Before you put a big red bow on that bike junior's been begging for, consider the results of the latest study linking infertility and biking in men.

The research by an Australian urology-radiology specialist finds that of 55 mountain bikers tested, over 90% had low sperm counts and scrotal abnormalities. However, the subjects rode a minimum of 3,000 miles per year, far more than recreational mountain bike riders. So go ahead and put that Huffy under the tree... just make sure you give him a soccer ball and some action figures, too.

The FOOL 50 promptly canceled his horseback-riding lesson and was flat for the day.

In today's Motley Fool Take:

Retail Rings in Sales

'Tis the season, and retailers are loving every minute of it. The holiday shopping season kicked off in joyous fashion, as folks trekked to crowded malls and spent large amounts over the weekend.

According to ShopperTrak's National Retail Sales Estimate, registers rung up a 10.9% increase in sales on Friday and Saturday over last year's showing. While there are few guarantees in the fickle realm of retail, that's definitely a healthy start to the 2002 shopping season.

If the double-digit gains hold up over the next few weeks, most retailers should share the good tidings. The country's largest retailer, Wal-Mart(NYSE: WMT), had a record-breaking day on Friday, with $1.43 billion in sales. Last year, discounters showed strong gains at the store level, while full-price retailers, such as Nordstrom(NYSE: JWN) and Saks(NYSE: SKS), struggled to win over the frugal shopper.

With Jupiter Research expecting holiday online sales to grow by just 17%, it appears folks are balancing online purchases with offline sprees. OSTK) reported that sales surged by 150% over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. E-tailers Amazon(Nasdaq: AMZN) and BNBN) have made free shipping part of their year-round marketing strategy, although patrons clearly still crave storefront displays and trolling the clearance racks.

In a few days, retailers will announce November same-store-sales figures, fleshing out the early holiday shopping trends. We'll see how close the National Retail Sales Estimate came to reality. But if you can't wait that long, take two things away from the ShopperTrak projection: Warm up to retail stocks, and arrive at the mall early enough to secure yourself a choice parking spot.

Discussion Board of the Day: Living Below Your Means

Is it time to start spending less than you make? Think that budget rhymes with "fudge it" for a reason? Share your story with other Fools and get their suggestions, too. All this and more -- in the Living Below Your Means discussion board. Only on

United Still Stands

The news of United Airlines'(NYSE: UAL) bankruptcy has been mildly exaggerated.

Just days after rejecting a pay cut that was considered crucial in helping the airline avoid Chapter 11, leaders of United's mechanics' union reversed course today after weekend negotiations clarified a couple of issues. "It is the final opportunity to avoid bankruptcy and protect against the elimination of our entire collective bargaining agreement," according to a letter to members posted on the union's website. The final vote will come on Thursday.

This is the last major union to agree to significant wage and benefit reductions, and it now means United has a much better chance of landing a $1.8 billion federal loan guarantee. Without it, the company would almost certainly be forced to file for Chapter 11.

Though UAL shares were up by a third today, they are still fraught with risk. As many have noted, it's still far from sure the company will be able to secure the loan -- so bankruptcy is still very much a possibility.

Quote of Note

"We must use time as a tool, not as a crutch." -- John F. Kennedy (1917 - 1963)

Your Deadline's Approaching

Participating in a flexible-spending account (FSA) is a great way to slash your tax tab.

Here's how it works: At the beginning of the year, you designate an amount to be taken out of your paycheck pretax to be set aside for eligible medical expenses. The key word is "pretax," because the money is exempt from most federal and state income taxes. Contribute $500 to an FSA, and you could shave $75 to $200 off your tax bill, depending on your tax bracket.

Here's the catch: You have to use the money over the course of the year, or you lose it forever. For most plans, the end of the year is Dec. 31 -- leaving less than 30 days to get in any last-minute expenses for 2002. (A company might choose to run its flexible-spending plan according to its fiscal year, instead of the calendar year. Ask the folks in your human resources department for your company's schedule.)

If you still have money in your flexible spending account, here are some of the ways you spend it:

  • Visit the doctor for a checkup or the dentist for a holiday grin-cleaning. (Maybe Hermey the Elf has some appointments available.)
  • Refill prescriptions.
  • Get an eye exam, an extra pair of glasses, or even laser eye surgery.
  • Consider physician-prescribed therapy, including weight-loss or smoking-cessation programs, and acupuncture.
  • Do you need any special equipment installed in your home or car for medical reasons?
  • Stock up on allowable over-the-counter items, such as contact lens solution.

But before you buy that cool new pair of prescription sunglasses, make sure you haven't already spent enough to get back all the money in your FSA. Review your receipts, checkbook records, and credit card statements for expenses you've incurred but have yet to submit. Also, some physicians and pharmacies will provide a record of how much you spent over the past year.

So if it's been a while since you got a checkup, had your teeth cleaned, or received medically necessary liposuction (just kidding), now is the time to get fit for the holidays. For a complete list of eligible expenses, consult IRS Publication 502.

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Massachusetts v. Microsoft

It's the stuff of legends -- the little guy standing up to the giant and somehow prevailing, providing encouragement for little guys everywhere. That's an apt characterization of Massachusetts' decision to appeal the Microsoft(Nasdaq: MSFT) anti-trust settlement, except for the "prevailing" part.

Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly is unlikely to get his way, ultimately, and it will cost even more time and money to prolong this thing. But hey, that's no reason for the government to step back, right? Rigggggght.

Oh, to be a regulator, spending the taxpayers' money to protect "consumers."

Seven of the nine states (plus the District of Columbia) smacked down by U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly's ruling in November have agreed with the settlement. They are now focused on making sure Microsoft upholds its end of the deal, believing this to be the best allocation of their states' resources.

Aside from Massachusetts, only West Virginia hasn't signed on, and it has to decide by today's deadline. Massachusetts claims it's ready to go it alone.

Like a dog with a bone, Reilly just doesn't want to let this one go. He's been a vocal critic of Microsoft from the beginning, so it's hardly surprising.

Most legal analysts think his appeal is a long shot. Guess where it'll end up, should he -- through some incredibly fortuitous twist of fate -- win his first appeal? Yep, right back into the hands of Kollar-Kotelly. She was at least a little polite about her views concerning the states the first time around. It'll be interesting to see what happens should she get a second shot.

Microsoft isn't sweating this, and neither should shareholders. Microsoft's moved on. Too bad Massachusetts won't.

Quick Takes

The licensing kings at 4Kids(NYSE: KDE) brought you Pokemon and the anime flavor of the month, Yu-Gi-Oh. What's next? Geoffrey the Toys "R" Us(NYSE: TOY) giraffe mascot? Well, not exactly, but the two companies will team up to make exclusive toys and games. Toys "R" Us, the world's second-largest toy retailer behind Wal-Mart(NYSE: WMT), has been trying to stock its shelves with one-of-a-kind playthings to keep folks coming back to its superstores.

AOL Time Warner (NYSE: AOL) stayed on top of the box office over the holiday weekend with its latest Harry Potter incarnation. Some mere "muggles" figured that Disney(NYSE: DIS) had a shot with the release of its latest animated feature, but Treasure Planet stumbled badly and struggled to make roughly a third of Potter's take. It's a bad omen because Disney's previous full-length feature, Lilo & Stitch, opened three times higher. If there's any consolation, it's that Lilo & Stitch hits the DVD and home-video market tomorrow.

Wireless Gates? Shares of Nextel Partners(Nasdaq: NXTP) rose on the news that Microsoft's(Nasdaq: MSFT) Bill Gates had acquired a larger chunk of the wireless communications specialist. Does this mean Microsoft is going to buy the company? Of course not. It's just Gates, through his Cascade investing arm, buying 3.75 million more shares. He does this all the time, with companies like Six Flags(NYSE: PKS), and history has proven this to be strictly investing-related. Then again, why should logic stop the rumor mill?

And Finally...

Today on Rick Munarriz examines some promising small caps hit hard by the market.... Joshua Brown explains why new protective CD encoding will only punish Sony's honest customers.... In Fool's School, how much house can you afford?... And the Post of the Day: the latest on Advanced Micro Devices.

Bob Bobala, Robert Brokamp, Tom Jacobs, LouAnn Lofton, Bill Mann, Selena Maranjian, Rex Moore, Rick Munarriz, Matt Richey, Jackie Ross, Reggie Santiago, Dayana Yochim