Sunday, November 24, 2013

Now You Can Follow FirstNerve by Email

I’ve been doing some blog maintenance and just added a “Follow FirstNerve by Email” widget below my Blogger profile. This is for all you people out there who don’t read an RSS feed and/or would like to get an email notification of new posts. It’s an easy-peasy signup powered by FeedBurner.

And now back to your regular programming.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Release from Suffering

The Dalai Lama makes a point about our shared humanity—with a story about getting gassy on an airplane.

P.S. At FirstNerve, we refer to the phenomenon by its technical name: “decompression syndrome.”

Hat tip: Instapundit

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Preferred Fragrance Inc.’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad October

FirstNerve has long followed the saga of Preferred Fragrance, the New York company that attracts trademark lawsuits like a discarded fish head attracts flies. On October 18, Prada S.A. filed a federal complaint charging that Preferred’s Party Candy perfume infringed on Prada Candy, a perfume launched in the U.S. back in August, 2011. Specifically, Prada charges Preferred with
trademark and trade dress infringement, unfair competition, deceptive trade practices, and trademark and trade dress dilution.
Prada claims that the similarity in name and packaging between Prada Candy and Party Candy
is calculated to confuse and mislead consumers, create a false impression as to the source and sponsorship of Party Candy, to divert business from [Prada], to pass off the Party Candy product as being authorized and endorsed by [Prada], or to otherwise falsely misrepresent the nature and quality of [Preferred’s] product and misappropriate the goodwill associated with the Prada Candy mark and trade dress.
For marketers of look-alike products, trademark infringement lawsuits might be seen as just a cost of doing business. Preferred Fragrance certainly has plenty of experience defending itself against such charges and may fight this one to a draw—i.e., a negotiated settlement that falls short of what Prada seeks, namely that Preferred stop manufacturing and marketing Party Candy and cough up all profits from the product along with treble damages.

Perhaps more consequential than the Prada lawsuit is one filed a week earlier, also in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The plaintiffs in this case are the private equity investors who bought Preferred Fragrances from Ezriel Polatsek and others in 2011, installed Glenn Palmer as the new CEO, and made Polatsek president and COO. Page two of the complaint makes this eye-popping statement:
Due to Polatsek’s illegal behavior, defalcations, multiple violations of Company policy, and overall abysmal employment performance, Plaintiffs terminated his employment, effective October 10, 2013.

The new owners are going after a slew of Polatseks, including former president Ezriel, his wife Sarah, and his father Harry, all of whom were or are employees of Preferred Fragrance, Inc. (Mentioned indirectly in the lawsuit are Ezriel’s brothers Abraham, another company employee, and Joel, who owns JP Filling, a company that does business with Preferred.) Four other defendants are former shareholders in the old Preferred Fragrance.

We learn from the court filing that Ezriel Polatsek was hired full time at a base salary of $236,000 (soon to be bumped to $300,000) along with automatic cost of living increases and bonus. So what did he allegedly do to warrant dismissal and a lawsuit charging fraud and breach of contract?

Uni-World claims that prior to completion of the sale, the Polatseks et al. materially changed the terms of arrangements Preferred had with some of its largest suppliers and customers, while failing to inform the new owners. The new terms would have reduced Preferred’s book value; the upshot is that the new owners feel they were deceived into overpaying and they want their money back. In addition, about 300 shipping containers from China were, according to Uni-World, inappropriately classified as non-hazardous material in order to save a couple of hundred bucks per container. The resulting overstatement of company earnings, multiplied by a standard factor in the purchase agreement, is claimed to have cost Uni-World a loss of $350,376. Uni-World also claims the previous owners provided “false and fraudulent” information regarding sales projections.

On a more personal note, Uni-World claims that Ezriel Polatsek on two occasions pocketed cash payments from customers ($11,000 in one instance, and about $14,000 in another). [Cash payments? What business pays another that sort of money in cash?—Ed.] The complaint says that Polatsek failed to show up to two of the company’s quarterly board meetings, and was a no-show at the all-important ASD trade show in Las Vegas last August (he previously attended every year). Other alleged misbehavior includes use of company funds for non-company-related travel; excessive charges for airfare, hotel and personal car service; mismanagement of customer relations resulting in monetary loss; and extending company credit without securing payment (an advance to a colleague’s brother that resulted in a $100,000 write-off).

According to the plaintiff’s timeline, they confronted Polatsek and the other defendants with these issues in April, 2013. Discussions led nowhere and on September 13, 2013 Ezriel Polatsek and the old company filed suit against the new owners in New York state court. They deny breaching the sales agreement, say they are not responsible for the losses claimed, and allege that Uni-World is suing in order to pin its own business failings on them. As a finishing touch, Polatsek wants the court to free him from his non-compete agreement with Preferred.

For its part, Uni-World wants $5.6 million from the defendants and a ruling that its for-cause firing of Ezriel Polatsek and the non-compete clause are valid and enforceable.

Will somebody please fire up the popcorn? This is going to be good.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Barbara Herman's Scent & Subversion

On Tuesday, Mindy Yang and Chad Murawczyk of MiN New York hosted a party for Barbara Herman to celebrate her new book Scent & subversion: Decoding a century of provocative perfume.

Herman blogs extensively on vintage fragrances at Yesterday’s Perfume and the smellerati were out in force at the party. I rubbed elbows with Lucy Raubertas (Indieperfumes), Gaia Fishler (TheNonBlonde), Douglas Bender (CharentonMacerations), Christophe Laudamiel (Dreamair) and a couple of the Goodsmellas.

Of course the star of the night was Barbara Herman who read some lovely passages from her book. Scent & Subversion begins by introducing us to her “chemical romance” with the great perfumes of the past, and then surveys the icons of the 20th century in chronological order. Her capsule appreciations cover everything from Fougère Royale (Houbigant, 1882) to Laundromat (Demeter, 2000). A third section profiles a few “scent visionaries” and gives useful advice to those who want to collect their own vintage samples.

Herman is a deft and inventive writer whose talent is to make the scents come alive in your mind’s nose. To a literary genre still hung-over after an early overindulgence in bitchy snarkitude, her approach is welcome as a fresh breeze. This splendid little volume (it fits easily in the hand) is beautifully produced and generously illustrated with original color advertisements.

P.S. Thinking of buying a copy? Click through the Amazon widgets on this page and you’ll kick a few pennies into the FirstNerve Beer Fund at no cost to yourself.

Friday, November 15, 2013

In Media Nez

Interesting smelly event coming up next week at Blast Theory in Portslade, Brighton, which is evidently somewhere in England. It’s a “scent-enhanced” session with panelists Kate McLean, Heather Kelley, Simon Niedenthal and Ju Row Farr. Niedenthal, pictured above (on the left) wrote an excellent paper on smell in games which I blogged about here. There’s also the debut of an “interactive scent work” by Ms. Kelly. Sounds like fun—and it’s free!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Up in Smoke: ISDP for November 2013

An icy wind is leaking through gaps in the shingles here at FirstNerve Manor, and leafless tree branches are making scratchy noises on the roof. At least we think it’s tree branches. The calendar from the defunct frozen yogurt place that’s now a nail salon indicates that it’s the 13th of the month and time to release our summary of I Smell Dead People incidents from around the country. So gather round, all you morbidly inclined aficionados of the ghastliest “foul smell.” Everyone else run for cover.

Last November we had a lot to report; this time not so much. Who knows, maybe it’s the lack of sunspots. For some strange reason we find ourselves a year later back in Harris County, Texas.

A 44-year-old woman near Houston, Texas goes missing on October 30. The next week police are searching her home for human remains. Neighbors remember foul-smelling smoke coming from the chimney the day she disappeared. Could it have been a clue? Neighbor Rosemary Wallace “says she talked with Harris County detectives and they said, “from my understanding [the woman’s boyfriend] actually chopped her up and then he put her in the fireplace.”

Two days ago, the victim’s 29-year-old boyfriend was charged with her murder. Always trust your nose!

Alert from the Department of Irony: The scene of the crime is on the 11000 block of Fleur Drive in the Bonaire subdivision. [Cute. BTW this case doesn’t really meet FN’s strict criteria for ISDP.—Ed.] [Yes, that’s correct, just work with me here, OK?]

And from the state that leads the nation in ISDP incidents: A resident of the Silver Lakes community in Pembroke Pines, Florida “noticed a foul odor coming from the water behind his home” and called 911. Police found a partially submerged body on the lake’s edge.

It’s not much folks, but it’s all we got.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Spritz, Boom, Bah!

Nothing says Texas A&M University like “refreshing top notes of Italian lemon, bergamot and iced pineapple.” Welcome to collegiate colognes, a rapidly growing niche in the fine fragrance business. Arian Campo-Flores and Meredith Rutland at the WSJ provide a decent rundown on the fad, and refrain from overdoing the cow shit jokes.

In actual fact, universities as “personalities” offer the perfumer as good a creative canvas as any—there are visuals, emotional associations and even the occasional bona fide scent marker. From a purely aesthetic point of view, there isn’t much to carp about. [Besides, we’ll have a ton of material once Parlux signs Miley Cyrus for Twerker.—Ed.]

The main danger for the collegiate cologne market is success—there are hundreds of universities and just not that many distinctive, high-quality fragrances to go around. By the time the trend hits Bergen Community College, we’ll be talking knock-offs and aftershave.

Friday, November 8, 2013


I received a letter this week from an organization that wants me to join. Read the opening paragraph and see if you can guess which group sent it.
Dear Avery Gilbert, 
As global citizens, the challenges we face have never seemed greater than they do today. Climate change, chronic and emerging diseases, rising food costs, population pressures, environmental degradation, and continued reliance on fossil fuels are just some of the issues we all face in one form or another.
So where do think it come from? Here are your choices:
Sierra Club
American Psychological Association
Environmental Defense Fund
American Association for the Advancement of Science
I’ll post the answer later.

UPDATE November 10, 2013

Here is the answer:

What is the difference between an organization that promotes scientific research and one that advocates specific positions on public policy?

If you can’t distinguish one from the other based on their own communications, then whose fault is it that science is losing credibility as an honest, skeptical and disinterested endeavor?

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Obama’s BRAIN: Making It Up as They Go Along

Today’s issue of Nature has an article by Helen Shen recounting the tempestuous and confused story of President Obama’s BRAIN initiative. Coming after the administration’s botched launch of, one is left in awe at the hubris of a government managed mega-research project that aims to simultaneously record all of the neural activity in the human brain, and that will involve scientific and budgetary coordination between the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Allen Institute for Brain Science, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Kavli Foundation, and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.

As they say in the White House briefing room, expect a few glitches as things roll out.

Here’s a quick recap for those of you keeping score at home:

The White House, “on the lookout for a bold presidential initiative,” latched onto a blue-sky idea called the Brain Activity Map (BAM) which had been floated a few months earlier. The president mentioned it in his State of the Union speech on February 12, and the administration was soon talking about a ten-year, $3.8 billion plan. Many neuroscientists were “alarmed,” fearing that the money would be pulled from existing research programs, and that failure of such a titanic project might “undermine public trust in science.” One scientific critic called it “a very narrow agenda of a small group of people.”

The White House formally announced its plan on April 2, by which time BAM had been transformed by clever acronym into the BRAIN Initiative. Unlike BAM, Obama’s BRAIN had “no clearly defined goal” and many neuroscientists found it “puzzlingly vague” and yet “reassuring,” because details were to be left to DARPA, NIH, NSF and the four private foundations.

The hashing out of details took place at a meeting in Arlington, Virginia on May 6. Chen described that meeting as “a frenetic pitch-fest,” and a “cacophonous town hall meeting” filled with “restless attendees,” all lobbying for their particular scientific topics and techniques.
To the growing exasperation of audience members, however, there was no convergence towards a coherent agenda for the [BRAIN] initiative.
The boisterous open session was followed by a carefully stage-managed closed meeting at which the specially selected NIH advisory committee (a.k.a. “The Dream Team,” chaired by Rockefeller’s Cornelia Bargmann and Stanford’s William Newsome) heard privately from invited speakers. The Dream Team’s selection of speakers and topics drew fire from scientists who felt excluded.

After the meeting in Alexandria, the government research agencies began playing “after you, Alphonse,” with NSF and DARPA ultimately declining to take the lead in BRAIN planning. So all eyes were on the NIH advisory committee, which on September 16 made public its interim report on the project’s scientific priorities. The result will not surprise anyone who has served on a committee.
Many had feared that it would fail to be sufficiently inclusive, but the document was instead so staggeringly broad that it seemed to encompass all of circuit-based neuroscience.
The NIH advisory committee has now kicked the can down the road to an open comment session at the massive Society for Neuroscience meeting on November 11 in San Diego.

Having squeezed its fifteen minutes of attention out of the president’s SOTU speech, the Obama White House has “so far indicated no intention to coordinate the [inter-agency planning] process more formally.” Whether that is a bug or a feature has yet to be determined.

Chen’s detailed account of the BRAIN Initiative is remarkable—it brims with fear, anxiety, chaos, distraction, mistrust and lack of coordination. Welcome to Big Science in the Age of Obama. When we load every dream and wish onto the agenda of the Federal government, can we be surprised that the behemoth staggers and fails us? Are we shocked to find the Federal money trough swarmed by a selfish, unruly throng, and the spigot controlled by a small coterie of insiders? If you are, you haven’t been paying attention for the past five years.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Jimmy Kimmel’s Olfactory Placebo Sketch Comedy

There’s been a recent flurry of PR around a scent-emitting device that attaches to your iPhone and puffs aroma every time you get a text message. Called Scentee, it appears to be a re-branding of the ChatPerf device I blogged about in May.

Now the inestimable Jimmy Kimmel tees it up for a man-on-the-street bit. Since the Scentee is only available in Japan, Kimmel uses a dummy device for his “Imaginary Smell Edition of Lie Witness News.” If you have ever doubted the power of the olfactory placebo effect, here’s your answer.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Sniffing It on Beverly Boulevard

A headline from The Hollywood Reporter will warm the hearts of olfactory enthusiasts everywhere:
‘Perfume: The Story of a Murderer’ to Reshow With Newly Created Scent Track 
The 2006 film from Tom Tykwer will play at special screenings Nov. 6 and 7, giving audiences a special scent track with which to follow along.

The event in L.A. is the brain child of Saskia Wilson-Brown at the ever-expanding Institute for Art and Olfaction who pulled together some corporate sponsorships to make it happen. Our pal and co-creator of the scent-track Christophe Laudamiel will be there in person. The fifteen custom scents will be delivered manually on blotters: low-tech but effective. The showings are free and limited to the first forty people which pretty much guarantees the place will be packed.

P.S. A Face Palme d’Or to The Hollywood Reporter’s Laurie Pike for mangling the history of scented movies:
Think of it as the sophisticated cousin of William Castle’s Smell-O-Vision and John Waters’ Odorama, the scratch-and sniff cinema gimmicks of 1960 and 1981, respectively.
Where to begin? Schlockmeister William Castle (of “Tingler” fame) did not invent Smell-O-Vision; Mike Todd, Jr. and Hans Laube did. They delivered scent through tubes to the theater seats, not via scratch-and-sniff (which hadn’t been invented yet). Smell-O-Vision’s actual cousin was Walter Reade’s AromaRama, which delivered scent via ventilation ducts. C’mon Ms. Pike, it’s not like someone didn’t already publish this piece of Hollywood history.*

*Which would make a great movie BTW.

Gotta go, Chili Palmer’s on line one.
“That was Rio Bravo. Robert Mitchum played the drunk in El Dorado. Dean Martin played the drunk in Rio Bravo. Basically the same part. John Wayne did the same on both. He played John Wayne.”