Hey, I'm OK with it

You could ask almost any Australian: When John Howard and Bob Hawke see eye-to-eye on an issue, that's news . But today, they do. Howard, the incumbent prime minister, and Hawke, a predecessor from the opposition Labor Party, say a new directive that guards and attendants at Parliament House in Canberra address visitors as "ma'am" or "sir" is ... well, "pomposity gone mad," as Hawke put it. Australians all call each other "mate," right? Well, maybe not all, but at least the word is a centuries-old egalitarian term of respect Down Under, even for people one barely knows. Or, at least it was until a senior civil servant walking into Parliament one day took offense at its easy informality and complained. That's what prompted the decree - and what became an immediate backlash. The policy went into effect last Thursday. By Friday, it had been rescinded.

Junior headed to college? Break out the checkbook

If parents of elementary and high school students think shopping for back-to-class clothes and supplies is expensive, wait until their offspring leave for college. According to results of a survey by Widmeyer Research & Polling of New York and Washington for the Center for a New American Dream, more than one third of college students will spend an average of $1,539 this year on clothes, supplies, electronics (especially computers), and other related items. Last year, a survey by the National Retail Federation found college students and their parents spent $25.7 billion on back-to-school merchandise, or almost double what was spent for primary education. The leading back-to-school expense categories in 2004, with the money (in billions) spent on each, according to the National Retail Federation:

Textbooks $8.8
Electronics 7.5
Clothing and accessories 3.2
Dorm or apartment furnishings 2.6
School supplies 2.1
Shoes 1.5

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