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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump arrives to speak at a campaign rally, Oct. 14, 2016, in Charlotte, N.C. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

Trump insists election is 'rigged,' divides Republican Party

10/17/16 08:00AM

With three weeks remaining, and polls showing him trailing, Donald Trump should probably be focused on pushing his strongest possible closing message. For reasons that don't appear entirely rational, the Republican nominee has decided the smart move at this point is telling voters that the entire election is "rigged."

Last week, pointing to nothing except his own bizarre assumptions, the GOP candidate said the presidential election "one big fix" and "one big, ugly lie." On Saturday morning before dawn, Trump shared related thoughts on Twitter:
"This election is being rigged by the media pushing false and unsubstantiated charges, and outright lies, in order to elect Crooked Hillary!"
Soon after, he tweeted again:
"Hillary Clinton should have been prosecuted and should be in jail. Instead she is running for president in what looks like a rigged election."
In case this isn't already obvious, let's note that there's literally no evidence to suggest the election has been "rigged" by anyone at any level. Let's also mention that there's no wisdom in having a major-party presidential nominee discouraging his own supporters from casting a ballot.

On the Sunday shows, Trump's running mate and surrogates fanned out, trying to clarify the scope of Trump's conspiracy theory: the GOP candidate, they said, is really just complaining about news organizations, which aren't covering the presidential race the way Trump wants them to.

Even Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and someone who really ought to know better, told an audience on Saturday, "They are attempting to rig this election." Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) added that this line of attack isn't focused on state and local elections officials, so much as it's focused on media outlets, which he accused of orchestrating a "coup d'etat."

Apparently unaware of his own allies' talking points, Trump himself weighed in soon after to say his conspiracy theory isn't limited to the media: it also includes corruption "at many polling places."
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This Hubble Space Telescope view reveals thousands of galaxies stretching back into time across billions of light-years of space.

Week in Geek - Crowded House edition

10/16/16 10:32AM

Did you notice anything different last week? Did things feel more crowed than usual? They should have, because Universe just got a lot denser.

Okay so maybe not exactly, but the estimated density of galaxies in the Universe did change, thanks to some intrepid astronomers at the University of Nottingham in England. Up until last week, the party line in astronomy was that there were roughly 100 billion galaxies in the (observable) Universe. Now, we are all revising our talking points because it seems that number is twenty times too small. A team led by Christopher Conselice places the new estimate of galaxies in the Universe at two trillion!

If your wondering where these numbers come from, I can assure you it isn't from counting galaxies one by one. Instead, it comes from taking a representative sample of the number of galaxies in a certain area of the sky and extrapolating from there. The 100 billion number comes from analysis based on the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF) - an image captured by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2004 of an area of the sky no bigger than President Roosevelt's eye on a dime held at arm's length. In this minute speck, Hubble saw ~10,000 galaxies ranging from nearby to back to only a few million years after the Big Bang. Previous observations showed that the Universe looked roughly the same in all directions (the technical term is "isotropic"). So by calculating how many HUDFs it took to cover the whole sky, astronomers deduced that there should be about 100 billion galaxies in the Universe.

Conselice and his team decided to take a close look at this number to see if we might be missing anything. They took deep images taken by Hubble as part of the Great Observatories Origins Deep Survey (GOODS) and converted them into 3D space to better determine the density of galaxies at various distances. Then they mathematically determined how many galaxies at each distance Hubble was "missing" due to its detection limits. The answer was, Hubble was missing a lot... like 90%. Conselice calculated that there should be many more small galaxies at greater distances in order to produce the larger and more massive galaxies we see in the nearby Universe today.

So the next clear night you have, wherever you are, go outside and hold up a dime at arms length. Imagine that there are now 200,000 galaxies in that tiny spot on the sky and marvel at how we can figure all that out from the even tinier spot in the skies we live on.

Here's some more geek from the week:

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump delivers the convocation at the Vines Center on the campus of Liberty University Jan. 18, 2016 in Lynchburg, Va. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

This Week in God, 10.15.16

10/15/16 08:26AM

After a hiatus, the God Machine is back this week, and first up is a story about one of the nation's more politically active evangelical colleges, which is facing a familiar schism.

Virginia's Liberty University, founded by the late televangelist Jerry Falwell, is now run by his son, Jerry Falwell, Jr., who also happens to be one of Donald Trump's most loyal and enthusiastic allies. Indeed, during the Republican presidential primaries, while many social conservatives and leaders of the religious right movement were rallying behind Ted Cruz, Falwell bucked the trend and offered his spirited support (no pun intended) to a secular, thrice-married adulterer and casino owner who'd never really demonstrated any interest in, or knowledge of, matters of faith.

Even this week, after Trump was heard boasting about sexual assault and accused by a variety of women of sexual misconduct, Falwell continued to express his enthusiastic support for the Republican nominee. The interesting twist, however, came when Liberty students -- a conservative, evangelical bunch -- balked. The Washington Post reported this week:
Students at Virginia's Liberty University have issued a statement against Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump as young conservatives at some colleges across the country reconsider support for his campaign.

A statement issued late Wednesday by the group Liberty United Against Trump strongly rebuked the candidate as well as the school's president, Jerry Falwell Jr., for defending Trump after he made vulgar comments about women in a 2005 video. [...] The students at Liberty University wrote that they felt compelled to speak out in light of Falwell's steadfast support for Trump even after the candidate's comments about women and sexual assault.
The statement, released under the Liberty United Against Trump name, read, "Donald Trump does not represent our values and we want nothing to do with him.... He has made his name by maligning others and bragging about his sins. Not only is Donald Trump a bad candidate for president, he is actively promoting the very things that we as Christians ought to oppose."

As of Thursday, the total number of Liberty students, alumni, and faculty who signed on to the letter stood at more than 1,300.

Falwell called the statement, among other things, "incoherent and false."
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