- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 26, 2002

Nobles: Baghdad's potentially prophetic protesters.

Baghdad is a town where there is no cheer precisely because everybody (especially the people with guns who run the place) knows your name and the names of your relatives and the names of your friends and the names of their pets. They also know precisely where you and your friends and your relatives and your pets live. And they know the names of all the local bars (or at least places with barred windows), where the interrogators know your name and they're really glad you came, since they will take you to a cell to be with people whose troubles are all the same a prison where everybody knows your name.

Those involuntary stays behind bars were the reason for the occurrence of perhaps the only thing more rare than a beer-tasting in the streets of Baghdad: an unsanctioned protest. For two days, scores of protesters showed up in front of the Information Ministry to demand to know what happened to relations who had not yet returned home after Saddam Hussein's mass prisoner pardon.

Not that many of them really believed that the Ministry of Truth, er, Ministry of Information, could help. After all, according to Amnesty International, at least 17,000 Iraqis have "disappeared" over the years, and it's widely believed that many of them have become unpersons.

However, foreign journalists also have offices at the Ministry of Information, and while the protesters staged their demonstration by shouting acclaim for their Big Brother, they used stage whispers to explain why they were really there. Some weren't so subtle. One mother wailed, "Where is my son? Where was he taken?"

While they were there for their relatives, these unauthorized protesters represented something even larger a rumbling of discontent, an anguished cry for freedom. No one really expects Saddam to fall because of a few street dissidents, but their courageous calls will echo. As James Russell Lowell put it in his poem, "This Present Crisis," "When a deed is done for Freedom, through the broad earth's aching breast/Runs a thrill of joy prophetic, trembling on from east to west/And the slave where'er he cowers, feels the soul within him climb/To the awful verge of manhood, as the energy sublime/Of the century bursts full-blossomed on the thorny stem of Time." Cheers.


Knaves: VH1's producers and program managers.

A ratings-hungry network tried to score some points,/By airin' cons rockin' in their prison joint/And while relatives sent up some "Please stop," pleas/The thugs played on now they're celebrities.

It's shock, VH1's jailhouse rock,/The victims are the ones they mock,/When they're airin' out the jailhouse rock.

Perhaps it was in an effort to combine two of their other shows, "Guilty Pleasures" and "Behind the Music," that VH1's program managers came up with the idea of doing "Music Behind Bars," an eight-part series that features prison bands.

These are not the Blues Brothers. Last week's premiere featured Dark Mischief, a heavy-metal band at the State Correctional Institution in Graterford, Pa., composed of two murderers on guitar, an armed robber on vocals, and a drummer serving time for assault.

While it's astonishing that prisoners are making music instead of license plates or piles of rubble, it's even more astonishing that VH1 had the execrable taste to air their performances. Over the past two weeks, everyone in the D.C. area has learned again the terrible ways that such felons touch society. They are locked away for a reason. The last thing they should have is a spotlight, much less a television series.

VH1's still airin' music behind the bars/Cause they don't really care about the victim's scars/While their tone-deaf producers just laugh and scoff/Just find that remote and turn them off.

Don't flock, to VH1's jailhouse rock/It's producers deserve the dock/For airin' out the jailhouse rock.

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