Apparently Uzbekistan has just abolished the death penalty, as of January 1st by decree of Islam Karimov (who makes few good moves in his dictator-like approach to rule of his country). Now if we can get everyone else (ahem, neighbours to the South of Canada) to follow suit!
On a Central Asia-related note, I just joined a group called Kiva that allows members to make loans to small entrepreneurs and business owners in developing countries. Instead of charity, which decides how money will be applied to problems by outsiders, this is micro-credit, which puts money directly into the hands of people who decide how best they will use the funds. Loans are made to people who would not traditionally be granted loans by banks (or who would be prey to usurious money lenders, charging as much, as in the case of Tajikistan, as 86% interest on loans). Over a specified term, they make payments (to a local organization that administers the funds) and over time the loan is repayed. I can then choose to reinvest my money in other businesses or withdraw it. As these are loans, there is a small chance that there will be a default. In places like Afghanistan and Iraq, where the infrastructure has been totally destroyed, borrowers may not be able to pay money back even if they want to. However, Kiva's default rate is tiny compared to traditional loan default rates, and the most you can lose to default is $25.
The business I chose to fund is a dairy in Tajikistan. The owner, Mr. Boboev, will use the combined funds to buy a bull and another dairy cow, and to expand his line of products.
If you have any Christmas money kicking about and feel tired of shopping for yet another trinket, consider funding a loan! It's neat to see what people are up to in different parts of the world, and to sort through the different loan requests (each borrower has a page, and some put up journals throughout the loan term). As someone who has been part of a small family business for six years now, I can really understand the impact of such a loan.