Friday, March 26, 2010

Einstein's tongue

Thinking about Albert Einstein, I'm not pondering his amazing physics, or his philosophy of science, influenced as it was by Arthur Schopenhauer and Baruch Spinoza. I'm thinking of his powerful humanitarian nature - the nature that only his celebrity as the century's biggest brain kept him from the clutches of J. Edgar Hoover.

Hoover, like all too many conservative types at the time, figured that anyone who backed civil rights must be a subversive ... probably a communist, so definitely someone to imprison in case (or when!) cold-war hostilities turned hot. Senator Joe McCarthy, whose election from my home state of Wisconsin is my own (although childish) version of original sin, was among the scary guys wanting to do in people like Albert Einstein. But Einstein, ignoring the goons who reminded him so much of the Germany he fled in 1933, continued to champion the causes of World Government, Zionism, Pacifism, and Civil Rights. Cool! (He befriended the top black performers of the day, like singers and actors Paul Robeson and soprano Marian Anderson - not to mention the folks in Princeton's black community just across the tracks from his house.)

Einstein, graying hair askew, no socks on his feet, walking across those railroad tracks in Princeton, would, said one young black observer, "talk with anyone." He was in America, trying to invent a unified theory of everything, thinking hard about the problem, but he would give his undivided attention to the first black person he met.

For a long time, I had a famous photo of Einstein, wild hair and all, sticking out his tongue at the camera. I left that photo in my old newspaper office when I left for good. But I'd like to think that, hey, even if I'm unable to do the physics, I at least have that tongue.

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