It's hard for a social commentator to keep up with all of the legal, moral and political lessons offered up by the still-unfolding Dominique Strauss-Kahn sex mess. But the most important is this: Don't rush to judgment.
That's not easy. We live in an impatient age, bristling with heat-seeking media and audiences that are hungry for fast justice before their restless attention spans switch to the next topic.
In the case of the former International Monetary Fund chief, our public sympathies took a big enough switcheroo from condemnation to exoneration to give us ethical whiplash.
Not since Shirley Sherrod a year ago have we seen such a flip-flop. The Georgia-based agriculture official, wrongly accused of giving a racist speech, was forced to resign via her Blackberry last July, only to be offered her job back with public apologies the next day -- plus a personal phone call from President Obama.
It's not wise to rush to judgment, although police and prosecutors, as with presidential administrations, are constantly pushed to do it.
Strauss-Kahn can only wish that his outcome had been as happily swift and certain as Sherrod's.
Depending on where you walked in on his story, he's either a suspected rapist of an immigrant hotel maid from Africa or a victim of a setup, grievously wronged by a woman with a history of lying and also alleged links to drug traffickers and other crimes, including prostitution.
As the case against him began to fall apart, Strauss-Kahn's political fortunes back home began to look up again. His approval ratings surged, along with talk of his return to national politics, where he had been a leading potential challenger to President Nicolas Sarkozy
But for him, troubling questions remain, either in legal courts or the courts of public opinion, here and in France. His accuser in New York has a terrible record, but that doesn't mean she wasn't raped. She could be telling the truth, but her history of lies to police and immigration officials, plus her questionable associations, makes her a poor prospect for cross-examination by defense attorneys.
The tragedy of this saga, whether she is telling the truth or not, is in how much the high-profile collapse of her case against Strauss-Kahn might discourage other quite-legitimate crime victims from reporting their crimes and pursuing prosecution.
Quite the opposite response is said to have motivated French novelist Tristane Banon, 32, to file a formal complaint against Strauss-Kahn, who she previously said had tried to rape her in his apartment during a book interview in 2003. Strauss-Kahn has countered with a defamation suit against her for making the charge. Can she obtain justice? Can he?
While the French judicial system is deciding those questions, the courts of public opinion there and here debate the issues both cases have raised.
Besides Strauss-Kahn's political future, there is the question of what happens to the issues of sexual harassment and other women's rights, which have surged as a topic of serious national debate in France. It also didn't hurt the rise of eminently qualified Christine Lagarde to replace him as head of the IMF.
More questionable is the future of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. He already had come under fire from critics who said he was losing too many cases even before the Strauss-Kahn debacle came along. This time his office had an excuse for their rush to justice: They needed to arrest Strauss-Kahn onboard an aircraft bound for France where he would be out of their reach.
With no time to wait to fully investigate the background of the witness against him, a rush to judgment was made and Strauss-Kahn received a strong taste of something wealthy French politicians seldom witness: America's justice system as it is experienced by poor folks.