Saturday, April 28, 2007

Number one with a bullet!

Happened to mention the words "Shellpile" and "my blog" (independently -- not referring to one as related to the other) to a friend, and he later told me he'd found the blog. Seemed a little scary until I Googled to find... when you type in "Shellpile," the first reference is to... THIS BLOG!

Although, maybe that's just on my computer or something. Check it out, let me know...

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The consequences of free speech

There's been a lot of back and forth lately about free speech. What can a radio personality say and get away with? What's defamatory or racist language, and what's a mere expression of thought, either serious or intended as a joke?

As a Rutgers alumna I heard more than my share of the recent tsimmis about Imus and his comments about the RU women's basketball team. What he said was ill advised and stupid, and the team was well within its rights in being upset that they'd be disrespected that way.

I'm not going to get into opinions on whether Imus deserved to lose his job over the comment; plenty's been said on both sides by people more qualified than I. What I'm fascinated by is the free speech argument.

Those who defend Imus say that he has the right to free speech, just like anyone else, and that he shouldn't be fired for exercising that right. I agree with the first point, but I think the second one doesn't account for a certain reality.

There's an old saying about yelling fire in a crowded movie house (or shouting "movie" in a crowded firehouse, but that's another story). You cause a riot, you get arrested. That's the consequence of that free speech. Bottom line, you have the right to say whatever you want, but then you have to accept that there's a cost attached.

There are countless examples of people being fired for making objectionable statements. In fact, broadcasters of some shock jocks budget for the inevitable FCC fines, figuring they're the cost of doing business.

Imus surely was aware of the fines, bad press and firings his compadres have experienced. He had the choice to say what he said, or to hold his tongue or say something tame. By reasonable person standards, it wasn't surprising that he got called on the carpet.

It all comes down to two simple guidelines. If you have no problem with the consequences of your words, speak away. When you're at risk of losing something that matters to you, think about it before you spew.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Bandaging the scar

RayPod recently posted about memories that come to mind while walking down the Hudson River walkway in Manhattan.

It led me to think about the World Trade Center site itself, my own feelings about what happened there, and what is happening now. Over the past couple of years, I've found myself drawn to Lower Manhattan ... for the history of New York's earliest years. More often than not, I take the PATH train in from Newark to the WTC site.

The PATH predates the WTC by many years; it was originally the Hudson & Manhattan railroad, leading to Dey Street, and was taken over by the Port Authority in the early 60s. When the world's tallest buildings were erected, the PATH station was included in the plans and ultimately was relocated to the basement mezzanine level. The tracks swept underneath the outer borders of the WTC property, just skirting the streets above.

That station was closed temporarily after the attacks; when it reopened, riders saw an unusual site -- glimmers of outside light poking into the tunnel below the building that was no longer there. Over time, the tunnel itself was taken down, so you could see directly into the pit that used to be the building basement. For the dollar fifty you spent for the train ride, you got a ground floor view of the remnants of tragedy. You could see the metal ties that anchored the building to the concrete foundation and walls; the ground seemed almost totally swept clean of dirt and, sadly, human remains. There were few pieces of construction ... or demolition... equipment for a year or more as officials wrangled over the future of the new "Freedom Tower" to be built there. Like everything else in New York, it couldn't materialize without some controversy to delay the inevitable.

Every time I rode into that station along the perimeter of the pit, I would fall silent in contemplation of that day, what happened there, the ghosts that remain and the fact they'd just been there to work another mundane day at their jobs. Any tourists on the train would murmur remarks to each other, some pulling out cameras to preserve the sight. Though I'd come to take photos of my roamings, I felt that it's inappropriate to treat it like a tourist destination. The only thing I ever photographed was the street-level entrance to the station which, though temporary, is an appropriate sign of rebirth, of life in the face of tragedy.

I don't know if I feel that way about what's going on there now. Now the train ride is more like a tram ride through a Disney exhibit. A few weeks ago I rode into the station and found a true construction site: a beehive of activity, equipment and the germination of a skyscraper. You can't look straight across the pit anymore: your view is now obstructed by beams and rebar and concrete.

I guess it's progress, but I can't help but feel they're desecrating hallowed ground. But, as the hackneyed expression goes, New York's always reinventing itself. It rebuilt itself over the ashes of great fires in the days of the Dutch colony. It's torn down history wantonly and erected skyscrapers in its place. It's evicted working class people and torn their homes down for highways.

But until now it's never made such a grandiose gesture to build over a fresh, deep, aching wound. Maybe it's good - maybe it is the salve to heal an unspeakable tragedy. But I can't help but think that it's way, way too early to move to replace what was there and what was lost.