Archive for July, 2016


the science of reincarnation


The Science of Reincarnation

UVA psychiatrist Jim Tucker investigates children’s claims of past lives

by Sean Lyons, Virginia Magazine

December 12, 2013

When Ryan Hammons was 4 years old, he began directing imaginary movies. Shouts of “Action!” often echoed from his room.

But the play became a concern for Ryan’s parents when he began waking up in the middle of the night screaming and clutching his chest, saying he dreamed his heart exploded when he was in Hollywood. His mother, Cyndi, asked his doctor about the episodes. Night terrors, the doctor said. He’ll outgrow them.Then one night, as Cyndi tucked Ryan into bed, Ryan suddenly took hold of Cyndi’s hand.

reincarnation-2“Mama,” he said. “I think I used to be someone else.”

He said he remembered a big white house and a swimming pool. It was in Hollywood, many miles from his Oklahoma home. He said he had three sons, but that he couldn’t remember their names. He began to cry, asking Cyndi over and over why he couldn’t remember their names.

“I really didn’t know what to do,” Cyndi said. “I was more in shock than anything. He was so insistent about it.

“After that night, he kept talking about it, kept getting upset about not being able to remember those names. I started researching the Internet about reincarnation. I even got some books from the library on Hollywood, thinking their pictures might help him. I didn’t tell anyone for months.”

One day, as Ryan and Cyndi paged through one of the Hollywood books, Ryan stopped at a black-and-white still taken from a 1930s movie, Night After Night. Two men in the center of the picture were confronting one another. Four other men surrounded them. Cyndi didn’t recognize any of the faces, but Ryan pointed to one of the men in the middle.

“Hey Mama,” he said. “That’s George. We did a picture together.” His finger then shot over to a man on the right, wearing an overcoat and a scowl. “That guy’s me. I found me!”

Ryan’s claims, while rare, are not unique among the more than 2,500 case files sitting inside the offices of Jim B. Tucker, an associate psychiatry professor at the UVA Medical Center’s Division of Perceptual Studies.

For nearly 15 years, Tucker has been investigating claims made by children, usually between the ages of 2 and 6 years old, who say they’ve had past lives.The children are sometimes able to provide enough detail about those lives that their stories can be traced back to an actual person—rarely famous and often entirely unknown to the family—who died years before.

Tucker, one of the only scientists in the world studying the phenomenon, says the strength of the cases he encounters varies. Some can be easily discounted, for instance, when it becomes clear that a child’s innocuous statements come within a family that desperately misses a loved one.

But in a number of the cases, like Ryan’s, Tucker says the most logical, scientific explanation for a claim is as simple as it is astounding: Somehow, the child recalls memories from another life.

“I understand the leap it takes to conclude there is something beyond what we can see and touch,” says Tucker, who served as medical director of the University’s Child and Family Psychiatry Clinic for nearly a decade. “But there is this evidence here that needs to be accounted for, and when we look at these cases carefully, some sort of carry-over of memories often makes the most sense.”

In his latest book, Return to Life, due out this month, Tucker details some of the more compelling American cases he’s researched and outlines his argument that discoveries within quantum mechanics, the mind-bending science of how nature’s smallest particles behave, provide clues to reincarnation’s existence.

“Quantum physics indicates that our physical world may grow out of our consciousness,” Tucker says. “That’s a view held not just by me, but by a number of physicists as well.”

Little Controversy

While his work might be expected to garner fierce debate within the scientific community, Tucker’s research, based in part on the cases accumulated all over the world by his predecessor, Ian Stevenson, who died in 2007, has caused little stir.

Michael Levin, director of the Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology at Tufts University—who wrote in an academic review of Tucker’s first book that it presented a “first-rate piece of research”—said that’s because current scientific research models have no way to prove or debunk Tucker’s findings.

“When you fish with a net with a certain size of holes, you will never catch any fish smaller than those holes,” Levin says. “What you find is limited by how you are searching for it. Our current methods and concepts have no way of dealing with these data.”

Tucker, whose research is funded entirely by an endowment, began his reincarnation research in the late 1990s, after he read an article in the Charlottesville Daily Progress about Stevenson’s office winning a grant to study the effects of near-death experiences.

“I was curious about the idea of life after death and whether the scientific method could be used to study it,” Tucker says.

He began volunteering within Stevenson’s department and after a few years found himself a permanent researcher in the office, where his duties included overseeing the electronic coding of Stevenson’s reincarnation cases.

That coding took years—Stevenson’s handwritten case files reached back to 1961—but Tucker said the work is yielding intriguing insights.

Roughly 70% of the children say they died violent or unexpected deaths in their previous life. Males account for close to three-quarters of those deaths—almost precisely the same ratio of males who die of unnatural causes in the general population.

More cases are reported in countries where reincarnation is part of the religious culture, but Tucker says there is no correlation between how strong a case is deemed and that family’s beliefs in reincarnation.

One out of five children who report a past life say they recall the intermission, the time between death and birth, although there is no consistent view of what that’s like. Some allege they were in “God’s house,” while others claim they waited near where they died before “going inside” their mother.

In cases where a child’s story has been traced to another individual, the median time between the death of that person and the child’s birth is about 16 months.

Further research by Tucker and others has shown the children generally have above-average IQs and do not possess any mental or emotional disorders beyond average groups of children. None appears to have been dissociating from painful family situations.

Nearly 20% of the children studied have scarlike birthmarks or even unusual deformities that closely match marks or injuries the person whose life the child recalls received at or near his or her death.

Most children’s claims generally subside around age 6, coinciding roughly with what Tucker says is the time children’s brains ready themselves for a new stage of development.

Despite the otherworldly nature of their stories, almost none of the children exhibit any signs of being particularly enlightened, Tucker says.

“My impression of the children is that while a few make philosophical statements about life, most are just typical kids,” he says. “It might be a situation similar to not being any smarter on the first day of first grade than you were on the last day of kindergarten.”

Other Explanations

Raised as a Southern Baptist in North Carolina, Tucker has weighed other, more earthly, explanations to the phenomenon.

He’s looked at fraud, perhaps for financial gain or fame. But most claims usually don’t net a movie deal, and many of the families Tucker’s met, particularly in the West, are reluctant to speak publicly about their child’s unusual behavior.Tucker has also considered simple childhood fantasy play, but that doesn’t explain how the details children offer can sometimes lead back to a particular individual. “It defies logic that it would just be a coincidence,” he says.

Faulty memories of witnesses are likely present in many cases, Tucker says, but there are dozens of instances where people made notes of what the children were saying almost from the beginning.

“None of those possibilities would also explain some of the other patterns, like the intense emotional attachment many children have to these memories, as Ryan exhibited,” Tucker says.

Tucker believes the relatively small number of claims he and Stevenson collected during the last five decades, especially from America, is partly because parents may dismiss or misunderstand what their children are telling them.”If children get a message that they aren’t being listened to, they will stop talking,” Tucker says. “They see they aren’t supported. Most kids aim to please their parents.”

How exactly the consciousness, or at least memories, of one person might transfer to another is obviously a mystery, but Tucker believes the answers might be found within the foundations of quantum physics.

Scientists have long known that matter like electrons and protons produces events only when observed.

A simplified example: Take light and shine it through a screen with two slits cut in it. Behind the screen, put a photographic plate that records the light. When the light is unobserved as it travels, the plate shows it went through both slits. But what happens when the light is observed? The plate shows the particles go through just one of the slits. The light’s behavior changes, and the only difference is that it is being observed.There’s plenty of debate on what that might mean. But Tucker, like Max Planck, the father of quantum physics, believes that discovery shows that the physical world is affected by, and even derived from the non-physical, from consciousness.

If that’s true, then consciousness doesn’t require a three-pound brain to exist, Tucker says, and so there’s no reason to think that consciousness would end with it.

“It’s conceivable that in some way consciousness could be expressed in a new life,” Tucker says.

Robert Pollock, director of the Center for the Study of Science and Religion at Columbia University, said scientists have long pondered the role observation might play in the physical world, but the hypotheses about it are not necessarily scientific.”Debates among physicists that center on the clarity and beauty of an idea but not on its disprovability are common to my mind, but are not scientific debates at all,” says Pollock. “I think what Planck and others since who have looked at how these very small particles behave, and then made inferences about consciousness, are expressing a hope. That’s fine; I hope they are right. But there’s no way to disprove the idea.”

“It’s much more than a hope,” he says. “Having direct positive evidence for a theory can have value, even if negative evidence against it is not possible.”

Ryan’s Past Life

Cyndi Hammons wasn’t considering any of that when her preschool son was pointing himself out in a photo from more than 80 years ago. She wanted to know who that man was.

Night-After-Night-film-images-118dbbf4-3e1b-432d-bfdd-027821f621bThe book didn’t provide any names of the actors pictured, but Cyndi quickly confirmed that the man Ryan said was “George” in the photo was indeed a George—George Raft, an all but forgotten film star from the 1930s and 1940s. Still, she couldn’t identify the man Ryan said had been him. Cyndi wrote Tucker, whom she found through her online research, and included the photo.

Eventually it ended up in the hands of a film Jovem-David-Martin-Lloyd-jonesarchivist, who, after weeks of research, confirmed the scowling man’s name: Martin Martyn, an uncredited extra in the film.

Tucker hadn’t shared that discovery with the Hammons family when he traveled to their home a few weeks later. Instead, he laid out black-and-white photos of four women on the kitchen table. Three of them were random.

Tucker asked Ryan, “Do any of these mean anything to you?”

Ryan studied the pictures. He pointed to one. She looks familiar, he said.

It was Martin Martyn’s wife.

Not long afterward, Tucker and the Hammonses traveled to California to meet Martyn’s daughter, who’d been tracked down by researchers working with Tucker on a documentary. Tucker sat down with the woman before her meeting with Ryan. She’d been reluctant to help, but during her talk with Tucker, she confirmed dozens of facts Ryan had given about her father.

Ryan said he danced in New York. Martyn was a Broadway dancer. Ryan said he was also an “agent,” and that people where he worked had changed their names. Martyn worked for years at a well-known talent agency in Hollywood—where stage names are often created—after his dancing career ended.

Ryan said his old address had “Rock” in its name. Martyn lived at 825 North Roxbury Dr. in Beverly Hills. Ryan said he knew a man named Senator Five. Martyn’s daughter said she had a picture of her father with a Senator Ives, Irving Ives, of New York, who served in the US Senate from 1947 to 1959.

And yes, Martin Martyn had three sons. The daughter of course knew their names.

The meeting later between Ryan and Martyn’s daughter didn’t go well. Ryan shook her hand then hid behind Cyndi for the rest of the time. Later he told his mother the woman’s “energy” had changed. Cyndi explained that people change when they grow up.

“I don’t want to go back [to Hollywood],” Ryan said. “I always want to keep this family.”

In the weeks that followed, Ryan spoke less about Hollywood. Tucker says that often happens when children meet the family of someone they claimed to have been. It seems to validate their memories, making them less intense.

“I think they see that no one is waiting for them in the past,” Tucker says. “Some of them get sad about it, but ultimately they accept it and they turn their attention more fully to the present. They get more involved in experiencing this life, which, of course, is what they should do.”



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eliminating the middle man


7,000 Deaths in Custody

A first-ever database provides a detailed look at how people died during encounters with the criminal-justice system in Texas.

by Juleyka Lantigua-Williams, The Atlantic

July 28, 2016

Between 2005 and 2015, 6,913 people died while in legal custody in Texas. Many died of natural causes while serving long prison sentences. Others ended their own lives. A few died at the hands of another inmate, or, in some cases, police or correctional officers. In a handful of instances, people died from cardiac arrest after quickly ingesting a lethal dose of drugs while being arrested or after getting pulled over by police. Together, these deaths form revealing patterns about Texas-style justice and the state of corrections in an increasingly carceral country.

This information used to be hard to access, but it’s now readily available in an online database called the Texas Justice Initiative. “Some family members may not have gotten a full account of how their loved one died, so in that way I feel some responsibility about making the information public,” said Amanda Woog, the postdoctoral legal fellow at the Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis at the University of Texas at Austin who created it. When we spoke, she was unsure of what the response to the project, which launched on Wednesday, would be. But she seemed very optimistic that it would be valuable for policymakers, researchers, journalists, justice administrators, academics, and advocates. Her main goal was to make the information widely available and easy to access.

The final product was culled from thousands of internal reports and includes names, time and place of death, cause of death, time in custody, and a description of the circumstances. Aided by web developers, Patrick Diaz and Vitaly Kezlya, and her husband, Robert Pinkard, Woog envisioned and created a website that’s well organized and cleanly designed.

“The custodian of the data could spin it however he likes, but if it’s out in the open then everyone could have access to it,” she said when I asked her about the impetus behind the work. “There is a fair amount of data. It’s just a question of whose hands it’s in.” She is the first person to ever assemble such a database for Texas and make it available publicly. The raw information used to create the dataset is available for download on the site and also upon request from the Texas state attorney general. Law-enforcement agencies, including local jails, the criminal-justice department, and others, are required to file a report with the attorney general every time a person dies in custody. “The attorney general’s office has been very responsive to my requests,” Woog said.

“These deaths occurred in local jail cells, in the backs of police cars, and on prison sidewalks,” Woog wrote in the summary report of her findings. Among the “suicide” listings is one for Sandra Bland, who died in police custody after a traffic stop. Like Bland, more than 1,900 of those who died, or 28 percent, had not been convicted of or even charged with a crime. “These extra-judicial deaths in custody are diffuse. They occur at every point and phase of our criminal-justice system, in a manner that remains largely untracked and unexamined,” Woog wrote.

Officially, 70% of deaths in custody resulted from natural causes or illness, 11% from suicide, and 8% from “justifiable homicide.” Sixty-eight percent (4,684) occurred in prisons, 16% (1,111) in jails, and 16% (1,118) in police interactions or police custody. Woog pulled together additional meaningful information from the raw data, highlights of which appear below.

Pre-booking deaths reported by law enforcement have been on the rise since 2005, and more than doubled from the fewest reported deaths in 2006 (74) to the most reported deaths in 2015 (152).

The racial disparities in Texas’s criminal justice system generally translate into racial disparities in custodial mortality. While blacks made up 12% of the state’s population in 2010, they comprised 36% of those incarcerated between 2005 and 2014. They also accounted for 30% of the deaths in custody from 2005 to 2015.

Justifiable homicide was the leading cause of non-natural deaths for black and Latino males 30% and 34% respectively—compared to 24%  of white males.

Suicide was the leading cause of non-natural deaths for both white men and white women, with 47% of white male non-natural deaths and 49% of white female non-natural deaths—compared to 31% for males and females of other races/ethnicities.

Forty-one percent of people who died in jails were reported to have appeared intoxicated, exhibited mental-health problems, or exhibited medical problems upon entry into the facility.

Woog did further analysis of the demographic information within the data:

Although blacks made up 12% of Texas’s population in 2010, they comprised 36% of the incarcerated population between 2005 and 2014 (the last year for which data were available), and 30% of custodial deaths from 2005 to 2015.

Whites made up 45% of Texas’s population in 2010, but comprised 31% of the incarcerated population from 2005 to 2014, and 42% of custodial deaths between 2005 and 2015.

Latinos accounted for 38% of Texas’s population in 2010, and comprised 32% of the incarcerated population between 2005 and 2014, and 28% of custodial deaths from 2005 to 2015.

For comparison, on the national level, nearly 16,000 people died in custody between 2007 and 2010 at the state and local levels, according to the Custody Reporting Program at the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Of that number, 279 were listed as homicides and another 181 were labeled accidental. Ten percent were suicides. The bulk—13,060—were classified as natural. As for individuals killed during an arrest, the BJS estimates that an average of just over 900 people are killed during the process of an arrest each year overall. Police officers are responsible for many of these cases. In 2011 alone, the BJS received 689 reports of arrest-related homicides committed by law enforcement. That represents a 39% increase over the prior two years.

The data gathered on Texas reflects a markedly high number of deaths in custody compared to national trends. The increased attention to suspicious cases such as Bland’s—which some see as representative of a deadly trend in over-policing of black citizens—magnifies the importance of this kind of tool, which allows anyone to study and analyze the data.

Juleyka Lantigua-Williams is a writer for The Atlantic, where she writes about criminal justice, among other things. This article is part of The Atlantic’s “Next America: Criminal Justice” project, which is supported by a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.



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jupiter as never seen before

Two southern photos stitched together (because only half the planet is in sunshine at any given time).

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nordic prisons


Why Norway Helps Prisoners and America Fails Them

by Laura Donovan, ATTN:

June 1, 2005

At first glance, Norway’s Halden Prison wouldn’t strike you as place where people serve time.

You won’t find guard towers, guns, or razor wire surrounding Halden, but forests—like pine and birch trees. Are Hoidal, who runs the facility, says it was intended to look like something other than a prison.

“The buildings [could] be a university, hospital, school, something like that,” Hoidal recently said in an interview with NPR.

halden_room_custom-bdaa6ae211e8a58d9a22e2b83c4b1b2f2914425d-s800-c85Halden spends about triple the amount on its average prisoner (about $90,000) than the US system spends. Inmates at Halden also receive private rooms with a TV, shower, fridge, and wood furniture. It might sound luxurious for those serving time, but at the heart of this approach is a philosophy that appears to be effective. Norway has a 20 percent recidivism rate, which is among the lowest in the world, according to a March 2014 report from Rhode Island’s Salve Regina University.

In the US, more than 75% of released inmates are re-arrested after getting out of prison. Norway’s incarceration rate is 75 per 100,000 while the US rate is more than ten times higher at 707 per 100,000, totaling more than 2 million people behind bars.

A culture of equality

Karin Dwyer-Loken, a Maryland native who teaches history and English at Halden, told NPR that the prison treats inmates with respect. The culture is such that Halden staffers can be seen eating with inmates in designated dining spots and playing games with them in the gym.

“Anybody can learn anything,” she said. “Anybody can change their lives with the right kind of help, guidance, giving them a chance … Their punishment is being locked up. Their punishment is not to be treated badly while they’re locked up.”

Halden focuses on rehabilitation over punishment

Because Norway has a 21-year limit to prison sentences (although some prisoners get extensions if the system doesn’t believe the inmate has been rehabilitated by the conclusion of his/her sentence) and no death penalty, Halden aims to prepare inmates to enter the real world upon serving time. The facility has wood-working programs, assembly workshops, and a recording studio that inmates are free to use.

“[All] inmates in Norwegian prison are going back to the society,” Hoidal previously said in a video by Gughi Fassino and Emanuela Zuccalà. “Do you want people who are angry—or people who are rehabilitated?”

Why Norway’s Bastoy Prison has also been successful

Two years ago, The Guardian reported that Norway’s minimum security Bastoy Prison had a recidivism rate of 16%, which is the lowest in Europe. Bastoy director Arne Nilsen said his facility stresses the value of treating inmates like people rather than merely criminals.

“In closed prisons we keep them locked up for some years and then let them back out, not having had any real responsibility for working or cooking,” Nilsen told The Guardian. “In the law, being sent to prison is nothing to do with putting you in a terrible prison to make you suffer. The punishment is that you lose your freedom. If we treat people like animals when they are in prison they are likely to behave like animals. Here we pay attention to you as human beings.”

Fra-HLM_7.Kantinebro-ansatte-Halden.fengsel.100-1024x682Nilsen added that it’s crucial to show prisoners how to adapt to society while they’re behind bars so they’re less likely to commit crimes when they’re back in the outside world again.

“For the victim, the offender is in prison,” he said. “That is justice … Here I give prisoners respect; this way we teach them to respect others. But we are watching them all the time. It is important that when they are released they are less likely to commit more crimes. That is justice for society.”

Several months ago, ATTN: interviewed Tyrone Hood, a man who spent more than two decades in prison for a crime he never committed. Though Hood was happy to be released 22 years later, he faced many challenges assimilating to non-prison life.

“I don’t even know how to go out to the store and buy clothes that match, my niece has to show me that,” Hood told ATTN: at the time. “I don’t even know how to pump gas, or pay a bill, or use the cell phone, or the Internet … [S]ome of the technology has changed at least 96%, so I’ve gotta learn from scratch.”


Laura Donovan is a freelance writer for many publications. After three years on the east coast—two in NYC and one in DC—she now resides in her hometown of Los Angeles and continues to pursue writing.





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ghostess with the mostess


On Sunday of this week, we lost one of the most-heard but least-known singers of the last six to seven decades: Marni Nixon, American soprano and ghost-singer for featured actresses in movie musicals. She is best known for dubbing the singing voices of the leading actresses in films, including Natalie Wood in West Side Story, Deborah Kerr in The King and I, and Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady, among many others. She was 86.

Nixon’s career in film started in 1948 when she sang the voices of the angels heard by Ingrid Bergman in Joan of Arc. The same year, she did her first dubbing work when she provided Margaret O’Brien’s singing voice in 1948’s Big City and then 1949’s The Secret Garden. She also dubbed Marilyn Monroe’s high notes in “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953).

In 1956, she worked closely with Deborah Kerr to supply the star’s singing voice for the film version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I and the next year she again worked with Kerr to dub her voice in An Affair to Remember. That year, she also sang for Sophia Loren in Boy on a Dolphin. In 1960, she had an on-screen chorus role in Can-Can. In 1961’s West Side Story, the studio kept her work on the film (as the singing voice of Natalie Wood’s Maria) a secret, and Nixon also dubbed Rita Moreno’s singing in the film’s “Tonight” quintet.

This is shameful but oh-so-Hollywood: she was virtually invisible through much of her career.

Deborah Kerr was nominated for an Academy Award in 1956 for her role as Anna in The King and I; the film’s soundtrack album sold hundreds of thousands of copies. For singing Anna’s part on that album, Nixon recalled, she received a total of $420.

“You always had to sign a contract that nothing would be revealed,” Nixon told the ABC News program Nightline in 2007. “Twentieth Century Fox, when I did The King and I, threatened me.” She continued, “They said, if anybody ever knows that you did any part of the dubbing for Deborah Kerr, we’ll see to it that you don’t work in town again.”

She asked the producers of West Side Story for, but did not receive, any direct royalties from her work on the film, but Leonard Bernstein contractually gave her ¼ of one percent of his personal royalties from it. In 1962, she also sang Wood’s high notes in Gypsy. For My Fair Lady in 1964, she again worked with the female lead of the film, Audrey Hepburn, to perform the songs of Hepburn’s character Eliza. Because of her uncredited dubbing work in these films, Time magazine and many newspapers called her “The Ghostess with the Mostest.”

Though Ms. Nixon honored the bargain, her work soon became one of Hollywood’s worst-kept secrets. She became something of a cult figure, appearing as a guest on To Tell the Truth and as an answer to clues featured by Jeopardy!, Trivial Pursuit, and at least one New York Times crossword puzzle.

Her increasing renown helped bring her spectral trade into the light and encouraged her to push for official recognition. “The anonymity didn’t bother me until I sang Natalie Wood’s songs in West Side Story, ” Nixon told The Times in 1967. “Then I saw how important my singing was to the picture. I was giving my talent, and somebody else was taking the credit.”

Although she did appear as herself on stage early in her career—such as on Broadway in 1954 in The Girl in Pink Tights—it wasn’t until she had already proved herself a dozen times over that she finally began to receive on-stage credit for her magnificent gifts. In 1961 she made a special guest appearance on Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts broadcast. Before My Fair Lady was released in theatres in 1964, Nixon played Eliza in a production at New York City Center. Nixon’s first onscreen appearance was as Sister Sophia in the film The Sound of Music (1965). In the DVD commentary to the film, director Robert Wise comments that audiences were finally able to see the woman whose voice they knew so well.

Although the studios seldom accorded Nixon the screen credit and royalties that she began to demand, both later became customary for ghost singers.

Nixon, who continued singing until she was in her 80s, eventually came to regard her heard-but-not-seen life with affection. She paid it homage in a one-woman show, “Marni Nixon: The Voice of Hollywood,” with which she toured the country for years.

In the few movie musicals made today, directors tend to cast actors who are trained singers, like Meryl Streep in Into the Woods. What does this mean? According to The New York Times, it means that the ghost singers who were once a Hollywood mainstay have now, for the most part, become ghosts themselves.


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executive pay

Although this story has been around for several years, the Utah-based corporate-governance research firm MSCI has completed a new study that leads to the conclusion that the highest-paid CEOs often run the worst-performing companies. The report found that the link between high pay and low performance remained strong even when tracked over the course of many years. “The highest-paid had the worst performance by a significant margin,” said Ric Marshall, a senior corporate governance researcher at MSCI. He said the findings show companies should be “more conservative” with equity incentive pay awards, which now account for 70% of US CEO compensation.


Exec Comp.

Study shows highly paid CEOs often run the worst-performing companies

by Theo Francis, The Wall Street Journal

July 25, 2016

The best-paid CEOs tend to run some of the worst-performing companies and vice versa—even when pay and performance are measured over the course of many years, according to a new study.

The analysis, from corporate-governance research firm MSCI, examined the pay of some 800 CEOs at 429 large and midsize U.S. companies during the decade ending in 2014, and also looked at the total shareholder return of the companies during the same period.

MSCI found that $100 invested in the 20% of companies with the highest-paid CEOs would have grown to $265 over 10 years. The same amount invested in the companies with the lowest-paid CEOs would have grown to $367. The report is expected to be released as early as Monday.

The results call into question a fundamental tenet of modern CEO pay: the idea that significant slugs of stock options or restricted stock, especially when the size of the award is also tied to company performance in other ways, helps drive better company performance, which in turn will improve results for shareholders. Equity incentive awards now make up 70% of CEO pay in the U.S.

“The highest paid had the worst performance by a significant margin,” said Ric Marshall, a senior corporate governance researcher at MSCI. “It just argues for the equity portion of CEO pay to be more conservative.”


Theo Francis is a special writer for The Wall Street Journal. He covers corporate news from Washington D., and specializes in using regulatory documents to write about complex financial, business, economic, legal and regulatory issues.


The Highest-Paid CEOs Are The Worst Performers, New Study Says

by Susan Adams, Forbes

June 16, 2014

Across the board, the more CEOs get paid, the worse their companies do over the next three years, according to extensive new research. This is true whether they’re CEOs at the highest end of the pay spectrum or the lowest. “The more CEOs are paid, the worse the firm does over the next three years, as far as stock performance and even accounting performance,” says one of the authors of the study, Michael Cooper of the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business.

The conventional wisdom among executive pay consultants, boards of directors and investors is that CEOs make the best decisions for their companies when they have the most skin in the game. That’s why big chunks of the compensation packages for the highest-paid CEOs come in the form of stock and stock options. Case in point: The world’s top-earning CEO, Oracle billionaire Larry Ellison, took in $77 million worth of stock-based compensation last year, according to The New York Times, after refusing his performance bonus and accepting only $1 in salary (he made a stunning total of $96 million in 2012). But does all that stock motivate Ellison to make the best calls for his company?

The empirical evidence before fell on both sides of that question, but those studies used small sample sizes. Now Cooper and two professors, one at Purdue and the other at the University of Cambridge, have studied a large data set of the 1,500 companies with the biggest market caps, supplied by a firm called Execucomp. They also looked at pay and company performance in three-year periods over a relatively long time span, from 1994-2013, and compared what are known as firms’ “abnormal” performance, meaning a company’s revenues and profits as compared with like companies in their fields. They were startled to find that the more CEOs got paid, the worse their companies did.

Another counter-intuitive conclusion: The negative effect was most pronounced in the 150 firms with the highest-paid CEOs. The finding is especially surprising given the widespread notion that it’s worth it to pay a premium to superstar CEOs like Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase (who earned $20 million in 2013) or Lloyd Blankfein ($28 million) of Goldman Sachs. (The study doesn’t reveal individual results for them.) Though Cooper concedes that there could be exceptions at specific companies (the study didn’t measure individual firms), the study shows that as a group, the companies run by the CEOS who were paid at the top 10% of the scale, had the worst performance. How much worse? The firms returned 10% less to their shareholders than did their industry peers. The study also clearly shows that at the high end, the more CEOs were paid, the worse their companies did; it looked at the very top, the 5% of CEOs who were the highest paid, and found that their companies did 15% worse, on average, than their peers.

How could this be? In a word, overconfidence. CEOs who get paid huge amounts tend to think less critically about their decisions. “They ignore dis-confirming information and just think that they’re right,” says Cooper. That tends to result in over-investing—investing too much and investing in bad projects that don’t yield positive returns for investors.” The researchers found that 13% of the 150 CEOs at the bottom of the list had done mergers over the past year and the average return from the mergers was negative .51%. Among the top-paid CEOs, 19% did mergers and those deals resulted in a negative performance of 1.38% over the following three years. “The returns are almost three times lower for the high-paying firms than the low-paying firms,” says Cooper. “This wasteful spending destroys shareholder value.”

The paper also found that the longer CEOs were at the helm, the more pronounced was their firms’ poor performance. Cooper says this is because those CEOs are able to appoint more allies to their boards, and those board members are likely to go along with the bosses’ bad decisions. “For the high-pay CEOs, with high overconfidence and high tenure, the effects are just crazy,” he says. They return 22% worse in shareholder value over three years as compared to their peers.

Yet another surprising finding: The high-paid CEOs did poorly for themselves when it came to cashing in their options. Among the bottom-paying firms, 33% of the CEOs held onto their options when they could have cashed them in for a profit, which the paper calls “unexercised in-the-money options,” while more than twice as many high-paid CEOs, 88%, held onto their options when they could have made money selling.

What can be done about all those negative numbers? The paper doesn’t venture to say but Cooper notes that some finance experts have suggested so-called claw-back provisions. In a CEO pay contract, there would be an item that says, if the firm does poorly compared to its peers, the CEO loses a share of his compensation. “That proposal hasn’t gone over real well,” says Cooper. “There is another school of thought, that CEOs are just too highly paid, period,” he adds. “The US is pretty egregious as far as the ratio between median pay and what the CEO makes.”

Though four years ago the Dodd-Frank law instituted a requirement that firms divulge the ratio between CEOs and median pay, the SEC has yet to issue a final rule ordering it, and companies have been less than forthcoming. But Bloomberg compiled data last year showing that the average multiple of CEO compensation to that of rank-and-file workers was 204, up 20% since 2009. At General Electric, with its star CEO Jeffrey Immelt ($28.2 million in 2013), the ratio was 491, according to Bloomberg.

The Occupy movement, labor unions and some members of Congress have pushed companies to divulge more information about pay ratios, and complained about excess CEO pay, while boards have pushed so-called say-on-pay provisions that would allow them to vote on executive compensation packages. Now those groups have some new empirical evidence to support their positions.


Susan Adams writes about entrepreneurs, small business owners, and what drives them. Since 2016 she has been with the magazine’s Entrepreneurs team, after spending the previous six years writing for the Leadership channel.



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broken promises

Crossed Fingers Tattoo.

Day one of the Democratic convention. Get ready for another week of promises and rhetoric and news coverage that you’d best not believe. Too good to be true. But politicians aren’t the only ones with empty words that play us all for suckers.

Emma never made it out here last week. Frankly I’m not surprised. In my heart-of-hearts, I knew her visit was a long-shot. Now she says she’s coming in August, but we’ll just have to see. Most young people are a jumble of good intentions, but with very little follow-through.

I have more faith that I will meet the German journalist next month. A couple days ago, we had a long conversation on the phone and I shared all the gory details of my recent experiences. She seemed most impressed that my commitment to recently-released parricides has not flagged.

However, I don’t think it’s such a big deal. “A promise is a promise.”

But it is sufficiently unusual from her point-of-view. “Yours is one of the most interesting stories I have heard in a long time.”

Are there really that many unreliable people out there?

When I seemed to doubt her, she added: “And I’m of Russian extraction. We don’t just say things to make people feel good.”

Isn’t “Trust but Verify” also of Russian origin? We’ll see how it goes.



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a blast from the past

Former President George W. Bush reportedly isn’t sure the Republican Party will ever get another shot at the presidency. At a reunion for former members of his administration back in April, Bush admitted to a small group of former aides and advisers that he’s seriously concerned that this election cycle might spell the end of the GOP, Politico reported Tuesday. “I’m worried that I will be the last Republican president,” Bush said. To a great extent, it’s his own doing.

This article is a little out-of-date, but very relevant today as the Republicans appear to be going the way of the Whigs.



We’re Not in Lake Wobegon Anymore

How did the Party of Lincoln and Liberty transmogrify into the party of Newt Gingrich’s evil spawn and their Etch-A-Sketch president, a dull and rigid man, whose philosophy is a jumble of badly sutured body parts trying to walk?

by Garrison Keillor, In These Times

August 26, 2004

Something has gone seriously haywire with the Republican Party. Once, it was the party of pragmatic Main Street businessmen in steel-rimmed spectacles who decried profligacy and waste, were devoted to their communities and supported the sort of prosperity that raises all ships. They were good-hearted people who vanquished the gnarlier elements of their party, the paranoid Roosevelt-haters, the flat Earthers and Prohibitionists, the antipapist antiforeigner element. The genial Eisenhower was their man, a genuine American hero of D-Day, who made it OK for reasonable people to vote Republican. He brought the Korean War to a stalemate, produced the Interstate Highway System, declined to rescue the French colonial army in Vietnam, and gave us a period of peace and prosperity, in which (oddly) American arts and letters flourished and higher education burgeoned—and there was a degree of plain decency in the country. Fifties Republicans were giants compared to today’s. Richard Nixon was the last Republican leader to feel a Christian obligation toward the poor.

In the years between Nixon and Newt Gingrich, the party migrated southward down the Twisting Trail of Rhetoric and sneered at the idea of public service and became the Scourge of Liberalism, the Great Crusade Against the Sixties, the Death Star of Government, a gang of pirates that diverted and fascinated the media by their sheer chutzpah, such as the misty-eyed flag-waving of Ronald Reagan who, while George McGovern flew bombers in World War II, took a pass and made training films in Long Beach. The Nixon moderate vanished like the passenger pigeon, purged by a legion of angry white men who rose to power on pure punk politics. “Bipartisanship is another term of date rape,” says Grover Norquist, the Sid Vicious of the GOP. “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” The boy has Oedipal problems and government is his daddy.

The party of Lincoln and Liberty was transmogrified into the party of hairy-backed swamp developers and corporate shills, faith-based economists, fundamentalist bullies with Bibles, Christians of convenience, freelance racists, misanthropic frat boys, shrieking midgets of AM radio, tax cheats, nihilists in golf pants, brownshirts in pinstripes, sweatshop tycoons, hacks, fakirs, aggressive dorks, Lamborghini libertarians, people who believe Neil Armstrong’s moonwalk was filmed in Roswell, New Mexico, little honkers out to diminish the rest of us, Newt’s evil spawn and their Etch-A-Sketch president, a dull and rigid man suspicious of the free flow of information and of secular institutions, whose philosophy is a jumble of badly sutured body parts trying to walk. Republicans: The No.1 reason the rest of the world thinks we’re deaf, dumb and dangerous.

Rich ironies abound! Lies pop up like toadstools in the forest! Wild swine crowd round the public trough! Outrageous gerrymandering! Pocket lining on a massive scale! Paid lobbyists sit in committee rooms and write legislation to alleviate the suffering of billionaires! Hypocrisies shine like cat turds in the moonlight! O Mark Twain, where art thou at this hour? Arise and behold the Gilded Age reincarnated gaudier than ever, upholding great wealth as the sure sign of Divine Grace.

Here in 2004, George W. Bush is running for reelection on a platform of tragedy—the single greatest failure of national defense in our history, the attacks of 9/11 in which 19 men with box cutters put this nation into a tailspin, a failure the details of which the White House fought to keep secret even as it ran the country into hock up to the hubcaps, thanks to generous tax cuts for the well-fixed, hoping to lead us into a box canyon of debt that will render government impotent, even as we engage in a war against a small country that was undertaken for the president’s personal satisfaction but sold to the American public on the basis of brazen misinformation, a war whose purpose is to distract us from an enormous transfer of wealth taking place in this country, flowing upward, and the deception is working beautifully.

The concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few is the death knell of democracy. No republic in the history of humanity has survived this. The election of 2004 will say something about what happens to ours. The omens are not good.

Our beloved land has been fogged with fear—fear, the greatest political strategy ever. An ominous silence, distant sirens, a drumbeat of whispered warnings and alarms to keep the public uneasy and silence the opposition. And in a time of vague fear, you can appoint bullet-brained judges, strip the bark off the Constitution, eviscerate federal regulatory agencies, bring public education to a standstill, stupefy the press, lavish gorgeous tax breaks on the rich.

There is a stink drifting through this election year. It isn’t the Florida recount or the Supreme Court decision. No, it’s 9/11 that we keep coming back to. It wasn’t the “end of innocence,” or a turning point in our history, or a cosmic occurrence, it was an event, a lapse of security. And patriotism shouldn’t prevent people from asking hard questions of the man who was purportedly in charge of national security at the time.

Whenever I think of those New Yorkers hurrying along Park Place or getting off the No.1 Broadway local, hustling toward their office on the 90th floor, the morning paper under their arms, I think of that non-reader George W. Bush and how he hopes to exploit those people with a little economic uptick, maybe the capture of Osama, cruise to victory in November and proceed to get some serious nation-changing done in his second term.

This year, as in the past, Republicans will portray us Democrats as embittered academics, desiccated Unitarians, whacked-out hippies and communards, people who talk to telephone poles, the party of the Deadheads. They will wave enormous flags and wow over and over the footage of firemen in the wreckage of the World Trade Center and bodies being carried out and they will lie about their economic policies with astonishing enthusiasm.

The Union is what needs defending this year. Government of Enron and by Halliburton and for the Southern Baptists is not the same as what Lincoln spoke of. This gang of Pithecanthropus Republicanii has humbugged us to death on terrorism and tax cuts for the comfy and school prayer and flag burning and claimed the right to know what books we read and to dump their sewage upstream from the town and clear-cut the forests and gut the IRS and mark up the constitution on behalf of intolerance and promote the corporate takeover of the public airwaves and to hell with anybody who opposes them.

This is a great country, and it wasn’t made so by angry people. We have a sacred duty to bequeath it to our grandchildren in better shape than however we found it. We have a long way to go and we’re not getting any younger.

Dante said that the hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who in time of crisis remain neutral, so I have spoken my piece, and thank you, dear reader. It’s a beautiful world, rain or shine, and there is more to life than winning.


Garrison Keillor was the host and writer of A Prairie Home Companion, which ran for 46 years on the air. He retired this year.



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Anger Management and the Code of the Street

by James Barrett and Elizabeth Janopaul Naylor, Youth Today

July 20, 2016

The room was stuffy and hot, the scent of stale snack foods hung in the air and the boys in the anger management group in this locked facility were distracted. As a young clinician and group facilitator, I was frustrated.

We had been reviewing the steps of the “anger cycle” for weeks and no one seemed to be retaining the information. With an exasperated sigh, I tried to remind them that this material was designed to prevent the situations that got them locked up, and thus stuck here with me.

Before I could start back on the first step of the cycle, a boy who I will call Jay dismissively rattled off all eight steps as well as the positive coping skills taught to avoid violence. I was stunned. Jay was a frequent flyer to this detention facility. Of the many groups I’d had with him, he was never an active participant.

I asked Jay why, if he knew the material so well, he had never used them to avoid incarceration. He replied, “This stuff would never work in the neighborhood where I’m from; you try this, you’re gonna get punked.”

Jay, like many of the other boys in that facility, got into trouble due to the “code of the street.” This code dictates that any sign of disrespect must be aggressively avenged with retaliation.

After several conversations with Jay about why the skills we were teaching were not helpful, I began to question the effectiveness of teaching these kids skills that are irrelevant to the situations they encounter in their neighborhoods. This frustration would mount as I started to notice retaliatory violence glorified and celebrated in popular culture.

For example, in hockey there are “enforcers” on each team, prepared to defend the honor of a smaller, more vulnerable teammate. Similarly, in baseball, if a batter “shows a pitcher up” by staring at a home run ball for too long before running the bases, that batter is likely to be intentionally hit by the pitcher the next inning.

Indeed, the ubiquity of these messages explicitly endorsing “justified” violence make it very difficult for a clinician to teach a maxim such as “be the bigger person and walk away from a fight.” This is clearly not the message that popular culture is giving to young people.

Sadly, today the “code of the street” is not taken into account when arresting, sentencing and treating these adolescents. According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, in 2013 there were 1.1 million juvenile delinquency cases. Approximately 186,000 of these cases were for charges of simple assault. Most of these youth come from lower-income minority families.

Jay, like many young men charged with simple assault, was referred for anger management treatment. The group I facilitated centered on learning anger management and conflict resolution skills.

The assumption that all violence stems from the same emotions and thoughts has led many clinicians to apply this one intervention across the board. While anger management curricula can be quite effective for adolescent struggling with mood swings, impulsivity or difficulty with affect regulation, they often do not take into account the social pressures of maintaining a reputation.

Time and again I watched the students in my groups fail to utilize the strategies they were taught as they cycled in and out of lock-up. When they were faced with ongoing and real threats to their reputation, fighting back was not just a question of managing anger. To these boys, “anger management” can be another example of how the rest of the world doesn’t understand their dilemma.

Needless to say, clinicians like myself who facilitate these groups often struggle with burnout, and both parties can feel like failures perpetually frustrated with the other.

As with any form of effective treatment, the messages clinicians deliver have to be relevant to the lived experience of our patients. These youth are in a terrible bind: Fight or be shamed. If we, as clinicians in the juvenile justice system, fail to recognize this predicament, our interventions will be ineffective and our patients will feel unheard.

It is frustrating to be told you have “anger issues” when in fact you are following the example of those around you, including athletes and celebrities. With the current national attention on violence prevention, it is a glaring omission that we do not systematically train clinicians about the culture of violence in which so many youth are forced to live.

The principle of using evidence-based practices has forced health care to empirically support its methodology. We need to take this one step further. Treatments and models of care must be contextually relevant.

In order to decrease crime and violence in this country, clinicians must acknowledge and understand the code of the street. The work we have done through the Cambridge Safety Net Collaborative on the Fight Navigator curriculum integrates the lived experiences of youth into a violence prevention program.

The curriculum was developed through focus groups with mostly urban youth of color. They described strategies that work to respond to a threat in a manner that avoids violence and allows them to maintain a reputation.

In the same way that we know that talking about abstinence alone is not an effective way to prevent teen pregnancy, assuming that young people from dangerous neighborhoods can always “just walk away” will not reduce violence.

Cure Violence is a program that has also demonstrated success in reducing violence, by focusing on interrupting the transmission of violence with a public health approach. If we can intensify our efforts to provide tactics for effective de-escalation in this demographic, we could potentially keep a number of young people from entering the juvenile justice system.


Dr. James Barrett is the director of school-based programs at the Cambridge Health Alliance and an instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. He also serves as the clinical coordinator of the Cambridge Safety Net Collaborative with the Cambridge Police and is the author of the Fight Navigator violence prevention curriculum.

Dr. Elizabeth Janopaul-Naylor is a third-year psychiatry resident at Cambridge Health Alliance, affiliated with Harvard Medical School. She completed her undergraduate studies and medical school training at Brown University.



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goodbye cleveland

Trump Quote.

I don’t like Ms. Pantsuit, either. No matter who she chooses as her Veep, she will still be too strident.


Tony Schwartz, the ghostwriter of The Art of the Deal, says Trump has a short attention span, is reactive, and not thoughtful.

“If Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes,” said Schwartz, “there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization.”

Trump has demanded a refund of Schwartz’s book royalties or face a lawsuit.


Gary Johnson is said to be out-polling Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton with military members.

Roger Ailes seems to have cashed out pretty well.


What’s a guy to do?


The lesser of two evils? I don’t think so.

I think I’ll throw my vote away on a third choice.



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PS: (November 15, 2016) I was watching John Oliver last night, and he showed the People magazine meme (above) and stated that Donald Trump never said it. I’m trying my best to move on from this election, so I didn’t do any more research into the meme… just felt responsible for reporting the Oliver comment.