Surfs Up: Seliger + Associates Is Back Where We Started From (More or Less): California

A guilty pleasure during the mid-2000s was watching The O.C. with our then-high-school-age twins. Between the typical nighttime soap opera plot twists, the series produced occasional insights, had appealing actors and perpetuated the “endless summer” mythology of Southern California that we mine with good effect in counterpoint when writing needs assessments for LA-area clients. But best of all were the indie rock songs, and best of these was the theme, “California.” From an aerial position, the camera pans over incredible Newport Beach bluff-top houses during the opening credits as one-hit wonders Phantom Planet cries:

We’ve been on the run
Driving in the sun
Looking out for #1
California here we come
Right back where we started from.

After leaving California on the day of O. J. Simpson’s slow speed-speed chase in 1994, Seliger + Associates has come right back where we started from. Well, not exactly—it’s Huntington Beach in SoCal, not Danville in NoCal, but close enough. Faithful readers will know that we and our business have migrated over the years from NoCal to Seattle to Tucson to Surf City.

When I was at Sandburg Junior High in Golden Valley, a beach-deprived suburb of Minneapolis, I was a big fan of the Beach Boys. I was even bigger fan of Jan and Dean, who recorded Surf City. To paraphrase Brian Wilson, who wrote the lyrics, now that we’ve gone to Surf City, we hope it’s “two grants for every client.”

Faithful readers will also know that when I travel by car, I observe the passing scenes of Americana with a grant writer’s eye. This relatively short move confirms that, like Mark Twain, the rumors of the death of the Great Recession are greatly exaggerated. As I did when I drove from Seattle to Tucson two years ago, I saw many signs of economic dislocation on my way to Surf City a few weeks ago—vacant and abandoned buildings and folks in broken down cars at rest areas that evoke the the Joads, although it was hard to say whether they were fleeing from or to California. Even in LaLa Land, it is obvious from empty retail and office space, car lots with few vehicles and fewer shoppers, $1 meal deals, and a dearth of help wanted signs that good times have not arrived outside the precincts of the New York Times and Federal Reserve spokespeople.

Bad economic news is, of course, good news for grant writers, as I’ve been blogging about for the last three years. Seliger + Associates has been busy churning out proposals, which is the primary reason readers have not seen a post from me for a few weeks. Now the move is more or less complete, and we’ve just about caught up with deadline obligations. I will get back to writing at least a post every two weeks or so.

There is lots of interesting news that impacts grant writers and grant seekers. Perhaps the most important is the incredible number of RFPs on the street, which will be true throughout the summer, and the reality that Congress will significantly decrease discretionary spending for FY ’12 as part of a debt ceiling deal with the Obama administration. I’ve written about the former repeatedly in recent months and will write about the latter soon. But, now, I think it’s time to power down the iMac, leave the office, go home, put on my baggies, and take the puppy to the Huntington Dog Beach, easily the best dog beach in the world, to see if the Surf’s Up:

Seliger + Associates Hitches Up the Wagons and Heads Out to Where the Pavement Turns to Sand

We’ve more or less completed our move to sunnier climes in Tucson, AZ. This is the fourth location for Seliger + Associates in 16 and a half years in business, starting in Danville, CA, before migrating to Bellevue and then Mill Creek, WA. So it’s goodbye to coffee and mold and hello to incredible Sonoran food and unlimited mountain/desert vistas. As Neil Young said in Thresher:

It was then I knew I’d had enough,
Burned my credit card for fuel
Headed out to where the pavement turns to sand

Faithful readers will remember that whenever I go on a road trip, a blog post integrating grant writing and my innate desire to see what is around the next curve follows. In preparation for the 1,700 mile drive, I read William Least Heat-Moon’s latest book-length paean to the American thirst for the open road, Roads to Quoz: An American Mosey (see Blue Highways: Reflections of a Grant Writer Retracing His Steps 35 Years Later for earlier thoughts on Least Heat-Moon’s Ur-travel essay Blue Highways).

Although we had planned to drive south on US Highways 95/395 through Oregon and California, an excellent blue highway route, our mover decided to drive like the World War II Red Ball Express down US 93 from Twin Falls, ID to Tucson—another great blue highway. He is better at his job than we are at his, so he was going to arrive before us, leaving us to the tender mercies of I-5. But all was not lost, as we were able to take CA 58 east from Bakersfield over the Tehachapis through the Mojave Desert, where we found our long lost US 95, going from Needles to Blythe on 100 miles of roller coaster two-lane highway before our own race to Tucson on I-10 through Tonopah, AZ. Least Heat-Moon would be proud. The upshot of this rambling paragraph is that, 35 years after seeing Lowell George and Little Feat perform for the birthday party of a minor LA celebrity a friend of mine knew at the celebrity’s Malibu “ranch” in 1974, I finally got to drive from Tehachapi to Tonopah, as immortalized in Little Feat’s Willin’:

I’ve been from Tuscon to Tucumcari
Tehachapi to Tonapah
Driven every kind of rig that’s ever been made
Driven the back roads so I wouldn’t get weighed
And if you give me: weed, whites, and wine
and you show me a sign
I’ll be willin’, to be movin’*

I only need to find time to drive from Tucson to Tucumcari for the circle to be complete.

This blather does have something to do with grant writing: as I have observed before, at their most basic level, grant writers are simply story tellers who often tell stories about places they have never seen. Long distance driving, preferably on blue highways, is an exceptional way to stay in touch with America—not the America of CNN or Fox News or the New York Times and Washington Post, but the America that is really being blasted by the Great Recession. As we rolled through small towns in the Central Valley and Mojave Desert, we saw endless Main Street desolation: forlorn vacant restaurants with fading “For Sale” signs, car dealers, either closed or with the few cars they had spread out across expanses of display lots with balloons tied to antennas in a sad attempt at normalcy, and, perhaps most troubling, piles of broken stuff—cars, appliances, farm equipment and mounds of unidentifiable crapola that apparently no one wants.

Perhaps no one cares enough to haul this junk away, or maybe there is no place to haul it to. Although politicians from Washington D.C. to Seattle chatter on about the “greening” of American and the importance of using resources wisely, to me it seems more like the “rusting” of America. Least Heat-Moon found the same disturbing panorama in Roads to Quoz, preventing him from seeing the scenery beyond the roadway:

Miles of abandoned buildings, of decaying house-trailers steadily vanishing under agglomerations of cast-off appliances, toys, rusted vehicles (autos, busses, riding mowers, tractors, trucks, a bulldozer, a crane, a forklift), and a plethora of cheap things.

Least Heat-Moon wrote about Oklahoma, which I discussed in the “Blue Highways” post noted above, but the junkification of rural America has worsened considerably in the last year, presumably because of the enervating effects of the recession. If any interested rural nonprofits are reading this, Project JUNC (Joint Undertaking to Negate Crap) would be a great Stimulus Bill grant concept; JUNC would train unemployed folks to pick up stuff, haul it, sort it, and recycle it. I’ll even provide a 20% discount to write the proposal because, like Least Heat-Moon, it’s hard to admire a 19th Century courthouse or church when you have to look past blocks of detritus. It pains me to see much of rural America being buried in kipple.**

I am about to write a HUD Neighborhood Stabilization Program 2 (NSP) proposal for a rural city in California, which involves rehab of vacant, foreclosed houses. Since endless newspaper stories describe how vacant houses get stripped of copper plumbing, appliances, etc., I was going to include this idea, as I usually do when writing about housing rehab, in the proposal. But my recent sojourn through rural OR, CA and AZ, gives me pause. Why would anyone bother breaking into a house to steal metal, when tons of metal are piled along rural roadways, there for the picking? This is a real world demonstration of how road trips benefit grant writers. Grant writer readers should get out of your Aerons, fire up your Prius (in my case, a BMW ragtop), and unleash your inner Kerouac by going On the Road.


* Not to worry: no weed or whites were abused on this drive—just a little wine to take the edge off after the the day’s drive after finding a motel that would take our golden retriever.

** Kipple is the accumulated junk of modern society and is best described by Philip K. Dick (one of my favorite SF writers) in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which was made into the nearly perfect 1982 movie, Blade Runner. For cognoscenti of this film, Harrison Ford’s despairing Deckard is actually a replicant.

COVID-19, donations, and foundation and government grant proposals

We’ve been in business since 1994 and have written proposals during several economic shocks; in the Great Recession in 2009, donations to nonprofits began drying up as soon as the stock market began diving (we wrote as much at the time). A decade later, COVID-19 is sending the economy into what could be a second Great Depression. While hopefully the crash will be v-shaped, there’s no way to know when a rebound will start, since much depends on the public’s response and on the success or failure of the drugs in clinical trials.

Nonprofits, and especially human services providers, are being torn between higher service demands and evaporating revenue. Particularly hard hit are Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs); about 1,400 FQHCs deliver front line healthcare to Medicaid and other low-income patients. Total patient population estimates differ, but FQHCs may serve as many as 30 million people. FQHC CEOs have been telling us they have very limited capacity for treating infectious disease patients (no separate waiting rooms, scarce protective gear, etc.) and face staffing shortages, because clinicians staying home to watch their now out-of-school children. Some clinicians are pregnant and some are sick themselves. Inadequate testing infrastructure has been well-covered in the media by now.

Some nonprofits, like Head Start and other early childhood education providers or behavioral health service providers, face the same grim reality, as their centers are closed and third-party payments become delayed or non-existent. For other nonprofits that depend on donations, fundraisers, and/or membership dues (e.g., Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCAs, museums, performing arts, etc.) are likely even worse off. John Macintosh just wrote in the NYT that COVID-19 could mean extinction for many nonprofits. But this extinction can be averted—and will be by nimble nonprofits.

For the short term, nonprofits should stop or reduce screaming empty bowl-in-hand emails and mailers for donations. With the stock market in free-fall and unemployment probably already 10% and on a path to 20% *barring a sudden drug trial that works), seeking donations is delusional. When businesses, small and large, suddenly have zero revenue, millions are being laid off, and 401Ks being decimated, donations will quickly decline, no matter how good the cause or the relationship with the donor. Also, there’ll be no galas, art auctions, and other fundraisers for who knows how long.

The only real option for most nonprofits is to quickly ramp-up grant seeking and grant writing. As has been the case in previous economic crises, the federal response will likely be to dump money into grant programs and issue RFPs. In addition to already authorized FY ’20 federal funding for grant programs, by this week Congress will have passed three huge COVID-19 stimulus bills totally close to $2 trillion—dwarfing the 2009 Stimulus Bill. These bills will have a lot extra money for existing programs, as well as for a flock of new grant programs.* We saw this in 2009, when we wrote proposals for all kinds of oddball programs and projects, and this will unfold again with astonishing speed. Federal agencies will approve grant proposals much faster than usual—like most Americans, the federal bureaucracy rises from its normal stupor to meet extreme challenges. But RFPs are likely to have very short deadlines. Nonprofits that start preparing for intense grant writing will be more likely to succeed.

Most foundations, meanwhile, respond to crises like this by quickly increasing the amount of funds available from their endowments and speeding up their normal approval processes, both to address issues related to the crisis, as well as to keep essential nonprofits operating. In addition to emergency operating support, foundations will be very interested in project concepts relating to primary care access, public health education and outreach, telehealth, and behavioral health. But this foundation response won’t last more than about six months. At some point, they’ll turn off the spigot, either because their endowments will have been depleted too much or the crisis will have passed.

Even nonprofit royalty, which usually don’t sully their hands will grant writing, unless the grants are wired, know that reality has changed.** You may have read, “Met Museum Prepares for $100 Million Loss and Closure Till July.” The author reports that the Met will be “fundraising from foundations and pursuing government grants.” If the Met is turning to grant writing, so should your nonprofit and the sooner the better.

Want to talk about how Seliger + Associates can help? Give us a call at 800.540.8906 ext.1. By the time you read this, your organization’s leadership will probably already be convening meetings about what to do next.


* Extraneous program authorizations in federal spending bills are common and referred to as “ornaments.”

** As Bob Dylan put it in Things Have Changed, “People are crazy and times have changed.”

Links: Opioids treatment, unglamorous but important bureaucracy, Pre-K for All, and more!

* “‘Pure incompetence:’ As fatal heroin overdoses exploded in black neighborhoods, D.C. officials ignored life-saving strategies and misspent millions of federal grant dollars. More than 800 deaths later, the city is still reckoning with the damage it failed to prevent.” If your organization is working on the opioid crisis, you should give us a call, because there’s a huge amount of federal, state, and local funding for it. Rural areas are seeing and especially large burst of funding.

* “The Tragedy of Germany’s Energy Experiment: The country is moving beyond nuclear power. But at what cost?”

* America’s National Climate Strategy Starts with NEPA. Unglamorous but important.

* Officials want to clear a mile-long homeless camp on a Sonoma County bike trail. Some don’t want to go. We’re guessing that those who don’t want it to go also don’t use the bike trail or live near it.

* The hottest new thing in sustainable building is, uh, wood. If you’re doing construction-related job training, mention cross-laminated timber (CLT) in your next proposal.

* On the Chinese education system and philosophy. It’s nearly the opposite of what programs like Pre-K For All or Early Head Start attempt to do. I wonder how well it works, although that will be hard to say, since it probably takes 40 or 50 years to properly evaluate how an early childhood education program “works,” by which point the entire cultural, social, and technological environment will have changed.

* For another perspective, read me on Bringing Up Bébé, an essay that is sure to be of interest to anyone providing early childhood education services like Pre-K For All or Head Start. We collectively ought to spend more time looking at early childhood from a cross-cultural perspective and less time on making early childhood “academic.” Life is not a race. France and China seem different in key ways but surprisingly similar in some.

* “Against Against Billionaire Philanthropy.” Donations by rich people are better than not, and criticism is misguided. Foundations offer flexibility that government funding typically does not.

* “Let’s quit fetishizing the single-family home.” This would also make programs like YouthBuild work more effectively: zoning restrictions are now one of the biggest problems with any job-training program that includes a construction training element. Many of today’s challenges are really housing and healthcare policy challenges, with powerful incumbents blocking change and the powerful need for change building up.

* “The Age of Decadence: Cut the drama. The real story of the West in the 21st century is one of stalemate and stagnation.” An interesting thesis, but not necessarily one that I buy.

* Was the nuclear family a mistake?.

* How we write scientific and technical grants.

Do “child-care deserts” highlighted in the Washington Post really exist?

The Washington Post says, “A Minnesota community wants to fix its child-care crisis. It’s harder than it imagined.” Duluth City Councilperson Arik Forsman wants to solve the “region’s child-care crisis” and the reporter, Robert Samuels, vaguely cites “studies [that] have shown… more than half of the country lives in a child-care desert — places where there is a yawning gap between the number of slots needed for children and the number of existing spaces at child-care centers.” The link in his story leads to the highly partisan Center for American Progress website, which defines a child-care desert crisis using cherry-picked data to fit this definition: “any census tract with more than 50 children under age 5 that contains either no child care providers or so few options that there are more than three times as many children as licensed child care slots.”

Numerous rural census tracks are likely not to have any child-care providers, due to vast travel distances and low population density, but could still meet the low bar of 50 young children. The second part of the definition presupposes that most parents want to place their child in child-care, ignoring the reality that there still lots of people who don’t want their child in institutionalized child-care—they have one parent who stays home or who works at home (like I did when my kids, and S + A, were young). Some parents prefer to use family and friend networks. The cost of providing child-cage to infants and toddlers is very high—imagine trying to care for 30 kids, who are not potty-trained, and go on from there.

The “crisis” is based on specious data collected to make a political point, not address the actual issues. I know because we write lots of Head Start, Pre-K For All, and similar proposals under the umbrella of “early childhood education,” which is the theme for almost all child-care grant programs. Head Start is by far the largest publicly-funded early childhood education program and emphasizes “education.” Government funders always insist that child-care providers, including Early Head Start (birth – 3), focus on “education” rather than the custodial care model that largely disappeared 30 years ago. It officially disappeared; in reality, most children under age five are mentally equipped for play far more than they are for educational activities. Still, when we write a child-care/early childhood education proposal, we always state that the program will use the ever-popular “TeachingStratgies Creative Curriculum.” In this curriculum, even very young children are supposedly taught things like “pre-reading” (whatever that is) and other quasi-academic subjects. The typical “class schedule” for child-care programs, however, includes maybe two out of eight hours in alleged academic activities, with the rest of the day devoted to things like welcome and closing circles, snacks and lunch, hand-washing, nap time, outdoor/indoor play, etc.

Many contributing factors that come together to limit child-care options: just like with the affordable housing/homelessness crisis, much of the shortage of child-care slots is due to basic zoning rules (a topic we have covered extensively), as well as strict licensing requirements. In the abstract, most people support the idea of convenient child-care—until an actual facility is proposed down the street, and then existing residents think about 60 frisky kids whooping it up on their block, with fleets of parents dropping-off and picking-up kids. This type of proposal brings out the NIMBYs in force. They will use zoning to fight this “blighting” influence—and will usually win.

Also, ever since the hysteria over the fake McMartin Preschool abuse scandal in 1983, child-care facility regulations, even for home-based child-care, have become very stringent. While likely a good thing overall, this drives up the cost of operating child-care facilities. Even Head Start programs, which are fully federally-funded, have a hard time opening new facilities and keeping them open. All child-care programs, whether for-profit or non-profit, operate on thin margins and can be sunk by regulatory problems.

Then, there’s the challenge of finding and keeping “teachers.” Since Head Start was created in 1965, the open secret has been that it’s as much of a jobs program as an early childhood eduction program. The teachers, who might have a certificate of some sort but are rarely licensed teachers, are often the same moms who put their kids in the program, creating a sort of closed-loop system.

This worked fairly well until a perfect storm recently hit. As we wrote about in early 2019 “The movement towards a $15 minimum hourly wage and the Pre-K For All program in NYC,” this effort spells trouble for all child-care programs—the Minnesota minimum wage rises to $10/hour on January 1, 2020 and is set to rise to $15/hour by 2022. Staff costs make up the vast majority of child-care program budgets and rapidly rising minimum wages mean higher fees for parents, and they require larger public subsidies (which are not available in most municipalities). Ergo, it’s much harder to open a child-care facility and keep it open, even if qualified staff can be found. With an unemployment rate of less than 4% in the Duluth area, good staff are hard to find.

In related news, “Government Standards Are Making 5-Year-Olds and Kindergarten Teachers Miserable.” It seems that the bureaucrats who make these decisions have never interacted with actual human five-year-olds.

Nonetheless, we’re delighted to add the concept of child-care deserts to the equally ephemeral “food deserts” concept we often use in proposals. In grant writing, it’s not possible to have too many Potemkin deserts to add color to otherwise drab needs assessments. And many funders are more excited about solving marginal problems than real ones, like regulatory overreach and zoning.

Links: Don’t steal the grant money, where the jobs are, fun grant programs, ameliorating homelessness, and more!

* Don’t embezzle grant funds. If your organization gets grant funding but can’t carry out the proposed services, just admit it and give the money back—or at least stop taking the money. This ought to go without saying and without federal prosecutors getting involved. And, an excellent way of meeting the local US Attorney is to steal grant funds. Some grantees find themselves unable to execute the grant-funded activity, and, while that isn’t optimal, it is okay.

* We have a massive truck driver shortage, and pay is increasing, albeit too slowly, given that shortage. Contrary to the hype, we still appear to be quite far from automating trucking and many other in-demand jobs.

* “There’s a high cost to making drugs more affordable for Americans.” Almost no one is talking about this. We can likely force the cost of today’s drugs and treatments lower—but at the cost of not having new drugs and treatments tomorrow. This seems like a poor tradeoff to me, although that’s a philosophical point. The interesting thing is that no one advocating for price controls admits the tradeoff.

* “Resistance to Noncompete Agreements Is a Win for Workers.” This is an area where the left and right are aligned: the left worries about worker rights, and the right (putatively) worries about free markets. Banning both is a win for left or right.

* My favorite recent grant program: “Supporting Economic Empowerment in the Pakistan Film Industry.” We really want to be hired to write a proposal for this one!

* “Fears grow over ‘food swamps’ as drugstores outsell major grocers: With CVS selling more groceries than Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s combined, researchers fear food ‘deserts’ are becoming ‘swamps’ of processed food.” Another handy proposal term. Both Isaac and I have noticed the expanding food selection at local drug stores.

* More Millennials Are Dying ‘Deaths of Despair,’ as Overdose and Suicide Rates Climb. See also the book Lost Connections.

* “Americans Need More Neighbors: A big idea in Minneapolis points the way for other cities desperately in need of housing.” Obvious but needs to be repeated, as bad land zoning is at the root of many problems in individual cities and America as a whole today. We feel some of the effects when we work on projects like Prop HHH proposals in Los Angeles. If it’s not possible to build a sufficient amount of new housing, then many actors are going to bid up the price of existing housing, and homeless service providers are rarely the top bidder.

* “Los Angeles Is in Crisis. So Why Isn’t It Building More Housing? Rising rents are feeding a surge in homelessness.” The Atlantic is now on the beat Seliger + Associates has been covering for years. These links are congruent with the links immediately above.

* “An Addiction Crisis Disguised as a Housing Crisis: Opioids are fueling homelessness on the West Coast.” Or, as I’d put it, “Both at once, and interacting with each other.”

* The Machiavelli of Maryland: Edward Luttwak is adviser to presidents, prime ministers – and the Dalai Lama. Hugely entertaining, and via MR.

* “Why Transparency on Medical Prices Could Actually Make Them Go Higher.” I’ve long been a price-transparency proponent, but maybe I’m wrong.

* “Housing crisis: Why can’t California pass more housing legislation?” This is much of the reason homelessness is increasing in California: it’s almost illegal to build housing for humans.

* “Why mention the Affordable Care Act (ACA) when Democrats can debate shiny new Medicare-for-all?” I post this not for the political valence but for the discussion of what has and has not changed in healthcare over the last decade; in many ways, there’s been less change than both ACA proponents hoped for and opponents feared.

* Why Are U.S. Drivers Killing So Many Pedestrians? “If anything else—a disease, terrorists, gun-wielding crazies—killed as many Americans as cars do, we’d regard it as a national emergency.” Maybe the automotive era was a terrible, murderous mistake.

* “Progressive Boomers Are Making It Impossible For Cities To Fix The Housing Crisis: Residents of wealthy neighborhoods are taking extreme measures to block much-needed housing and transportation projects.” Not far from what you’ve been reading here for years, but the news is getting out there.

* “Live carbon neutral with Wren: Offset your carbon footprint through a monthly subscription.” Many people wonder what they as individuals can do. Here is one answer.

* “The numbers are in: SF homeless population rose 30% since 2017.” While people are slowly but surely linking SF’s terrible zoning rules with its extraordinary homelessness challenges (just like L.A.), the city isn’t moving fast enough to make real changes. Interesting fact: about one in 100 San Francisco “residents” lack a place to live. And there is purported to be more dogs than kids living in SF.

* “FBI investigating tattooed deputy gangs in Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.” This is almost unbelievable, but here it is.

* The radical case for teaching kids stuff. Relevant to those of you running early childhood education programs like Head Start and UPK.

* “Seliger + Associates enters grant writing oral history (or something like that).” This is a favorite essay, as since then we’ve seen, many times, our own phrases and proposal structures come back to us, like ships in a bottle dropped at sea that then wash up on our shores.

Links: Price transparency in healthcare?, collaboration, debt, the good life, and more!

* “A Billionaire Pledges to Fight High Drug Prices, and the Industry Is Rattled.” This would be very good: healthcare costs are eating the world.

* Collaboration Again: A Story From the Trenches.

* “GM’s electric bikes unveiled.” File under “Headlines I never thought I’d see outside of The Onion.”

* “Cultural barriers still stand in the way of HPV vaccine uptake.” Most importantly, “Every year, nearly 34,000 cases of cancer in the US can be attributed to HPV, the human papillomavirus. The CDC estimates that vaccination could prevent around 93 percent of those cancers.” We should be getting vaccinated. This is an easy healthcare win, and a way to easily reduce healthcare costs.

* “Six Secrets from the Planner of Sevilla’s Lightning Bike Network.” Reducing car usage is another easy cost win. There are two ways to improve well-being: increase incomes and decrease costs. Almost no one talks about the latter. We should talk more about it.

* “Murder Machines: Why Cars Will Kill 30,000 Americans This Year.” An evergreen article. Imagine if 70,000 people were killed by opioid overdoes in the United States every year. Oh wait, that’s actually happening too.

* Single-Family Home Zoning vs. ‘Generation Priced Out.’

* “Doctors Are Fed Up With Being Turned Into Debt Collectors.” Maybe we ought to go back to a world of transparent pricing, paid in advance?

* “Why Cities Must Tackle Single-Family Zoning.” Useful for anyone who thinks their rent is too damn high (like I do).

* “Oil Demand for Cars Is Already Falling: Electric vehicles are displacing hundreds of thousands of barrels a day, exceeding expectations.” We get too little good news; here is some.

* “The Creation of Deviance,” note: “The activities of university administrators may also fit a larger pattern, one in which agents of social control readily create the need for their own services.”

* Scott Alexander: “Preschool: I Was Wrong.” See also us on Universal Pre-Kindergarten and Early Head Start (EHS).

* “Wall Street Rule for the #MeToo Era: Avoid Women at All Cost.” It’s like no one imagined unintended consequences, or understands that incentives affect behavior.

* Greenhouse Gas Emissions Rise Like a ‘Speeding Freight Train’ in 2018.

* “‘Forget About the Stigma’: Male Nurses Explain Why Nursing Is a Job of the Future for Men.” I wrote an essay, “Why you should become a nurse or physicians assistant instead of a doctor: the underrated perils of medical school,” that also covers germane points.

* “Workers are ghosting their employers like bad dates?” Ghosting is bad for the ghoster and ghostee, in my view.

* Nashville’s Star Rises as Midsize Cities Break Into Winners and Losers. I liked Nashville.

* Why are construction costs rising?

* Repl.it: Get your ideas out there. What the kids are apparently using to learn how to code.

* 2018 Was the Year of the Scooter?

* The World’s Leading Electric-Car Visionary Is Wan Gang, not Elon Musk?

* “Two Roads for the New French Right,” a much deeper, more substantive piece than the headline implies.

* Hospital prices are about to go public. Good news if true. We’ve written quite a bit, perhaps too much, on the topic.

* “A tour of elementary OS, perhaps the Linux world’s best hope for the mainstream.” It is strange to me that Linux still has so many problems for mainstream use and users.

* “Retraining Programs Fall Short for Some Workers: The goal was to help displaced workers gain skills in new industries. But studies show people are earning less or failing to find work.” This will not shock existing training providers. Re-training is hard, and the older the workers being re-trained, the harder the process is. Careers also tend to have arcs. At some point, if haven’t ascended sufficiently, you’re unlikely to ever build up the ability to do so. I think about myself and writing: it took me about ten years of continuous practice to become a competent writer. Ten years. And that seems to be a common fact for highly skilled people. Medical school + residency is seven years. Law school is only three years, but most lawyers take another five or so years to get really good at their jobs.

* Nuclear energy is key to saving the planet.

* “How economic theory and the Netflix Prize could make research funding more efficient.” The journal article is here. Looks like a good idea to us: some signaling is inevitably wasteful but may also be useful. In the grant world, however, there is far too much wasteful signaling. In this respect, the grant world resembles the heavily-marketed college admissions world.

A description of scientific and technical grant writing, found in an unexpected place

I have rarely, if ever, seen an explicit, reasonably accurate description of the grant application process in a general nonfiction book—until this weekend, when I was reading Steve Levine’s book The Powerhouse: America, China, and the Great Battery War. It’s an excellent and highly recommended book in general, but it also has a passage detailing Argonne National Laboratory’s efforts to become a major battery research and development hub. Becoming an R&D hub required a response to a complex federal Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA, which is another term for RFP). Levine characterizes the process this way:

The assessment [of Argonne’s proposal] lasted two days. Madia was harsh. Argonne’s vision—its “story”—did not shine through. The narrative was “buried deep in the science.” The scientific sections were adequate as far as they went, but the team’s priority was to craft the story so that a nonexpert—like members of the judging team who were not battery guys—could understand it. As the proposal stood, it failed to meet this standard.

More problematically, the proposal seemed actually to ignore some provisions in the FOA. The FOA had stipulated a serious commitment to applied science. Madia judged the appropriate balance at about 60 percent research and the rest development and deployment. The Argonne team had proposed an 80 percent emphasis on basic research—clearly too much.

He raised a couple of other points—there were too many “whats” and not enough “hows”; each time the proposal said the team intended to do something, it should provide an example of how it would be done. Madia was troubled. The previous summer, he had seen a preliminary draft and said much the same.

In the version of the story told by Levine, however, Madia doesn’t fix the proposal himself, which isn’t very helpful. Nonetheless, Grant Writing Confidential readers should notice many points we regularly make in posts like “Proposals need to tell stories.” And scientific and technical proposals are not exempt from this rule. In addition, he who has the gold, makes the rule. You must follow the FOA guidelines, or follow them as best you can.

The “Follow the FOA guidelines” rule has been much on our minds in the last several weeks because we’ve been working on Department of Education Early Head Start (EHS) applications, and the EHS RFP contains this instruction: “Applicants must prepare the project description statement in accordance with the following instructions while being aware of the specified evaluation criteria in Section V.1. Criteria.” In other words, the Dept. of Education put the mandatory headers in one section, starting on page 33 of the RFP, but also included other required material under the “Application Review Information” on page 54. The two sections don’t match, either. The evaluation criteria says, for example, “Evidence of community engagement in the proposed geographic locations that is designed to improve service delivery, increase access to services, and prevent duplication,” but the instructions on page 33 omit that. A would-be applicant who only attends to page 33 will miss the vital material on page 54.

The Argonne grant-writing team evidently faced a similar problem, as shown by the misplaced balance between basic and applied research. The cited difference between the “what” and the “how” is more interesting, though. Some technical proposals don’t have a lot of “how” in them because the proposer doesn’t know how the task will be achieved. If the proposer already understands how the task can be achieved, he sometimes doesn’t need the money—because the problem has already been solved. If we already know how to do something, it’s not research, it’s implementation.

Sometimes, though, the “how” is fairly well-known. A few months ago, we finished working on a technical proposal relating to alternative energy technology R & D project, and the Department of Energy has funded the application. The “How” on that application appeared to be fairly clear. I want to explain what made it clear, but I can’t really do so without giving away too much of the client’s domain expertise.

Overall, Levine’s Argonne story demonstrates why many people choose to specialize in specific fields, then hire experts in fields not their own. The scientific luminaries and visionaries at Argonne haven’t specialized in the grant writing process. They may be working on battery breakthroughs essential to the future of the world, but knowing how to conduct research and knowing how to explain the research to the rest of the world are different skills.

Links: ACA news, job training news, “Walrus Haulout” grants, money and jobs and social services, and more!

* “Aetna Joins Rivals in Projecting Loss on Affordable Care Act Plans for 2016: Health insurer will review how it will continue its public exchange business in existing states.” This is essential reading for FQHCs, and note: “In addition, Medicaid-focused insurers continue to do well.” It’s interesting to contemplate Tyler Cowen’s 2009 post, “What should we do instead of the Obama health reform bill?“, in light of recent news.

* My favorite recent grant program: “Re-announcment of the Community Training and Video Production for Walrus Haulout Public Education Video.

* A new Tyler Cowen book is coming out in February; the link goes to the post describing the book (and how to get a free copy of another book), and here is a direct Amazon link to The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream.

* “ How The Cures For Cancer Snuck Up On Us,” good news all round.

* “How The West Was Won,” which is actually about how and why “Western” culture took over the world because a) it’s popular and b) it’s not so much Western per se as the result of technologically oriented development.

* “You Should Read More Romance Novels: The libertarian case for bodice rippers,” file under “headlines I could not have imagined reading.”

* The pre-order page for Tom Wolfe’s new novel, The Kingdom of Speech. If Wolfe writes it you ought to read it. EDIT: Read it; you can safely skip this one. The research and really entire worldview are not so good.

* “Why Police Cannot Be Trusted to Police Themselves,” a point that seems increasingly obvious.

* “It turns out that putting money directly into the pockets of low-income parents, as many other countries do, produces substantially larger gains in children’s school achievement per dollar of expenditure than does a year of preschool or participation in Head Start.” Attention UPK legislators!

* “Israel Proves the Desalination Era is Here: One of the driest countries on earth now makes more freshwater than it needs,” an important point and one I didn’t realize.

* Mark Manson: “Is It Just Me, Or Is the World Going Crazy?

* “How to Write a Novel,” amusing throughout and it seems that many quality authors use many different systems (or lack of systems). There is not one, single route to good end product.

* Oliver Sacks: “Me and My Hybrid,” from 2005, and his points still stand today.

* GM delivers 100,000th Chevy Volt in the US alone.

* “US fertility rate falls to lowest on record” as Americans fail to reproduce themselves, driving the need for more immigrants (remember this data when you hear some kinds of political rhetoric). And: “More Old Than Young: A Demographic Shock Sweeps the Globe.” And: “Europe’s ageing population is set to wreak havoc with the economy.”

* “The Next Generation of Wireless — “5G” — Is All Hype: The connectivity we crave — cheap, fast, ubiquitous — won’t happen without more fiber in the ground.”

* L.A. isn’t a suburb. It needs to stop being planned like one. There’s still some truth in Dorothy Parker’s observation about LA being “72 suburbs in search of a city.”

* “Can 42 US, a free coding school run by a French billionaire, actually work? Just across the bridge from Facebook HQ, a radical education experiment is underway.”

* “Why Tokyo is the land of rising home construction but not prices:”

Here is a startling fact: in 2014 there were 142,417 housing starts in the city of Tokyo (population 13.3m, no empty land), more than the 83,657 housing permits issued in the state of California (population 38.7m), or the 137,010 houses started in the entire country of England (population 54.3m).

A social bonus, too: “In Tokyo there are no boring conversations about house prices because they have not changed much. Whether to buy or rent is not a life-changing decision.” I would love to never have those boring conversations ever again, yet they seem everywhere around me.

* NSA attacked Pro-Democracy Campaigner, demonstrating (yet again) the ills of secret proceedings and near-unlimited power.

* The race for a Zika vaccine.

* “The case for making New York and San Francisco much, much bigger.”

* Mark Zuckerberg’s charity sells $95 million of Facebook stock.

* “Aging out of drugs: Most addicts just stop using in time, without needing costly treatment. Why?” An important question for anyone providing drug treatment services or seeking SAMHSA grants.

* “It’s the first new U.S. nuclear reactor in decades. And climate change has made that a very big deal.” Nuclear power is still, oddly, underestimated; note that New England and Germany, both places with lots of superficial climate change worry, are now emitting more carbon dioxide than they used to—because they are phasing out nuclear plants and failing to replace them.

* “Making bicycles in Detroit is an uphill climb.” My bike came from REI and was made in China.

* “Cycling Matches the Pace and Pitches of Tech.” Probably a bogus trend story, but I like riding so I hope not.

* “‘I’ve done really bad things’: The undercover cop who abandoned the war on drugs: Neil Woods used to risk his life to catch drug dealers. But as gangs responded with escalating violence and intimidation – some even poisoning users who talked to the police – he started to see legalisation as the only solution.”

Links: Consistently good news on energy, trains, LAUSD, jeans, colleges, “polyvictimization,” employers, and more!

* “Clean-Energy Jobs Surpass Oil Drilling for First Time in U.S;” this is important for anyone running a job training or workforce development program.

* “One Regulation Is Painless. A Million of Them Hurt.” For us, attempting to deal with business regulations in California and the State of New York have been horrific time sucks that almost no one, except for business owners, notices.

* “Employers Struggle to Find Workers Who Can Pass a Drug Test.” Perhaps the solution is overly radical, but employers could judge employees by their work, rather than their recreational hobbies? I’ve never been drug tested on the job. Seliger + Associates is a drug-test-free workplace, but not a free-drug workplace.

* The billionaire-backed plans to harness fusion; more good news.

* “Fewer U.S. teens are giving birth, CDC finds;” have American teens forgotten how to party?

* Amtrak turns 45 today. Here’s why American passenger trains are so bad.

* “Camille Paglia: The Modern Campus Has Declared War on Free Speech.”

* Why Used Electric Car Batteries Could Be Crucial To A Clean Energy Future.

* “After LAUSD iPad program failure, Apple’s help spurs ‘success’ in other schools.” This should not surprise those of you who read us on “Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change From the Cult of Technology” by Kentaro Toyama.

* “How the Jeans Capital of the World Moved from Texas to China.” It is possible to buy jeans made in the U.S., Canada, or Japan, but they tend to be very expensive (e.g. Naked and Famous).

* “Safe from ‘safe spaces:’ On the rare good sense of a college administrator” has an innocuous title but is a magnificent piece.

* How Battery-Powered Rides Could Transform Your Commute.

* “Squatters See a New Frontier in the Empty Homes of Las Vegas,” a useful piece for anyone working in the Sun Belt.

* My favorite recent weird grant program name: “A Pathway to Justice, Healing and Hope: Addressing Polyvictimization in a Family Justice Center Setting Demonstration Initiative.” Polyvictimization? Is that like being polyamorous, but less fun?

* “Why U.S. Infrastructure Costs So Much.” Those costs “are among the world’s highest.”

* “Get Out of Jail, Now Pay Up: Your Fines Are Waiting: Eliminating monetary penalties that accompany conviction may help ex-convicts get on their feet.” Sample: “The story of my research—the story that must be told—is that our 21st century criminal justice system stains people’s lives forever.”

* “The American economy’s big problem: we don’t have enough companies like Tesla.” There are returns to workers and consumers when small companies become large ones; one problem Europe has is that going from startup to huge is very hard. Europe has lots of tiny companies and a bunch of behemoths, but very few that go from the one to the other.

* “Paying cash for kids not to kill.”

* “Forty Percent of the Buildings in Manhattan Could Not Be Built Today,” which helps explain why NYC, like LA, Seattle, and many other places are so expensive: It’s illegal to build the housing that people want to live in.

* “Sorry, We Don’t Take Obamacare,” which ought not be a surprise to anyone who knows the healthcare system—and it really won’t be a surprise to FQHCs.

* Pay Attention To Libertarian Gary Johnson; He’s Pulling 10 Percent vs. Trump And Clinton.

* “Free Preschool = Free Daycare;” see also our post “Trying to Give Away Universal Pre-Kindergarten (UPK) or Early Head Start (EHS),” which concerns New York City’s efforts. We’ve written a bunch of funded UPKs!

* “The Perils of Writing a Mildly Provocative Email at Yale,” another chapter in campus madness.

* New York’s Incredible Subway. Seattle is actively building subways. Denver is also building light rail (with surprising speed). It’s almost like other metros are learning from New York’s successes and Los Angeles’s mistakes.

* “If the atomic bomb had not been used,” one of the most fascinating pieces you’ll read if you’re familiar with the topic; call this a revision to revisionist history.

* Why suburbia sucks.