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The Truth, Mainly - 11/25/2002

Stinky smells and the inner vulgarian

I'm reading last Tuesday's Journal-Star when I run across a hole in page 6a. It's big enough to stick my head through, so I do.

"Look, m'love," I tell my wife. "There's a hole in page 6a big enough to stick my head through."

"Indeed there is," she says. "Whatever might have caused it?"

"I see scissors marks," I say. "I believe someone has cut something out."

"Um," she says, going back to her crossword puzzle.

So I go to the trash can and sift through the trash.

"You're getting trash on the floor," she observes.

"Aha!" I cry out, for I have found a piece of newspaper that exactly fits the size of the hole on page 6a.

"Rats!" she says. "I was trying to save you from your own spectacularly bad taste. I knew if you found that story you'd write a column about it, thereby revealing your inner vulgarian and bringing disgrace upon the family."

That piques my interest.

The trashed story is headlined "Best defense may be good offensive odor." It's by Aaron Zitner of the L.A. Times and it's about stinky smells the Pentagon is considering for use against our enemies.

My wife knows that my inner vulgarian has always been fascinated by stinky smells. She lives in dread that I'll tell everyone about my tee shirt.

My son gave it to me for Christmas. The front is a reproduction of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel depiction of God and Adam, God reaching his forefinger down to Adam, Adam reaching his forefinger up to God.

In my tee-shirt version, God is saying "Pull my finger."

I am, of course, offended, but it also knocks me out.

My wife doesn't want me to tell anyone about my tee shirt, so I don't. But I do wear it on what I believe to be appropriate occasions.

But I digress. I was talking about military use of stinky smells.

The Pentagon, Zitner writes, is interested in stinky smells that an enemy might find so disabling he'd no longer want to fight. You know, stinky smells as a non-violent way of getting others to do what you want them to do.

Our late dog, Ned, the one-eyed beagle with the headstrong personality and the mismatched jaws, understood non-violence as a way of getting others to do what he wanted them to do.

He had a gift: he could emit offensive emissions whenever it was in his interest to do so. When he was riding in the backseat of our car at 75 mph down I-80 with an outside temperature of minus 10 degrees, he sometimes felt the need for an open window to stick his head out of. He'd signal his request by emitting an emission so spectacularly offensive that our eyes would water and, of course, we'd open his window.

My inner vulgarian found that awfully interesting.

The Truth, Mainly


And you can see why I'm so interested in Zitner's piece.

The Pentagon, he wrote, is investigating stinky smells as part of "the new crop of non-lethal weapons, intended to incapacitate people or equipment."

Equipment! Imagine a smell so stinky it could knock the treads off a tank.

The Pentagon calls weapons-grade stinky smells "malodorants."

One of the researchers in malodorancy is Larry Erickson of Kansas State University. (Did he have anything to do with what happened to the Cornhuskers down there?) He says that had the Russians had malodorants when the Chechan guerrillas took over the Moscow theater last month, there would have been far fewer fatalities.

But malodorants aren't for sissies. Much of the basic research has been done by Pam Dalton, a woman with the enviable title of "creator of the world's most awful odor." Among her creations:

•Something called "Who Me?" that vulgarians associate with baked beans and pulled fingers.

•Something worse called "Bathroom Malodor" which has "a strongly fecal smell, with sharp notes of spoiled eggs and an undertone of rotting rodent."

•And, worst of all,"Stench Soup" which combines "the worst" of "Who Me?" and "Bathroom Malodor." Its smell is "so distasteful that it chases all thoughts out of the mind."


And here's what I hope: that the Pentagon's malodorant research pays off before we go after Saddam. He deserves the best we have to offer in that line.

I know some will object that making the war a great big stinky-smell prank on Saddam would be beneath us, that it would be in spectacularly bad taste. But consider: the only aftermath damage would be a few wrinkled noses.

Let me tell you what's more permanently damaging and in really horrific bad taste: killing over 100,000 Iraqis as we did in the first Gulf War. And what we're about to do promises to be in even worse taste.

I'll take stinky smells anytime.


Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail address is: leonsatterfield@earthlink.net.


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