The news this week from America was electrifying.
After a titanic struggle, the young pretender had seen off the hot favourite. Now only destiny and history awaited.
The crucible of battle beckoned – a chance to banish the incumbent powers through destroying the old master.
And no, I’m not talking about the US Open tennis, even if for just for one moment in the second set it looked like Andy Murray might almost have the game to beat Roger Federer, just as he had swept away Rafael Nadal.
It was the American party conventions and the battle between Barack Obama and John McCain which intrigued. After glowing coverage of the Democratic bash in Denver, the Republican affair attracted little comment here initially.
Flicking the channels for a glimpse of Flushing Meadows last week, I came across a speech by Fred Thompson. The Senator’s deadpan style might almost have been compared by The Guardian to the dullest and most plodding rhetoric offered by our own Gordon Brown, but Thompson gave it a passable attempt.
The speech set out John McCain’s credentials, recalling his suffering and extraordinary courage during the Vietnam war. McCain was a principled and dignified statesman, he said, willing to stand up for what was right, and to fight the establishment machine. Willing to take risks in support of his beliefs.
If life evolves steadily from one species to another, then why do homo sapiens and chimpanzees still co-exist ? That’s a classic question, and one which goes right to the heart of evolution.
It’s important to our understanding of how all life forms develop, and to reconstructing the the evolution of early man (thanks to Ella for the link).
The point is that whilst evolution is a slow process, the mechanism which allows change to happen is not a gradual one at all. We might see Darwin’s drawings of Galapagos finches as a continuous spectrum of evolutionary development, but perhaps that sketch gives quite a false impression of how evolution really works.
When evolutionary change takes place, it does so rapidly and abruptly.
The wonder of geology, to me, is that it’s so much more than a study of inanimate rocks and stones. It’s a history of our planet, of life on Earth, and even of time itself.
The landscapes and seas around us, our climate, the plants and animals we depend upon to live, the resources we use whenever we go anywhere or make anything – geology is a route towards the understanding of all those things.
Every historian and foreign correspondent knows that in order truly to know the present and to predict the future, we have to understand the past.
And that is what geology gives us. Geology is a unifying discipline, which borrows so much from other science, and puts it all together to reveal the history of our planet and of life both past and present.
It’s so much of what we know about our world, and about ourselves as well.
But there’s a debate going on, right now, in the most developed country in the world, about whether any of it is true.
In geology, you learn about time. About a lot of time.
As I look from my window upon the Surrey Downs, I see the Chalk and Greensand hills, walked by pilgrims heading east to Canterbury for eight hundred years and more. That seems a lot of time.
But to the Earth, it’s nothing. Our planet is around 4.6 billion years old, give or take a few. That IS a lot of time.
A new perspective is required, so let’s imagine the Earth’s own lifetime as a marathon course. The longest journey, but even in this unimaginable race, every 100 million years meant just one kilometre en route from Greenwich to The Mall.