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Winter was not made in vain

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Henry David Thoreau was America's most serious student of winter. "Inspector of snowstorms," he jotted down on forms under the "occupation" question. This 19th-century writer and philosopher carefully watched the seasons come and go. He wore out shoe leather rambling through the cold seasons in his native New England. He explored winter at every hour of night and day, always alert to hear what was in the wind, to feel the tang and piquancy of the season and boil down some meaning out of the daily circumstances beyond his doorstep. He painstakingly recorded his observations, impressions and thoughts in his journals.

In one journal entry in 1854 he summarized his winter observations:

"The winter, cold and bound out as it is, is thrown to us like a bone to a famishing dog, and we are expected to get the marrow out of it ... We must thaw its cold with our genialness. We are tasked to find out and appropriate all the nutriments it yields. If it is a cold and hard season, its fruit, no doubt, is the more concentrated and nutty ... The seasons were not made in vain."

He maybe took time to warm the tip of his pen in a whale-oil lamp, then added:

The crisis that isn't

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Yesterday's Morning Briefing (a daily feature on this blog) had a link to media release titled New Study Confirms Crisis in Catholic Higher Education. The source of this release is The Cardinal Newman Society, a self-appointed watchdog of Catholic colleges and universities.

The society looked at a study presented to the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU) by researchers at Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) and concluded that attending a Catholic college has minimal impact on a Catholic student’s practice and embrace of the Catholic faith.

But not so fast.

Our Washington correspondent Jerry Filteau was at the recent meeting of the ACCU and he heard the CARA presentation on their study. Filteau reports: Catholic higher education enhances students' Catholic identity.

Kasper blasts media coverage of Vatican rumors

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tI’m on my way to Rome, and to get up to speed I’m reading the Italian press. As usual, the papers feature the latest rumors about behind-the-scenes power struggles in the Vatican, this time resurrecting the now-infamous “Boffo case” which was the great Roman soap opera of last summer.

tIn a nutshell, Dino Boffo was the editor of the newspaper of the Italian bishops’ conference and a well-known figure in Italian Catholicism. He was forced to resign in August after a secular newspaper, edited by a political ally of conservative Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, published rumors suggesting that Boffo had been involved in a homosexual affair. The primary document at the base of those rumors has since been discredited, but that hasn’t stopped enterprising reporters from trying to figure out who leaked it to Boffo’s enemies. The latest reconstruction goes like this: Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, gave the green light; Gian Maria Vian, editor of the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, put things into motion; and the head of Vatican security, Domenico Giani, was the guy who actually passed on the document.

NCR begins its Olympic coverage

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The inevitable pre-Olympic games headline made its appearance today: Winter Olympics on slippery slope after Vancouver crackdown on homeless. The Winter Olympics are schedule for Vancouver, Canada, and the nearby resort of Whistler, Feb. 12-28.

Cleaning out the poor to make room for a showcase event. It is an old, old story.

I first wrote the headline, "Olympics crackdown on homeless," ahead of the 1984 Los Angeles summer games. I remember the lead into the story about how city and games organizers were cleaning up Los Angeles was about a local business -- must have been a wedding clothier -- passing out free tuxedoes in homeless shelters and soup kitchens. A literal attempt to dress up the problem.

Of course, the Catholic Worker Movement in Vancouver is all over the issue. On its web site, http://www.vancouvercatholicworker.org/, are a proposal, "Better ways than the Olympics to spend $6.1 billion," and a schedule of anti-poverty events running parallel to and in opposition to the Olympic Games.

New budget increases money for nukes, analyst says

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At a time when President Obama has said the United States is pruning its nuclear weapons stockpile, the director of one of the nation’s most active nuclear weapons watch groups said yesterday that Obama’s new budget drastically increases funding for nuclear weapons production.

“The budget that was released just yesterday is a big, big step backwards,” said Jay Coghlan, the executive director of Nuclear Watch of New Mexico. “Just this coming year, it’s raising the nuclear weapons budget for the Department of Energy ten percent. But most particularly, it’s quadrupling, in some cases, the funding for new production facilities.”

Coghlan, who lives near the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and has been a nuclear weapons analyst for years, was speaking to Amy Goodman on the independent radio program Democracy Now!. You can listen to the full conversation, or read the transcript, here.

The increase in the budget for nuclear weapons is part of a trade-off scheme by Obama to secure U.S. Senate ratificiation of a new arms reduction treaty with Russia, Coghlan said.

Valentine's Day Preach-in/Teach-in on Climate Change

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Interfaith Power & Light coalitions and partner congregations around the country will be making climate change the subject of their worship services on Valentine Day's weekend, February 12-14.

Your parish or congregation can get involved by sending Valentine postcards to your legislators on "loving our neighbors by caring for creation" -- specifically in terms of passing strong climate legislation. When you sign up for the Valentine Day preach-in, you receive materials to help you educate or prepare a sermon for the second week of February. Visit Interfaith Power & Light

How NOT to Move Forward on Health Care

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Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are negotiating ways to move the much-maligned and nearly dead health care proposal through Congress. The two step process will involve the House passing the Senate bill, and the Senate passing changes through a process known as reconciliation. Reconciliation is a parliamentary procedure that allows bills to pass with a majority vote, avoiding the 60 vote hurdle of bills that are subject to a filibuster. But, reconciliation is controversial and is limited to budgetary measures. Most worryingly, this two-step parliamentary process reeks of the kind of “inside baseball” that afflicted the bill throughout 2009.

Haitian bishop meets with pope

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Bishop Pierre Dumas, president of Caritas Haiti, met with Pope Benedict XVI Wednesday to report on the devastation in his country, urging that churches be rebuilt and that they have charitable facilities alongside them.

In a news conference arranged by the Sant’Egidio community in Rome, Dumas also updated the damage to the church. He said 15 churches, including the Cathedral, were destroyed in Port-au-Prince. He also said that more than 45 nuns, 20 religious seminarians and 30 diocesan seminarians had been killed in the Jan. 12 earthquake in addition to the archbishop, vicar and chancellor of the archdiocese.

Parish priests are being encouraged to stay with their people in the tent villages that have materialized throughout the city and to celebrate Mass in those locations.

Sunday Masses are being celebrated in improvised locations near the destroyed churches, he said. The church is giving special attention to hearing confessions and to providing help for psychologically traumatized people.

Dumas said he also told the pope that the archdiocese's seminary must be rebuilt so the church can begin educating priests again.

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