Friday, December 30, 2005

It's Time for a New Year!

After several years of intensive research, I have finally completed my genealogy study. It has been an amazing experience in learning who my ancestors were. Some were notable, most were just regular folks, and a few obviously were scoundrels. I thought I’d pass along biographical sketches of a few of the more interesting ancestors in my family tree.


The Admiral is my only known ancestor of French origin. He was declared a hero during the Battle of New Orleans by Andrew Jackson. During the battle, Captain LaRoquefort sailed into New Orleans with a hold full of bananas. His ship was a month late arriving at port and the bananas had ripened to a rich brown color. But all was not lost as he directed his crew to spread the bananas on the streets of the French Quarter, thus causing the British soldiers to slip and fall during their advance. Jackson awarded a field promotion to Admiral for my great-great-grandfather LaRoquefort.

Based on further research, I also learned that France built the Maginot Line along the arc of a banana to honor the exploits of Admiral LaRoquefort.


He was an itinerant cobbler from Exmoor in Devonshire. He arrived at Boston in 1693 claiming to be the sole heir of Lord Bartelby Pecksniff D’Urberville, Twelfth Earl of Exmoor. It turned out that he was the illegitimate son of Lord Bartleby and Miss Tess Mountoffen. She worked in the Lord’s castle as a pastry maker and was renowned for her meat pie concoctions.

"R. Q.", as he was known in Massachusetts Bay Colony court records, convinced many Boston merchants that he was the scion of royalty and ran up quite a tab before being sentenced to Debtor’s Prison in London. Before leaving Boston, he had managed to impregnate my great-great-great-grandmother, Dorcas Micawber.


First of my ancestors to settle in what is now West Virginia, he served in the Revolution and was given land in lieu of wages for military service. As was the custom in that age, he was required to clear the land and plant corn to prove his homestead claim. He then turned his interests to distilling his crop which allowed him to increase his landholdings. He married Peg(gotty) M’Choakumchild and they had thirteen children that lived to adulthood.


A fourth cousin, I include him because of his literary skills. He went west in the 1870’s and wrote famous short stories such as: The Mule of the Baskervilles, A Tale of Three Cities, The Casket of Lemonjello, and The Pit and the Metronome. For two decades, Edgar Allen was a newspaper reporter and wrote obituaries for the Tombstone Gazette.

Here’s hoping that your 2005 helped you find your roots.

Friday, December 9, 2005

Along With Atlas, West Virginia Shrugs

In 1991, the Library of Congress and Book of the Month Club surveyed readers and asked them to name books that had made a difference in their lives. As you would expect, the Bible finished in first place. You will be surprised to learn that Ayn Rand’s 1957 novel, Atlas Shrugged, was in second place, leading all other books.

Jeff Allen, a railroad-hopping hobo, is one of my favorite fictional characters. We meet him in "The Sign of the Dollar," the 20th chapter of Atlas Shrugged. Jeff is discovered hiding in Miss Dagny Taggart’s personal rail car. Miss Taggart, by the way, is no mere rich dame on holiday; she is the Operating V. P. of Taggart Transcontinental railroad.

Rather than have the conductor throw Jeff Allen off the train, Miss Taggart unexpectedly invites him to join her for supper. And it is their dinner conversation that succinctly explains Ayn Rand’s view of communism and compulsory unionism. The dinner scene, in many ways, is the essence of Ayn Rand’s philosophy.

Jeff Allen had been a machinist and shop foreman at the Twentieth Century Motor Company plant in Wisconsin. When the owner of the company died, his heirs recommended a new employee compensation plan: From each according to his ability, to each according to his need. Still ashamed of his actions after twelve years, Jeff Allen admits that he and the other workers voted the plan in.

Jeff Allen’s dialogue, spoken in the inner sanctum of Ayn Rand’s heroine, is both riveting and compelling. He explains how unproductive workers bled the talented and ambitious workers of not only their paychecks, but of their will to work. No matter how much the ablest produced, the needs of the non-productive were never satisfied.

With regard to the author’s writing style, her metaphors are often over the top and harsh to a fault. Even so, I would submit to you that the answer as to why West Virginia’s best and brightest young people have left here in droves for jobs in other states is because West Virginia government has adopted a semblance of "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need" in its tax laws and spending policies. For decades, the business sector has been charged ever-escalating taxes and fees to pay worker compensation benefits, unemployment benefits, Medicaid benefits, public employee benefits, and public education costs. For decades, businesses have closed or moved their operations out of state. For decades, West Virginia’s students have learned the three R’s-readin’, writin’, and route 77.

But wait! Times have changed. We now have a new slogan: West Virginia is open for business. Yes, there certainly have been some noteworthy changes in public policy over the last year or two. Unfortunately, there is a great deal of talk in the halls of the Capitol about allowing state employees to organize collective bargaining units.

Let’s leave it at this-saying you’re open for business while saying you’re in favor of a closed shop is a contradiction in terms.

For all practical purposes, public school teachers already represent a collective bargaining unit. That system, while never tightly glued to begin with, is starting to unravel even more. Eastern panhandle teachers want pay adjustments for the region’s higher cost of living. Since they can’t get that pay increase under the present system, many have opted to teach in Virginia. Ironic, isn’t it, that our teachers can earn much more money in a right-to-work state?

To be sure, Atlas Shrugged is a work of fiction; there was no Twentieth Century Motor Company nor did Taggart Transcontinental rule the rails. The story line, however, rings true with readers because Ayn Rand eloquently translates this simple truth: Employees are not simple pegs to be driven into convenient holes by the powers that be.

If West Virginia does allow state employees the right to form collective bargaining units, then organized labor faces a very risky situation. In recent years, unions haven’t had much luck winning elections. Should state employees reject union representation, and there is likelihood that they will reject the union if given the chance, it would have the same effect as if West Virginia passed a right-to-work law. Now that message really would announce: West Virginia is open for business.

Let ‘em vote.