How Now Mad Cow?

It's hard to turn on the TV or look at a newspaper without having a mad cow smack you in the face. And as usual, they run faster than you do, so by the time you put the remote down and wipe that orange Chee-tos dust off your fingers you can't catch them to smack them back. If you're one of those people who still have a hard time telling a mad cow from a disenfranchised electorate, I'm here to make your life a little easier. No, I won't vacuum the living room, but I will answer your questions.

What causes mad cow disease?

It starts when a cow catches BSE, which is bovine spongiform encephalopathy. For reasons scientists don't yet understand, certain proteins, which are those little things that are added to shampoo which do your hair no good but allow the manufacturer to charge you ten times more than the regular shampoo, go haywire and settle in the cow's brain, eating little holes in it so it becomes soft and spongy. This makes it more suited to cleaning kitchen counter tops than thinking, though that's not a real big problem since cows aren't known for their brain power. This is obvious since not a single cow has won a Nobel Prize, though Elmer should have for inventing that white glue we all ate -- I mean, used -- in school.

Do people get BSE?

Not exactly. The human version is called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. This is not to be confused with Jakob disease, which you get from watching that bad movie Robin Williams made. No, not that bad one, the one titled Jakob.

So how do people catch mad cow disease?

From eating infected cow parts.

How do cows catch it?

The same way.

You mean cows are cannibals?

Yes, but it's not their fault. After all, they don't prepare their own meals. For years farmers have been feeding animals the ground-up remains of their friends and family. The animal's, not the farmer's. Because cows have hooves, they can't call Domino's and order a pizza, which leaves them no choice but to eat Aunt Bossie. If she had BSE, they'll get it too.

That's gross!

True, but they're not the only animals that eat their own. Spiders, fish, and mice do it all the time, and they don't even wait until the kids die or grind them up. While this sounds inhuman, let's not forget that they aren't human. Besides, there isn't a mother alive whose child is older than one week who hasn't given this idea strong consideration. And face it, the world would be better off had some of them done it. Mrs. Hitler, Mrs. Dahmer, and Mrs. Hussein all come to mind.

Where did mad cow disease originate?

It first cropped up in England about five years ago. The authorities were slow to figure out there was a problem since traditionally the English call their mothers-in-law mad cows. Once they started to suspect something was up, they assumed it was a Monty Python skit, which is only natural. At least until someone pointed out that Monty Python hadn't been together for years. After investigating Benny Hill, Mister Bean, and the royal family -- which is known for eating their young, though unfortunately only figuratively -- they finally took the situation seriously and told people not to eat their mothers-in-law. Just kidding. Actually it turns out that's okay, it's eating the meat from infected cows that's the problem. Oddly enough, even cooking it for seven days like the English typically do doesn't kill the renegade proteins, though it does kill the taste of the meat, which is, after all, the main way of knowing that you're dining in England.

Is mad cow disease still a problem there?

No. They got it under control by killing all the cows and lowering everyone's cholesterol level since they had to eat chicken. But like a movie that earns more than $129.72 at the box office, there was bound to be a sequel. A few years ago mad cow disease surfaced in France, then Germany, then Canada, and now it's in the United States.

Why did it take so long to get to the United States?

Tightened security after September 11th.

Are you sure mad cow disease isn't caused by genetic manipulation?

Well, anything's possible. Okay, except maybe Danielle Steel winning a Pulitzer Prize. After all, if Merck can scramble a turkey's DNA so the males are born with black feathers and the females with brown, anything could happen. It's true that the only reason they had to do this was because their last genetic manipulation made it difficult to tell the sexes apart, but this demonstrates that what they were really working on was the goal of scientists everywhere: job security.

Is this a problem with other animals?

Of course not. Animals don't have jobs so why would they be concerned with job security?

I meant do they get their own kind of mad disease.

No. There are no mad lambs, mad chickens, or mad pigs. Well, not unless you count Rosie. Just kidding. Everyone knows she's only mad at her magazine publisher. And Madonna. And....okay, strike that.

What about the elephants who went on a rampage and flattened the village in Bangladesh a couple of years ago?

They weren't mad, they were drunk from a local brew which is a lot like egg nog except it tastes good. At least to elephants.

How can I make sure I don't get mad cow disease?

You can't be 100 percent certain, but there are definite precautions you can take. First, don't go to England, France, Germany, or Canada. Trust me, they won't miss you, especially in France. Don't eat beef that's been eating beef -- stick to vegan cattle. Don't grind up your relatives and sprinkle them on your cereal. And last, stop reading the newspaper and watching the news on TV -- they're worse for your health and mental well-being than any mad cow could ever hope to be.

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