It was shaky Monday as stocks hit the skids again and word came out that the "Snake Man" was dead. Thailand's Boonreung Buachan, holder of the world's record for being penned up with snakes longer than anyone else (seven days), died after being bitten by a cobra.

Apparently, he went into convulsions after the bite, but no one rushed him to the hospital because they thought Boonreung, an epileptic, was suffering from a regular seizure. His 30 snakes will be donated to a zoo. Rest in peace, Snake Man.

In today's Motley Fool Take:

Microsoft Buys AOL?

By Rick Aristotle Munarriz (TMF Edible)

If there was one indication that last week's wild rumor of Microsoft(Nasdaq: MSFT) buying Time Warner's(NYSE: TWX) sluggish America Online subsidiary would never come to be, it would simply be that the pairing makes too much sense. Those kinds of deals -- in which logic reigns paramount -- rarely happen.

But let's start with the reason why Mr. Softy gets dragged into the hearsay. With nearly $53 billion in cash and short-term investments, Microsoft isn't even a fill-in to the Mad Libs approach of mega-merger rumor mongering. It's a given, and only the name of the company to be allegedly bought out serves as the real variable.

In that sense, any Microsoft buyout rumor is silly. It can be argued that one of the many reasons why the company is so flush with cash is that it's always under tight regulatory scrutiny, given its gargantuan size and checkered monopolistic practices of the past. That's enough to shackle any promising buying spree opportunity.

But let's think about this one. When Time Warner ditched its AOL moniker -- and ticker symbol -- it spoke volumes. Unloading America Online, even if it would be at a fraction of the company's stand-alone value in its dot-com heyday, would be one way for Time Warner to get back to basics with a rejuvenated balance sheet.

Microsoft, on the other hand, rarely fails. Even against the class of Apple(Nasdaq: AAPL) or the thrifty open source of Linux, Microsoft remains the operating system software of choice. It's a shoehorn that quickly made it the leading player in everything from Web browsers to productivity software.

But Microsoft isn't a powerhouse everywhere. Its Xbox is awfully cool but it's still a very distant second to Sony's(NYSE: SNE) PlayStation 2. Then you have the Internet in which everything from to WebTV have fallen more than a few foot soldiers shy of global domination. As stagnant as AOL's growth may have been in recent years, it's the one ubiquitous online service in a sea of commodity connections. Subscribers who are willing to pay a premium for America Online, over those who opt for discounters like United Online(Nasdaq: UNTD), are a marketing gold mine.

Say what you will about growing broadband usage nullifying the original selling points of AOL, it's still a nifty platform of proprietary content with a loyalty-endearing interface that stands out in a cookie-cutter world.

So will it happen? Don't wait up. But, if anything, the fact that AOL is losing market share to its non-Microsoft rivals may make it a smoother transaction to run past the governing regulatory forces. The price would be good, too.

But it won't happen. It makes too much sense.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has been an AOL member since the early days of 1992. He does not own shares in any companies mentioned in this story.

Di scussion Board of the Day: Time Warner

Is Time Warner really putting AOL on the block? Does Microsoft have a shot -- or even an interest? If you were Time Warner and decided to keep AOL, what would you do to try to revive the franchise? All this and more -- in the Time Warner discussion board. Only on

Stent Wars Going Strong

By Seth Jayson

Like most Americans, I'd rather whip out the Drano and pipe snake a couple of times a year than keep the old tubes clear via the boring -- but more effective -- method of not stuffing them with junk in the first place. New medical studies discussed in The New York Times suggest that we operate the same way when it comes to keeping our arteries running smoothly.

The argument is this. Stents, like those made by leading competitors Johnson & Johnson(NYSE: JNJ) and Boston Scientific(NYSE: BSX), can hold open arteries that have been narrowed by plaque blockages, relieving pain, but not doing much to prevent future heart attacks. That's because the vast majority of heart attacks occur at smaller arterial obstructions that would never be stented in the first place.

A better solution, it seems, is a healthier lifestyle -- cutting back on the smokes, losing weight, reducing the blood pressure, and addressing high cholesterol levels. Of course, a quotidian prescription like that isn't likely to change our demands on cardiologists, especially given recent evidence that obesity may be overtaking smoking as the No. 1 preventable killer among Americans.

For the time being, the quick, hands-on fix is translating into huge business for the stent industry. A million procedures will be performed this year, and Boston Scientific hopes its Taxus stent can deliver 70% of a $3 billion market. Last fall, it battled to a draw with J&J when neither could convince a Delaware judge to stop the other from marketing the popular new drug-coated stents. J&J has countered by teaming with yet another competitor, Guidant(NYSE: GDT). Medtronic(NYSE: MDT) and partner Abbott Laboratories(NYSE: ABT) are also posturing for a chunk of the billions.

A sea of change in attitudes toward cardiovascular health might put a ding in stent sales, but it would be likely to help companies that cash in on anti-cholesterol drugs, such as Pfizer(NYSE: PFE), Merck(NYSE: MRK), and Bristol-Myers Squibb(NYSE: BMY).

Fool contributor Seth Jayson thinks jogging and an occasional beer present the most cost-effective way to keep down the cholesterol. He owns no stake in any companies mentioned above. View his Fool profile here.

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Sp itzer Rides Again

By Shannon Zimmerman

Last Tuesday, New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer announced another eye-popping settlement with two firms implicated in his ongoing investigation of trading abuses in the mutual fund industry.

The latest shoes to drop belonged to the soon-to-merge Bank of America(NYSE: BAC) and FleetBoston Financial(NYSE: FBF). Together, the two agreed to pony up more than half a billion dollars in restitution and penalties and to -- get this -- trim the costs of their mutual funds over the next five years to the tune of $160 million.

The attorney general's office estimates a sum total of the settlement, which the Securities and Exchange Commission helped negotiate, in the neighborhood of $675 million. That would be the most extracted in the unfolding scandal and a serious chunk of change commensurate with the substance of the allegations.

I couldn't be more pleased. My work in the industry, lately with our just-launched Motley Fool Champion Funds, brings me into contact with fund managers and fund investors alike. The vast majority of both groups are decent, honest people, and the few bad apples have hurt everyone involved -- though admittedly in different ways.

Keep in mind, Bank of America's Nations Funds unit was singled out in Spitzer's initial complaint for allowing late trading, and let's be clear: Unlike market timing, which is unethical but not necessarily illegal, late trading is against the law. Spitzer even likens the practice, by which privileged investors buy or sell funds after the 4 p.m. close, to betting on yesterday's horse races.

The settlement with BOA and Fleet, whose Columbia Management subsidiary was targeted in the probe, also breaks new punitive ground in the unfolding scandal. Spitzer and the SEC have wrung big bucks and fee reductions from other firms, including Alliance Capital(NYSE: AC) and Sun Life Financial's MFS unit. This time, eight members of the board of directors of Nations Funds will be shown the door, apparently for looking the other way while the shop's mandatory redemption-fee policy specifically exempted a hedge fund that subsequently timed two of Nations' funds.

In related news, the country's 91 million fund investors had something to say on the matter: Hooray!

Spitzer's investigation confirms many an investor's worst fears about the mutual fund business. But it also paves the way for serious reform. Mandatory redemption fees (which discourage market timing), strict curbs on "soft-dollar arrangements," and fuller disclosure of how fund managers are compensated are all on the table.

What next? Likely more of the same. Keep your eyes open and stay informed. If you're a fund investor (and who isn't?) and if you want to beat the market (who doesn't?), you are navigating a landscape that is increasingly treacherous. Fund investing may not be rocket science, but it's getting pretty close.

Shannon Zimmerman is editor and top analyst of Champion Funds and owns none of the stocks mentioned here.

Qu ote of Note

"The man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready." -- Henry Thoreau

Mo re on Today

Some companies may be sporting the proverbial scarlet letter "P" for penny stocks -- undeservedly. Don Crotty has three stocks he thinks should be out of penny stockdom.... Furthermore, be wary of leaving a good stock for dead. Mark Mahorney has a company that's coming back to life with Corning Corners LCD Market. And with all the "stockspeak" floating around the market, we all could use a little decoding. Mathew Emmert breaks down the barriers of financial jargon in Financial Management.

In other news:

For a list of all our stories from today, see our Today's Headlines page.