enhance the number of community college students. In economic terms, the goal is to increase the demand for community college courses. If the number of courses and professors rises to meet the demand, the price will remain stable. But without that increase in course supply, the price has nowhere to go but up. It’s true that individual students might not have to pay the fees to cover these price increases, but the price will increase nonetheless, because demand increased. As with any government program, the taxpayers will bear the costs. And not just current costs, but the new increased costs, plus the cost of the bureaucracy to manage the program. Supply-and-demand doubters might wish and hope that the cost of education will go down (to zero) under this program, but it won’t.

This isn’t the first time the President has depended on wishes and hopes. He did the same in pushing Obamacare, the “Affordable” Care Act. In a June 2009 address, President Obama famously stated, “If you like the plan you have, you can keep it. If you like the doctor you have, you can keep your doctor, too. The only changes you’ll see are falling costs as our reforms take hold.” Pundits glommed on to the first half of the quote, but it’s the last sentence that smacks of economic blindness. By expanding the total number of patients who can pay for expensive services using easy insurance dollars, and thereby increasing the demand for such services without at the same time increasing the supply of doctors, hospitals, or other providers, medical costs will go up, no matter how many bureaucrats crunch the numbers. That doesn’t automatically mean that Obamacare is a bad thing, and some Americans might agree with the President that it is a net benefit. But such a vote of confidence does not alter the false statement that the core aspects of Obamacare will reduce costs. (To be fair, some impacts of the ACA legislation might work to reduce demand and therefore costs, such as the move by more Americans to high-deductible HSA-based insurance plans. But these were not the primary intentions of the law, and it’s unlikely they can counteract the overall drive toward higher prices.)

Obama and the Democrats are not alone in wishing and hoping for lower prices in major industries. In 1971, Richard Nixon instituted temporary wage and price controls in an attempt to curb inflation. Freezing the price of, say, chocolate bars might sound like a boon for consumers, since they will not pay any more than current prices for tasty chocolate. But the real impact of such controls is a reduction in the supply of chocolate bars at current prices, resulting in shortages when businesses are unwilling to sell their goods unprofitably at the government-mandated price. These controls, when combined with other protectionist (supply-constricting) policies and the Middle East crisis-of-the-week, resulted in a decade of financial turmoil that, though blamed on President Carter (who certainly didn’t help), was nonetheless caused by an environment of wishing and hoping by presidents and legislators alike. (Nixon reprised his error in 1973 when, in a tortured address to the nation, the former Communist-hunter both extolled the virtues of price controls and condemned them as the “straightjacket” of controlled economies.)

Unfortunately, we didn’t learn our lesson from the Nixon era. President Obama’s tuition announcement proves that politicians at the highest levels are still turning a blind eye to the economic truths of supply and demand. The President hopes that free education will save money and solve America’s employment difficulties, but it won’t. Perhaps even worse, he wishes that the American public would be just as dumbfounded about supply and demand as he is. In this regard, his wish might be coming true.

[Image Credits: freeimages.com, image #348402]

This article was posted on February 9, 2015. Related articles: Commentary, , .

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About thirty years ago, a teenager in my church developed cancer around his knee. The doctors had no choice but to remove the diseased section, but they were able to leave him with a functioning limb by rotating the foot and turning his ankle into a knee, which is awesome. But that was the only awesome part. Eventually, the cancer spread, and young Jon died before reaching his twenties. His family suffered not only through his illness and death, but also through tremendous hospital bills from his extensive treatments.

Our pastor offered spiritual encouragement, but that didn’t pay the bills. Instead, the members of the congregation helped cover the costs through public fundraisers, and by writing personal checks directly to the family. By the time I left the church for college, I heard that all of the medical bills had been paid in full. It was a monetary fulfillment of what the church preaches through Galatians 6:2, “carry each other’s burdens.”

At some point, a few Christians with business savvy decided to institutionalize this carrying of burdens, which should throw up big red flags. And yet here I am, decades later, becoming a part of one such group. Starting in 2015, I am forgoing traditional medical insurance, and instead signing up for Medi-Share, a national organization designed to let people pay for each other’s medical bills somewhat directly, but in a way that has the look and feel of medical insurance.

A big reason for the change was cost. This weekend, I was tossing out some old bills and paperwork, and I saw that my monthly premiums had doubled in just four years. Obamacare (and the state-level regulations that preceded it) has not been kind to my family. But I’ve also never been comfortable with company-paid, low-deductible, cost-hiding insurance plans that we’ve taken for granted for decades. Medi-Share, with its focus on caring for “burdens” instead of on basic medical needs, is more in line with my expectations for medical insurance.

But it’s not insurance. Medi-Share’s web site states clearly that it “is not insurance…and is not guaranteed in any way.” It offers no coverage for routine preventative care, including annual checkups, mammograms for the womenfolk, and regular colonoscopy screenings for the older set, something I’ll need to think about in the approaching years. Also, because of the organization’s religious underpinnings, they only allow Christians in good standing with a church to join, and any medical costs that stem directly from intentional sin—injuries sustained from a car accident after an evening of heavy drinking, for example—are rejected from coverage. My biggest concern has to do with the group’s prescription program, as it only covers a given medicine for up to six months, even for chronic conditions like high blood pressure.

On the positive side, the monthly costs are lower due to the plan’s limitations on coverage. Medi-Share’s PPO network is much larger than the one I had before, and is accessible nationwide (except in Montana!). Plus, once you’ve fulfilled the fairly reasonable annual deductible, approved medical costs are covered 100 percent. I will need to shell out $200 to talk to my doctor each year about routine stuff, but a $60,000 hospital charge for a heart attack isn’t going to lead to a second stress-triggered infarction.

I must admit that I’m a little uneasy about giving up familiar insurance for a no-guarantee program. And the plan itself might anger some, with its religious tests and its indifference to daily medical concerns. I’d love to see other groups spring up that target different audiences or that offer expanded coverage, but that can’t happen for now. The same Obamacare legislation that includes an exception for Health Care Sharing Ministries (section 1501 of the ACA, pages 147-148, “Religious Conscience Exemption”) also restricts the practice to religious groups, and only those that have offered pseudo-insurance services since December 31, 1999.

Despite my qualms about this change, I’m optimistic about what Medi-Share has to offer. Replacing traditional coverage with “sharing” is certainly a risk, but not necessarily more than I had before. It’s a confusing time for medical care in America, but the idea of freely donating money to others in need has never been confusing.

This article was posted on January 5, 2015. Related articles: Off Topic, , , .

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