kitchen table math, the sequel: 11/6/11 - 11/13/11

Friday, November 11, 2011


Interesting short video at the WSJ.

The video documents a massive loss of manufacturing jobs but doesn't discuss where those jobs went or why.

Ben Bernanke urges soldiers to combat high unemployment

Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke took his message about the U.S. economy to military servicemen, making a pre-Veteran’s Day visit to the Fort Bliss headquarters for the Army’s 1st Armored Division and urging soldiers to combat high unemployment by focusing on training and education.
Bernanke's Fed Takes Message to Texas
November 10, 2011
What next?

The chairman of the Federal Reserve advocating small class size and school uniforms?

from the FRBSF: Recent College Graduates and the Labor Market

Haven't read it yet, but here's the link.

I'm a big fan of the San Francisco Fed's Economics Letters.

Goldilocks and the money illusion

the money illusion:
The findings in this paper suggest that money illusion is real in the sense that the level of reward-related brain activity in the vmPFC [ventromedial prefrontal cortex] in response to monetary prizes increases with nominal changes that have no consequence for subjects' real purchasing power.
The medial prefrontal cortex exhibits money illusion Bernd Webera, Antonio Rangelb, Matthias Wibralc and Armin Falk - PNAS March 31, 2009 vol. 106 no. 13 5025–5028
In the car just now, Ed and I were talking about the money illusion. Ed pointed out that no one thinks when you've just been given a 3% raise in an environment of 4% inflation, your pay has actually been cut. (I know ktm people would have no problem figuring this out--! But ktm people are not the norm.)

I'm wondering whether good math education and/or the distribution of inflation calculators to one and all would affect the money illusion. I have no idea. Certain cognitive biases, loss aversion,* for instance, are apparently built-in, but -- the money illusion? Is there something built-in about the money illusion per se?

No time to think it through just now; for the moment I'm going to guess that the money illusion is a specific manifestation of something more fundamental. Which probably means good education and universal inflation calculators would help.

That said, we are stuck with the money illusion, at least for now.

So what does this mean?

I think it means that we need a certain level of inflation for the economy to work. Deflation is bad --  everyone seems to understand that -- but zero inflation is also bad. Inflation is like the porridge in Goldilocks and The Three Bears; it can be too hot, it can be too cold, or it can be just right.

What is just right?

Having spent as much time as I have reading the market monetarists (pdf file), I assume that just right means 2% inflation along with 3% real growth.*

But of course I don't know.

from the EurkAlert release:
"We had now confronted our test subjects with two different situations", Falk explains. "In the first, they could only earn a relatively small amount of money, but the items in the catalogue were also comparatively cheap. In the second scenario, the wage was 50 per cent higher, but now all the items were 50 per cent more expensive. Thus, in both scenarios the participants could afford exactly the same goods with the money they had earned – the true purchasing power had remained exactly the same." The test subjects were perfectly aware of this, too – not only did they know both catalogues, but they had been explicitly informed at the start that the true value of the money they earned would always remain the same.

Despite this, an astonishing manifestation emerged: "In the low-wage scenario there was one particular area of the brain which was always significantly less active than in the high-wage scenario", declares Bernd Weber, focusing on the main result. "In this case, it was the so-called ventro-medial prefrontal cortex - the area which produces the sense of quasi elation associated with pleasurable experiences". Hence, on the one hand, the study confirmed that this money illusion really exists, and on the other, it revealed the cerebro-physiological processes involved.
and more from the paper:
We used fMRI to investigate whether the brain's reward circuitry exhibits money illusion. Subjects received prizes in 2 different experimental conditions that were identical in real economic terms, but differed in nominal terms. Thus, in the absence of money illusion there should be no differences in activation in reward-related brain areas. In contrast, we found that areas of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), which have been previously associated with the processing of anticipatory and experienced rewards, and the valuation of goods, exhibited money illusion. We also found that the amount of money illusion exhibited by the vmPFC was correlated with the amount of money illusion exhibited in the evaluation of economic transactions.


Intuitively, money illusion implies that an increase in income is valued positively, even when prices go up by the same amount, leaving real purchasing power unchanged (1). In this sense money illusion has been interpreted “as a bias in the assessment of the real value of economic transactions, induced by a nominal evaluation” (2). Economists have traditionally been skeptical about the notion of money illusion (3), but recent behavioral evidence has challenged this view (2, 4–6). For example, when asked to rate the happiness of 2 otherwise identical persons who received either a 2% wage increase without inflation or a 5% wage increase with 4% inflation, the majority of subjects attribute happiness on the basis of greater nominal raises, despite lower real raises (2).


Our main hypothesis was that areas of the brain that are engaged in the experiencing of rewards (7–9), such as the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), would exhibit money illusion in the sense of exhibiting a stronger BOLD response for incomes that were higher in nominal terms, but had an identical real value. Activity in these brain regions has been shown to be modulated by the receipt of both primary rewards such as food delivery (10) and more abstract forms of rewards like monetary incentives (9, 11, 12). Recent neuroimaging studies have also shown that the vmPFC is involved in the valuation of goods at the time of decision making (13–15).


The importance of this finding derives from the fact that the answer to many classic economic problems depends on whether money illusion exists. For example, money illusion has been put forward as an explanation for the nonneutrality of money, which implies that central banks can affect production, investment, and consumption through changes in monetary policy that have an impact on the inflation rate. Likewise it offers an explanation for the important phenomenon that wages and prices are often downwardly rigid, a leading explanation for involuntary unemployment (17, 18). It is also a potential cause of bubbles in important markets, such as the housing market (19), and of deviations of stock prices from their fundamental values (20, 21). At the firm level, money illusion is important to determine optimal wage policies, which depend much on whether workers care about nominal or real wages (22). Finally, the existence of money illusion is important for the understanding of the relation between income, inflation, and subjective well-being (23). Importantly, even small amounts of money illusion can have substantial effects....
* And even loss aversion has "boundaries". (pdf file)

* Because I'm married to a historian, I also assume that "just right" for our time would be not right for another time quite possibly.

anonymous on lefties taking the SAT

Good advice:
Lefties should be particularly vigilant about the chairs/desks. I've heard stories about them having to take long tests on right-handed flip-up deskettes; a true nightmare. I know the registration forms for my grad comps asked lefties to identify themselves, because almost all of the seats in the auditorium had right-hand deskettes. They brought in as many extra lefty ones as they needed. Is there a similar question on SAT registrations?
I have got to find time to write a quick post on working memory.

I believe that the "transmission mechanism" from right-hand desks for left-hand test-takers to reduced performance is working memory blowout.

And see: death by calculator. Death by calculator is a case of working memory blowout.

(The real-world term for working memory blowout problems is cognitive load theory.)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

off-topic (somewhat): Scott Sumner on targeting NGDP

Sumner: Nominal GDP Targeting Can Save the Recovery (video interview with Kelly Evans of the Wall Street Journal)

I can't remember when I first became convinced that the Federal Reserve should stop targeting the CPI PCE and start targeting NGDP (the sum of all current dollar spending in the US).

Maybe a year ago?

I bring it up today because the idea has abruptly broken through to the mainstream, and because the state of the economy will determine whether our kids have decent jobs after college (or any job at all), not to mention whether parents will have the money to pay for college in the first place. So now's the time.

I think about NGDP-targeting this way:

The Federal Reserve has a dual mandate: price stability and full employment. It is required to pursue both.

Since the crash, we have had unusually low core inflation, lower than average inflation during the Great Moderation, which was 2%. Update 1/10/2012: PCE inflation has averaged 1.37% over the four years 2007-2012.

We have also had a catastrophic collapse in employment, which is not becoming any less catastrophic as the years go by:

This chart shows the percent of the civilian population that is employed. Before the crash more than 63% of the civilian population was employed; since the crash we have bounced between 58 and 59%.

The chart above is, literally, an image of a depression. In it we see employment drop off a cliff, hit bottom (let's hope), and stay there. The chart makes it impossible for me to call the situation we are in a "recovery," a "weak recovery," a "faltering recovery," an "anemic recovery," a "limping recovery," a "recovery experiencing strong headwinds," or any other formulation that includes the word recovery. This is not a recovery. In my book, this is a depression: a minor depression, but a depression nonetheless. It's not getting better, and I don't believe that more 20-year olds acquiring STEM degrees will fix things.

More STEM degrees may or may not be a good idea; better K-16 education (I've expanded my horizons) unquestionably is a good idea.

Neither one is going to fix the chart.

Why is that?

Since I'm not an economist, I have to choose which expert(s) to believe. And, after spending probably a year of my life reading the various explanations of the crash, I'm persuaded by Scott Sumner and the market monetarists(pdf file) which is not to say anyone else has to be persuaded, obviously. I'm writing an amateur economics post on an education blog just to let you know about market monetarism if you don't already.

I'm convinced the market monetarists are right, and I want our federal overlords policy elites to stop targeting inflation, and start targeting NGDP, as market monetarists recommend.

Wages are sticky -- sticky meaning wages can go up, but not down. (Wages are sticky in one direction.)

I live in a state, New York, where public sector wages are beyond sticky; here in New York, public sector raises are sticky. I'm tuned in to public sector compensation because I've been dealing with my district's budget crisis for a few years now, but wages are sticky across the board in every sector, public and private.

Sticky wages kill jobs. Period. Sticky wages kill jobs because when profits decline, some employees have to be laid off so other employees can maintain their current salaries. In theory, when profits (or tax revenues) fall, wages could fall, too, and everyone would still have a job. Companies would bring in less money in sales, so they would pay less money in compensation, problem solved.

In reality, when profits (or tax revenues) decline, wages stay put. So people have to be laid off.

I have had a front-row seat watching this process unfold here in my town. Where sticky wages are concerned, I don't need experts to explain the world to me. Sticky wages are real, I've seen them, they take away jobs.

Update 1/10/2012: human employees replaced by wolves....

Which brings me to the Fed.

The Bernanke Fed strongly opposes deflation and will do whatever it takes to prevent it.

The Bernanke Fed also strongly opposes inflation (the cure for deflation), and appears to think that if low inflation is good, lower inflation is better. It's fine to go to 1.5% "core" inflation (CPI minus food and energy). It's fine to go to 1%. Two percent is a ceiling, not a target. Update 1/102012: The new 'ceiling' appears to be 2.5%.

At some point (where?) inflation is bad because it might turn into deflation.

Also, if you go into recession for 18 months, and "lose" all the inflation you would have had during that period, the Bernanke Fed thinks that's fine.

There is no such thing as an inflation shortfall in the Bernanke Fed, it seems.

Real estate.

Housing prices, overall, are at 1990 levels.


The Bernanke Fed is a deflation fighter, and yet the Bernanke Fed has presided over a 25% deflation in house prices in just 3 years time.

Given what we've been through, I conclude that neither real estate nor jobs are coming back as long as the Fed continues to target inflation. If the Fed is targeting 2% (or 1%) inflation, and we need 33% inflation (roughly) just to get back to where we were, then we're looking at the new normal. Since I personally see no way jobs can be decoupled from prices, that means jobs don't come back, either. Not for years and years and years.

Update 1/10/2012: Hamilton Jobs Gap Calculator

So I'd like the Fed to stop targeting inflation and start targeting nominal GDP, which includes inflation but is not limited to inflation. The beauty of NGDP is that it combines inflation and employment in one number. Double mandate, single target.

I'll post links to the market monetarist blogs and the various endorsements and counter-endorsements later on. In the meantime, Scott Sumner began his blog, The Money Illusion, in 2009. Within the past month Goldman Sachs published a report endorsing the idea, and Cristina Romer wrote a column agreeing. Brad DeLong and and Paul Krugman have both endorsed; at National Review, Ramesh Ponnoru was an early adopter and advocate.

Update 1/10/2012: Worthwhile Canadian Initiative has the easiest-to-understand explanation of why inflation targeting has failed -- and why "level" NGDP-targeting would succeed -- that I've seen so far.

* I've just this moment Googled a line from Brad DeLong saying 1% is the new 2%.

“Fair Test” Procedures for SAT Da

After my terrible SAT experience last Saturday, I decided to look into whether or not any official rules had been broken.
Turns out there is an official SAT rule guide, The SAT Standard Testing Room Manual, which I think is worth reading before you take an SAT (especially Section A, which is only 11 pages long).
From the first paragraph:
"The SAT Program has established policies and procedures to ensure that all students can test under a uniform set of conditions .... All students are to be protected from disturbance. By strictly following our policies and procedures, you give students the best guarantee of fair testing."
At the time, I felt intimidated to say something to the proctor because I wasn't sure if official "rules" were broken, or whether they were "courtesies" he was forgoing.
And if I had trouble speaking up, I'd imagine it would be even more difficult for a teenager to do so -- especially if he or she isn't even sure about the official rules.
I did speak to the proctor at the first break and told him that lopping off five minutes of our time mid-way through a Reading Section really threw me -- and he responded by saying, "it was the lesser of two evils," which did not leave me inclined to speak up again, when the noise disturbances from other kids who had finished the test in the same gym became so loud that they echoed for our last 4 sections.
Turns out this proctor was wrong.  It was not "the lesser of two evils" to cut off five minutes of our time, mid-section.   In fact there there is an official rule in the manual for this exact situation: "Overtiming: Make no adjustment."
That was just the beginning of the broken rules last Saturday.....
1) The "Visible Clock" Rule:
I have experienced this "visible clock" issue a few times over the course of the 6 SATs I've taken this year (5 different locations). But, "lack of visibility" last Saturday was the least of my problems.
Start with the fact that the proctor inexplicably wrote the time down in the middle of the the Essay Section (after telling us before we started that he had no chalk to do so) -- but he didn't write it in our time zone time -- because, as he later explained to me when I asked, the (non-visible) clock turned out not to be in ourtime zone.
Fine, except that it confused me to see "a time" (but not our time) suddenly appear on the blackboard without explanation.
Also, there were no "regular" time warnings, as mentioned above in the manual -- I'd say they were more sporadic in nature (i.e. "2 minutes," or nothing at all....)

2) Desk Size (Avoid having a "deskette" experience):
To be fair, my deskette last Saturday probably did meet this "official standard" -- but honestly, as a test taker, that's too small for an optimal SAT experience.  12" by 15" holds ONE 8 x 11 test booklet  -- except that there are TWO booklets that need holding when you take the SAT (plus your calculator for math sections, and pencils).
Lack of proper desk space adds a juggle variable to the SAT experience that is distracting, time consuming, stressful, and noisy.  Try to find an SAT location with full desks.

3) Adult Test Takers:
I've experienced "assigned seating" once out of 6 SATs, and the fact of the matter is that I was assigned the front and center seat.  Not sure if that was a coincidence.

4) Timing and Breaks:
I believe this rule was carefully followed at every other SAT that I took this year, which is how I ended up lulled into complacency last Saturday.  I had grown toexpect this rule to be followed, and when it wasn't (starting in Section 3), I was thrown for such a loop I had trouble recovering.  Or maybe I was thrown off when the time mysteriously appeared on the board in a different time zone.  I don't know.  Either way, this "Timing Policy" wasn't followed and it affected me.

5) Reporting Irregularities:
I have no idea whether or not our proctor reported the "timing irregularities" that day.

6) Student Complaints: 
I'm not "a student," but I did have many of these same complaints.
I could continue on with these screen shots of broken rules from last weekend, but instead I'll reiterate that any SAT test taker should read pages 1-11 of  The SAT Standard Testing Room Manual before test day.

Cross Posted on Perfect Score Project

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Does anyone want a STEM career anymore?

As the self-described 99% show the country what a wasteland a liberal arts education is, the current administration says STEM careers will transform (or is it save) America. But there's been a number of articles in the last few days about why American students today aren't choosing STEM careers.
in today's WSJ, Generation Jobless: Students Pick Easier Majors Despite Less Pay, the article opens with this:
Biyan Zhou wanted to major in engineering. Her mother and her academic adviser also wanted her to major in it, given the apparent career opportunities for engineers in a tough job market. But during her sophomore year at Carnegie Mellon University, Ms. Zhou switched her major from electrical and computer engineering to a double major in psychology and policy management. Workers who majored in psychology have median earnings that are $38,000 below those of computer engineering majors, according to an analysis of U.S. Census data by Georgetown University.

"My ability level was just not there," says Ms. Zhou of her decision. She now plans to look for jobs in public relations or human resources.

The NYT had this article, "Why Science Majors Change Their Minds (It’s Just So Darn Hard)" (pointed out by Glen a few days ago.)
it states:
Studies have found that roughly 40 percent of students planning engineering and science majors end up switching to other subjects or failing to get any degree. That increases to as much as 60 percent when pre-medical students, who typically have the strongest SAT scores and high school science preparation, are included, according to new data from the University of California at Los Angeles. That is twice the combined attrition rate of all other majors.

Why the attrition? Some are the usual suspects: from the WSJ piece again:

For 22-year-old Ms. Zhou, from Miami, the last straw was a project for one of her second-year courses that kept her and her partner in the lab well past midnight for several days. Their task was to program a soda machine. Though she and her partner managed to make it dispense the right items, they couldn't get it to give the correct change.

Such unpreparedness in part explains this (from NYT piece): "Ben Ost, a doctoral student at Cornell, found in a similar study that STEM students are both “pulled away” by high grades in their courses in other fields and “pushed out” by lower grades in their majors." But so does the burnout factor from the death march through calculus, as illustrated by "MATTHEW MONIZ bailed out of engineering at Notre Dame in the fall of his sophomore year...He had scored an 800 in math on the SAT and in the 700s in both reading and writing. He also had taken Calculus BC and five other Advanced Placement courses at a prep school in Washington, D.C., and had long planned to major in engineering....But as Mr. Moniz sat in his mechanics class in 2009, he realized he had already had enough. “I was trying to memorize equations, and engineering’s all about the application, which they really didn’t teach too well,” he says. “It was just like, ‘Do these practice problems, then you’re on your own.’

They quote Mitchell J. Chang, an education professor at U.C.L.A. who says it isn't just weak K-12 prep that causes this washout.
"You’d like to think that since these institutions are getting the best students, the students who go there would have the best chances to succeed,” he says. “But if you take two students who have the same high school grade-point average and SAT scores, and you put one in a highly selective school like Berkeley and the other in a school with lower average scores like Cal State, that Berkeley student is at least 13 percent less likely than the one at Cal State to finish a STEM degree.”

His argument seems to be that the kids at Cal are better prepared than the kids at CSU, so more of them should succeed, if the issue was really k-12 prep. I don't think that gets to the heart of the prep matter though. The kids at Cal, Notre Dame and the like are Used to Succeeding, and they aren't succeeding. This is a huge blow to them, at the same time that the intro courses are often seen as the drudgework to get to the electives, a point made in the NYT article. It feels better to get As in psych than B-s in EE.

Some new students do not have a good feel for how deeply technical engineering is. Other bright students may have breezed through high school without developing disciplined habits. By contrast, students in China and India focus relentlessly on math and science from an early age.

“We’re in a worldwide competition, and we’ve got to retain as many of our students as we can,” Dean Kilpatrick says. “But we’re not doing kids a favor if we’re not teaching them good life and study skills.

So many fall off. And what about the ones who make it?

You work harder for lower grades than your peers, and the payoff is either a) a career path where your employer is constantly lobbying the govt to drive down your pay by increasing immigration, or b) a career path where you front load all of your risk onto a low probability lottery ticket to the world of academia just as the higher ed bubble is bursting.

Not depressing enough? Read Arnold Kling's "What If Middle-Class Jobs Disappear?" Kling suggests high unemployment now is structural, coming from a new phase of an economic transition away from plentiful high paying white collar jobs, just as prior restructuring moved away from plentiful high paying blue collar jobs.
Using the latest Census Bureau data, Matthew Slaughter found that from 2000 to 2010 the real earnings of college graduates (with no advanced degree) fell by more in percentage terms than the earnings of high school graduates. In fact, over this period the only education category to show an increase in earnings was those with advanced degrees.
The outlook for mid-skill jobs would not appear to be bright. Communication technology and computer intelligence continue to improve, putting more occupations at risk.

For example, many people earn a living as drivers, including trucks and taxicabs. However, the age of driver-less vehicles appears to be moving closer.

Another example is in the field of education. In the fall of 2011, an experiment with an online course in artificial intelligence conducted by two Stanford professors drew tens of thousands of registrants. This increases the student-teacher ratio by a factor of close to a thousand. Imagine the number of teaching jobs that might be eliminated if this could be done for calculus, economics, chemistry, and so on.

So much for that lottery ticket to academia...but what about the private sector? Kling says:
...the main work consists of destroying someone else's job. Garett Jones has pointed out that the typical worker today does not produce widgets but instead builds organizational capital. The problem is that building organizational capital in one company serves to depreciate the organizational capital somewhere else. Blockbuster video adversely affected the capital of movie theaters, Netflix adversely affected the capital of Blockbuster, and the combination of faster Internet speeds and tablet devices may depreciate the organizational capital of Netflix.

The second challenge is the nature of the emerging skills mismatch. People who are self-directed and cognitively capable can keep adding to their advantages. People who lack those traits cannot simply be exhorted into obtaining them. The new jobs that emerge may not produce a middle class. Instead, if the trend documented by Autor for the period 1999-2007 were to continue, most of the new jobs would be low-end service jobs, for which competition will tend to keep wages low.

He goes on to posit some possible futures. He's not optimistic.

update: Kling link fixed. Thanks, ChemProf!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

the other Chinese student (translation)

Here’s a question I pose for my white collar friends [in Shanghai]: what if I never graduated from middle school, and had become a migrant worker? Would you sit down for a cup of coffee with me at Starbucks? The answer, unequivocally, is that you wouldn’t

As you might know, college students from China's big cities (Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Wuhan...) apply to American colleges in a flood of high scores and intimidating talent, even socially. Typically, the quintessential undergraduate Chinese student I might meet at the University of Virginia might say, play Chopin and Debussy, have read Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, eat twenty-dollar sushi dinners daily, and in general, spend money outrageously, yet he or she will be well-read on the the ancient revered Four Classics as well as Harry Potter.

There are those who dress fobbishly, but there are many who dress with both a kind-of-unique yet canned style borrowed from the latest trends in Shanghai or Tokyo or something. Personally, the kids from Wuhan come closest to my hipster sense of aesthetics, but the kids from Shanghai are far too materialistic, accentuate their class differences, and generally snub me. (And in my experience, Chinese parents from Shanghai are the prim-and-proper quantitative finance type who would only pursue an art for its social prestige and not for its own sake. But I am only stereotyping to represent the breadth and diversity of applicants.)

Yet despite all this progress, 900 million people in the rural provinces have been left in the dust. The opposite of affirmative action exists in China: not only are the rural primary and secondary schools of horrible quality, constantly understaffed and undersupplied, and rural students less likely to afford the piano lessons and the tutoring and art lessons that a kid in Shanghai might enjoy throughout his childhood -- when applying to college, a kid who somehow comes out on par with the those in the cities will still face discrimination on the sole fact that he comes from the provinces. Imagine that if China used the SAT, a promising kid from the provinces would need a score of 2250 to be placed over an average city resident with a score of 1850, despite the fact that the provinces' own averages are much lower.

In such a case, I wouldn't mind if our financial aid system granted some of these exceptional rural students a chance to enter the University, perhaps replacing just a handful (out of dozens) of the somewhat-conceited Shanghai students that the University might admit each year (yes just for Shanghai only, out of the thousands of students from China that apply to our school). Students from Shanghai, if rejected from our University, can go to some other college to make their future; the bright rural students that can't get admitted into college in their own country are stuck with nowhere else to go. Such a move would be Jeffersonian, after all.

Monday, November 7, 2011

the reluctant Machiavellian teacher

117 behaviours, plus some pretty interesting analyses (registration required to read all of them but is free), and how to remedy them, and it seems pretty useful for newly-recruited TFA teachers shoved into a classroom and the like but have to deal with a few problem students who ruin it for everyone else eager to learn. The site breaks down each behaviour by "causes" or "needs" and suggests effective ways of remedy, and mistakes to avoid. In short, it suggests ways for a teacher to quickly gain control of a problematic situation, but in a subtle manner, without being unprofessional.

Teachers (or new talented ones at least) didn't join to be a Machiavellian, but perhaps for new teachers in some low-income districts it would be a necessary evil in order to be able to do the sort of thing they joined the corps for, infusing their students with passion and all of that. And many of the tips are rather insightful -- there are apparently promising ways to even make any troublemaker a potentially really productive student.

(-- and of course, I'm still a hopeful undergrad TFA applicant)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

wrong turn

from the Instructor's Notes to The Everyday Writer by Andrea Lunsford, Alyssa O'Brien, and Lisa Dresdner:
In his essay “Structure and Form in Non-Narrative Prose,” Richard Larson explains what he sees as the three categories of paragraph theory: paragraphs (1) as expanded sentences, governed by comparable syntactical forces; (2) as self-contained units of writing with their own unique principles; and (3) as parts of the overall discourse, informed by the strategies a writer chooses for the overall piece. 
Reading this passage, my reaction is: Interesting!

And: Help is on its way.

Any one of these theories of the paragraph sounds as if it might be very useful to me in teaching college freshmen how to write a 5-paragraph English paper.

Unfortunately, Larson is not findable on Google, and there's no more to be learned from Lunsford, who buries Larson and his ilk in her next paragraph:
Today, partially as a result of the poststructuralist and feminist critique, scholars are challenging conventional paragraph norms. In Marxism and the Philosophy of Language, V. N. Volosinov notes that “to say that a paragraph is supposed to consist of a complete thought amounts to absolutely nothing.” Beginning with this provocative insight, Kay Halasek’s book A Pedagogy of Possibility [the Amazon results, not the book] shows the ways in which composition textbooks have traditionally taught the paragraph in strictly traditional ways, as unified, coherent, and tightly linear. But Halasek works to redefine the paragraph as dialogic, as a negotiation among writer, audience, subject, and other textual elements that surround it. Most important, Halasek insists, is for instructors of writing to understand that the process of producing “unified,” “cohesive” paragraphs calls for ignoring, erasing, or otherwise smoothing out a diversity of discourses and voices. Thus teaching students to be aware of this process not only illuminates a great deal about how “good” paragraphs get constructed but also introduces them to a philosophy of language that is not based on current traditional positivism or objectivism.
Even if I agreed with the sentiments expressed in this paragraph, which I don't, the words "to say that a paragraph is supposed to consist of a complete thought amounts to absolutely nothing" tells me absolutely nothing about what to do in class next Tuesday.

Then there's this:
Today theorists are questioning the ideologies surrounding practices of quotation. An early critique of such practices appears in the work of Bakhtin and Volosinov, who question the ways in which quotation perpetuates a view of language as the property of a radically unique individual rather than as a set of socially constructed systems.
and this:
Volosinov, Valentin N. “Exposition of the Problem of Reported Speech.” Marxism and the Philosophy of Language. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1973. Here Volosinov mounts a powerful critique of quotation practices, revealing the ways they are inevitably embedded in ideology.
The Everyday Writer costs $57.99 on Amazon.

headlines you don't want to see

Bridge deemed safe despite low rating
Rivertowns Enterprise Volume 36, Number 32 October 28, 2011

Ed was contemplating this front-page headline over breakfast the other morning.

He says what is means is the bridge is not safe, but they're hoping it doesn't collapse during the daytime.