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Cruel and unusual punishment in our prisons

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I could not help but recall the quotation attributed to Fyodor Dostoevsky that "the degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons" when I saw the story of the Supreme Court's ruling on prison in California. Thank God for Justice Kennedy. How sad that the four least compassionate U. S. Supreme Court justices are Catholics.

Here's the Times report of the ruling:

Conditions in California’s overcrowded prisons are so bad that they violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday, ordering the state to reduce its prison population by more than 30,000 inmates.

Burglar led Into temptation by Catholics, tattoos

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What reads like a page out of a William Kennedy novel is actually a true story out of Brooklyn, written by a Michael Wilson for the Crime Scene section of The New York Times:

While politics is usually the matchmaker in these things, this time it had nothing to do with the strange bedfellows found at “The Beach.” On one side is a club of middle-aged and elderly Roman Catholic men, and on the other is a tattoo parlor that uses crucifixes in lieu of the t’s in its name. The mysterious stranger who brought them together: a deft burglar.

Alzheimer's and the fear of forgetting

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In the last few years of his life, my father dove deeply into a world of crossword puzzles, jumbles, and Scrabble. These were "mind exercises," he said, built to hold off the thing he feared most: forgetting.

Just a couple of months before he passed away, he called my mother desperately from his cell-phone. He'd pulled his car off to the side of the road, didn't quite know where he was, and couldn't remember the way home. That moment plunged him into a bout of depression and despair.

Archdiocese of Chicago reinstates suspended priest Fr. Michael Pfleger

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It's good to see that Cardinal Francis George and Fr. Michael Pfleger are beginning to sort our their relationship in a more respectful and wise manner.

According to the Associated Press:

The Archdiocese of Chicago has reinstated the priestly duties of the Rev. Michael Pfleger, the outspoken pastor suspended last month due to a disagreement over a proposed transfer from his South Side church.

Rest in peace, Robert Talib Douglas

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My friend Robert Talib Douglas, an inmate on death row in Pennsylvania, died last Friday without realizing what he spent much of his life fighting for -- a fair trial.

Ironically, it was not death by electric chair, Pennsylvania's original sentence for him, but pancreatic cancer that killed him. He was 55 years old.

Twenty-eight years ago, Robert was convicted of two crimes committed seven months apart -- the murder of his close friend Donald Knight (Aug. 28, 1980) and the robbery of TV salesman Harry Feldman (March 11, 1981).

The odds were against Robert from the outset. He was a black man with a criminal record from an isolated, crime-ridden community in northern Philadelphia. But in his fight for a fair hearing, he inspired many people, myself included.

The money behind those end times billboards

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For months now, Family Radio has put the "save" in "save the date."

You may be one of the millions of drivers around the world that has passed billboards declaring May 21, 2011, as "Judgment Day." I saw my first billboard on the Connecticut Turnpike, along a stretch of road that is traditionally home to wealthy, WASPy types. I was convinced that Greenwich had gone fundy, until I saw my next billboard planted in the middle of a bohemian enclave in Brooklyn.

But it's not only U.S. highways that are littered with these doomsday predictions. Billboards have popped up in places as far away as China, Dubai and Jamaica.

On this day: Alcuin of York

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On this day we celebrate the feast of St. Alcuin.

"Alcuin was an Englishman from York, born into a noble family about 730, and educated by a pupil of Bede. Having become a deacon, he was made head of the cathedral school at York around 770. In 781 he was asked by the Emperor Charlemagne to become his minister of education. . . . Alcuin established scriptoria, dedicated to the copying and preservation of ancient manuscripts, both pagan and Christian. That we have as much as we do of the writings of classical Roman authors is largely due to Alcuin and his scribes. . . . To Alcuin, backed by Charlemagne, belongs much of the credit for the revision and organisation of the Latin liturgy, the preservation of many of the ancient prayers, and the development of plainchant."

-- "Alcuin, Deacon, Scholar, and Abbot of Tours", by James Kiefer.

Morning Briefing

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