a wood pile

To Encourage The Others

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With summer winding down, it's time to start splitting firewood for the coming winter.

Each year I spend parts of the late summer and most of September making a pile of firewood. It's great exercise, and so far, I can still manage to do it without a powered log splitter. I get by fine with a splitting maul, wedges, sledgehammer, and…

Firewood is my responsibility. On average, we go through a couple cords each winter, but each autumn it's a bit of a guessing game how much to split. Too much, and I've got a bunch for next year (Yay!) that I have to move away from the house in wildfire season. Not enough, and in March I'll start filing the edge of my axe while eyeing the furniture.

Guessing wrong can make for an uncomfortable last month of winter, especially taking into account the The Missus' cold feet, and accommodating the dogs in bed. They usually curl up in the middle which forces my uncovered ass out over the edge at some point. The Missus has also perfected the North Pole Roll, which, by locking her arms around the blanket and rolling she wraps herself into a toasty warm blanket burrito, leaving the dogs and me to fend for ourselves.

By the end of March, the dogs and I have become very close.

I have great motivation to stock up on enough firewood for the bitterest of winters, because in the end, I'm accountable for any mistakes.

Admiral Byng's Accountability

Speaking of accountability, let me tell you about the British Vice Admiral John Byng.

Way back in 1756, Admiral Byng was a big mucky muck in the British navy. When war broke out with France, he was ordered to sail his fleet to defend the British forces on the island of Minorca, in the Mediterranean.

Admiral Byng was not very aggressive in carrying out his orders. He failed to make an impression in a fleet action attempting to defend Minorca against the French. He retreated to Gibraltar, effectively abandoning the British on Minorca, which the French eventually seized.

When he returned to England, he was arrested, court-martialed and found guilty of "failing to do his utmost" to defeat the French. Condemned to death by firing squad aboard his very own flagship, the sentence was carried out at noon, March 14, 1757.

It was Byng's execution to which French philosopher, playwright and author Voltaire was referring when he wrote his famous line that the British needed to occasionally execute an admiral from time to time, "in order to encourage the others."

Up to that point, the British hadn't had much success against the French. After Byng's execution, a fire seemed to be lit in the ranks of the British Navy. They took risks, and fought with tenacity and audacity. Clearly no officer wanted to be seen as cowardly and overly cautious.

At the end of the Seven Years War, the British Navy stood (floated? sailed?) alone as the world's pre-eminent naval power. It's true! You can look it up.

A dead Admiral? Firewood? What's the connection?

Interesting, but what does Admiral Byng's execution have to do with firewood?

It's about accountability; A pretty tenuous link, I admit. But I've been watching what's going on in Afghanistan, and I find myself wondering if anyone will be held to account for the mess.

Everyone pays a price for failure. If I don't pay bills the power will get shut off. If I don't split enough firewood, the house will be colder in winter. If I don't make friends with the cat, he'll chew my arm off while I sleep.

Paying a price for failure is almost universal, except for those in government; there are no penalties for them. On the contrary, they often get promoted!

Joe Biden is the prime exemplar of failing upward.

What to do?

I think we should look to the British for a solution. Not necessarily execution. Although an argument can be made that arming the Taliban with helicopters, heavy equipment, technology, rifles, guns, ammo and everything else, can be construed as "giving aid to the enemy" aka "treason".  But even worse than that, leaving American citizens and allies behind to face almost certain death is even more treasonous. And I think most of us would agree on the penalty for that.

Talk about "failing to do your utmost"!

But, hell, toss us a bone! At least fire one or two of those idiots at the top, perhaps toss in a little public disgrace vinaigrette for a pleasant Caesar "Et tu?" Salad.

I have no problems removing a president for treason. It's clear he's not in control of his mind, but I only care about that to the extent that it's yet another good reason for his removal. There should be penalties for such ignominious failures and betrayals, ESPECIALLY for those in positions of ultimate power.

Of course, no one will lose their jobs over this, which is pretty typical for government these days. But if we ever expect our nation to bounce back from this, there need to be harsh consequences for failure at the highest levels. If we don't do so now it will be like accepting brochures from Jehovah's Witnesses, it will only embolden them.

Severe and swift punishment must be visited upon the fools in charge of this debacle…

…to encourage the others.

About the Author


Topdog is Steve Merryman, a graphic designer (retired), and illustrator. Living in the woods, Steve can often be found working on portrait commissions. In his spare time he paints, writes, shoots guns, cuts trees, hikes with his dogs, savors a beer or two, and searches for the perfect cheeseburger. He studiously avoids social media and is occasionally without pants.