Friday, December 12, 2014

ISDP: Cheesy Merchandise Edition

To keep our fingers limber while pecking out each winter-time installment of ISDP, we like nothing better than wrapping our gnarled hands around a hot mug of Ovaltine. It’s also calming to watch the steam rise into the chilly air of our garret atop FirstNerve Manor.

We recently tired of the chipped, crack-spidered mug we’d been using for years and decided to splurge on a new one. We designed it ourselves and may we say we are very pleased with the results. So pleased, in fact, that we have made it available for purchase on (Follow the link or look for the FirstNerve store).

You know you want one. Especially if you or your loved ones work in a medical examiner’s office, the county probate office, the homicide squad, or the maintenance department of any largish apartment complex. Imagine how delighted they’ll be to get one as a gift!

And with that we return to our regularly scheduled programming.

The Lone Star State has been on a tear, with items in the previous three editions of ISDP. The Houston Chronicle’s Dale Lelzon had a story on November 24 that looked to extend the streak: “A 29-year-old man has been arrested after the body of his common-law wife was found wrapped in a blanket in a closet at her apartment in southwest Houston.” However, since the woman’s body (and associated “foul odor”) was discovered only after her concerned family came looking for her, the case fails to meet our strict criterion. Sorry, Dale.

But wait! Two weeks later another Houston incident kept the Texas streak, uh . . . alive. On December 9, Karla Barguiarena from television station KTRK filed this story: “Amber alert remains in effect for baby after mom found dead in refrigerator.”
Maintenance workers at the Braeswood Oaks apartments made the gruesome discovery after residents reported a strong, foul odor coming from the air conditioning vents.
Police estimate the victim may have been in the fridge for nearly a week. The 11-month-old baby and his 38-year-old father are both missing.

Three New Nominees for the Norman Bates Award, International Division

That’s So Cold

The headline says it all: “Man kills, hides cousin’s body in freezer for 9 years. Duo fought with each other over financial issues.” Well, almost all. How was the frozen corpse discovered?
Due to the power cuts [in Alexandria, Egypt], the freezer had broken down, which led to the spread of the dead body’s foul smell in the neighbourhood. The neighbors informed the police about the foul smell. Police rushed to the scene and opened the fridge only to find the body, which was still intact.
Mummy Dearest
Woman shared a bed with the body of her dead mother for FIVE YEARS in Germany… and it had mummified by the time social workers found it.
An 83-year-old woman’s mummified remains were found by social workers who visited her home in Munich after neighbors became suspicious because they hadn’t seen her in years. The woman’s 55-year-old daughter had been living there since her mother died in 2009, and was evidently sharing a bed as her mother’s corpse.

Apparently once you get past the odoriferous, active-decay phase of things, it becomes just regular creepy, not epic creepy.

The Family That Prays Together

A 52-year-old Hamilton, Ontario, man died of an untreated illness because he and his family believed that God would cure him. Afterward, his wife sealed the bedroom door and air duct to contain the odor of decay, and continued, along with her five children (ages 11 to 22) and seven live-in adult friends, to pray for the man’s resurrection. It hadn’t happened by the time, six months later, that the sheriff arrived to evict them for nonpayment of the mortgage. FirstNerve nominates the entire Canadian mini-cult for this year’s Norman Bates Award.

Department of Closure

There’s been a resolution to an ISDP case we reported on three years ago. In the middle of his murder trial in Pitt County, North Carolina, Joey Owens decided to take a plea deal. He pleaded guilty to two counts of second degree murder, and will serve a 30-year minimum prison sentence. He shot and killed Samuel Bradley and Alice Hardy in their mobile home in 2011. Their bodies were discovered after neighbors called deputies to complain of a foul odor.

UPDATE December 16, 2014
Commenter Tara C. points out that we posted a link which didn't go to our specific store. The link is fixed now and goes directly to the FirstNerve store. Or click here. Thanks Tara, and happy shopping!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A New Kindle Edition of What the Nose Knows

I recently received back the rights to What the Nose Knows: The Science of Scent in Everyday Life. Today I released a new Kindle version of the book on It has a new cover (above) and corrects a few typos. Best of all, I lowered the price to $5.99. If you don’t have a copy, now’s the time to grab one. What are you waiting for? Get yours here.

P.S. The original hardcover printing has long been sold out. Right now I’m working on a print-on-demand paperback that I hope to make available soon.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Return of an Olfactory Memory

Raymond Leon Iddings died November 14, 2014 at the age of 93. He grew up on a small farm in Putnam County, Indiana, and, like so many Americans of his generation, joined the army and fought in World War II.

Here’s a passage from his obituary:
His combat experienced forever identified Raymond Iddings as a professional soldier, and left scarred stories that he never told. Daughter Cheryl was recently told a final story while helping him eat some chicken soup. A few weeks after crossing the Rhine, on April 4, 1945 the United States Army liberated the first concentration camp prisoners from Ohrdruf, Germany. The conditions were so appalling that words fail description; the smell of feces and rotting corpses overpowered the senses. General Eisenhower, Patton and Bradley were all sickened during their tour and Eisenhower actually vomited. In his memoirs, Raymond wrote of the “foul odor that blanketed the area,” but said he never entered the camp. While Cheryl recently helped father eat some soup he began to cry and apologized to her for never telling this story before: He then shared with her a memory from that camp . . . a day that he held a spoon of chicken broth for a severely starved prisoner at this camp; the starved man was too weak, the man took a deep breath and died. Raymond told Cheryl that for all these years he repressed this story as his most painful memory — a war memory he was never able to talk about.
Trauma and repression, war and compassion, the great events of history—all brought to the surface by the aroma of chicken soup fed to an elderly man by his loving daughter.

With Raymond Iddings goes a small but infinitely valuable piece of the American experience. We salute him.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Scent of Mystery Comes to Video

The New York Post’s Lou Lumenick has the story: “Elizabeth Taylor’s forgotten Smell-O-Vision adventure arrives on video.” He’s talking about Scent of Mystery, the first (and only) film to use the revolutionary Smell-O-Vision process promoted by Mike Todd, Jr. and his father. Elizabeth Taylor (then married to Todd, Sr.) was an investor in the technology and makes a cameo appearance in the movie. (Your Hollywood trivia of the day: Mike Todd, Sr. coined the word cameo.)

I researched the story of Smell-O-Vision—and its rival, AromaRama—for my book. Along the way I interviewed inventor Hans Laube’s wife and daughter, and saw a prototype of his scent-generating device, along with all the promotional material for the film’s premiere. It’s a great story in the history of technology.

Until now, Scent of Mystery was only available in a badly butchered VHS of a television mashup version. I’m looking forward to seeing the newly restored re-release. Sure, it was slightly corny even for 1960, and unspools at the leisurely pace of that time. But I look forward to viewing it end-to-end while imagining all the odors (there are lots of them).

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

ISDP: Foul Odors from Foul Deeds

It's the thirteenth of the month and therefore time to offer up our periodic collection of macabre episodes triggered by the detection of the uniquely disturbing smell of bodily decay. We're typing as fast as we can; the wind is picking up ahead of another Polar Vortex that shortly will force its way through the poorly insulated windows of FirstNerve Manor and cause our gnarled fingers to stiffen in place on the keyboard.

An employee at a storage facility in Winnipeg, Manitoba, noticed a foul smell coming from inside one of the lockers. Investigation showed the source to be the bodies of four small infants.

Police in Brownsville, Texas, were asked to investigate the source of a foul odor. They discovered the bodies of a woman and her 4-year-old son in a pile of rubbish in the backyard of a home. The woman's husband has been arrested and charged with murder.

In the trial of Charles Hicks Jr. who is charged in Pennsylvania with the 2008 murder and dismemberment of Deanna Null, Hicks' former landlady testified that
she was cleaning the house in preparation [for his departure] when she noticed a foul odor in a bedroom closet area. She dismissed it at the time as maybe a mouse that died in the walls.
According to further testimony, the smell was likely from "severed hands, later identified as Null's, which had been wrapped in old newspaper inside baggies, and large socks containing detergent."

As we like to remind readers here at ISDP--Always Trust Your Nose!

A woman in East Memphis, Tennessee, would have saved herself a lot of grief had she sniffed around a bit before renting a house (she only looked in through the windows). Turns out it had been the scene of murder a couple of months earlier, in which a man had killed his roommate and butchered his body. Despite the blood stains and foul odor, the landlord was under no obligation to reveal the home's history as a crime scene. 


Rurik Jutting, a 29-year-old British investment banker in Hong Kong, has been arrested in connection with the murder of two women whose bodies were found in his apartment after a neighbor complained of a foul odor coming from the unit. One of the bodies was found stuffed inside a suitcase on the apartment balcony. 

It appears that shortly before she was killed, the second woman
had texted a friend to raise concerns over her visit, saying: 'Something smells really bad – I want to get out of here'.
The smell was evidently from the body in the suitcase; that victim had been murdered five days earlier.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Twin Paradox: The Olfacto-mathematical Delusions of the Varshney Brothers

Like movie stars wearing prop glasses to make themselves look smart, pop media outlets this week splashed themselves in eau de science, trying to out-cool each other with superficial coverage of a new paper in olfactory signal theory. [That’s a thing?—Ed.] [It is now!]

What had the click-bait crowd all aquiver was an abstruse theoretical paper by a pair of electrical engineers who happen to be twin brothers. Kush and Lav Varshney both received undergraduate degrees from Cornell in 2004 and doctoral degrees from MIT in 2010. They’re obv very smart and good at math. (They are also the third generation of their family to become electrical engineers.) Kush is now at IBM’s Watson Research Center in New York, while Lav is at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Their new brainstorm-in-common has the dry title “Olfactory signals and systems.” As befits a theoretical engineering paper, it contains a lot of equations; like Einstein, they leave the actual data-gathering and experimental validation to others. That’s cool—everyone enjoys a good theory, especially if it makes outrageous claims. And there’s been a market opportunity since September when Luca “Vibes” Turin got peevish and flounced off the Twitter stage.

The claims made by the Varshney bros are indeed click-worthy. They claim to set out the theoretical basis for “odor cancellation” technology as well as “food steganography.” [Stega-whaa?—Ed.] [Go look it up yourself.]

While mere mortals have struggled for centuries to characterize and quantify smells, and to analyze their chemical basis, the V twins achieve their theoretical breakthrough in three deft strokes of matrix algebra. First, assume an array consisting of all the physiochemical properties of every odor molecule (molecular weight, functional groups, yadda). Next, assume an array consisting of all the perceptual vectors in odor descriptor space (ratings of strength, pleasantness, green, floral, yadda). [One is inevitably reminded of the old punch line about spherical cows in a vacuum.] Finally, produce a matrix that maps molecules from the chemical to the perceptual space. Now all you have to do is solve for

and, voilà! You can now predict the smell of any molecule from its physical properties or vice versa.

The V bros helpfully point out that the problem “is convex and can be solved by interior point methods and a variant of Nesterov’s smooth method.” [Of course. Why didn’t I think of that?—Ed.]

Lest it be said that electrical engineers lack a sense of humor, note that the physicochemical array is denoted Rk and the perceptual array is Rl. Get it? Those guys are a laff riot.

The first big claim made by the Varshneyii concerns “active odor cancellation,” an awesome outcome in which their system identifies a small number of unobjectionable compounds that will negate a particular nuisance odor or stink—knock it right out of your nose! At least that’s what normal people would think, given the analogy with active noise control. Noise cancellation systems deploy a sound wave with an inverted phase to that of the noise wave; the perceptual result is no sound at all.

Unfortunately, that’s not exactly what Tweedle-Kush and Tweedle-Lav are selling. Instead, their matrix solution spits out a set of odors that, combined with the stink at issue, produces a standard jumble smell known as “olfactory white.” True, olfactory white may be less obnoxious than the malodor in question, but it is still a smell, not the absence of smell. This is not the equivalent of active noise cancellation. When I use noise cancellation headphones on an airplane, the steady roar of the engines disappears. It is not drowned out by the addition of white noise.

Oh, well. On to the second claim: food steganography. In this application, the matrix solution provides a set of other odors that effectively masks the objectionable aroma of a particular food item. The Varsity Varshney say “nuclear norm-regularized multivariate linear regression.” I say, think bacon-wrapped chicken livers.

I’m not sure exactly what it is about olfaction as a scientific field that attracts charlatans, nitwits, poseurs, and grandiose humbugs. But I’m sure someone will come up with an equation for it.

The paper discussed here is “Olfactory signals and systems,” by Kush R. Varshney and Lav R. Varshney, published online October 17, 2014. It can be downloaded here.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

FN Review: Mandy Aftel, Drunk with Scent

 Mandy Aftel has hit another one out of the park. After scoring with Essence and Alchemy, she drills one into the upper decks with Fragrant: The secret life of scent. Her new book is built around five raw materials of natural perfumery: cinnamon, mint, frankincense, ambergis, and jasmine. Chapter by chapter she shares her working knowledge of the individual materials and places each one in historical and cultural context. We learn how to use them (guided practical formulations are provided) but we also learn about Mandy: her approach to life, meaning, and creativity. We discover her amazingly vibrant aesthetic, and how it grew naturally (so to speak) from her Berkeley environs. It is artisanal and whimsical. It takes pleasure in the simple deeply observed. It focuses on the quality of raw materials and the authenticity with which they are experienced. Think Bernard Maybeck and Alice Waters.

In each chapter, Mandy effortlessly transitions from an emotional and intellectual immersion in scent to the practical means of buying, sampling, and blending essential oils. Her personal fragrance fantasy land is a Peaceable Kingdom—in one category of scent after another she steers away from the sharp and overpowering and favors materials with softer impressions that lend themselves to blending.

Mandy imbibes the cultural and historical emanations of scent as enthusiastically as she inhales the essential oils themselves. She seeks out exotic materials and rare perfumery books with the same thirst for experience. As a scent scientist and fellow bibliophile, I appreciate this and applaud it, even as my personal interest in the intellectual history of smell leans more to philosophical treatises and natural history than to the formula books and practical guides that Mandy favors. But this is a matter of taste.

The real difference between Mandy and me is one of temperament. For her, enthusiasm and passion drive creativity. For me, the search for pattern and motive compels description, quantification, and analysis. My joy comes from tracing a new regularity of behavior or revealing an unsuspected piece of natural history. Hers comes from arranging a beautiful experience for others to share.

Does the way of the scientist not involve creativity and inspiration? Of course it does. Does the way of the perfumer not involve measurement and precision? Of course. But where Mandy revels in mystery, historical echoes and parallels, I thrill to clarifying the underlying psychobiology of sensory experience.

Throughout human experience, the allure of ephemeral smells and flavors was potent enough to change the course of history. Mandy vividly describes how the discovery of scents and spices drove early Europeans to take great risks in exploration, trade, and warfare. Not that she would put it this way, but the history of spice and perfume is inseparable from the development of capitalism. To celebrate one is to celebrate the other. No wonder the social frivolity of scent and perfumery’s exploitation of natural resources have been favorite targets for leftists and greens. Mandy’s Berkeley-based aesthetic sits uneasily on this cultural fault-line.

Mandy is an exponent of “authentic luxury” which she defines as psychological engagement with the honest immediacy of sensory experience. In this, she aligns herself with locavorism and Alice Waters’ Slow Food movement. I, too, encourage people to expand their sensory horizons, to stop and savor the world around them. But mindful cultivation of one’s sensory experience is a stone’s throw from fatuity. Those who can afford it thrill to the localness of their salad greens and grilled lamb. Those in a lower tax bracket can be seen across the street from Chez Panisse, waiting in line for pizza at The Cheese Board Collective. For them, the forty-minute wait isn’t a hindrance (few people in Berkeley are deadline-driven); rather, it serves to authenticate the sensory superiority of their pizza experience. Here is the Cheese Board’s pizza offering for tomorrow (the day of Fragrant’s publication): Crimini mushrooms, onion, mozzarella and Campo de Montalban cheese, arugula (Heirloom Organic Garden of Hollister) in a lemon dressing. Mr. Dino, my local purveyor of finest quality pizza back in New Jersey, would consider a forty-minute wait a failure of customer service, as would his deadline driven customers. Heirloom organic arugula would elicit from Mr. Dino a blank stare.

Throughout Fragrant, Mandy celebrates the act of discrimination, the exercise of a knowledgeable palate upon selected raw materials of experience. Training one’s nose (and brain) to find the nuanced differences in a series of ambergris samples can be revelatory; learning how to blend ambergris with other materials can, as Mandy illustrates, be a creative project akin to learning how to paint in water colors. Yet I can’t help but wonder whether for every talented Mandy Aftel there are ten Randy Marshes finishing every dish “with a little crème fraîche.”

Mandy’s facility in reading character is the talent of the clinical psychologist, one she re-deploys with respect to scent: she listens to how an oil presents itself and how it reacts with others. In her fascination with the symbology of scent, the meanings of its folklore and myths, Mandy takes as her aesthetic scope the entire scented world and our experience of it—human involvement with fragrance from prehistory onward. Her aesthetic compromises, in Wallace Stevens’ phrase, “the whole of harmonium.” She is the world’s first Jungian Perfumer.

Monday, October 13, 2014

A Double Helping of ISDP

As we opened a new bag of Doritos and settled in to compile this month’s edition of I Smell Dead People, we noted to our dismay that we totally spaced out on the September round-up. Personally, we blame this mix-up on lower-level employees in the Cincinnati field office, if you know what we mean. But to make good we hereby offer our loyal fans a two-month double-helping of the most depressing and grotesque olfactory events imaginable.

The scene: a house on Squankum Road, in Lakewood, New Jersey.
Police were called by a property manager after a nearby business complained about an odor coming from the residence on Thursday. Police found a dead male inside a bedroom.
Wait. Just “an odor”? Not “a foul odor”? What gives?

The Asbury Park Press has a fuller account, published under the odd headline “Lakewood body identified as Brick man.” [Like Wicker Man?—Ed.] The deceased was a 45-year-old male from nearby Brick Township, across the Garden State Parkway from Lakewood. Both municipalities on are the Metedeconk River. Got it? Good.

In Houston, Texas, neighbors reported a “foul odor” and Harris County deputies made the find: two bodies and a “bloody scene” were discovered inside a garage.

In Brownsville, Texas, “Foul odor leads to discovery of dead woman, child.” Staff writer Christina R. Garza of the Brownsville Herald sets the scene:
Police cars and crime-scene tape marked off an area of Frankfurt Street in Brownsville Friday evening where the bodies of a woman and child were discovered. A foul odor hung in the night breeze as shocked neighbors surrounded the area. One woman said she’d smelled the odor since a day before but had believed it was remnants from the Thursday’s garbage collection in that neighborhood. The bodies were found inside a modest red brick home with a white picket fence. It is unknown how long they had been inside the house.
A man has been detained as a suspect in the case; he is said to be the estranged husband of the dead woman and father of the dead child. A coroner’s report found that the woman was killed by three gunshot wounds to the head.

A couple walking their dog in Dunbar, West Virginia noticed a foul odor coming from a two-story building. They called police who found a badly decomposed body inside. The body appears to have been there for several weeks.

The remains of a woman were found beneath a trailer home in Apache Junction, Arizona, after neighbors complained to police that a foul smell had been coming from it for several days. The body may be that of the mobile home’s resident, a woman who had been missing for several days. A 45-year-old man has been arrested in case. According to ABC-TV Channel 15, he has “a criminal background including several drug charges along with assault and domestic violence charges from earlier this year.”

A dismembered body wrapped in plastic was found in a garage in Hegewisch, Illinois, south of Chicago.
Investigators arrived at the scene Sunday after neighbors smelled a foul odor coming from the garage and alley.
The body may be that of a man whose ex-wife died a week earlier, and whose mother-in-law has been missing since. [So complicated.—Ed.] [That’s Chicago for you.]

If at first you don’t succeed, sniff, sniff, sniff again.

Sixty-six year old Richard Whipple was found dead of multiple stab wounds in his apartment in the Browne’s Addition section of Spokane, Washington. His remains were discovered after a foul odor was noted coming from his apartment—but it took a while.
managers entered Whipple’s apartment and saw an abundance of trash “strewn about the apartment.” They believed that was the source of the odor, so a janitor removed several bags of garbage and took them to the dumpster. But, the odor did not dissipate, so management went back into the apartment. That’s when they found Whipple dead in a recliner under several laundry items and a pillow.
Another Norman Bates Award™ Nominee

Ila Solomon of Lafayette, Indiana is alleged to have lived for about ten months in a house with the body of her dead husband, while collecting his Social Security and VA payments. She has been charged with “welfare fraud, theft, failure to report a dead body, unlawful disposition of a dead human body and failure to file a certificate of death.” A man who did some work on the house told police about a foul odor he smelled there, but his report triggered no action.

Norman Bates Award nominee, Overseas Division
Meerut: A 57-year-old man died allegedly due to starvation and his body was found only after one month from his home here.

Harendra Badhai, a former government doctor, was staying with his younger brother Harish Badhai (55) at their Shastri Nagar residence, police said, adding, the brothers were suffering from mental ailments.

The neighbours informed the police about a foul smell emanating from the house, following which police found Harendra’s rotten body on Saturday, they said.

The younger brother who was also present in the house said that Harendra is sleeping and asked the police not to take the body, police said, adding, he (Harish) was holed up inside his residence with the body for nearly one month.

The younger brother was an Air Force officer and the elder one was a doctor at CHC, Sardhana, both of whom left their jobs after mental problems, police added.
Chef kills and cooks girlfriend, kills self

We don’t normally track ISDP events outside the U.S., but this one warrants special mention:
An Australian chef has killed his girlfriend, dismembered her and boiled parts of her body before taking his own life, police say.

Marcus Volke, 28, was fleeing officers who had come to his Brisbane apartment after reports of a foul smell when he slashed his own throat in a bin.

Officers discovered body parts of Volke’s girlfriend in a pot on the stove, while other parts of the Indonesian woman’s mutilated body were found in garbage bins outside the apartment, according to local media.
The Mirror gets the headline prize for “‘He was boiling her feet when I walked in’: Electrician describes moment he saw killer cooking his wife.” The Mirror’s account is the only one to note that Volke’s wife was transgender. This reminds us, in a sort of reversed image way, of the case of Frederick Hengel, of Oceanside, California. The 69-year-old was known in the neighborhood for wearing women’s cloths. He was convicted of murdering and dismembering his 74-year-old wife, and boiling her remains on the stove.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Schlubs of New York

There are rare nights when Manhattan has a manic, magical charm. Then there are nights like tonight, when Tenth Avenue reeks of discarded ice outside the fish market and the air is shattered by car horns as drivers blast their way into the Lincoln Tunnel. (To be fair, these aren’t New Yorkers—they’re assholes from New Jersey in a big fucking rush to get back to their blighted home turf.)

On such a routine, uncharming evening people in New York look like hell—vacant, tired, badly dressed; a parade of the lame and the halt, the obese and the homeless. Chelsea becomes a badly lit Fellini set.

Hordes of people pour across town, flooding the sidewalks. I fight my way down Tenth through the selfie-taking mob, past a couple of bloody zombies. I start thinking about airport temperature screening for Ebola and what a joke that is. It’s not until I pass another ghoul that the signal rises above the noise and I realize these are not the usual schlubs of Manhattan. These are out of town schlubs dressed up as zombies (and anime princesses and super heroes). I am surrounded by morons exiting Comicon at the Javits Center.

At 28th Street I reach my goal: an opening at the Fred Torres Gallery, billed as an “experiential showcase” that “blends diverse visual and olfactory mediums to explore a full spectrum of the moments and states that cannot fully be defined.” Thus the show’s title, “Liminality: betwixt and between.”

A small group of people mill about on the sidewalk in front of the gallery’s plate glass window. They’re watching perfumer Christopher Brosius on a step ladder hang some laundry on a metal frame. At least that’s what it looks like at first glance. On second glance (and first sniff) he’s hanging a silken sheet printed with a phrase and ever so lightly scented. The 15 knot breeze coming off the Hudson makes it hard to build much olfactory ambience. A silver-haired gentleman is observing the scene while a Asian woman gesticulates and lectures him energetically in German.

CB himself, of course, is wearing boots and a black kilt. His parti-colored hair is braided to his scalp in tight cornrows. He peers myopically through wire-framed aviator frames set with thick lenses. It’s quite a look. [You should talk, Mr. Minus Six Diopters.—Ed.] [Yeah, but I gave up aviators frames in the Eighties—right after kilts.]

Inside the miniscule gallery I gratefully accept a glass of champagne from an attractive young woman with ample and generously displayed cleavage. Reluctantly, I turn away to the art. There are three visual artists, each with his own wall. One is a collection of dark B&W photos of random people in random scenes; the images are untitled and uninterpretable, but all are definitely bleak. On the next wall hang three quasi-representational paintings that are quasi-engaging. On the third wall is a series of color photographs. Some were taken in a semi-finished attic with a female subject who looks lost and ill at ease. Others feature bare male asses. This is the artist examining “the tension between sexuality and intimacy.” Or something.

In the center of the room, on a pedestal draped in white fabric, stands a clear glass Florence flask. No one is paying it any attention. I lean in and sniff—I get notes of dry wood and fresh green leaves. This is CB’s contribution to the show.

The show was organized by an outfit that bills itself as “a full-service curation and experience-design agency specializing in immersive events production.”

Really? I got fully immersed in the champagne and that was about it. I guess if you want to “cultivate an inclusive influencer network augmenting cultural cachet,” then this is the agency for you.

Or you could set up an odorized booth at Comicon.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The FirstNerve Library

I have updated the Amazon widget on this page with personal comments on each of the books that I recommend. The selection reflects my preferred blend of science, history, memoir, and stories. I will add to the list from time to time. Click through to purchase them on Amazon: there is no extra cost to you and a few coins will drop into the FirstNerve beer fund.

Monday, September 29, 2014

FN Review: Led by the Nose

English journalist and author Robert Chalmers is an interesting fellow, as I learned while being interviewed by him recently. He’s a man of refined aesthetic judgment and wide-ranging cultural curiosity who sounds, on the telephone, like one of those portly, slightly bibulous character actors from black and white British films of the 1930s. (I have no idea how well this impression corresponds with reality—he does not google easily.) Chalmers is on good terms with Elvis Costello, jets off to the Cote d’Azur to interview famous actresses, and since adolescence has been a devotee of fragrances by Creed.

Chalmers has now published a greatly expanded—and more leisurely and nuanced—version of his European Newsweek story as an ebook. In Led by the nose: The future of smell in a virtual world, he tracks down the inventors of the latest digital smell technologies (Scentee’s Adrian Cheok and the oPhone Duo’s David Edwards) and tries to envision the changes they may bring to society. He sets this narrative against a lively and humorous depiction of perfume culture.

Along the way he manages to heap praise upon What the Nose Knows. Consequently, I can’t pretend this is an impartial review. But I can say that Led by the Nose is an amusing and inexpensive read for anyone who likes perfume and/or is intrigued by the future of scent technology.

Thursday, September 11, 2014


I do not forget.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Meet the Incredibles: New Twists in the Preferred Fragrance Legal Saga

Back in October of 2011, a group of investors bought Preferred Fragrance, Inc., a manufacturer of knock-off perfumes. The investors soon came down with a severe case of buyer’s remorse. They believe they paid too much for the company because the sellers misrepresented its value. [Wait—professional knock-off artists misrepresented value? I’m shocked, shocked!—Ed.] The investors also believe that the CEO of the acquired company violated not one but two non-compete agreements.

The investors (Uni-World Capital, L.P. et al.) eventually put their allegations into an October, 2013 lawsuit against Preferred Fragrance CEO Ezriel Polatsek and others, including Ezriel’s wife, brother, and father who were employed by PF. In the course of the lawsuit, the investors asked Federal judge Paul Engelmayer for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to stop Ezriel Polatsek from violating his non-compete agreements. The judge denied the request but after further discovery the plaintiffs returned with substantially stronger evidence to support the injunction.

At this point the judge decided he needed to hear live testimony from Ezriel Polatsek and his younger brother Abraham in order to sort things out. The hearings took place over several days this past June. From the snippets of transcript included in the opinion, the hearings sound at times like dialogue from a Marx brothers movie. (English is a second language for the Polatsek brothers, who grew up speaking Yiddish at home. The judge was mindful of this fact and gave it due consideration.)
THE COURT: Sorry. Wait a minute. Let me understand this. At your deposition, when you were asked, did anyone go with you on that trip, the truthful answer was your brother, correct?
THE WITNESS [Ezriel Polatsek]: Right, but –
THE COURT: Whoa. And you did not mention your brother, correct?
THE COURT: At the time of your deposition, did you remember that your brother had gone with you on that trip?
THE COURT: Why did you not mention your brother when you were asked the question whether anyone went with you on the trip?
THE WITNESS: Because it was a lot of Abes, and my answer to Abe Polatsek, and I just make a mistake to this answer, Abe Katz.
THE COURT: Thank you.
The Court finds Ezriel’s explanation for his false statement at his deposition—that he had accidentally confused his own brother with a business associate—wholly incredible.
That’s strong language. In addition to “wholly incredible,” the judge uses the phrase “not credible” seven times in connection with the testimony of the Polatsek brothers. (That doesn’t count “incredible,” “lacks credibility,” and “pattern of credibility-defying denials.”)

Judge Engelmayer doesn’t mince words:
The Polatseks’ original, flagrantly false testimony, is vital context. There is no benign explanation for this false testimony. The Court must conclude that the Polatseks had something to hide

The Court does not credit Ezriel’s explanations, which are repudiated by the assembled documentary evidence. They reflect a facile and unconvincing attempt to explain away emails that show active involvement by him on behalf of Exceed.
On July 10, Judge Engelmayer granted a preliminary injunction against Ezriel Polatsek enforcing the non-compete agreements. It appears to have not been a difficult call.

The judge found compelling evidence that Ezriel Polatsek “has violated his non-compete agreements, on a number of occasions and in connection with multiple competing or potentially competing entities.”
the brothers’ testimony was so substantially impeached—including by documentary proof or other testimony, and at points by its inherent illogic—that the Court is constrained to conclude that Ezriel and Abraham at points gave knowingly untruthful testimony to the Court. These adverse credibility findings contributed to the Court’s determination that Ezriel has violated the non-compete agreement and that there is a substantial likelihood that he will continue to do so absent a preliminary injunction.
The fifty-one page opinion makes for highly entertaining reading. It describes how, in 2013, two fragrance-related companies—Ouleaf and Exceed—were started by Ezriel’s brother and a former employee’s son, respectively. Abraham formed Ouleaf after a few conversations with a woman who owns a Chinese company that is PF’s main supplier. Ouleaf sells perfumes to 10 retail chains, each of which is or previously was a customer of PF. Exceed LLC was the brainchild of 22-year-old Abe Katz, son of Ezriel’s former right-hand saleswoman at PF, and its big project was a product line for the Wilhelmina modeling agency. Ezriel’s involvement with both companies was in violation of his non-compete agreement.

With the non-compete injunction out of the way (assuming that Ezriel abides by its terms), the case will now focus on the fraud charges against the Polatseks and their associates. Expect more stories from the colorful world of knock-off perfume.

The case discussed here is Uni-World Capital, L.P. et al v. Preferred Fragrance, Inc. et al., U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, Filing 156: Opinion and order, dated July 10, 2014. It is available here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Literary Smellscapes: Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon

This is the opening paragraph of Michael Chabon’s 2012 novel Telegraph Avenue.
A white boy rode flatfoot on a skateboard, towed along, hand to shoulder, by a black boy pedaling a brakeless fixed-gear bike. Dark August morning, deep in the Flatlands. Hiss of tires. Granular unraveling of skateboard wheels against asphalt. Summertime Berkeley giving off her old-lady smell, nine different styles of jasmine and a squirt of he-cat.
An old friend from California recommended the book to me the other day; he thought I’d appreciate its depiction of local color. And indeed, I’m inclined to like novels that set the scene with an olfactory grace note. And yes, the nine styles of jasmine is Berkeley in a bottle.

But there’s also something about Chabon’s style—a slow, steady accretion of descriptive detail that doesn’t really build a mood or lead to action—that feels laborious. I struggled to get through the next ten pages. His layering-on of references to specific places, names, and brands reminds me of a painter who slathers thick layers of paint onto a canvas and moves it around with a trowel. I gave up somewhere around page fifteen.

De gustibus. You might love it.

P.S. In creating the Amazon link I found that Michiko Kakutani calls Chabon a “magical prose stylist.” Well, that seals it. Michiko Kakutani is my personal counter-indicator; her assessments, back when I bothered to read them, were in perfect negative correlation to my own.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

ISDP: New Norman Bates Award™ Nominees Plus Helpful Product Reviews

A “super moon” is illuminating the battered roof of FirstNerve Manor and casting such a bright light on the weedy grounds that our lively rodent population is reluctant to venture out. So are we, frankly, yet we had to stagger to the utility shed and hand-crank the generator so we’d have enough current to keep our Toshiba T1100 lit. We take our ISDP deadlines super cereal.

For this month’s round up we begin in the Northeast: “Human Head Discovered In Hempstead Yard.” Hempstead, Long Island, that is, where a passerby who smelled a stench helped discover a decaying human head inside a bag hidden by bushes on a residential yard. Neighbors had noticed a “terrible smell” and a “horrific odor” for days but were reluctant to investigate because two human arms were found in the area the week before. [Say what?—Ed.]

Over in Waterbury, Connecticut, the decomposing remains of a man were found in the woods at the end of a dirt road “after neighbors reported a foul odor.” Results of an autopsy are pending.

Down in lovely Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, residents of a gated community reported a foul odor coming from a home. Firemen who responded to the call saw water pouring down through a ceiling and found a man’s body in the garage. Results of an autopsy are, as they say, pending.

Being from the Bay Area, this headline had us thinking of San Francisco and noir-style detective stories: “Foul smell leads police to dead man in Mission.” But the Mission in question is the Texas town on the Mexican border, where “a body was found after an officer smelled a foul odor” late on the afternoon of July 15. The body appears to be that of a 23-year-old man from El Salvador.

Jarrod Nicholas Tutko

We have a new pair of nominees for the 2014 Norman Bates Award™: Mr. and Mrs. Jarrod Tutko of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The couple had six children ranging in age from three to thirteen, “several of whom suffer from serious medical conditions, including one who is deaf.” One son was confined to a room on the third floor of the family’s house because he was mentally disabled and extremely difficult to control. His father was responsible for his care, while his mother, Kimberly, took care of the other children including a bed-ridden daughter who required around-the-clock care. On a Friday night Kimberly noticed a “strange odor” coming from the third floor and asked her husband about it. reporter Joel Elias fills in the rest:
Her husband, Jarrod Nicholas Tutko, went upstairs and came back with body of their 9-year-old son, Jarrod Jr., wrapped in a sheet and laid him on the bathroom floor, she said.  
Believing the boy had just died, Kimberly Tutko said she pulled the sheet back and quickly realized he had been dead for several days.  
Kimberly Tutko said her husband told her the child died on Tuesday.  
“I said to him ‘Why didn’t you say anything?’” Kimberly Tutko said. “He said he was too afraid to say anything because of other kids in the house.”  
Kimberly Tutko said she then called 911.
Thirty-eight-year-old Jarrod Sr. has been “charged with endangering the welfare of children, concealing the death of a child and abuse of a corpse.” Mr. Tutko has not been charged.

Finally, we offer an item that is not technically an ISDP incident, but which we believe ISDP fans will find intriguing. There was olfactory mayhem at the Alameda County coroner’s bureau in Oakland, California, when the staff opened a body bag received earlier in the day from a funeral home. The remains were those of a mechanic whose “body had been found partially decomposed in his garage where he worked on cars.” The remains gave off “an excessively foul odor” so strong that the coroner’s staff bailed and the building was evacuated.

According to investigators, the funeral home had applied something called Smelleze Eco Corpse Deodorizer to the mechanic’s remains; however the treatment was not thought to be the cause of noxious odor.

Just FYI, the Smelleze product is available from Amazon, at $16.99 for a 2 lb. container. [Order through the Amazon button on FirstNerve and we’ll get a few pennies at no cost to you!—Ed.] The ad copy is priceless: “For a breath of fresh air, simply sprinkle Smelleze® on corpse and smell the difference.”

The customer reviews are even better (click to enlarge).

Happy shopping and see you next time!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Snooki Beats Excell Brands in Trademark Case

Image via TMZ.

We were beginning to think that trademark infringement lawsuits against knockoff perfume brands never result in all-out legal victory. Both the Victoria’s Secret/BBW case and the Prada S.A. case against Preferred Fragrance, Inc. ended in settlements, the terms of which have not, to our knowledge, been publicly disclosed. In each case, the plaintiffs may have achieved their overriding objective—a halt to sales of the knockoff brand—but without the risk and cost of pursuing a court order. Of course, they may have achieved far less, or nothing at all. We’ll have to monitor the market availability of the knockoff brands in the coming weeks and months to draw a conclusion.

Meanwhile, those cases inspired us to re-examine the status of Snooki Polizzi’s six-million-dollar lawsuit against Excell Brands, LLC which we covered last November.

Snooki’s original complaint, filed on August 20, 2013, alleged that Excell Brands’ Snazzy perfume infringes because it bears her name and signature exactly as they appeared on her own fragrance, Snooki Perfume by Nicole Polizzi.

Here’s what happened afterwards. On September 24, Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald granted a defense motion for extension of time; they were given until October 17. On October 10, Excell’s attorneys told the court they would file for dismissal of the charges; the next day they asked for another extension of time. Not surprisingly, on October 21 Snooki’s attorneys said they would challenge the request for dismissal. The formal request for dismissal was filed December 11. On January 6 the judge set May 30 as the end of fact discovery, and August 29 as the end of expert discover. On March 12, Judge Buchwald granted a request by both sides to keep confidential certain information produced during discovery.

On March 28, both sides wrote the court as required providing the status of the discovery process. In a word it was not good. Each side accused the other of foot-dragging and non-cooperation. The defendants want to take a deposition from Ms. Polizzi but the two sides had yet to agree on a date; interestingly, it appears that Ms. Polizzi might object to having the deposition videotaped.

On June 18, both sides agreed to a permanent injunction which Judge Buchwald signed on June 20. It’s a clear win for Snooki:
Defendant [Excell Brands LLC], and its officers, agents, servants, employees, attorneys, and other persons who are in active concert or participation with anyone described in Fed. R. Civ. P. 65(d)(2)(A) or (B), will permanently cease and desist from any and all further use of: (i) Plaintiff’s photograph, likeness, voice, sound-alike voice, signature, identity or persona; and (ii) any of the following trade names and trade marks associated with Plaintiff: “Nicole Polizzi,” “N. Polizzi”, “Polizzi,” “Snooki,” “Snooki by Nicole Polizzi,” or “Snooki Couture by Nicole Polizzi,” on or in connection with Defendant’s products, product packaging, product labeling, and/or the advertising, marketing or promotion thereof.”
P.S. We just realized that TMZ reported the injunction a couple of days ago: “The judge has yet to decide how much cash Snooks will get -- but the smell is all hers.”

Two points: First, the lawsuit was not about whether Snazzy smells too much like Snooki; it was about Excell Brands use of Snooki’s name and logo. Excell can still sell Snazzy but only without Snooki’s name or likeness on the product. Second, TMZ seems to think the case is still open; here at FN we’re not so sure. Is this lawsuit still alive? Will Snooki press for monetary damages? We’d be happy to hear from informed sources.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Party Candy Party Over?

On October 18, 2013, Prada S.A. took Preferred Fragrance, Inc. to Federal court, charging that PF’s Party Candy fragrance infringed on Prada’s trademark for Prada Candy. We noted the lawsuit as part of our ongoing coverage of the Preferred Fragrance corporate saga: a tale awash in colorful characters, knockoff fragrances, and dubious dealings. (If you know where to look, Federal court filings offer great entertainment value.)

As we remarked at the time, Preferred Fragrance has plenty of experience defending itself against trademark infringement claims and could conceivable fight Prada to a draw, namely a settlement involving something less than a court-ordered destruction of existing product, disgorgement of profits, and treble damages.

Prompted by the recent settlement reached by PF in a similar lawsuit with Victoria’s Secret and BBW, we revisited the docket in the Prada/Party Candy case to find out: What happens after a case like this disappears from the headlines?

First, the case was assigned to Ronnie Abrams, a Federal District Judge for the Southern District of New York. She ordered both sides to appear at an initial conference on January 4, 2014. Shortly before the hearing, the plaintiffs (Prada) asked that the conference be pushed back a month and the judge agreed. This happened again and yet again. (In our view, unsullied by any formal legal education, the delays were presumably requested and granted because the two sides were engaged in settlement discussions.)

When the Prada side asked for a fourth adjournment, Judge Abrams held firm and kept to the then-current April 8 date. Three days later, however, she moved the hearing to May 2 and ordered that the required filings be submitted by April 25. Two days before that filing deadline, Prada’s attorneys filed a notice of voluntary dismissal, telling the court they had reached a settlement with PF and would permanently drop the claims against them.

And so another trademark infringement case ends not with a bang but a whimper. Elapsed time from start to finish: just over six months. Did Prada get PF to stop making and selling Party Candy? Who knows. (A 3rd party is still listing it on Amazon.) Did they get monetary damages from PF? Did they go home empty handed? Would they like to comment here on FN?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Dying Sky in Mid-July

Fractals of a summertime polar vortex.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Victoria’s Secret v. Preferred Fragrance Ends with a Whimper?

As we noted in February, Preferred Fragrance, its former chief, and the company that acquired it were sued by L Brands, Inc. for trademark infringement. LB claimed that a series of PF products too closely resembled those of its own Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works brands: VS Coconut Passion versus PF Coconut Dream, VS Mango Temptation versus PF Mango Seduction, and so on.

L Brands was looking for a jury trial in Federal court, destruction of the infringing products, disgorgement of profits, and treble damages. In anticipation of a good courtroom battle FN ordered up a supply of popcorn. Sadly, we never got around to popping it.

Yesterday FN commenter “Alex” (why the private Blogger profile, dude?) asked about the status of the lawsuit. We checked and lo and behold, discovered that the case had been settled less than a week ago. Hmmm. So how did it play out?

LB filed the complaint on February 6. There followed a bunch of boring, routine legal filings. Then, on April 25, attorneys for former PF head Ezriel Polatsek filed a motion to have him dismissed from the lawsuit. They claimed LB had failed to state a specific claim against him and that he was in the complaint solely because he was a corporate officer of JPF at the time of the alleged infringement, which by itself is not sufficient basis to hold him liable for the company’s actions. Judge Gregory Frost ordered a hearing on the motion and April 29 LB’s attorneys agreed to dismiss the claims against Polatsek.

By May 14, both sides had apparently reached a settlement. After some delays, the case was officially closed on July 10 (“Stipulated Dismissal With Prejudice” Case 2:14-cv-139-GLF-NMK Doc #33).

The terms of settlement have not, to our knowledge, been made public. There appears to have been no public statement by any of the parties. Mr. Polatsek seems to have wriggled off the hook. However we can no longer find the allegedly infringing Preferred Fragrance products for sale on the web. Does this mean PF quietly folded and pulled the items in question? Perhaps. From an economic point of view, knock-off brand may consider out of court settlements simply a cost of doing business. Of course it’s possible that L Brands, Inc. got spanked so badly in the negotiations that it agreed to go home quietly and empty-handed.


Saturday, July 12, 2014

ISDP: Rules Committee Edition

The mature sun of hot July swells the gourd, and plumps the hazel shells with a sweet kernel, as some wanker once said. It also hastens physical decomposition which, in the case of those unfortunate enough to expire alone and unnoticed, quickly leads to the unmistakable olfactory signal of decay. This being the 13th of the month, it is time for us to release upon our mega fan base yet another collation of I Smell Dead People. A full moon waits off-stage to cast a lugubrious glow on the proceedings.

In Elkton, Maryland, a lady parked her car in a remote area of the Wal-Mart parking lot, climbed into the back seat, and never left. About three weeks later a groundskeeper mowing the lawn next to the parking lot “detected a foul odor and told store managers, who called police.”

Inside the 2002 Chrysler Sebring with Delaware plates police found the decomposing remains of the driver. Foul play is not suspected.

This next case raises a difficult question for the ISDP Rules Committee which some wags refer to as the Death Panel. Everyone knows that to qualify as an ISDP incident the remains in question must be discovered by scent. Thus, when police come upon a body in the course of a welfare check requested by a concerned relative, the incident does not qualify as being discovered by scent, no matter how malodorous the remains may be.

So how would you rule on this case from North Carolina?
On Tuesday just before 10:00 a.m., detectives with the Criminal Investigations Division were in the 600 block of Peters Creek Parkway conducting a follow up investigation on a missing person case. While in the area, one of the detectives noticed a foul odor in the vicinity of Peters Creek Parkway and Academy Street. The detective recognized the odor to be that of decomposition, and after a brief search, located a body down a steep embankment near the intersection.
Because detectives were already searching for a missing person, the olfactory discovery of a body would not seem to qualify as an ISDP incident. But here’s the rub: the body they discovered was that of a 30-year-old man from Mr. Airy—who was not the missing person for whom they were searching. In fact, the original missing person remains missing.

Does that make the incident on Peters Creek Parkway a bona fide ISDP event? We think it is . . . definitely ambiguous.

A New Nominee for the Norman Bates Award™

ISDP fans recognize the New York Daily News as the Ur-text, the very Necronomicon of the field. Its archives teem with grotesque incidents, each described in lurid detail. Readers got a classic installment in early July with the headline “Skeletal remains of woman found in Brooklyn apartment; daughter lived with the corpse for more than a year.”

Here’s the lede:
Police digging through 3 feet of garbage in a Brooklyn kitchen finally discovered the woman they were looking for.
But the rats and roaches had found her first.
And people say that noir style is dead . . .

Chava Spira, 28 years old, had been living in a trash-stuffed apartment in Brooklyn’s Borough Park with the remains of her 61-year-old mother, Susie Rosenthal. The building supervisor called police after liquid began leaking through their apartment floor to the lobby and he found the apartment door ajar. Ms. Spira was visible inside and initially unresponsive. She later threatened to harm herself and it took officers over an hour to coax her out. She is being held for psychiatric observation. Neighbors say both women were recluses who seldom left the apartment or even opened the door. Ms. Spira was known to scream incoherently across the building’s courtyard.

The truly remarkable part of the Daily News account is that Ms. Rosenthal’s sister apparently dropped off food for the women on a daily basis. She had arrived to do so when she found police on the scene. When informed that Ms. Spira had been taken away, she inquired about her sister. Police officers, who had not realized that two people were living in the unit, then began the search that uncovered Ms. Rosenthal’s remains. How, one might ask, could keen noses have missed the inevitable stink? Short answer: they didn’t miss it.
A foul odor had been coming from the apartment for a long time, [charity spokesman Mayer] Berger was told. “That stench stayed for months and months,” he said. “To have someone live with that odor for months and months is beyond me.”
It’s beyond us as well, Mr. Berger. And that’s why Ms. Spira is now a nominee for the 2014 Norman Bates Award™.

But that leaves some lingering metapsychophysical questions: is Ms. Spira’s aunt, Janis Gellis, anosmic? Did she not notice the smell? If she did, what did she make of it?

Finally, a question to our loyal ISDP fans: does enabling Norman Bates Award-worthy behavior deserve its own formal recognition? Please submit your comments to the Rules Committee.

We leave you a snippet from Saira Kahn’s extended essay in The Atlantic: “Smelling Death: On the Job With New York's Crime-Scene Cleaners.”
It’s hard to describe the smell of death. It makes your eyes tear and can make the strongest of stomachs churn. It’s strong enough to creep through a gas mask designed to keep the air you’re breathing clean.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Annals of Blithering Idiocy: Special Roja Dove Edition

A UK-based group calling itself The Perfume Society sent a team to sit at the feet of Roja Dove. He bloviated and they took notes. They posted “ten fascinating things” they learned.

Here’s another fascinating thing: every one of the ten is a crock.

The folks at The Perfume Society think Roja Dove is “a fountain of fragrant knowledge.” Personally, I think Roja Dove is a fountain of fragrant bullshit. Do you think that’s too harsh? Then check out his ten smelly little droppings:
1. If you loose [sic] your sense of smell, psychologically it will cause us [sic] more long-term damage than going blind.
Just think about this for a few seconds to let the full idiocy sink in. It’s not even worth asking Roja Dove to provide one piece of evidence, because there isn’t any.
2. Kissing is the most intense form of smelling in the animal kingdom.
WTF does this even mean? I would say it is fatuous nonsense except that it might be true for Roja Dove—after all, he had an entire team from The Perfume Society kissing his ass.
3. In Japan, they use perfume to treat depression.
When tossing off a claim you know isn’t true it’s always best to credit it to someone in Japan—this greatly reduces the risk of having someone call your bluff.
4. We are born with no knowledge of odor. Our sense of smell is linked directly to the emotive part of our brain and therefore, our individual sense of smell is based purely on impressions and experiences.
Infants are born with odor preferences acquired in utero.

The Blank Slate view of human psychology has been discredited for years.

Why doesn’t Roja Dove know this? Could it be because his individual sense of his own importance is based purely on his impressions and experiences which don’t really involve much actual, you know, reading?
5. Heat dulls smell, yet humidity intensifies it – think of London after rain.
All heat and no AC makes Roja a dull boy.

I bet when Roja Dove farts in the shower he experiences a rainbow of olfactory nuance.
6. When jasmine & tuberose are used in perfumery, they have to be picked before the sunlight hits them.
Because the tuberose harvest is controlled by French peasant vampires.
7. If Quelques Fleurs wasn’t created in 1912, none of the other great florals could exist – this is due to its structure.
Because the world wasn’t ready for the structure of QF in 1911.

Because there is only a single creative path to floral perfumes.

Because this claim is so vaporous it defies negation.
8. Fragrances contain an average of 10-15% natural ingredients – the rest is synthetic and quite incredibly, created in a lab. This has changed the face of perfumery.
What? Synthetics* are created in a lab? OMG!

And natural ingredients are gentle to the face of perfumery because they are charmed out of flowers by elves playing magical flutes.

Has this guy ever seen natural ingredients being processed?
9. Enfleurage is the oldest method of extraction in the world – it’s the ‘Rolls-Royce’ of extraction. There are roughly only 5 people alive today that know this process…it’s a dying tool.
The Rolls-Royce people are no doubt thrilled to have their automobiles characterized as an ancient dying tool driven by only a handful of people.

The transistor tube was the oldest method of watching television yet today it’s a dying tool. And I, who as a child watched B&W broadcasts on tube television, am alone qualified to mourn all that we have lost. O tempora, o mores!
10. Tuberose is worth its weight in gold – it’s now mostly synthetic.
When shit gets expensive, cheaper alternatives are found. That clicking sound you hear is the Perfume Society team transcribing Roja Dove’s pseudo-profundities as fast as they can type.

*Typo fixed. Hat tip to commenter Sarah McCartney.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Bertie Wooster on the Aroma of the Great Hall

The Grammar School at Market Snodsbury had, I understood, been built somewhere in the year 1416, and, as with so many of these ancient foundations, there still seemed to brood over its Great Hall, where the afternoon's festivities were to take place, not a little of the fug of the centuries. It was the hottest day of the summer, and though somebody had opened a tentative window or two, the atmosphere remained distinctive and individual.

In this hall the youth of Market Snodsbury had been eating its daily lunch for a matter of five hundred years, and the flavour lingered. The air was sort of heavy and languorous, if you know what I mean, with the scent of Young England and boiled beef and carrots.

Aunt Dahlia, who was sitting with a bevy of the local nibs in the second row, sighted me as I entered and waved to me to join her, but I was too smart for that. I wedged myself in among the standees at the back, leaning up against a chap who, from the aroma, might have been a corn chandler or something on that order. The essence of strategy on these occasions is to be as near the door as possible.
P. G. Wodehouse
Right Ho, Jeeves (1922)

Friday, June 13, 2014

ISDP: Full Moon in June Edition

It’s Friday the 13th, the moon is full, and so is our ISDP docket. The cases range from the lugubrious to the appalling; in each, a scent of decay leads to the inevitable discovery of decomposing remains. So, without further ado . . .

The medical examiner in Honolulu released a pair of reports that brought to light ISDP incidents we had missed. The first involved a 39-year-old man who hanged himself.
Police said the body was found about 8 a.m. on a hillside above a construction zone near Prospect and Pele streets after workers noticed a foul odor and investigated.
The other involved a 48-year-old man who apparently died of natural causes near the top of Wilhelmina Rise back in February.
Authorities said a man flying a radio-controlled helicopter in his back yard at Kawelolani Place smelled an odor on Feb. 26. He found the body when he went to retrieve his aircraft.
KWTX in Waco provides a succinct headline: “Texas Woman Kills Relative, 2 Dogs, Then Herself.” They also give the details:
Officers sent to check on a report of a foul odor coming from a home in the small West Texas of Anson found the bodies of two people and two dogs who police say died in a murder suicide.
Sweet home Alabama: “Bad smell, worse discovery: Huntsville police find dead man in vacated apartment.” Local police were “responding to a neighbor’s call about a bad odor from an apartment that was supposed to be vacant” when they discovered the man’s body.

In Lenoir, North Carolina, the body of a 36-year-old man was found in an abandoned house “by a female passerby who noticed a foul odor coming from the residence.” The circumstances suggest that the man killed himself.

In the Inglewood area of Los Angeles, someone noticed a foul odor coming from a car that had been parked for some days in a shopping mall near West Century and Crenshaw. They called police who discovered a dead body in the car.

In Albuquerque, New Mexico, 44-year-old Terry Cunningham was living in a house with his two daughters, wheel-chair bound son, and his older brother. According to neighbors and KOAT-TV, living conditions in the now-condemned house were “grotesque” and we agree. Among the grotesque elements of the case was that police found the remains of Mr. Cunningham’s older brother in a bedroom; he had been dead for several days. This makes Mr. Cunningham the first nominee for the 2014 Norman Bates Award™.

Also earning a Norman Bates Award nomination (Road Trip Division) is 62-year-old Ray Tomlinson of Clinton Township, Michigan. He drove from Michigan to Glendale, Arizona in a van with his 92-year-old wheelchair-bound mother. They picked up a 31-year-old woman with whom Mr. Tomlinson had a relationship and started back to Michigan. The woman took some pills and died shortly after they hit the road, but Mr. Tomlinson kept on driving under the impression (from the internet!) that he had 48 hours to turn in the body. Meanwhile, the van’s AC failed and his mother was not able to use a restroom. Police met the van when it returned to Michigan. A neighbor gives her impressions of the homecoming:
“If you’ve ever smelled a dead body before - you never get that out of your head. . . . As soon as the police opened the door, thank God there was a good breeze going because you would just get a whiff of it once in a while.”
See you next month!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Delaware State Police Have Incredible Olfactory Abilities

Yes, incredible, as in impossible to believe.

Near midnight last Tuesday, Delaware state troopers pulled a car over for speeding. According to The News Journal, as the officers approached they noticed “an odor of marijuana was wafting from the car, combined with the scent of air fresheners.”

Hmmm. The smell of burning marijuana is easy to recognize, perhaps even when mixed with the aroma of multiple air fresheners. But the police aren’t claiming to have smelled burning marijuana.

On the other hand, unburned marijuana is difficult to detect and reliably identify, especially when it is wrapped up and hidden away inside a vehicle, and even more so when other odors are in the air. (This is a topic I cover in my book.)

In this case, a small bag of pot was stashed inside the center console, and other bags were located elsewhere in the car, location unspecified. In my opinion, it is highly unlikely the troopers could have detected an odor of unburned marijuana “wafting” from the car, much less amid the smell of multiple air fresheners.

It’s probably a moot point, as the troopers claim a “small amount” of pot fell from the passenger’s shirt as he exited the car. That would have been probable cause to search the vehicle, as may have been the driver’s suspended license and the passenger giving a fake name (I’m not an attorney so I’m speculating here).

All of which raises the question: why do police needlessly claim they can smell unburned marijuana, even when it makes them look like idiots?

Thursday, May 15, 2014

A License to Smell

Ian Fleming was a very smell-aware writer. His James Bond novels are shot through with olfactory observations. Here’s a passage in From Russia with Love:
Bond’s thoughts were interrupted by the stewardess. ‘Fasten your seat-belts, please.’ As she spoke the plane dropped sickeningly and soared up again with an ugly note of strain in the scream of the jets. The sky outside was suddenly black. Rain hammered on the windows. There came a blinding flash of blue and white light and a crash as if an anti-aircraft shell had hit them, and the plane heaved and bucketed in the belly of the electric storm that had ambushed them out of the mouth of the Adriatic.

Bond smelt the smell of danger. It is a real smell, something like the mixture of sweat and electricity you get in an amusement park arcade. Again the lightning flung its hand across the windows. Crash! It felt as if they were the centre of the thunder clap. Suddenly the plane seemed incredibly small and frail.
Fleming is especially keen on body odor. Here he uses it to tee up a wisecrack from Bond:
Bond washed and shaved under the amused eyes of Tatiana. She approved of the fact that he put no oil on his hair. ‘It is a dirty habit,’ she said. ‘I was told that many Europeans have it. We would not think of doing it in Russia. It dirties the pillows. But it is odd that you the West do not use perfume. All our men do.’

‘We wash,’ said Bond dryly.
And Fleming gives Bond some of his olfactory awareness. In the novel’s final scene, Bond enters a room at the Ritz Hotel in Paris expecting to find Colonel Rosa Klebb of the KGB. He is puzzled to find an old lady sitting and knitting. But something about her doesn’t add up.
Bond stared rudely into the woman’s face, examining it. It was an ugly face, toadlike, under the powder and under the tight cottage-loaf of white hair. The eyes were so light brown as to be almost yellow. The pale lips were wet and blubbery below the fringe of nicotine-stained moustache. Nicotine? Where were her cigarettes? The was no ashtray – no smell of smoke in the room.

Bond’s hand tightened again on his gun.