Swedish Ambassador Jan Eliasson basked, as he does each year, in the sheer brainpower of America's Nobel laureates, whom he hosted Monday night at a black-tie gala at his residence. The sparks were purely intellectual, and the words "war" and "Iraq" did not come up even once.
Since 1950, half of the men and women awarded the Nobel Prize have been American, Eliasson said. He called that figure a tribute to American academic institutions and the resources made available to them, helping them attract talent from all over the world.
Postprandial questions both serious and quirky were put to the laureates, including: How similar is a worm to a human being?, and Should the similarity bother us? (No reply.) Or: Can telescopic X-ray astronomy help us communicate with extraterrestrials? (The short answer was no.) William H. Rehnquist, chief justice of the United States, and his Supreme Court colleagues, Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, were among the chuckling guests.
Economics laureate Vernon L. Smith, a professor of economics and law at George Mason University, who shared the prize for laying the foundations for experimental economic analysis and alternative market mechanisms, did not arrive on a motorcycle, but he sported a 12-inch blond ponytail and wore seven silver rings.
Earlier on Monday, he told reporters that his research has taught him that when he is buying big-ticket items, he should not hesitate to bargain. He said that despite the bursting of the dot-com bubble, he is optimistic about the U.S. economy because he knows that long-term benefits will eventually emerge from the current upheaval.
This year's Peace Prize winner, former president Jimmy Carter, who was selected by a committee based in Oslo, joined his fellow honorees in physics, chemistry, medicine and economics, who were chosen by the Swedish Academy of Sciences. In 1901, when the Nobel prizes were first distributed, Sweden and Norway were still one country; they went their separate ways in 1905.
"Peacemaking is not easy, yet the only true failure is not to try," said Eliasson, quoting Carter as he introduced him.
"The first step in mediation is to treat one another as human beings," Carter said of his experience in bringing two adversaries who despised each other -- President Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel -- to the bargaining table. Since then, Sadat and a subsequent Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, have been assassinated, "which shows the danger to a peacemaker who has the foresight to make peace," Carter said. He urged the United States to be more forceful in putting forward an acceptable solution to the Middle East crisis. What has gone wrong since he engineered the 1979 Camp David peace accords is about "not understanding the adversary, not wanting to stop derogating people who are different from you," the former president said.
Since leaving office in 1981, Carter has served as an independent observer at 45 elections around the world.
Carter bonded with H. Robert Horvitz, a biologist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who shared the medicine prize. Horvitz's study of ringworms to discover how genes build cells could eventually lead to cures for diseases such as river blindness and degenerative neurological ailments like Alzheimer's and Lou Gehrig's disease.
After dinner, Horvitz got into a spirited debate with Elias Zerhouni, the Algerian-born head of the National Institutes of Health, about whether government support is necessary for the development of these cures. "Absolutely," Horvitz said passionately. "And by this I mean money on the one hand and timing. Congress should restore the $6 billion shortfall in the budget of NIH, and legislation slowing down research should be reconsidered, because as time goes by, cures are being delayed."
Fed Up With Corruption
The chairman of the New Indonesia Alliance Party, which was launched in September, is planning to run for president of Indonesia in 2004. In an interview Monday following a tour of the United States, Sjahrir, who like many Indonesians uses one name, said his country's business elite, women, academics and professionals are fed up with corruption, which has continued in the post-Suharto era.
Sjahrir, who spent four years in jail for inciting student unrest, said that many people who had expected President Megawati Sukarnoputri to be an improvement were proved wrong.
"After Suharto's downfall in 1998 we were supposed to have reforms, but all we have had is corruption, ethnicity problems and social conflict," he said. "If the existing party cannot handle this situation, then our party, the new kid on the block, has decided to provide an alternative, for a new kind of politics of common sense." He claimed his party, which began as a movement in March 2001, has recruited members in Indonesia's 30 provinces.
Sjahrir, who holds a doctorate in political economy and government from Harvard, has his own securities firm.
Speaking of last month's bombings on the resort island of Bali, which killed nearly 200 people, he declared: "Every terrorist, regardless of his religion, should be put in jail but face a court of justice in due time."