Oil prices jumped to a new record today -- $42 per barrel -- after a weekend terrorist attack that left 22 dead in Saudi Arabia heightened concerns about instability in the world's largest crude exporter.

Average gasoline prices are more than $2 a gallon here in the U.S., which sounds bad until you consider that in the U.K. gasoline is more than $5.50 per gallon with all the taxes the government levies on it. If you're really looking for cheap gas, you might consider moving to Caracas, Venezuela, where a gallon is about $0.14 because a government-owned company produces oil and keeps prices low for consumers.

In today's Motley Fool Take:

AOL's Aggressive Push

By Alyce Lomax (TMF Lomax)

Everybody may be preoccupied with Google's impending IPO, but in the meantime, Time Warner's(NYSE: TWX) America Online unit is still trying to keep itself relevant. The company's newest gesture is a two-month ad campaign launched to publicize its "AOL for Broadband" product.

AOL plans to pitch its services through a high-profile collection of media outlets. Ads for "AOL for Broadband" will pop up on the websites of The Washington Post, The New York Times, Rolling Stone, MTV, and ABC News, according to CBS MarketWatch.

It seems hard to believe that AOL can stop its subscribers from rapidly turning to broadband providers -- though people in the know at parent Time Warner, a longtime Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick, recently said AOL's subscriber losses have subsided and predict the unit could become a growth vehicle once again. Overall, Time Warner reported an improving picture.

"AOL for Broadband" is a content offering, relying on users to "BYOA," or Bring-Your-Own-Access, meaning that they purchase their broadband services elsewhere, while paying $14.95 for AOL's community and content (and, last but certainly not least, email addresses).

The company is banking on several things, including long-term users' reluctance to give up their online identities. America Online's spam filters and parental controls help -- though that sort of thing can be found elsewhere, from competitors like EarthLink(Nasdaq: ELNK), for example -- as well as new features AOL's been developing, like its bill-paying service.

Plus, it's loading up on the premium content for its users, such as video feeds, articles, music, and exclusive concerts (at the same time, it's diluting that a bit by offering some content for free to lure potential new subscribers). That emphasis on tunes can't be missed. After all, music's boosted Apple's(Nasdaq: AAPL) fortunes, and it's also become a vehicle for marketing due to the ease and portability of downloads. Thus, one would think, AOL's targeted advertising in Rolling Stone and MTV.

Whether AOL can become the content and entertainment company it strives to be -- especially after it merged with Time Warner -- remains to be seen. However, its strong personification as an ISP makes one wonder about its sharing a parent with broadband Internet provider Road Runner, with which it recently made nice, but not nice enough for a real partnership.

Whether AOL can recreate itself into a company where connectivity is secondary -- and charge a premium price -- is the question. Other Internet companies that focus on content, like Yahoo!(Nasdaq: YHOO) and Microsoft's(Nasdaq: MSFT) MSN, provide a good deal of free stuff, too. Then again, it doesn't hurt to remember that AOL was an Internet superpower before, and in the end, content is king.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.

Di scussion Board of the Day: Time Warner

Do you think "AOL for Broadband" is brilliant or boneheaded? Will people pony up for AOL's content and email address, as well as for separate broadband connections? Talk it over with other Fools on the Time Warner discussion board.

Irish Eyes Frowning

By Tim Beyers

As if to prove that financial scandal is indeed a global sport, over the weekend two of Ireland's premier banks dunked themselves in enough hot water to boil a potato.

Saturday, the chief executive of Bank of Ireland(NYSE: IRE) resigned for accessing porn with his office PC. The same day former Allied Irish Banks(NYSE: AIB) chief Tom Mulcahy resigned the chairmanship of airline Aer Lingus over accusations of tax issues. Then yesterday a newspaper editorial revealed that seven former and three current AIB executives may have been guilty of tax evasion. AIB has also recently been accused of gouging clients, and in 2000 paid more than 100 million euros for its part in a massive tax evasion scandal. AIB was among those accused of aiding businesses and individuals in dodging the taxman for more than a decade, according to a Reuters report.

The AIB scandal appears to me nearly as bad as the mutual fund malaise here at home. That's too bad. Because as Motley Fool Income Investor chief analyst Mathew Emmert pointed out earlier this year, AIB appears financially stable, and was providing generous returns to investors before a big sell-off in February. To date, AIB has returned roughly 11% with dividends reinvested since it was recommended to Motley Fool Select, now Hidden Gems, subscribers in March of last year.

Bank of Ireland hits a little more close to home for me. I've had the stock on my watch list for its cheap valuation and sterling dividend. Indeed, a quick check this morning shows Bank of Ireland's common shares yielding 5.23%, more than two and a half times that of the S&P 500 market index. Estimates of the bank's earnings growth rate are also discounted more than 25% from its forward price-to-earnings ratio.

We've written here before that measuring management should be a key part of your stock investing. I think it's clear that AIB's problems go deep enough for you to avoid it for now. But what about Bank of Ireland? Certainly the former CEO's personal improprieties are embarrassing, but do they indicate a deep flaw in the business? I don't think so. In fact, his indiscretion might have created a buying opportunity had not bargain hunters been waiting in the wings this morning, sending the shares higher by nearly 3% already.

The lesson? Seamy as it may sound, the sometimes-ugly truth of the stock market is that manyvalue-driven investors profit from all kinds of bad news. So today, as Irish eyes are frowning, someone, somewhere is smiling.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers, like most everyone else it seems, is descended from Irish ancestors. He owns no interest in any of the companies mentioned, and you can view his Fool profile here.

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Marvel, Sony Kiss and Make Up

By Seth Jayson

On Friday, shares of Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick Marvel Enterprises(NYSE: MVL) pulled the old leak 'n' streak, shooting up on whispers of an impending settlement of the firm's litigious spat with Sony(NYSE: SNE). The stock had settled back to a more modest 1.5% gain. This morning, the official press release was finally issued, though it contains little more information than the rumors.

The terse paragraph states that the settlement puts to rest all of the pending litigation, calling the resolution "amicable." At issue were the lucrative spoils from the Spider-Man movie series, which were tangled up in various lawsuits alleging attempted appropriation of the Spider-Man franchise and fraud through "Hollywood accounting."

It's difficult to predict the exact impact this settlement will have on the firm's fantastic financials. The statement makes a vague prediction of increased revenues as well as operating expenses, but discloses no details and maintains the firm's prior financial guidance. Talk about a letdown. Maybe this explains the lackluster response by the market this morning.

At the very least, this action will remove the headache of the firm's biggest legal challenge and pave the way for better relations with Sony Pictures Entertainment, which is, after all, slated to work on Spider-Man 3, Luke Cage, and Ghost Rider. It also clears the only storm cloud that was lurking over the otherwise sunny projections for the June 30 release of Spider-Man 2.

Of course, a character licensor like Marvel is always likely to be entangled in some kind of dispute. As of this year's annual report, the firm was still involved in lawsuits with comic-book retailers, Tribune(NYSE: TRB), and a contract quarrel with legendary Marvel author Stan Lee.

But given its high-margin deals with manufacturers of every kind -- visit your neighborhood grocery to get a glimpse of what I mean -- plus a new foray into direct-to-DVD movies, these legal squabbles look like mere speed bumps on Marvel's road to becoming a debt-free entertainment powerhouse.

Fool contributor Seth Jayson owns shares of Marvel Enterprises. View his Fool profile here

Qu ote of Note

"We didn't lose the game; we just ran out of time." -- Vince Lombardi

Mo re on Fool.com Today

Shannon Zimmerman's got your game plan for finding the best funds out there in Slam-Dunk Mutual Funds.... Family cell phone plans have a lot of hang-ups, especially when a teen's on the line. Dayana Yochim shows how you can avoid a $600 Cell Phone Bill.

In other news:

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