Key West and the Conch Republic: “We Seceded Where Others Failed!”

There is no place in the country quite like Key West, Florida. The “Conchs”, as they are known, are irreverent tie-dye-clad liberals who make Berkeley look like Republicans. And the most masterful act of Key West political satire was their declaration of independence from the US in 1982.


Flag of the Conch Republic, painted on a wall at the Key West Airport.

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Pioneers of African-American Liberation

The history of the Civil Rights Movement did not begin with Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King in the 1950’s. Long before then, an entire series of abolitionists and racial-equality activists had fought and died for African-American liberation.

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Sealand: The World’s Smallest Nation

It claims to be the smallest nation in the world–less than three hundredths of a square kilometer (550 square meters). As of 2014, it has just 22 residents–and is ruled by a hereditary Prince. It was even the scene of a brief shooting war and an attempted palace coup and civil war. It is Sealand–the smallest country you never heard of.


The . .  uh . . . Principality of Sealandia.

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Chicken Politics: Life in the Flock

In evolutionary terms, the humble domestic chicken is one of the most successful species on Earth. There are an estimated 20 billion chickens alive right now–almost three times as many as there are humans. Apparently, “tasting good to people so they’ll protect you” is a pretty effective evolutionary strategy–well, aside from that whole “they eat you” thingie. Statistically, every human on the planet eats the equivalent of 27 individual chickens every year. The only other terrestrial vertebrate that may rival the chicken in sheer numbers is the Norway Rat.

And even the lowly chicken has important things to teach us. It was through the careful observation of a backyard chicken flock that one of the most important principles of social biology was uncovered–one that applies equally well to humans.


Not such a dumb cluck after all….

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The Bounty Mutiny

It is the most famous mutiny in naval history: in December 1787, the British Navy ship HMSBounty set sail for the islands of Otaheite (now known as Tahiti) under the command of William Bligh, on a mission to obtain breadfruit plants for transplant to the colonies in the Caribbean. The mission was never completed . . .


A contemporary painting. The mutineers set Capt Bligh and his officers adrift in a small boat, and throw the cargo of breadfruit plants overboard.

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The Mexican Revolution of 1910

The Mexican Revolution was a pivotal point in Mexican history. It produced two of the most popular revolutionary figures in Latin American history–Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata. It provoked an invasion of Mexico by US forces. In many ways, it was the first socialist revolution in the western hemisphere, and served as inspiration and model for leftist revolutionaries in Latin America throughout the 20th century. When a group of guerrillas took up arms in southern Mexico in 1994 to fight for economic equality and social justice, they chose the name “Zapatistas”, after the hero of the Mexican Revolution.


Pancho Villa

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Blackbeard and the Golden Age of Piracy: A History of the Pirate Ship “Queen Anne’s Revenge”

Of all the pirates that have sailed the seven seas, real or imagined, perhaps none is more famous than the legendary Blackbeard. It was not, however, until the wreckage of Blackbeard’s ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, was found in 1996 off the coast of North Carolina, that archaeology could begin separating fact from fiction.


A pewter dinner plate recovered from the wreckage of the “Queen Anne’s Revenge”, the flagship of the pirate Blackbeard. On display at the Pirate’s Soul Museum in Key West, Florida.

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The 1877 “Great Strike” and the Reading Massacre

In 1877, the biggest labor revolt in US history, known today as “The Great Strike” or “The Great Upheaval”,  began in West Virginia and spread across the entire country. Within weeks, state and Federal troops clashed with striking workers in Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Chicago and St Louis. In the railroad hub of Reading, Pennsylvania, ten unarmed strikers were killed by state militia troops in what is now known as “The Reading Massacre”.


Strikers and militia clash in Baltimore.

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Plan Red: The Secret US Blueprint for War With the UK

It is the 1930’s. The world is gripped by the Great Depression and militarism, as “great powers” in Asia and Europe turn to military expansion as a solution for their economic troubles. World War Two is not far away. The US sees potential military threats to itself against both coasts from Asia and Europe, and draws up contingency plans for a naval and land war against expansionist empires in both the Atlantic and the Pacific.

But the trans-Atlantic target of “War Plan Red” is not Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union.  It is the British Empire.

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The “Beast”: A History of Presidential Limousines

The automobile has been a central part of American culture since the early 1900’s–and has been a part of Presidential history for just as long. From the earliest Stanley Steamers to the special-built Cadillac limousine (referred to by the Secret Service as “The Beast”) used by Barack Obama, here is a history of Presidential limousines.

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H-Bomb: The Design of Thermonuclear Weapons

Unlike the Little Boy and Fat Man fission bombs, about which a great deal of information is available in the open literature, virtually no information has been released publicly about the design and construction of thermonuclear weapons.  Most of the information that is publicly available is based largely on speculation and supposition, gleaned from open sources and interviews and a few declassified documents.

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Fat Man and Little Boy: The Design of the Atomic Bombs

In the aftermath of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, the US tried desperately to keep the “nuclear secret” secret, and released virtually no information about the design and construction of the two atomic bombs–there was not even an acknowledgement that two different methods of ignition had been used. Today, however, although many details of the atomic bombs remain classified, we know a great deal about how the Manhattan Project bombs were constructed.

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