Had interesting recollections while looking at houses on the East Range last week. In a mining town house much like the one I grew up in I recalled mother chastising me for growing potatoes in my ears. I felt then as I do now. The accusation being unwashed was unfair. As evidence I had our dog. When the refrigerator door opened we’d both be there looking needy and feeling optimistic. Hearing that keen does not come from ears dirt clogged enough to raise a crop.

Another memory popped as I drove past my old high school, still in use as Mesabi East serving the Biwabik, Aurora, and Hoyt Lakes, etc. communities. The building is a good example of a solid mining town school students attended to improve their skills and build a future. I’ll stop any educational commentary there before I dig into a pit deep as any of the mines adjacent the old school. In the days I attended we had an AV room (a term essentially vanished) where 16mm films (also essentially vanished) were shown to a roomful of young Rangers glad (as was their instructor) to be out of the classroom. If you don’t remember it, take my word. AV was great. A film about something dull as tooth care was wonderful because students and teacher didn’t have to do more than sit. I suppose it is comforting to think we’d be so satisfied by so little. I have a similar feeling about a film that, oddly enough, we were shown for several years.

No, I do not mean the horribles about drunk driving or premarital sex. Onscreen gore in black and white isn’t very gory. Ugly, yes, but you really need lots of red to properly put gore across. The film that came memorably to mind was about Japanese pearl culture. The war wasn’t that far off, so it was a safe bet that half the class had a parent or close relative with ill feeling towards Japs or Nazis. A film about Japanese being industrious might have helped ease some of the prejudice young people sponge up along the way. On that note I think it a reasonable assumption that the first people to appear with a VW on the Range were not infrequently suspected as Nazi sympathizers. Also reasonable is the thought that early VW drivers bought the People’s Wagon as a sign that the past was forgotten and forgiven, or in my father’s case better gas mileage than he’d get from any US car.

The particular film twice selected to educate us was about Japanese pearl culture. The name Mikimoto (first name Kokichi if you’re interested) may have been said repeatedly but no boy heard it over the uproar in his brain over those dozens and dozens of scenes featuring topless female pearl divers. It wasn’t that there was not considerable appreciation for the film. There was. Boys apt to spend their days in mine pits watched with rapt attention these rare scenes of industry. This was the sort of inspiration many boys had been longing for and dreamed of finding. And there it was; their joy and attention beyond equal. As I recall it the reception from the female element was less fulsome. Similar to race, some things aren’t especially changeable. It’s pretty much one or the other and as best you’re able learn to live with it. Whatever it was the filmmaker intended that film revealed a palpable rift between the genders. Peace was restored when the boys astutely concluded no pearl divers were likely to assist them so they’d best go for a truce with the locals.

Though far away, recollections of potato ears and Mikimoto are easier on the mind than the upcoming debate between choices I often hear described with equal negativity. I’ve heard “Can’t vote for either” more frequently than I’d expect. But there it is, and feeling misgivings of my own have nothing to add.

It was good but sad fortune that reminded me of the need for open debate when a writer in Jordan was gunned down outside a court where he was charged with placing a cartoon insulting to Islam on his Facebook page. That there are courts elsewhere that pander to one directional religious insult is no surprise. Going down the hallway of hate speech we too could get there by the simple route that such law or regulation always favors oppression over expression. Soon as a society agrees to limit expression it has agreed to a dogma and system of repression. Apologists might say the writer brought this on himself by rash action, you know, same as a woman wearing a tight sweater asks to be assaulted. Others, who support repression and conformity in the first place, will argue that while premature the sentence of death inflicted on the writer was not murder but justice. That kind of barbarity goes with hate speech laws. It and blasphemy laws certainly does not want criticism of its rule over what you or I may and may not express in public or in private. People can put a face on it to disguise the fact, but any tyranny whether it is political, religious, racial, or a mix requires enforcement of dogma. Oh, the populace might be granted the formality of regularly voting approval for repression, but that is not freedom so much as it is a form or coercion.

That we are able to have debate is a good thing. That expression is frequently manipulated for advantage rather than dialog or discovery is a sorry habit we can resist. The way for a nation or society to solve difficult problems might not be very nice. Real problems are nasty buggers with no easy solution. Looking for a nice way to deal with tough issues is like trying to find fresh air in a cow’s gut. There isn’t any. Debate has to be about more than charm, good looks, and happily convenient answers. I hope one of the candidates will surprise me.