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Obama sweeps

Darwin Day was good for Barack Obama. Once again, he swept the day’s primaries – in Washington DC he picked up 75% of the vote, in Virginia 64%. He looks set to win by a similar margin in Maryland.

Obama’s speech was aimed at a national audience, not just the Democratic party. His comments were aimed at McCain, not Clinton. McCain returned the compliment, directing his attacks at Obama. McCain seems like a tired old man. Sure, he seems earnest. But even in victory, he seems defeated. He said “I am fired up and ready to go”…but nothing seems closer to the truth than “fired up”. It’s sad to see. But he still won the Republican contests.

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Darwin Day 2008

The Center for Inquiry at the University of Oklahoma sponsors a Darwin Day Forum. There were three distinguished panelists (OU Zoology professors Ola Fincke and Richard Broughton, and internationally renowned blogger Abbie Smith) and me. We had a crowd of thirty-some people, mostly pro-evolution. We introduced ourselves, and then fielded questions.

It was a really good discussion. When Vic Hutchison said that the crowd was mostly pro-evo, I wondered how much there would be to talk about. Abbie’s work on HIV and Ola Fincke’s damselfly work (some of the species she studies engage in obligate siblicide – pretty cool stuff) drew the first questions, but pretty soon the conversation got going. The few creationists that were there didn’t ask any questions, but we still covered most of the creationist arguments against evolution. After all this time, I tend to forget that not everyone who is sympathetic to evolution know the flaws in most of the creationist talking points. It felt like I did something useful, even if we didn’t reach many evolution doubters. That aside – it was a lot of fun.

Lacking a sense of history

I am always fascinated by the lack of a sense of history in Trinidadian society, even among educated elites. Americans are familiar with the ideas of Madison and Jefferson, of Franklin. Granted, they are less awareness of the nationalists and intellectuals who came before them, but Trinidadians seem utterly cut off from their past. History, it would seem, began in 1937 with Butler. Sure, some people recognise Cipriani. But who else can a Trinidadian name from before that time? Mzumbo Lazare is a name – nothing more. Who knows about the intellectual development of late 19th century Trinidad? The builders of the Magnificent Seven are names I have heard of courtesy the Carib calendar, but even they are early 20th century.  Robert Goddard* wrote:

According to French Creole newspaper editor in 1890’s Trinidad, Philip Rostant, his compatriot Charles Warner was not a true creole because of his support for the conservative program of the sugar interests, while Robert Guppy, English-born but part of the anti-sugar lobby had been “creolized by 45 years residence in the colony”.

Anti-sugar lobby? While the names, Rostant, Guppy and Warner are not unfamiliar familiar to me, I know nothing of the politics that surrounded them. They are as removed from me as India. I blame some of the opacity on Williams – he could not erase all of history, but he needed people to believe that history began with him. It didn’t – he could drive Albert Gomes into exile, but he couldn’t make people forget he existed. He could drive people like Fargo James and TUB Butler into the margins, making them John to his Jesus, but people still remembered them.

What have we lost in our inability to remember the past? Would Trinidad be different if the French Creoles were seen as the people who had built creole identity? The tragedy of modern Trinidad is that the French Creoles are either seen as foreigners or they are seen as the slave masters. While they were slave owners, they were largely displaced by British capitalists. While they were plantation owners, they saw themselves as Trinidadians. And they played a crucial role in the development of an identity that could be seen as Trinidadian.

* Goddard, Robert. 2005. Sugar as Stranger: Sugar Monoculture and the Coming of Creole Consciousness in the Caribbean.  Ph.D. dissertation, Emory University.

Darwin Day

Happy Darwin Day!