From the Just-When-You-Thought-You'd-Heard-It-All Dept.: A man who legally changed his name to "Jack Ass" is suing Viacom(NYSE: VIA), which made the movie Jackass.

According to the lawsuit, Mr. Ass (yes, he's single, ladies!) claims the film defames his character, which he "worked so hard to create." Formerly known as Bob Craft, Mr. Ass changed his name in 1997 to promote cartoon characters he created to relay a message of responsible drinking.

The FOOL 50, after hearing this story, abandoned the effort to change its name to The Mule 50.

In today's Motley Fool Take:

Home Depot Hits New Lowe's

Want to know when irony whacks you across the noggin like a two-by-four? While Home Depot(NYSE: HD) was bowing to environmentalists by announcing a new sourcing policy for its timber, it was also assuring disgruntled investors that a slew of trees would meet their fate as lumber to fill sell-order confirmations after warning of a fourth-quarter shortfall.

Can anyone say, "Timber"?

The home-improvement retailer was already capping off a dreadful 2002, with share prices unseen since 1998. With the chain opening its 1,500th store just last month, it's clear Home Depot is going through some growing pains. The company is looking to post a fourth-quarter decline of 10% in same-store sales after a bleak December, guiding Wall Street to expect full-year earnings between $1.53 and $1.55 a share.

While it can attempt to hide behind the orange apron of a sector slowdown, rival Lowe's(NYSE: LOW) is its most obvious problem. The No. 2 home-improvement retailer is moving into Home Depot's strongholds -- and it's winning the ware war.

While Lowe's has a little more than half as many stores as Home Depot, its refined store layouts and high-end marketing campaigns are driving in new business. In November, Lowe's projected fourth-quarter comps to climb by as much as 4%, while Home Depot was already sputtering. And last month, Lowe's hiked its dividend.

It's possible rock-bottom rates have lasted so long that the refinancing bug is no longer nibbling, and homeowners are therefore putting off remodeling projects. But Home Depot may want to consider a makeover sooner, rather than later. It can learn from its competition. And it has little choice but to do so, at this point.

If you own shares of Home Depot and want to get out, or you're a potential investor attracted to this classic blue chip (now fetching an earnings multiple in the teens), think about what the company has to do to get its act together, and the potential windfall if it gets it right.

Discussion Board of the Day: Home Depot

Do you bleed Orange? Care to compare Lowe's to Home Depot? What is it about the smell of sawdust that gets some folks drooling? All this and more -- in the Home Depot discussion board. Only on

Starbucks Does It Again

Like a kid buzzed out of his gourd on caffeine, Starbucks(Nasdaq: SBUX) just won't sit still.

Month after month, quarter after quarter, the coffee roaster, brewer, and seller meets the market head-on with outstanding results. It did so again late yesterday, with its December total and same-store sales results.

Last month was much sweeter for Starbucks than for most other retailers. Total sales were jolted by 22% to $418 million. Comparable-store sales improved an amazing 7%. The company keeps 'em coming back again... and again... and again.... Are we sure they aren't putting more than milk, sugar, and the occasional mocha in their drinks?

The Starbucks Card again contributed to the company's solid results, as did its holiday beverage lineup (Gingerbread Lattes!). With many retailers slashing prices to generate any hint of holiday sales, Starbucks, not surprisingly, stayed the course, price-wise. And its margins will be rewarded for it.

For the 13 weeks ended Dec. 29, comps were up 9%. Total sales for the quarter were a record $1 billion (cue Dr. Evil's voice). That's 25% ahead of last year's results.

Looking ahead, Starbucks will report first-quarter earnings Jan. 23. After that, it faces tests of its own success, as the stellar comps racked up throughout 2002 could become hurdles. Of course, we've been noting this possibility for years now, and Starbucks always seems to pull it off, somehow.

The only other possible hurdle on the horizon, then, is its stock price. It no doubt deserves a premium for its continued excellence, but how much of one? Shares are trading at about 32 times current fiscal year earnings. Even for the king of coffee, that seems pretty frothy. Then again, doubting Starbucks seems to be shaky grounds.

Quote of Note

"There are people who strictly deprive themselves of each and every eatable, drinkable, and smokeable which has in any way acquired a shady reputation. They pay this price for health. And health is all they get for it. How strange it is. It is like paying out your whole fortune for a cow that has gone dry." -- Mark Twain (1835-1910)

Will Fly for Food

These days, when you fly the friendly skies, you're likely to hear the hungry sighs. Cash-starved airlines have drastically cut back on food service, causing famished flyers to scrounge around in their seat cracks for fallen peanuts.

Leave it to America West Airlines(NYSE: AWA) to come up with the most obvious solution to the problem: charging passengers for meals. The Phoenix-based carrier will begin testing its "Buy on Board" program next week on selected flights, offering meals ranging from $3 (cheese and crackers, beef jerky, and cookies) to $10 (Chicken Kiev).

Although some are skeptical about the idea, let's face it... when you're hungry, you'll pay for food.

Making people pony up for critical services is a stunningly simple way to increase cash flow, and our crack TMF research team has infiltrated the boardrooms of other airlines that are brewing up plans of their own. Here's what we found out:

Southwest Airlines (NYSE: LUV) , already known for its low-cost, no-frills experience, will cut fares even lower. Passengers wishing to actually sit down during flights, however, will have to pay a new "Sit On This" surcharge.

Not to be outdone, JetBlue(Nasdaq: JBLU) plans to charge extra for customers who want their flight attendants to actually smile at them.

Passengers boarding United Airlines(NYSE: UAL) flights will be greeted at the door by pilots holding tip cups.

Finally, according to humorist Dave Barry (an honorary member of our research team), some carriers have found a way to mitigate their biggest expense: fuel costs. "Pilots will periodically turn off the engines during flight and coast for what an airline spokesperson describes as 'a reasonable distance.' The spokesperson stresses that this procedure 'is perfectly safe' and will be used 'only over soft terrain.'"

Shameless Plug: Your No. 1 Resolution

What are your goals for 2003? How about shedding some of that credit card debt along with that last 10 pounds, or supersizing your savings account instead of your fries? Well, you've come to the right place, Slim! We'll help you start the year on the right foot, in our New Year's Financial Resolutions Center.

Green Times at Walgreens

Walgreen Company (NYSE: WAG) had an outstanding quarter, rebounding from its earnings miss back in September and topping estimates by a penny.

For its fiscal 2003 first quarter (ended Nov. 30), sales increased 14% to $7.5 billion, and comp sales rose 8.6%. Prescription drugs accounted for 63% of sales, and rose 19.7% on a total basis and 14.7% on a comparable basis.

Excluding one-time gains, earnings shot up 21.2% to $221.2 million, or $0.21 a share. In the year-ago quarter, the country's largest drugstore earned $182.5 million, or $0.18 a share.

Comp sales for front-end items -- makeup, magazines, and whatnot sold in addition to prescriptions -- were flat this quarter. Those items did produce higher margins, though, helping the company's gross margin grow to nearly 27%.

Walgreens sold more generic prescriptions this quarter than last, contributing to the increased gross margin. Generics offer much better margins than their brand-name counterparts (not to mention bigger discounts for customers).

The company didn't release its full balance sheet today, but one important item is in good shape: Inventories lifted only slightly compared to sales at 2.7%. That's a great sign for the company's cost controls and ability to execute well in a tough environment.

Walgreens is charging ahead with expansion plans for fiscal 2003, planning to open 450 new stores and spend $1 billion in capital expenditures. Currently, there are nearly 4,000 Walgreens stores in 43 states and Puerto Rico.

Already the top-dog druggist around, it's apparently going to grow even larger. If Walgreens can find a formula to better balance front-end sales with growing generic-prescription fills, shareholders should continue to see healthy results for some time to come.

Quick Takes

RadioShack (NYSE: RSH) added to the retail tale of woe today, warning fourth-quarter profits would come in below expectations. Soft sales of Sprint PCS(NYSE: PCS) (products, radio-controlled toys, and DVD home entertainment accessories were to blame.

Bucking the trend was footwear and accessories retailer Kenneth Cole Productions(NYSE: KCP), which raised fourth-quarter guidance. The company credits "careful attention to promotional levels and successful inventory management" for the upside surprise.

Former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin has been cleared of any wrongdoing in the congressional probe of Enron. A member of Citigroup's(NYSE: C) executive committee at the time, Rubin was under investigation for calling Treasury Undersecretary Peter Fisher in Nov. 2001 seeking help for Enron, which was on the verge of a credit downgrade.

President Bush will introduce his economic stimulus package next Tuesday. According to The Wall Street Journal, the plan consists of three main parts: a 50% reduction in dividend taxes, implementing other tax cuts sooner, and bigger equipment write-downs for corporations. Expect lots of debate before the proposal comes up for a vote in Congress.

And Finally...

Today on In Fool on the Hill, Bill Mann talks about poker night, exchange rates, and bond pricing.... You pay enough in taxes -- don't get hoodwinked into paying more, in our Tax Center.... The ins and outs of an "all risks" homeowners insurance policy, in Fool's School.... And the Post of the Day: Efficient Market Theory (EMT).

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