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Weekend Edition: 11-6

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There are different rules for reading, for thinking, and for talking. Writing blends all three of them.

Mason Cooley, City Aphorisms, Twelfth Selection (1993)

Weekend Edition: 10-30

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If I had found the words I was looking for, I would not have read so much.

Mason Cooley, City Aphorisms, Eighth Selection (1991)

Loco Lawsuits: I’m the ass, not you

Copyright lawsuits can be difficult and take time. Just ask George Harrison. The lawsuit against him for “subconsciously” plagiarizing the song “He’s So Fine” in writing “My Sweet Lord” dragged on from 1971 to 1998. Some copyright lawsuits don’t take quite so long – and can produce even sadder results.

In 1997, Bob Craft, who lived in rural Montana, legally changed his name to “Jack Ass.” He said he did so because of a campaign against drunk driving he began after his brother was killed in a car accident. He also created a cartoon character called Andi Ass to help promote responsible drinking and designated drivers with the slogan, “Be a smart ass, not a dumb ass.” According to Ass, “The ‘SMART ASS’ chooses a designated driver, rather than being a ‘DUMB Ass’ and drink while driving.”

In October 2000, the MTV series Jackass premiered. Shortly after the release of Jackass: The Movie in late October 2002, Ass filed a pro se complaint against sued Viacom, MTV’s parent company, in state court. Ass claimed Viacom defamed both him and Andi Ass. He also alleged it was guilty of plagiarism and trademark and copyright infringement of his legal name, as well as that of Andi Ass. Given the movie grossed more than $42 million in its first ten days, Ass sought damages of $10 million.

Ass said he represented himself because “I couldn’t find an attorney” to represent him. That’s likely why Ass was unaware that federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction over copyright, trademark, and patent cases. As a result, Viacom moved the lawsuit to the federal district court in Montana in January 2003.

Almost immediately after removing the lawsuit from state court, Viacom filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. After the parties briefed their legal positions, the federal judge dismissed the case in early July 2003. It evidently was too great a loss for Ass. He committed suicide on July 21.


Concerning the difference between man and the jackass: some observers hold that there isn’t any. But this wrongs the jackass.

Mark Twain, Notebook

Are bagpipes a weapon of war?

To Scots, bagpipes aren’t just a musical instrument. They also have political symbolism. So political, in fact, they’ve been considered a war weapon.

Treating bagpipes as weaponry stems back to the last and most famous of the Jacobite Risings, which sought to restore the House of Stuart to the throne of England. In 1745, Charles Edward Stuart (known to history as “Bonnie Prince Charlie) launched a rebellion in the Scottish Highlands to regain the British throne for his father, James Francis Edward Stuart. Despite initial successes, the English crushed Charles’ forces at the Battle of Culloden on April 16, 1746, although Charles managed to escape.

Bagpiper James Reid belonged to the Highland forces. Most sources say he was among the Jacobites taken prisoner at Culloden Marsh. Others say he was captured in December 1745, when English troops recaptured Carlisle, England, from the Jacobites. In either event, Reid went on trial for treason. Reid claimed he wasn’t a combatant because he didn’t have a gun or sword. Instead, he only played the bagpipes on the battlefield.

On October 7, 1746, a jury found him guilty but recommended mercy because it appeared Reid never carried arms. However, a commission appointed to hear the treason cases rejected the recommendation. The commission, headed by the chief baron of the Court of Exchequer, reasoned that Highland regiments “never marched without a piper; and therefor his bagpipe, in the eye of the law, was an instrument of war. Reid died by hanging on November 15, 1746, in York, England.

Many sources erroneously say Britain’s 1746 Act of Proscription classified bagpipes as war weapons. However, the law, passed in response to the 1745 uprising, doesn’t mention bagpipes. Rather, the commission’s decision is considered the first recorded ruling declaring a musical instrument a weapon of war. Some report that the precedent led to counting bagpipes captured in combat with weapons, such as sabers, guns, and munitions. Even in World War I, the British Army had some 2,500 bagpipers who went “over the top” with only their pipes.

Reid’s conviction returned to court 250 years later. In June 1996, authorities arrested David Brooks after residents complained of him playing bagpipes on Hampstead Heath. They charged him with violating an 1890 London bylaw prohibiting playing musical instruments without permission. He pleaded not guilty, saying his pipes were an instrument of war, not a musical instrument.

At Brooks’ October 1996 trial, his barrister argued the decision in Reid’s case was binding legal precedent as it was never overturned, according to Glasgow’s The Herald. Magistrate Michael Johnstone questioned the wisdom of the defense. If correct, he said, Brooks could have been charged with carrying a dangerous weapon and faced a prison sentence.

Johnstone called Reid’s case a miscarriage of justice but said that in times of war, bagpipes are instruments of war, and in peacetime, they’re musical instruments. Because Brooks used his as a musical instrument, Johnstone fined him 15 pounds (about $24.45) on each count of playing without permission and ordered him to pay 50 pounds in court costs, The Herald reported.

Some sources claim the Brooks case means Reid’s execution was illegal and, thus, abrogated treating bagpipes as weapons of war. However, Johnstone’s analysis belies that. So, the question remains: are bagpipes instruments of war? And, if so, how many bagpipers are needed to render the instrument a weapon of mass destruction?


Bagpipes are the missing link between music and noise.

E.K. Kruger, quoted in Wit

(This post originally appeared at Exploring History.)

Weekend Edition: 10-23

Interesting Reading in the Interweb Tubez

  • America is ending (“The fights over masks and vaccinations for Covid-19 is an overwhelming measure of intellectual and moral deterioration of the country.”)

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[A] successful printed book is a stone dropped in water, its message rippling outwards to hundreds, thousands, millions.

John Man, The Gutenberg Revolution