Monday, August 29, 2011

The Transparency of Human Sex Pheromones

It looks like the emperor-has-no-clothes pushback against the concept of human sex pheromones is getting some traction in the popular press. Susan Perry, in a post at, is exceptionally blunt: “Our body odors are not subliminal mating signals.” She highlights an article in Slate by Randi Hutter Epstein subtitled “Don’t trust the hype about pheromones and sexual attraction.

Epstein’s piece spurred a raucous series of comments, including several by the tireless James V. Kohl, for whom it seems that every piece of evidence for human chemical communication is proof that the pheromone concept as brought forth in 1959 is true in its entirety and completely applicable to humans.

Perry’s piece also features a James V. Komment, which boils down to “Check out my poster about the emperor’s button: obvs he’s wearing the most beautiful, triple-stitched, silk-lined, fur-collared robe evah.”

Surprisingly, JVK is upstaged by Ross (aka Bubba) Nicholson who comment spams his latest publication, Exocrinology: The Science of Love, 2nd Edition; Human Pheromones in Criminology, Psychiatry, and Medicine.

The book’s Kindle product description from Amazon makes some startling claims:
Exocrinology The Science of Love Human Pheromones in Criminology, Psychiatry, and Medicine describes human chemical ecology, the physiology of kissing and hugging, and the passing of human pheromones to explain criminology, psychiatry, addiction pathology and pheromonal sexual orientation. The book begins with home remedies for juvenile delinquency, puberal running away, heroin and cocaine addiction, and unwanted sexual deviancies. The remedy has allowed Charlie Sheen and his Hollywood colleagues to break clear of addiction and perversion. Ellen Page of Inception and Juno fame, is now entirely heterosexual, as are Jessica Simpson and Leelee Sobieski who were earlier recipients.

Exocrinology’s epigenetic pheromones provide explanation for most of the rest of human pathology. The autoimmune disease signs and symptoms find a coherent systematic elucidation, with recommended pheromone therapies for remediation.

This day will be long remembered. Publication of Exocrinology The Science of Love will mark the emergence of modern medicine from the dark ages of psychological catastrophe and the beginning of a new era for humanity.

This book’s power to cure criminal behavior alone will provide trillions of dollars in economic benefit to humanity. Human pheromones provide the final epigenetic key to the medical puzzles of human behavior, physical and mental illness. Pheromones, their deficiencies, receptions, and excesses, accommodate the synthesis of economic, neuroanatomical, physiological, chemical, and behavioral evidence into a new theory of sociopathy and disease: the pheromone theory of love and illness. Surely this book will irrevocably revolutionize human social organization. We must use this new knowledge wisely and well. This is a book of genius. This is a book for the ages.
So who is the author of this book of genius? Here’s the About the Author section from the paperback edition of similar Nicholson opus:
Bubba Nicholson (1954-present) is the ultimate insider. As a teenager, he was instrumental in the decisions of three US Presidents to run for the office. He invented the modern meaning of the word Inclusive and the concept of inclusive democracy. He conceived the Deadbeat Dad Laws that found a state interest in enforcing alimony and child support. Nicholson proposed The HOPE Scholarships that lifted Georgia into the 21st century, with college education for millions of people. It was Nicholson who insisted Spielberg film E.T. and Schindler’s List and it was his idea to film Star Wars. He created and wrote the stories for Avatar, Titanic, Inception, Forrest Gump, The Matrix, and dozens more. Those are his speeches in Braveheart, Juno, and 300. Aside from the $1 and microcassettes for the saxophone cave solo (originally flute) in Dead Poets Society, Nicholson never took compensation for helping Hollywood, citing its ill effect on creativity. Now Nicholson’s great scientific genius is brought to bear on the greatest social and medical problems of our time. “This is why I went to medical school! Hotcho Momma!”
Mr. Nicholson should tell his publicist to take it down a notch. Then again, the rhetoric is consistent with Nicholson’s own approach to establishing authorial credibility. In the Preface to the first edition of Exocrinology, Nicholson explains why his views haven’t yet achieved the scientific renown they deserve. It is due to his “Spielberg show business association” (above) and his “youthful political associations.”
My helps to successful politicians (e.g. the Bushes (villainous fiends who murdered JFK, MLK, RFK, LBJ, George Wallace and many more), the Clintons, Julian Bond, Zell Miller, Ann Richards, Strobe Talbot, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed: “Privatization”, “Deadbeat Dad Laws”, “Inclusive Democracy”, “HOPE Scholarships”, “Freedom of Religion Rules in the Federal Workplace” have helped our country, but serve only to disparage me among the various science tribes.
Damn those intolerant science tribes. Mr. Nicholson sounds just like the trusted authority we need to spread the word about human sebum being the cure for crime and lesbianism. What else can he shed light upon?
The JFK assassination and almost all following American assassinations were conducted to appease Barbara Bush’s sexual lusts. [I knew it!—Ed.] Her vengeful husband, the cuckold George H.W. Bush, carried it off.
I recall meeting Bubba Nicholson when I worked at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in the last century. He had a notion about kissing being a behavioral mechanism for transferring behavior-activating sebum from one person to another. Plausible. But no way am I buying that crap about Strobe Talbot.

[Hat tip to FN reader Steve S.]

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Multiculti Farting

Since I was a kid I always look forward to a visit to San Francisco’s Chinatown. The food is an attraction but the bigger pull is the ever changing assortment of novelties sold by sidewalk vendors. I have fond memories of super-realistic plastic barf, dog doo, exploding pebbles, and of course bottle rockets and firecrackers. The product of the moment is the Fart Bag, sold at the irresistible price of 5/$1.

The foil pouch contains about a tablespoon of sodium bi-carb and sulfur, plus a small plastic bag with a teaspoon of citric acid solution. To activate the Fart Bag, you squeeze the pouch until the liquid packet bursts, then place the unit near your target (another 11-year old boy or any convenient family member). The expanding gas pops the pouch and (allegedly) leaves a farty smell hanging about.

I say allegedly because the liquid packet was impervious to my squeezing attempts. Not wanting to stink up the rental car or the hotel room or my luggage, I never got around to a successful test farting. Has anyone deployed one of these babies? Lemme know.

Meanwhile, via Drudge: “For Marines in Afghanistan: Be careful where you fart.” The story appears on the Military Times site:
audible farting has been banned for some Marines downrange because it offends the Afghans.

I know there are many things in the Afghan culture that don’t seem normal to Americans and it’s hard to spend seven months working in someone else’s back yard. Still, the Marines I saw downrange are doing a pretty good job at trying to do the right thing around the Afghans.

They’re not supposed to cuss because it could be misunderstood (that one goes out the window a lot). And they stay away from talking about politics, religion or girls because those topics could escalate into major disagreements (they can’t communicate anyway because of the language barrier).

But farting?
Sigh. The Department of Defense has shown alarming signs of political correctness, but this would seem to take the cake. The Military Times comments section makes for amusing reading: a lot of current and retired military folks and their family members give the new anti-farting policy the razzing it deserves. A few examples:
Michael Says:
August 24th, 2011 at 12:25 am

I have to ask….what disciplinary action does UAF (Un-Approved Farting) carry these days???

Fart Knocker Says:
August 24th, 2011 at 2:59 pm

Just release at the same time as a .50 burst. Then the requisite denial, of course.

J.B. Says:
August 25th, 2011 at 12:12 pm

Next on the quartermaster’s list, order 5,000 GI Butt Plugs.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Smell…

Jason Prather Says:
August 25th, 2011 at 8:05 am

I will tell you why, if you promise not to think me racist, or laugh too hard, according to the Hadith, one of their ‘Holy Books’ in the section Sahih Bukhari (1.4.137) writes that Allah will not accept a Muslim’s prayer if he/she passes wind during the ritual. The exception occurs if the worshipper farts silently, or the fart does not smell. I wish I were making this up! If they have gotten so intolerant of our soldiers, perhaps they should try to free their own country, and their precious Allah can do it all himself!
Jason Prather’s claim checks out.
Ablutions (Wudu’)

Volume 1, Book 4, Number 137:

Narrated Abu Huraira:

Allah’s Apostle said, “The prayer of a person who does ,Hadath (passes, urine, stool or wind) is not accepted till he performs (repeats) the ablution.” A person from Hadaramout asked Abu Huraira, “What is ‘Hadath’?” Abu Huraira replied, “ ‘Hadath’ means the passing of wind from the anus.”
OK, then! But the DoD goes from an Islamic rule on do-overs during prayer to telling Marines not to fart around Afghans in public—an extrapolation that pretty much defines the PC mentality.

But You’re So Close to New York City!

Damned hurricane bumped me out of my apr├ęs vacances posting groove. Five hours this morning bailing water out of the basement of FirstNerve Manor. Knees so stiff I could barely make it up the stairs. Time to go horizontal on the couch with some Motrin as we get lashed by the last turn of Irene’s pinwheel.

Be back later with some fart material.

For the blog.

Don’t give me that look. You know what I mean.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Working at the Car Wash (Yeah!)

A glimpse into the psychology of consumer scent preferences.

[Baby powder?—Ed.]

[Must be a Canadian thing . . .]

[Careful, they can get touchy up there.—Ed.]

[He’s just a cartoon.]

[Not him, him.—Ed.]

[Like I said . . .]

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Taking a Sniff of the Big Apple

A month or so ago I walked the World Trade Center subway station with amNewYork reporter Marc Beja who covers the paper’s transit beat. Tracking malodors is harder than you might think: they can be wafted blocks from their origin and there often is no clear concentration gradient to follow. But I was optimistic on this ripest of hot summer afternoons, especially after previously hitting the malodor jackpot on Broome Street with Molly Young of New York Magazine. Unfortunately, Beja and I didn’t pick up the obvs urine notes that many morning commuters complain of in the WTC station.

[BTW crouching over puddles of subway water and gesturing while one guy takes notes on pad and another takes photos draws stares even from hard-boiled NYers. I think there’s a Jack Ass mini-episode waiting to be written . . .]

So yesterday, when a transportation advocacy group released poll results identifying the city’s smelliest station (138th Street in the Bronx), Beja gave me a call for comment. Compared to the other people he quoted—the advocacy group’s exec. dir., a union boss, and a characteristically blunt Bronx resident—I sound like Mr. Reasonable Milquetoast.

Hey, I call ‘em like I smell ‘em.

You gotta problem with that?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Time to Wake Up and Smell New Jersey

I’m back.

A glorious California vacation ends in Newark airport. The inevitable letdown has its own smell: an unusual fishy/shrimpy odor on the I-78 connector to the Garden State Parkway, and two different skunk episodes in the suburbs on the way back to FirstNerve Manor.

Still, I can inwardly savor the food, drink and smellscapes of Sonoma, S.F., Berkeley, Coloma, Guerneville, Santa Cruz and the Yolo County Fair (don’t knock it—the Woodland FFA makes the world’s best tri-tip sandwich).

My home state is a paradise but it is coming apart at the seams.

I don’t want to dwell on that now.

Maybe later.

Friday, August 12, 2011

ISDP: Long, Hot Summer Edition

It’s been a hot month. Muggy and oppressive. And the thirteenth of August has rolled around again like a fat repeat customer at the cotton candy booth on the midway. That means it’s time for a new edition of I Smell Dead People, the internet’s most complete compilation of gruesome olfactory discoveries. Fair warning: ISDP is an acquired taste like cocktail olives, cilantro, and hot pickled okra. It’s not for everyone. Maybe you should go visit your FarmVille acreage and count your unicorn herd instead. But if you think you have what it takes, read on.

Our first report doesn’t count as a deceased person being discovered by olfactory means, but it is a related, and rather unusual case from Albany, Kentucky. WBKO reporter Caitlin Coffey has the story: “A bad smell coming from a cemetery in Clinton County has been causing problems in the area for at least three weeks.”
[Pastor Larry] Jones and his wife have been battling an odor emanating from a mausoleum at the Central Grove Cemetery in Albany, Kentucky.
The problem?
Shirley Lovelace, 59, passed away a little over a month ago and was buried in an above ground tomb without being embalmed. Also, according to Jones, she was only placed in a body bag. (. . .) Jones says he has contacted the funeral home, the coroner’s office, and multiple agencies to find a solution to the problem.

“We wound up talking to the Attorney General’s Office, and they said there is no law against this type of burial in Kentucky,” he says, “But what people don’t realize is these tombs have vents on them and the odor is horrific.”

The funeral home says they followed all rules and regulations and even double checked with the state board before burying Lovelace.
According to Jones, the smell “can only be described as a dead animal but much worse.”

A woman’s body was found in Louis Armstrong Park on Basin Street in New Orleans last Thursday morning, when a person walking a dog “noticed a foul smell” and went to investigate. Police believe the body was that of a homeless person.

There has been a rash of DBs discovered in cars and trucks this year. This month brings another vehicular incident involving, like several previous ones, a Walmart parking lot. The location is Springfield, Missouri, where “a Walmart shopper noticed an overwhelming foul smell” coming from a red Ford Focus. The deceased was a 45-year-old woman.
Police tell KSPR News the woman’s car had the keys in the ignition, but the battery was dead. Officials suspected the car had been running when the battery died.

According to officials on the scene, no obvious signs of foul play were detected, however the investigation is ongoing. An autopsy is scheduled for the next week.
In Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, on July 15:
police removed a decomposing body that was discovered in the trunk of a car in the Trinity Lutheran Church parking lot.

Shortly before, someone reported an abandoned vehicle that had a foul odor coming from it.
The body is thought to be that of a woman whose family reported her missing a week earlier. Police do not suspect foul play; people living in cars are known to sleep in the trunk and this one was equipped with an emergency latch.

Our vehicular theme continues with this succinct headline: “Body, wrapped in blanket, found in a minivan.”
Detectives on Monday were investigating the discovery of the body of a 23-year-old man inside a minivan in South Philadelphia.

Police were called to 10th and Jackson Streets at 5:23 a.m. Sunday on a report of a foul odor emanating from a green 2000 Mazda MPV minivan. In the backseat, they found a man’s body, wrapped in a blanket.
Our vehicular theme takes us next to Florida, which continues to live up to its top ranking as an ISDP state:
Police are investigating a body found in car in Winter Park. Residents at the Tranquil Terrace Apartments called police after noticing a foul odor near an area of the parking lot. When investigators arrived, they tracked the odor to a car.
The death is considered suspicious by local detectives. Another story identifies the deceased as a 29-year-old woman.

Here’s another one from Florida:
The Escambia County Sheriff’s Office is investigating a death at a Pensacola Beach residence reported this weekend.

At about 11 a.m. Saturday, deputies responded to a report of a foul odor coming from a unit at Starboard Village condominiums on Fort Pickens Road on Pensacola Beach.

Inside the condo, deputies found a woman’s body in a state of decomposition.
And yet another in Florida, with an odd twist: the body was that of a man who had locked himself inside a shed.
Deputies think that after a man got kicked out of a home near West Melbourne, he found shelter in a neighbor’s backyard shed, locked it and died.

After noticing a foul smell about 8 p.m. Monday, area residents found human remains behind a home at 48 Paul Rene Drive.
It’s a long, sad, story, enlivened by a bit of local color from Lt. Bruce Barnett of the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office:
“In Florida, remains can become skeletonized in as little as two weeks,” he said. “Especially with the heat we’ve been having, it speeds up the process even more.”
Here at FirstNerve, we are interested in ISDP false alarms: since they are relatively rare it implies that when people smell the proverbial foul odor, they usually make the correct inference. From the crime blotter of Carlsbad, near San Diego:
CARLSBAD: A person reported a suspected dead body inside a storage unit on Tyler Street because of a foul odor and flies in the area. Police found that was not the case, 7:29 p.m. July 27.
Folks in Carlsbad seem to be a little on edge lately. Here’s the next item in the crime blotter:
CARLSBAD: A woman parked in a Circle K parking lot was loudly playing Alanis Morissette music, disturbing the neighborhood at 2:36 a.m. July 26. She turned down the music after police approached her.
Well, good!

In southeast Houston, Texas, a not-so-rare double ISDP: a case of mother and adult daughter. The deaths may have been heat-related as the house lacked a working air conditioner. Here’s a piquant detail:
A pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses reported a foul odor emanating from that home in the 5800 block of Ardmore Street on Aug. 6.

Houston Police and fire department officials arrived to find the bodies around 11 a.m., according to an HPD statement.
On reflection, it’s remarkable that Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t discover a lot more such cases.

And finally, from Winthrop, Massachusetts:
Police are investigating the discovery of a body found under the porch of a Winthrop home

Authorities say they found the decomposing body on Tuesday afternoon after receiving reports from neighbors about a foul odor.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Vanishing American Smellscapes: The Way the Cookie Crumbles

Riverdale’s Stella D’oro cookie factory, which infused its Bronx neighborhood with the scent of vanilla for decades, is set to be sold to developers who will raze the site and build a shopping center.
According to the Wall Street Journal’s Dawn Wotapka, the plant
became a symbol of the Bronx’s loss of relatively high-paying manufacturing jobs. The bakery operation ended about two years ago after a lengthy strike, putting about 150 employees—some earning more than $20 an hour—out of work.