Current Event Friday #84

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but some aren’t sure what they’re beholding

“Who are the ad wizards who came up with this one?” While this line evokes memories of a Saturday Night Live game show skit featuring Adam Sandler, it’s fitting for news of a new concept vehicle being released this week. The reactions to the vehicle are today’s #CurrentEventFriday.

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Tesla’s new Cybertruck

Known for their technological endeavors and futuristic pursuits, Tesla revealed their new concept of a pickup truck. Their other models including the Roadster are trendy vehicles that those with money are willing to purchase. Even the SpaceX program promoted by Tesla’s founder and spokesman Elon Musk are popular among techies. However, the Cybertruck drew negative attention for its odd shape and features.

While the coupe and sedan models are sleek and utilize flowing curves, the Cybertruck is angular and features sharp lines and resembles the efforts of young boy’s drawing of a truck. When antique cars began featuring flowing curves as a break from the angular and boxy look, they eventually became a standard for several decades of older models.

So, it’s possible the Cybertruck inspires other automakers to follow the look, the unbreakable windows might give some consumers pause. Musk invited an audience member to damage the vehicle to prove its toughness, while the body survived the windows were not as lucky. Although the windows didn’t completely break, they did resemble a dropped cell-phone screen.

For what it’s worth, Elon Musk claims that several thousand orders have already been placed for the Cybertruck. If that’s true, more power to them. Obviously, Tesla is a known brand and its devotees are going to be inclined to purchase whatever the company rolls out.

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Powell Motors’ Homer

Admittedly, when I saw the news about the Cybertruck it was hard not to be reminded of the Homer model created by Powell Motors on The Simpsons. Yet, its creator was cobbling together random qualities and features with no thought of how they should work together. Elon Musk and his staff have some intelligence when assembling the Cybertruck and considered what materials and features work together.

Would you buy a Cybertruck?

Poetry Wednesday 79

Everyone gets the “Jukebox Blues” a time or two

“Jukebox Blues”

Choices, choices, so many songs to choose from

Drop a roll of coins in the slot, pick my favorite album

You had my number every time, but played me like that jukebox

Slap a fiver on the bar, knock back some Jack on the rocks


Spending my days like quarters, nickels, and dimes

Rejoicing in the former days, for the good and the bad, all the past times

Happy to listen to country or that old-time rock ‘n’ roll

Music speaks deeply into my soul


Left my stupor at home and sat myself up on the bar stool

Don’t want to hear our song any more

If only I could remove C-34

That’s silly of course, an errand fit only for a fool

Finding the best choice, maybe it’s about loss, or maybe about love, it’ll be the right song

Enjoying the lyrics and tune, singing them over and over all night long

© Ryan Stroud 2019

History Monday #80

Una catástrofe en el Mar Caribe provoca una batalla de custodia internacional.

¡Patria o Muerte, Venceremos! For one family, the choice between the two options gained literal and historical significance. If you’re not a hispanohablante, the motto of Cuba translates in English as “Homeland or Death, We Will Overcome.” Today’s #HistoryMonday deals with consequences of choosing a homeland over death and who overcame.

Photo Brief History: Elian Gonzalez anniversary
Elián González

Twenty years ago, on this date in 1999 three Cuban refugees were rescued by fishermen off the coast of Florida. Fourteen Cubans had departed Cárdenas, Cuba in a boat four days earlier to escape the oppressive rule of the Communists in the Caribbean island. The boat’s engine failed shortly after departure and the fleeing party lingered in the water for several days being bombarded by the elements and a storm before eleven of them perished.

Among the trio rescued by the fisherman was a 5-year-old named Elián González. The young boy’s mother had taken the boy against his father’s wishes when they departed on Nov. 21. Sadly, the mother Elizabeth Brotons Rodríguez was among the passengers that perished in the journey.

González’s mother along the many others fleeing hoped to take advantage of The Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966. The act provided an incentive for Cuban refugees to petition for asylum provided they made landfall in the states. This policy termed Wet Foot/Dry Foot offered several thousand visas to Cubans fleeing their homeland and its Communist regime if they could hopefully set foot in the United States. Any refugees recovered in the waters were to be returned to Cuba.

The fisherman who recovered Elián González and the other two survivors turned them over to the U.S. Coast Guard which began a process that kept Americans and Cubans enthralled by the media reports of what was playing out. After the U.S. Coast Guard treated Elián, they turned him over to Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) who released Elián to his great-uncle, Lázaro Gonzalez, a resident of Miami’s Cuban expat community, pending an asylum hearing.

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Although Elián had relatives in Miami, who were excited and willing to care for the boy, his father demanded his return. Given that Elián was unable to set foot on U.S. soil, he should have been returned to Cuba based on the U.S. policy of Wet Foot/Dry Foot.

The U.S. family members applied for asylum for Elián in hopes that he could eventually become a U.S. citizen. The claim for asylum was first heard by a U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Florida who ruled the father was the only person who could petition for asylum on the boy’s behalf, the U.S. relatives appealed to 11th Circuit Court of Appeals who awaited the Miami relatives to appeal the asylum claim in May of 2000.

An INS agent removes Elián González from family members in the U.S. to reunite the boy with his father

While the legal process and Elián’s time in the U.S. was watched with awe and curiosity, the means by which Elián was removed from the Miami house drew shock and criticism.  Nearly six months to the day from Elián’s retrieval, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno ordered federal agents to recover Elián with force and eventually returned him with his father at Andrews Air Force Base a few hours later.

Eventually the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the district court’s ruling. The Miami relatives asked the Supreme Court to hear the case, but the Supreme Court declined to hear the case in June 2000. As the Miami relatives had exhausted the legal process by that point Elián and his father returned to Cuba.

Elián became a figurehead for both Cuban-American expats and the Cuban government. Cuban refugees and their descendants claimed Elián wanted to be in the United States and enjoy its freedoms while Fidel Castro and the Cuban authorities argued that Elián was abducted by the mother and being illegally held by his American relatives.

Elián has stated in more recent interviews that he saw Fidel Castro as a great man and like a father to him. He also added that his familia Americana had pressured him to believe that his father was a bad person and that he shouldn’t want to return to his homeland. Elián has since refuted most of the Miami family’s claims.

Following Andy Warhol’s claims, Elián González that everyone would have fifteen minutes of fame, the boy eventually returned to a normal life in Cuba and graduated from the University of Matanzas in July 2016, receiving a degree in industrial engineering and gave a speech recognizing Fidel Castro and the Cuban President’s revolutionary efforts.

The story inspired two films, the first a made-for-television entry in 2000 titled A Family in Crisis: The Elian Gonzales Story, starring Esai Morales as Elián’s father and Alec Roberts in the title role. More recently, Elián was released as a documentary in 2017, and features exclusive interviews with Elián González and his family in both Cuba and Miami while being narrated by Raul Esparza.

Elián’s story brought Cuban-U.S. relations to the fore after several decades of dormancy following the initial concerns in the sixties after Castro’s Communist Revolution of 1959. Of course, the same focus on the two countries was restarted in the last few years as Pres. Obama loosened restrictions against Cuba and ultimately with Fidel Castro’s resignation as President and eventual death.

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A chug-boat assembled by Cuban refugees attempting to escape to the United States 

From the 1959 Revolution and escapes from the island by political dissidents, Americans have admired the resourcefulness and desperation of the refugees. Media portraying the crafts assembled to aid in the escape are well-known. Even during my vacation in Key West, a mere ninety miles from Cuba the local botanical gardens feature an installation of recovered chug boats that visitors can see in person rather than just by photos. Some of these boats are amazing what was cobbled together by refugees like Elián and the dozen others escaping the island.

Should Elián González have been returned to Cuba?  

Current Event Friday #83

Just because an actress is popular doesn’t mean she’s qualified for an important role

“It was so long ago. No one is going to know the difference.” Thankfully, screenwriters and other executives challenged this short-sighted assumption in a recent box office film. The potential mistake and the outrage that has followed as news broke about the casting is today’s #CurrentEventFriday.

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Many moviegoers have recently seen Harriet a biopic about noted abolitionist Harriet Tubman. If a studio head had his way in the preliminary stages of the film, Julia Roberts could have played the titular role. Yes, you read that right, Julia Roberts of Pretty Woman fame who is in no way African-American could have played the part of Harriet Tubman.

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One of these is not like the other. Can you spot the difference?

The odd choice of Julia Roberts first was presented to the film’s screenwriter over two decades earlier when the film was still being marketed to various studios. Gregory Allen Howard, who wrote the screenplay didn’t mention the studio head by name, so it’s left for speculation.

Admittedly, I’m critical of casting directors choosing actors to play parts for the sake of gender equivalence like the recent Captain Marvel and Ghostbusters films.  Other woke choices have suggested that characters need to become LGBTQ+ in order to represent the population when the characters are not necessarily dependent or known for those sexual identities, the most notable choice has been to make Captain America gay.

Casting actors in roles of historical figures even though they don’t always bear a close resemblance can happen and the actors tend to play the essence of the real-life person rather than trying to physically resemble the person. Robin Williams’ portrayal as Pres. Teddy Roosevelt in the Night at the Museum franchise is one such example of an actor portraying the essence of the character rather than resembling him. Obviously, the studio head thought Julia Roberts could play the essence of Harriet Tubman and the audience would suspend disbelief that a white person was playing an African-American. Audiences are willing to suspend disbelief to some degree, but this instance would’ve been a stretch. Thankfully, the studio head didn’t suggest Julia Roberts play the part in blackface which would have been even more inappropriate.

Notwithstanding this surprising news about the film, Harriet seems like a film worth watching in theaters. Several on my timeline have praised the film for its portrayal of an important abolitionist and Underground Railroad conductor. If you’re interested in a film featuring a well-known and beloved actor portraying a real-life figure in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood which opens in theaters today. This film stars Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers of Mister Roger’s Neighborhood fame. With Thanksgiving break coming up, a movie outing sounds like a fun idea.

What are some dumb/strange casting choices that you’d like to recast?

Poetry Wednesday 78

When the weather turns cold and gloomy I’m ready to be “Here, There, Anywhere”

“Here, There, Anywhere”

Sand, saltwater beach

Tropical drink in my hand

Ocean time is nearby


Mountain views abound

Wine, ‘shine on a fruited plane

Hike along the trail


Time away from here

Relaxation and rest

Vacation needed

© Ryan Stroud 2019

History Monday #79

Can the Church’s power trump the state’s?

America as a nation celebrates the important idea of Separation of Church and State. Congress is forbidden from establishing a national religion or interfering with any private practice thereof. This radical idea would likely ruffle some important feathers in one of the principal actors in today’s #HistoryMonday.

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On this day in 1302, Pope Boniface VIII issues the papal bull known as Unam sanctam. For reference a papal bull is not a bovine that the Pope releases to terrorize opponents. The word bull refers to a clay seal on a letter and is connected to the Latin word ‘bulla’ which means ‘bubble’ since the seals were usually round blobs. Although the Pope sending wild cattle to intimidate opponents might have more effect if not more entertaining.

Anyways, back to Unam sanctam and its historical significance. Pope Boniface VIII was embroiled in a Philip IV, the King of France over monetary obligations to the church or the state. King Philip in 1296 had ordered clergy serving in France to pay taxes at about 50% of their income in response to Boniface’s ambassadors insisting on the importance of following Church law. Boniface issued a papal bull Clericos laicos in response which effectively denied King Philip’s unfair taxes on clergy and any other clergy taxes, such as King Edward I, of England. Government agents including royalty faced excommunication for levying such taxes.

The Catholic Church was fine with collecting their own taxes to pay for Holy Land travels and building projects but saw their own power as superior to the national leaders who were appointed to serve by the Pope. Philip then responded by enacting an embargo to prevent goods being delivered to the Papal States to bring pressure to bear on Boniface.

Unam sanctam is named for a portion its opening line, “We are obliged by the faith to believe and hold—and we do firmly believe and sincerely confess—that there is one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, and that outside this Church there is neither salvation nor remission of sins…. In which Church there is ‘one Lord, one faith, one baptism.’” The line in Latin, “est unam Sanctam Catholicam et Apostolicam Ecclesiam” can easily be parsed by using cognates in the English. Boniface makes a further assertion in Unam sanctam that there are two swords to be used by the Church, the spiritual and the temporal. Obviously, the spiritual is the Church contending against false doctrine to preserve the true Gospel while the temporal are the princes, kings, and rulers that the Church permits to enforce non-church matters in consultation with the head of the Church which is the Pope.

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Obviously, Unam sanctam would have pushback during the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther encouraged the Prince of Saxony to refuse the Pope in 1517 after addressing issues with papal authority and misuse of Church funds in his Ninety-five Theses.

Prior to the Reformation, the immediate aftermath of Unam sanctam was felt by Boniface at the hands of King Philip. John of Paris was asked by Philip to refute the bull with his own criticisms. Boniface then excommunicated King Philip.

Following this back and forth, King Philip convened an assembly and alleged several crimes that Boniface was guilty of committing such as heresy, murder of Pope Celestine V, and magic.  Guillaume de Nogaret, an advisor to Philip with an army of mercenaries attacked the papal residence. Once inside, the ruffians apprehended Boniface, but spared his life because they decided episcopicide crossed some line. Sadly, Boniface succumbed to the injuries by King Philip’s forces about a month later.

Boniface and Unam sanctam was seen as problematic not just by King Philip. Dante Alighieri penned an article arguing that both the Pope and the Monarch are only humans who are empowered by God to serve in their capacities. Ultimately, God should decide how to use the swords not two fallible and mortal human beings. Dante also included Boniface in Inferno and doomed Boniface to the eighth level of Hell for simony, the act of selling church offices or roles. King Philip would also encourage Pope Clement V to conduct a posthumous trial of Boniface. The council leading the trial accepted the testimony of three cardinals as to Boniface’s innocence and declared the matter closed.

The fact that King Philip is also known as Philip the Fair should not be lost on anyone for the rich irony of attacking a Pope, likely leading to his death and then trying him for crimes against the Church. Essentially what would be seen now as a playground squabble had serious effects because each actor ratcheted up the tension, with Boniface declaring Philip as having lost salvation while Philip declared the Pope was a corrupt heretic.

While this might get missed in modern times, since we have realized the lunacy of the battle between church and state, the idea of the distinguishing features of the church persist. The Church is one or united because we share one faith, one mission, one hope, and one Lord. We are united in at least two of the sacraments whether Roman Catholic or Protestant. We are also holy because we are to be set apart from the world to accomplish the goodness and purpose of God. We are catholic because we exist as a body of believers universally for all people, at all times, in all places. Lastly, we are apostolic because we follow the authority of the apostles. This authority was then handed on from bishop to bishop.  This tradition was preserved, taught, and handed on by the apostles—an unbroken chain of succession. Similar language is still confessed even today with the Apostles’ Creed, but more especially with the Nicene Creed.

[For what it’s worth, trying to write seriously about this was somewhat of a challenge because I read this with a focus on the more humorous aspects of this story. As I first read Unam sanctam during my continuing education classes, another pastoral colleague and I jokingly referred to the Pope as Boney-face and of course Phil for the King. By applying diminutive nicknames to each person, it helps to process the information and remember it more easily.]

Do you recite the Apostles’ Creed or Nicene Creed at church on a regular basis?

Current Event Friday #82

Be careful to avoid the crime of Grand Theft Baseball

NASCAR lore promotes the phrase “If you ain’t cheatin’ you ain’t tryin’” That saying could easily apply to other sports and as news broke this week, the sport now in offseason mode could see some making similar claims about their game. The alleged culprits and the outrage is today’s #CurrentEventFriday.

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World Series Runners-up the Houston Astros were alleged to have used cameras in the batter’s eye in centerfield to steal signs from their opponents this season. Already found to have been caught a few years ago for similar circumstances, their previous offseason success is now in question.

Experts have evaluated the statistics for the 2019 season and shown that the Astros success at home this year is vastly better than road appearances. Call me skeptical, but if that was true the Astros should’ve won the World Series easily this season since they had home field advantage but were swept at home in the World Series. So, I have my doubts.

Regardless of the accusations being true or not the Astros can’t be the only team trying to steal signs. Every team is trying to determine the pitch that’s being thrown at any time. The entire goal of the batter is trying to guess the pitch and the location being thrown. So, how is it wrong for coaches to do the same. Stealing signs is roughly equivalent to a scouting report. I know the idea of communicating the signs to the players is the issue, but the ability to judge the pitch type, speed, and location is determined by the batter in less than 10 seconds. Even knowing the pitch ahead of time doesn’t guarantee a hit or runs produced. So, I don’t have a problem with a team scouting the competition. Back to NASCAR wisdom, this from Darrell Waltrip, “If you don’t cheat, you look like an idiot; if you cheat and don’t get caught, you look like a hero; if you cheat and get caught, you look like a dope. Put me where I belong.”

If teams want to prevent signs from being stolen, pick new signs that teams don’t already know. If you’re being outsmarted by another team with your pitch selection, outsmart them with new signals. Even if by accident, some pitchers will reveal their pitches and ‘tip’ the pitch to the batter. Catchers and coaches have already worked to prevent pitch tipping by covering their mouths with their mitts during mound visits. Worth noting, catchers might do well to avoid painting their nails so pitchers can more easily see because that same visibility extends to eagle-eyed opponents trying to figure out what the sign is.

A possible solution is borrowing technology from NFL. Why not have a pitching coordinator in the press box or bullpen with a headset connected to the pitcher and catchers who are fitted with an earpiece? The pitcher and catcher agree on the selection called by the pitching coordinator and throw the agreed upon pitch. Sure, there’s potential for problems with this, but make sure the umpires or another MLB official maintains custody of the electronics before, during, and after the games.

Is it wrong to ‘steal’ signs of an opposing team?