Francis Uy deserves our thanks. The tech specialist has been waging war against spam and, with a court victory yesterday, it appears he's gaining the upper hand.

Uy operates a website that posts the addresses and phone numbers of known spammers. It's been an effective tactic, because outing the violators allows ISPs or website operators to block their emails. It has also motivated individuals to give the reviled spammers a taste of their own medicine by flooding them with email and phone calls.

Uy's tactics landed him in court yesterday. George Allen Moore, Jr., an alleged spammer, sued Uy for harassment. Yes, the man known as "DrFatburn," who has flooded many an inbox with ads for Fat-N-Emy and Extreme Colon Cleanser, has the stony gall to claim he is being harassed.

A district court judge disagreed and allowed Uy to keep his website up and running.

Read more to learn how this may affect you.

In today's Motley Fool Take:

UPS , FedEx Fight Dirty

Fighting their own war with rival Airborne(NYSE: ABF) and the German company Deutsche Post, UPS(NYSE: UPS) and FedEx(NYSE: FDX) are hoping a beneficial Senate appropriations amendment to the current war-funding bill sails through Congress unopposed. Its passage would make it much harder for the German firm to gain a foothold here in the crucial express-delivery market.

The amendment calls for airlines carrying military cargo to be "effectively controlled by citizens of the United States." Although the language of the amendment is military-specific, the Department of Transportation is expected to take its cues from Congress when it comes to enforcement of ownership requirements for airlines. And that would mean the deal, as it currently stands, wouldn't pass regulatory muster.

Deutsche Post-owned DHL Worldwide Express wants to buy Seattle-based Airborne's ground operations in a deal worth $1.05 billion. Airborne's 116 planes and air business would then be spun off to meet ownership requirements. Current regulations hold that foreign interests can't own more than 25% of U.S.-based airlines. So, by creating a separate company owned by Airborne's shareholders and not DHL, the German firm could circumvent this rule.

FedEx and UPS have complained for years that the Chicago-based DHL Airways is heavily reliant on its German parent for support and resources, although it's technically an American company. The two shippers are finding more traction for their past and present arguments, given the current pro-U.S./anti-German/anti-French feelings in Congress. It's not lost on anyone that the German government owns 70% of Deutsche Post.

Lobbying is a fact of life and business in Washington, but that doesn't make the actions of UPS and FedEx right. Keying off anti-German sentiment to preserve market share and impede competition is political influence at its worst.

Quote of Note

"The country has come to feel the same when Congress is in session as when the baby gets hold of a hammer." -- Will Rogers (1879-1935), comedian

Earnings : What to Watch

April may be the best month of the year. The weather warms up, birds start singing, and the trees turn green. In the world of money, April means rich men chasing baseballs, tax refunds (hopefully!), and first-quarter earnings.

Yes, by mid-April, the reporting season for Q1 of 2003 begins in earnest, setting the tone for the year. And you can bet we'll hear a lot of the same excuses.

Many companies will attribute soft first-quarter numbers to record amounts of snowfall and a very cold winter. They'll also blame fears leading up to war in Iraq, and then the start of the war. Finally, continued economic uncertainty has slowed consumer spending. In other words, "It's not our fault."

Those are all valid reasons to post lackluster results, and if they're the only reasons, then the company is in good shape -- these are temporary, external factors. But how do you know a company isn't masking internal weakness by pointing to external conditions? While there are no guarantees, you can safeguard yourself by looking at specific numbers in quarterly results.

First and foremost, study free cash flow. You'll need to see the cash-flow statement for this, so you may need to wait until the company files its quarterly SEC document. Free cash flow is cash from operations minus capital expenditures, giving you the cash generated by the business and left over for use. It's a lifeblood. If your company misses its earnings-per-share estimate but generates strong free cash flow, worry not, long-termer.

Second and always, look closely at the balance sheet. How are cash and investments holding up in this tough environment? Has the company added debt? Are you OK with it? Any company that holds more debt than cash should be highly scrutinized. Can you do better by investing elsewhere?

Look at accounts receivables (AR). Are they up more than sales? That could be a warning sign that the company is pushing inventory out the door at the last minute to make its revenue numbers. Look at inventory. Is it up sharply? That could be a sign that demand is weak. Run the Foolish Flow Ratio to see how your company manages working capital.

Additionally, don't just look at your companies' results. Look at results from its closest competitors. Is a competitor growing more than your company? Is your company gaining or losing market share? Read company comments. How do business strategies differ between competitors?

Then be sure to look at diluted share count. Is a company adding shares at a clip that dilutes your ownership? For most companies, anything more than 1.5% a year may be too much dilution to accept.

Nobody ever said owning individual stocks is easy. It takes diligence to stay abreast of companies, making certain that each stock you own truly deserves a coveted slot in your portfolio. Life is too short to own laggard companies. By studying key results every three months and ideally tracking them in a spreadsheet, you'll stay on top of your investments and better know when to buy and sell.

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The Draw of Animation

Ever since Disney(NYSE: DIS) hushed critics who claimed cartoon features were best left as shorts, the art of movie-length animation has waved in and out of mainstream popularity. But even at its peak, the craft never really threatened live-action releases.

Just one animated film makes the list of the country's 10 highest-grossing movies of all time -- The Lion King, at No. 9 -- and only Beauty and the Beast has earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture.

Yet, 2001 was a banner year for animation, as DreamWorks' Shrek and Pixar's(Nasdaq: PIXR)Monsters, Inc. topped the $250 million mark at the domestic box office, and the Academy created a new Oscar to honor the genre. But can the trend color outside the lines?

Last year, no single release came close to 2001's one-two blockbuster blow. The 2002 Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film went to Spirited Away, a huge hit overseas, but the recipient of a lukewarm reception stateside. Trying to strike while the inked iron was hot, Disney rushed the award winner back into theaters two weeks ago. Surely, the country would fall in love with the classy Japanese epic in its second theatrical run....

Nope. It didn't crack the top 10 in its first week back, and lost 41% of its audience this past weekend. The third time may be the charm, as the film hopes for more than its $10 million box-office take in the home video and DVD market.

This year's crop of animated films has been off to a slow start, too, with neither of Disney's sequels (The Jungle Book 2 and The Piglet Movie) topping the $50 million mark.

The genre's popularity will be put to an important test when Pixar and Disney team up to release Finding Nemo next month. Pixar has been the box-office powerhouse since 1995, with its first four full-length computer animated features averaging $214 million, domestically. Anything less than $150 million for the marine-life release, and the whole sector might be all wet in the near term.

With many of the studios scaling back on animated talent lately, the ink-and-paint club may have a new mantra this summer: Go fish!

Discussion Board of the Day: Pixar

Is the state of animated features really on the decline? Is it a quality issue, or are folks just moving on, as fickle fashion dictates? Are you excited about Finding Nemo, or do you think it smells fishy? All this and more -- in the Pixar discussion board. Only on

Quick Takes

Shares of Altria Group(NYSE: MO) have rebounded over 6% on two developments. Yesterday, the company yesterday asked the Illinois state court to reduce the $12 billion bond required for its appeal of a $10.1 billion judgment. State attorneys general filed a brief in support, frantically searching for ways to protect the gazillions that the company is paying to cash-strapped states under various tobacco litigation settlements. Today, another Illinois court issued a 10-day stay -- which could become permanent -- of the $3.0 billion punitive-damages portion of the $10.1 billion judgment, saying that Illinois had waived punitive damages when it joined the 45-state 1998 settlement. Bill Mann explains the situation.

Here's one for ya: Some months ago, ailing telecom Qwest Communications(NYSE: Q) reported that two buyout firms would purchase its QwestDex business for $7.05 billion in two steps, bringing much-needed cash to meet obligations on its $22.6 billion debt. The company financed $975 million of the deal's first step, and now says it will finance $3.5 billion to enable the second, $4.3 billion step of the largest buyout since 1989. Either bond prices are helping Qwest, or the buyers held a gun to its head. Either way, it's less cash and more debt. Qwest shares shed 2.5%.

In a bid to take advantage of European growth and double its revenues there, supply giant Office Depot(NYSE: ODP) agreed to buy the stationery operation of Paris-based luxury goods company Pinault-Printemps-Redoute for $914 million. Office Depot needs growth; its U.S. sales are still below year 2000 levels, and competitor Staples(Nasdaq: SPLS) edged ahead in total sales in 2002. Shares dropped over 3% on the news.

No. 2 U.S. hospital operator Tenet Healthcare(NYSE: THC) said CEO Jeffrey Barbakow will give up his other hats as chairman of the board and director. Under several government probes, Tenet will name a non-manager chairman and four new outside directors. Tom Jacobs named names when he wrote about the danger of concentrating too much power in one executive's hands.

In local news, Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf watched Syracuse defeat Kansas last night in the NCAA basketball finals. Mr. al-Sahhaf immediately called a press conference and congratulated Iraq Tech for its inspiring victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.

And Finally...

Today on

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