Albuquerque New Mexico
Although it's by far the largest city in New Mexico at just over half a million Albuquerque is not a big town. It's main claim to fame apart from its high desert beauty is an annual International Balloon Fiesta, the largest in the world, that was just being prepared for as we departed. Early Balloons beginning to float into the clear blue sky. The historic Old Town was an easy walk from our hotel as were the principal museums so we didn't hire a car this time but would use Uber from the airport and into town and catch the Rail Runner train to the State capital, Santa Fe, our next location.
The small town square fronts San Felipe de Neri Church and is circled by historic adobe buildings and shops selling Native American handicrafts. While I was there excitement erupted when a classic car that I've since identified as a 1948 Chevrolet Stylemaster Sport Sedan pulled up with a boom-box in the 'trunk' playing contemporary tunes. When it left the town went back to normal - a bus load of mostly South Australian tourists sucking in the atmosphere.
We both took in the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History, a well curated spacious building with a very nice little coffee shop serving a good value lunch. It houses some very nice paintings and sculptures but is more interesting for the history than the art. In addition to addressing the conflicts between later settlers and Indians and those between the Europeans themselves it explains how Albuquerque came to be settled by more than a few hardy people scratching a living from the desert.
It was built on tuberculosis and medical quackery. Tuberculosis TB, also known as consumption, is a highly communicable disease that with the industrial revolution and growing population density began to ravage European societies. Unlike many other diseases it was no respecter of class, so wealthy victims sought any cure on offer, at almost any price. The medical profession cashed in.
Initially they had no idea what was causing the disease that seemed to afflict intellectuals, particularly authors, more than most. As a result it became fashionable to be 'consumptive', like having celiac disease today. As TB afflicts the lungs, dry mountain air seemed a good thing to suggest. In Europe this meant a sanatorium in Switzerland. In America it meant living in Albuquerque. Rail lines made access easier and sanatoria blossomed with medicos travelling the world to compare and borrow more and more bizarre and ineffective cure regimes. The poor set up tents.
But science was at work. At the end of the 19th century Robert Koch discovered the tuberculosis bacillus, for which he was awarded a Nobel prize, and with the 20th century came public health campaigns against public spitting, screening school children and X-raying adults, to isolate infected people, and the pasteurisation of milk. Despite the advent of antibiotics TB was still a problem in Australia when I was a child. Real working men spat in public, a sure indication that they weren't a poofter, or into a spittoon in the public bar, not actually public as women were relegated to the Ladies' Lounge. Perhaps spitting was intended to send a message to the women? Expectoration as a sort of proxy for ejaculation. At Thornleigh Public School the little boys of those spitting dads, in turn, competed in spitting for distance and quality, snorting back to get a good 'gob' before letting fly.
Then in the sixties came the end of the six o'clock swill and women's lib liberated the pubs. Pub culture changed. Spittoons disappeared and with TV the TB eradication campaigns finally began to take effect. Public spitting is now limited to new migrants, and they soon stop. TB has largely been eliminated in the 'first world' but it's still a huge problem worldwide.
Koch was something of a nemesis for Albuquerque. With real, evidence based, medical science the quackery and exploitation of 'alternative medicine' was exposed and the bottom fell out of the sanatorium bonanza. Nevertheless some of the sanatoria had developed into very well run hospitals and although their 'alternative' treatments seem laughable today, they were able to adapt to evidence-based medicine and become first rate hospitals. Thus, as in Switzerland, medical services remain one of the region's lasting strengths.
After a bite to eat I went off to the Natural History museum alone. Again there was an excellent presentation of life on earth illustrated with skeletons and correctly dated fossils as well as an interesting exhibit about space exploration complete with a replica rover. And as in the similar excellent museums I'd visited it was full of school age children and explaining adults, entranced and excited by the dinosaurs; earth's geology; and the wonders of space exploration. It was the two cultures again. It's as if there's a country within a country.
America is a huge country and these, and tens of millions of other American 'first world' children will grow up, like me, my children and their children; and a majority of people in Australia and Europe; and the developed world, interested in science and how the world really is as it is - as an exciting ongoing process of discovery. They, or children like them, will keep America at the forefront of scientific research and discovery. It is, after all, the country with more Nobel laureates in chemistry and physics than the rest of the world combined. The country responsible for more modern technology than any other in history.
Yet I knew from listening to the car radio to the preachers and demagogues that outside the universities and museums there is another, more alarming, often disadvantaged, poorly educated, superstitious and confused America. Almost half of all Americans believe that the world was created by God around four thousand years ago, as the Bible tells us (calculated from Luke 3:23–38, in turn relying on the Old Testament Jewish sources).
According to the US National Centre for Science and Education:
|On 6 occasions, the first in 1982 and the others between 1991 and 2001, the Gallup Poll asked respondents (in the US) to choose among three statements:
The numbers in parentheses are the averages of the 6 poll results.
"...women are somewhat more likely than men to be creationists, the elderly more so than the young, African-Americans more than whites, those who attend religious services often more than those who attend seldom or never... (with) relatively high rates for Baptists, much lower rates for Catholics, and the lowest rates for those with no religion."
I'd left my hat at the front desk and when I retrieved it I asked if they sometimes felt they were 'preaching to the converted', given the extraordinary number of creationists in the United States. The woman replied that sometimes they did get some strange remarks but on the whole very few creationists ventured in here.
Since returning to OZ the following YouTube video featuring Tim Minchin serendipitously popped up on my phone. DO NOT click on it if:
- you believe in creationism; or
- you are Christian and are easily offended.
You follow any YouTube links or advertisements displayed at your own risk.