Tales of the Absurd in this Mad, Mad World

Democracy and rule of law, or cancel culture: We must choose

The current massive pressure on Gov. Andrew Cuomo illustrates the dire situation in which our culture and our country find themselves.

We have a Constitution and state constitutions and laws that establish how public officials should be selected, and removed. Under the U.S. and state constitutions, they are to be selected by free elections, for a fixed term of years.  Those same constitutions and laws provide for how they may be removed, by impeachment or, in some states like California, by recall referendum.

Ours is not a parliamentary system, as in the United Kingdom, where a prime minister may be removed simply by losing a vote of confidence in, e.g., the House of Commons.  Many believe our system is superior because it guarantees greater stability in government.

There is another way an elected leader may be removed from office, and that is if he or she is convicted of a crime and is sentenced to prison.

The current campaign to force Gov. Andrew Cuomo to resign  may lead to his impeachment, but is not likely to lead to his conviction and imprisonment for a crime.

Instead, he is the latest object of a phenomenon in the United States, and some other places, which seeks to bypass legal and constitutional processes to achieve the immdiate objective of a frenzied mob, often made possible or strengthened through the internet and social media. Non-public and dark forces may be behind some of these campaigns.

In the United States, three different “mobs” have contributed to what is often termed “cancel culture”,  the abuse of power to achieve goals without due process and without following legally-established procedures for determining the truth of allegations, and dtermining appropriate and proportionate sanctions for crimes or infractions that may be found to have occurred.

Due process and the rule of law allow anyone accused of a crime the right to confront witnesses and put on his or her witnesses to help ascertain the truth of an allegation, the right of the accused to speak in his or her defense before a lawfully-constituted body, and to enjoy several other rights.

In criminal matters, perhaps the most important defendant right is the presumption of innocence, until such time as the defendant may be convicted of an alleged crime.

A second is the constitutional protection against prosecution under any <em>ex post facto</em> laws, that is, one may not be prosecuted for actions or relationship that were not illegal before passage of a subsequent law.

A third protection is provided for, in both civil snd criminal matters, through statutes of limitations.  In criminal matters, these statutes seek to protect defendants against claims or allegations that are too old for reliable witness testimony to be given.  Human memories are notoriously unreliable.  These statutes require allegations and charges to be brought before the court while memories of witnesses, both for and against the defendent, are still fresh and undistorted by the passage of time.

These defendant’s rights are all based on the fundamental premise that illegal conduct must be specifically defined, as well as the potential penalties to which a defendant may be condemned if found guilty.

Do not heed pronouncements such as one heard on TV this morning:  “I believe in due process, but Gov. Cuomo should resign, and should have already resigned some time ago.”

The rising crescendo of demands that Gov. Cuomo resign is directly related to the development of so-called “cancel culture” in the United States.

This “cancel culture” is a mob culture, which appears to be the product of a combination of mob cultures that have developed, usually in comjunction with mobilization efforts facilitated by social media and the internet.

There are three or four components of this mob-action cancel culture.

The first has been the “Me-Too Movement”, whereby men have been denounced and forced to resign on the basis of an accumulation of allegations of “sexual misconduct’.  In the process, the critical distinction between predatory sexual conduct–the coercion of a woman by a man to engage in sexual intercourse or other <strong>sexual conduct</strong> and sexually inappropriate conduct (measured by contemporary standards), such as touching or verbal conduct, has frequently been lost.

In particular, elements of what has become known as a sexually hostile workplace (civilly prohibited under Title IX of the Civil Rights Act) have become conflated with actions such as sexual coercion by a superior of a woman under a man’s authority.

There has also been a conflation of the penalties the mob seeks to impose.

The case of Senator Al Franken (D-Minnsota) is quite instructive on this point. Essentially, he was subjected to extreme pressures to resign by the “Me-Too” Movement, led by New York Senator Kirsten Gillebrand (Dem-NY), because he engaged in part of a skit both he and the alleged victim had performed before USO audiences on previous occasions. Before becoming a Senator, Franken was a comedian. He obviously was clowning around. Perhaps inappropriately, as the alleged victim was asleep.

Ceding to these pressures, and probably those on his family in particular, Sen. Al Franken resigned. As a result, the Democrats lost one of their best U.S. Senators, who had been caustic in his criticism of Donald Trump.

A second component of the mob culture has been the development of the anti-racist mob, which has demanded that statues be removed, university schools and buildings renamed, and anything they perceive as racist be immediately changed. The mib aspect is related to the demand for immediate action, outside of legal processes.

A third component of the “cancel culture” mob that has developed has been the development of the free speech censorship mob. This mob, whose origins lie in universities and colleges, gets excised over speech or books that they consider politically incorrect. Recent examples include the decision by the publishers of the Dr. Seuss books of publication of six books because they allegedly contained racist stereotypes, such as a drawing of a Chinese man with a horizontal brush stroke for the eyes. Amazon has just announced that it will not sell books that deal with reprogramming LGTBQ persons.

What it all amounts to is censorship.

Obviously, this is not the occasion to examine in greater detail the antiracist mob and the censorship mob.

Suffice it to say, we have a system of constitutions and laws. Officials are elected for fixed terms. They should not be hounded from office because of a crescendo of allegations which, unexamined in the proper legal setting and proceeding, in essence amounts to mob action.

Legal processes should be observed.

The decisions of voters should be respected.

Officials should not be hounded from office by an avalanche of allegations and mob demands for resignation.

Charges should be fully vetted by appropriate authorities.

If misconduct is found to have occrred, sanctions proportionate to the offense should be considered, In the case of Gov. Cuomo, impeachment, censure, and defeat at the ballot box would be appropriate remedies if he is guilty as charged.

The Moderator of the Absurd

Race as a critical qualification for translation of Amanda Gorman Inauguration poem

Race is not a scientific concept. But as black activists move from the goal of “equal opportunity” to the goal of “equal results”, “race” is increasingly taken into consideration in the most unexpected of places. Here, a highly qualified translator from English to Catalán (a regional language spoken in Spain), has been hired and then replaced–after he translated the poem!–because he was white and didn’t fit the racial profile for such a translator. This occurred, presumably, after pressures were brought to bear on the publisher.

Translator Victor Obiols told AFP on Wednesday that Univers had commissioned him last month to translate Gorman’s work into Catalan, a language spoken in Spain and Andorra. After he completed the job, the publishing house informed him he “was not the right person,” he said.

“They told me that I am not suitable to translate it,” Obiols told AFP. “They did not question my abilities, but they were looking for a different profile, which had to be a woman, young, activist and preferably Black.”


Miriam Berger, “White translator removed from Amanda Gorman poem, amid controversy in Europe,” Washington Post, March 11, 2021(01:00 p.m. EST).

Obiols, while admitting the subject was complicated and should not be treated “with frivolity”, observed in his own defense the following:

i(I)f I cannot translate a poet because she is a woman, young, Black, an American of the 21st century, neither can I translate Homer because I am not a Greek of the eighth century BC. Or could not have translated Shakespeare because I am not a 16th-century Englishman.” I cannot translate a poet because she is a woman, young, Black, an American of the 21st century, neither can I translate Homer because I am not a Greek of the eighth century BC. Or could not have translated Shakespeare because I am not a 16th-century Englishman.”

Berger also reports in her article that,

Earlier this month, an author quit a job translating Gorman’s poem into Dutch following objections to their appointment by Dutch publisher Meulenhoff because they were not Black.

For a particularly caustic and insightful commentary on these developments, see

Deniz Yücel, “Nur für People of Color,” Die Welt, den 12. März 2021.

The Moderator of the Absurd

Sexual harrassment hysteria and mob justice: Garrison Keillor and Al Franken denied due process

Amid the current hysteria over allegations of sexual abuse of women by men, Garrison Keillor, the long-time host of Prairie Home Companion and until this week of The Writer’s Almanac, had the temerity to write the following in regard to allegations against Senator Al Franken (D-Minnesota):

The greatest absurdity of our time is You Know Whom, which goes without saying but I will anyway. What his election showed is that a considerable number of people, in order to demonstrate their frustration with the world as it is, are willing to drive their car, with their children in the back seat, over a cliff, smash the radiator, bust an axle and walk away feeling good about themselves.

And then there is Sen. Al Franken. He did USO tours overseas when he was in the comedy biz. He did it from deep in his heart, out of patriotism, and the show he did was broad comedy of a sort that goes back to the Middle Ages. Shakespeare used those jokes now and then, and so did Bob Hope and Joey Heatherton when they entertained the troops. If you thought that Al stood outdoors at bases in Iraq and Afghanistan and told stories about small-town life in the Midwest, you were wrong. On the flight home, in a spirit of low comedy, Al ogled Miss Tweeden and pretended to grab her and a picture was taken. Eleven years later, a talk show host in LA, she goes public, and there is talk of resignation. This is pure absurdity, and the atrocity it leads to is a code of public deadliness. No kidding.

–Garrison Keillor (Op-ed) “Al Franken should resign? That’s absurd,” Washington Post, November 28, 2017.

Following this expression of his opinion, in an op-ed column, Minnesota Public Radio cut all ties with Keillor, and even blocked access to the archives of both Prairie Home Companion and The Writer’s Almanac. I, Absurdo, the author of this article, have been an avid listener to The Writer’s Almanac, which provided listeners with a five-minute dose of culture and a poem every morning, a rare event indeed in the vast cultural wasteland of American television and radio. MPR’s statement sought to fudge the point that judgment was apparently passed before an impartial investigation into the allegations had been carried out.

The Washington Post, whose motto is “Democracy Dies in Darkness”, entered into the darkest heart of darkness on November 30, when Fred Hiatt, the Editorial Page Editor, wrote that the Post had ended its Op-ed agreement with Keillor because,

Knowing he was under investigation for his workplace behavior, he should not have written a column on that subject; or, if he was going to write, he should have told his editors and readers that he was under investigation. Instead, he wrote a column defending Sen. Al Franken without any disclosure of his own situation.

In other words, Hiatt asserted that if you are an opinion writer for the Post, if you believe you are the subject of false allegations and want to write in the defense of someone else who you believe may be falsely accused, or simply comment on the absurdity of his or her situation, you are ethically prevented from doing so unless you broadcast to the world the details or a summary of the allegations you believe are false or taken out of context of which you are accused.

Hiatt says nothing about what may be his conflicts of interest, of whose intervention produced such swift and intemperate action on his part. Could someone from the Bezos family have intervened? What process led to Hiatt’s decision? Why did he have to act so swiftly, apparently without giving Keillor an opportunity to defend himself? Moreover, is the Washington Post really going to impose its new restriction of the freedom of speech on opinion writers or on all of its writers? Who will act as the police?

Hiatt’s position is absurd, and the darkness at the Post will contribute to the death of democracy in the United States until his position is reversed, and light is thrown upon the entire process of decision which led to throttling such an eloquent cultural voice and critic of Donald Trump.

Now, the raging hysteria over sexual harrassment of women by men has engulfed Democratic senators who are calling upon Franken to resign. He may do so on Thursday, December 7.

Yet he should not, for he is uniquely situated to act to bring the current wave of hysteria to a halt. He has a unique opportunity to give a civics lesson to Democrats, Republicans, and the nation as a whole. To do so will require great courage, a new profile in courage, to stand against the winds of outrage that threaten to blow him down.

If we believe in due process, Franken should have the right to know the acts of which he is accused, and the identity of his accuser. He should have the right to confront his accuser, and to cross-examine his accuser in order to allow an impartial decision-maker to arrive at the truth.

Moreover, does any proposed punishment fit the offense, or crime if there was one? A fundamental tenet of our legal system is that no one shall be punished for actions that did not constitute a crime prior to their occurrence (nulla poena sine legge–“No penalty without a law”).

The Constitution provides for the election of a U.S. senator to a six-year term of office. It does not provide that he may be hounded from office by other senators caught up in a wave of hysteria without the benefit of a fair hearing and due process of law. Indeed, the Constitution confers the right on the citizens of Minnesota to elect their Senator, and no extra-constitutional procedure not based on due process should be allowed to replace their opinions expressed at the ballot box.

What should happen is that Franken should not resign because of  these unproven allegations. Rather, they should be investigated instead of being taken as true and at face value. Memories are colored by emotion and time. Both sides and the context in which alleged behavior took place should be taken into account. Serious consideration must be given to the nature of the alleged behavior, and if Franken is found to be responsible, with inadmissible intent, then he should definitely be held accountable. That can happen through an investigation and recommendation by the Senate Ethics Committee, or a special committee can be established for that purpose.

Franken should stand his ground pending an investigation in order to break the fury of the hysteria that is whipping through the country. Why the rush to judgment, if not to maintain the hysteria of the mob?

Why have the Democrats formed a circular firing squad over this issue?

Donald Trump and Steve Bannon will be laughing all the way to the polls. Trump brags of kissing women without their permission and grabbing their p____y, but suffers no consequences. Roy Moore is running neck and neck with the Democrat in the Senate race in Alabama, and may indeed win. Meanwhile, Democratic leaders fall by the wayside. No one asks who might be orchestrating the hysteria, which seems to weaken trust in the media while taking down leading critics of Trump. Could the Russians be whipping up emotions on the two sides? Who is orchestrating these campaigns? What role is social media playing?

The pay-off for Trump and Bannon is twofold. Not only do they see the media and the Democrats weakened, but by opposing the hysteria of the Democrats they play to their base in opposing what they characterize as extreme political correctness on the other side.

The arguments set forth above represent a simple call to reason. Men who are found, after a fair process of inquiry, to be guilty of alleged behavior which is illegal or offensive, should be held to account. But the “crimes” or offensive behavior they have committed must be articulated, and if they are punished the punishment should fit the crime or the offense.

That is, after all, why we have a legal system and norms requiring a fair process of inquiry, and judgment by an impartial decision-maker. This is simply due process and the rule of law. We would be fooling ourselves if we thought the legal system can be bypassed on this single issue, and could not be bypassed by Trump and his supporters on another.

See A Man for All Seasons (1966):

William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
William Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!
–Attributed to Sir Thomas Moore, in the film A Man for All Seasons (1966)

Let’s take time to sort all of this out. To do so, let us stop the mob at the jailhouse door, and avoid the excesses of mob justice such as those that were committed in the French Revolution, during the Red Scare in 1919-1920, by the Klu Klux Klan in the South, and during the McCarthy period in the early 1950’s.


Police Reportedly Kill Man to Prevent His Suicide

“Our goal was to try to get in there and provide assistance to what we believed was a life-endangering situation,” Lopez said. “He was, from what we gathered, attempting suicide.”

San Jose police have apparently stopped a man from committing suicide by killing him.

The San Jose Mercury News reported as follows:

San Jose police shot and killed a 42-year-old man who police said was wielding a 10-inch knife in an apartment building in South San Jose on Sunday morning.

Police were responding to a 9:16 a.m. call from the man’s estranged wife, who reported that he had shot himself with a nail gun, said Sgt. Ronnie Lopez. After making numerous attempts for 30 to 45 minutes to talk to the man but getting no response at the door, officers forced their way into his apartment in the 5000 block of Wong Court.

They found the man holding a knife, with a nail gun nearby.

When asked whether the man was moving toward the officers and was a threat to their safety, Lopez described him as “armed and confrontational.” Three officers fired approximately six shots at the man, who was pronounced dead at the scene.

“Our goal was to try to get in there and provide assistance to what we believed was a life-endangering situation,” Lopez said. “He was, from what we gathered, attempting suicide.”

–Mike Swift and Sharon Noguchi, “San Jose police kill 42-year-old man wielding knife,” San Jose Mercury News, August 30, 2010 (print edition)

The victim’s estranged wife was not at the scene, and there was no allegation of domestic dispute or threat to her. Neighbors said the man was a butcher.

Whether the police were legally justified in putting six bullets into the potential suicide victim is under investigation. “We just have to meticulously go through this,” Lopez said.

–Contributed by Absurdo

e-mail: absurdo@absurdarama.com


We are looking for contributions from readers of tales of the absurd in this mad, mad world. 

There is so much crazy stuff going on out there, reported or not reported, on television, radio, in newspapers, on news sites and elsewhere on the web.  We want to thow a spotlight on the best of the absurd, collect it, notice it, comment on it, and laugh.  Because if we don’t laugh at it we are going to have to cry.

So please contribute your stories about the wild and crazy things that governments, newscasters, and anyone else are saying, or doing. Something so absurd that it makes you laugh. Something that tickles your funny bone, something that will help others laugh even though they know it is so absurd that if they didn’t laugh they would have to cry.

Please come on in, to the Theater of the Absurd.  Entries are open.

The Moderator of the Absurd

e-mail: moderator@absurdarama.com