The Insanity of One Child per Couple Policies

Lately there has been a lot of talk about one child policies as a sustainability measure, essentially curbing population growth to relieve demands on natural resources. This is profoundly stupid for a lot of reasons, the least of which is the creepy predilection for totalitarian and fascist solutions to problems that self-described progressives identify as critical, but it is the dilemma of aging populations that is a direct result of low birthrates.

First of all, fertility rates are important because only women can have children which means that a woman has to have at least 2 children in order to replace herself and the father. Mortality from disease and other causes factor in and in order for a population to remain stable, neither grow nor decline, the average birthrate per couple, for developed countries, has to be around 2.2. In reality this is a pretty complicated topic but generally speaking the U.S. and most of South America are stable, Europe, Russia and China are declining, Mexico, North Africa, and India are growing, and Africa is growing dramatically (4 or more births).

The fact that North America and Europe are either stable or declining in population also makes for an interesting point; are advocates of one child policies suggesting that in Africa there be a mandatory population thinning out? More plausible is that proponents recognize that in poor countries like Mexico and African countries the population will swell so what they are advocating is a balancing out of the global population bore disproportionately by the western developed countries. Either way it is positively shocking.

Japan has been for many years a real world example of what happens in a developed country as the population ages and younger generations are insufficient to maintain population numbers. It’s not just that the economic system strains under the pressure of fewer workers generating economic activity that is used to finance the social services that pensioners require, it is that entire system itself becomes protectionist and cautious which leads to accelerating economic decline.

A recent opinion piece by Financial Post columnist Diane Francis recently generated a lot of controversy when she said the entire world needs to adopt China’s one child policy, which makes me wonder which one of her two children she is willing to give up. The bellweather country for one child per couple policies is of course China and a senior official from China’s National Population and Family Planning Commission (communists are always big on government planning apparatuses) recently declared at the Copenhagen climate conference that this policy was successfully reducing emissions, while acknowledging the aging population side effect. On the emissions front… have you been to China and seen the pollution firsthand?

Apparently the aging population problem is now severe enough that China is rethinking it’s one child policy, in major (aging) population centers like Shanghai the government is actually encouraging couples to have more than one child (providing they get a permit first).

Complex systems are home to complex problems that defy simple solutions, pull a lever or push a button over here and something will blow out over there. The economic threat caused by an aging population is not theoretical or trivial, the strain put on financial systems could very well take down entire countries as the cost of providing for older generations overwhelms younger working generations.

For all of the talk of food and energy resources, the problem here is not the lack of these resources it is poverty and corruption in government denying citizens access to food and other resources. If the global community of nations wants to take up an issue that will certainly result in the betterment of conditions for all people, then they should take up the cause of honest, fair, and open government for all peoples.

Man’s Best Friend

Today we had to euthanize our family dog of 12 years. Beau, a Vizsla, was about as good a family dog as you could ever expect. Loyal, obedient, and incredibly tolerant of young children doing all manner of wrongs to him, he was the definition of unconditional love… all he ever wanted was for someone to be there.

In September he developed a mast cell tumor and while chemo and a new drug called Palladia were improving his condition we knew that he could not be fixed, and around Thanksgiving he took a turn for the worse eventually stopping eating altogether and without the energy to get out of his bed.

People often say that their pets are as much a part of family as your children but it’s not until you are tested with something like cancer that you really find out. To be really honest, after $5,000+ in vet expenses, too many shuttle trips back and forth to count, extensive efforts with food to get him to eat to maintain his already diminished weight, and a bunch of drugs administered morning and night, I started to get really resentful because after all, he is a dog and not a person… massive guilt quickly followed for blaming him for something he did not cause or ask for and anger at myself for feeling such a way about an animal I was responsible for caring for. To the end I gave him the best care I could, I think he knew it.

I don’t think you really realize that dogs have the emotional life of humans until they are in their final hours. 3 days ago when he stopped eating for good, it was pretty clear that he had given up the fight. As he became more gaunt and his tail stopped wagging, he not only lost the tools but also the heart.

He will be missed.


Hey That $30 Billion Loss is Really Good News

Here we have it, straight from Tim “Turbo Tax” Geithner’s staff:

“The real news is the projected loss came down to $30 billion from $44 billion,” Sperling said, noting that auto sales have improved ahead of what many analysts had forecast. The administration still holds out hope that if things improve, the administration could still recover more.

[From Obama administration predicts $30B loss on auto bailout | | The Detroit News]

A few weeks ago I wrote about the extreme chutzpah that GM’s management displayed when attempting to portray paying back $6.7 of the nearly $60 billion in taxpayer money they received as a testament to their solid financial footing. Little did I know then that their message spin would look modest compared to the Treasury Department attempting to spin losing $30 billion as good news.

The other half of the pull quote above is also worth noting because Treasury official Sperling points out that auto sales have improved considerably better than forecast… uh yeah, that’s what happens when you give away $3 billion of taxpayer money to car buyers. We’ve gone from “hope” being a campaign slogan to a strategy… brilliant.

When the final version of history is written on $GM I hope it will read as a massive looting of bondholders and taxpayers for the benefit of the UAW.

I Want My Mobile TV

This study falls under “stating the obvious” but it is interesting nonetheless for 2 reasons, the mobile component and broadband/TV convergence.

Nearly half of Internet users would be interested in watching TV on their netbooks, cellphones and other devices, according to a new study set to be released Wednesday by a coalition of public and private broadcasters.

[From We Want Our TV Mobile, Study Says – Digits – WSJ]

If I could get reasonable quality television content on my iPhone (or Droid or Pre or Blackberry or whatever) of course I would want it. I love games on my phone for the same reason, it’s occupies my attention when I have downtime. While not my preferred device for enjoying games or television, my phone is convenient and accessible.

On the convergence topic, I recently bought a new Samsung LED flat panel and Samsung Bluray player for my home and with these two products I see first hand how the internet is shaping future viewing behaviors. Both have ethernet connections and while the flat panel uses this currently for firmware updates there is no reason why content could not be piped through this connection with a simple upgrade.

The Bluray player, on the other hand, uses the broadband connection to deliver content from Blockbuster and Netflix on demand services, Pandora, and Youtube. All of these content platforms are drop dead simple to set up using the on screen guide and the result is a really cool convergence experience that seamlessly moves you from satellite/broadcast to DVD to streaming.

Red Kettle Campaign

It’s Christmas and that means, among other things, a ringing bell next to a big red kettle. I did this last year and was so happy to see that people stepped up to help me surpass my modest goal, so this year I am upping the goal and asking that even in this economy people will dig deep and help those less fortunate.

Give whatever you are comfortable giving but please give and in return I will have some good free stuff to send out.


Personal fundraising widget for 2009 Red Kettle campaign

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The Limits of Venture Capital and Cleantech

I just watched a segment on one of the financial channels featuring venture capital investment in cleantech. I have mixed feelings on this, which is to say that I see this as a rich investment category but one that has many unfamiliar obstacles for Silicon Valley investors.

Cleantech investing is a major next wave for investors, one that is well underway and probably finds more in common with the biotech investing than anything else.

The similarity with biotech underscores some of the potential problems that investors will have to grapple with. These investment cycles are long and cannot be predicated on any opening in the IPO market… if you are investing here you have to do it on the basis that eventually there will be an exit opportunity but it’s so far out that you can’t preoccupy yourself with exits.

Cleantech is also highly dependent upon the laws of physics and in many cases we are pushing these limits out to new boundaries, which means for every success there will be many failures. Academic research labs are choked full of prototypes and projects that will never the see the light of day as a commercial project because they can’t scale for commercial manufacturing, have stability problems, or simply a cost equation that cannot be overcome for commercial use.

The involvement of Federal, state and local governments in energy marketplaces as regulator and funding source also represents an area that most VCs have little, if any experience in. Hardware and software companies rarely, if ever, have to deal with government agencies therefore investors simply don’t think about this or staff a function to analyze it in the due diligence process or assist portfolio companies after the investment is made. The very large funds do, but that actually segues nicely to the next topic, capitalization.

Many of the investment sectors in cleantech require eye popping capitalization in order to get to dollar one of revenue. This is truly anathema to VCs who are look at the long track record of failures borne from $100 million investments, but for large scale fuel production, whether ethanol or biofuels, distribution technology, and PV farms, this is exactly the kind of money we are talking about.

Lastly, the combination of governmental involvement, capital requirements, and access to markets practically demand that clean tech companies partner with entrenched old school market players like utility companies, and most startups simply won’t have the goods to pass the grade or sustain the long working cycles that these partners will impose.

I still love this area and think that if you are a big investor you simply have to have presence here, but like all things in investing success requires self-awareness and good guidance about the marketplace.

FCC admits CableCARD a failure

Yep, total failure. There is no real 3rd party marketplace for CableCARDs and what the network operators provide is limited in functionality while costing the same as a set top box (e.g. Comcrap’s CableCARD doesn’t support on demand). On top of everything else, the signal processing capabilities in the CableCARDs was suspect, in my own experience I found the image to be highly pixelated compared to set top boxes.

CableCARD was supposed to be the fix, but it was slow to deploy, was never widely supported, and had huge limitations. Early versions of the host spec supported only one-way access, so electronic program guides, video-on-demand, and other two-way services didn’t function. The FCC then tried to force the industry’s hand, all but demanding innovation by requiring cable operators to use CableCARDs even inside their own leased set-top boxes, just to level the playing field.

[From FCC admits CableCARD a failure, vows to try something else]

The cable industry has a boot to the neck of consumers and Comcast in particular is intent on having a piece of it’s equipment between every television and cable end on their network. As I wrote here, they have been successful in dismantling the very notion of “basic cable” and it was one of the reasons why I dumped them for Directv.

With the tech industry preoccupied with the FCC regulating the internet I am concerned that cable companies will use the time to tighten their stranglehold on customers. Given the way that licensing works these companies are operating regional monopolies with government stamps of approval yet there is little in the way of on the ground regulatory action that is intended to increase competition. As convergence between the Internet and television draws nearer this is not a good set of conditions to deliver innovation in, and with Comcast acquiring content networks there is much to be concerned about.

World AIDS Day and Red Laces


Today is World AIDS Day and the launch of a new RED initiative by Nike. The product, red shoe laces, is being made available globally in Nike retail outlets and the laces are being worn by Nike athletes and celebrities alike, most prominently U2’s Bono who is featuring the laces in concert events.


Of the 33 million people in the world living with HIV, 67% of them are in Africa where it is the leading cause of death claiming 4,100 lives per day. The tragic part of the story is not the death toll but rather the preventable nature of it, a mere 40 cents a day effectively treats a person with HIV with the ARV drugs that will keep them alive.

The way the RED lace program works is like this:

1. You purchase a pair of (NIKE) RED laces.

2. NIKE contributes 100% of the proceeds less cost of the laces/packaging/distribution to the Global Fund and to football-based programs that help fight AIDS in Africa.

3. Funds are received by programs like Grassroots Soccer, which uses football as a framework to teach youths how to avoid contracting HIV/AIDS.

4. Funds are also contributed to The global Fund to fund HIV/AIDS programs that support the purchase of lifesaving ARV (antiretroviral) medication, training of medical staff, HIV testing and treatment to help prevent the transmission of the virus from pregnant mothers to their babies.

5. Life-saving knowledge is received by the next generation in Africa.

This is a much anticipated day for my wife as her company is the global supplier for the Nike RED laces, having worked with Nike from the inception through every step to the launch today. Featuring a unique material made out of recycled polyester, you would be amazed at what it takes to design, manufacture, package, and then deliver all around the globe something as simple as a shoe lace. I am really proud of her and this accomplishment because it shows how a motivated entrepreneur who has bootstrapped his or her company can work with global giants like Nike, in her case becoming one of 36 manufacturing facilities that are considered “inline” to Nike’s supply chain. We are honored to be involved in the RED campaign and like Nike we are doing this not for profit but for the ability to change peoples lives half a world away.

Even social network companies are getting into the act with Facebook and Twitter running special events to bring awareness to the day and to the Nike initiative.

Twitter’s homepage is currently completely red. However, they’ve done much more than that – adding the hashtag #red to your tweets will turn them red as well. The same is achieved with the tag #laceupsavelives, related to NIKE’s “Red Laces” campaign, aimed at relieving AIDS in Africa.

[From Facebook, Google and Twitter Turn Red For World AIDS Day]