When you have been an experienced, highly accurate professional journalist for as long as I have, you develop a "sixth sense" for spotting a News Trend that has the two elements that are absolutely essential for a major story:

1. The potential destruction of all life on the planet.2. Cows.

I regret to report that we are experiencing such a trend now. Consider the following true items:

ITEM ONE: According to newspaper articles sent in by many alert readers, livestock in England are experiencing an epidemic of "Mad Cow Disease," a disorder that strikes the brains of cows (Yes! Cows have brains!) and causes them to act even stupider than usual. Recent reports state that the disease has now crossed the English Channel to France, and there is no reason to believe that it could not come here, what with the cheaper air fares.

ITEM TWO: According to a Columbus Dispatch article sent in by alert reader Polly Dix, a McConnelsville, Ohio, woman was recently awarded $85,000 by a jury for injuries she suffered when she was attacked by a "crazed cow." The article states that "a few days after eating wilted wild cherry leaves . . . the cow became hostile," and then, "with saliva running from its mouth," chased the woman down an embankment. "I grew up around cows all my life," the woman is quoted as saying. "Then one turned on me."

ITEM THREE: Alert reader Ralph Grummett wrote in to report that one time in New York state his cousin left his clothes on a tree limb while he went swimming in a creek, and a cow ate HIS UNDERSHORTS. "This account is true," states Ralph.

ITEM FOUR: Dozens of alert readers mailed in a

Seattle Times article that begins: "Work crews in east King County are racing the clock in an effort to dispose of hundreds of drowned livestock before the decomposing animals explode."

ITEM FIVE: Hundreds of alert readers sent in articles concerning the Washington State University researchers who will receive a $210,000 federal grant to strap monitoring devices on cows to measure how much methane gas they (the cows) emit when they belch, to see if this is contributing to the greenhouse effect. One article states: "No research is planned on cow flatulence, since it is believed to be a minor source in comparison to belching." Also you would probably have to give the researchers a MUCH larger grant.

ITEM SIX: Alert reader Steve Ringle sent an article from the Piscataquis, Maine, Observer, which reports the following calls to the Piscataquis County Sheriff's Department (I am not making these up):

"Bowerbank - Possible moose parts on dump."

"Sebec - Beavers backed water up in field."

"Dover-Foxcroft - Large dog walked into house and ate a pie."

I admit that Item Six does not, technically, involve cows; I'm including it in case your travel plans involve Piscataquis County, which is apparently experiencing a crime wave. My main point, however, is that when we analyze items one through five, we see a clear pattern of Bovine Terrorism, wherein the world cow population, which for so many years was content to just stand around producing dairy products, has suddenly gone on an international rampage, attacking people, salivating from the mouth, consuming intimate garments, threatening to explode and making a concerted effort to melt the polar ice caps.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking: "Surelythe scientific community is doing something about this!" Hah. If you believe that scientists are going to solve this problem, I have a great deal for you on an orbiting space telescope. THIS is what the scientific community is doing, according to an Associated Press article sent in by alert reader David Carl Scharff:

"AMHERST, Mass. - Using computers, sophisticated imaging equipment and genetic mapping, university scientists are trying to develop `supercows' in the laboratory."

Great! Just what we need! Cows are running amok, and scientists want to make them STRONGER, perhaps even giving them X-ray vision and the power of flight! NOBODY'S undershorts would be safe!

But the scariest element in this story is an article from the Feb. 18 Arkansas Gazette, sent in by the parents of alert baby Zachary France. This article, by John Rice, has the following headline:




I am not making this up, either. The story states that a farmer named James Thorne in Berryville, Ark., had five of his cows die under what he believes were mysterious circumstances. The local sheriff claims they died of a bacterial disease, but Thorne claims that they had mysterious cuts, and that "each of the cows had her sex organs removed."

The story quotes Thorne as saying: "I know no animal killed 'em and I know that no human killed 'em without anybody seeing it or alarming the dogs around here." The story adds that Thorne began to suspect alien beings after two "UFO investigators" from Forsyth, Mo., came out to inspect one of the deceased cows:

"Thorne said the team concluded . . . that aliens had visited and used a laser to kill the cow and remove the organs.

" `They were very professional,' Thorne said of the UFO team. `They went over that cow with a fine-tooth comb.' "

OK. Let's try to stay calm, here, and just review the basic facts:

1. Cows are acting weird.

2. Alien beings appear to be making off with intimate bovine organs.

3. There are people in Forsyth, Mo., willing to comb dead livestock.

4. Somewhere in Maine there is a large, pie-eating dog on the loose.

What does all this mean? Are we in danger? Should we take precautions? And how would the caller know that those were MOOSE parts? Until we get some solid answers, I am urging everyone to remain on the alert, and to heed the advice of the U.S. attorney general, who, when asked about these alarming developments in a recent press conference, responded, and I quote: "Moo."