Only in America
September 27, 2011

A small, southern Alabama town called Bay Minette is giving non-violent offenders a choice: Go to jail or go to church. Those who choose a pew instead of a cell must join one of 56 participating congregations in the county, and check in with their pastor once a week. Civil liberties activists say this program violates the Constitution by essentially forcing people to attend church. Local preachers argue that it's not coercive, just effective. "You show me somebody who falls in love with Jesus," says pastor Robert Gates, "and I'll show you a person who won't be a problem to society." The Week Staff

Colbert Nationalism
3:30 p.m. ET

In the first promo clip for Stephen Colbert's run as the host of CBS' Late Show, Colbert reminds the world, "I still exist."

The video features Colbert eating a hot dog — with a knife and fork — and sporting a white beard. Colbert claims the beard helps him live his day-to-day life "without being noticed." Colbert recognized that many fans and internet users weren't fans of the "Colbeard," adding that CBS is forcing him to shave, because "Tom Selleck's mustache has a non-compete clause."

Colbert proceeded to shave off his mustache, leaving the rest of his beard intact, resulting in a facial hair look he called the "un-Hitler." He didn't stop there, though — over the course of the clip, Colbert shaved his facial hair into an Amish-inspired look and the "half-Wolverine" before debuting a clean-shaven, "classic Colbert" look. But if you're a fan of the "Colbeard," don't fret — when Colbert realized he still has three months before he begins hosting the Late Show, the beard resurfaced. Check out the "Colbeard" clip below. Meghan DeMaria

2:25 p.m. ET
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

About 13 percent of the 11.7 million people that signed up for healthcare through federal and state marketplaces in March have since dropped out, many because they failed to pay their insurance premiums, The New York Times reports.

As of March 31, 10.2 million people were enrolled for healthcare coverage through federal and state marketplaces. That's about 1.5 million fewer people than were originally enrolled March 1.

According to a new enrollment report, about 6.4 million people in 34 states where the health marketplace is operated by the federal government were receiving government subsidies to afford their health insuranceIf the Supreme Court rules that tax credits can only apply to states with their own exchanges, those 6.4 million people could lose their subsidies. A court ruling is expected within the next month. Meghan DeMaria

In a galaxy far, far away
1:13 p.m. ET

When Disney acquired the rights to Star Wars, they erased decades of continuity — built up in the Star Wars novels, comics, and video games known as the "Expanded Universe" — and announced a new plan to restart the whole Star Wars universe from scratch, with the original movies serving as the base for any new stories Disney wanted to tell.

Though Star Wars: Episode VII is still many months away, the rebooted Star Wars comics series is laying the groundwork for Disney's take on the franchise — and the most recent issue revealed an aspect of Han Solo's back story that represents a huge (and potentially far-reaching) twist. If you don't mind being spoiled, read on:

Yes, that's a brand-new character named Sana Solo, who claims to be the wife of Han — and given his reaction, she's telling the truth. As io9 points out, the Star Wars comics take place shortly after the events of Star Wars: A New Hope, and before the events of The Empire Strikes Back — which means it's possible that Han and Sana will be divorced, or Sana will be killed, before Han and Leia begin their romance.

But whatever happens, the introduction of Sana Solo is a reminder that Disney has huge plans to shake up the fundamental building blocks of the Star Wars universe. Scott Meslow

Rest in peace
12:50 p.m. ET
Ramin Talaie/Getty Images

In a moving Facebook post Wednesday, Sheryl Sandberg marked 30 days since the death of her husband, Dave Goldberg.

"I think when tragedy occurs, it presents a choice," Sandberg wrote in the post. "You can give in to the void, the emptiness that fills your heart, your lungs, constricts your ability to think or even breathe. Or you can try to find meaning."

Sandberg goes on to say that after the past month, she feels "30 years wiser," and that she's learned to ask for help. She also offers advice on how to comfort grieving friends and relatives:

Real empathy is sometimes not insisting that it will be okay but acknowledging that it is not. When people say to me, "You and your children will find happiness again," my heart tells me, Yes, I believe that, but I know I will never feel pure joy again. Those who have said, "You will find a new normal, but it will never be as good" comfort me more because they know and speak the truth. Even a simple "How are you?" — almost always asked with the best of intentions — is better replaced with "How are you today?" When I am asked "How are you?" I stop myself from shouting, My husband died a month ago, how do you think I am? When I hear "How are you today?" I realize the person knows that the best I can do right now is to get through each day. [Facebook]

Sandberg ends the letter by saying her husband's death has also taught her to better express gratitude towards her friends and family. To read Sandberg's heartfelt letter in its entirety, head over to Facebook. Meghan DeMaria

End of an Era
12:48 p.m. ET
Julian Finney/Getty Images


Rafael Nadal, long the undisputed king of the French Open, which he has won nine times, was just obliterated by world number one Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals of the tournament, 7-5, 6-3, 6-1.

Nadal had previously lost only once at the French Open. He has won 70 times.

The quarterfinal match was nearly as anticipated as a final, featuring two heavyweights of the sport. But Nadal has had a tough year, losing five times on clay in 2015 before the latest rout. Ryu Spaeth

The whole shebang
12:37 p.m. ET
CC BY: Dave Young

Scientists can now weigh the entire galaxy. This is kind of a big deal.

Think about it: How do you estimate the mass of something that large? Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is made up of over 100 billion stars, stretching up to 200,000 light years from edge to edge. Obviously no scale can weigh that.

But a team of scientists thinks it might have a pretty good substitute. By estimating the weight of certain stars in the "streams" of dissolving globular clusters (a fun phrase that indicates a type of star group) encircling the Milky Way, Columbia University's Andreas Küpper and his fellow researchers believe they've got a pretty good model to estimate the galaxy's mass itself.

And — drumroll, please — they estimate that mass to be "210 billion times the mass of the sun with an uncertainty of only 20 percent," as Science Daily reports. Or, as a back of the envelope calculation showed:

417,690,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 kg.

I'll let you decide if that's a healthy weight or not. Nico Lauricella

This just in
12:22 p.m. ET

Ussama Rahim, the 26-year-old Boston resident who was shot dead after he charged a police officer with a military-style knife, had planned to behead a police officer, officials said Wednesday. Rahim was under 24-hour surveillance by terrorism investigators when he pulled out the knife and approached the officers, who ultimately shot him after he charged them and refused to stand down.

A law enforcement officer told The New York Times that Rahim had become radicalized thanks to Islamic militant social media sites, and that he posed an "imminent threat" on the day of his death.

Read more at The New York Times. Samantha Rollins

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