Wednesday, July 31, 2013

From the Smallest to the Biggest.

I realized just recently that I am blogging from the city with the smallest park to a city with the biggest park.

It's true! The smallest public park in the world is located in Portland, Oregon. Yes, amongst the many things that we may be famous for, is Mill Ends Park, a circular piece of land 2 feet in diameter (452 square inches) that presides over (or, is surrounded by) the intersection of SW Naito Parkway and Taylor in downtown Portland.

Contrast that with the largest park in the world, Northeast Greenland National Park, which is 24,700 square miles.

That does not fit in the middle of an intersection.

However, Adirondack Park has its own claim to fame as the largest public park in the contiguous United States. At 9,375 square miles, it holds its own.

I won't post a picture because, well, you live there.

But I will share with you the story of the smallest park. In 1946, a columnist for the Oregon Journal named Dick Fagan lived right across from the traffic median that was just then being constructed on Naito Parkway (then called Front Ave). A raised concrete bed in the middle of the median was meant to hold a traffic light. However, it was never installed, and the bed became just a hole filled with trash and weeds.

As Fagan tells it, one day he looked out his window and saw a leprechaun digging in the hole. He immediately ran outside to the hole and captured the leprechaun. Of course, if you catch a leprechaun, it has to grant you a wish. Fagan wished for his own park, but neglected to say how big or small it should be. Thus, the hole in the traffic median became Fagan's park, which he named after the column he wrote: Mill Ends.

(“Mill Ends” is a loggers’ term that refers to pieces of wood left over from the milling process.)

Fagan planted flowers in the hole and maintained it, all the while spinning fanciful tales of leprechaun activity in his personal park. Over the years, the entire city of Portland has taken over as its caretaker. The park has hosted a swimming pool (with a diving board for butterflies), a miniature Ferris wheel (delivered by a full-size crane), and a tiny tent with protest signs around it (the Occupy movement

Dick Fagan died in 1969, and Mill Ends was finally officially named a city park in 1976. I pass it often when I go downtown, which is a quick 20 minute trip from home on our local subway system.

With that, I will leave you with a few of my favorite and fun Irish movies:

Friday, July 12, 2013

Everything you probably don't want to know about TB

I've been thinking about Saranac Lake's tubercular past these days, as multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) has been in the news a lot lately. Tuberculosis itself is the second leading cause of death by an infectious agent worldwide (behind AIDS). The World Health Organization estimates that one-third of our entire population is infected with the TB bacilli, even if it does not actively cause symptoms. So, the emergence and spread of a drug-resistant strain is a wee bit unsettling, in my opinion.

The map below shows the numbers of  MDR-TB diagnoses in 2012. (The map also links to the original web site, where the map is more interactive.

World Health Organization Tuberculosis Report 2012
The World Bank (not a bank, but an organization that works on ending poverty) also has a great interactive map that shows the incidence of drug-resistant TB all over the world. (I LOVE interactive maps!)

The CDC Fact Sheet on drug-resistant TB gives you the low-down on the disease itself.

Tuberculosis may have put Saranac Lake on the map in the late 1800's, but I'm hazarding a guess that y'all probably don't want that kind of fame this time around.

On the upside (for us, at least), the U.S. and Canada have seen very few cases of MDR-TB so far. The disease proliferates mostly due to the mismanagement of medication for regular TB. In countries that are relatively poor, the drug supply is not always available, or the
drugs may not be high quality. Providers may not understand how to properly prescribe drug treatments, or patients may not be educated on the importance of following drug regimens.

The disease, like regular TB, is spread by the bacteria being coughed, sneezed, or breathed into the atmosphere, and can be controlled somewhat effectively by taking precautions such as using a mask over the mouth, avoiding closed or crowded spaces, etc.

Plus, Giant African Pouched Rats are more effective at sniffing out TB than a scientist with a microscope. I wonder if you can order one online?

I'll end with four books related to tuberculosis, or the spread of disease in general:

The Magic Mountain, by Thomas Mann, c1924.
Protagonist Hans Castorp is diagnosed with tuberculosis and stays at a sanatorium in the mountains of the Swiss Alps (sound familiar?). While there, he encounters several characters whose personalities taken together define pre-war Europe in a microcosm.

The Air We Breathe, by Andrea Barrett, c2007.
A fictional story about a man with tuberculosis who leaves New York City for a TB sanatorium in the ... Adirondack mountains, of all places! Yes, you all probably already know this book by heart. :-)

The Ghost Map, by Steven Johnson, c2006.
In 1854, cholera raged through London. Though believed to be spread by "vapors" by most, Dr. John Snow mapped the cases of outbreaks throughout the city until it became clear that cholera hotspots centered around water pumps. This analysis saved millions of lives, gave rise to better city infrastructure, and also spurred on the field of epidemiology.

The End of Poverty, by Jeffrey D. Sachs, c2005.
I did say tangentially related. TB, and especially MDR-TB tends to proliferate in poverty-stricken areas of the world. Striking at the heart of what keeps these areas destitute is one sure way to halt the spread of infectious disease. Sachs analyzes these forces and suggests remedies to end poverty.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

You Are Where You Live

Recently a friend asked me what people who live in Atlanta call themselves. I felt a little off-guard when I answered, "Well, Atlantans, I guess." I know I've used that moniker for years, but never very consciously.

As it turns out, terms for people who live in certain localities are called "demonyms." Demonyms are usually just a matter of adding a suffix such as -ite, -an, -ian, or -er to the end of the place name. Some examples are Seattleite (I love that one!), Ottawan, Californian, and Londoner.

There is also -ese, as in Taiwanese, -ish, as in Irish, -i, as in Iraqi, and -ine, as in Argentine.

There are less common suffixes, too, such as in the Glaswegian from Glasgow, the Oslovian from Oslo, the Spaniard from Spain, and the Slovenes from  Slovinia.

Then there are the names were nothing is added, but taken away. Afghans, Croats, and Thai live in Afghanistan, Croatia and Thailand.

Some of these don't even make much sense (at least to me.) For example, folks from Manchester are called Mancunians. Wha? And then how do you even make a name for denizens of Massachusetts? (Turns out they are Bay-Staters).

We in Portland, OR are Portlanders. I work with a bunch of Vancouverites in Washington. I have been, at different points in my life, a Missourian (often pronounced Missouran), a Louisianian, a Tennesseean, and a Georgian. I am engaged to a Texan.

So are you Saranacians? Saranac Lakers? Sarcusians? Please enlighten your fellow earthlings!

In the meantime, here are some books on demonyms:

Front Cover   Front Cover