Saturday, April 28, 2018

The character of Kazdim the Eunuch, Chief of Police, in Dennis Wheatley's 'The Eunuch of Stamboul' (with spoilers)

Dennis Wheatley was a popular author in early twentieth-century England. His novel The Eunuch of Stamboul enjoyed many printings with different cover designs, many of which illustrate the titular eunuch.

Wheatley dedicated his book to Capt. George "Peter" H. Hill, author of Go Spy the Land and Then Came the Dawn, who he credits as an influence. He also mentions the friendship of "Colonel Charles Davey and Mr. Norman Penzer, both of whom have known the mystery and romance of Stamboul."

The author lays bare one of his guiding stereotypes about Turks late in the story. It will be helpful for us to see it up front:

"Kazdim [the Eunuch] was so completely Oriental — subtle, shrewd, sadistic, but so certain of himself and showing so little of his emotions that it had seemed a waste of breath to bandy words with him, whereas the [Turkish] Prince was so much more a Western type that Swithin [the Englishman] felt almost as if he were up against an exceptionally depraved and brutal specimen of his own kind." (p. 207)

In this blog post, I reveal the repetitive descriptions of Kazdim as fat, ugly, and evil, which is a common treatment of eunuch characters in both fiction and non-fiction. After that, I summarize the plot (with spoilers!) and provide links to the film version.

The trope of the fat, ugly, evil eunuch

The story is notable for its portrayal of the Eunuch, Kazdim Hari Bekar. A "treacherous rascal" (p. 55), he had formerly lived in the palace "less than ten years before" the novel's action is set and had "slain beautiful disobedient odalisques with one of those glittering scimitars" (p. 122). With the fall of the old political system, he is now the Chief of Police. The career trajectory makes sense, as a character explains:

"Spying's the natural business of a Eunuch. In the big harems there were scores of bonnie lassies wi' only one husband between the lot of them and no natural ootlet fer their passions. At times they'd go fair mad fer the lack of a man, so every harem was riddled wi' plots to smuggle in some lusty young hamal or soldier fer an hour. 'Twas the job of the Eunuchs to match their cunning against that of the women, and the clever ones made a mint o'money at the game. Think of the opportunities fer blackmail in sich a poseetion, mon! When one of these onnotural creatures had nosed out a love affair he'd play the woman like a salmon trout by threatening ta tell the master if she did not find him sil'er enough to still his tongue or, if she were rich, he'd encourage her to play the whore provided he made a guid thing oot of it. But all the time he'd have to go canny as a cat, fer if the woman were caught at her tricks he'd be called on ta answer fer it and if his brother Eunuchs found him out they'd tell on him to curry favour with their boss, so he stood a double chance of having his fat neck wrung. Can ye tell me a better school than that fer a secret service man?" (p. 56)

One of the British characters speculates: "Kazdim is naturally a reactionary at heart. As one of the old school of thugs and grafters the reforms Kemal has brought in have probably robbed him of a fortune, so he would be among the first to sympathize with the aims of the Kaka [the anti-Kemal resistance]." (p. 116)

The word "Eunuch" is typically capitalized in this novel — for example, "the young Turk probably knew who the Eunuch was and his evil reputation already" (p. 109) — suggesting it is treated more as a title than a gender. There are no other eunuch characters in the novel.

Kazdim is a single-minded spy and assassin and is uniformly charmless in his conversation. Every time he appears, the reader is reminded of how enormously fat he is. We never see him eat; instead, he is always smoking cigarettes.

"He was a tall man with immensely powerful shoulders but the effect of his height was minimized by his gigantic girth. He had the stomach of an elephant and would easily have turned the scale at twenty stone [i.e. 280 lbs, or 127 kg]. His face was even more unusual than his body, for apparently no neck supported it and it rose straight out of his shoulders like a vast inverted U. The eyes were tiny beads in that great expanse of flesh and almost buried in folds of fat, the cheeks puffed out, yet withered like the skin of a last year's apple, and the mouth was an absurd pink rosebud set above a seemingly endless cascade of chins." (p. 87)

Later he is described as having a "circumference about two ells [i.e. 90 inches, or 2.3 meters] and weight nearly up to that of a Brontosaurus." (p. 164) These sobriquets make comebacks: "the twenty-stone Eunuch" (p. 172), "the Brontosaurus is after her" (p. 236). When not dinosaur-like, he is "elephantine" (p. 290).

He has a "vast protruding paunch," an "absurdly small mouth," and a "tiny fluting voice." Again, in another place: "the big man bleated in his high thin voice." (p. 173)

He is: "Huge, sinister, implacable, relentless, as though the passage of time had no meaning for him" (p. 133), owner of "those small beady eyes embedded in their rolls of fat" and a "high-pitched, child-like voice" (pp. 135-136). "His great moon-like face broke into a smile of evil enjoyment as he slowly crushed out his cigarette with that air of terrible finality." (p. 171) And: "...the great brute placidly lit another cigarette and puffed at it thoughtfully, watching him with that unwinking stare by which a snake fascinates a bird." (p. 172) Given an opportunity to execute someone, Kazdim's face is "pasty white and grinning in the torch light, a mask of unutterably cruel enjoyment." (p. 182) "The Eunuch looked old, tired and evil tempered as he sank heavily into the only armchair." (p. 255) "Over her mother's shoulder, as in some awful nightmare, she saw the vast, still form of the Eunuch, overlapping the sides of the armchair, a great pile of cigarette ends making a small mountain in a brass ash tray beside him." (p. 271)

He has "puffy eyelids" (p. 215). "The Eunuch's enormous sides wobbled and shook as though they were made of jelly." (p. 215) "Kazdim's great expanse of face had gone grey with fury." (p. 271) "The Eunuch's small dark eyes bored into hers." (p. 272)

"The only things small about him are "[h]is small feet which so miraculously supported that huge body..." (p. 272) Again, "the patter of the Eunuch's tiny feet sounded upon the first stairs..." (p. 274)

Even the description of his study contains a fat joke:

"They crossed a spacious tiled hall, with a gallery running round above it, and a fountain playing in a marble basin at its centre. Then passed into a small, comfortably furnished room, with book-lined shelves and one tall window. A great satinwood desk, from which a semi-circular portion had been cut to accommodate the stomach of its owner, and a specially made swivel chair of enormous proportions behind it, showed the room to be the Eunuch's special sanctum." (p. 290)

His allegiance to his superior, Prince Ali, is revolting in large part because Ali is revolting. When Ali enters the room, Kazdim unseats himself "and, with unexpected agility, salaamed almost to the floor" (p. 215) He addresses Prince Ali: "''To hear is to obey,' O Flower of Holiness,' cringed the Eunuch, bowing again almost to the ground." (p. 218)

Plot (with spoilers)

The story has a contemporary setting during the presidency of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1923-1938).

The first six chapters set the stage. Through a series of somewhat farcical accidents, Diana, the young daughter of Sir George Duncannon, is mauled outside a dance in England by the lips of the late Turkish sultan's nephew, General His Serene Highness the Prince Ali, Emir of Konia and Grand Commander of the Star and Crescent. Diana is unsure of his age, as "[i]t is difficult to tell with Orientals," (p. 12) except that she knows he served in the World War, but in any case he is a loathsome chauvinist and she doesn't care for his advances. In an amusing appraisal: "Half unconsciously she noticed that for so tall a man his hand was surprisingly small — plump, sensitive, womanish — and that the index finger was distinctly crooked." (p. 6) An English officer, Capt. Swithin Destime, rushes to her aid and decks Prince Ali without realizing who he is. Destime is fired from the military as a diplomatic necessity. He fears, despite his fluency in Turkish, Arabic, and Greek, that he will never get another job, but George Duncannon offers him a special covert mission for him in Stamboul as a spy. The characters sail to Constantinople.

In chapter seven, the British party disembark their yacht in Stamboul and the fun begins. A young Turkish man, Reouf, confides the intention of his political group, the Kaka, to overthrow Mustafa Kemal. At that moment, Kazdim, "one of the strangest looking individuals they had ever seen," appears and interrupts. He warns them that he speaks English and lets them know he'd like to show them "the wall" built by Emperor Theodosius in the fifth century. Although Swithin intuitively feels "intense distrust," he idiotically asks the man if he is a tour guide and, yet more idiotically, he and Reouf climb into the wall with him. (p. 88)

"The repulsive-looking fat man" leads them to an oubliette (a hole through which people are dropped from a great height into a river) and warns them that "such things still might happen to those who are so clever that they make the big mistake." (pp. 90-91) (Later, Swithin recalls the eunuch's face as "gloating" at this moment. (p. 144)) That evening, Kazdim shows up and announces, in a "thin falsetto," that "that of which we spoke together has happened." Reouf rises and leaves with Kazdim. Swithin remains clueless. A woman at the table tells him: "That is the Chief of the Secret Police, Kazdim Hari Bekar, the Eunuch of Stamboul!" (p. 107) She has to explain further: "That man is a monster of sadistic cruelty; 'e 'as never missed an execution an' delights in carrying them out 'imself!" (p. 108)

Swithin tells Diana that he treated Tania Vorontzoff as a messenger for some confidential information. Diana tells him that this was a big mistake, since Tania works for Kazdim and "the second Kazdim sees that letter he will be after you." (p. 118)

In the next scene, Kazdim hides behind a pillar (as best he can, a "vast grotesque a modern lounge suit" (p. 122)) to spy on Peter Carew, who is dining with Tania. Kazdim then surprises Tania at her home, seating his "vast form" in "their largest armchair" and generating "a little mountain of cigarette stubs". Tania's mother, the Baroness, deliberately calls Kazdim by the title "Effendi" (i.e. lord) because she knows he likes it, even though he has to ask her to refrain from doing so because the title is no longer usable under the new laws. (p. 132, see also 258) "His little rosebud mouth curved into a smile between the huge hanging cheeks wrinkled like withered apple skin," Wheatley says, just before Kazdim threatens the Baroness: "I am your protector as long as you obey my every word — if not..." (p. 133) While talking with Tania he suddenly shouts "Silence!" and adds: "A chattering woman is a scourge to thought." (p. 137) He threatens to send Tania and her mother back to Russia, as he controls their permit to live in Turkey. He tells her she's not the only attractive woman he can find for the job he needs done. "Allah! why is that thou hast cursed women by making them such imbeciles? Think, girl. Think, I say!" (pp. 137-138) He twists her ear gratuitously on his way out the door. (p.138)

Reouf's drowned corpse is recovered, hands tied behind his back, and Swithin finds time to talk with Reouf's brother Arif. Arif says he knows that "that hell-spawn Kazdim" killed him. (p. 148) Swithin argues that Kazdim did so not to damage the Kaka but to protect it, as Kazdim likely believed that Reouf had loose lips and was a liability. He believes that Kazdim, despite his position for the current government, is himself secretly a Kaka rebel. Swithin warns Arif that "that devil Kazdim is high up in this thing so he will be one of your new rulers. Surely you are not mad enough to wish to make a Minister of your brother's murderer." (p. 158)

Kazdim and his two armed guards lie in wait in his own apartment for Swithin to arrive. (p. 168) As he threatens Swithin with immediate death via oubliette, "the Eunuch chuckled." (p. 174) Swithin resists and ends up bound, gagged, semi-conscious, sharing the back seat of a car with Kazdim, driven to the oubliette. Two guards drop him down the hole.

The guards are described as follows:

"Both were huge negroes, naked to the waist, their black skins shiny and glistening, their white eye-balls staring at him with dumb animal curiosity.

Kazdim spoke to them in his high falsetto. The mouth of one opened in a half-imbecile grin and Swithin realized dimly, through a wave of sickening horror, that the man had no tongue — and that they were mutes, old henchmen of the Eunuch's from his Palace days perhaps, the instruments of many hideous crimes under his orders if they could only tell of them." (p. 182)

This description is dehumanizing insofar as they have "animal" rather than human "curiosity" and even "eye-balls" rather than eyes. The word "dumb" is complicated insofar as it is immediately revealed that they are, in fact, mute (a secondary definition of the word "dumb"), but Swithin had not known this until after they were described as "dumb."

Swithin miraculously survives his attempted execution. When he next sees Prince Ali, he tells a swaggering lie that Ali and Kazdim are expected to be hanged together (p. 209). Kazdim, for his part, is amazed to see Swithin alive. Swithin says "I have nine lives like a cat," and Kazdim thinks of ways to kill him again:

"give you a drink of strychnine, stick a knife into your liver — shoot you through both lungs — impale you on a stake — hang you by the neck — cut your throat — and, finally, burn your body. Thus will we dispose of the eight lives which you have left, and if I exercise some care, you will, I trust, remain conscious up to the seventh operation — although each would prove fatal in itself after a lapse of time."

Asked for alternatives, Kazdim suggests

"bowstringing — cutting of the head — flaying — suffocation by pillows — starvation — sewing up in a sack with wild cats — snake-bite — or feeding you to the rats in one of the old cisterns,"

methods he claims to "have witnessed in my time." (p. 213)

Here, then, we finally get some back story on Kazdim's character. He says that he was mentored by "'Twisted Beard' Pasha" who was the "Comptroller of the Household to His Majesty the Sultan Abdul Hamid," and also by the "Grand Eunuch Djevher Agha." Swithin taunts him, saying that Djevher Agha, just like Kazdim, had "royal proportions and many chins" which resulted in a botched hanging, a long time choking on his own blood, with his head finally "nearly a yard from his shoulders and his great carcass suspended by a rope of neck not thicker than my wrist." (pp. 214-215) (Note: I suspect Wheatley may have gotten this information about Djevher Agha's hanging from the 11th chapter, "Cleansing of the City and Dispersal of the Imperial Harem," of Francis McCullagh's 1910 book The Fall of Abd-ul-Hamid.) But this is the only information we are to receive about the formation of Kazdim's character. We don't hear about how he came to be castrated or why he is so evil.

He spies on Tania and her mother, and reveals himself, "huge, triumphant, his little black eyes glinting, his tiny mouth twisted into an evil snarl." He indicts them with "a thin vindictive screech." (p. 273) He kills Tania's mother by slapping her on the neck with his bare hand (p. 274), the very touch of his skin proving itself lethal.

When Ali says in front of everyone that he intends to commit a prolonged rape against Diana by making her bathe, dress, and make obeisance to him according to the elaborate harem ritual, Kazdim "smiled with devilish amusement and toyed with the big automatic." (p. 295) He is, to complete the poetry of the novel-length fat joke, shot in the stomach (of course by Tania). He issues "a thin wail" of mortal injury. "His black eyes started out from between their rolls of fat, a terribly agony seemed to shake his great body for a second, then he crashed forward..." (p. 297) Swithin muses shortly afterward: "The only clear thought she had left was to get the Eunuch — and she did." (p. 301) We don't see Kazdim finally expire and he isn't given any last words, but we hear he returned fatal gunfire at Tania before he died.

Film version

In 1936, the year after the publication of the novel, it was turned into a film called "The Secret of Stamboul." Kazdim was played by Frank Vosper, who never made another film because he died suddenly in early 1937.

In this short clip, beginning at 1:30, you can see Kazdim on the left dropping an object into the oubliette to impress Reouf and Swithin. The dialogue is not the same as in the book, nor is the actor as physically large as the novelist insisted the Eunuch was.

The film was also known as "The Spy in White." The full film is here:

The memoir of the Sudanese eunuch 'Omar' in 'Desert Royal' by Jean Sasson

As an American living in Saudi Arabia from 1978 to 1991, Jean Sasson befriended a Saudi princess and wrote three memoirs for her — Princess, Daughters of Arabia, and Desert Royal — in a first-person voice while keeping her anonymous. The princess has unfathomable wealth that her husband gives her to buy luxury clothes (a half-million U.S. dollars is a day's spending cash in New York City), and she has a good relationship with her husband based on mutual respect, although most of her female relatives do not have such luck with their husbands and many women in the country are married off young or treated as sex slaves. She struggles privately with her own alcoholism in a country where drinking is a crime.

The middle of Desert Royal briefly features an 88-year-old eunuch who introduces himself as "Omar, of the Sudan." He is the servant of the princess's "eccentric" cousin; she had not realized that there were any eunuchs still living in Saudi Arabia. The princess says that she and her daughter "screamed" when startled to meet this "very old and bizarre-looking little man," a beardless and "most unusual creature. He was short and skinny and ebony black." The princess's husband initially refers to him as a "dwarf." He has a "high, feminine voice" that is also described as "abnormally high-pitched." His spine is curved, and the skin hangs off his "jowls." His eyes are "sparkling with curiosity"; he "possessed an enormously calming influence" and "loved to tell stories."

An entire chapter is dedicated to Omar telling his story. He was born around the beginning of the 20th century, judged by the timing of this anonymous memoir. As an eight-year-old in the Humr tribe in Sudan (a tribe of the "Baqqārah Arabs, of west-central Sudan," according to Britannica, also spelled "Baggara"), he wandered away one day and was grabbed, kidnapped, and sold to a Turk. He was taken to an Egyptian Christian on the Red Sea who castrated ten boys at the same time. "He presented me with my genitals in a jar, even as I lay writing in pain!" The boys were catheterized, their wounds were cauterized with boiling oil, and they were buried in hot sand for three days without food or water. Seven of them died during that period, and an eighth died subsequently when he was unable to urinate. "Congratulations went all around when the Christian pulled the tube from my small passageway that remained for water, and liquid spurted out..." Omar was immediately put on a slaveship headed for Constantinople where he was sold to a Turk. He eventually wound up in Saudi Arabia. He never saw his family again.

Slavery was abolished in 1962, but Omar, like many other freed slaves, chose to stay with his master. The master does not wish to spend much money on Omar's food or clothing. Consequently, he is thin and wears an outdated costume: a ring on every finger and "a bright yellow blouse and a sequined red vest. A silk turban, turquoise in colour, was wound around his head. His full-cut trousers, fashioned out of a rich brocade run through with golden threads, suggested the costume of another age." He believes that his master is not concerned about his existence, as he once took a four-month leave of absence "unnoticed."

"Omar's story is a legend from our past!" the princess responds. She reflects: "Poor Omar lived a sad and uncertain fate. He was neither a man nor a woman, although his status was slightly lower than a man's but higher than a woman's."

The princess views the eunuch as having a "lifelong mission" as a "protector of women," although Omar jokes that he is too old to enforce anyone's behavior. Her husband counters that they don't need a eunuch. Omar says, "You are right. A eunuch is a pointless creature. At least these days." The husband apologizes and recants: "No man is pointless in the eyes of Allah." The princess and her husband agree to secretly rescue him and, although they enjoy his company, to move him far from Saudi Arabia to a palace in Egypt for his own protection from his former master. Omar is happy with this arrangement, especially as Egypt is closer to his homeland, and he hopes to travel from Egypt to the Sudan to see if he can find anyone from his tribe.


Jean Sasson. Desert Royal. (1999) London: Bantam, 2000.

The eunuch Omar is introduced on page 122. His story continues through page 148.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Belief in God: Statistics

A 2003 Harris poll found that 90 percent of American adults believe in God, and that most also believe in heaven and hell (82 percent and 69 percent, respectively). More recently, a 2018 Pew Study found that 56 percent of Americans believe in “God as described in the Bible,” one-third believed in some other kind of God or higher power, and 10 percent had no such spiritual belief at all. Many believe that God protects them (77 percent), has rewarded them (67 percent), has punished them (40 percent), or talks to them (28 percent).

Does all this belief change anyone's behavior? Perhaps not. It certainly drives religious behavior: In 2014, Pew found that 36 percent of Americans claimed to attend religious services at least once a week, while 30 percent never (or almost never) go at all. Personal belief and identity also drive the amount that people donate to congregations, religious charities, and religiously-branded charities. Outside of religious activity, however, the impact of belief on the rest of life is debatable. In 2011, The Week reported that a newly released study from Kansas University "found almost no difference in the sex practices of atheists and highly religious people, except that the religious felt very guilty..." And in 2013, a small study revealed how criminals use religion to justify their crimes:

"The authors surveyed 48 'hardcore street offenders' in and around Atlanta, in hopes of determining what effect, if any, religion has on their behavior. While the vast majority of those surveyed (45 out of 48 people) claimed to be religious, the authors found that the interviewees 'seemed to go out of their way to reconcile their belief in God with their serious predatory offending. They frequently employed elaborate and creative rationalizations in the process and actively exploit religious doctrine to justify their crimes.'"

Beliefs in Europe vary widely, with a 2005 survey (cited by Barbara King) showing that 97 percent in Poland and 37 percent in the Czech Republic saying they believe in God. That survey included 14 countries. It is not clear whether Denmark and Sweden were on the list, but of those nations, Victor Stenger once noted that "about 20 percent believe in a personal God, consider God to be important in their lives, and believe in life after death..."

On any local level, beliefs may be slow to change, in part because, as George Cunningham put it, "There is a 7 in 10 chance that you have the same religious affiliation as your parents."

Scientists are far more likely to to be atheists than the rest of the population. A 2007 survey of 1,646 scientists conducted by Ecklund and Scheitle found 62 percent atheist or agnostic, while 10 percent were certain of God's existence and 4 percent believed that "there is the most truth in one religion." A 2009 Pew study found that approximately half of U.S. scientists believed in God or a higher power, while the other half did not or would not say. A 2005 study found that natural scientists are more likely than social scientists to be atheists.


2003 Harris poll cited in Barbara J. King. Evolving God: A Provocative View on the Origins of Religion. New York: Doubleday, 2007. p. 220.

The Week, June 10, 2011, p. 6.

Victor J. Stenger. The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2009. p. 234.

Cited in Barbara J. King. Evolving God: A Provocative View on the Origins of Religion. New York: Doubleday, 2007. p. 228.

George C. Cunningham. Decoding the Language of God: Can a Scientist Really Be a Believer? Prometheus Books, 2009. p. 80.

Survey results of Elaine Howard Ecklund and Christopher Scheitle funded by the Templeton Foundation and published in 2007. Cited in George C. Cunningham. Decoding the Language of God: Can a Scientist Really Be a Believer? Prometheus Books, 2009. p. 18.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Tanzania requires bloggers to register with the government for exorbitant fee

In Tanzania, if you use the Internet to post your writing, audio, or video, you must now register with the government for a license. It costs USD $930 per year, and the application form requests extensive financial information. The licensing requirement applies equally to individuals and media companies. The fee is an unattainable amount for most people, as the majority of those who work on farms, in restaurants, and in office support roles earn less than USD $1,500 per year (300,000 Tanzanian shillings per month).

In 2011, the income of the richest 20 percent was nearly 8 times that of the poorest 80 percent.

The registration fee would be about a week's income even for President Magufuli himself.

According to a government press release written in Swahili, the public registration process opened April 21. People who are already providing content are required to register by May 5. Everyone else is required to register before they begin publishing.

Publishing "content that causes annoyance...or leads to public disorder" is forbidden, and all Internet cafes must have surveillance cameras and request that their patrons show an identity card.

The new law, published March 16 of this year in English, is called the Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations, 2018.

Photo credit: Image of 1 Tanzanian shilling coin from Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Robert Greenblatt: Eunuchs in 'Search the Scriptures'

Robert B. Greenblatt was a mid-twentieth-century endocrinologist who contributed to the development of oral contraceptives.

His book Search the Scriptures places a modern endocrinological interpretation on certain Biblical references. His first case examines the likelihood that Esau, who transferred his anticipated inheritance to his younger brother in exchange for lentils when he suddenly felt he was about to die of hunger, was probably hypoglycemic. This book has a chapter on eunuchs titled "And They Sang Like Cherubs." The epigraph is Matthew 19:12 and the leading questions are "Why emasculation? What is the role of the endocrine glands in the development of character and personality?

Apart from some advice about how sex glands operate (noting Brown-Sequard's folly), most of Greenblatt's comments are of a historical nature. He acknowledges that servants were castrated "in the Orient, in the Middle East, and later in Greece and in the Roman Empire" since ancient times (though not by the Hebrews, according to Josephus and likely in obedience to the law in Deut 23:1) and more recently "for Moslem harems," and he reveals that an Assyrian bas-relief produced in some century BCE "depicts a vizier and a eunuch, in which the contrast between a normal and a mutilated male is vividly portrayed." He contradicts himself about the general awareness in ancient times of the differing impact of pre-pubertal and post-pubertal castration: "Eunuchs castrated in boyhood are known," he says, "for their fidelity; those castrated later in life have been often suspect, correctly," (p. 54) yet he also says that pre-Christians did not know that "this form of mutilation, for the best results, must be performed before maturity in both man and beast." (p. 56) It is unclear how to reconcile those two statements.

He mentions Christian sects that encouraged castration: the Valesii in the 3rd century and the Skoptsi in the 18th century. He also mentions that Pope Leo XIII banned the castration of singers, then a popular practice in Italy, in 1878. He says that the KJV Bible contains 26 instances of the word "eunuch," but that readers should be aware that the term, "especially in Egypt, was even applied to non-castrated, but loyal, servants and administrators of the king."

He says that inmates of the Nazi concentration camps Belzen and Auschwitz were castrated by "x-ray irradiation," though he implies conflicting descriptions of whether this injury was "punitive" or experimental pseudoscience "to study the tissue changes induced by X-rays." (He was aware of two survivors of these Nazi experiments living in the U.S. who had consulted doctors about their hormone deprivation.)

This history notwithstanding, he says his main interest lies in the Biblical recognition in Matthew 19:12 that "some eunuchs...were so born from their mother's womb," something that he sees, as an endocrinologist, as a "diagnosis of congenital eunuchoidism or primary testicular failure." However, he does not explore this further. He does not give any examples of congenital eunuchs.

As a bonus, he quotes the description of the "beardless and goat-voiced Pardoner" from the Prologue of the Canterbury Tales in the Middle English.


Robert B. Greenblatt. Search The Scriptures: A Physician Examines Medicine in the Bible. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1963.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Similarities of 'education,' 'strategic planning,' 'self-forgiveness'

Edgar Morin's "complex lessons in education" and Gergen and Vanourek's rules for strategic planning have some overlap. Combining them yields something like this:

  • Test our assumptions / Detect error and illusion
  • Master the context / Grasp principles of pertinent knowledge
  • Confront uncertainties
  • - Craft experiments
    - Mitigate risk
  • Identify the required resources / Remain focused and flexible
  • Understand each other / Teach the human condition, earth identity, and ethics

From a coaching perspective, Jennifer-Crystal Johnson advises these steps for self-forgiveness. Awareness of "context" and "responsibility" is once again relevant, but here, the emphasis is less on building upon or exploiting that information and more about feeling the situation and knowing when to let the feelings go. There is value in being aware of thoughts that do not need to be had and actions that do not need to be taken.

  • Begin with calm and peace
  • Remember your positive traits
  • See the context
  • Pay close attention to the area of greatest pain
  • Take responsibility for what is yours and acknowledge what you aren't responsible for
  • Learn what you need, then let it go


Edgar Morin's video. Material is also presented by Brigette Tasha Hyacinth. The Future of Leadership: Rise of Automation, Robotics and Artificial Intelligence. MBA Caribbean Organisation, 2017.

Christopher Gergen and Gregg Vanourek. Life Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives. Jossey-Bass, 2008.

Jennifer-Crystal Johnson for Executive Coaching University

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

James Comey: Trump presidency a "forest fire," seen optimistically

The Trump presidency is quickly eroding the norms of the office of the U.S. president. Will the United States emerge stronger, more aware of these norms and of their importance, and better able to uphold them in the future? To describe this possibility, Brian Klaas used the metaphor of a vaccine in his book The Despot's Apprentice in late 2017. In April 2018 in his book A Higher Loyalty, James Comey referred to "the forest fire that is the Trump presidency," a metaphor he explained as follows:

”Yes, the current president will do significant damage in the short term. Important norms and traditions will be damaged by the flames. But forest fires, as painful as they can be, bring growth. ... There is reason to believe this fire will leave the presidency weaker and Congress and the courts stronger, just as the forest fire of Watergate did. There is a lot of good in that.”

Having been fired by Trump for his refusal to cease the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, Comey now, as a private citizen, describes the character failings of a president who seems not to have been “shaped” by his awareness or experiences of suffering, loss, or moral error. “I see no evidence," Comey writes, "that a lie ever caused Trump pain, or that he ever recoiled from causing another person pain.” Unfortunately, "without kindness to leaven toughness, without a balance of confidence and humility, without empathy, and without respect for truth," Trump will lose the staff "that every president needs to make wise decisions." Comey adds that "this president is unethical, and untethered to truth and institutional values. His leadership is transactional, ego driven, and about personal loyalty."

Clinton email investigation

The material on Trump is rather limited and toward the end of the book. Much of A Higher Loyalty focuses on an investigation of Hillary Clinton's private email server that took place during the end of the Obama administration.

There were 36 email conversations that referred to information classified Secret and 8 that referred to information classified Top Secret (“sometimes cryptically, sometimes obviously”). All recipients had the necessary security clearance and a work-related need for the information, and no documents were attached. The only problem was that the email system itself was not approved to handle classified information. This put the security of the United States at risk if the system had ever been hacked, and Comey says that in Clinton’s memoir What Happened she seemed not to understand or acknowledge the technological side of this. The use of an unclassified email system to discuss classified information required a criminal investigation, but the impact was limited. “So although we were not going to prejudge the result, we started the Clinton investigation aware that it was unlikely to be a case that the career prosecutors at the Department of Justice would prosecute.” It was certainly not, as some shrill voices in the Republican camp would have had it, among “the worst crimes since the Rosenbergs gave our nuclear secrets to the Russians in the 1950s and were executed for it.” Comey’s boss asked him to refer to it as a “matter,” not an “investigation,” and he did so in his first press appearance, but since “the press uniformly missed the distinction and reported that I had confirmed the existence of an investigation,” he called it an “investigation” from then on, since that was what it was. He acknowledges: “There was no moment when investigators caught her in a lie. She did not at any point confess wrongdoing or indicate that she knew what she had done with her emails was wrong. Whether we believed her or not, we had no significant proof otherwise. And there was no additional work the investigators thought they should do. This case was done.” He saw no need to recommend prosecution. In fact: “No fair-minded person with any experience in the counterespionage world (where “spills” of classified information are investigated and prosecuted) could think this was a case the career prosecutors at the Department of Justice might pursue. There was literally zero chance of that.”

Comey had made a public statement in the summer of 2016 that the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails was closed. When the investigation was reopened in the fall, it was clear that it could not be completed in the mere days remaining before the election since knowledgeable people had to read “tens of thousands of emails.” Comey describes his personal choice in that moment as “Speak” or “Conceal.” That is, he could publicly acknowledge the reopening of the investigation or he could stay silent and hide it. The risk of speaking was to “put the Bureau, and me, in a place where we might have an impact on an election. Really bad, nauseating even. To be avoided if humanly possible.” But he judged that the risk of concealment was worse. Someone might leak the news anyway before the election, which would still impact the election and would also make the FBI look untrustworthy for not having announced the news itself. And if the news had to be revealed after the election (assuming Hillary’s anticipated victory and the possibility that the investigation could lead to a prosecution of the president-elect), the concealment would discredit both Hillary’s presidency and the FBI. He came to this conclusion not as someone who was professionally allowed to prefer one candidate over another but as someone who had to consider the integrity (actual and perceived) of all government offices including that of the presidency.

Comey writes:

”’Tell me what you would do in my shoes and why you would do that,’ I asked, unheard, of op-ed writers and talking heads on television. I knew the answer, of course: most of them would do what would be best for their favorite team. Well, the FBI can’t have a favorite team.”

He adds that

“even knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t have done it differently, but I can imagine good and principled people in my shoes making different choices about some things. I think different choices would have resulted in greater damage to our country’s institutions of justice, but I’m not certain of that. I pray no future FBI director is forced to find out.”

Update: June 14, 2018

Update: June 27, 2018

Republican strategist Steve Schmidt, after resigning from the Republican party, repeated the "forest fire" metaphor to Rolling Stone: "I don't view it so much differently than I view a forest fire. A forest fire is part of a natural cycle of the forest. The forest burns, and through its burning and destruction, it is regenerated and made healthy again. For the Republican Party and the conservative movement, with its rot, its corruption, its indecency ... before there can be any talk of restoration, there must be a season of burning." Several days later, Project Syndicate commented: "Like Ernest Hemingway's description of going bankrupt, history can be said to progress 'gradually, then suddenly.'"