The Guardian, London, Feb. 9: Not so long ago the British honors system included a junior medal, the BEM, for those who did not qualify "by rank" for higher awards and were expected to receive their gong from a minister not a monarch. That insult has been swept away, but this country's system of recognizing exceptional service and ability remains rigged, snobbish and bewildering.
Now two inquiries are under way into how this Ruritanian relic can be sorted out. At the grand end of the scale, Sir Hayden Phillips (GCB 2002, KCB 1998, CB 1989), the permanent secretary at the Department of Constitutional Affairs, is investigating whether the system can be opened up to public scrutiny and whether the titular link with a nonexistent empire ought to be scrapped. At the radical end, the Public Administration Committee has just begun a much wider consultation into whether any sort of honors system is needed at all.
Honors, equally awarded, are not wrong. Neither are they unwanted, as the flow of nominations from the public and the interest in who gets what shows. Of course, at present the system is riddled with flummery and unfairness. But reform would be quick, cheap and effective. A national award, open to all citizens who deserve it, works in democracies from France to Australia. It would work here, too.
Al-Akhbar, Cairo, Feb. 17: The American election season has begun and we wait for it every four years just like the soccer World Cup, as all the cards ... are in America's hands.
The tradition has been for all American presidents to avoid this explosive issue, otherwise known as the Arab/Israeli struggle, during this year to avoid angering Israel or its immense propaganda machine. This is the known tradition for all presidents, even those who were heavily involved in the Middle East, so what can we expect from George Bush?
As America's elections draw near, the leaders of Israel cannot find a better time to go through with any of their plans. The American administration can do nothing but move its hand in a non-threatening way, then quickly go back to flirtations and niceties and the statements of total and eternal support for Israel, while the international community, from Europe to Asia to Russia and China, lies helpless.
Liberation, Paris, Feb. 16: In the glorious realm of sport celebrities, Marco Pantani stuck out like a sore thumb.
Many who praised him yesterday ... had avoided him in public. Rightly or wrongly, he was a symbol of the bad image that the cycling world has been unable to shed. Even if his death was not directly related with former drug abuse, it will surely open Pandora's box.
What we know about Pantini's last days bordered on the pathetic. One of Italy's most famous men was plagued by solitude.
Without meaning any harm, one former racer put his finger on Pantani's problem: "He always needed an audience"
The French sports minister has rightly evaluated the problem by reminding us of the difficulty for these semi-Gods of the sports world to face life after 30. ... It's inevitable that the last climb sometimes ends in a free fall.
The Globe and Mail, Toronto, Feb. 14: They said it would happen, and it has. Researchers in South Korea have taken a donated human egg, squeezed the DNA out of its nucleus, replaced it with a cell from the ovaries of the egg's donor, and induced the egg to develop into an early-stage embryo that was, as a result, a genetic clone of its donor. They then destroyed the embryo in order to harvest its stem cells -- the building blocks of life, with the potential to become blood, nerves, bone or any other part of the body.
The hope is that some day the DNA of someone with, say, diabetes or Alzheimer's disease can be inserted into the nucleus of a donated egg, that the resulting stem cells can be used to repair that person's damaged body (new pancreatic tissue for a diabetic, for instance), and that the genetic match will reduce the chance of rejection. The world is a long way from that goal, but the South Korean success is crucial to it.
The potential relief of human suffering justifies the creation of early-stage embryos, as long as the procedures are regulated and as long as one unbreakable rule is followed. The embryo must not be kept alive beyond 14 days, before which the cells have no consciousness and, lacking even a rudimentary nervous system, feel no pain.