Lesson #415: The Conch Republic

I’ve lived (nearly) 36 of my (nearly) 38 years under the impression that Key West has always been part of Florida and, consequently, the United States. I have been wrong.

In 1982, members of the Key West government were in a snit and seceded from the US. This is amazing!

The short version of the story is that in an effort to curb the tide of illegal Cuban immigrants and refugees and the influx of drugs (cocaine) from South America, Border Patrol (now CPD) up a checkpoint on the only road off the island and subjected vehicles to searches and their occupants to ID checks. Displeased by this, the mayor of Key West, Dennis Wardlow, called around and got no answers, so reached out to Border Patrol, who were like “none of your business”. This was not the answer Wardlow wanted to hear, and after a Miami judge refused to issue an injunction, Key West seceded on 23 April.

Now, their secession was rather cheeky. Government officials were assigned new job titles (Minister of Underwater Affairs is my favourite), but they were also serious. The Federal government sent monitors in to make sure things didn’t escalate, the US flag was swapped out for that of the Conch Republic, and (now-) Prime Minister Wardlow declared war on the US by breaking stale Cuban bread over the head of a man in a Naval uniform? Because I guess that makes as much sense as anything else in a declaration of war. One minute later, Wardlow surrendered to a US Navy officer and demanded $1 billion in foreign aid, as well as restitution from the US government.

The money was never paid out, but the publicity the stunt attracted effectively forced the government to remove the checkpoint out of Key West.

On the heels of this, Key West began to capitalize on the notoriety. The town has always been reliant on tourism, but after secession, it began issuing passports — including diplomatic passports — and other kitschy things to commemorate their independence, and the town still celebrates independence day every year.

In 1995, there was an “invasion” by a US Army battalion on maneuvers — which was somehow received both with a tongue firmly planted in cheek, but also with some seriousness that prevented the Army from reaching their training ground until they apologized. The Conch Republic’s website lists refers to this episode as “The Great Invasion of ’95”.**

I think the most mind-blowing part of this whole story is the fact that some people somehow used their Conch Republic passports to travel internationally as if they were legitimate documents. But I’m old enough and made frequent enough border crossings to remember how lax pre-9/11 travel was. I could get into and out of Canada with just my green card or my driver’s licence for identification. I could get on an international flight with just my ID. And I remember when that changed in because I was told by the border agent in Texas that after the new year (2006), I’d need to travel with my passport. These days, I often travel with both.*

More here, here, and on the Republic’s own website, here.

*Depending on where I’m going, it’s often easier — though coming back into the US as a citizen with stamps in a non-US passport made my return from Bosnia more snarky than it should have been when I had an American customs officer at the airport in Toronto who took umbrage with the fact that I had an American passport at all if I was going to travel on my Canadian one. He felt I didn’t deserve an American passport and expressed that. In those words. What I wanted to respond was, “well, no one asked you”. But because I wasn’t looking to spend a night at the Toronto airport — though I wouldn’t have…I’d have called my people for a spare bed or couch — what I said was, “well, sir, with all due respect, the Federal government disagrees.”

**All I can think of when I read this is the time the Swiss Army accidentally invaded Liechtenstein after they got lost in bad weather on night maneuvers in 2007, which remains, a decade later, one of my favourite news stories.


Lesson #401 (sort of): Serbia’s Ultras Problem

I turned in my term paper for my Ethnic and Cultural Conflict class today (three days early!). I’m really pleased with how it turned out on its fourth iteration. It began as an examination of football clubs’ interactions as reflections of Bosnian, Croatian, and Serbian relations with one another. Then it was how Croatian and Serbian football clubs’ interactions with each other and with European fans is reflective of the overall regional politics. Then it was how football violence in Croatia and Serbia is reflective of each country’s position in Europe. And finally it was what it is…

an explanation of contemporary Serbian politics using four football matches: Croatia/Serbia in March of last year (how Serbia is coping with its lingering resentments and learning to work with its traditional rival); Partizan/Tottenham in September (how the rise of the right is spurring anti-Semitism and homophobia in Serbia); Serbia/Albania in mid-October (how the Kosovo question is affecting Serbia’s relationship with the EU and why its transition has been so slow); and Partizan/Red Star at Halloween (how Serbia is allowing its ultras to destroy it from within).

Short version: all of Serbia’s current political troubles stem from using football ultras groups as paramilitary units during the Homeland and Bosnian Wars.*

It’s 15 pages of awesome. That I had to work for.


…good research will get you everywhere. If I hadn’t done the leg work, paring down enough to get a *good* paper into 15 pages would have been impossible.

*You’re either going to have to trust me on that or do the research yourself. I’ve done the work.

Lesson #291: The Official Rock Song of Ohio

Sometimes, you just randomly learn things that are useless pieces of trivia. This particular bit of information will amuse my dad.

It turns out that a. there’s such a thing as an official state rock song and b. since 1985, the official rock song of Ohio has been The McCoys’ ‘Hang on Sloopy.’

The legislation (House Concurrent Resolution No. 16) that pushed this through is actually pretty hilarious to read, including these last five paragraphs:

“WHEREAS, If fans of jazz, country-and-western, classical, Hawaiian and polka music think those styles also should be recognized by the state, then by golly, they can push their own resolution just like we’re doing; and

WHEREAS, “Hang On Sloopy” is of particular relevance to members of the Baby Boom Generation, who were once dismissed as a bunch of long-haired, crazy kids, but who now are old enough and vote in sufficient numbers to be taken quite seriously; and

WHEREAS, Adoption of this resolution will not take too long, cost the state anything, or affect the quality of life in this state to any appreciable degree, and if we in the legislature just go ahead and pass the darn thing, we can get on with more important stuff; and

WHEREAS, Sloopy lives in a very bad part of town, and everybody, yeah, tries to put my Sloopy down; and

WHEREAS, Sloopy, I don’t care what your daddy do, ’cause you know, Sloopy girl, I’m in love with you; therefore be it Resolved, That we, the members of the 116th General Assembly of Ohio, in adopting this Resolution, name “Hang On Sloopy” as the official rock song of the State of Ohio…”

If all legislation were this interesting to read, I’d probably be far more interested in government.

More information (and the full draft of the resolution) can be found here.

Lesson #237: The Oldest Constitution

San Marino, which as far as I know is known only for being very small,* is actually the oldest constitutional republic in the world.

Founded as a republic after breaking away from the Roman Empire in 301, San Marino is the oldest surviving republic in the world. Its constitution, adopted in 1600 is the oldest constitution still in effect.

A few other facts about San Marino: the official name of San Marino is Most Serene Republic of San Marino. A native of San Marino is Sammarinese. It is the smallest of the European micronations, but it is also one of the wealthiest European nations per capita. It has the lowest unemployment rate in Europe (though in fairness, when you only have 30,000 people, it’s not like that’s really a formidable statistic.)**

*61 km2 with a population of around 30,000. They also field a football team, but not a very good one. They’re currently ranked last (202nd) in the FIFA standings. Then again, there are fewer people in the whole of Liechtenstein (ranked 141st of 202) than were at the Scotland/Liechtenstein Euro Qualifier yesterday and Scotland (ranked 41st) still needed seven minutes of added time to pull out a win, so take that as you will.

**More about San Marino here and here.

Lesson #209: The Monarch in the House of Commons

Ever since Charles I’s issues with the perceived overabundance of power that parliament possessed (really, they just wouldn’t give him the money he wanted to fight the Spanish in the New World), leading him to storm the House of Commons with a few of his armed soldier buddies and try to arrest five people in 1642 and then launch a civil war in which he stormed off in a huff to the north and raised an army against parliament, which in turn led to his execution, the monarch of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has not been allowed into the House of Commons.

It’s a classic example of how one guy throws a temper tantrum and ruins it for everyone else.

More information on that here, here and here.

Lesson #108: Terms of the Members of Parliament

A friend of mine came back to town on Tuesday and so we had a night of catching up tonight that involved a bunch of things, but, as things are wont to do, ended up at the pub to meet up with some of her other friends. The pub we went to had a pub quiz going on and since I was among a contingent of people who aren’t politics students and/or British, the question about a British MP’s length of term was hotly debated*

The answer is five. Ish. Legally, elections must be held no more than five years apart, but because the government can call an election whenever it so chooses, an MP’s term length may be under the five years. For example, the last election was in 2005 and before that, it was in 2001.**

*Of course, some of them did know that a seat in the House of Commons can’t be resigned. One can opt not to seek reelection if one has a paying post under the Crown (or some such terminology), a formality, I’m sure, but one cannot just decide that one no longer wishes to be an MP and just go home and hang out.

**If you can do math, you should have it figured out that there will be an election this year.