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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016


Moral Tone

Tony Blair returned from his long holiday in the Tuscany sun this week, just in time to launch a crusade for a "new national moral purpose" in Britain. Reacting to hubba-hubba tabloid fodder about two 12-year-old girls who'd been impregnated by older teen boyfriends, the tanned, rested and ready PM called for new police powers to curb pre-teen woo-pitching and other "anti-social behavior," The Observer reports.

Even as the Hawk helicopters Britain sold to Indonesia were flitting above massacre sites in East Timor (the sun never sets on the British arms empire, you know), Parson Blair outlined a number of steps for building a new "moral foundation" that will turn Britain into a "real 21st century model country." (As opposed to, say, one of those fake 21st century model countries springing up everywhere these days.) One idea that particularly jazzes the Bronze Tuscanero is American-style curfews for young people: "Twelve-year-olds should not be on the streets at night!" (Of course not: They should be at home in bed with their 14-year-old boyfriends.)

In the midst of all these soul-stirring declarations on establishing national purpose, Blair somehow neglected to spell out the basis of his new moral order -- Christian doctrine? Judaic principles? Islamic law? Buddhist precepts? The humbling wonder of natural selection? The peyotic insights of desert shamans? Entrail-readings from selected sea birds? The collected works of Robert James Waller?

Then again, perhaps he didn't need to spell it out; perhaps the basis is already assumed. For as the British propellers drowned out the gunfire of the Timorese militias, it was hard to escape the notion that the new moral order is going to have a very familiar foundation: that old bottom line.

Search Party

Of course, Tony is always looking wistfully across the ocean at America -- bigger private sector, gutted welfare system, no silly national health service, the most lucrative arms sales in the world -- so no doubt he was smiling this week as he read his daily copy of the Sioux Falls Argus Leader and learned how those morally purposeful Yanks go about the business of curtailing wayward teens.

Police in Minnehaha County, Minnesota, have been slamming curfew-breaking youngsters into the cooler for night-long sessions of cuffing, strip-searching and interrogation about their sexual practices and religious beliefs, the newspaper reports.

With the admirable egalitarianism you would expect to find in the bosom of the world's greatest democracy, Minnehaha's finest have been subjecting all captured teens to the same treatment, whether they were caught buying a pack of Mentos in the Kwiki-Mart at 11:02 p.m. or hauled in for rape, murder or arson.

There has been some slight bias, however. Not between the degrees of offense -- God forbid a skateboarder should get off easier than a rapist! -- but Minnehaha's moral agents have shown a certain proclivity for the distaff offender when it comes to those strip searches and sex talks.

Civil rights groups began taking notice of the situation this week when a father complained that his 16-year-old daughter was cuffed, stripped, probed about her sex life and incarcerated for hours after her car broke down and left her stranded past the curfew. The parental ruckus has raised the lid on a number of other similar cases.

In response, Minnehaha police have had recourse to that sophisticated rhetorical defense employed by morally armed if overly-frisky authorities since time immemorial: "So what?"

"I understand a child's perspective because it's not the most pleasant experience," said Minnehaha mouthpiece Jim Banbury, displaying some of the most nimble understatement this side of Jakarta. "But then again, don't break the law. Don't be out after 11 o'clock."

You tell 'em, Jim. The nerve of these punks, eh, out walking around under God's heaven. Who do they think they are, anyway? Human beings?

Body Blow

No sex, please -- we're French.

Highbrow French literature has always been known for its stylish celebration of physical congress (which has also come in handy for repressed Anglo-Americans in search of covert erotica: "Aw, Mom, this de Sade book ain't porno; it's literature!"). But now it seems the literary elite have turned their backs -- and fronts -- away from the culture's congressional heritage.

The fall publishing season in Paris has seen a rash of books by young writers filled with physical self-loathing and disgust with all things sexual, The Guardian reports. Taking the critical charts by storm are such works as the subtly titled "Meat," by 20-year-old Claire Legendre.

Legendre spins the lighthearted tale of a woman who literally eats one of the more meaty parts of her boyfriend, then grows a similar choice cut of her own. This unusual development brings her no pleasure, however; she "dreams of lacerating this organ with great sweeps of a knife, to kill it and wipe out the pain." Hard on her heels is another tasty tome, "Apology for Meat," which is not, as you might think, a hurried sequel from a chagrined Legendre -- or the first volume of Bill Clinton's presidential memoirs, for that matter -- but is instead a novel by Regis Cinquart, with yet another castrated hero, who gladly cuts off "this dirty little gadget, witness of this derisory thing -- my virility." (Then again, maybe it is Clinton's memoirs.)

Not to be outdone, another young author, Clotilde Escalle, jumps into the fray with "Herbert Ejaculates" (which is not, as you might think, a memoir of the Lyndon Johnson years). Here, Escalle's heroine longs for her mother to gut her with a knife and "search my intestines for the child I used to be."

French oldsters, schooled in the heady pleasures of the free-love Sixties, are puzzled by the rising (if that's the word for it) generation. Learned journals have been packed with earnest punditry, groping for the root of the problem: Is it the post-Cold War collapse of political ideals? Displaced revulsion at the joyless diversions of consumerist society?

Maybe it's just the sight of all those French oldsters, schooled in the heady pleasures of the free-love Sixties, still cavorting around.