23 September 2009

Liberal Republicanism - My Political Philosophy

I call my political philosophy “Liberal Republicanism.” In doing so, I use the classic definitions of these terms under which they are surprisingly compatible.


Princeton University's WordNet offers the following definitions of “Liberal:”

  • (n) A person who favors a political philosophy of progress and reform and the protection of civil liberties.
  • (n) A person who favors an economic theory of laissez-faire and self-regulating markets.
  • (adj) Showing or characterized by broad-mindedness.
  • (adj) Having political or social views favoring reform and progress.
  • (adj) Tolerant of change; not bound by authoritarianism, orthodoxy, or tradition.

These definitions fit my self-view: I'm a strong believer in free or self-regulating markets; I believe that there is much to be reformed (though I am skeptical of some contemporary directions); I'm a protector of civil liberties; and I love progress.

Despite adopting the liberal label, I find my self at odds with most contemporary liberal and progressive philosophy. My observation is that modern liberals seem to think that the proletariat are too dumb or unenlightened to govern themselves. Therefore, they need enlightened leaders to protect them. The pathological case is when a self-appointed leader sets out to provide for some “oppressed” class while ensuring that they never progress out of their dependent state lest the leader lose his political base. This is a travesty of progress.


I believe in a representational government with governmental powers limited by a constitution and associated laws. The Latin root of “republic” means “the law.” This is the form of republicanism associated with a Constitutional Republic. There are a variety of other definitions. The one I choose focuses on limited government and the rule of law.

When describing the political spectrum it's important to understand what a person means by “left” and “right.” One scale defines the spectrum in terms of governmental power. Dictatorships and monarchies exist on the extreme left where the government has all power. On the extreme right there is anarchy or no government. A Constitutional Republic exists on the moderate right where governmental power is limited by laws and by the people.

At the center of this scale is Democracy which means “rule of the people.” At first this seems to be the ideal we should seek. The Constitution begins with the words “We the People of the United States” indicating the belief of the Founding Fathers that governmental power originates with the people and is delegated to the government, not the other way around. However a pure democracy places power with the majority at the expense of the individual. The only difference between “Majority Rule” and “Mob Rule” is whether you belong to the majority.

Aside: This definition of the political spectrum comes from a great video entitled Overview of America produced by the John Birch Society. Before you write off the “John Birchers” as extremists I suggest you watch the video and consider their cause.


Despite calling myself a Liberal Republican, I more frequently find myself aligned with the contemporary conservative movement than with liberal politics. Like Republicanism, there are multiple definitions of "Conservative." Here are some from Princeton WordNet.


  • (n) A political or theological orientation advocating the preservation of the best in society and opposing radical changes.


  • (adj) Avoiding excess
  • (adj) Resistant to change
  • (adj) Unimaginatively conventional

For me, this is a mixed bag. It’s important to me to conserve many traditional values and I dislike the excesses of Washington. It’s these principals that align me with the conservative movement. While I’m not resistant to change, I’m frequently skeptical of its directions. Too often reforms only create bigger problems – especially when they mean more government programs. I’ve seen so many unintended consequences to government regulation that I want to be sure that changes are correct and well-thought-out before supporting them.


It’s curious to me that the classic definition of Liberalism includes support for laissez-faire markets yet contemporary liberals favor highly regulated markets. Likewise, I believe in the protection of civil liberties and yet I disagree with nearly every cause pursued by the ACLU.

In each case the difference is because I strongly believe in the power of liberty. My focus in free markets is protecting them from fraud and exploitation while preserving the freedom of individuals or companies to succeed or fail according to their skill, timing or luck. My focus in civil liberties is in preserving the freedom of individuals or groups to live according to their beliefs but not force one group to adopt or accept another group’s standards.

So, my philosophy is liberal republicanism with a dash of libertarianism. I believe in limited government, preservation of individual freedoms, free trade and markets, progress and reform. What’s your political philosophy?

16 September 2009

Toy Story in 3-D

Toy Story

When Cars came out in 2006 it was the first Pixar film rendered in high definition (in this case, 2048x1024 pixels). All previous Pixar films and most other CGI movies (like the Dreamworks titles) had been rendered at or around DVD resolution (typically 720x480). So, despite viewing them on a big screen in a movie theater, the actual detail of previous Pixar movies was little better than you could get on a standard (pre high-definition) TV.

About that time I conjectured to some of my colleagues that, since Pixar movies are rendered from 3-D digital models, they could be re-rendered at higher resolution or even with 3-D effects. Sure enough, Pixar has done just that. The original Toy Story and Toy Story 2 are being re-rendered at high resolution and in 3-D. The release will be limited to two weeks as a double feature.

Of course, it's a promo intended to generate interest in next June's release of Toy Story 3 which will also be 3-D. Presumably Disney will follow up with a Blu-Ray high definition release of the two titles.

Official Site More Information from Collider.com

03 September 2009

Safety in India

We just received the following email from one of our Indian partners:

Due to the unfortunate demise of our State’s Chief Minister in a Helicopter accident, all the Companies in the state have declared half-a-day holiday from 1PM (local time) today.

In order to ensure the safety of our employees (from anticipated riots on the streets by supports), our company has also declared half-a-day holiday today.

There's more detail on the story here. My condolences to the residents of the state of Andhra Pradesh and the families of Minister Reddy and his companions.

This is another reminder that most of the world lives under a threat of violence. I continue to ponder solutions.

02 September 2009

Thoughts on Health Care Reform

A few weeks back I sent the following thoughts on health care reform to my family:

I've tried in vain to find an article or opinion that matches my views regarding healthcare reform. So, I suppose I have to take the time to compose my own essay on the subject. This isn't too long; here's the outline:

  • What are the problems with healthcare?
  • How does the President's proposal attempt to address these problems?
  • What do I suggest?

What are the problems with healthcare?

I grow tired of pundits who repeat “we have the best health care in the world” as if there were nothing that needs fixing. Anyone who knows a married college student, who is self-employed or who is acquainted with their HR director knows that we have serious problems. As I see it, here are the most pressing problems:

Healthcare costs are skyrocketing: As premium increases have rapidly outpaced inflation most employers can no longer cover the whole cost. My employer and I split a premium that could nearly pay for a new car every year. This rate of increase is unsustainable.

The biggest factors contributing to increasing costs are the following:

  • Lawsuits and liability driving high costs of malpractice insurance.
  • Physicians defensively ordering tests and procedures that would be unnecessary in a less litigious environment.
  • Bureaucratic insurance claims processes that account for 25% to 50% of the cost of treating patients.
  • Pharmaceutical companies driving demand for newer and more expensive drugs by pushing information to physicians, lobbying for treatment standards and direct-to-consumer advertising.
  • An enormous increase in the number of treatable diseases.

Many find it impossible to obtain reasonable coverage: The option for catastrophic insurance has evaporated. The few plans that apply to students or the self-employed are either too expensive or offer too little coverage to be useful. The number of patients relying on Medicaid or charitable care keeps growing.

How does the President's proposal attempt to address these problems?

The centerpiece of the bill is the “public option,” a government-run health insurance policy offered as an alternative to private health insurance. The theory is that if a lower-cost alternative is available, private insurance companies will be forced to lower their premiums in order to retain their customers. The public plan would also offer a policy at reasonable cost to those who are excluded by existing options.

The trouble with this proposal is that it does little to reduce the actual costs of providing healthcare. If healthcare costs remain high then insurance premiums must also remain high. Some of the president's spokespeople have promoted the public option as a method to “break the monopoly” of existing health insurers. With dozens of existing insurers large and small there certainly isn't a monopoly. And if there was one, the right approach would be to use antitrust law. Consumers and HR directors have put great pressure on the insurers to keep premiums down and yet premiums continue to rise. This can only mean that the actual cost of health care is rising consistently across all insurers.

The only way a public option can offer the same benefits for lower cost than private insurers is if it is subsidized or receives some preferential treatment under the law. Private insurers cannot compete with artificial advantages like these. Therefore they would be driven to bankruptcy leaving the public option as the only option.

To be fair, the president's plan does include some cost-saving measures such as centralizing and standardizing medical records and attempting to streamline the claims process. However, I don't think these will save enough to overcome the cost of a new government bureaucracy. The records proposals also raise serious privacy concerns.

What to I propose?

The focus of a proper reform process needs to be cost reduction. By its nature this eliminates any programs that add government offices, staff or oversight. That's because government is always less efficient than the private sector. So, we start with the requirement that any reform has to be budget-neutral as far government spending is concerned.

That limits government action to regulatory changes. Here's what I suggest:

Tort Reform: It has been estimated that lawsuits and liability defense account for 20%-30% of the cost of healthcare. We can't eliminate malpractice suits entirely but a ceiling should be put on that liability. Alternatives to lawsuits, such as public record of physician performance, could be used to maintain physician oversight while reducing the number of malpractice suits and the size of the awards.

Restore the Catastrophic Insurance Option: There aren't any proper catastrophic insurance policies available. Such a policy would only kick in when medical costs exceed some, relatively large, deductible. I have read that this has gone away due regulations making catastrophic insurance illegal but, unfortunately, I don’t have a good reference. Regardless, regulations should be changed to restore this option.

Make Health Savings Account Legislation Permanent: A health savings account is a tax-free savings account that can only be applied toward healthcare. HSA's are usually combined with catastrophic insurance. The HSA covers normal health care needs and the catastrophic insurance picks up in bad cases. This reduces the costs of healthcare in two ways. First, the consumer becomes aware of health care costs and is more selective in determining what procedures, drugs or tests are to be performed. Second, insurance claims only have to be filed in big-ticket situations thereby reducing the paperwork costs both at the provider's office and at the insurance company.

HSA laws exist but they haven't caught on very well because the backing insurance is too expensive. Also, existing laws are set to expire and companies aren't interested in investing in programs that may disappear.

Eliminate Group Health Plans: An insurance company should be required to offer the same plan to all customers regardless of their employer or other group membership. This would level the field for the self-employed, students and so forth.

Create an Electronic Claims Submission Standard: Much of the cost of processing insurance claims is dealing with different processes and standards at each insurance company. A consortium of insurance company representatives should create a standard format and process for electronically submitting claims.

Create an Independent Source of Drug Information: The pharmaceutical lobbies drive the dissemination of treatment information to physicians and patients. An independent evaluation would offer unbiased information leading to greater use of lower-cost treatments. Since I've precluded government funding for such an option I suggest that it would be funded by a consortium of insurance companies (that are motivated to reduce costs).


Variations on most of my proposals exist in some of the bills being considered. There's still hope that a proper healthcare reform package can be assembled. But this will only happen if our politicians are willing to ignore the lobbyists, set aside their personal agendas and serve the people who elected them.


What to put in my first blog entry? I think I'll just give credit where credit is due:

BlogEngine.net: OfThat.com is based on the open source BlogEngine.net written in C# running on Microsoft ASP.net. I chose it because it's a solid platform, open to modification (which I intend to do) and I'm familiar with programming in C# and on ASP.net. I'm not a bigot about these platforms. I'm just more experienced with them than with others.

Windows Azure: OfThat.com is presently hosted on the Microsoft Windows Azure cloud platform. That's because it's free during the technology preview and should be inexpensive and scalable in the future. It took a bit of adaptation to make BlogEngine.net run on Azure. After looking over what was available, I started with the 1.5 release of BlogEngine.net and the AzureBlogProvider built by Pierre Henri Kuate for his blog. Kuate based his work on the AzureBlogEngine so mine is third-generation. My claim to fame on the port is that I was able to isolate all of my adaptations to the AzureBlogProvider with no changes to the rest of the BlogEngine source. I'll detail how this was done (and some of the Azure pitfalls) in a future post. Likewise, I'll be making source code available as required by the Microsoft Permissive License

Indigo: The design of the site is based on the standard "Indigo" theme that comes with BlogEngine. It was originally designed by Arcsin, and adapted by RazorAnt. I've made a few more tweaks.

Dedication: OfThat.com is dedicated to my wife, Julie, without whom life wouldn't be nearly as meaningful or entertaining.