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“About astrology and palmistry: they are good because they make people vivid and full of possibilities. They are communism at its best. Everybody has a birthday and almost everybody has a palm”*…

 

In a 1938 book, How to Know People by Their Hands, palmist Josef Ranald included these three handprints of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Benito Mussolini, and Adolf Hitler, analyzing each. His analyses offer an unexpected window into popular perspectives on these leaders’ personalities, before the outbreak of World War II.

“I myself began my study of hands in a spirit of skepticism,” Ranald, who served as an officer in the Austrian army during World War I, admits in the introduction to the book. An encounter with a palmist while Ranald was in the service irritated him rather than impressing him, and while he got out of a tight spot when a prisoner of war by pretending to read the palms of his captors, he reported that he still saw the practice as a scam. (Such admissions of doubt may have been well-designed to gain credibility with his reading audience.)

As a newspaper correspondent, Ranald had contact with many people, whose palms he read on a lark. He wrote that he came to see the practice as scientific: he gathered ten thousand such handprints, using sensitized paper (some sheets of which he included in the back of this book, so that the reader could follow his lead). “With a larger and larger sampling to go by, I felt that I could draw some conclusions from my findings,” he wrote. “On the basis of probabilities derived from statistical averages, I could associate certain markings in the hand with certain characteristics in men and women.”

The spatulate hand of FDR, Ranald wrote, belonged to a person of “advanced and liberal views.” The president was “social-minded,” “of sanguinary temperament,” not at all reclusive or introverted. (Read Ranald’s full analysis of FDR here.)

Read Mussolini’s and Hitler’s palms at Rebecca Onion’s “Handprints of Hitler, Mussolini, and FDR, Analyzed by a Palm Reader in 1938.”  (From the Tumblr of the Public Domain Review, reposted from Tumblr user nemfrog. The Internet Archive’s copy of the book was scanned from the collection of the Prelinger Library.)

* Kurt Vonnegut

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As we trace out life lines, we might spare a thought for Heinz Edgar Lehmann; he died on this date in 1999.  A psychiatrist who recalled that at the beginning of his practice, in Canada in the 1930s, psychiatric hospitals were “Snake Pits,” Dr. Lehmann led the transformation of North American asylums into the therapeutic environments they are today. But Lehmann’s greatest legacy was a single pill – Largactil (chlorpromazine hydrochloride, best known on the U.S. as Thorazine), the first anti-psychotic drug used in North America.  In successfully treating patients with this drug, Lehmann introduced the world to the idea that biology plays a role in mental illness.  Chlorpromazine remains on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines, a list of the most important medication needed in a basic health system.

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Written by LW

April 7, 2015 at 1:01 am

“He was a secret agent, and still alive thanks to his exact attention to the detail of his profession”*…

 

The Descriptive Catalogue of Special Devices and Supplies, used by British spies sent to the Continent to track Nazi movements and aid resistance fighters during World War II, has been recently reprinted by the Imperial War Museum. These pages from the back of the two-volume catalogue, which was published in 1944 and 1945, show a few of the ways that the Special Operations Executive (the name for the secret British agency charged with training and deploying these agents) managed to sneak arms and ammunition to its operatives.

As historian-author Sinclair McKay writes in the introduction to the new volume, the Special Operations Executive trained many volunteers and recruits with no previous experience in the field. The recruits underwent crash courses, with SOE personnel bringing them quickly up to speed on the use of weapons and explosives, the maintenance of communications equipment, and the cultures of the places they were to infiltrate.

The two volumes of the manual are packed full of explanations of the many devices SOE operatives might encounter, or choose to use, in their operations…

* Ian Fleming, Casino Royale

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As we dawdle at the dead drop, we might recall that it was on this date in 1941, the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, that Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered the “Infamy Speech”–the name deriving from the first line of the speech, in which Roosevelt describes the previous day as “a date which will live in infamy”– to a Joint Session of Congress.

Read Roosevelt’s original typescript here; and hear an except here.

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Evidence of the epistolary kind…

Letters of Note is an array of “correspondence deserving of a wider audience.”  Updated every weekday, it showcases letters, postcards, faxes, and telegrams of particular interest (and/or poignancy).  The collection contains notes from Mark Twain (complaining about the telephone), Elvis (offering his services as a “Federal Agent at Large” to Richard Nixon) , and Winston Churchill (praising his wife); and notes to Sid Vicious (offering redemption after Nancy Spungeon’s death), FDR (from the Commissioner of Baseball, asking if America’s Pastime should continue after the outbreak of WWII), and Hauptmann’s ransom note to Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh.  By way of example, this letter from Charles Darwin:

11th January, 1844: Charles Darwin, in a letter to renowned botanist and great friend Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, begins to reveal the idea of Natural Selection (or “the simple way”). He says of the revelation, “It is like confessing a murder.” His theory would not become common knowledge for another 15 years with the publication of On the Origin of Species.

Transcript

Down. Bromley Kent

Thursday

My dear Sir

I must write to thank you for your last letter; I to tell you how much all your views and facts interest me. I must be allowed to put my own interpretation on what you say of “not being a good arranger of extended views”  which is, that you do not indulge in the loose speculations so easily started by every smatterer & wandering collector. I look at a strong tendency to generalize as an entire evil.

What limit shall you take on the Patagonian side – has d’Orbigny published, I believe he made a large collection at the R. Negro, where Patagonia retains its usual forlorn appearance; at Bahia Blanca & northward the features of Patagonia insensibly blend into the savannahs of La Plata. The Botany of S. Patagonia (& I collected every plant in flower at the season when there) would be worth comparison with the N. Patagonian collection by d’Orbigny. I do not know anything about King’s plants, but his birds were so inaccurately habitated, that I have seen specimen from Brazil, Tierra del & the Cape de Verde Isd all said to come from the St. Magellan. What you say of Mr Brown is humiliating; I had suspected it, but cd not allow myself to believe in such heresy. FitzRoy gave him a rap in his Preface, & made me very indignant, but it seems a much harder one wd not have been wasted. My crptogamic collection was sent to Berkeley; it was not large; I do not believe he has yet published an account, but he wrote to me some year ago that he had described & mislaid all his descriptions. Wd it not be well for you to put yourself in communication with him; as otherwise some things will perhaps be twice laboured over. My best (though poor) collection of the Crptogam. was from the Chonos Islands.

Would you kindly observe one little fact for me, whether any species of plant, peculiar to any isld, as Galapagos, St. Helena or New Zealand, where there are no large quadrupeds, have hooked seeds, such hooks as if observed here would be thought with justness to be adapted to catch into wool of animals.

Would you further oblige me some time by informing me (though I forget this will certainly appear in your Antarctic Flora) whether in isld like St. Helena, Galapagos, & New Zealand, the number of families & genera are large compared with the number of species, as happens in coral-isld, & as I believe? in the extreme Arctic land. Certainly this is case with Marine shells in extreme Arctic seas. Do you suppose the fewness of species in proportion to number of large groups in Coral-islets., is owing to the chance of seeds from all orders, getting drifted to such new spots? as I have supposed.

Did you collect sea-shells in Kerguelen land, I shd like to know their character.?

Your interesting letters tempt me to be very unreasonable in asking you questions; but you must not give yourself any trouble about them, for I know how fully & worthily you are employed.

Besides a general interest about the Southern lands, I have been now ever since my return engaged in a very presumptuous work & which I know no one individual who wd not say a very foolish one. I was so struck with distribution of Galapagos organisms &c &c & with the character of the American fossil mammifers, &c &c that I determined to collect blindly every sort of fact, which cd bear any way on what are species. I have read heaps of agricultural & horticultural books, & have never ceased collecting facts – At last gleams of light have come, & I am almost convinced (quite contrary to opinion I started with) that species are not (it is like confessing a murder) immutable. Heaven forfend me from Lamarck nonsense of a “tendency to progression” “adaptations from the slow willing of animals” &c, – but the conclusions I am led to are not widely different from his – though the means of change are wholly so – I think I have found out (here’s presumption!) the simple way by which species become exquisitely adapted to various ends. You will now groan, & think to yourself ‘on what a man have I been wasting my time in writing to.’ – I shd, five years ago, have thought so. I fear you will also groan at the length of this letter—excuse me, I did not begin with malice prepense.

Believe me my dear Sir

Very truly your’s

C. Darwin

As we read other peoples’ mail, we might recall that on this date in 1859, Norton I distributed letters to the newspapers of San Francisco proclaiming himself Emperor of North America…

At the peremptory request and desire of a large majority of the citizens of these United States, I, Joshua Norton, formerly of Algoa Bay, Cape of Good Hope, and now for the last 9 years and 10 months past of S. F., Cal., declare and proclaim myself Emperor of these U. S.; and in virtue of the authority thereby in me vested, do hereby order and direct the representatives of the different States of the Union to assemble in Musical Hall, of this city, on the 1st day of Feb. next, then and there to make such alterations in the existing laws of the Union as may ameliorate the evils under which the country is laboring, and thereby cause confidence to exist, both at home and abroad, in our stability and integrity.

– NORTON I, Emperor of the United States.

source: Wikimedia

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