Our policy, here at the Institute of Things That Might Kill You is not to cause panic. If we suspect some new health menace, such as a link between brain cancer and the dance routine to "Achy Breaky Heart," we do not make any announcement without first going through the standard scientific procedure of applying for a federal grant.

But there is no time for that now. Not with the reports that have been flooding into the institute concerning a health menace that threatens all Americans who fall into the High-Risk Group, defined as "Americans who are not already dead."

We had our first inkling of this menace when alert reader Larry Zygmunt sent us an article from the Oct. 20, 1992 edition of the University of Chicago newspaper, the Maroon. The article states that two undergraduates were walking out of an apartment building when they were hit by -- get ready -- a falling dishwasher.

According to the article, the landlord was installing a new dishwasher on the third floor, and, rather than waste valuable time carrying the old one downstairs, he shrewdly pushed it off the balcony.

Your first reaction is to realize how important it is to keep funding "Star Wars," which we are still spending billions of dollars on, even though the Soviet Union has dissolved into thousands of cough-lozenge-sized nations. But "Star Wars" technology could be adapted for civilian use in situations like the one in Chicago.

Here's how it would work: The instant the dishwasher started to fall, it would be detected by radar sensors, which would alert a huge centralized computer, which would flash instructions to a nuclear-powered orbiting satellite, which would activate a powerful laser cannon, which would shoot a beam of extremely high-energy radiation back down to Earth and vaporize a Honda Civic in Hibbing, Minn.

So we see there are still some kinks in "Star Wars," which is why we need to keep spending billions on it. We cannot afford to have appliances falling on our undergraduates.

Fortunately, the Chicago students did not suffer severe injuries, although they were both knocked unconscious, and at first did not know what had happened. As one of them put it, in a quote that I am not making up: "I could have been hit by a cow for all I knew."

Little does this undergraduate realize how chillingly true that statement is. We have here another article, this one from the Durham, N.C., Herald Sun, alertly sent in by Judy Kincaid. This article, headlined "Dog Falls From Plane," states that a 'u float-plane pilot had been throwing a ball for his neighbor's playful dog, Baron, and then he (the pilot) got into his plane and took off, unaware that Baron had climbed onto the plane's pontoon. The result, according to the article, is that Baron fell from 1,000 feet, went through the roof of a cottage and "destroyed the kitchen."

We cannot help Baron now. But we must ask ourselves: What if, instead of a dog, the pilot's neighbor happened to have a playful pet cow? And what if, instead of a vacant cottage, the pilot flew over a large public gathering?

And consider this: According to a news item sent in by many alert readers, ABC-TV got in trouble with U.S. Customs when a "20/20" crew, seeking to test drug-smuggling detection efforts, flew up from Mexico and dropped a package of tacos from an airplane. Fortunately nobody was hurt, but we are talking about Mexican food traveling at more than 100 miles per hour. If it had struck a civilian, medical experts inform us, the resulting diarrhea could have lasted for weeks. And what if other TV news organizations start dropping food from airplanes? What if, God forbid, a show decides to drop German cuisine, a single portion of which, scientists calculate, would create a crater the size of Lake Erie?

So we are facing an epidemic of falling items, and the failed Clinton administration continues to do nothing except fritter away valuable time trying to cut the deficit, despite the fact that the odds of the deficit actually getting cut are way less than the odds of a cow landing on a member of Congress. And here we are thinking specifically of Jesse Helms.

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