Some of you will scoff. “North has gone round the bend this time.” On the contrary: the United States government has gone round the bend . . . again.
I begin with North’s law of bureaucracy: “Some bureaucrat will inevitably enforce an official rule to the point of utter imbecility.” There are no known exceptions to this law. It is right up there with the second law of thermodynamics.
But you want evidence. I offer this: a recent article in The Scotsman, whose very name exudes both high culture and low, low prices.
Let me also invoke the words of Dave Barry: “I am not making this up.”
BAGPIPERS have expressed their fear over a new law which led to two US teenagers having their pipes seized by border control staff at the weekend.
Campbell Webster, 17 and Eryk Bean, 17, both from New Hampshire, had their pipes seized while travelling between Canada and the US, just two days before they were due to fly to Scotland for the World Pipe Band Championships.
Mr Webster’s pipes, which were previously used by his father in his role as an official piper to the Queen, were confiscated by officials because they are made out of ivory.
New laws brought in earlier this year mean that owners of pipes containing ivory must get a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) certificate from the US Fish and Wildlife Service in order to transport their pipes across borders.
And pipers hoping to travel to Scotland for the competition will have to make an appointment with officials at a “designated” port and make a declaration on their customs form.
But pipers say the confusing rules, brought in at the end of June, are causing “significant concern” – with many unsure how the new laws work.
Mr Webster, from Concord, New Hampshire, had his £6,000 bagpipes taken off him by US Border Patrol in Vermont just two days before he was due to fly to Scotland.
The teenager said he had a CITES permit but was told he needed it amended to allow him to travel through smaller border crossings.
After beginning a campaign online, Mr Webster had his pipes returned on Tuesday.
He said: “My friend and I both had our pipes seized by the US government Sunday night.
“We were told we were never going to see them again.”
It gets worse – or better, if you are someone (as I am) who makes a living by spotting tidbits like this one.
First, ponder this: to take bagpipes across a U.S. border, you must have written permission from the Fish and Wildlife Service.
The United States of America long ago began its journey down the rabbit hole made famous in Alice in Wonderland. To see just how far down the hole we have gone, consider this official elucidation of the law.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service said: “To take bagpipes with elephant ivory out of the United States and back, musicians need to obtain a CITES document from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and leave and return to the country via one of our 38 designated ports.
“Musicians should contact the port 48 hours in advance to arrange to declare their instrument and obtain Service clearance on departure or arrival.
“If musicians want to travel internationally from other U.S. airports or across land borders, they must also apply for a designated port exception permit and pay inspection fees.”
The two young men were trying to cross the border at a port of exit that was not one of the 38 designated ports. They lost their bagpipes, which have probably been shipped to the same storage facility that houses the Ark of the Covenant.
I choose not to offer a modification of the old line of the free trade party: “When bagpipes do not cross borders, armies will.” This I because I am well aware of the modern history of bagpipes. The invading British Army usually crossed borders with a contingent of pipers to announce its arrival. The scene in Gunga Din is on target. The natives heard the British troops coming before they saw them. But I am a great proponent of the peacetime uses of bagpipes. Like nuclear fission, the bagpipe is not all bad.
Bagpipes and liberty: they go together, at least when separated from British foreign policy.