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November Links: Healthcare Machinations, Becoming a Writer, Why Your High School Probably “Sucked” Statistically, Demography, Government Pulls in Three Directions (again), the Native American CDFI Assistance Program, and More!

* What makes our healthcare so expensive? Hint: the answer is not simple or obvious. If you hear people say, “It’s x, and chiefly x,” where x might be greedy insurance companies, clueless consumers, the market, regulation, government, greedy doctors, or any noun preceded by the word “greedy,”

* The dangers of Groupon and of discounts in general: “We’ve also learned that the customers you attract only with a discount will disregard what you love about your own business, and won’t treat you with respect; both sides usually regret the transaction.”

* Statistically speaking, my high school sucked. Yours probably did too—you just don’t know it. You should pay attention to this if you write education proposals. See also Your Child Left Behind.

* Global aging: the problem the world faces, it turns out, is not overpopulation, but underpopulation.

* Why New Novelists Are Kinda Old, or, Hey, Publishing is Slow.

* People in polls are lunatics on the budget; they consistently oppose tax increases, oppose spending cuts, and strongly support balancing the budget.

* That’s what life’s about: improving the world around you.

* Your government at work!: When sales of Domino’s Pizza were lagging, a government agency stepped in with advice: more cheese. This is the same government that, for health reasons, is advising less cheese.

* Americans look like Americans wherever we are.

* Guess who is lobbying against marijuana legalization? Yup, beer distributors and the police. Call this another example of people whose job involve fighting a social problem fighting to maintain that social “problem.”

* Why NPR matters.

* This “obscure provision” in the health care bill is completely vital to our business and yet isn’t particularly well-known among people in general. It should be. See this story on the coming 1099 mess.

* The world is richer and healthier than it used to be.

* Dan Savage’s It Gets Better project for gay teenagers already has 200,000 hits for a very good reason: it’s quite moving because it’s unexpectedly earnest, which feels unexpected honest in a media age filled with bullshit. Consider it recommended; see the impetus for it in this column.

See Megan McArdle’s take here.

* One of the funniest sentences I’ve read in a while: “Sarah Palin on the Federal Reserve is one of those immortal phrases, like Lindsay Lohan stars in Anna Karenina, or La Boheme featuring Justin Bieber, a magical, irresistible blend of high and low that might just make mainstream Americans care about monetary policy.”

* Why the U.S. needs a new visa for foreigners who want to start businesses here.

* The Native American CDFI Assistance Program is out, with $12M and a deadline of Dec. 22.

* Scary thoughts that I think are right, from Tyler Cowen.

* Marriage in crisis, or what the recession is doing to marriage, with data stratified by education.

* Dear 22 Year Old: Concerning your Future. And there’s probably no way to stop it, save voting en masse for a political party that doesn’t exist and can’t exist given electoral realities.

* James Fallows, who, if you’re not reading his blog, you should be:

Among the many things wrong with talking-head gab shows, which have proliferated/ metastasized in the past generation — they’re cheap to produce, they fill air time, they make journalists into celebrities, they suit the increasing political niche-ization of cable networks — is that they reward an affect of breezy confidence on all topics and penalize admissions of complexity, of ignorance on a specific topic, or of the need for time to think.

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Reading Difficult RFPs and Links for 3-23-08

* We’ve talked before about how difficult reading RFPs can be. The Section 514, 515, and 516 Multi-Family Housing Revitalization Demonstration Program (MPR) gives a particularly good example of how an application can hide who might actually be eligible for the grant. The program is supposed to support rural multi-family housing (which seems like an oxymoron anyway—don’t rural areas, by definition, have enough space to build all the single-family housing they need?), and the application eligibility says:

(1) Eligibility under 7 CFR 3560.55; however, the requirements described in 7 CFR 3560.55(a)(5) pertaining to required borrower contributions and 7 CFR 3560.55(a)(6) pertaining to required contributions of initial operating capital are waived for all MPR proposals.

So we have to go find whatever 7 CFR 3560.55 is. Google brings up this .pdf file. And the very first thing this section tells us is:

Applicants for off-farm labor housing loans and grants should also refer to § 3560.555, and applicants for on-farm
labor housing loans should refer to § 3560.605.

So we should go look somewhere else for eligibility! Does anyone at the USDA actually read these notices and think about what it’s like for whoever is on the other end? I’m just trying to figure out if organizations other than public agencies or nonprofits are eligible to apply, and I think “”§ 3560.55 Applicant eligibility requirements (5)” tells me: “With the exception of applicants who are a nonprofit organization, housing cooperative or public body, be able to provide the borrower contribution from their own resources.” If nonprofits and public organization are excepted, it would appear that private organizations are eligible. If only the initial funding announcement had just said so.

It’s also difficult to gauge what this program actually does, and if I were a reporter, I might start sniffing around for past winners and looking for Tony Soprano-style connections. Sure, this sounds paranoid, but then you read about what goes on at HUD and think maybe it’s not.

* In a Giving Carnival post, we discussed why people give and firmly answered, “I don’t know”. Now the New York Times expends thousands of words in an entire issue devoted to giving and basically answers “we don’t know either.” An article on measuring outcomes is also worth reading, although the writer appeared not to have read our post on the inherent problems in evaluations.

* Perpetual government programs of the sort we describe in Zombie Funding – Six Tana Leaves for Life, Nine for Motion, Déjà vu All Over Again—Vacant Houses and What Not to Do About Them, and Phoenix Programs also occur in other countries. An example comes by way of Megan McArdle:

THANKS TO Alain Destexhe, a Belgian senator (and that rarest/loneliest of beings, a Belgian free market liberal), for today’s fact of the day. Mr Destexhe reports on his blog that the Belgian central bank still employs more than 2,000 people, even though it has not had a currency to oversee since 1999, when Belgium joined the euro.

* What is up with the guys at the Grant Institute? We’ve written three posts (here, here, and here) about how useless grant training seminars are. But Anthony Jones works for them and sent me a form e-mail announcing that “The Grant Institute: Certificate in Professional Program Development and Grant Communication will be held in Houston, Texas, April 21 – 25, 2008.” The cost: a mere thousand dollars. Your grand buys courses like one “centered around expert communication principles, this class will change the way students conceptualize grant proposals and other fundraising tools.” Whatever that means. Clearly they have at least one grant writer working for them.

Furthermore, Anthony’s e-mail states that “You have received this invitation due to specific educational affiliation.” I’d love to know who that affiliate is.

* NPR learns about vacant housing problems without reading Déjà vu All Over Again—Vacant Houses and What Not to Do About Them. C’mon guys: this isn’t the first time housing problems like the present ones have existed.

* Freakonomics wants to know what can be done to close the achievement gap between white and Asian students versus Black and Hispanic students. Actually, Freakonomics ignored Asians and Hispanics of any race, who between them represent 19.2% of the population, or about 57,000,000 people. But people interested in this problem should still read it.

* Dropout rate numbers are notoriously unreliable, and the New York Times tells us why. For academic research that observes the same thing, see The American High School Graduation Rate: Trends and Levels. For example:

(a) the true high school graduation rate is substantially lower than the official rate issued by the National Center for Educational Statistics; (b) it has been declining over the past 40 years; (c) majority/minority graduation rate differentials are substantial and have not converged over the past 35 years […]