Sunday, December 28, 2008

How to Nop in Laos

A cultural tradition that should be familiar to visitors of Laos is the nop, where two hands are presented in a prayer and accompanied by a friendly “sabaidee”. Sadly, young Lao people are finding less time for tradition as Laos enters the modern era, and the nop is becoming less common.

Traditionally, Lao children have been taught to give the nop to their elders, monks and Buddha as a sign of respect. When receiving a gift, it is polite to nop the giver. At parties, hosts and guests will show each other the nop to greet and welcome each other.

If you make a mistake you should nop to apologise because this can help you avoid arguments. The nop is also used in modern situations and places such as in offices, factories, restaurants and hotels across the country.

A young Lao person at a job interview may give the nop to show respect and demonstrate good manners. This can give them an edge over competitors, as polite people are pleasant to work with. The nop is also used in prayer. A Lao person may sit before a monk or Buddha image and perform the nop.

Monks perform the nop when receiving alms as do the people giving them. Lao people will also perform the nop to sacred stupas, or to stupas of their ancestors. The nop is seen most frequently around the time of traditional Lao festivals, such as Lao New Year, when young people ask their older relatives for blessings and also honour Buddha, monks and their ancestors at sacred stupas.

It is also performed at baci ceremonies and wedding parties. It is a beautiful custom that Lao people should be making every attempt to preserve.

To give the nop to monks or images of Buddha, bow your head slightly and join your hands together with thumbs slightly outstretched, positioning them between the eyebrows.

To nop your parents, do the same as above, but adjust your hand position so that the thumbs are near the end of your nose.

Students giving the nop their teachers should bow their heads slightly, join their hands together, and position the thumbs just below the lips.

To greet friends, or people of a similar age, position the hands on the chest and bow your head slightly.

For older people, or leaders of the country, join your hands together at the chest and raise them so that the thumbs are positioned near the chin. To achieve this, you may need to bow your head a little more than usual.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Amazing peculiarities of national smiles

Governments may often worry about their national traditions to smile. For example, Thailand’s Ministry for Culture set out its concerns in 2003 claiming that the country’s citizens did not smile a lot to confirm Thailand ’s reputation of the country of smiles. Ministerial officials decided that such a state of affairs may result in a decrease of the number of tourists visiting the nation. The ministry eventually launched a campaign to increase the number of smiles in the country.

“If you smile three times a day, then it means that you will have to smile six times a day from now on,” the announcement from the ministry said. Nevertheless, the results of the ‘smiling campaign’ were never exposed to the general public, and no one knows if that Thais began to smile more.

The government of Malaysia was concerned about another problem. State officials were not willing to smile and preferred to be rude with their visitors instead. Malaysia ’s Ministry for Culture decided to conduct another action: they sent 850,000 Malaysian officials to special courses to learn good manners.

The Chinese also had problems on the threshold of the Beijing Olympics in 2008. In addition to a great deal of other rules, they were supposed to quickly learn how to smile to strangers in the streets, which is not a Chinese tradition at all.

It would never occur to anyone in the Russian authorities to issue any of such decrees. There were several experiments conducted among Russia’s major corporations, when the personnel had to display politeness to every client. The example of McDonald’s (“a smile for free”) showed that such experiments would have no success: the people behind the counter do not smile at all there. Moreover, it is difficult to make the Russians smile, and there are serious reasons for it.

The Russians do not smile a lot. Foreign tourists could notice that 100, 30, 10 years ago, and they can notice it now too. An elderly Russian woman attacked an American tourist in the center of St. Petersburg (Leningrad) at the end of the 1980s yelling: “Why do you walk here smiling all the time?” This remark actually unveils the essence of the Russian smile.

As a rule, the Russians do not differentiate between smile and laughter. One may hear the following question in return to one single smile: “Did I say anything funny right now?”

The Russians only smile to the people they know. An American usually smiles when he or she meet someone else’s eye in the street. A Russian will revert the eyes: it is not considered a national tradition in Russia to smile to strangers. That is why many Russian sales assistants look so gloomy and impolite as if they say: “What do you want from me? I don’t know you.”

The Russians say that only fools laugh for no reason. A laugh for no reason indicates a fool, they say. It is considered normal in Russia to smile for a reason, and other people surrounding you must be aware of this reason. If others do not seem to understand the reason behind your smile, they may perceive it as an action of mockery. “He knows something and doesn’t say a word about it, so he just mocks at us at the back of his mind,” this is exactly what many Russians may think in this case.

A historical and linguistic research conducted by I. Sternin said that a Russian person never smiles on duty or at work. Servants and waiters were always polite, but they could never allow themselves a smile. This old tradition is still alive. Many Russians returning from holidays in foreign countries cannot but notice the gloomy faces of customs officers working at airports. The officers may seem gloomy because they do serious business at work. The Russians do not smile at work - it is as simple as that.

A Russian smile is not used for communication. A Western smile is a signal of attention. “I am listening, I am all attention,” this is what a foreigner’s smile says. Wealthy Russians have a different attitude to smiling, though. The above-mentioned research said that a financial well-being is the most convincing argument for a smile. Those Russians who scrap and save and live from hand to mouth would say that they have nothing to smile about because they have so many problems to deal with.

To put it in a nutshell, a Russian smile is mostly a sincere smile, but it is never addressed to strangers.

On the other hand, a Western smile is not so simple as it may seem to be at first sight. It obviously makes communication easier, but it makes it difficult to understand other people’s true feelings and emotions.

Psychologists say that the effect of unaffected joy can only be produced with the help of the muscles which can hardly be toughened by the force of will. They are the greater zygomatic muscle and the orbicular eye muscles. The activity of the greater zygomatic muscle mirrors the level of subjective joy that a person demonstrates. The activity of other facial muscles, even those involved in smiling, does not correlate with the inner feeling of joy.

The sincere display of joy was dubbed as the Duchenne smile, in honor of Guillaume Duchenne, who was the first to conclude that a genuine smile must be morphologically different from all other smiles. A baby always gives genuine Duchenne smiles to his or her mother. Adults smile Duchenne smiles only when they watch or hear something funny.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Russia’s biggest yes-men do their utmost to flatter Putin

Russia’s Kommersant Vlast Journal made an unofficial list of Russia’s biggest yes-people in 2008. The list includes most flattering remarks, which Russian politicians made about Prime Minister Putin and President Medvedev. The journal already published such a list before, in 2007 – the chairman of the Russian Central electoral Committee, Vladimir Churov was named the biggest yes-man with his rhetoric question – “Can Putin be ever not right?”

This year’s list mostly includes flattering remarks about Vladimir Putin, but was slightly extended with appraisals of Dmitry Medvedev. Politicians, human rights activists, culture activists and journalists – they all flatter Putin, the Prime Minister and Medvedev, the President.

Ten best yes-people in 2008
1. “Your democratism has no limits!” – St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko said October 7 during the celebration of Putin’s birthday.

2. “I thank God for Putin and I respect Yeltsin for two things which he did in his life. The first one of them is the moment when he placed his Communist Party card on the table. The second one is the fact that he brought Putin to power,” Russian film director Nikita Mikhalkov said November 25 at his press conference in Kiev.

3. “Vladimir Vladimirovich, it’s very good that you were born!” writer Daniil Granin said October 7 at Putin’s birthday.

4. “After the victory of the Russian national team at the World Hockey Championship, Russian officials have a right to ask their Western colleagues: “Don’t you understand that Putin was doing everything right?” State Duma deputy Sergei Markov said May 19 in an interview with Rosbalt news agency.

5. “If one asks our opposition what they don’t like about Putin and Medvedev they will say something like this: “They are both made of gold, it is true, but this gold is not enough,” a senior official spokesman for United Russia party, Oleg Morozov said June 30 in an interview with Itogi magazine.

6. “We were listening to Vladimir Putin’s suggestions with a lot of attention and respect,” Ekaterinburg Mayor Arkady Chernetsky said February 3 at a local meeting to support Medvedev as a presidential candidate.

7. “We see you as a person who represents a strategic phenomenon per se,” the head of the St. Petersburg Humanitarian University of Trade Unions, Alexander Zapesotsky said October 7 when celebrating Putin’s birthday.

8. “Putin is a giant!” the chairman of board of directors of Financial Corporation Sistema, Vladimir Yevtushenkov said October 2 in an interview with the Vedomosti newspaper.

9. “The life and deeds of Vladimir Putin make an expressive proof of the saying – “It’s not a place that adorns a person. It’s a person that adorns a place.” No matter where he worked, whether it would be a public position or not, his talent, energy and determination have always resulted in success,” the Federation Council chairman Sergei Mironov said October 7 during his official visit to the Irkutsk region.

10. “President Putin has always commanded respect and admiration with me. The people have become kinder – this is an attribute of Putin’s policies,” legal expert of the Lipetsk region, Svetlana Semenova said May 7 in an interview with the Lipetsk Newspaper.
Other flattering remarks about Putin that did not make it in the top ten list.
“To achieve Putin’s level, Medvedev, at least, will need to make all the heroic deeds that Putin has done during eight years of his presidency,” deputy Sergei Markov said in an interview with website.

“Every party of the world would like to have a leader like Putin, intelligent, educated and effective,” the chairman of the State Duma Committee for Physical Culture and Sports, Vladislav Tretyak said April 15 prior to the beginning of the United Russia congress

CPC embraces great changes along with China's 30-year opening up drive

Special report: 30 Years of Reform & Opening Up

by Xinhua writers Zhang Chongfang and Ji Ming

BEIJING/SHANGHAI, Dec. 18 (Xinhua) -- Thirty years of China's reform and opening-up drive has seen remarkable changes of the Communist Party of China (CPC), the baggiest ruling party in the world.

"Today, the CPC's policy and decision on internal affairs has a global influence," Martin Mulligan, a senior editor with Financial Times told his students at a training course held in Beijing.

"As leading force of the most-populated country and newly-emerging largest economy, the CPC's accurate decision against the globally developing financial crisis will help other countries find a way out, even for world economy," he said.

China held a meeting on Thursday morning to celebrate the 30th anniversary of its reform and opening-up drive, a watershed in China's development.

The decision to open up the once sealed off country and reform its struggling economy was made at the 3rd plenary session of the 11th Central Committee of the CPC, which started on Dec. 18, 1978.

Since economic liberalism, considered by some to be the root of the current global financial meltdown, has run into a brick wall, more people have paid attention to China's vigorous development pattern as well as its designer, the CPC.

According to the organization department of the CPC central committee, by the end of 2007, the CPC had more than 74 million members.

"The reform and opening-up has altered the appearance of China, the ruling party's membership and its component," said Qin Xuan, professor with Renmin University of China. "The CPC's ruling theory and style have also changed."

Xie Jinrong, a Malaysian and project manager of China Nokia, has been working in China since 2004. "I took for granted that the CPC is arbitrary and stuffy before I came to China," he said.
"Actually, it is not," Xie said, confessing that he was deeply impressed by the CPC's ruling ability and high efficiency.

Wang changing, an expert with Party School of CPC central committee, said the CPC has transformed from an all-powerful Party, rooted in the highly planned economy, to a service party so as to well match the market-oriented mechanism.

In addition, the CPC had also striven to enforce intra-party supervision, ensure party members' rights, reform the "election system" and nominating procedure of candidates, and bring more Party affairs into the open.

"In the past, the Party boss could solely decide promotion," said Chen Zhiquan, a retired worker with 40-year Party membership." And now, any promotion of cadres should be collectively decided via 'democratic' procedure."

"The greatest change of the CPC focus on innovation in theory research," said Qin Xuan who had given lessons in September at the collective study by members of the Political Bureau of the CPC central committee.

The 2nd collective leadership of the CPC central committee, with Deng Xiaoping as the core, linked Marxism with Chinese people's practice, and eventually Deng Xiaoping Theory came into being, which is considered a theory suited to China's national conditions.

Then, the 3rd collective central leadership, with Jiang Zemin as the core, raised the Important Thought of "Three Represents", namely the CPC has always represented the most advanced productivity and culture in China, as well as the most fundamental of interests of the majority of the Chinese people.

The 4th collective central leadership headed by President Hu Jintao brought forward the Scientific Outlook on Development, a guiding principle for China's economic and social development.

"The reform and opening-up drive ripens socialist theory with Chinese characteristics," said Shen Baoxiang, professor with Party School of the CPC central committee.

The system of the theories gave answers to what is socialism and how to build socialism. Experts named the theories "neo-socialism."
"Socialism with Chinese characteristics has a positive influence on communalism in the world. China and other 'socialist' countries have promoted socialism after overcoming austere challenges," Qin Xuan said.

Against the background of global financial crisis, he said, there would be a new round of controversy on "isms" as some Western scholars argued that the crisis has make it possible to replace capitalism with socialism.

However, the professor said, the CPC is still unsure as it is faced with many challenges, such as how to realize a sustained economy, widen socialist 'democracy' and resolve issues concerning peoples' livelihoods.

President Hu also admits that the CPC is up against new problems while its ruling becomes longer and its component is changing.

Qin Xuan said," the CPC should continue to pursue development in a scientific way, crack down corruption so as to promote social harmony and build a moderately prosperous society in all respects."

Statistics showed that more than 4 million cases had been filed with over 3.7 million party members published, including such high-ranking officials as former Beijing Party chief Chen Xitong and Shanghai Party chief Chen Liangyu.

"The CPC will show a new face as it persists in the reform and opening up policy in the future," he added.

Democratic society is a consistent goal

By Huang Mengfu/China Daily

BEIJING, Dec. 19 -- Not long ago, an American friend told me an interesting story about China. He said an American could write a book after returning from a weeklong trip to the East Asian nation but could only write a brief article after a three-month stay.

No single word, however, could be written after staying in the country a year, he said. That is because things in the booming ancient nation are much too complicated.

He is indeed correct. It is also why I have come to the United States to communicate with all of you.
There is no doubt the astonishing achievements made by China since its initiation of the historical reform and opening up policy in 1978 are worth eulogizing.

Over the past 30 years, the country's gross domestic product (GDP) has achieved 9.8 percent growth year on year, and the people's living standards have been substantively improved.
Thirty years ago, bicycles were the main means of transportation for Chinese urban residents and telephones were a luxury, but now private cars have become common, and one in every two people possesses a cell phone.

Thirty years ago, about 250 million Chinese people lived in sheer poverty. This figure was reduced to 15 million by the end of last year, only 1.1 percent of its population.
The country has basically solved the problem of food and clothing for its people and succeeded in building a moderately prosperous society.

Its human rights efforts have also been improved remarkably nationwide.
I still remember the home of one of my friends on the outskirts of Beijing at which I stayed for a period of time in the 1960s when I was at university. His home was rather sparsely furnished, and the family's meals consisted mainly of corn bread and vegetables. Today, he has color TV, a cell phone, a car and other luxury items, and the family is living a good life.

People who have visited Beijing know that today you can hear discussions on taxi cabs on political issues, and those taking part are free to do so.

Columnist Nicholas D. Kristof wrote in the New York Times on Aug 24, about the Chinese Internet and sensitive political issues.

The freedom enjoyed by foreign journalists covering the Sichuan earthquake and the Beijing Olympics and Paralympics demonstrated the progress the country has made on human rights issues over the past three decades.

In their pursuit of a better life, the Chinese people are also well aware that we are still a developing country. We have yet to solve a series of thorny issues on our way to modernization, such as how to slow population growth, further narrow the urban-rural divide, and how to set up a social security, education and medical system covering the whole population.

The Chinese people are committed to building a democratic, just, vigorous and orderly society in which people can coexist with nature harmoniously.

A discussion between late Chairman Mao Zedong and my grandfather Huang Yanpei in a cave in Yan'an, the headquarters of the CPC revolution before the new China was founded in 1945, is well known to many people. My grandfather asked Mao how the new Party would not repeat the old model of a Chinese regime from birth to prosperity.

"Democracy", Mao answered.
A democratic society has been a consistent goal pursued by the Chinese people in modern times. A democratic path with Chinese characteristics has been already chartered.
China has adopted a CPC-led multi-party cooperation and political consultation system and the National People's Congress system.

As the ruling party, the CPC is in close and interactive consultations with other participating democratic parties and social groups on major political, economic and social issues before any decisions are made.

Last year, President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao participated in 18 such consultations. Not long ago, President Hu chaired a meeting with delegates from the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce, a component of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, on rural construction and development. As head of the group, I recommended to the president that the government should pump more funds into rural areas to help farmers and reduce poverty in the vast underdeveloped areas. My recommendation was later accepted.

Earlier this year, I proposed to Premier Wen that the central government take into consideration the interests of small- and medium-sized enterprises while adopting a tight monetary policy. The proposal was also incorporated into the government's credit policy.

According to a survey conducted by the US PEW Research Center, 86 percent of Chinese people feel satisfied with the directions of China's development, ranking it No 1 in the world. That demonstrates the confidence of the Chinese people in socialism with Chinese characteristics.

The current world is a colorful and diversified one. We respect the rights of the people of America to choose their democracy and such rights of the Chinese people should also be respected.

The extent of democracy, freedom and opening up China has achieved was unimaginable 30 years ago, and it will not slow our efforts to improve our human rights situations.
The Chinese government is now actively drafting a blueprint for human rights reform. It will further enhance the development of the country's human rights.

(The author is vice-chairman of the Standing Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and chairman of the board of directors of the China Foundation for Human Rights Development. The article is an excerpt of his speech at Harvard University on Nov 24. )

(Source: China Daily)

Beijing Olympics -- China's come-of-age show

Special Report: Yearender 2008
By Sportswriter Gao Peng

BEIJING, Dec. 24 (Xinhua) -- China capped the most splendid year in its sports history when it concluded with a bang its debut as Olympic host in 2008.

After 16 days of near-flawless organization and first-class athletic achievement, International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge called the Beijing Olympics "truly exceptional", validating China's seven-year efforts not only to stage a great Games but to use it as a gateway to gaining international recognition.

"It has been a long journey since our decision in July 2001 to bring the Olympic Games to China, but there can now be no doubt that we made the right choice," Rogge said on the final day of the Games in August.

Yet the run-up to the Beijing Olympics was not plain sailing, especially in the last few months before the opening ceremony.

An 8.0-magnitude earthquake hit southwest China's Sichuan Province in May, killing more than 80,000 people, and violent protesters disrupted the Olympic torch relay in France and other countries. In addition, there had been persistent concerns about Beijing's air pollution and the IOC initially said some outdoor endurance events might be re-scheduled in case of unhealthy air conditions.

To Beijing's credit, however, everything worked perfectly during the period of Games time, from the special Olympic bus lines bringing visitors in from around the city, to the thousands of smiling volunteers in blue-and-white uniforms offering help in different languages, to the tickets with embedded RFID chips that allowed for quick computerized scanning and to the clean skies that reminded many European visitors of Mediterranean conditions.

"The Beijing Games is testimony to the fact that the world has its trust rested in China," said Liu Qi, president of the Beijing Organizing Committee of the Games. "The Chinese people, filled with enthusiasm, have honored the commitments they solemnly made."

These Games have attracted the most participants -- from a record 204 countries and regions -- and according to the IOC, television audiences achieved record high in most major markets and the games' presence online was by far the most extensive ever. The opening ceremony alone was seen by 1.2 billion people around the globe.

Rogge believed the largest extravaganza in Olympic history brought greater global understanding of once-reclusive China.

"Through the Games, the world has learned more about China, and China learned more about the world," he said.

For 100 years the Olympic dream has been a national obsession, as historical archives showed that shortly after the 1908 Games in London, a magazine based in north China's port city of Tianjin published an article and first raised the question: When will China be able to host the Olympic Games?

And for the past seven years the Olympics has been a driving force to push China forward. If nothing else, some of the 40 billion U.S. dollars invested in the Beijing 2008 preparations will remain in the form of the three new subway lines, a new airport terminal and sports facilities built for the Games. The thousands of young, smiling volunteers will take their warmth and enthusiasm back to their daily lives.

The Olympics also offered China another chance to adopt international practice. IOC officials, foreign administrative teams and foreign sponsors were engaged extensively in the preparations. From the design of the state-of-the-art Bird's Nest, to the broadcasting and administrative work, they helped improve the standard of the Games.

With the Olympic baton now passed on to London, the legacy will last well after.
"The Games gave us a more open and mature attitude," said Professor Hu Jiqing from Nanjing University. "This attitude featured magnanimity, tolerance and pluralism."
"More importantly, it embodies a more confident nation," added Hu.

In 2008, China impresses world in unprecedented way

Special Report: Yearender 2008
BEIJING, Dec. 24 (Xinhua) -- In 2008, the world has come to know China with the hitherto unprecedented scope, depth, and first-hand perception.

It has been an unusual year for China -- it faced up to unprecedented challenges brought about by the snow disaster in the south and the calamitous earthquake in the southwest, and took great delight in successfully hosting a spectacular Olympics gala and accomplishing the historic feat by completing the nation's first spacewalk.

In a year when the world has been undergoing a profound change, China has opened its doors wider with broad-mindedness, increased confidence and a stronger determination to improve itself, and shouldered a greater responsibility in global political and financial affairs.

China and the rest of the world have become more closely linked. As Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi put it: "Historic changes are taking place in the relationship between China and the world as a whole."

Riding out Difficulties, China Held in Higher Esteem by World
The expected and unexpected events that happened in China this year have drawn global attention.

On May 12, an 8.0-magnitude earthquake jolted southwest China, causing huge casualties and massive destruction. United as one and standing up to combat the disaster with prompt and effective rescue efforts, China won sympathy and respect from the world.

On Aug. 8, the Beijing Olympiad captivated some 2 billion spectators and TV audience worldwide with its splendid opening ceremony, enabling them to enjoy a charming night that epitomizes China's 5,000-year civilization.

The Beijing Olympiad drew a record number of 204 sports delegations that cover the widest ever geographical areas in the Games' history, and was given heavy coverage by world media. This has enabled the world to see not only a "truly exceptional" Olympiad, but also a more open and colorful China.

Then China impressed the world again by launching the Shenzhou VII spacecraft into space and accomplishing its maiden space walk. The feat has made China the third country in the world to stage extra-vehicular activity and the only developing country capable of manned space exploration.

Commenting on Chinese taikonaut Zhai Zhigang's space walk, Reuters had this to say: "Zhai's brief but historic outing in a Chinese-designed space suit... capped a year in which the country has both coped with the tragedy of the devastating Sichuan earthquake and reveled in the Beijing Olympics."

New Zealand minister on China's great achievements in reform, opening up

by Huang Xingwei

WELLINGTON, Dec. 24 (Xinhua) -- Pansy Wong, New Zealand's newly appointed minister for ethnic affairs and women's affairs, says great changes have taken place in China since it launched reform and opening up 30 years ago.

Pansy also said in a recent interview with Xinhua that living standards in China have been greatly improved during that time.

Pansy was born in Shanghai, grew up in Hong Kong and moved to New Zealand in 1974. She became the first ethnic Chinese member of New Zealand's parliament in 1996.

She was appointed the country's first Asian minister holding the cabinet position of ethnic and women's affairs after the National Party won the general elections on Nov. 8.

Pansy told Xinhua that the Chinese government attaches great importance to infrastructure construction and urban planning.

"Their urban planning are quite successful, even taking account of the development in the next 50 years," she said.

New Zealand and China signed a free trade agreement in April, a first FTA China signed with a developed country.

Pansy said bilateral cooperation has huge potential and broad prospects.

"New Zealand boasts advantages in creative industry, environment protection, farming and animal husbandry, while China has huge markets. The two countries can cooperate in such areas," she said.

Pakistani senator deems China's reform policy "remarkable"

By Li Zhongfa, Li Jingchen
ISLAMABAD, Dec. 24 (Xinhua) -- Syed Mushahid Hussain, chairman of Pakistan's Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, on Tuesday spoke highly of China's reform and opening-up launched three decades ago, saying the policy has benefited the Chinese people and the world at large.
"The transformation of China, which took place in a peaceful manner, has benefited the Chinese people and affected the peace and stability in Asia and world," said Mushahid in an interview with Xinhua.
The year of 2008 marks the 30th anniversary of China's reform and opening-up drive, commonly regarded as a watershed in China's development.
The decision to open up the once sealed off country and reform its struggling economy was made at the 3rd plenary session of the 11th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), which started on Dec. 18, 1978.
The policy, pioneered by late leader Deng Xiaoping, has turned the once poverty-stricken country into one of the world's largest economies.
"Though the reform and opening-up, China has lifted about 400 million people out of poverty, who now have new quality of life. That's a remarkable achievement," Mushahid said.
Mushahid, also secretary general of the opposition party Pakistan Muslim League-Qauid (PML-Q), first visited China in the 1970s and has paid many visits since then.
Mushahid was impressed by the tremendous changes in the past three decades, especially in the aspects of people's life, infrastructure, high technology, and even language.
"At that time in 1972, very few people spoke English. But now it's very common language," said Mushahid.
Mushahid attributed China's achievements to the CPC's leadership, saying the party has played a "unique" role in bring "the world's most populous country" to the world's fourth largest economy.
"The ideology of the Communist Party of China is based on humanity, not based on control or dominance," said Mushahid, adding that China has not used "imperialistic power" but pursued peaceful development.
"The Chinese society is very pluralistic. China gives rights to the minorities and different communities, who all have opportunity to participate in the process of China," he said.
Mushahid also termed the "one country, two systems" policy as "unique contribution to modern history," saying Hong Kong and Macao returned to China in 1997 and 1999 respectively not by force, but "by diplomacy, negotiations and agreements."
With regard to China's stimulus package plan to revive economy in the face of current global economy, Mushahid expressed admiration for China's contribution to the world's development.
"The stability of China's economy sends a message of stability to the Asian and world economy," he said.
"We share the success of China as a neighbor. We want to learn from China's example, and we also want to benefit from what China had done in the past years," Mushahid said

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

California’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional

When I was a teacher, I would often tell my students this hypothetical: “Our classroom has decided to form a new country and create a new government to run it. Now imagine that everyone in this class practices the same religion, except for two students.

History has shown that many nations have been involved in violent conflicts because of religious differences, and some are still engaged in such conflicts today. To eliminate this problem in our new nation, we are going to hold an election to decide what religion our citizens, and those who reside within our borders, can practice. Once we have a winner, all other religions will be banned.
Assuming that everyone will vote in accordance with their faith, it is obvious that two of your classmates will no longer be allowed to practice their religion. So my question is this: Since America is a democracy, why has such a vote never taken place?”

Usually, to my dismay, I would hear responses trumpeting the virtues of diversity and tolerance. But rarely did I hear the correct answer: Such a vote has never occurred in the United States because it is prohibited by the Bill of Rights.

What I wanted my students to understand is that America was created as a “democratic-republic,” where the “majority rules” in many instances, but not all. The nation’s founders determined that there are certain rights and liberties so fundamental to the individual that neither the government nor the majority can take them away. One of these, of course, is the right to “freedom of religion.”

The results of this freedom are evident. According to the book How the Great Religions Began, over two hundred denominations of Christianity exist in the United States. Clearly the outcry would be deafening if the followers of the most popular form of Christianity possessed the power to ban all others.

Yet today many of the minority sects of Christianity—that might not even exist if America had been created as a pure democracy—are hypocritically promoting the idea of “majority rule” when it comes to another fundamental right—the right to marry. This was in evidence during the November 2008 election, when many religious organizations in California successfully campaigned for the passage of “Proposition Eight.”

“Proposition Eight” banned same-sex marriages, which had been legal in California, via a constitutional amendment. But, in a paradox that is nonetheless true, this constitutional ban on same-sex marriages is unconstitutional.

Just as the federal government has the United States Constitution, every American state has its own constitution. State Constitutions can provide more legal protection for the fundamental rights of their residents than the Federal Constitution requires, but they cannot provide less.

An example of how a State Constitution provides greater protection was shown in the case of a convicted drug dealer who, under state law, was sentenced to a long-term prison sentence. This individual challenged the law in federal court, arguing that its harsh penalties violated the Federal Constitution’s Eighth Amendment prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment.”

The United States Supreme Court disagreed, ruling that while the punishment this law demanded was either “cruel,” or “unusual,” it was not both, and to be declared unconstitutional a law has to offend both prongs of the Eighth Amendment.

Fortunately for the defendant the Constitution of the State where he was convicted banned “cruel or unusual” punishment; therefore the challenged law only needed to offend one of these prongs to be declared unconstitutional. Since it had already been held to do so, the defendant’s sentence was overturned.

An example of how the Federal Constitution can provide more protection than State Constitutions occurred in the 2003 case of Lawrence vs. Texas, when the United States Supreme Court ruled that the “liberty” prong of the due process clause voided state sodomy laws that prohibited consenting adults from engaging in certain types of sexual activity.

The Lawrence decision was an anomaly for two reasons: first, it occurred within the confines of a legal system that has historically been loath to protect the liberty interests of gays and lesbians; second, it overturned Bowers vs. Hardwick, a case this same Court had decided just seventeen years earlier. Bowers had held that laws prohibiting certain types of sexual activity between consenting adults did not offend the Federal Constitution. When one considers that it took over half-a-century to overturn Plessy vs. Ferguson, the case that once made racial segregation the law of the land, the Court moved with remarkable speed.

Still, despite this progress, America remains a nation where gays and lesbians appear to be the last minorities who can be openly hated, ridiculed and maligned, even by those in power. Vice-presidential candidates Joseph Biden and Sarah Palin, in a debate conducted prior to the November 2008 election, did not hesitate to condemn gay marriage in front of a national television audience.

But would Biden and Palin have been equally at ease condemning interracial marriages, or marriages between people of different faiths? It is doubtful, because such condemnations would not be politically profitable in today’s environment. But just a few decades ago politicians were perfectly comfortable condemning interracial marriages as “abnormal” and “immoral.”

This changed in 1967, in the case of Loving v. Virginia, when the United States Supreme Court ruled that laws banning interracial marriages violated the Federal Constitution. In its opinion the Court confirmed that marriage was “one of the ‘basic civil rights of man,’” and that denial of this right can “deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law.”

This recognition of marriage as a fundamental right means that neither the government nor the majority can take it away, unless there is a “compelling reason” for doing so.
In the Lawrence decision, Justice Kennedy writes, “Liberty presumes an autonomy of self that includes freedom of thought, belief, expression and certain intimate conduct.” Denying “equality of treatment” in these areas is “an invitation to subject homosexual persons to discrimination both in the public and private sectors.”

Yet gays and lesbians in California, and numerous other states, only enjoy three of the four freedoms that “liberty presumes.” They are conspicuously denied equality of treatment in the area of expression—the right to express love and commitment through the institution of marriage.

In overturning the Bowers decision, Kennedy noted that the Court committed a fundamental error when it confined its analysis strictly to the “sexual conduct” involved: “When sexuality finds overt expression in intimate conduct with another person, the conduct can be but one element in a personal bond that is more enduring.... To say that the issue in Bowers was simply the right to engage in certain sexual conduct demeans the claim the individual put forward, just as it would demean a married couple were it to be said marriage is simply about the right to have sexual intercourse.”

This right to an enduring personal bond, and this acknowledgment that the motivations of gays and lesbians seeking to marry are not significantly different from heterosexuals seeking to marry, establishes that there is no legal basis, compelling, rational or otherwise, for the government to ban same-sex marriages. In fact, as reported by USA TODAY, heterosexual couples are increasingly choosing to cohabit rather than marry; thus it should be refreshing to learn that same-sex couples still place a great deal of importance on the institution of marriage.

The courts, when dealing with cases involving religious discrimination, never question the sincerity of one’s faith, nor does society question whether a man and woman are marrying for the “right” reasons. Why then should such litmus tests be required for same-sex marriages? Why is it not presumed that two people in love sincerely wish to spend the rest of their lives together?

The tragedy of American society, and indeed of all societies, is it is so easy to blame scapegoats for all social ills. Throughout American history people of different races, religions and ethnic backgrounds were often looked upon by the majority with fear and loathing, and thus had to struggle to gain the rights that others took for granted. Sadly, when it comes to the rights of gays and lesbians, the descendants of many of these people are now chanting “majority rules.”

Perhaps a constitutional amendment should be passed decreeing that those who seek to deny fundamental rights to others must sacrifice those same rights themselves. After all, as Abraham Lincoln said, “Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.”

Monday, December 15, 2008

Bush comes under Iraqi "shoe attack"

An Iraqi reporter called U.S. President George W. Bush a 'dog' in Arabic and threw his shoes at him during a news conference in Baghdad.

In Baghdad, Bush told Iraqi President Jalal Talabani that the war, which began when U.S.-led troops invaded the country in 2003 to topple Saddam Hussein, was not yet over.
"The work hasn't been easy but it's been necessary for American security, Iraqi hope and world peace," he said.

Talabani called Bush "a great friend for the Iraqi people, who helped us liberate our country".
Bush later signed a security pact with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki under which U.S. troops will be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of 2011. They are to withdraw initially from Iraqi cities by June 2009.

However, Bush's brief visit to Iraq was not all smiles. During a press conference with Maliki, a correspondent for the Cairo-based al-Baghdadiya TV hurled his shoes at the U.S. president, shouting in Arabic, "this is a farewell kiss from the Iraqi people, dog" and "this is for the widows and orphans and all those killed in Iraq."

He was then overpowered by security personnel and taken away.
Bush, who dodged both shoes, said "I don't know what the guy's cause is." He later commented that, "If you want the facts, it's a size 10 shoe that he threw"

Showing the soles of shoes is considered an insult in Arabic culture. In 2004, Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi pointed the sole of his shoes towards then-British prime minster Tony Blair during talks in Libya. The gesture was interpreted in the Arab world as "the worst of all insults."

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Russian blonde named new Miss World

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – Russian blonde Kseniya Sukhinova was crowned the 58th Miss World Saturday after a two-hour spectacle in South Africa that combined elements of travelogue and reality show, and the kind of flag-waving usually seen at sports events.

Sukhinova beamed as she was crowned, and was composed and smiling moments afterward in a brief interview with The Associated Press. She said her immediate ambitions included meeting Russia's president, and that she planned to return soon to her studies at the Tyumen Oil and Gas University in her home region of northwestern Siberia.

"I am so happy to be here," she said of South Africa, which was hosting its sixth Miss World final. "I am so excited. It's amazing."
Sukhinova, who in a biography on the Miss World Web site listed becoming a super model as a goal, also had won the contest's top model award and was third in the swimsuit competition. She was a crowd favorite — though not as popular as hometown beauty Miss South Africa, Tansey Coetzee. Coetzee made the final five.
Second runner up was Miss Trinidad and Tobago, Gabrielle Walcott. First runner up was Miss India, Parvathy Omankuttan. Miss Angola, Brigite Santos, completed the top five.

In addition to the swim suit and modeling segments, the 109 contestants competed in a "pentathlon" that included building a small boat and taking soccer penalty kicks; a talent show; and an event showcasing their charity work in the monthlong lead-up to Saturday's live international broadcast.

The contest was to have taken place in Ukraine, but was moved to South Africa because of tensions between Russia and Georgia and fears conflict could spread to Ukraine. South Africa has hosted more Miss World finals than any other country.

South Africa, often in the news for its high violent crime rate and questions about whether it will pull off hosting the 2010 soccer World Cup, made the most of the attention. The broadcast included clips of the contestants visiting game parks, golf courses and pristine beaches in South Africa and dancing in the famed Johannesburg township of Soweto. South Africans designed evening and beach wear and jewelry for the 109 contestants.

"I've experienced South African culture and everyday traditions," Sukhinova told the AP.