중앙데일리

Keep deals in the sunlight

Feb 02,2007
One day, the Buddha heard complaints from people that his disciples had bad breath. As there was no such concept as brushing one’s teeth, the disciples who practiced asceticism for a long period must have had terrible breath. Bad breath might have disturbed their minds when they meditated. So the Buddha taught them to clean their teeth using a willow twig. This is the origin of toothpicks, written in a Buddhist canon. The book also records that monks should carry toothpicks with them all the time. That is a lesson that when cleaning one’s body and mind, one should clean his or her mouth first. Scientists believe that toothpicks originate from even earlier days. They found a trace of the usage of a toothpick from the teeth of a Neanderthal who lived 100,000 years ago. It can be said to be the first device that humans invented. In the 15th century, people started to use the word “gargling” in Korea, so the expression willow twigs, was no longer used to mean cleaning one’s teeth.
Meanwhile, in Japan, the words, “willow twigs,” are still used for toothpicks. A special toothpick used when eating traditional Japanese cookies looks similar to ordinary toothpicks, but the tip is square, not pointy.
Toothpicks were developed into toothbrushes during the Ming Dynasty in China. A Korean document records that King Hyojong of the Joseon Dynasty attached pig’s hair to an animal’s bone to clean his teeth in 1498. Later, synthetic fabrics were invented and the U.S. Army made it mandatory for its soldiers to use toothbrushes. Eventually, toothbrushes replaced toothpicks. In the United States, a toothpick has become a new yardstick to measure legislators’ integrity. A new law on the ethics of the members of the House regulates that when members of the House are treated to food by lobbyists, the food must be able to be picked up by toothpicks. For instance, raw oysters are O.K. but pasta with oysters in it isn’t.
As lobbyists have been regarded as the source of corruption, regulations on them have become increasingly strict. Koreans have even more negative feelings against lobbyists. A bill to allow only registered lobbyists to lobby within limits and let the public know about their work has been pending for years at the National Assembly. We should bring what’s going on in secret into the sunlight. In the process of legislation, lawmakers should listen to the opinions of interest groups. If public channels for communication are blocked, people make deals under the table. We should not take toothpicks from them just because we fear that they might be able to pick up steak with them.

The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Kim Jin-kook [jinkook@joongang.co.kr]


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