Weekend Cocktail Chatter

Ah, another weekend, another Moneybox correction. (Not a “correction” in the stock market sense. Rather a “correction” in the “Wow, that was really wrong” sense.) In my column yesterday about the collective intelligence of groups, I said that when a group of 125 people was given the task of picking Oscar winners, the group’s “mean response” did better than any single human. Unfortunately, as more than a few of you pointed out (quite pleasantly, I might add), the phrase “mean response” here is, well, not what I meant.

Instead, I was looking for the phrase “modal response.” In plain English (okay, not that plain), this means that if you take the nominee in each category whom a plurality of the group picks, and put them all together, you get more winners than any one person will pick.

But you knew that already. The oddest thing about this faux pas, as it happens, is that it was wrong without being confusing, since everyone immediately knew what I meant and knew that I wasn’t saying it right. As one reader mercifully put it, “merely leaving out the word ‘mean’ would probably eliminate confusion.” You don’t know how much I wish eliminating confusion was really a possibility for this column.

Anyway, doesn’t this all sound like an excellent excuse to head out this weekend and just, well, drink heavily and Chatter? Is it still acceptable to write about drinking heavily? If not, then I say, “Eat, imbibe moderately, and be merry, for tomorrow the Nasdaq may swoon again.”

1. “You can now pay your taxes with a credit card. On the one hand, you have to pay a handling fee of 2 percent, and then of course the usurious interest rates if you don’t pay that bill right away. On the other hand, you don’t get thrown in jail for evading your American Express payment. … Oh, wait. As of April 15, special debtors’ prisons will, in fact, be in operation. Another loophole closed.”

2. “Credit Suisse Group announced Monday that it was buying Warburg Pincus Asset Management for $650 million. There’s nothing especially interesting about this. I just like the way ‘Warburg Pincus’ sounds. Come on. Say it out loud and you’ll know what I mean.”

3. “Golden Books, former Simon & Schuster head Dick Snyder’s troubled company, was at different points on Tuesday up more than 60 percent and down more than 20 percent. You think Internet day trading might have had something to do with that? Naaahhhh. Come on. Be serious.”

4. “Saddest recent comment from the world of investing came in a letter to the the Wall Street Journal ‘s Jonathan Clements, when he asked readers what their dumbest financial move ever was. A reader from Ohio wrote simply: ‘A lifetime of investing in individual stocks. I had neither the expertise nor the access to the pertinent information.’ Of course, his weakness for companies with the letter ‘X’ in their names didn’t help, either.”

5. “Online magazine Slate abandoned its paid-subscription strategy and announced that all content would be free for ever after, or at least until it changed its mind again. Since then, Microsoft’s stock has fallen 17 points. Coincidence? I think not.”

6. “As part of the merger between AT&T and TCI, Ma Bell commissioned a ‘secret report’ on TCI CEO Leo Hindery. What could have been in that report? Give a listen: ‘Hindery is, unfortunately, an inveterate fan of Smart Guy, and reportedly wept tears of joy when the mom gave birth on 7th Heaven.’ “

7. “The Japanese appear to be getting closer and closer to just biting the bullet, printing huge quantities of yen, and basically throwing them into the street. Just in time for Sega’s new game station to come out, too.”