Watercooler Stories

By United Press International  |  Dec. 5, 2006 at 6:30 AM
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Debate on the future of People's Park

BERKELEY, Calif., Dec. 5 (UPI) -- The University of California appointed an advisory board for recommendations regarding Berkeley's famous People's Park, once a symbol of political activism.

The 2.8-acre park south of the university campus is no longer a place for protesting but instead has become a gathering spot for the homeless and drug users, The Los Angeles Times reported.

University of California students who live in nearby dorms are warned not to go there.

University of California spokeswoman Irene Hegarty says the university has committed $100,000 to study ways to reshape the park to better serve the public.

But opponents say the move is motivated by economics.

"The university is using neighbors and their inflated property values as a way to take the park and reconfigure it into a gated community's vision of security," Charles Gary, a Berkeley drug counselor and longtime park activist, told the Times.

People's Park began in the late 1960s as a vacant lot that students and activists turned into a flower garden. It was frequently the site of confrontations between police and students, some of them violent.

Your first name tells a lot about you

BALTIMORE, Dec. 5 (UPI) -- Records kept by the U.S. Social Security Administration reveal that knowing someone's first name is a great clue to learning what decade they were born.

Popular names in the 1940s and 1950s were Mary, Linda and Lisa for girls and James, Robert and Michael for boys, The Baltimore Sun reports.

Those names didn't even make the Top 10 list last year when popular names for girls were Emily, Olivia and Madison and for boys were Jacob, Christopher and Ethan.

Susan Bartolini, a school nurse in Baltimore, says she meets a lot of children with names that could be either male or female such as Taylor, Alex and Sydney.

Since the 1970s, picking unusual names has been a trend in black communities, especially for girls.

Researcher Steven Levitt writes in Freakonomics that nearly 30 percent of black infant girls are given a name that is unique among every baby born that year in California.

McDonald's eyes gyms for kids

OAKBROOK, Ill., Dec. 5 (UPI) -- Restaurant chain McDonald's, based in Oakbrook, Ill., has been considering replacing its PlayPlace indoor playgrounds with gyms for children.

The R-Gyms, named for the chain's mascot, Ronald McDonald, would include stationary exercise bikes, rope climbing and other aerobic exercise activities to help children burn off their Happy Meals, the Chicago Tribune reported Monday.

Prototype R-Gyms are in use in Woodridge, Ill., Chillicothe, Ill., and locations in Oklahoma, California and Colorado.

"The intent is to provide games that allow children to use their imagination in an active lifestyle," said William Whitman, a McDonald's spokesman. "This is a continuation of what we have been doing for more than 20 years with the PlayPlace, providing a safe place where children can come and have fun."

However, Susan Linn, a psychologist at the Harvard Medical School and the co-founder of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, criticized the gyms as an attempt to make the restaurant look like it is tackling the issue of childhood obesity while avoiding the real problem.

"What McDonald's needs to do is stop marketing junk food to children and stop sending Ronald McDonald into schools," she said.

1,200 free turkeys gone in an hour

TORONTO, Dec. 5 (UPI) -- Thousands of people braved the cold in Toronto to camp out for a prominent Jewish businessman's annual free giveaway of 1,200 Christmas turkeys.

The giveaway has been a tradition in the city for 19 years as a show of gratitude from retailer and theater mogul "Honest Ed" Mirvish at his garishly signed department store.

Sunday was the first time Mirvish, 93, didn't attend. The role of greeter and turkey dispenser went to his son, David Mirvish and staff, who also put a Christmas fruit cake into bags along with the frozen turkeys, the Toronto Star reported.

Several people camped out for 16 hours in sub-freezing temperatures for one of the free birds, which were piled under a sign saying "Ed's in a fowl mood."

With retailing foremost in mind, recipients had to weave through the store and up three flights of stairs past discount merchandise before reaching the giveaway site.

The giveaway ended just over an hour after it began, the report said.

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