There are seven of Dave Berry's articles here. Simply scrool to find them.

SPAM beats cafeteria food

I understand there are still 14 or 15 people out there who are not on the Internet. Boy, are you missing out! Just this morning I had an experience that reminded me why the Internet is the most important technological advance for humanity since humanity figured out how to put cheese into an aerosol can.

What happened was, I was going through my work e-mail, by which I mean I was deleting it. As you Internet users know, most e-mail comes from ''spammers,'' who are the mutant spawn of a bizarre reproductive act involving a telemarketer, Larry Flynt, a tapeworm, and an executive of the Third Class mail industry. Every day I get dozens, sometimes hundreds, of e-mails from these people, almost always trying to sell me one of four things: (1) pornography; (2) Viagra; (3) a product for the man who is not satisfied with his natural self and would like to increase, by as much as three inches, the size of his endowment; or (4) a low-interest mortgage.

Why are there so many e-mail ads for these products? Does anybody buy them? Is there a town somewhere, called Spamville, where the men consume Viagra and pornography in bulk quantities, then lurch around in a lust-crazed frenzy, their huge artificially enhanced endowments knocking holes in their walls, so eventually their houses fall down, forcing them to purchase new ones, using low-interest mortgages?

I don't know. All I know is, I spend about half of my time on the Internet deleting e-mail. Fortunately, that leaves me with the other half of my time available to accomplish a much more important task: trying to remember my password.

The newspaper I work for, The Miami Herald, is owned by a large corporation that has a strict computer-password policy administered by people who were kicked out of the Nazi party for being too anal retentive. This policy requires us employees to constantly change our passwords, to prevent you outsiders from breaking into our computer system and reading our internal communications.

For example, you might see the electronic bulletin board where reporters and editors discuss sensitive journalism issues, the main one being how bad our cafeteria is. Do you remember, maybe 15 years ago, when that giant barge full of garbage from Long Island was being towed up and down the East Coast because nobody wanted to take it? Did you ever wonder what happened to it? Apparently, to judge from the comments on our bulletin board, it's being gradually converted, ton by ton, into Miami Herald cafeteria entrees.

But as I say, that information is classified. To keep you outsiders from getting hold of it, we employees are required to keep changing our passwords until, in a triumph of corporate security, we cannot remember them even with the aid of Sodium Pentothal. Many of us have to put a post-it note on our computer with our password written on it, along with the word ''PASSWORD,'' so we remember what it is. This is probably not a solid security practice, but if we don't do it, we will be unable to get into the system and carry out the important work of deleting our e-mail.

So anyway, this morning I was at my home computer. I'd managed to log on and was deleting my e-mail when my 2-year-old daughter climbed into my lap and demanded to see Elmo. Elmo, like everybody else, is on the Internet, and if you go to his site, you can play the Laundry Game, where you help Elmo sort his laundry. This may sound pointless, but trust me, it's one of the more productive things you can do on the Internet.

So the situation was this: I had a 2-year-old squirming in my lap, and a screenful of e-mail to be deleted. Somehow, trying to locate Elmo, I clicked the mouse on the wrong thing, and suddenly OHMIGOD, there it was, in color, a picture of four or five people, and what I believe was a very excited barnyard animal, all of them jaybird naked and engaging in some activity that, whatever it was, had nothing to do with obtaining a mortgage.

I can't be more specific because I was frantically spinning my chair away from the screen and covering my daughter's eyes with one hand while trying to click the picture away, but as soon as I did MORE pictures popped up, and then more, covering the screen with explicit images of people and animals and possibly, at one point, Elmo. I finally had to turn off my computer to make it all go away.

My point is, I could not have had this experience without the Internet. I want to thank everybody who made it possible, especially you spammers. Maybe some day I'll meet you in person!

I'll buy your lunch.

SUMMER's worst four-letter word ants

Summer is a lazy, relaxed, carefree time of year, when our thoughts turn to the possibility that our flesh will be stripped from our bones by millions of razor-sharp mandibles.

At least my thoughts do, ever since a gang of ants started a colony somewhere in my office, which is located in my home in South Florida. (In fact, for tax purposes, this office occupies 248 percent of my home's square footage).

Here's the situation: I'll be sitting in my usual work position, in which I put my feet up on my desk. I leave my legs on the floor, because I have detachable feet.

No, seriously, my legs are firmly attached to my feet, which are propped up on my desk while I ponder the kind of question that, in my role as a leading opinion-maker, I am often called upon to answer, such as: Which is a funnier animal name, ''wolverine'' or ``weasel?''

(ANSWER: ``Yak.'')

While I am pondering this, I will suddenly realize that something is crawling along my leg -- a tiny, six-legged organism that has flourished on the earth, and particularly South Florida, for millions of years: the Bee Gees.

No, seriously, it's an ant. Immediately I leap to my feet, whapping at the ant in a violent manner. Sometimes the ant has penetrated deep into what medical doctors refer to as The Undershorts Region, which means that I am in danger of whapping myself right into the alto section of the choir, if you know what I mean.

Eventually, I am able, using tiny tweezers with special rubber tips, to gently capture the ant and return it, unharmed, to its snug ant home. (Not really. I kill the ant. But I don't want to say so, because when I wrote a column about killing a giant flying insect in my kitchen, I got a LOT of irate mail from wildlife lovers, comparing me unfavorably to Hitler.) Then I go back to work, but within 10 minutes, there's ANOTHER ant on me, and I am once again on my feet, whapping at my groin.

This has gone on for several weeks now, and eventually the obvious question arose in my mind: Wouldn't ''The Groin Whappers'' be an excellent name for a rock band? But also I am wondering: Why are these ants so interested in my body? I mean, we can assume they're looking for food, right? Well, right next to my body is one of the world's most abundant sources of ant nourishment: My desk. My desk has never been cleaned, and consequently is covered with a thick layer of a substance known to chemists as ''snack goo'' -- a congealed mixture of chocolate, salt, onion dip, pepperoni grease, General Chang's chicken extra spicy, coffee, beer, and the fine residue of an estimated 14 trillion Cheez-Its.

My desk could feed a standard ant colony for well into the next century, so the logical question is: Who was General Chang? And isn't it kind of a weird honor to associate a military leader with a member of the poultry family not generally known for its courage? Would you want to be a soldier following General Chang into battle with the phrase ''General Chang's chicken!'' resonating in your mind?

But the other logical question is: Why, with the National Snack Goo Reserve sitting right there, are these ants walking around on ME? Obviously, they intend to eat me. And while I have been able to hold them off so far via whapping, it is only a matter of time before they figure out that they can win if they attack en masse (French for ``in a big bunch of ants'').

Ants are capable of this kind of behavior. Back in seventh grade English class, I read a story called Leiningen versus the Ants, about a guy in Brazil who owns a plantation that gets attacked by a gigantic mass of ravenous, vicious ants that eat everything in their path, kind of like college students, except the ants leave less of a mess.

What I remember vividly about this story is that, when Leiningen tries to thwart the ants by flooding a moat around the plantation, the ants use twigs and leaves to build a bridge, thus displaying far more intelligence than any guest I have ever seen on Maury Povich. My concern is that if the ants in my office are even half that smart, it's only a matter of time before they get organized. The police will find my skeleton in my office chair, stripped clean, feet up on the desk, with no clue as to who perpetrated the crime except for the cryptic three-letter animal name I have typed, in my last moments, on the computer screen:


OWNER' manual Step No. 1: Bang head against the wall

The topic of this column is a recent Washington Post story stating that manufacturers of appliances, computers, cars, etc., want to know why Americans don't read their owners' manuals.


One big reason why consumers don't read manuals is that the typical manual starts out with 15 to 25 pages of warnings, informing you of numerous highly unlikely ways in which you could use the product to injure or kill yourself.


The typical consumer's reaction to these warnings is: ``What kind of moron would do THAT?''

The correct answer to this question is: ''A wealthy moron.'' Because the reason these warnings exist is that somewhere, some time, some consumer with the IQ of a radish actually DID one of these bizarre things, and got a lawyer, and sued, and a jury made up of people whose understanding of economics is based entirely on grocery coupons decided, what the heck, $300 million sounds about right, but let's not tell the judge right away because first we should order a pizza.

So every year there are more huge product-liability awards, and every year manufacturers have to put more warnings in the owners' manuals, and every year the radish-brains come up with newer, more innovative ways to injure themselves. There will come a day when every product you buy will come with an actual living lawyer inside the box, sealed in plastic; as soon as you break the seal, the lawyer will emerge and start preparing your product-liability lawsuit. (This system is feasible because product-liability lawyers are spore-based organisms who can survive for years without air.)

Another reason why consumers don't read manuals is that products today have TOO MANY FEATURES. (I know, I know, I've complained about this before. So sue me.) We -- and when I say ''we,'' I am speaking for every human being in the world -- do not want a lot of features. In fact, for most products, we really want only two features: the ''on'' feature, and the ''off'' feature.

An example of a feature that we do not want is ''picture in picture.'' This feature allows you to watch one channel on most of your TV screen, while another channel appears in a little box in the corner. The salesman always makes a big deal out of ''picture in picture,'' and the manual always devotes pages to how you use it.

Except you don't use it. I have never seen any actual human consumer use the ''picture in picture'' feature, because (a) nobody remembers how it works; (b) it's annoying to have two pictures on the screen; and (c) it's hard enough to find ONE thing on TV you want to watch.

The third reason why consumers don't read manuals is that many consumers are men, and we men would no more read a manual than we would ask directions, because this would be an admission that the person who wrote the manual has a bigger . . . OK, a bigger grasp of technology than we do. We men would rather hook up our new DVD player in such a way that it ignites the DVDs and shoots them across the room -- like small flaming UFOs -- than admit that the manual-writer possesses a more manly technological manhood than we do.

And then there are some people who simply do not NEED manuals. I refer here to my son, who, like many young people, can immediately grasp how to operate any technological object, no matter how complex. Give my son 15 minutes in the space shuttle, and he will figure out not only how to launch it into orbit, but also how to make it play really hideous ''hip-hop'' music loud enough to shatter passing asteroids. (And please do not tell me that sound does not travel through space. ''Hip-hop'' music travels through everything).

So what does all this mean? It means that if manufacturers want us to read their manuals, they need to take a few simple, common-sense steps: (1) Deport all the product-liability lawyers to Iraq; (2) Get rid of ''picture in picture''; (3) Include nothing in the manual except simple, clear, minimal directions, printed on photographs of tennis star Anna Kournikova naked. These steps will greatly improve consumer knowledge, and reduce unfortunate mishaps. You may now place this column over the wound.

(NOTE TO MANUFACTURERS: Make sure it really IS Anna Kournikova, or you will be sued.)


CAP n' gown? I'll take the burger n' fries

And so we are gathered here today -- you, the eager members of the Class of 2002, and we, your family members, who will sit on these hard folding chairs until every last eager one of you has picked up a diploma, at which point we will feel as though the entire Riverdance troupe has been stomping on our buttocks.

Because, gosh, there sure are a LOT of you in the Class of 2002! We in the audience are wondering if there is anybody in North America besides us who is NOT graduating today. And although we know this is very exciting for you, the Class of 2002, we are fighting to stay awake.

We have already engaged in the traditional time-passing activities of commencement audiences, such as trying to remember the names of all Seven Dwarfs, and looking through the commencement program for comical graduate names. We have nudged the person sitting next to us and pointed to names like ''Konrad A. Klamsucker Jr.'' and ''Vorbanna Freepitude,'' and that has given us brief moments of happiness.

But we can only do that for so long, Class of 2002, and now we are feeling the despair that comes over members of a commencement audience when they realize that 40 minutes have passed, and the dean is just now starting to hand out diplomas to people whose last names start with ''D,'' and the last name of the lone graduate we actually came to see starts with ``W.''

We've decided that, if we ever have another child threatening to graduate from college, we're going to have that child's name legally changed to ''Aaron A. Aardvark.'' Yes, the other families in the audience will make fun of it. But their laughter will turn to bitter envy when our child gets his diploma first, and we get up off these folding chairs and head for a restaurant! Ha ha!

We also think it would be nice if commencement programs had interesting articles for the audience to read, or even short works of fiction with appropriate educational themes. (``As Vorbanna walked across the stage, her tassel swaying seductively, Konrad watched her, his sweating hands caressing the smooth hardness of his embossed leatherette diploma cover, and he thought about that unforgettable night when the two of them, for the first time, matriculated.'')

Another option would be to show movies during the commencement ceremonies. Wouldn't that be great? While we were waiting for specific graduates to get their diplomas, we could enjoy such classic education-related cinema moments as the scene in Animal House where John Belushi imitates a giant pimple by squeezing his cheeks and spewing chewed food out of his mouth. That would surely get a roar of delight and approval from the audience, and whichever graduate happened to be on the stage at that moment would think, ''Gosh, they certainly are excited about my bachelor's degree in Business Transportation with a minor in Tire Management!'' So everybody would benefit.

Sadly, Class of 2002, we are not yet ready, as a society, for this kind of progressive commencement concept. Because the world is not a perfect place. It is a world filled with malice and evil, a world where, today, none of us is truly safe, even in our homes, from the very real danger that a total stranger will call us up and demand that we change our phone company. It will be up to you, the Class of 2002, to tackle these problems -- not only to build a better society for tomorrow, but also to take bold action to correct the injustices of the past, starting by promising to pay your parents back for your college tuition.

Ha ha! That was commencement humor, Class of 2002. Your parents do not expect you to pay them back. All that they expect is that you will go out and find your place in the world. Notice that we say, ''the world,'' as opposed to, 'your parents' house.'' Your parents love you very, very much, Class of 2002, but at this stage in their lives, if they could choose between living with you and living with a Labrador retriever, they quite frankly would go with the Labrador retriever. For one thing, it will not expect them to do its laundry.

In closing, Class of 2002, we would like to leave you with some words of wisdom -- words that may mean little to you now, but words that, trust us, you will some day want very much to remember. Those words are: Sleepy, Grumpy, Sneezy, Happy, Dopey and two other ones. Thank you, good luck, and we'll meet you at the restaurant


HAVING a whale of a time on family vacation

There is no fun like family fun, and there is no family fun like a family summer vacation -- a chance to spend a big wad of time with your loved ones, as opposed to people you actually like.

But where should you go this year? How about a foreign country? Sounds exciting, but before you travel abroad, you should check with the U.S. State Department, which is currently advising Americans to avoid the Middle East, Europe, Asia, Africa, South America, Canada, Mexico and Antarctica, because, in the words of the State Department advisory, ''everybody in these places wants to kill you.'' Colin Powell will personally be vacationing in his basement.

But this doesn't mean you can't have a fun family vacation! There are plenty of overlooked destinations right here in the United States. North Dakota, for example, is one of the most overlooked destinations on the planet. Why not go there? They LOVE visitors. I went up to Grand Forks, N.D., last January, and they were so excited that they named a sewage pumping station after me. Maybe they'll do the same for you! Even if they don't, you could take your family to see my station (Tip: Do not breathe). After that, you could visit the many other attractions in the North Dakota region, such as . . . OK, such as South Dakota. Then the next day you could . . . well, you could check out my sewage pumping station again. This would be WAY cheaper than Disney World.

Wherever you go on your vacation, you'll need to decide whether to fly or drive. Perhaps you, like many Americans, are nervous about air travel. But statistics show that, if you buy a ticket on a commercial flight, the odds are less than one in 17 million that you will be allowed to actually board the airplane. This is because airport security is VERY strict. Recently, I was in the Cincinnati airport, and I watched as the security-checkpoint workers gave a serious going-over to -- I am not making this up -- a pilot. He was in his pilot uniform, minus his belt and shoes, holding his arms out, getting thoroughly wanded while having an animated discussion with the security people. I wasn't close enough to hear what they were saying, but I imagine it went something like this:

PILOT: But I'm a pilot. I'm the person who will be flying the airplane.

SECURITY PERSON: Yes, but suppose you're carrying concealed manicure scissors? You could use them to overcome yourself!

PILOT: Yikes! Better give me a full cavity search!

If you do manage to get on an airplane, you have absolutely nothing to worry about during your flight, except of course the possibility of ramming a whale. This almost happened to a plane last summer in Alaska, according to a story in the Juneau Empire written by Kathy Dye and sent in by several alert readers. The story states that a floatplane was zipping across the water, about to take off, when a major humpback whale shot into the air directly ahead.

Fortunately, the pilot was able to avoid the whale, but the next pilot might not be so lucky. Marine biologists do not know (or, if they DO know, they have not told me) exactly how high a whale can jump. But if we assume a worst-case scenario -- a horny teenaged male whale, trying to impress an attractive female -- a vertical leap of 35,000 feet does not seem to be out of the question. For all we know, the so-called ''turbulence'' that planes often encounter during flights is actually the pilots dodging airborne whales -- many of which, by the way, have NOT gone through metal detectors, which means they could be carrying scissors.

So maybe you should take your family vacation by car. The beauty of auto travel is that it gives your family a chance to spend ''quality time'' together in a confined space, hour after quality hour, until you want to yank out all your DNA strands individually by the roots and hurl them out the window. Car travel also gives you a chance to get an ''up close'' look at this great country, and find out what folks in other regions are thinking.

One thing they're thinking is that they can charge you nearly two bucks a gallon for gas. This will give Dad something to seethe and mutter about for hundreds of miles at a stretch, until he becomes so rigid with indignation that he cannot unclench his hands from the steering wheel, and has to sleep in the car. Make sure he parks it under a protective structure, because some of these whales come down pretty far inland.

But the main thing is, have fun.


FARM Security: The mohair of the dog that bites you

If you're like most American taxpayers, you often wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat and ask yourself: ``Am I doing enough to support mohair producers?''

I am pleased to report that you are, thanks to bold action taken recently by the United States Congress (motto: ``Hey, It's not OUR money!''). I am referring to the 2002 Farm Security Act, which recently emerged from the legislative process very much the way a steaming wad of processed vegetation emerges from the digestive tract of a cow.

The purpose of the Farm Security act is to provide farmers with ''price stability.'' What do we mean by ''price stability?'' We mean: your money. You have already been very generous about this: Last year alone, you gave more than $20 billion worth of price stability to farmers. Since 1996, you've given more than a million dollars apiece to more than 1,000 lucky recipients, many of which are actually big agribusinesses. Some of the ''farmers'' you've sent your money to are billionaires, such as Ted Turner and Charles Schwab, as well as major corporations, such as Chevron, DuPont and John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance.

But that is NOTHING compared with how generous you're about to get, taxpayers! Thanks to the Farm Security Act, over the next 10 years, you'll be providing farmers with 70 percent MORE stability, for a total of $180 billion. At this rate, in a few years farmers will be so stable that they'll have to huddle in their root cellars for fear of being struck by bales of taxpayer-supplied cash raining down on the Heartland states from Air Force bombers.

Perhaps you are asking yourself: ``Wait a minute! Isn't this kind of like, I don't know . . . welfare?''

No, it is not. Welfare is when the government gives money to people who produce nothing. Whereas the farm-money recipients produce something that is critical to our nation: votes. Powerful congresspersons from both parties, as well as President Bush, believe that if they dump enough of your money on farm states, the farm states will re-elect them, thus enabling them to continue the vital work of dumping your money on the farm states. So as we see, it's not welfare at all! It's bribery.

But let us not forget the element of National Security. This is where your mohair comes in. As you know, ''mohair'' is the hair of any animal whose name begins with ''mo,'' such as moose, mouse, mongoose or moray eel.

No, wait, sorry. ''Mohair'' is actually wool made from the hair of a goat. During WWII, mohair was used to make military uniforms, so it was considered to be a strategic material, and Congress decided that you, the taxpayer, should pay people to produce it. But of course today mohair has no vital military purpose, and so . . . you are STILL paying people to produce it! And thanks to the Farm Security Act, you will continue to pay millions and millions of dollars, every year, to mohair producers!

As I say, this is for National Security. If terrorists, God forbid, ever manage to construct a giant time machine and transport the United States back to 1941, and we have fight World War II again, WE WILL BE READY.

You will also be thrilled, as a taxpayer, to learn that the Farm Security Act provides new subsidies for producers of lentils and chickpeas. And not a moment too soon. This nation has become far too dependent on imported lentils and chickpeas. Try to picture the horror of living in a world in which foreigners, in foreign countries, suddenly cut off our lentil and chickpea supply. Imagine how you would feel if you had to look your small child in the eye and say, ``I'm sorry, little Billy or Suzy as the case may be, but there will be no lentils or chickpeas tonight, and all because we taxpayers were too shortsighted to fork over millions of dollars in support for domestic lentil and chickpea producers, who thus were forced to compete in the market like everybody else, and . . . HEY, COME BACK HERE!''

Yes, that would be a horrible world, all right. And that is why I totally support the Farm Security Act. I hope you agree with me, though I realize that some of you may not; in fact, some of you may be so angry about this column that you've decided to never read anything by me again.

Well, guess what: I don't care! Thanks to the Humor Security Act recently passed by Congress, I'll be getting huge sums of money from the federal government to continue grinding out these columns, year after year, even if nobody wants to read them!

No, that would be stupid.


HOLY skivvies! Time for lame gift for Dad

Father's Day is coming, and millions of children and/or wives are thinking: ``This year, I think I'll get Dad a nice casual shirt.''

Fine. Go ahead. Although you might want to ask yourself a couple of questions first, such as: Does Dad WANT another nice casual shirt? Have you noticed that Dad currently OWNS approximately 73 nice casual shirts, and he wears only two of them? And that he wears one of those two only when the other one is really dirty? Do you honestly believe that Dad is thinking: ``Boy, I wish I had ANOTHER shirt, so I could not wear it!''?

Of course not. Dad is thinking . . .

. . . OK, never mind what Dad is thinking. Nobody ever really knows what Dad is thinking, including, much of the time, Dad. But trust me, he does not want a shirt.

''But,'' you say, ``when I gave him a shirt last year, he appeared to like it!''

Of course he did. Like all fathers, he has learned to simulate sincere appreciation for gifts that he has absolutely no use for. That's why Dad always responded so positively back when you used to give him -- and I hope you no longer do this, although I understand it still happens, even in 21st Century America -- a tie.

''Wow!'' Dad would go. ``A piece of cloth to knot tightly around my neck, strikingly similar to the numerous other pieces of neck cloth wadded together in the back of my closet!''

In my entire life, I have met two men who were genuinely interested in ties. Both of these men were in the tie industry.

Dads are so good at feigning appreciation that they even were able, years ago, to pretend they were happy to receive cologne. This was back in the dark days of cologne-giving, which mercifully came to an end after the horrible 1986 tragedy in Cincinnati wherein a 72-year-old man's house collapsed under the weight of the estimated 2,000 unopened bottles of Old Spice that he had stored in his attic.

''OK,'' you are saying, 'then what SHOULD I get for Dad? If I ask him what he wants, he always says, `Oh, nothing.' ''

That's because he knows that if he told you what he really wants, you wouldn't give it to him. For example, let's consider the area of clothing. The nicest Father's Day surprise of all for Dad would be if you handed him a box, and he unwrapped it, and there, inside, sitting on a bed of folded tissue, was the pair of his undershorts that somebody threw away six months ago (without asking Dad) because they had reached the stage where they were 3 percent undershorts and 97 percent holes. Dad misses those undershorts. They were his Faithful Undershorts Companion.

But of course now they are in a landfill somewhere, along with Dad's Led Zeppelin T-shirt, which Dad bought and wore at a 1972 concert during which he stood on his seat and sang Whole Lotta Love. (Yes! Dad did this!). Somebody threw the shirt away two years ago (without asking Dad) because it had a bunch of stains, which happened to have great sentimental value to Dad, because . . .

. . . OK, never mind about the stains. The point is that you cannot give Dad these things for Father's Day. But you know what you CAN give him? You can give him what he always tells you he wants: Nothing. I mean it. For Dad, the perfect Father's Day would be one in which he didn't even realize that it WAS Father's Day, because nobody was making him appreciate gifts he didn't want, or read greeting cards filled with lame Father's Day poetry (``When I was just a little tyke, you showed me how to ride a bike; And you were sweet to me the day, I drove your car into the bay; Dad, I think you're really grand, I'm praying for your prostate gland!'').

There would be none of this, on the perfect Father's Day. There would be just Dad, wearing his oldest surviving undershorts, free of pressure, maybe just sitting in front of the TV, watching the NBA playoffs. There would be no conversation, other than Dad periodically observing that these players today could carry the ball across Montana and never get called for traveling.

That's how you can give Dad the perfect Father's Day. Of course, that's not all. You'd also make a restaurant reservation, and at the end of the day, you'd dress up and go out and have a nice dinner, during which you'd propose a toast to Dad. Who would be back home, in front of the TV, happily asleep in his veteran underwear. That would be PERFECT.

But you're going to get him a shirt