By Jefferson Flanders

To borrow, once again, from Jimmy Cannon, nobody asked me, but… I’M SURE THAT SWARTHMORE STUDENTS and their parents feel so much better now that adminstrators at that elite college outside Philadelphia have proclaimed the school a bargain.

Swarthmore’s managers argued that in a story in the New York Times:

“The half of our student body whose families are paying the full sticker price are paying $41,000 for something that costs $73,000,” said Suzanne P. Welsh, the treasurer. “So they’re getting a great discount.”

The real shocker: Swarthmore calculates that, fully loaded, it costs $73,000 to educate one student for an academic year (which is about eight months). Shouldn’t it be possible to house, feed and educate an 18 or 19-year old for less than that?

Yes, I know the arguments about how expensive upkeep on an aging infrastructure can be, how it costs to keep pace with new technology, and how pricey it can be finding and retaining faculty. The reality: institutions of higher education have not used that technology to drive costs down, or increase productivity, as other organizations have. The result: tuition bills, discounted or not, that are out of control.

LEONARDO DICAPRIO IS BRILLIANT IN the newly released “Blood Diamond” as an emotionally damaged soldier-of-fortune smuggling conflict diamonds in Africa; it’s rare that an actor provides two notable performances in one year (DiCaprio offers top-notch work as a troubled undercover cop in “The Departed.”)

WHO CARES WHETHER A POLITICIAN KNOWS the cost of a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread? Some do, but we should be more concerned when the new chairman of the House intelligence committee (Rep. Silvestre Reyes, a Democrat from Texas) can not describe Hezbollah and thinks al-Qaeda’s followers are Shia Muslims (they’re Sunni). What’s worse: Reyes has served on the committee for more than five years!

New Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is championing combined Congressional oversight of the intelligence agencies—a recommendation of the 9/11 Commission—but if she reposes trust in subordinates not up to the task, then any reform effort will fail.

BOSTON’S MAYOR TOM MENINO has a “wicked” case of Edifice Complex; he called for a signature office tower to be constructed in Beantown earlier in the year, and now is militating for a new waterfront City Hall in South Boston. True, the current City Hall is one of the ugliest public buildings in America, situated in a desolate plaza, but after the Big Dig, you would think Boston politicians would be wary of construction projects. Not Menino.

GIVE ACTOR GEORGE CLOONEY SOME CREDIT—in recent trips he has he focused on those countries, China and Egypt, who could most quickly hasten an end to the atrocities being committed in the Darfur region of the Sudan. Outgoing United Nations head Kofi Annan and, regretably, the Save Darfur organization, have seemed reluctant to confront the Chinese and members of the Arab League over their support for the regime in Sudan, perhaps believing “quiet diplomacy” would work better.

THE WORDS FOR THE WEEK from composer John Cage: “”I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.”

Reprinted from Neither Red nor Blue 

Copyright © 2006 Jefferson Flanders

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