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Can You Fire the Pope?

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In the last few weeks we’ve learned all about the ins and outs of papal resignation, and the Catholic Church’s process for choosing a new pope. But what about firing the guy? Reader Gabrielle wrote in to ask: “Can a pope be ousted? And has it happened before?”

While you do have to wear the funny hat, being pope has its benefits. There’s the popemobile, the fancy throne, and pretty good job security. The pope can’t be fired like any old schlep down at the widget factory. The Code of Canon Law, the collected laws and regulations of the Church, doesn’t provide any avenues for, or even hint at the possibility of, removing a pope from power.

Which kind of makes sense. The position was, after all, created by Jesus (“And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”), a guy who the Church takes pretty seriously. Plus, there’s no separation of powers in the Church, and the pope doesn’t have a boss—at least, according to the Catholics, not an earthly one. The Code of Canon Law says that “by virtue of his office he [the pope] possesses supreme, full, immediate and universally ordinary power in the Church, which he is always able to exercise freely.” The College of Cardinals elects new popes, but they don’t have hiring and firing powers. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that the “body of bishops has no authority unless united with the Roman Pontiff, Peter's successor, as its head” and that their “power cannot be exercised without the agreement of the Roman Pontiff.” So, unless the pope agrees that he has to go, it seems that the cardinals' hands are tied. 

While you can’t fire the pope from his job, there have been a handful of pontiffs throughout history that have been removed by means that cross regular papal succession with Game of Thrones and The Sopranos. Otto the Great, one of the Holy Roman Emperors, deposed both John XII and Benedict V after using his army to blockade Rome. Benedict VI, installed by Otto, was deposed by Crescentius the Elder and other Roman politicians who were tired of the Empire interfering in papal elections; Crescentius was later murdered in prison. After papal candidates Benedict IX, Sylvester III, and Gregory VI all attempted to claim the office at the same time, German King Henry III intervened, formed the Council of Sutri, and deposed or encouraged all three of them to resign. Centuries later, the Council of Constance also ended a power struggle between multiple popes, known as the Western Schism, by deposing or urging resignation from the various claimants. Still other popes were removed by competing claimants, or died in office under mysterious circumstances and suspected foul play. 

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Big Questions
Why Does Turkey Make You Tired?
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Why do people have such a hard time staying awake after Thanksgiving dinner? Most people blame tryptophan, but that's not really the main culprit. And what is tryptophan, anyway?

Tryptophan is an amino acid that the body uses in the processes of making vitamin B3 and serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep. It can't be produced by our bodies, so we need to get it through our diet. From which foods, exactly? Turkey, of course, but also other meats, chocolate, bananas, mangoes, dairy products, eggs, chickpeas, peanuts, and a slew of other foods. Some of these foods, like cheddar cheese, have more tryptophan per gram than turkey. Tryptophan doesn't have much of an impact unless it's taken on an empty stomach and in an amount larger than what we're getting from our drumstick. So why does turkey get the rap as a one-way ticket to a nap?

The urge to snooze is more the fault of the average Thanksgiving meal and all the food and booze that go with it. Here are a few things that play into the nap factor:

Fats: That turkey skin is delicious, but fats take a lot of energy to digest, so the body redirects blood to the digestive system. Reduced blood flow in the rest of the body means reduced energy.

Alcohol: What Homer Simpson called the cause of—and solution to—all of life's problems is also a central nervous system depressant.

Overeating: Same deal as fats. It takes a lot of energy to digest a big feast (the average Thanksgiving meal contains 3000 calories and 229 grams of fat), so blood is sent to the digestive process system, leaving the brain a little tired.

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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Big Questions
How Are Balloons Chosen for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade?
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The balloons for this year's Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade range from the classics like Charlie Brown to more modern characters who have debuted in the past few years, including The Elf On The Shelf. New to the parade this year are Olaf from Disney's Frozen and Chase from Paw Patrol. But how does the retail giant choose which characters will appear in the lineup?

Balloon characters are chosen in different ways. For example, in 2011, Macy’s requested B. Boy after parade organizers saw the Tim Burton retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. (The company had been adding a series of art balloons to the parade lineup since 2005, which it called the Blue Sky Gallery.) When it comes to commercial balloons, though, it appears to be all about the Benjamins.

First-time balloons cost at least $190,000—this covers admission into the parade and the cost of balloon construction. After the initial year, companies can expect to pay Macy’s about $90,000 to get a character into the parade lineup. If you consider that the balloons are out for only an hour or so, that’s about $1500 a minute.

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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