The week in review: Texting police and cockroach experiments

The week in review: Texting police and cockroach experiments

March 16th, 2013 in Opinion Times

A nerve signaling sending unit is attached to the head of a cockroach with glue in the Advanced Placement Biology class at Boyd Buchanan.

Photo by Tim Barber/Times Free Press.

Texting all troopers

There's something unsettling about the idea of 97 Tennessee state troopers driving tractor-trailer trucks on Tennessee highways looking for distracted drivers texting on cell phones.

Does anyone else think that positioning an 18-ton, 18-wheeler beside one car after another and peering down on the car's driver might make for a trooper who also is a distracted driver?

The promotion -- called "Stay Alive on 75" -- is intended to raise awareness about crashes on the highway caused by distracted drivers, and, more often than not, those are drivers using cellphones. Telephone surveys have found that 69 percent of drivers admit they have used a cellphone while driving (which is not illegal), and 24 percent said they had texted while driving (which is illegal).

Don't misunderstand: Drivers trying to text and hold their cars in the road should make everyone's blood boil.

But dodging a Tennessee Highway Patrol-operated truck with full potential to swerve because the trooper's eyes are busy looking next door also creates some steam.

And what does it cost state taxpayers to acquire the trucks and fuel them for these text cruises?

Wouldn't electronic surveillance cameras -- like the ones already up -- work, too? And capture the license tag?

We'd all like to stay alive on 75 -- and every other road. So the fewer distractions, the better.

On cockroaches and Congress

At Boyd-Buchanan School, the cockroaches are not giant because of some mega-radiation or extraterrestrial influence, but they do become a marching army of tiny, disgusting soldiers on a mission after students implant electrodes in their antenna and glue transistors to their heads and circuit boards to their backs.

(Don't tell PETA or ASPCA.)

Boyd-Buchanan teacher Jim Marlowe, a former microbiologist researcher, borrowed the idea from two University of Michigan graduate students who wanted to make neuroscience understandable and practical at a high school level because the best innovation comes from young people. Studying the nervous system by using electrical impulses to direct the steps of live cockroaches is normally not introduced to neuroscience students until graduate school.

When the "surgery" is complete, students use a remote control device to send electrical impulses to the antenna, directing the bugs to walk this way, turn and walk that way.

With the right programs, the little surgeons could literally choreograph a roach dance, but the science has more than teaching and entertainment value. Imagine sending a spotter rescue team of roaches -- the near-invincible crawling drones of tomorrow -- into a collapsed building with pin camera in tow to find survivors.

This might give you a new respect for the lowly cockroach and halt that stomp the next time you see one, right?

Now, if we just figure out how to use this science on Congress ...

Portman's gay reversal

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, once on the short-list to be Mitt Romney's 2012 running mate, said Friday he has reversed his opposition on gay marriage. The trigger was his own 21-year-old son's revelation that he is gay.

"Jane [Portman's wife] and I were proud of him for his honesty and courage. We were surprised to learn he is gay but knew he was still the same person he'd always been. The only difference was that now we had a more complete picture of the son we love," the senator wrote in an op-ed column in the Columbus Dispatch about his change of heart.

Congratulations on your enlightenment, Senator. Just one question. Why did you not feel that same empathy before now?