Bad news from the Balkans today. Serbian premier Zoran Djindjic was assassinated in front of government offices in Belgrade. He had survived another assassination attempt last month. Djindjic as much as anyone has been responsible for pulling Serbia out of the black hole of the Milosevic years.
I claim no particular expertise in interpreting Donald Rumsfeld (although he was my representative in Congress in the ’60s and we share our alma mater), but I think both British Politics and Stephen Pollard have it largely correct: he was being nice to a valued ally. The only other explanation that I’ve seen that makes some sense is that, in his usual non-diplomatic way, Rumsfeld was firing a shot across the British government’s bows. You may be having a tough time sticking with us, he was saying, but I can make it tougher still if you think you’re going to slink away. In an odd way, I think that’s Rumsfeld’s way of being nice.
The immediate response of Downing Street, and the subsequent retraction by the Pentagon, shows there is no prospect of the UK not standing shoulder to shoulder with the US.
Edward Hugh notes two senior officials determined to talk up the economy. He rightly berates US treasury secretary John Snow for becoming a stock market seer, but he reckons IMF managing director Horst Koehler is doing is job in being cautiously optimistic about the world economy. I side with Hugh’s gloomier conclusion: “it’s difficult to see a global economy firing on only one cylinder pushing forward a sustained expansion”.
The UK’s Institute of Physics has issued a generally upbeat report on what it calls PBIs — physics-based industry. I was interested until I read the summary, which claims that 43% of UK manufacturing employment was in PBIs. To reach such a number, the institute has to be taking the broadest possible interpretation of what it means to be phyics-based, which undercuts much of the argument.
The report seems to be advocating a pile it high, sell it cheap approach to encouraging science. More physicists must be good. That’s not necessarily so. When I was working on the relationship between science and society in the UK last year, Bob May, president of the Royal Society, told me that the UK has 70 PhD programmes in physics, compared to 140 in the US. To his mind, this wasn’t good. Far better to have ten world-class PhD programmes than six dozen also-rans.
Rogue Semiotics, a fellow south-east London weblog, reckons he whiles away too much time both writing and reading blogs. He cites Davos Newbies and British Politics as two blogs that are far more “proper, engaged” and grown-up than his own. I’ll try to maintain those high standards.