Thursday, March 17, 2005

Woe is Tokto

Time to get this sleepy blog off the ground, and what better way than to dip my pen in the waters swirling off the East Sea (aka Sea of Japan). Of course, unless you have been living in a cave eating garlic, you know that I'm referring to the Tokto-Takeshima issue. [For googling purposes, I'm also including the spellings Tokdo, Dokdo, Tok-to, Tok-do, Dok-do, Tok Island, Dok Island, and Liancourt Rocks dispute.]

As many others have pointed out, things are
getting out of hand. Expatriate blogdom — even those that consider Korea to be the rightful owners of Tokto — has generally been critical of the Korean side's (over-)reaction to the local Shimane prefectural legislature's action of declaring "Takeshima Day," which piggybacked Japanese ambassador to Korea Toshiyuki Takano's comments that Takeshima is "historically and legally part of Japanese territory."

The reaction from this side of the Korea-Japan saltwater lake has been shrill. Koreans
cutting off appendages, Koreans being arrested in Shimane to prevent them from cutting off appendages, Korea's top diplomat making decidedly undiplomatic statements, and people just in general getting very, very angry.

But I for one would like to put a few things in perspective. I do want to say two things up front: First, I do believe those islands rightfully belong to Korea, for a number of reasons too numerous to mention here; and second, I do think that Korea — both the government and the people — are over-reacting to this in an emotional way that, in the long run, may be counter to their interests.

However, I must admit that for the people reacting emotionally, I almost can't blame them. They are fed lies and half-truths by the media here and even if they believe just half of what's splattered on their newspapers or comes through the tube, any reasonable person could easily get upset.

But the whole problem is that the media is trying to manipulate them. The Korea Times headline (in at least one print edition) screamed "Japan's Takeshima Day Sparks Outrage."

Japan's Takeshima Day?! Japan's?! Even if you believe that Tokyo is secretly behind this, it is Shimane's Takeshima Day. It is not a special day anywhere else in that country. A person unfamiliar with this issue who might have happened upon that headline might think "Takeshima Day" were a national day, not a local prefectural one.

There are, of course, other examples, of news stories talking about how Japan's navy could defeat Korea's navy, and Japanese planes are skirting the skies over Tokto. People are on edge, put there by the media, which keeps nudging them further and further.

So, yeah, I blame the media for much of this outrage, but that doesn't mean there would be no outrage even if Korean media were completely truthful and objective. Koreans are facing a formally brutal colonial occupier, about whom they collectively retain bitter feelings (in part because of that colonizer's unwillingness to be honest and forthcoming about the past), who is again voicing a claim to Korean territory.

To those in blogdom who think that Koreans are making a big deal over nothing, I submit that this is indeed a big deal. How many countries would stand idly by and do nothing while another country claims your island and the waters around it where tensions sometimes flare? Korea cannot sit around and do nothing. A strong, stern response is necessary.

Of course, that doesn't mean that destroying Korean-Japanese relations is in order, as Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon seems to
have suggested. Fortunately, Mr. Ban seems to have realized that a bit of moderation is in order and he has cooled down his own rhetoric, at least for now (but only a little). Others are also voicing calls for toning things down. Former Unification Minister Park Jae-kyu has said that the government needs to keep a clearer head.

I think another part of the problem is that so many Koreans are not used to dealing from a position of strength. As those who control Tokto for the past half century, they have the upper hand. Tokyo would risk war and ostracism were it to take up arms against Seoul to wrest those islets from Korean control, something they aren't willing to do, even if they are able (a questionable statement in and of itself).

No, those islands aren't going anywhere anytime soon. There is no national emergency. This is an obscure prefecture making a claim that has no bearing over anything.

Nevertheless — and this is what the English-language K-blogosphere needs to realize — Seoul must react somehow. Doing nothing and saying nothing has a tendency to lend legitimacy to such claims. But that something certainly should be measured and in proportion to the threat laid before it.

At a provincial level, not a national level, all of Ullŭng-gun County (which includes Tokto) should be declared a provincial park (by Kyŏngsang-bukto authorities). Provinces are on par with prefectures. Get it, Mr. Ban?

If you've ever seen pictures of Ullŭng-do Island, you know it's deserving of some sort of park status. In fact, it was designated a natural monument in 1982. In time, if necessary in this diplomatic row, the provincial park can be upgraded to a national park. Indeed, there were plans to do this, and they should be revamped. This is a measured, reasonable, even response. If Tokyo protests, then Seoul responds with the same excuse given by Tokyo about Shimane: it's a local issue we can't do anything about.

The Korean government's decision to
let tourists visit the rocky islets (which have their own beauty irrespective of the political storm surrounding them) is also a step in the right direction, as were plans to set up cell phone service there. In other words, it's time to normalize the islands as a part of Korean territory. Heck, if tours can be run to the DMZ, why not Tokto?

The local provincial or county government may even consider allowing residents to register there and/or actually live there. Perhaps a handful of fishermen who legitimately might benefit from being there instead of Ullŭng-do.

These acts would strengthen Korea's already strong hand and underscore the weakness of Japan's situation: Korea is in a position to administer these islands while Japan is not. Possession, as the saying goes, is nine-tenths of the law.

More to the point, these acts are not shrill. Shrillness never changed anyone's mind. Hacking off a finger won't convince anyone of anything except that you are a nutjob who should be committed. Remember the US citizen who killed himself in protest of Bush's re-election? Probably not until I just now mentioned it. Heck, I can't even find a link.

And that leads me to my next point, again directed at the blogosphere. There are nearly 50,000,000 people in this country, and some of them, inevitably, are going to do things that make you go, "What the fuck...?!" These people are the norm no more than the guy who committed suicide over Bush is the norm in America. Yeah, there were millions of Americans upset by Bush's re-election (including me), but most of us weren't killing ourselves. And in the end, very, very few moved to Canada. Likewise, the other 49,999,997 or so Koreans have the same number of fingers they did a week ago.

To me, killing yourself trumps cutting off your finger, yet Korea is characterized in the blogosphere as full of nutjobs [2007 ed: as "finger-chopping whacky"], while the good 'ole U.S. of A. is portrayed as a mature, normal country. I'm not making an argument that the emotional response in Korea is okay because people get emotional elsewhere, just that if one were to look at Korea as a complex entity the same as one sees his or her home country, the view of Korea becomes very different.

And this brings me back to an earlier point: most of the emotional responders are acting as they do because of media manipulation. VANK tells them of sinister global plans to keep Korea down, and they believe it. The media tells them that Korea gave up fishing rights around Tokto because of the "IMF crisis," and they believe it. With no competing information, what else is there to believe?

In this regard, the Korean government is doing no one any favors by forcing Internet service providers to
block websites that might promote a "pro-Japanese" point of view about Tokto. The move is to prevent their mental health from being harmed. The government doesn't seem to worry about the long-term social health problems associated with keeping people half-informed and in the dark.

I wonder if the Japan Times will be blocked, too? The very Japan Times that
says in their article that the Tokto islets were under Korean sovereignty five years before Shimane claimed them:
The islets were placed under Korean sovereignty in 1900. Shimane incorporated the islands into the prefecture in 1905, after Japan seized them during the Russo-Japanese war.
Oh, it's all just a mess. But it's exactly what the nationalists in Korea want, and what the Japanese rightists were hoping for.
In addition to South Korean protesters, Japanese right-wing extremists circled the area in sound trucks blasting nationalist slogans and songs.
That's right: despite what blogosphere says about the average Japanese possibly knowing little or nothing of this issue, the right wingers are giddy with joy about this. They're orgasmically enthusiastic. They see this as a chance for Japan to assert itself and return to its glory days of empire, something the average Japanese probably sees as a scary thought.

So Ban Ki-moon is playing into the hands of the Japanese right wingers. Meanwhile, the nationalists in Korea are beside themselves with anger, and Roh Moohyun is looking like a great leader. [2007 ed: Roh Moohyun's popularity dipped into the low 20s around the time he did this, despite or even because of his irresponsible behavior and pandering to nationalism.]

Look for this to repeat itself every February and March until eternity is half over. God help us all.


Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Lactose intolerance in a nutshell

The piece below is simply a reprint of an OC Register article, back before my blog really got going and I didn't yet know what I wanted to do with it. But later, I added some thoughts in the famous K-blog, Marmot's Hole, which can be found here. Just do a search for "kushibo" and you can see what I wrote.

I have added a piece that explains—through semi-fictional dramatization—my own problems with lactose intolerance.


When milk bites back

The Orange County Register

Imagine munching on cookies without a tall glass of cold milk. Or passing up the scoop of ice cream on a warm piece of peach cobbler.

That was Mary Anne Foo 10 years ago.

She mostly avoided food and drink made with milk, cheese or other dairy ingredients.

The creamy clam chowder may have been heavenly, but the price she paid later was agony: gas, bloating, diarrhea and cramps so intense she sometimes fainted. These are symptoms of lactose intolerance, a condition in which the body lacks the enzyme to digest lactose, the predominant sugar in milk.

But these days, the 38-year-old executive director for the Orange County Asian and Pacific Islander Community Alliance in Garden Grove can have her cheesecake and eat it, too. More products are available to enable the lactose-intolerant to eat and drink milk products again.

There's also a greater awareness of lactose intolerance � so much that sufferers say they're less or no longer embarrassed to admit they have it.

That's welcome news to the approximately 50 million people in the United States who have this common condition. Researchers estimate that among the U.S. population, lactose intolerance affects 90 percent of Asians and 75 percent of blacks, native Americans, Jews and Hispanics. It's less prevalent among those of Northern European descent.

What's available to them that wasn't around a decade ago?

Low- or no lactose
First, there is a wider variety of milk, cheese and yogurt products with reduced or no lactose.

Milk formulations include skim, low-fat, reduced fat, plain or flavored. Organic-milk distributors such as Organic Valley and Horizon have gotten in on the act with organic lactose-free or lactose-reduced milk.

Foo and others said that these milk products tend to taste sweeter than those with lactose, but it's a matter of getting used to it.

Next, there are more supplements to help people digest lactose. These pills come in various strengths. They contain lactase, an enzyme that helps break down lactose into two simple sugars - glucose and galactose - that are more easily digested. The pills are taken with the first bite of food or sip.

Two relatively new products, DairyCare and Digestive Advantage capsules, are supposed to be an improvement. They're taken once a day. They contain live Lactobacillus acidophilus cultures — friendly bacteria that can help the body digest lactose.

Another product, Lactagen, claims to increase tolerance to lactose and stop the uncomfortable symptoms in a 38-day conditioning regimen. The program involves eating yogurt with live cultures and having meals with a special formula containing ingredients that promote growth of friendly bacteria.

"The supplements taste chalky and sweet, so I buy those that I can just swallow and not chew," said Foo, who is of Chinese and Japanese descent. The supplements have become a staple among Foo's Asian-American staff and co-workers. "When we go out for Italian and have, say, creamy fettuccine, we pass around a bottle of Lactaid that I keep in my purse," Foo said. "We keep it on the table.

"The joke whenever we eat a meal together is 'Your Lactaid or my Lactaid?' "

The downside of these products: Most lactose-reduced or lactose-free milk is 10 percent to 15 percent more expensive than regular versions. Lactaseenzyme pills cost 23 to 28 cents apiece.

Foo still limits her dairy intake to small amounts because the lactase enzyme pill can only work so far. When eating out, she'll choose a dairy-free appetizer and entree, but take one high-dose lactase pill with ice cream.

The effectiveness of these products varies, depending on the severity of lactose intolerance. Some people may be able to comfortably drink a glass of milk with one lactase pill, while others cannot. There's a lack of published studies on whether these products work, so most evidence is anecdotal.

"Lactose intolerance is permanent by the time you get to adulthood," said Dr. Maria T. Abreu of the American Gastroenterological Association. "There's no evidence that you can turn the ability to digest lactose back on."

Makers of dairy products may promote the importance of getting calcium and vitamin D, but the new lactose-reduced products are less about that and more about people being able to enjoy some of the milk products they had to give up, Abreu said.

Even people who worry about osteoporosis - a condition in which bones become weak and brittle - can get their daily calcium from other sources such as calcium-fortified orange juice or soy milk, sardines, salmon, calcium tablets, and their vitamin D from reasonable sun exposure.

Foo said she's watching for symptoms of the condition in her 5-year old son. So far, he's still able to drink milk, she said, "but it seems to 'help' him go to the bathroom, so I'm keeping an eye on it."

Wednesday, March 9, 2005

"Human scum" to represent US in UN

John R. Bolton, now undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, has been selected by the Bush Administration as the new US ambassador to the UN.

Bolton is well-known for his vocal criticism of the UN, and this nomination has raised some eyebrows around the world from people who had begun to think that Bush was finally understanding their qualms about his administration.

Bolton at one time had called North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il a "tyrannical dictator," to which Pyongyang responded that Bolton was "human scum" and said it wouldn't deal with him.

While I would never suggest that the US or any country kowtow to the mercurial moods of our neighbors to the north, it's important for diplomats to know when to be diplomatic. The Bush Administration doesn't always get that, it seems, and we are paying for it dearly as the world worries what we'll do next.

And so it begins

After much prodding by a few people close to me, and one or two not so close, I am finally launching my own blog. While it will primarily be related to Korean/Asian issues, I plan to delve into anything around me I find worthy of mentioning. Feel free to comment to your heart's content. But play nice, por favor.