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The Week in Review -- February 26, 1999

The Markets

  2/19 Close 2/26 Close Change %Change
DJIA 9,339.95 9,306.58 -33.37 -0.36
S&P 500 1,239.16 1,238.33 -0.83 -0.07
Nasdaq 2,283.44 2,288.03 +4.59 +0.20

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Keep Your Eyes on Your Own Paper, Please
by Jerry Thomas (tmfcheeze@aol.com)

Greetings, Fools.

Okay, the first thing you do is you go read Tuesday's Fool on the Hill report by Warren Gump (TMF Gump). The title of the piece is "Financial Analysis Is Worth the Effort." Go read it, right now. I'll wait. This page isn't going anywhere for a while. And you need to know this stuff. I mean it, kids. Now get busy.

Welcome back. Okay, now here's the deal:

I came across a newspaper article earlier this week about college students and the Internet. It seems that there's a Term Paper Bonanza going on out there in the wacky world of cyberspace. Say you're a sophomore English major and you need to cough up a 5,000-word report by Monday on, I dunno -- Calvinist influences in the thematic interplay within the symbolic subtext of Herman Melville's use of gerunds in Bartleby the Scrivener. Worse, a fast word count reveals that your report has to be longer than the actual story you're required to write about. You're doomed, right? Well, no. See, all you do is run out to your friendly neighborhood website, post a cry for help on a message board, and suddenly you'll find dozens of pre-written essays cramming your mailbox. Sure, that sort of subverts the idea of a writing assignment, but people online just naturally want to help each other. It's that old community spirit.

Of course, my first reaction (aside from being shocked -- shocked -- that there is cheating going on in America's colleges) was, "Hey, how come I'm busting my hump with these 'Notes from a Fool' every week?" I mean, come on, people, can I get a little help here? Send me some sentence fragments, punctuation marks, whatever you got. I'm dying up here, y'know? A couple of solid paragraphs would make a big difference right now.

I mean, it wouldn't be the first time this sort of thing happened in Fooldom. The Thursday Foolish Four Report by Chris Rugaber (TMF RFK) quotes at length from George Johnston, who calls himself "Pantaloon" on our message boards. Johnston's contribution demonstrates that not only are Fools out there producing material well worth reading -- this particular item examines McDonald's (NYSE: MCD) in relation to the rest of the companies in the Dow Jones Industrial Average -- but also that Chris has a good eye for material. People contribute, and the good stuff gets noticed. Everything in life should work that way.

So you watch the information bubble to the surface from sources in every direction. The screaming-hot Rule Breaker portfolio announced a new addition this week. Yep, these Foolish rebels are buying another Internet stock. This time it's eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY), and I can already hear the critics screaming at the riskiness of this choice. Well, duh. This is obviously not the sort of equity for investing the money for the kids' braces, and Jeff Fischer says as much in Thursday's Rule Breaker Report. Do not, like those college term paper jockeys, blindly copy the work of others. This is definitely a do-your-own-homework kind of venture. Also be sure to study the eBay Buy Report, which gives a textbook lesson in making Rule Breaker stock selections. Like a good college term paper, these portfolios are worthless if they fail to be educational.

The question I'm asking, then, is, "What is the proper use of the information we find online?" Where do we strike the balance between using this medium to help us make good choices with our investments, rather than simply aping the work of other people? For surely, some of the information even in Fooldom conflicts, and by design. Look at this week's Dueling Fools feature on Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT). Yi-Hsin Chang (TMF Puck) makes a convincing bullish case, but Paul Larson (TMF Parlay) steps in right behind her with a very reasonable bearish case on the same company. Who makes the final decision? It can only be you.

The point is, there is a happy paradox to this deeply woven fabric of many minds we call the Internet. On one hand, there are so many people out there who are willing, happy, and even eager to give you important information to help make your choices in life. At the same time, that community effort multiplies the possibilities open to each of us. Both the individual and the group are thus strengthened, and more profoundly integrated in a working whole.

One last thing: tax time is coming up fast, and our intrepid squad of form-filling Fools has rounded up all of our voluminous materials on your least favorite but most urgent subject. It's all in our Tax Haven, and you'll find many ways to ease your money woes there.

Until next week,
Fool on!

Cheeze

Talk about Notes from a Fool on the Cheeze-O-Rama message board!


 




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