MAD DOG: What the Well-Dressed Roach is Wearing for Spring

Once again the Japanese are on the cutting edge of technology. As if the Walkman, karoake and steak houses featuring chefs who juggle knives while throwing shrimp in the pocket of your just-cleaned leather jacket isn't enough, this time they've outdone themselves by designing the world's first electronically controlled cockroach.That's right, a cockroach. You remember them, they're the obnoxious little critters that have absolutely no redeeming social value and are not only said to have existed for eons before our ancestors crawled out of the water looking for a towel but will, from what we're told, exist long after we're gone. Much like Hostess Twinkies. Placed on the evolutionary scale, the cockroach falls somewhere between Marion Barry and the guy who sells car polish on TV late at night by setting fire to the hood of a Mercedes. Yeah, like we need that kind of protection for our cars if we don't live in the South Bronx or East L.A..Why a disgusting little brown insect that's said to be able to survive a nuclear holocaust needs our help is beyond me. They seem to do just fine living off our leftovers, sneaking around in the dark and scurrying away when light is shed on them, very much like political operatives during an election year. That's why it's curious that Japanese scientists' who have yet to discover that fish can be cooked before its eaten—have come up with something designed to make the roaches feel like Sigourney Weaver in Aliens: electronically controlled miniature robot backpacks. That's right. These scientists remove the roach's wings and antennae and put pulse-emitting electrodes in their place. Then, using a remote control which is left over from aborted Smell-o-rama TV experiments, they send signals to the roach's backpack, stimulating the electrodes and making the roaches act like one of the patients in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Probably the Jack Nicholson character. The pulsing electrodes, besides making the roaches do a dance which is startlingly similar to the Macarena, cause the roach to put its left foot in, put its left foot out, put its left foot in and shake it all about. Not really. Actually what it does is make them turn left, turn right, move forward, or jump back on command. While that's not bad—face it, how many roaches have you seen that can do a full-dress parade drill?—it seems to me that for the $5 million dollars this is costing they could have sent every roach in the country to the Citadel where they would have learned the same thing. Except, of course the female roaches, who would have been hazed, set on fire and sexually harassed.These experiments serve several obvious purposes. (The roach ones, silly, not admitting women to the Citadel.) First they give the Japanese scientists something to do when not having extended arguments over who could kick whose ass, Godzilla or Arnold Schwarzenegger. But more important, it will make the roaches feel better about themselves, since all the other bugs have been running around for years with backpacks their parents bought them from Lands End and L.L. Bean and, considering how gross roaches are, they need all the self-esteem they can muster.But the truth is, aside from teaching the roaches to do all the dances John Travolta has done in his movies—which was so well received at the lab Christmas Party that they're talking about taking the show on the road—the scientists have yet to come up with anything particularly useful for the roaches to do. But this isn't to say they won't. The head of the bio-robot research team at Tokyo University, Isao Shimoyama, claims, "The potential applications of this work for mankind could be immense."He foresees a battalion of electronically controlled insects armed with cameras, tape recorders and fax machines crawling through earthquake rubble looking for victims, sneaking into top secret conferences (giving new meaning to the concept of bugging a room), and taking over the movie roles John Travolta would have gotten which, since roaches work for table scraps, means the price of admission to a movie would plummet to, say, a crust of bread!But this only scratches the surface. Remote controlled roaches would be ideal for finding your contact lens when it falls out while you're sitting in the stands at a Monster Truck Rally. They could crawl into snack machines and undo the bag of salmon-cilantro flavored potato chips that's always getting hung up on that damned corkscrew thing and won't come off no matter how many times you tip the machine over. They could be chambermaids at Roach Motels, form a miniature Black Flag tribute band, and with a little paint job play the part of Ken and Barbie's 101st pet Dalmatian.On the other hand, they could just improve the role they've been filling for years and crunch that much better when you step on the nasty little creatures. Now that's progress.

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