Monday, February 28, 2011

Two Sets of Three, part two

Part II: Found in politics


Sonny Kim is one of my students, a struggling Korean immigrant, who has more dignity than most (that's most people, not immigrants). She's tiny but has big balls. She barged into my classroom one day, demanding I give her a way to speak English. She'd had it with grammar and doing exercises. She wanted to speak: this was her last chance, she said, and I had to give it to her. So I did, and I became a better teacher for it.

She's the only one in my class who understood the analogy I used to define the word "contradiction." I told the class a contradiction is when Hillary Clinton praises pro-democracy activists who use social media on one hand, while condemning WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, on the other. Sonny got it immediately. 

Hillary Clinton, Sec. of State

Last Tuesday, Clinton announced an investment of $25 million in the "Internet Freedom Agenda," which she launched last year. As she explained it, it's a "venture capital approach" to funding tools for activists trying to get around censorship, citing China's firewall and the online blackout in Egypt. Wired Magazine reported she spoke in glowing terms of the revolution (after first coming out swinging for Mubarak); but when questioned about WikiLeaks, she denied any contradiction, saying there was no "hypocrisy in championing internet openness while opposing the radical transparency organization." Ms. Secretary, Say Whaaaat?

Samantha Power, on staff at the National Security Council and a special advisor to President Obama, (and I might mention a past adversary of Clinton's) is helping reform Mid-east policy. Power was the first to make the call that the U.S. needed to be on the side of Egyptian youth during the 18-day revolution, not Mubarak. Power's book, "A Problem From Hell," America and the Age of Genocide explores the waffling, passivity and impotence of U.S. presidents towards intervention, particularly, President Clinton's waffling, passivity and impotence during the Balkan War. She's now working for a man who might be accused of the same; but is this a problem for Power, or can she live with the contradiction?

My student Sonny can understand living with contradictions. She talks about freedom on one hand, while condemning America for her poverty on the other. Sonny finds it unacceptable that her elder daughter has taken a job as a bartender, although having the freedom for her to do so was one of the reasons Sonny came to America in the first place. For some immigrants, freedom is a vicious contradiction. 

So what do these three women have in common? They all have big balls, and they're all on first-name basis with "contradiction," an impenetrable firewall to get around. My admiration for all three.

An impenetrable firewall
(Arcade Fire)


  1. Before I got to the end, I wuz gonna say that, like your student Sonny, I can understand living with contradictions...
    but then the last paragraph reared up and sent a chill up 'n down my spine: so glad we're are yet again on the same page, Charlotte.
    Great post, capturing so much of the recent immediate and its many-perspectived context.

  2. Thank you my dear friend, you might not know how much i appreciate this. Also, is it not who we are, and what we have spent endless hours discussing and accepting (at least in the other) from the moment we met?

  3. excellent subject for an ESL class, and a juicy concept to illuminate. best line: "freedom is a vicious contradiction." So true! I like learning how you became a better teacher and you offer your students mind-expanding lessons...