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6 Generals Who Switched Sides Hoping for Reward

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Military turncoats come in all shapes and sizes, motivated by all sorts of considerations: power, revenge, disillusionment, and, most often, the sound of a little extra coin. But not every turncoat seems to bear the tarnished rep old Benedict Arnold came away with. The following are some of history's lesser-known traitors, but ones who were pleased with the results.

1. Flavius Josephus (ca. 37"“100)

Revolutionary governments, caught up in the heat of the moment, often make poor decisions. For example, the Jewish rebels fighting against Rome appointed Joseph ben Matthias to be military governor of Galilee. An inveterate coward, however, Joseph surrendered at the first opportunity and became the Roman general Flavius Vespasianus's adviser on Jewish affairs. A nice gig, for sure. And when Flavius became emperor in the year 69, Joseph (or Josephus, as his new pals called him) found himself vaulted to the top of Roman high society. After trying to encourage the surrender of Jerusalem by shouting propaganda at the walls, he retired to Rome and became a famous author. The guilt of his treason may have caught up with old Josephus in his old age; he penned numerous writings lauding Jewish civilization, possibly to try to clear his conscience.

2. Alaric (ca. 370"“410)

A nobleman of the Visigoths, a Germanic tribe living in central Europe, Alaric fought for the Roman emperor Theodosius I against the rebel Eugenius. The brilliant decision to hire Alaric, though, gave the cunning nobleman an insider's view of the empire's weaknesses, and he took careful note. When Theodosius died in 395, the empire was divided into eastern and western halves ruled by his quarreling sons—and Alaric decided opportunity wasn't just knocking, it was practically kicking down his door. Alaric marched on Constantinople and ravaged the Thracian countryside, capturing most of Greece before the Roman general Stilicho forced him to withdraw. Soon after, the eastern emperor Arcadius gave Alaric control of most of Illyria, all of which paved the way for his first invasion of Italy in 401.

Alaric invaded the nation of his former employment several more times, and in 410 he became the first "barbarian" king to sack Rome in over 500 years. Though Alaric died in a plague in his 40s, his descendants carved out an empire of their own in what is now southern France, Spain, and Portugal.

3. Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar (El Cid, Campeador) (1043"“1099)

Balboa_Park_El_Cid_statue_2.jpgHis very title speaks of a checkered past: El Cid comes from the Arabic al-Sayyid, or "the lord," while Campeador is Spanish for "champion." Back when it all started, El Cid was a commander in the army of Castile. Of course, the cocky commander wasn't all roses to work with, and the Cid was forced to flee in 1080 after angering King Alfonso. What's an out-of-work commander to do, though? El Cid quickly decided to shack up with the enemy, joining forces with the Muslim emir (king) of Zaragosa. Despite the emir's cantankerous relationship with Castile, El Cid fought valiantly with his former foes for several years. That is, until Spain was invaded by Berber fanatics from North Africa. Bathing in schadenfreude, El Cid was summoned back by Alfonso, profusely apologized to, and begged to defeat the seemingly invincible invaders. El Cid accepted, and in the course of the fighting, "the Champion" maneuvered himself into the top spot in Valencia, the gem of Spain's Mediterranean coast. He died in 1099 fighting off a new wave of North African attackers, but even after his death proved useful. The city's defenders strapped the Cid's rapidly-assuming-room-temperature form to the back of his horse and managed to trick the enemies into thinking El Cid, Campeador, was still in charge. [Image courtesy of Stan Shebs.]

4. Francesco Sforza (1401"“1466)

Warfare in 15th-century Italy was dominated by the condottieri, mercenary generals who commanded motley crews of hungry soldiers. Of course, the soldiers for hire weren't exactly loved by everyone, and were seen as particularly uncouth by those gallant few who fought for land instead of money. The son of one of the most successful of the condottieri, Francesco Sforza was known for his great strength: reportedly, he could bend iron bars with his bare hands. Of course, as a mercenary, his loyalties were just as easily bent. After signing on with various feudal lords in their endless wars, he settled down in Milan and joined forces with Filippo Visconti, the local duke. On Visconti's death in 1447, however, Francesco turned on the duke's family and exiled or killed many of them. He also broke up an attempt to establish a Milanese republic, and then made himself duke. It's not nearly as bad as it sounds, though. Francesco went on to usher in nearly two decades of the best rule Milan had ever seen.

5. Albrecht Wenzel Eusebius von Wallenstein (1583"“1634)

A minor, though well-educated, Czech nobleman, Wallenstein became an officer in the armies of the Holy Roman Empire. He fought numerous battles against Venice and other powers and gained a reputation for military genius. But when his fellow Protestants rebelled against the empire in 1618, ushering in the Thirty Years' War, imperial generals worked themselves into a tizzy fearing that they would face Wallenstein on the field. They needn't have worried, though. A man whose eye was always on the bottom line, Wallenstein calculated that the rewards of serving the Catholic side of the war were greater. He helped crush Protestant armies in his native Bohemia as well as in western and northern Germany. Removed from command in 1630 on suspicion of preparing to switch sides, he was reinstated shortly thereafter on the rationale that a general thought to be disloyal was probably better than generals known to be incompetent. In retrospect, however, the reasoning was questionable, as Wallenstein was killed in 1634 while attempting to defect to the Swedes.

6. Shi Lang (1621"“1696)

An admiral in the navy of China's Ming dynasty, Shi Lang came into conflict with Zheng Chenggong, a rival general. Deciding that the grass looked greener up north, he defected in 1646 to the Manchus, and left his family behind to be slaughtered as traitors. Was it worth the (very literal) sacrifice? Apparently so. Lacking experienced naval officers, the Manchu ruler Shunzhi welcomed Shi Lang with open arms, and the officer happily participated in the Manchu conquest of China. In fact, he became an mental-floss-forbidden-knowledge.jpgofficial of the new Qing dynasty, made up of Shunzhi's descendants. Then, in 1681, he even got to lead the conquest of Taiwan, which culminated in the surrender of his old enemies, the Zheng family. In the end, Shi Lang made out pretty well, and was given the title "General Who Maintains Peace on the Seas" by a very grateful imperial government.

This article was excerpted from "Forbidden Knowledge: A Wickedly Smart Guide to History's Naughtiest Bits."

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The Elements
9 Diamond-Like Facts About Carbon
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How well do you know the periodic table? Our series The Elements explores the fundamental building blocks of the observable universe—and their relevance to your life—one by one.
 
 
It can be glittering and hard. It can be soft and flaky. It can look like a soccer ball. Carbon is the backbone of every living thing—and yet it just might cause the end of life on Earth as we know it. How can a lump of coal and a shining diamond be composed of the same material? Here are eight things you probably didn't know about carbon.

1. IT'S THE "DUCT TAPE OF LIFE."

It's in every living thing, and in quite a few dead ones. "Water may be the solvent of the universe," writes Natalie Angier in her classic introduction to science, The Canon, "but carbon is the duct tape of life." Not only is carbon duct tape, it's one hell of a duct tape. It binds atoms to one another, forming humans, animals, plants and rocks. If we play around with it, we can coax it into plastics, paints, and all kinds of chemicals.

2. IT'S ONE OF THE MOST ABUNDANT ELEMENTS IN THE UNIVERSE.

It sits right at the top of the periodic table, wedged in between boron and nitrogen. Atomic number 6, chemical sign C. Six protons, six neutrons, six electrons. It is the fourth most abundant element in the universe after hydrogen, helium, and oxygen, and 15th in the Earth's crust. While its older cousins hydrogen and helium are believed to have been formed during the tumult of the Big Bang, carbon is thought to stem from a buildup of alpha particles in supernova explosions, a process called supernova nucleosynthesis.

3. IT'S NAMED AFTER COAL.

While humans have known carbon as coal and—after burning—soot for thousands of years, it was Antoine Lavoisier who, in 1772, showed that it was in fact a unique chemical entity. Lavoisier used an instrument that focused the Sun's rays using lenses which had a diameter of about four feet. He used the apparatus, called a solar furnace, to burn a diamond in a glass jar. By analyzing the residue found in the jar, he was able to show that diamond was comprised solely of carbon. Lavoisier first listed it as an element in his textbook Traité Élémentaire de Chimie, published in 1789. The name carbon derives from the French charbon, or coal.

4. IT LOVES TO BOND.

It can form four bonds, which it does with many other elements, creating hundreds of thousands of compounds, some of which we use daily. (Plastics! Drugs! Gasoline!) More importantly, those bonds are both strong and flexible.

5. NEARLY 20 PERCENT OF YOUR BODY IS CARBON.

May Nyman, a professor of inorganic chemistry at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon tells Mental Floss that carbon has an almost unbelievable range. "It makes up all life forms, and in the number of substances it makes, the fats, the sugars, there is a huge diversity," she says. It forms chains and rings, in a process chemists call catenation. Every living thing is built on a backbone of carbon (with nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, and other elements). So animals, plants, every living cell, and of course humans are a product of catenation. Our bodies are 18.5 percent carbon, by weight.

And yet it can be inorganic as well, Nyman says. It teams up with oxygen and other substances to form large parts of the inanimate world, like rocks and minerals.

6. WE DISCOVERED TWO NEW FORMS OF IT ONLY RECENTLY.

Carbon is found in four major forms: graphite, diamonds, fullerenes, and graphene. "Structure controls carbon's properties," says Nyman.  Graphite ("the writing stone") is made up of loosely connected sheets of carbon formed like chicken wire. Penciling something in actually is just scratching layers of graphite onto paper. Diamonds, in contrast, are linked three-dimensionally. These exceptionally strong bonds can only be broken by a huge amount of energy. Because diamonds have many of these bonds, it makes them the hardest substance on Earth.

Fullerenes were discovered in 1985 when a group of scientists blasted graphite with a laser and the resulting carbon gas condensed to previously unknown spherical molecules with 60 and 70 atoms. They were named in honor of Buckminster Fuller, the eccentric inventor who famously created geodesic domes with this soccer ball–like composition. Robert Curl, Harold Kroto, and Richard Smalley won the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering this new form of carbon.

The youngest member of the carbon family is graphene, found by chance in 2004 by Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov in an impromptu research jam. The scientists used scotch tape—yes, really—to lift carbon sheets one atom thick from a lump of graphite. The new material is extremely thin and strong. The result: the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010.

7. DIAMONDS AREN'T CALLED "ICE" BECAUSE OF THEIR APPEARANCE.

Diamonds are called "ice" because their ability to transport heat makes them cool to the touch—not because of their look. This makes them ideal for use as heat sinks in microchips. (Synthethic diamonds are mostly used.) Again, diamonds' three-dimensional lattice structure comes into play. Heat is turned into lattice vibrations, which are responsible for diamonds' very high thermal conductivity.

8. IT HELPS US DETERMINE THE AGE OF ARTIFACTS—AND PROVE SOME OF THEM FAKE.

American scientist Willard F. Libby won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1960 for developing a method for dating relics by analyzing the amount of a radioactive subspecies of carbon contained in them. Radiocarbon or C14 dating measures the decay of a radioactive form of carbon, C14, that accumulates in living things. It can be used for objects that are as much as 50,000 years old. Carbon dating help determine the age of Ötzi the Iceman, a 5300-year-old corpse found frozen in the Alps. It also established that Lancelot's Round Table in Winchester Cathedral was made hundreds of years after the supposed Arthurian Age.

9. TOO MUCH OF IT IS CHANGING OUR WORLD.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is an important part of a gaseous blanket that is wrapped around our planet, making it warm enough to sustain life. But burning fossil fuels—which are built on a carbon backbone—releases more carbon dioxide, which is directly linked to global warming. A number of ways to remove and store carbon dioxide have been proposed, including bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, which involves planting large stands of trees, harvesting and burning them to create electricity, and capturing the CO2 created in the process and storing it underground. Yet another approach that is being discussed is to artificially make oceans more alkaline in order to let them to bind more CO2. Forests are natural carbon sinks, because trees capture CO2 during photosynthesis, but human activity in these forests counteracts and surpasses whatever CO2 capture gains we might get. In short, we don't have a solution yet to the overabundance of C02 we've created in the atmosphere.

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Big Questions
Why Don't We Eat Turkey Tails?
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Turkey sandwiches. Turkey soup. Roasted turkey. This year, Americans will consume roughly 245 million birds, with 46 million being prepared and presented on Thanksgiving. What we don’t eat will be repurposed into leftovers.

But there’s one part of the turkey that virtually no family will have on their table: the tail.

Despite our country’s obsession with fattening, dissecting, and searing turkeys, we almost inevitably pass up the fat-infused rear portion. According to Michael Carolan, professor of sociology and associate dean for research at the College for Liberal Arts at Colorado State University, that may have something to do with how Americans have traditionally perceived turkeys. Consumption was rare prior to World War II. When the birds were readily available, there was no demand for the tail because it had never been offered in the first place.

"Tails did and do not fit into what has become our culinary fascination with white meat," Carolan tells Mental Floss. "But also from a marketing [and] processor standpoint, if the consumer was just going to throw the tail away, or will not miss it if it was omitted, [suppliers] saw an opportunity to make additional money."

Indeed, the fact that Americans didn't have a taste for tail didn't prevent the poultry industry from moving on. Tails were being routed to Pacific Island consumers in the 1950s. Rich in protein and fat—a turkey tail is really a gland that produces oil used for grooming—suppliers were able to make use of the unwanted portion. And once consumers were exposed to it, they couldn't get enough.

“By 2007,” according to Carolan, “the average Samoan was consuming more than 44 pounds of turkey tails every year.” Perhaps not coincidentally, Samoans also have alarmingly high obesity rates of 75 percent. In an effort to stave off contributing factors, importing tails to the Islands was banned from 2007 until 2013, when it was argued that doing so violated World Trade Organization rules.

With tradition going hand-in-hand with commerce, poultry suppliers don’t really have a reason to try and change domestic consumer appetites for the tails. In preparing his research into the missing treat, Carolan says he had to search high and low before finally finding a source of tails at a Whole Foods that was about to discard them. "[You] can't expect the food to be accepted if people can't even find the piece!"

Unless the meat industry mounts a major campaign to shift American tastes, Thanksgiving will once again be filled with turkeys missing one of their juicier body parts.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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