Sex in the USA

January, 1999
When Woody Allen was accused of child molesting, a TV interviewer asked him if he had done it. Instead of answering, Woody pointed out the improbability that if he were going to do such a thing he would have chosen to do it at an unusually inconvenient time in a house full of people (as was alleged). Whether or not Woody is innocent, I think he is smart. If he had responded as the interviewer probably wanted him to, saying, "I would never do that! This is my daughter we're talking about!" he would only have made people think how horrible the alleged crime was, without giving them any reason to think him innocent. And the more horrible the crime, the more guilty the accused. A denial - the most seemingly healthy response - would have hurt him.


"The nonchalance of boys who are sure of a dinner, and would disdain as much as a lord to do or say aught to conciliate one, is the healthy attitude of human nature."


I'm an assistant D.A., a lawyer in other words, and people don't think too highly of us. But let me tell you something: the rest of society doesn't seem, from a lawyer's point of view, to necessarily have its act together either. Maybe it takes a lawyer to get an honest picture of things, without any prettyfication. I mean, we encounter all types from the worst angle. We're presented with every conceivable, or at least every conceived, perversion. Let me just give you an example, and you tell me what you think. A man by the name of Salvatore comes down to the office to talk to us about our case prosecuting Rudey Baker, the young upstanding citizen who sliced that cheerleader to pieces over in Madison last year. Turns out Mr. Salvatore is the girl's father. He wants to know if we can allow him to make a request regarding the sentence we're going to ask for. I tell him we'll be glad to follow his wishes. Those were my exact words, and I wouldn't have said them if I hadn't thought I understood. And I probably shouldn't have said them anyway. But the next thing I know Mr. Salvatore is requesting that we not ask for the death penalty, not ask for the maximum prison time, and recommend for future consideration the reintegration program (which is that newly instituted system wherein criminals, even sometimes violent ones, are given assistance finding employment, but are closely supervised). Now, Mr. Salvatore was dressed like a wealthy man, but you never can tell. It might have been he'd seen a new suit as a reasonable investment. I asked him whether there was anything we could do to assist his family in their time of grief - did they have any financial difficulties, for instance? "No, thank you, but no," he said. And he didn't seem the type to forego justice for an unnecessary little gain. I mean, if he was motivated by the restitution payments Rudey Baker would make once employed, there had to be some sort of crisis he was hiding. If so, he hid it well. "Did you ever meet Baker?" I asked him. He said he hadn't, and asked what I knew about the man.


When they gave me tenure at the university I flew out to Wyoming to give my mother the good news face to face. I knew she'd appreciate that, and it had been a while, quite a while in fact, since I'd seen her. It was not the easiest time for such a trip. My new book was just coming out, with all the last-minute changes and all the obligations that involves. But I was able to grade student papers on the plane. And I needed the change of scene. Even my familiar boyhood home constituted a significant change of scene at that moment, and not at all an unpleasant one.


Talking in words about architecture is one of the most difficult activities I am aware of. Everyday talk along the lines of "Meet me in front of the yellow building on the corner," is not too hard. Nor is commentary on a single building along the lines of "I like that one," "It's top-heavy," "It's joyful," "It looks cheap," "Why couldn't they have used darker bricks?" But comparisons of buildings, descriptions of styles, definitions of trends, tracings of historical origins, analyses of popular tastes: all of this is next to impossible. Granted, it goes on all the time. That is neither here nor there. It remains an absurdly limited and stunted activity in comparison with silently designing another building. That is how one speaks to the architectural tradition. Imagine the limitations if forced to comment on the history of the novel by designing a fire station. That difficulty seems to me to pale beside the difficulty of commenting on architecture in words. Everything one says turns out so extremely far from complete! Infinitesimal scratches on the surface.

Derrida, Freud's Grandson, and My Dog

Tag: About David Swanson

Sometimes my dog plays a game. It's the first game he taught himself, and he plays it with all his toys. He'll hold a toy in his mouth and run in frantic circles, and then toss the toy over his head. It'll take him a long time to stop running and calm down. When he does he'll begin sniffing for the toy, sniffing and not looking, for he won't see the thing even if it's right in front of him. He'll sniff worriedly. But when he spots the toy, he'll grab it up in his teeth and prance off happily, perhaps start again. What if I were to tell you that this clearly proves that my dog misses his mother?

Sisyphus's Blues

Tag: About David Swanson

Good Morning, Blues.

How do you do?

I'm doing all right.

Good Morning. How are you?


Tag: About David Swanson

A high school teacher took his students to a museum where, among other things, they were to go into a particular room, one at a time, and select a great painting which they would tell the teacher about immediately upon leaving the room by the other door. One student reported that he had been unable to find "a great painting" in the room at all. Most of the others, on the contrary, reported having had a difficult time deciding which of the great paintings to talk about. Strangely enough, a large percentage of them chose to talk about a painting of a couple of shoes. The high school teacher knew, though many of the students did not, that this was a famous work by one of the more famous painters represented in the room, if not perhaps the most highly regarded of the lot. And thus, though the teacher himself could see little of exceptional merit in a picture of what he took to be a pair of old shoes like those his grandfather might have worn, he suspected that the students were catching something that he was missing. (This sort of respect for the students had long endeared him to them, and they spoke to him honestly.)


Tag: About David Swanson

January, 1999

We cruelly abuse those convicted of crimes. Some who are convicted protest their innocence. Some of these are later found to have been telling the truth. Others plead guilty in plea bargains despite being innocent. This eases our consciences, but does not necessarily promote justice.

Utilitarianist Ethics

Tag: About David Swanson

This paper has benefited from the complaints, exclamations, objections, and obscenities of posters to rec.arts.books and alt.postmodern.

Working Toward Good Results

I suspect that most Westerners at the end of the twentieth century would subscribe to the idea that when you do something, it's a good idea to consider what the results of your action will be. That is, if without mentioning "ethics" or "morality" you ask someone "Do you think it's a good idea, when you do something, to consider what the results of your action will be?" you will probably get an affirmative response. The question allows for our famous postmodern "apathy" in not specifying that you need ever be doing anything. The question is only about how you should behave if you do happen to do something. Of course, in ethics, doing nothing is as significant an action as any other (and "non-actions" is a concept I will criticize below), but here we are not talking about ethics. We are being intentionally vague. Some people may reply in the negative, saying that they prefer to be surprised by results, for example. And, given our vagueness, who could blame them? But I suspect that negative responses will be a distinct minority, and that only a very small minority of these will take the form of denying the relevance of results to the goodness of an action on the grounds that something else entirely determines that goodness.

World Beyond War

War Is A Crime

Talk Nation Radio

There Is No Way To Peace

Peace is the way.

This site is maintained by a union shop at