Saturday, May 30, 2009

Economic Reality of 5 Million Green Jobs by Tony Blanckley

In 1845, the French economist Frederic Bastiat published a satirical petition from the "Manufacturers of Candles" to the French Chamber of Deputies, which ridiculed the arguments made on behalf of inefficient industries to protect them from more efficient producers: "We are suffering from the ruinous competition of a rival who apparently works under conditions so far superior to our own for the production of light that he is flooding the domestic market with it at an incredibly low price; for the moment he appears, our sales cease, all the consumers turn to him, and a branch of French industry whose ramifications are innumerable is all at once reduced to complete stagnation. This rival, which is none other than the sun, is waging war on us.
We ask you to be so good as to pass a law requiring the closing of all windows, dormers, skylights, inside and outside shutters, curtains, casements, bull's-eyes, deadlights, and blinds -- in short, all openings, holes, chinks, and fissures through which the light of the sun is wont to enter houses, to the detriment of the fair industries with which, we are proud to say, we have endowed the country."
This famous put-down highlights the problem of claiming that protecting inefficient producers creates good jobs. Obviously, the money theFrench would have wasted on unneeded candles could have been spent on needed products and services -- to the increased prosperity of the French economy.
I mention this in the context of the Obama administration's assertion that by subsidizing alternative energy sources, it will create 5 million green jobs. To that end, Congress passed in the stimulus bill $110 billion to subsidize and otherwise support such green efforts. And in conceptual support of that argument, the administration has referred to "what's happening in countries like Spain, Germany and Japan, where they're making real investments in renewable energy."
Well, in March, one of Spain's leading universities, Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, published an authoritative study "of the effects on employment of public aid to renewable energy sources." The report pointed out: "This study is important for several reasons. First is that the Spanish experience is considered a leading example to be followed by many policy advocates and politicians. This study marks the very first time a critical analysis of the actual performance and impact has been made. Most important, it demonstrates that the Spanish/EU-style 'green jobs' agenda now being promoted in the U.S. in fact destroys jobs, detailing this in terms of jobs destroyed per job created."
The central finding of the study is that -- treating the data optimistically -- for every renewable-energy job that the government finances, "Spain's experience . reveals with high confidence, by two different methods, that the U.S. should expect a loss of at least 2.2 jobs on average, or about 9 jobs lost for every 4 created."
Despite expensive and extensive green-job policies, a surprisingly low number of jobs were created. And about two-thirds of those "green" jobs were just to set up the energy source, in construction, fabrication, installation, marketing and administration. Only 10 percent of the green jobs created were permanent jobs actually operating and maintaining the renewable sources of energy.
Each wind industry job created in Spain required a subsidy of about $1.4 million. Overall, the average subsidy cost for each green job wasabout $800,000 (571,138 euros). And to create about 50,000 green jobs, Spain lost 110,000 jobs elsewhere in the economy, principally in metallurgy, nonmetallic mining and food processing and in the beverage and tobacco industries.
Each green megawatt brought on line destroyed 5.28 jobs elsewhere in the economy (8.99 by photovoltaics, 4.27 by wind energy and5.05 by mini-hydropower). The total higher energy cost -- the higher cost of renewable energy over the market price of carbon-based energy -- between 2000 and 2008 was about $10 billion. Moreover, the report concluded, "These costs do not appear to be unique to Spain's approach but instead are largely inherent in schemes to promote renewable energy sources."
The high cost of green energy predictably drove energy-intensive Spanish companies and industries out of Spain to countries with cheaper carbon-based energy, while the cost to Spanish taxpayers of renewable-energy subsidies was "enormous . 4.35 percent of all (value-added taxes) collected, 3.45 percent of the household income tax, or 5.6 percent of the corporate income tax."
There is much more in the report, which at about 50 pages in length would make useful reading for our elected representatives. Those who are worried about global warming may, after studying this report, still want to subsidize renewable-energy production. But it will be hard for such people to honestly continue to believe that they can think they are addressing global warming while creating millions of net new jobs.

Overestimating Our Overworking by Laura Vanderkam

Summer is here again. It heralds the return of barbecues, white pants, barbecue-stained white pants and, for many workers, that perk known as Summer Fridays: half-days that allow everyone to start the weekend early.

Heaven knows we need the time off -- or think we do. Over the past two decades of rapid technological deployment and globalization, it has become an article of faith among the professional set that we work sweatshop hours. Sociologist Juliet Schor started the rumor with her 1992 book, "The Overworked American," which featured horror stories of people checking their watches to know what day it was.

Then God created the BlackBerry and things got worse. In late 2005, Fortune's Jody Miller claimed that "the 60-hour weeks once thought to be the path to glory are now practically considered part-time." In late 2006, the Harvard Business Review followed up with an article on "the dangerous allure of the 70-hour workweek," calling jobs that required such labor the new standard for professionals. The authors featured one "Sudhir," a financial analyst who claimed to work 90-hour weeks during summertime, his "light" season. He's got nothing on a young man I met at a party recently who told me he was working 190 hours a week to launch his new company.

[overworked work week]M.E. Cohen

It was a curious declaration; I would certainly invest in a start-up that had invented a way to augment the 168 hours that a week actually contains. The young man turned out to be kidding. But he felt overworked, and so he indulged in some workweek inflation. Research shows that this is a common affliction among anyone claiming to work more than 50 hours a week. Indeed, almost no one claiming to work 70-, 80- or 190-hour weeks is actually doing so. This doesn't make Summer Fridays any less sweet. But it does raise the question of why our perceptions of work are so different from the reality.

Sociologists have been studying how Americans spend their time for decades. One camp favors a simple approach: if you want to know how many hours someone works, sleeps or vacuums, you ask him. Another camp sees a flaw in this method: People lie. We may not do so maliciously, but it's tough to remember our exact workweek or average time spent dishwashing, and in the absence of concrete memories, we're prone to lie in ways that don't disappear into the randomness of thousands of answers. They actually skew results.

That's the theory behind the American Time Use Survey, conducted annually by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The ATUS, like a handful of previous academic surveys, is a "time diary" study. For these studies, researchers either walk respondents through the previous day, asking them what they did next and reminding them of the realities of time and physics, or in some cases giving them a diary to record the next day or week.

Time-diary studies are laborious, but in general they are more accurate. Aggregated, they paint a different picture of life than the quick-response surveys featured in the bulk of America's press releases. For instance, the National Sleep Foundation claims that Americans sleep 6.7 hours (weekdays) to 7.1 hours (weekends) per night. The ATUS puts the average at 8.6 hours. The first number suggests rampant sleep deprivation. The latter? Happy campers.

The numbers are equally striking with work. Back in the 1990s, using 1985 data, researchers John Robinson and his colleagues compared people's estimated workweeks with time-diary hours. They found that, on average, people claiming to work 40 to 44 hours per week were working 36.2 hours -- not far off. But then, as estimated work hours rose, reality and perception diverged more sharply. You can guess in which direction. Those claiming to work 60- to 64-hour weeks actually averaged 44.2 hours. Those claiming 65- to 74-hour workweeks logged 52.8 hours, and those claiming workweeks of 75 hours or more worked, on average, 54.9 hours. I contacted Prof. Robinson recently to ask for an update. His 2006-07 comparisons were tighter -- but, still, people claiming to work 60 to 69 hours per week clocked, on average, 52.6 hours, while those claiming 70-, 80-hour or greater weeks logged 58.8. As Mr. Robinson and co-author Geoffrey Godbey wrote in their 1997 book "Time for Life," "only rare individuals put in more than a 55-60 hour workweek."

I thought I was one of them. So I kept a time diary. Alas, even during a week that left me feeling wrecked, an honest accounting of my hours didn't top 50.

There are many reasons for such discrepancies. The first is the gray definition of much white-collar labor. If you're watching "Talladega Nights" on a flight to a conference, are you working? Is reading the Taste page of The Wall Street Journal in your office work? Anyone claiming an 80-hour workweek is definitely putting both in the "yes" category -- though this mode of calculation is going to result in more generous estimates than an observer might tally.

The second reason people overestimate is that they discount exceptions that don't fit the mental pictures they create of themselves. If you work four 14-hour days, then quit after 8 hours on Fridays, you'd think a "usual" day was 14 hours, meaning that you work 70-hour weeks. But you don't. You work 64 -- maybe. You probably work less than 14 hours on holidays such as Memorial Day. Plus, odds are good that your 14-hour days feature some late arrivals, lunch breaks or phone calls to your spouse. Pretty soon we're back below 60. You might have worked on weekends. But here we tend to overestimate time devoted to small, repetitive tasks. People think they spend far more time washing dishes than they do. Likewise, if you pulled out your BlackBerry 10 times over the weekend, you might give yourself credit for several hours of work, even though each incidence took five minutes. Total time? Less than one hour, even though you feel as if you're in work mode 24/7.

Finally -- and this is the big one -- work is a competitive sport. In an era with little job security, we all want to seem busy and hard-working. If publications such as Fortune call 60 hours "part-time," what professional would claim to work less?

Of course, even if we work fewer hours than we think we do, perceptions matter. Taking numerous breaks during the day so you have the stamina to stay until 8 p.m. is more draining than going home at 6. Even if your BlackBerry isn't buzzing at 10 p.m., the fact that it might is a source of stress. So maybe we can all take a little time to relax this summer and enjoy our Summer Fridays, instead of complaining to our friends about how overworked we are.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Big Inflation Scare by Paul Krugman

Suddenly it seems as if everyone is talking about inflation. Stern opinion pieces warn that hyperinflation is just around the corner. And markets may be heeding these warnings: Interest rates on long-term government bonds are up, with fear of future inflation one possible reason for the interest-rate spike.

But does the big inflation scare make any sense? Basically, no — with one caveat I’ll get to later. And I suspect that the scare is at least partly about politics rather than economics.

First things first. It’s important to realize that there’s no hint of inflationary pressures in the economy right now. Consumer prices are lower now than they were a year ago, and wage increases have stalled in the face of high unemployment. Deflation, not inflation, is the clear and present danger.

So if prices aren’t rising, why the inflation worries? Some claim that the Federal Reserve is printing lots of money, which must be inflationary, while others claim that budget deficits will eventually force the U.S. government to inflate away its debt.

The first story is just wrong. The second could be right, but isn’t.

Now, it’s true that the Fed has taken unprecedented actions lately. More specifically, it has been buying lots of debt both from the government and from the private sector, and paying for these purchases by crediting banks with extra reserves. And in ordinary times, this would be highly inflationary: banks, flush with reserves, would increase loans, which would drive up demand, which would push up prices.

But these aren’t ordinary times. Banks aren’t lending out their extra reserves. They’re just sitting on them — in effect, they’re sending the money right back to the Fed. So the Fed isn’t really printing money after all.

Still, don’t such actions have to be inflationary sooner or later? No. The Bank of Japan, faced with economic difficulties not too different from those we face today, purchased debt on a huge scale between 1997 and 2003. What happened to consumer prices? They fell.

All in all, much of the current inflation discussion calls to mind what happened during the early years of the Great Depression when many influential people were warning about inflation even as prices plunged. As the British economist Ralph Hawtrey wrote, “Fantastic fears of inflation were expressed. That was to cry, Fire, Fire in Noah’s Flood.” And he went on, “It is after depression and unemployment have subsided that inflation becomes dangerous.”

Is there a risk that we’ll have inflation after the economy recovers? That’s the claim of those who look at projections that federal debt may rise to more than 100 percent of G.D.P. and say that America will eventually have to inflate away that debt — that is, drive up prices so that the real value of the debt is reduced.

Such things have happened in the past. For example, France ultimately inflated away much of the debt it incurred while fighting World War I.

But more modern examples are lacking. Over the past two decades, Belgium, Canada and, of course, Japan have all gone through episodes when debt exceeded 100 percent of G.D.P. And the United States itself emerged from World War II with debt exceeding 120 percent of G.D.P. In none of these cases did governments resort to inflation to resolve their problems.

So is there any reason to think that inflation is coming? Some economists have argued for moderate inflation as a deliberate policy, as a way to encourage lending and reduce private debt burdens. I’m sympathetic to these arguments and made a similar case for Japan in the 1990s. But the case for inflation never made headway with Japanese policy makers then, and there’s no sign it’s getting traction with U.S. policy makers now.

All of this raises the question: If inflation isn’t a real risk, why all the claims that it is?

Well, as you may have noticed, economists sometimes disagree. And big disagreements are especially likely in weird times like the present, when many of the normal rules no longer apply.

But it’s hard to escape the sense that the current inflation fear-mongering is partly political, coming largely from economists who had no problem with deficits caused by tax cuts but suddenly became fiscal scolds when the government started spending money to rescue the economy. And their goal seems to be to bully the Obama administration into abandoning those rescue efforts.

Needless to say, the president should not let himself be bullied. The economy is still in deep trouble and needs continuing help.

Yes, we have a long-run budget problem, and we need to start laying the groundwork for a long-run solution. But when it comes to inflation, the only thing we have to fear is inflation fear itself.

What are Zoos For? by Peter Barber

Behind the rusting gates of Wroclaw Zoo, ivy is claiming the walls of the ramshackle gothic administration building. Inside, the best Radoslaw Ratajszczak can do to keep out the Polish winter is to point a bar heater at his desk. “You can see the challenge I face,” the zoo director says, gesturing at the peeling paintwork. From high on the wall, the head of a large black rhino watches ­Ratajszczak’s every move. He hates the thing and has tried to remove it, but it’s bolted through the brickwork. “I don’t like dead animals,” he explains.
Ratajszczak, a biologist who resembles a chain-smoking Santa, is jolly even in the face of the huge task before him. When he won his directorship two years ago, he took it upon himself to transform the worst zoo in Poland into a state-of-the-art conservation park. The mounted rhino is a reminder of the days when best practice in the acquisition of zoo animals was to shoot the mother to capture the offspring. Ratajszczak’s challenges are typical of those faced by dilapidated zoos across eastern Europe as they are forced to accept European Union rules on the humane treatment of animals.
More from Reportage - Nov-24
However, while zookeepers can replace metal bars with moats, and cages with warm, eco-friendly enclosures, can they really change the fundamental nature of their enterprise: the display of captive wild animals for the entertainment and edification of humans? Why do we frown on wild animals in circuses but flock – in our millions – to see them in zoos?
After a slump in the late 1970s and 1980s, the zoo as family entertainment is back. Worldwide, as many as 600 million visits are made to zoos each year, according to the World Association of Zoos and Aquaria (Waza). In Europe, they are among the most visited of all tourist sites: the Berlin Zoo, to pick probably the most successful example, is a stock-market-listed – though non-profit-making – company that aggressively merchandises star animals such as Knut, the cute baby polar bear (now reputedly a ­maladjusted adult).
‘Tumku’ the orangutanStill, the question of what zoos are for has not gone away. Most of the animals on display in the UK’s largest zoological gardens are at the very lowest risk of extinction in the wild, according to the Born Free Foundation, which campaigns to “keep wildlife in the wild”. Fewer than a quarter are classified as “threatened” on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List. Yet it is species conservation that dominates zoos’ ­branding – and the spur behind their revival seems to be that they have convinced punters that the price of a ticket buys them, not entry to a show, but a stake in the preservation of the natural world. When Born Free conducted a survey to discover what percentage of UK zoo income people thought was spent on the conservation of threatened species in the wild, most answered: about a quarter. The true figure, Born Free believes, is between 4 and 7 per cent – in other words, of the average £10.30 cost of a ticket to a British charity-registered zoo, between 41p and 72p goes to in situ conservation. Even captive breeding programmes, Born Free estimates, account for less than 14 per cent of the 5,600-plus vertebrate species on the Red List. “The zoo model has largely remained the same, but the marketing model has had to adapt to meet changing public expectations,” argues Born Free’s chief executive, Will Travers.
Since 2005, Europe’s zoos have been required to implement an EU directive on minimum standards of animal welfare and engage in educational and conservation work. But the provisions of the directive are vague and implementation has been variable, according to the Eurogroup for Animals, a non-profit organisation that monitors animal welfare. The group’s forthcoming 2009 report will conclude that many member states are failing on both objectives.
The group has launched legal action against Spain and Portugal and also has concerns about Italy, says Véronique Schmit, the group’s executive officer for policy. It has so far held fire against two others, Bulgaria and Romania, which have only been bound by the directive since 2007 when they joined the EU. “We acknowledge that zoos will always exist,” says Schmit. “But we feel that the educational role of zoos is the only way they can be justified.”
. . .
GibbonAnthony Sheridan is a retired businessman from Hertfordshire whose personal quest is to bring the zoos of Europe up to standard. His field is electronics and he has no particular expertise in animal husbandry, although he did breed Indian mongooses when he was 12, which got him a spot on the television programme Children’s Newsreel. He has maintained a lifelong fascination with wildlife. Using his own money, Sheridan has met and quizzed the directors of more than 60 of Europe’s leading zoos.
“I’m interested in what the rationale is for zoos now and in the future,” he says. “People have moved on. They see the David Attenborough programmes and everything else, and they ask: why do we need to keep animals in zoos?” Sheridan has compiled a ranking of the best zoos in Europe on the basis of 25 factors including the animal collection itself, the quality of the enclosures, visitor numbers, overall investment, education involvement, in situ and zoo-based conservation activity, marketing and publicity. Vienna, Leipzig and Berlin are at the top with Rotterdam and Chester close behind. London Zoo does not make his top 10. Wroclaw is at the bottom, but Sheridan expects it to climb up the list as the new director implements his renovation plan.
Sheridan believes that we have no choice but to keep animals in captivity, for the purposes of conservation and education. The problem is that practices at too many zoos don’t match the promises. He says that to bring a typical large European zoological garden up to scratch over the period of a decade would require €100m.
. . .
Until the Victorian era, zoos were living displays of wealth and power, confined to the private pleasure gardens of the aristocracy. Then, in 1847, the Zoological Society of London began charging the public to view its collection of exotic animals in Regent’s Park. It was an immediate hit. The London Zoo captured the mood of the time. Elephant tusks had begun to grace the entrances to gentlemen’s clubs along Piccadilly; feathers from exotic birds were appearing on ladies’ hats.
Siberian tigerAshton Nichols, a professor of Liberal Arts at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, says that the zoo was a powerful embodiment of the notion that not only had British culture been able to extend itself over the furthest reaches of the globe, but that it had “actually been able to bring the furthest reaches of the globe back to the centre of the imperial city”. The founder of the Zoological Society, Stamford Raffles, was himself an officer of the East India Company, and the London Zoo became a display of living plunder. Zoos as we know them today are relics of this earlier era of globalisation, in which not just people and spices were dispersed across the planet, but the natural world.
Throwing open the gates to the zoo coincided with changing attitudes towards animals. Bull- and bear-baiting were banned in 1835; Darwinian theories of evolution were starting to be popularised. Even as thousands flocked to Regent’s Park, some expressed unease at what they were witnessing. “Why can we have Acts of parliament in favour of other extensions of good treatment to the brute creation, and not one against their tormenting imprisonment?” wrote Leigh Hunt in A Saunter Through the West End, published in 1861. Many of the animals were captured by wild animal merchant Carl Hagenbeck, who also supplied circus entrepreneur P.T. Barnum. Hagenbeck was later to expand his trade to indigenous people – human exhibits such as the “Hottentot Venus” and ­African “Bushmen” were hugely popular.
The methods used to seize the animals were merciless. In Savages and Beasts, a history of Hagenbeck’s business, Nigel Rothfels cites a letter from Bronx Zoo director William Hornady to Hagenbeck in 1902 urging discretion: “We must keep very still about 40 large Indian rhinoceroses being killed in capturing the four young ones … There are now a good many cranks who are so terribly sentimental that they affect to believe that it is wrong to capture and exhibit them, even for the benefit of millions of people.”
Feeding time at the Penguin PoolIronically, Hagenbeck is also generally credited with revolutionising zoo design at the start of the 20th century by dispensing with bars in favour of open spaces surrounded by moats, the template for modern zoo architecture. Naturalist and author Gerald Durrell pushed this reforming ethos ­further. Durrell, founder of Jersey Zoo and a former animal collector, argued that a zoo’s primary purpose should be the captive breeding of endangered species, once all efforts to preserve them in the wild had failed. So how is it that, still, most animals in modern zoos are not endangered?
In Wroclaw, Ratajszczak says the problem is that, of the four basic tenets of zookeeping – conservation, research, education and recreation – only the last makes money. To fund the worthier functions of the zoo, you must get people through the gate. And what do people want to see? Charismatic mega-vertebrates like elephants and cute and cuddly mega-stars such as Knut the polar bear.
The Eurogroup for Animals believes that elephants – of which only the Asian species has a declining population – do not belong in zoos. According to the RSPCA, elephants typically live only 15 or 16 years in zoos, about half as long as even their counterparts in Burmese timber camps. Breeding rates are far lower than in the wild and illness – such as circulatory problems, foot problems and herpes – kills off 60 per cent of those that survive beyond infancy. Zoos claim that keeping elephants supports conservation, but the World Wide Fund for Nature believes that captive breeding does not contribute significantly to the preservation of the species.
Gorilla KingdomSo what about Knut, the polar bear that became a media phenomenon for Berlin Zoo after it was abandoned by its mother, a former circus bear called Tosca? In 2007, more than three million visitors came to the zoo, providing an estimated €5m fillip. The zoo swiftly registered the bear as a trademark and out rolled Knut fluffy toys, mugs, T-shirts and gummy bear sweets. There was even a Vanity Fair cover with celebrity ecologist ­Leonardo DiCaprio and BBDO Consulting briefly attached a brand value of €10m euro to the cub. Other German zoos, such as Stuttgart and Nuremberg, rushed to acquire photogenic versions of their own.
But Knut, like many child stars, seems to have become a victim of his own fame. German tabloids reported that Knut had become addicted to applause, “crying” when the crowds disappeared. One German zoologist says that he has become a sociopath who will never mate. It’s perhaps not the classic Hollywood story that was envisaged by an American studio when it reportedly began negotiating with the zoo to produce an animated film based on the bear. Berlin Zoo director Bernhard Blaszkiewitz says that Knut’s alleged behavioural problems are a media invention.
But the king of the crowd-pleasers is the giant panda. All pandas are the property of the Chinese government and are leased out to zoos around the world at a list price of up to $1m a year for a breeding pair. However, it is hard work getting these breeding pairs actually to breed (females are in heat for as little as three days every year) and when they do, China levies a “baby tax” of $600,000. There are believed to be only 1,600 mature giant pandas left in the wild, threatened most of all by habitat destruction and a single-minded reliance on the periodic flowering of bamboo. The Captive Animals’ Protection Society argues that the renting of pandas is a misuse of zoos’ scarce conservation resources.
And as if pandas didn’t have enough problems, they also have to contend with the ups and downs of international politics. Chairman Mao gave America pandas Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing in 1972 as an act of goodwill following the visit of Richard Nixon. But ­pandas offered as a peace overture to Taiwan in 2006 were initially rejected as being clearly aimed at undermining the smaller nation’s sovereignty. Meanwhile, Berlin Zoo’s efforts to find a mate for Bao Bao after the female Yan Yan died have been rebuffed by China, allegedly in response to Angela ­Merkel hosting the Dalai Lama; ­however, Berlin zoo director Blaszkiewitz said negotiations with China for a new panda were in fact continuing.
. . .
In 1973, the director of the Bronx Zoo, Bill Conway, delivered a ­lecture entitled “How to exhibit a bullfrog”. It became a seminal text for forward-thinking zoo ­directors. Conway imagined a zoo as a “world of wild creatures” with no visible buildings, in which an animal – specifically, an endangered species – was shown in the context of its biosphere: its earth, air and water. By doing so, a zookeeper could make a bullfrog as exciting for a visitor as a chimpanzee.
Gorilla statueBut there is a counter-argument in favour of the more traditional capture and display of the rare and exotic: that this may be the only way to save them. For example, the last wild specimen of Père David’s deer, native to China, is believed to have been shot in 1939. But 40 years earlier, the deer had been introduced to the private deer collections of the European aristocracy. The 11th Duke of Bedford formed a breeding herd at Woburn Abbey in England – and in 1956 the first Père David’s deer were sent back to China, albeit to Beijing Zoo. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature hopes the species will one day be reintroduced into the wild.
The reality is that we face a future in which more and more of “nature” exists only in a kind of museum. A quarter of mammal species face extinction while half have declining populations, according to the IUCN Red List. But the list also shows that captive breeding can bring animals back from the brink. The Arabian oryx has been reintroduced into the wild, as has the golden lion tamarin in ­Brazil. The last six wild American condors were captured in 1987 for a breeding programme and growing numbers are now being released. The American bison is no longer endangered and Przewalski’s wild horse, which was considered extinct in the wild, appears to be less endangered. And zoos may be the only safe haven for the Tasmanian devil, as a rare form of communicable cancer threatens to extinguish its native population within 20 years.
Captivity might be the last hope for chimpanzees, accepts primatologist Jane Goodall. “In an ideal world, it would be wonderful if all chimpanzees could live in protected areas,” she says. “But the sad reality is that, so often in the wild, chimpanzees are subjected to habitat destruction, to hunting, caught in snares; human populations are expanding…”
Primates can have enriching lives in well-managed, enlightened zoos, Goodall says. The key is to provide sufficient space, stimulation, a good social group and the ability for them to make choices. “Sometimes when I’m looking at chimps in a zoo like that, and I think of some of the places I’ve seen in Africa, I think that probably a chimp would actually prefer that,” she says. “We tend to have this idealistic view of freedom, but I don’t think the chimpanzees do.”
. . .
People like Sheridan and Ratajszczak are the reason zoos exist in the first place – they have a deep need to be close to animals. ­Ratajszczak, who claims to have visited 407 zoos since he was a child, was the first person from communist eastern Europe to attend a zookeeper’s training course in the west. The course, held by the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Society, “opened my eyes to what we have to do”, he said, “that we really need to orient ourselves more to education and to captive breeding of endangered species, that the zoos need to change”.
In the 1980s, the only way that Ratajszczak could get hold of editions of the Zoological Society of London’s International Zoo Yearbook – the zookeeper’s bible – was to trade them with Bristol Zoo for some of his Argentinian black vultures. Now he constantly shares information with other zoos, and is helping Sarajevo Zoo rebuild after the Bosnian war. It’s a measure of how things have changed at ­Wroclaw Zoo. Within recent memory it had become a byword for animal neglect in Poland after a handler was savaged by a brown bear that had been kept for nine years in a 12 square metre space with no light. When Ratajszczak was appointed by the city council to bring the place up to scratch, he found “an accidental gathering of animals”, few of them in good condition.
As we zip around the grounds in Ratajszczak’s electric cart, it is clear that Wroclaw Zoo is a work in progress. In the reptile house, lethargic crocodiles bask dead-eyed in artificially lit Perspex boxes not much larger than themselves. All these will go. A cramped and dark stone enclosure from 1863 that once imprisoned birds will be converted into a display documenting how animals were kept in the bad old days. “In the middle of the last century they were showing dwarves and bearded women in circuses. That is our history. You can deny it? No,” he says.
The new Animal Adventure children’s exhibitGerald Dick, executive director of the World Association of Zoos and Aquaria, says that one of the trends that has improved zoo husbandry is the move away from cramming in as many animals as possible. Ratajszczak is in the course of rationalising his own collection: “People used to say: if you don’t know what to do with an animal, give it to Wroclaw Zoo. It was filled with strange animals in strange places, like 16 red foxes.” There was even an exhibition of caged domestic chickens in what is now the butterfly house.
The zoo has one of the last remaining 19th century elephant houses – a structure that, perhaps more than any other, symbolises the limitations of the Victorian zookeeping philosophy. Elephants need company and space. Ratajszczak plans to knock out the cages to open up the enclosure for his “three old ladies”, each of which is more than 40 years old. One, a former circus act, was alone for nine years and was pacing unnaturally before two companions were found for her.
Some major work has already been completed. Ratajszczak has built a new primate building with access to a large island that must seem like Shangri-la to the gibbons, which had been in tiny cages for 26 years. But in the administration library are the plans for his masterstroke. It is a futuristic €40m walk-through multimedia exhibit focusing on a single African ecosystem: the plains, the forest, the water and the air. Conway would be pleased.
In terms of species conservation, though, Ratajszczak is grimly realistic. “We are losing the war,” he says. “We are winning some small battles.” Still, he believes there is a permanent place in the struggle for Wroclaw Zoo. “You can find zoo-like establishments in all the ancient cultures,” he says. “The Egyptians, the Chinese, the Mayans … There has always been a need for humans to be with animals.”

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Today I am thinking about people and the future by R. Michael Schloss

How Somalia's Fishermen Became Pirates by Ishaan Tharoor

Amid the current media frenzy about Somali pirates, it's hard not to imagine them as characters in some dystopian Horn of Africa version of Waterworld. We see wily corsairs in ragged clothing swarming out of their elusive mother ships, chewing narcotic khat while thumbing GPS phones and grappling hooks. They are not desperate bandits, experts say, rather savvy opportunists in the most lawless corner of the planet. But the pirates have never been the only ones exploiting the vulnerabilities of this troubled failed state — and are, in part, a product of the rest of the world's neglect.
Ever since a civil war brought down Somalia's last functional government in 1991, the country's 3,330 km (2,000 miles) of coastline — the longest in continental Africa — has been pillaged by foreign vessels. A United Nations report in 2006 said that, in the absence of the country's at one time serviceable coastguard, Somali waters have become the site of an international "free for all," with fishing fleets from around the world illegally plundering Somali stocks and freezing out the country's own rudimentarily-equipped fishermen. According to another U.N. report, an estimated $300 million worth of seafood is stolen from the country's coastline each year. "In any context," says Gustavo Carvalho, a London-based researcher with Global Witness, an environmental NGO, "that is a staggering sum."
In the face of this, impoverished Somalis living by the sea have been forced over the years to defend their own fishing expeditions out of ports such as Eyl, Kismayo and Harardhere — all now considered to be pirate dens. Somali fishermen, whose industry was always small-scale, lacked the advanced boats and technologies of their interloping competitors, and also complained of being shot at by foreign fishermen with water cannons and firearms. "The first pirate gangs emerged in the '90s to protect against foreign trawlers," says Peter Lehr, lecturer in terrorism studies at Scotland's University of St. Andrews and editor of Violence at Sea: Piracy in the Age of Global Terrorism. The names of existing pirate fleets, such as the National Volunteer Coastguard of Somalia or Somali Marines, are testament to the pirates' initial motivations.
The waters they sought to protect, says Lehr, were "an El Dorado for fishing fleets of many nations." A 2006 study published in the journal Science predicted that the current rate of commercial fishing would virtually empty the world's oceanic stocks by 2050. Yet, Somalia's seas still offer a particularly fertile patch for tuna, sardines and mackerel, and other lucrative species of seafood, including lobsters and sharks. In other parts of the Indian Ocean region, such as the Persian Gulf, fishermen resort to dynamite and other extreme measures to pull in the kinds of catches that are still in abundance off the Horn of Africa.
High-seas trawlers from countries as far flung as South Korea, Japan and Spain have operated down the Somali coast, often illegally and without licenses, for the better part of two decades, the U.N. says. They often fly flags of convenience from sea-faring friendly nations like Belize and Bahrain, which further helps the ships skirt international regulations and evade censure from their home countries. Tsuma Charo of the Nairobi-based East African Seafarers Assistance Programme, which monitors Somali pirate attacks and liaises with the hostage takers and the captured crews, says "illegal trawling has fed the piracy problem." In the early days of Somali piracy, those who seized trawlers without licenses could count on a quick ransom payment, since the boat owners and companies backing those vessels didn't want to draw attention to their violation of international maritime law. This, Charo reckons, allowed the pirates to build up their tactical networks and whetted their appetite for bigger spoils.
Beyond illegal fishing, foreign ships have also long been accused by local fishermen of dumping toxic and nuclear waste off Somalia's shores. A 2005 United Nations Environmental Program report cited uranium radioactive and other hazardous deposits leading to a rash of respiratory ailments and skin diseases breaking out in villages along the Somali coast. According to the U.N., at the time of the report, it cost $2.50 per ton for a European company to dump these types of materials off the Horn of Africa, as opposed to $250 per ton to dispose of them cleanly in Europe.
Monitoring and combating any of these misdeeds is next to impossible — Somalia's current government can barely find its feet in the wake of the 2006 U.S.-backed Ethiopian invasion. And many Somalis, along with outside observers, suspect local officials in Mogadishu and in ports in semi-autonomous Puntland further north of accepting bribes from foreign fishermen as well as from pirate elders. U.N. monitors in 2005 and 2006 suggested an embargo on fish taken from Somali waters, but their proposals were shot down by members of the Security Council.

In the meantime, Somali piracy has metastasized into the country's only boom industry. Most of the pirates, observers say, are not former fishermen, but just poor folk seeking their fortune. Right now, they hold 18 cargo ships and some 300 sailors hostage — the work of a sophisticated and well-funded operation. A few pirates have offered testimony to the international press — a headline in Thursday's Times of London read, "They stole our lobsters: A Somali pirate tells his side of the story" — but Lehr and other Somali experts express their doubts. "Nowadays," Lehr says, "this sort of thing is just a cheap excuse." The legacy of nearly twenty years of inaction and abuse, though, is far more costly.

Why Beijing Wants a Strong Dollar by Zachary Karabell

Twenty years ago, in the wake of the suppression of the student movement that had taken over Tiananmen Square, it seemed as if China's brief opening to the world had come to an end. In fact, 1989 marked the beginning of China's supercharged path to economic reform. The results have been tremendous: China is now the second pillar of the global economy and is increasingly vital given the vulnerability of the United States.
The U.S. now relies on China for credit, a fact that is generating considerable anxiety in Washington and Beijing. Last month Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao called for more international oversight of the world's major "reserve" currencies. While he didn't specifically mention the U.S. dollar, the message was clear. As the largest holder of U.S. debt, the Chinese government is restless as the $2 trillion in foreign reserves it holds fluctuates primarily based on the management -- or mismanagement -- of American financial institutions.
Mr. Wen's comments, as well as more recent statements by other Chinese officials, constitute a series of not-so-subtle hints by China that it intends to take a more active approach toward its substantial investments in the U.S. Given that China is now the largest holder of U.S. Treasurys and the largest foreign creditor of the U.S. government -- to the tune of approximately $1 trillion in government securities alone -- the recent statements by Chinese officials have caused serious American trepidation.
Unease about China's economic clout is not new. During his presidential campaign in 2004, John Kerry waged a rhetorical assault on the "Benedict Arnold CEOs" who outsourced their company's workforce to China. In 2007, Sens. Charles Schumer of New York and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina found common ground in threatening China with punitive tariffs because of accusations of currency manipulation that gave it an unfair trade advantage. The current financial crisis has accelerated such concerns, even as China's willingness to purchase U.S. debt has allowed the Obama administration to commit to unprecedented levels of spending.
The most commonly expressed fear is that China could use its status as the largest foreign creditor to pressure the U.S. to take positions it would not otherwise take. What if China wants to adopt a harsher stance towards Taiwan? Or what if it refuses to pressure North Korea to halt its nuclear-arms program?
To many, that fear seemed justified when Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner -- who will be in China next week -- recently refused to label China a "currency manipulator." This led to an immediate outcry on the part of Messrs. Schumer and Graham that the administration was succumbing to Chinese pressure. That in turn fueled the already rampant speculation that China now holds the equivalent of a Sword of Damocles over the U.S.: Do what we say or we'll dump your bonds.
Worries about China's ascendancy have not been confined to either party. Fiscally conservative Republicans are just as apt to raise eyebrows about dependency on China as Democratic labor leaders. While this is a rare area of bipartisan accord, it is also an area of bipartisan error.
To begin with, China cannot simply decide one day to "dump its bonds" and torpedo the U.S. economy. It can't even credibly threaten to do so because it has no one to sell them to. Who in today's world could buy $1 trillion of U.S. debt? What government could take the risk of further enmeshing itself in an American economy that is widely seen as having drawn the global system into an untenable dependence on low-grade debt? The German central bank certainly wouldn't, nor would Japan, which already holds hundreds of billions in U.S. debt. The sovereign wealth funds of the oil-rich Arab sheikhdoms, including Saudi Arabia, have already taken hits with their investments in U.S. financial institutions and are wary of further depreciation of their oil-dependent assets.
But even if there were buyers, the issue is deeper than economics. China's investments in the U.S. are as much a political decision as an economic one. They represent the culmination of two decades of assiduous efforts on the part of the Chinese government and many U.S. companies to bind the two economies together.
Until recent months, the common understanding of the relationship between China and the U.S. was that China produced cheap stuff that Americans bought. But that was always just one aspect of a much more intertwined relationship, one that entails significant growth for U.S. companies as they sell to Chinese consumers and provide support for China's industrial build-out. The Chinese government has actively tethered its economic and political stability to the U.S.
To some degree, China's holdings prove the old adage: If a bank lends you $1 million, you've got a problem; but if a bank lends you $10 million, the bank has a problem. With so much invested in the U.S., China can no more tolerate a severe U.S. implosion than Americans can. Any action taken by China to imperil the economic stability of the U.S. would be an act of mutually-assured destruction.
To see China's holdings as a threat is to misjudge the goals of the Chinese government. China believes that its affluence is best guaranteed by economic interdependence with the world's most dynamic economy. It certainly wants to evolve so that its affluence is eventually comparable to that of America, but that is years away. And while there is a competitive component to China's ambitions, it is competition within the framework of capitalism more than nationalism.
True, some Chinese question the intimate connection to the U.S., just as many Americans bristle at the large Chinese stake in our economy. But the fact is that without China lending, the financial crisis would be markedly worse. And without the know-how of U.S. companies and the considerable market that even a hobbled U.S. offers, China would not be weathering the storm as well as it currently is.
The challenge going forward is to see benefit rather than threat in the U.S.-China relationship, and to understand that the path to continued prosperity in the 21st century will not look the same as it did in the 20th century. It is a path that will be constructed on the fusion of the Chinese and American economic systems -- not the predominance of either.

The "Religious Non-Believer" Einstein and His God by Mandy Katz

As usual, Albert Einstein hadn’t dressed for the occasion. Most of the 40 or so young men waiting for him that Friday night in January at Princeton’s Murray-Dodge Hall sported the “college man’s” uniform of 1947—their best tweed sport coats and shined loafers. But their guest of honor, when he finally showed up, was wearing a baggy sweatshirt, soft-soled slippers and no socks.
Einstein padded to the front of the room to give a short talk—not about the theory of relativity, special or general, or even the unified field theory he was currently working on at the nearby Institute for Advanced Study. Rather, Einstein had a few words to share about the importance of identifying as a Jew. He “stressed that it was important for Jews to be part of a Jewish community,” a student would later recall in his notes on the event. “He believed that it was important for all Jews to have Jewish friends.”
This was a radical idea at a school that, under its officially non-existent quota system in the 1940s, admitted only 25 Jews into each 750-man class. Less than a decade earlier, in 1938 and 1939, incoming Princeton freshmen asked in a survey to name the “greatest living person” had ranked Einstein second. Adolf Hitler was first, both years.
“There was a certain number of Jewish students who, when asked, ‘What is your religion?’ wrote ‘no religion,’” says 83-year-old Ernest Stock, who organized the student meeting. “Whether for good reasons or bad,” another student recalls, “we were very reticent about advertising our identities.” Stock, a sophomore, had asked Einstein to help inaugurate this gathering of Princeton’s Student Hebrew Association. The world’s most famous Jew, he knew, could lure his fellow Jews out from behind their tweedy camouflage.
The evening’s gathering was an intimate one that began with a Shabbat service led by a guest rabbi before a makeshift ark. The guest of honor stayed afterwards to drink tea and chat with the students, even posing for pictures and signing autographs. It was a cozy affair with nonetheless heady significance. For the first time, Princeton’s Jewish undergraduates would no longer have to attend Christian services to fulfill their compulsory chapel requirement. For the first time, Jews would be graced with a room of their own in Murray-Dodge, the university’s religious affairs building.
With Einstein’s help, Stock and his friends had launched a quiet revolution on the pastoral campus of flagstone footpaths and stately stone buildings. “He was a revered figure and all the Jewish students, particularly, viewed him as a semi-God,” says Robert Bloom, 77, who would assume the presidency of the Jewish group in 1950. Einstein’s participation had inflated more than attendance, Bloom notes. “For students with doubts about their identity, he just added his great moral prestige.”
As he did all over the world throughout his later years, Einstein raised his torch of fame that night to light his listeners’ way through a thicket of assimilationist culture. Einstein shared with them a Jewish affinity that sprang not from racial or tribal consciousness—he abhorred parochial allegiances based on blood ties or nationhood—nor from a common faith or set of practices. He perceived, rather, independence of thought and an ethical imperative as the distinct blessings of Jewish heritage, says physics professor Hanoch Gutfreund, former president of Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
The great physicist was a model for Jews of his time. “Not only did he not make it a secret,” Gutfreund explains, “but Einstein was proud of his ethnic origin, of belonging, which he perceived as a cultural tradition based on moral values, a long tradition of learning and the pursuit of truth.”
For Melvin Antell, 81, a student in Murray-Dodge that night, the message was simpler: “We thought of him as being the outstanding American-Jew. That’s what we were: We were Americans. We were Jewish. And with him it all came together.”
Einstein hadn’t been all that different from the Princeton students with whom he sipped tea. He was born in 1879 into an assimilated upper-middle-class family in Ulm in southern Germany. As a young man, when asked his religion on official documents, Einstein would fill in “none,” though race-conscious bureaucrats in turn-of-the-century Europe repeatedly required him to change “none” to “Mosaic,” a term for Jews.
“Albert’s father was proud of the fact that Jewish rites were not practiced in his home,” wrote Abraham Pais, an Einstein colleague who authored the Einstein biography, Subtle is the Lord. Hermann and Pauline Einstein even sent their son to the Catholic school within walking distance of their home, where he was his class’s only Jew. His teacher once illuminated a lesson on the crucifixion by displaying a huge iron nail, but Einstein never recalled suffering the barbs of anti-Semitism as a child. His sister Maja, however, blessed perhaps with a sharper memory (or thinner skin), described her big brother not only as awkward but as a playground outcast.
Contrary to legend, young Albert excelled in most subjects and his classmates often turned to him for help with schoolwork, even Catechism. At home, at his mother’s insistence, he learned violin. The six-year-old who threw a chair at one of his first music teachers developed into a man enchanted by music. For one fortunate to possess what a writer called “the purposeful concentration of a watchmaker,” it provided a release.
Under a Bavarian law calling for every child to be schooled in his family’s religious tradition, Einstein took up home studies in Judaism. Punctilious in their observance of the law, if not religion, Pauline and Hermann retained a distant cousin to tutor 10-year-old Albert in Hebrew, Torah and the teachings of the prophets. To their chagrin, the boy fell in love with God.
Delighted by the idea that human actions could please God, Einstein offered up devotionals in the form of ecstatic paeans he sang on his way to school. He also gave up eating pork. His parents must have been relieved when geometry began to absorb Albert’s attention at age 12. Riveted by Euclid’s perfect proofs and order, he soon forsook Jewish ritual and shifted his devotion to science.
As Walter Isaacson, author of Einstein: His Life and Universe, observes, Einstein would never return to conventional Jewish practice or belief. “Einstein rebels against religious dogma and becomes a free thinker, but he’s still awed by nature and has a religious feeling of awe about the creation of the cosmos,” Isaacson says. Rather than become a bar mitzvah, Einstein transferred his religious fervor to the workings of the physical world.
Einstein lost a different sort of paradise several years later when, as a brooding teenager, he was thrust out of the family home in Munich, with its tree-filled courtyard where he had tumbled with cousins and observed nature at work. Business reversals had forced the property’s sale and Einstein was sent to live in a boarding house to finish his all-important gymnasium education, while his parents and Maja made a fresh start in Italy.
It was more than he could take. Lonely and repelled by what he considered his school’s brute, repressive atmosphere and Germany’s martial fervor, he was appalled at the prospect of having to enlist in the German army on his impending 16th birthday. To spare himself, in 1894 he abandoned Germany to join his family. By surrendering his passport, he dodged classification as a deserter, opting for statelessness over military service. “That a man can take pleasure in marching in formation to the strains of a band is enough to make me despise him,” he would later say.
Two years later, Einstein earned a place at a school in Switzerland for future college teachers, the Zurich Polytechnic. Einstein threw himself into the study of new ideas in physics while often stinting on more traditional coursework. His academic performance failed to excite his professors but he quickly established himself among his polyglot classmates as a thinker, a quirky wit and a “fool for music,” ever ready with his violin for a pick-up chamber session. They found him game for strenuous hikes among the nearby peaks and wide-ranging nightly bull sessions on philosophy and science.
This raucous, mustachioed bon vivant appeared to his contemporaries both darkly romantic and dangerously disheveled. That, at least, was the opinion of two young Serbian women at the Polytech who began to resent the boisterous German after he captured the heart of their friend and compatriot, Mileva Maric. Maric, two years older than Einstein, was the only woman in his five-member class of physics majors.
The two lovers shared coffee, sausages and pillow talk that meandered from the molecular properties of gases to how to deal with Mother Einstein, who deplored their affair. Pauline objected not because Maric wasn’t Jewish; indeed, she had encouraged his previous sweetheart, who was also a Gentile. “It was just marrying an older, brooding, depressive, limping Serbian woman physicist that she wasn’t thrilled about,” Isaacson explains. Einstein, however, stayed loyal to his dark-haired “dollie,” as he called her. Their tumultuous affair led, in 1902, to the birth in Serbia of an illegitimate daughter, Lieserl, whom Einstein never met. (The scant paper trail indicates she either died as a toddler or was given up for adoption.)
Though the relationship consumed them both, only Maric’s professional aspirations would be sacrificed to the conflagration. Einstein’s own career, however, almost failed to take off after his graduation in 1900. During two years of miserable joblessness, he at first suspected an unsympathetic professor from the Polytechnic was sabotaging his quest for an academic post in Switzerland. But, when applications also failed farther afield, he began to surmise his “Mosaic” background was holding him back.
As he would throughout his life, Einstein took solace from personal problems in theoretical physics, working to reconcile the dogma of 19th-century science with the observations and “thought experiments” that began to characterize his 20th-century studies. It helped that he could work anywhere. “Asked once where his laboratory was,” Denis Brian related in Einstein, A Life, Einstein “held up his fountain pen.”
One bright spot in these tumultuous years was Switzerland’s bestowal of citizenship on Einstein in 1901, once he had satisfactorily demonstrated a sound mind and solid economic prospects. Enamored of the country’s tolerant culture and its geopolitical neutrality, he would remain a Swiss citizen throughout his life, even as he changed continents and swore additional allegiances. In 1902, through the intervention of friends, Einstein at last found a job—not the teaching post he had trained for, but a nevertheless satisfactory position in the Swiss patent office, enabling his long-awaited marriage to Maric.
The new Swiss citizen seemed to enjoy patent-examination work. Embarking on a period of astonishingly fertile intellectual activity, he used idle time at his stool and at home to pursue calculations leading to his major scientific breakthroughs of 1905: five stunning articles that included introductions of the photoelectric effect (for which he would win a Nobel Prize in 1921) and the special theory of relativity. That space and time could bend, that acceleration is equivalent to gravity and that e=mc2, these were ideas that would change the world, leading to everything from global positioning systems to supermarket laser-scanners and the atom bomb. Einstein was discovering not only new scientific concepts but a fresh way of conceptualizing the universe and its forces, and beginning to perceive a natural order that had eluded his predecessors.
In his family, however, order was breaking down. As Einstein’s star rose among colleagues and academicians, Maric, by 1910 the mother of two sons, saw the light dimming in her own, now entirely domestic world. Closed off from his work, she grew jealous, angering her husband when she intercepted letters between him and a previous girlfriend. The exchange had been innocent, as Einstein insisted, but Maric’s suspicions weren’t unfounded. She knew from experience how promiscuous her husband could be. Their own romance long over, Einstein increasingly treated Maric like a housekeeper and scold rather than the scientific playmate of earlier days.
By 1908, Einstein’s continuing discoveries had launched him into the ranks of academia. If it can be said that the stereotype of the “absent-minded professor” didn’t actually originate with Einstein, he already looked the part, dashing from lecture to café to apartment with his shirts misbuttoned and collars missing, and having apparently given up on taming or trimming his dark, flyaway mane. His long-dreamed-of professorship at the University of Zurich was secured in 1909, but only after Einstein’s faculty sponsor assured the hiring committee that the candidate lacked such known “Israelite” traits as “intrusiveness, impudence, and a shopkeeper’s mentality.”
Einstein moved in 1911 to the German University of Prague for a teaching stint that lasted only a year but, quite unexpectedly, opened new vistas onto his Jewishness. Taken aback by the snobbery of the Czech-German bourgeoisie and their deliberate segregation from countrymen of Czech and Jewish descent, Einstein sought more amiable society in the city’s urbane salon culture, largely driven by highly cultured Jews he called “philosophical and Zionist enthusiasts.” He wandered the streets of the city’s once-crowded Jewish ghetto, which had been almost entirely razed ten years earlier in an urban renewal initiative. In the historic walled cemetery—centuries of graves beneath hundreds of tombstones arrayed chock-a-block, like crooked teeth—and within the few synagogues that remained, he came across the original bearded inhabitants, clothed in the black garb of their ancient patrimony. When they were to appear on his metaphorical doorstep in Berlin a few years later, Einstein would recognize them as his brothers.
In 1913, a delegation from Berlin, the red-hot center of the physics world, lured Einstein back to Germany. Their inducements to forsake Zurich included a post without teaching duties at the University of Berlin, directorship of his own physics institute at the burgeoning Kaiser Wilhelm Institute and induction as the youngest member of the Prussian Academy of Sciences. Einstein would also be joining, as colleague and collaborator, the world’s scientific elite—a high-minded cohort, he imagined, so different from the narrow-minded, spit-and-polish Prussians he had forsaken in his teens.
He and his family followed these sirens to Germany in the summer of 1914. For Maric, however, the music fell flat. She and the boys returned to Zurich within weeks; the four would never again live together as a family. Einstein wept at parting from his sons but could no longer abide their mother. In one of his less vitriolic letters, he described her as “an employee I cannot fire.” That the letter was to his mistress didn’t help matters. Einstein and Elsa Löwenthal, a divorcée five years older and his second cousin, had been corresponding and meeting illicitly since 1912. Löwenthal’s presence in Berlin had added a descant to the Kaiser Institutes’ siren song.
Einstein strung Löwenthal along for years while he wrangled with Maric over divorce terms and clung to the pleasures of bachelor life—with Elsa now in Mileva’s place as cook and caretaker. Einstein finally did succeed in “firing” Maric in 1918. Before succumbing to a second marriage the following year, though, he inflicted on his future wife the ultimate insult of suggesting, quite seriously, that perhaps he should marry her 20-year-old daughter instead. With the callousness of the utterly self-absorbed, he left it to them to decide. “Fortunately” for Löwenthal, the girl opposed the match, so her mother and Einstein tied the knot.
Plump and graying at 45, Löwenthal clucked and fussed over her husband but no longer excited him. Yet, he needed her. Einstein would come to regard his second wife like a favorite pair of slippers—comfortable and even indispensable around the house, but he still wore other shoes. Toward Maric, he gradually mellowed. And with their sons, he managed a loving, albeit complicated, relationship.
As ever, Einstein’s personal sturm und drang only enhanced his concentration on work. In the early teens, while Germany “marched in formation” toward the Great War’s bloody trenches, he entered possibly the most productive period of his life, writing, lecturing, theorizing and, most notably, making the leap from his 1905 insights into special relativity to the release, in 1916, of his theory of general relativity. Accounting for the effects of gravity on space and time, it was a concept so mind-bending that years would pass before most physicists could accept it.
As soldiers died by droves at the front and Germans at home began to succumb to epidemic and starvation under the British blockade, Einstein used his position to deride what he saw as the German “religion of power.” “Honor your master Jesus Christ, not only with words and song, but above all by your deeds,” he exhorted in a pacifist diatribe in 1915, unabashedly distinguishing himself as a Jew. If not by upbringing, Einstein was becoming a Jew by choice. And, unlike many German Jews inspired by the national mobilization, he held no hope that the heat of Jews’ devotion to the Fatherland would at last melt their country’s anti-Semitism.
One of the truest of these true believers was Einstein’s friend and colleague Fritz Haber, a Jewish convert to Christianity and an eminent chemist 11 years his senior. Haber had earned his nation’s gratitude by capturing nitrogen from the air, a process crucial to both farming and warfare. During World War I, he ingratiated himself further by developing the devastating green clouds of chlorine gas first released at the Battle of Ypres in 1915.
“Fritz Haber believed that if he converted to Christianity and wore a monocle, his Jewish heritage would disappear and he would become a good German,” says Walter Isaacson. “The rise of anti-Semitism made people like Haber try all the harder to distance themselves from their Jewish background and to assimilate. It had an equal and opposite reaction in Einstein.
“When Haber was trying to conform by being the ‘good German,’” Isaacson adds, “Einstein was willing to be an outsider and the proud Jew.” Though they were close friends (indeed, Haber acted as go-between for Einstein and Maric), Einstein “was always brutal about Haber’s pretensions,” wrote Thomas Levenson in Einstein in Berlin, mocking him as “that pathetic creature, the baptized Jewish privy councilor.”
On the west African island of Principe on May 29, 1919, Arthur Eddington stood in the rain adjusting the lenses of his telescopic camera, allowing himself just a few anxious glances skyward. Eddington, a quiet but droll professor of astronomy at Cambridge, was one of the only people outside Germany who believed in general relativity and one of the few in the world who claimed to understand it. On this day, if only the skies would clear, he intended to prove its merit.
The rain let up and he took a series of blurry photos of distant stars during the seven-minute eclipse that followed. While it would take six months to confirm, the data demonstrated that Einstein was right: light bends with gravity. Already esteemed in Germany, Einstein that November became a household name the world over, “the greatest Jew since Jesus,” as one British scientist proclaimed.
In Berlin, he began to enjoy the pleasures of success. Löwenthal, elevated from paramour to legitimate hausfrau, liked to entertain in their tidy home outfitted with fine, heavy furniture and new carpets. Einstein came to count on the amenities of regular meals and nicely laundered clothing while he sought a little something on the side. It’s hard to know whether his wife felt the sting more keenly when he kept his affairs secret or when, as was often the case, he conducted them openly.
Still, the bourgeois comforts of a famous man didn’t blind Einstein to post-war Germany’s renewed anti-Semitism. He coyly alluded to it in a “new relativity theory” based on the phenomenon of his renown: “Today in Germany, I am called a German man of science, and in England I am represented as a Swiss Jew… If I come to be represented as a bête noire, the descriptions will be reversed, and I shall become a Swiss Jew for the Germans and a German man of science for the English.”
Einstein could joke, but the threat was real. Economic privations imposed by the Versailles reparations were even harsher than those of the war and Germany’s economy was spiraling into collapse. “The hyperinflation was a gift to Adolf Hitler,” who was just beginning to attract “local notoriety” as a mesmerizing, spit-spraying orator, wrote Levenson. Einstein, he says, “recognized quickly that Hitler was not just another scummy politician but a qualitatively different kind of threat to Jews and to civilization.”
Nowhere was resurgent anti-Semitism more obvious than in Germany’s response to the arrival of the Ostjuden, the Eastern European Orthodox in their black caftans whom Einstein had come across in Prague. Destitute, fleeing pogroms, the war and the Russian Revolution, they poured into Berlin by the tens of thousands. German authorities addressed their plight by deporting them and detaining many in brutal prison camps. Even the Jews of Germany spurned them.
By contrast, Einstein joined lobbying committees, wrote editorials and played his violin in fundraising concerts for them. He saw how pointless (if not heartless) it was for western Jews to try to separate themselves from their cousins. To fellow Germans, he knew, this self-conscious divide constituted a distinction without a difference—his lone point of agreement, perhaps, with Hitler. As he would relate to a Purim dinner audience in 1935, “There are no German Jews; there are no Russian Jews; there are no American Jews. Their only difference is their daily language. There are in fact only Jews.”
It was hot the night of August 24, 1920, when Einstein and Walther Nernst, his friend and colleague, strode through a raucous, shouting crowd gathered in front of Berlin’s Philharmonic Hall. They managed to edge their way in without incident, despite the anti-Semitic literature being hawked at the door and the swastikas pasted everywhere. On offer inside was a lecture on relativity by the Working Group of German Scientists for the Preservation of Pure Science—“pure,” in this case, meaning 19th-century Newtonian, and “German” meaning Aryan.
In other words, a “cockfight,” according to Einstein, who sat through it calmly, laughing and clapping his hands with relish at the most outlandish bits while various speakers called him a publicity hound and derided his theories as both wrong and stolen to boot. For Einstein, the rally’s more chilling indication, given its presenters’ second-rate scientific status, was that its organizers had found a previously respectable ally in Nobel laureate Philipp Lenard, whose observations formed the basis of some of Einstein’s own work. As the founder of a new “Anti-Relativity League,” Lenard gave an establishment imprimatur to the accusations of “Jewish science” flying around Berlin. “Science,” he pronounced, “like every other human product, is racial and conditioned by blood.”
Beyond the academy, the attacks were even blunter, as Denis Brian described: “Einstein’s less-articulate opponents waited outside his home or office… to greet him with obscenities, or crammed his mailbox with threats. At one of his Berlin lectures, a right-wing student shouted, ‘I’m going to cut the throat of that dirty Jew!’”
For most of Berlin, shortages and breakdowns had become the norm (the Einsteins’ apartment elevator no longer worked) and fatal street riots were growing commonplace as nationalists brawled with leftist revolutionaries. Even before Hitler gave form to their fascism, right-wing assassins had begun targeting prominent Communists, Jewish and otherwise, while Jews in the political center debated whether to play a role in Germany’s shaky post-war democracy.
When Jewish industrial magnate Walter Rathenau was offered the post of foreign minister in 1922, Einstein allied himself with dedicated assimilationists in advising him against taking the job. “Einstein just had an instinct that, right after the loss in World War I and a treaty that others found humiliating, to have a Jewish foreign minister like Rathenau implementing the peace would cause resentment,” Isaacson says. “It’s hard to argue with him, since Rathenau was indeed assassinated.” Shortly after, the Berlin police informed Einstein that his name, too, appeared on hit lists.
Einstein wisely began accepting invitations to lecture and teach abroad, commencing a decade of travel that would take him and his wife to many of Europe’s major cities, as well as to Asia and the Americas. As refuge from the furies of Berlin, they also began vacationing in a nearby lake district. In 1929, they bought land there by a stand of forest overlooking the village of Caputh and hired young Jewish architect Konrad Wachsmann to build a modest vacation home on it in the spare style of the European Arts and Crafts movement. By September, they stood on its completed terrace, looking down past two tall pines and a little footpath to the serene surface of Lake Havel.
They entertained often in Caputh, but Einstein’s happiest hours there were spent on barefoot hikes and sailing, usually alone, often for hours. For his 50th birthday in March that year, wealthy friends had given him a pretty wooden boat. He named it Tümmler, a Yiddish word with two meanings: “life of the party” and “agitator.”
As 8,000 New Yorkers pushed their way into the 69th Regiment Armory on April 12, 1921, another 3,000 jammed the sidewalks outside. Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann, a British chemist and Russian emigré, soberly regaled the audience inside about marsh reclamation and bold pioneers in the new Jewish homeland.
Weizmann may have been the prime mover behind the 1917 Balfour Declaration that opened Palestine to Jewish settlement, but he had cleverly recruited the world’s most famous Jew to accompany him on his barnstorming trip through New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Massachusetts, Ohio and Washington, DC. He knew that tens of thousands of American Jews in their Shabbat best might not turn out for him but would go crazy for Dr. Einstein. The scientist’s every arrival inspired parades and drew crowds willing to empty their purses. Even the press whipped itself into a froth of reporting on the Zionist mission and what Einstein ate for breakfast.
While Weizmann lectured on, Einstein smiled vaguely from the dais. He wasn’t scheduled to speak, but the audience’s demanding roar filled the cavernous, steel-beamed hall. Reluctantly, he stepped to the podium. “Your leader, Dr. Weizmann, has spoken…Follow him and you will do well. That is all I have to say.”
The speech was three sentences in all. Weizmann must have breathed a sigh of relief as he reflected on the warning imparted by a friend before their trip: “Please be careful with Einstein. [He] often says things out of naiveté which are unwelcome to us.”
Einstein, who would later say he “discovered the Jewish people” in the American throngs, had actually surprised Weizmann by accepting the invitation to America. The Zionists knew Einstein to be anything but an “organization man”—he never officially joined a Zionist group—and realized that Jewish dreams of nationhood ran against his one-world bias. But the Ostjuden still milling hopelessly in Berlin’s slums, and the slurs of Lenard and his ilk must have been fresh in Einstein’s mind when the call came.
Since the tour required missing a prestigious international meeting of physicists, he tried to explain the choice to Maurice Solovine, a friend from his Zurich days. “I am not at all eager to go to America,” he wrote, “but am doing it only in the interests of the Zionists who must beg for dollars to build educational institutions in Jerusalem and for whom I act as high priest and decoy.”
Their tour raised nearly a million dollars, enough to begin construction of a medical campus for Hebrew University. Whether it was situated in a state, homeland or Mandate, Einstein felt as keenly as any Jew the need for a Jewish center of learning in Palestine. “I know of no public event,” he told The New York Times, “that has given me such pleasure as the proposal to establish a Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The traditional respect for knowledge that Jews have maintained intact through many centuries of severe hardship has made it particularly painful for us to see so many talented sons of the Jewish people cut off from higher education.”
Zionism may have offended his universalist sensibilities, but it emerged for Einstein between the world wars as “a nationalism that does not strive for power but for dignity and recovery”— the single rallying cause that could strengthen his beleaguered people. He concluded that “the only way to cope with anti-Semitism [was] to restore a communal solidarity, a communal pride among the Jews,” according to Hebrew University’s Gutfreund.
Characteristically, Einstein saw this pride as a benefit not strictly for Jews but, through their elevation and development, for all people. A safe and settled Jewry, he reasoned, free to develop its human potential, could draw on ethical heritage and the “genius of their prophets” to exert a healthy moral leadership in the world while sharing its expertise in medicine and, of course, science.
Rather than the theocratic state sought by many, he thought the way to achieve Jewish fulfillment in Palestine was through a “national home” under a Jewish-Arab or even international government entity. As late as 1938, he told an audience of New York Zionists, “I should much rather see a reasonable agreement with the Arabs based on living together in peace than the creation of a Jewish state.” Einstein cautioned repeatedly against the “inner damage” that the Jewish people would sustain as result of the “narrow nationalism” that accompanies statehood.
Einstein had the chance to see his communal ideals in action in 1923. Spooked by the death of Rathenau the previous year, he accepted a standing invitation to travel for several months in Asia, followed by a visit to Palestine. On his 12-day tour, Einstein stopped in at schools and planted a tree. He played chamber music with the attorney general and his sisters, and Tel Aviv named him its first honorary citizen. Amid these secular engagements also came an invitation that testified to Einstein’s importance in every corner of Jewry. It came from Rav Abraham Kook, the Lithuanian-born chief rabbi of orthodoxy in Palestine. The eminent rabbi and Einstein met in Jerusalem, where they were said to have discussed Kabbalah among other subjects.
“The brothers of our race in Palestine charmed me as farmers, workers and citizens,” he wrote to Solovine. Yet the tour was by no means a second conversion. With his usual bluntness and despite his support of the Ostjuden, he dismissed daveners at the Western Wall in his diary as “dull-witted clansmen of our tribe… A pathetic sight of men with a past but without a future.”
Einstein nevertheless inaugurated a more hopeful Israelite future when he delivered Hebrew University’s first scientific lecture from the front of a British police hall on Mount Scopus. “Professor Einstein,” went the introduction, “please rise to the podium that has been waiting for you two thousand years.” Einstein opened with a few halting sentences in Hebrew before reverting to French for the body of his talk. He could have spoken Swahili and still projected his message: In his voice, as Gutfreund, the university’s later president would write, Einstein’s audience heard “the birth song of the long-anticipated Jewish university.”
A drizzle was falling on the late summer day in 1932 that American education reformer Abraham Flexner arrived in Caputh. The Kentucky-born Flexner had bulked up against the weather, so he was surprised to find Einstein relaxing on the porch in summer flannels, apparently oblivious to the cold.
Ensconced in Caputh’s airy comforts, Einstein seemed likewise oblivious to the political chill in Berlin: students protesting against sharing their campuses with Jews; Nazi toughs shouting slogans and threats in train corridors; and Hitler’s growing clout in the Reichstag. Through an intermediary, the army’s commander-in-chief had sent a warning that Einstein’s life was no longer safe. Even in his haven, a maid reported that Caputh’s baker had begun muttering darkly about the Jew on the hill.
Flexner had come to offer Einstein a way out, a yellow brick road to America. This was their third meeting to discuss the nascent Institute for Advanced Study, an academic Valhalla intended to seed American scholarship. Like the Kaiser Institute representatives who drew Einstein from Zurich back in 1913, Flexner knew Einstein’s assent could ensure his project’s success. Also like them, he dangled the offer of a prestigious and amply compensated post in a rarefied academic community.
Still, Einstein hated to leave his refuge. It took a few weeks of negotiations and importuning but he eventually agreed to reside at the Institute five months each year, reserving the right to return to Caputh and his comfortable Tümmler life if Hitler faded from the picture. In December, he and Löwenthal rode the train to Caputh to close up their cottage. Their departure from Germany would be temporary, according to every official and public statement, and yet, as they closed the door on their familiar rooms and the ghosts of entertainments past, Einstein told his wife to take a good look around, for she might never see the house again. He was right.
Again an immigrant, again a guest, again facing the prospect of war, Einstein felt the need to speak out in America. This time, however, the onetime pacifist condemned the failure to start a war against the existential threat in Europe. “I cannot understand the passive response of the whole civilized world to this modern barbarism,” he cried in a 1933 interview. “Does the world not see that Hitler is aiming at war?” And did America’s Jews not see that he was targeting their coreligionists first of all?
In contrast to Berlin of 1914, however, this time Einstein could act. Having settled in Princeton permanently in 1933 and helped transform Flexner’s Institute into an exemplar of American research, he was also shaping it into a refuge and hub for Europepersecuted scholars. He could have done otherwise, succumbing to the easy routines of his suburban hideaway. Yet this very contentment spurred him to action. “I am,” he confessed in a letter to the queen of Belgium, a longtime friend, “almost ashamed to be living in such a place while all the rest struggle and suffer.”
No storm troopers threatened to interrupt his twice-daily strolls along Princeton’s quiet leafy streets to the Institute’s borrowed space at Princeton University. In fact, locals went to great lengths to protect the professor’s privacy. To visitors—both expected and not—who streamed through the little wrought-iron gate and up to the front porch of the narrow clapboard house he and Löwenthal bought at 112 Mercer Street, Einstein proved a shy but genial host. Boys from the Princeton Country Day School, after struggling fruitlessly over a math set, once brought it to Einstein for help, and he seldom rebuffed strangers who approached him on the street with questions or greetings. Löwenthal died in 1936, but Einstein remained in the house in the company of her daughter Margot, his devoted secretary Helen Dukas and, after 1939, his sister.
As “Professor Einstein,” he still filled his hours with calculations and jottings related to physics, but these were dormant years for theoretical breakthroughs. Many younger colleagues, in fact, suspected the old man was washed up, chasing a pipe dream with his single-minded focus on finding a “unified field theory” that would unite the laws of physics under a single model. (“How ironic,” physicist Lee Smolin wrote in My Einstein in 2006, “that now the Institute is filled with young people playing with unified field theories.”)
As “Citizen Einstein,” however, he was anything but dormant, almost biblical—a whirlwind and scourge to the complacent, most notably on behalf of his endangered people. Even while still in Europe, during a final 1933 stay in Belgium, Löwenthal had complained that the Einsteins’ temporary home had turned into “an asylum for the unfortunate, invaded from morning to night by people who need help.” In the States, he scoured the Institute and other universities to find temporary sinecures for Jewish academics trapped in Europe. He proposed names of prominent scientists, artists and thinkers for U.S. emergency visas, and he met with President Franklin Roosevelt at the White House in 1934 to plead for more of them. In 1939, fellow immigré physicists asked him to petition Roosevelt again—this time for research toward a nuclear weapon, so the Germans wouldn’t develop one first. Perhaps with Haber’s gas clouds in mind, he obliged.
Einstein worked feverishly to rescue kin, friends, kin of friends and even strangers from the maw of Hitler’s Germany. He personally vouched for dozens, establishing in their names as many $2,000 bank accounts (required by immigration authorities) as he could afford. When tapped out, he beseeched friends and colleagues to put up funds, guaranteeing the deposits himself. In addition to university professors, he helped bring over non-academics like Wachsmann, his Caputh architect, and future Life magazine photographer Philip Halsmann. In 1941, he took in theoretical physicist Fritz Reiche, one of the last Jewish scientists to slip out of Nazi Germany.
Einstein personally petitioned for so many refugees that, by the end of 1930s, his once influential signature at the bottom of an affidavit had ceased to carry weight. Beyond the visa race, he toured the fundraising circuit for Zionist institutions, refugee groups and other Jewish causes. He graced daises at dinners, fiddled in benefit concerts and donated his books and manuscripts for auction.
By the time he approached the front stoop of Marion Epstein’s modest stucco house in downtown Princeton, the war was over and Einstein’s worst fears about Europe had been realized. Epstein played it cool when he knocked, ushering Einstein into her small living room with no more fuss than she made over the dozen or so others arriving that evening to plan the Princeton’s United Jewish Appeal’s spring fundraising dinner at the Nassau Tavern.
Epstein, now 91, did give the honorary chairman the best seat, “a big, comfortable armchair,” she recalls. There Einstein sat, quietly balancing his cake and teacup on his knees, while the committee made schedules and drafted the invitation.
One of the best ways to meet the famous Albert Einstein in the 1940s was to join the Princeton UJA. “He was always willing to give his name,” Epstein recalls matter-of-factly. “He was quiet, friendly, simple. There was no pride of fame.” Epstein, a UJA board member, had also helped organize Sunday socials for Jewish officer candidates housed at the university during the war. “Einstein came to one of those,” she recalls. “One of the women brought her teacup from home and made sure he drank from it!”
Einstein was more in demand than ever for causes he cared about, scientific and political, Jewish and secular. “What the individual can do,” he once explained, “is give a fine example, and have the courage to firmly uphold ethical convictions in a society of cynics.” Einstein upheld his convictions by denouncing both Senator Joseph McCarthy and Joseph Stalin at the height of their powers; he championed the rights of African Americans in the heyday of Jim Crow (befriending Paul Robeson and hosting Marian Anderson more than once at his house when the Nassau Tavern turned her away); and he showed no patience for materialism and pomp. For Jews, he opined in a 1932 essay, “‘serving God’ meant ‘serving the living.’ The best of the Jewish people, especially the Prophets and Jesus, contended tirelessly for this.”
And Einstein contended tirelessly for the Jews, seeming, like some quantum spark, to be in several places at once. As on his 1921 junket with Weizmann, the interests of Jewish institutions of higher learning lay close to his heart. The only difference is that they were now in the United States as well as Israel. In 1946, he let organizers of what would become Brandeis University name their start-up foundation the “Albert Einstein Foundation for Higher Learning, Inc.” In 1948, New York’s Yeshiva University asked for his name on the Albert Einstein School of Medicine, which opened the year he died. For Hebrew University, which had named its school of mathematics for him, Einstein ceaselessly sought funds and favors. And he served on an advisory committee for an institute in Rehovot later named for his friend Weizmann, to which he donated a trove of personal papers in 1946 and which, in 1980, opened the Albert Einstein Center for Theoretical Physics.
Nevertheless, where Palestine’s politics were concerned, Zionists still had reason to fear unwelcome statements from their “high priest and decoy.” As late as 1946, Einstein would still testify against Jewish governance to the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on Palestine. But as in Germany, where racism had helped Einstein forge his Jewish identity, world events now persuaded him of the need for a Jewish state.
“It was a gradual process,” Gutfreund says of Einstein’s change of heart. “There was a disappointment in the policies of the British Mandate authorities; there was a disappointment of the rejection by the Arab League of all his attempts at overtures to understanding; and then there was the realization that the whole enterprise might be lost, be destroyed,” without outside support.
Reconciling this support with his innate pacifism would always be a struggle. In Tea With Einstein, author William Frankel said that Einstein railed against Jewish guerilla warfare under the British in 1946. “Einstein was passionate in his denunciation of the Irgun and the Stern Gang,” Frankel wrote, “even though he conceded that its militant activities could possibly advance the creation of the Jewish state which was, in his opinion, both desirable and inevitable.”
When President Harry Truman recognized Israel in May 1948, Einstein declared it “the fulfillment of our dreams.” Perceiving its vulnerability after independence, he again set aside his pacifism in the name of human preservation. “No one respects or bothers about those who do not fight for their rights,” a changed Einstein wrote to his cousin in Uruguay. As planned, the cousin auctioned off Einstein’s letter, raising $5,000 to buy arms for the Haganah.
Even as a critic of Israel, Einstein’s dedication to his people guaranteed his great stature among world Jewry. No incident better proved that point than what transpired after the death of Israel’s first president, Chaim Weizmann, in November 1952. Inside of a week, readers of Israel’s Maariv newspaper had proposed the 73-year-old Einstein, “the greatest Jew alive,” to succeed him. When a telegram arrived requesting an audience for Israeli Ambassador Abba Eban at 112 Mercer, Einstein was alarmed. How to let the Israelis down gently? he wondered.
Einstein telephoned Eban to head him off but the diplomat insisted on at least sending over a formal letter of invitation. Einstein met Eban’s emissary with a letter of his own, explaining that a position like Israel's presidency required etiquette and interpersonal finesse—traits that he, rightly, claimed to lack. While publicly disappointed, his petitioners were privately relieved by the turndown: “Tell me what to do if he accepts,” Prime Minister Ben-Gurion had urged an aide. “If he does, we are in for trouble!”
Einstein took pains over his “rejection letter” to the people of Israel. “My relationship to the Jewish people has become my strongest human bond,” he wrote, “ever since I became fully aware of our precarious situation among the nations of the world.”
On the morning of April 17, 1955 Albert Einstein lay in bed at Princeton Hospital. An aortic aneurysm he had known about for years was rupturing and he expected to die soon, but the 75-year-old felt well enough this day to wield a pencil. He had work to do on his field theory and yet another mission to benefit Jews and Israel. Just days before, he had invited Ambassador Eban to his home to offer a modest proposal: Would the Israelis like him to record a national radio address on Israel’s behalf? “I must challenge the conscience of the world,” he told Eban, and “boldly criticize the world powers for their attitude to Israel.” The speech was planned to coincide with Israeli Independence Day at the end of the month.
Einstein died early the next morning. Left by his bedside were “12 pages of tightly written equations,” as Isaacson described, and preliminary notes for the speech that began: “I speak to you today not as an American citizen and not as a Jew, but as a human being.”
By evening, Einstein’s body had been cremated with just 12 mourners on hand. In keeping with the way he had lived, Einstein’s funeral was absent of ritual. Someone recited a bit of Goethe but, at his request, no prayers were said. Nor did Einstein wish to leave behind a memorial or gravesite. His ashes were strewn over the nearby Delaware River.
Though Einstein left the world without a physical monument to his existence, it can be said that he gave literally his all to the Jewish people. In life, he liberally lent his prestige and name and, as in the case of the UJA and the Princeton students, his presence. After death, Einstein found a way to continue giving. He left orders in his will for a trust to be formed containing “all of my manuscripts, copyrights, publication rights” and, most significantly in hindsight, all other rights. The trust’s income was designated for his dependents—Dukas and his stepdaughter Margot—as long as they lived. After that, its contents and income reverted to Hebrew University.
To a degree that Einstein may never have imagined, that gift has kept on giving. Scholars and the public enjoy free access to his vast writings and correspondence (including thousands of pages online), but those who would use Einstein’s name and image for commercial ends must pay for the privilege. Every Einstein T-shirt or poster, each Baby Einstein toy, the many Apple “Think Different” ads, all earn money for Einstein’s beloved institute of Jewish learning. For the rest of the Jewish people, he left a less tangible but equally valuable legacy: a clearly marked ethical trail for those courageous enough to follow it. With relativity, Einstein paved new roads for scientists. With his own life, he pioneered new ways to live as a Jew.