Just before Thanksgiving, Swedish Ambassador Rolf Ekeus mused that he is grateful for new and interesting discoveries and thankful for opportunities to learn something every day. At his residence last Tuesday, Ekeus got to toast two world class scientists for their original findings at a black tie event that has become a traditional send-off for American Nobel laureates on their way to Stockholm to receive their awards.

Ekeus welcomed 1999 Nobel winners Ahmed H. Zewail, who distinguished himself in the field of chemistry, and Guenter Blobel, who won the medicine prize. Zewail, of the California Institute of Technology, was born in Egypt and was rewarded for a pioneering investigation of the time scale in which chemical reactions occur. Blobel, of Rockefeller University, was born in Germany and discovered how proteins find their rightful places in cells.

In what has become a customary gala quiz, Ekeus asked dinner guests to scribble questions on cards. He then sifted through them to find the sharpest ones to put to Zewail and Blobel about anything "philosophical, scientifically complicated or humorous." The winning question: "When does science have to give way to God's will?"

Blobel: "Our knowledge will always be imperfect, but knowledge will always be infinitely perfectable."

Zewail: "Science without religion will be blind. Religion without science will be lame."

Playfully alluding to his research showing that atoms move faster than light, Zewail addressed Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott: "Washington, D.C., is, of course, an exemption to all rules regarding speed. Here sound travels faster than light."

In his presentation, Ekeus underlined that Alfred Nobel himself saw science as the "liberator of man, and a vehicle for peace." According to Swedish press counselor Nina Ersman, the ambassador "is an intellectual and professional peacemaker who understands the role of science as a venue to peace."

Before coming to Washington, Ekeus was chairman of the now defunct U.N. special commission of inspectors who supervised Iraq's dismantling of weapons of mass destruction.

Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering, chief White House blab Sidney Blumenthal, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna E. Shalala and other diplomatic luminaries and Washington brass joined in the after-dinner fun late into the evening. Of course, Egyptian Ambassador Nabil Fahmy and his German counterpart, Juergen Chrobog, representing the laureates' countries of origin, were also on hand. Quipped Ekeus on the background of the winners: "At least in science there is no isolationism."

Off the Charts

One more quiz. How does one survive in the forward trenches of the World Bank? As a seasoned political warrior or a truthful worrier and town crier about how ill-considered economic policies affect development? Joseph E. Stiglitz, the World Bank's chief economist and iconoclast, is stepping down to avoid bumping against the "Washington consensus."

Early on, Stiglitz, 56, lashed out against pressure on other countries by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Clinton administration to liberalize cash flows. He lobbied for lower interest rates and capital controls when the Washington consensus was to hand out rescue packages to those caught up in the Asian financial crisis.

Last year Stiglitz bluntly criticized the IMF in assessing the results of its high interest rate policies. The terse response by the IMF's chief economist, Mike Moussa, was, "Those who argue that monetary policy should have been eased rather than tightened in those economies are smoking something that is not entirely legal."

Stiglitz has written a number of economics textbooks and was equally scathing in blasting Washington's recommendations for Russia, still mired in mismanagement despite billions of dollars of international aid. He also has not spared ridicule for the Treasury Department.

Such comments have put him at odds with World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn, who has asked Stiglitz to work for him as special adviser and to head the search committee for a new chief economist. Stiglitz said his professional integrity came first and told bank executive directors in a letter that he "can be most effective by expressing myself unfettered" by institutional responsibilities and commitments to the bank and "associated restraints."

From Norway, for Christmas

Trade barriers or no trade barriers, Norwegian settlers once smuggled seeds in their trousers. A 35-foot Norwegian spruce, grown in Iowa and given to Washingtonians by the people of Oslo, Norway's capital, was strung with 8,000 lights and 2,000 U.S. and Norwegian flags Wednesday at Union Station's Main Hall. Norwegian Ambassador Tom Vraalsen officiated as Per Ditlev-Simonsen, Oslo's mayor, offered the tree to D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams. Fiddling and acrobatic folk dancing followed Christmas carols that launched the lighting ceremony.