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6 Comic Con-troversies

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With the New York Comic Con under way, we thought we’d remind you that these brilliant, geeky get-togethers can mean more than just costumes and coveted signatures on first-edition books. Here are a few of the scandals that rocked (or gently nudged) Comic Cons across the country this past year.

God Hates Geeks in Superhero Costumes?

At the massive Comic Con in San Diego last year, assembled geeks gave Fred Phelps’ hate-mongering Westboro Baptist Church a run for its money. When church members—who’ve earned the dubious distinction of being so radical that even the Ku Klux Klan has disavowed any association with them—showed up to protest alleged immorality and rampant homosexuality amidst convention-goers, they were greeted by a throng of nerds dressed as superheroes, robots, Trekkies and anime girls staging a counter protest. Phelps’ team, not to be dissuaded, began chanting their favorite slogan, “God Hates Fags,” while the motley crowd of costumed comics fans went for a rather more innovative call-and-response: “What do we want?” “Gay sex!” “When do we want it?” “Now!” If headlines and blog posts chronicling the showdown are to be trusted, the geeks emerged victorious.

[Photo credit: ComicsAlliance. More pictures of the protest and counter-protest can be found here.]

The Resident Evil Fan With the Pen in the Auditorium

Tensions were high near the end of the Resident Evil: Afterlife panel at Comic Con San Diego last summer. So high, in fact, that one young fan stabbed another with a ballpoint pen after getting in an argument over a “good seat” in the middle of an auditorium. Universal Pictures' sci-fi movie, Paul, and Jon Favreau’s Cowboys and Aliens were scheduled to play in the space after the panel, so good seats were, evidently, worth stabbing over. Shortly after the pen attack, the police arrived, both men were removed—one was taken to a police station, the other to a hospital—and lucky for the other movie buffs present, the show went on, about an hour behind schedule.

Master of Disguise

At New York’s Comic Con last year, the award for best costume—a highly sought-after prize in a population where homemade get-ups are the norm—went to a young man named Matt Silva for his Steampunk Iron Man suit. A few days later, it was revealed that Silva’s famous costume was actually just a tricked out version of a costume originally designed and built by a man named Bill Johnsen for the character of Tin Man in the indie short, Heartless. Johnsen was “royally angered by this action,” according to a heated series of blog posts, but when Silva apologized—and the indie film company stood by Silva’s choice to retool the old suit—the scandal all but went away.

"Insider" Exposed

Robert Granito, an amateur comic book artist and writer, spent years building a fake reputation as a “comics insider,” claiming he’d contributed to Iron Man, Batman, Calvin and Hobbes, and Teen Titans, among other esteemed titles in the comic book world. His website bragged he’d drawn the Batman U.S. postage stamp—a distinction belonging to artists Jim Lee and Scott Williams—and listed the White House among those commissioning his work. Earlier this year, the scandal broke on comics blogs, spawning a Facebook (non-)fan page, entitled “Robert Granito Is a Fraud,” which has attracted 4,400 fans, and earned the plagiarist a ration of vitriol from comics fans—and real “comics insiders”—on Twitter and across the blogosphere.

No Cape, No Service

In addition to being an avid Star Wars and World of Warcraft fan, 29-year-old America’s Next Top Model winner Adrienne Curry model earned extra geek credentials this year when she was booted out of the San Diego Comic Con this year for wearing a slightly too authentic Aeon Flux costume, which featured thigh-high black leather boots and a matching thong. Curry’s scandalous get-up wasn’t the first time scantily clad comic book fans have raised eyebrows. In the past, women donning Princess Leia’s metal bikini, Wonder Woman’s strapless leotard, and Andromeda’s sparkling loincloth have been asked to either leave or, well, consider the strategic application of a cape.

He Is the Lizard King

Spider-Man’s reptilian nemesis, the Lizard—or, rather, Welsh actor Rhys Ifans, who plays The Lizard in the upcoming Spider-Man film—got into a tangle with a female security guard at this year’s Comic Con in San Diego. Ifans was belligerent before his scheduled panel appearance, and evidently began pushing the security guard, and ranting about the police, the United States, and everyone within his vicinity, according to police reports. After the panel, the Lizard was arrested and awarded a misdemeanor for his abusive behavior. His real come-uppance won’t come until July 2012, when, fans hope, Spidey will teach the slithering super-villain a lesson or two.

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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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