Author Archives: Cmsciabarra

Song of the Day #1849

Song of the Day: The Good Son (“Opening Credits”) [YouTube link], composed by Elmer Bernstein, is from the Ian McEwan-penned 1993 thriller starring Elijah Wood and Macaulay Culkin (not the relatively innocent “Home Alone” kid here!). The film harks back to a 1956 film, “The Bad Seed,” with a different ending, for sure. The score is among the best aspects of the movie!

Song of the Day #1848

Song of the Day: Ben-Hur (“Conflict”) [YouTube link], composed by Oscar-winner Miklos Rozsa for the 1959 Best Picture, which won a record 11 Academy Awards, highlights the confrontation between the Jewish Prince Judah Ben-Hur (played by Oscar-winner Charlton Heston) and his Roman boyhood friend Messala (played by Golden Globe-winner Stephen Boyd), a conflict that reaches its apex in an epic chariot race for the cinematic ages (check out an excerpt here—spoiler alert! [YouTube link]). It’s a tradition of sorts to post a cue from my favorite score from my favorite movie on this date. And today, the Prime #17th Annual Film Music February Meets The Prime #17th of February! I was actually born on this day (Wednesday), on this date, back in 1960. Since it’s not yet 4:27 pm ET (the time of my birth), call me 61*. Either way, I’ll always be younger than this film!

Song of the Day #1847

Song of the Day: Mickey One (“Mickey’s Theme”) [YouTube link] is from the soundtrack to this 1965 neo noir crime drama, composed by Eddie Sauter and Stan Getz. The score reunited these two giants, who gave us the sublime 1961 jazz orchestral masterpiece, “Focus” [YouTube link]. Just breathtaking …

Scent and Sensibility

I am way behind in my newspaper and magazine reading, but I came upon an article, “The Forgotten Sense,” which appeared in The New York Times Magazine, by Brooke Jarvis, which was among the most fascinating pieces I’ve read in a long time. The article focuses a lot of attention on the ways in which up to an estimated two-thirds of post-COVID-19 infected patients lose their olfactory senses (and in many instances, their sense of taste, which is intimately connected with the sense of smell). Lacking the sense of smell is hazardous to your health; not being able to detect food poisoning, a burning dinner or a gas leak is, indeed, problematic. “This month,” writes Jarvis, “a Texas family whose members lost their sense of smell to COVID narrowly escaped a house fire after the only uninfected member, a teenager, smelled smoke and woke everyone else up.” Indeed, “Smell is no big deal, until it’s missing.”

Those who have suffered this abnormality struggle “with depression, symptoms similar to those of post-traumatic stress disorder and feelings of relentless isolation and disconnection from the world around them. It felt, some people said, as if they were living their lives in black and white, or trapped behind a sheet of glass; their sense of normalcy and well-being had disappeared with their olfaction. ‘I feel alien from myself,’ one person wrote. ‘Detached from normality. Lonely in my body. It’s so hard to explain.’ Another described feeling ‘discombobulated—like I don’t exist.’”

Our sense of smell is taken for granted and often dismissed as almost irrelevant to who we are as human beings. So many philosophers and scientists—from Plato and Aristotle to Descartes, Kant, and Darwin—have relegated it to the more “primitive” of our five senses, the “province of lesser animals.” But as Jarvis writes:

“Smell is a startling superpower. You can walk through someone’s front door and instantly know that she recently made popcorn. Drive down the street and somehow sense that the neighbors are barbecuing. Intuit, just as a side effect of breathing a bit of air, that this sweater has been worn but that one hasn’t, that it’s going to start raining soon, that the grass was trimmed a few hours back. If you weren’t used to it, it would seem like witchcraft.”

Jarvis notes that there has been a “renaissance” in “smell science” over the last 30 years. Linda Buck and Richard Axel, awarded the Nobel Prize in 2004, identified “the neural receptors that allow us to perceive and make sense of the smells around us. … The revelation opened the door to a new way of understanding the olfactory system, as well as to a new, ever-expanding world of research. A system assumed to be unsophisticated and insignificant turned out to be quite the opposite. Where vision depends on four kinds of receptors—rods and three types of cones—smell uses about 400 receptors, which are together estimated to be able to detect as many as a trillion smells. The complexity of the system is such that we’re still unable to predict how, or even if, a given chemical will be perceived by our olfactory system. The old quest to map odorants and their perception is now understood to be a wildly complicated undertaking. Joel Mainland, a neuroscientist at the Monell Center who is working on the problem, told me that while maps of color vision are easily presented in two dimensions, an eventual olfactory map might require many more.”

Smell is indeed one of the most remarkable senses we have. From its role in detecting hazards to the transmission of pheromones and its role in human attraction to its crucial role in the functioning of our immune system, olfaction is the most underappreciated and least understood of the ways in which the human organism apprehends the world. As Jarvis explains: “While what we see must pass through various parts of the brain before it reaches our centers for memory or emotion, smell has a nearly direct pathway. ‘They’re built together,’ [neurobiologist Sandeep Robert] Datta said of the brain and the chemical world that it perceives. ‘They’re meant to function as a unit.’”

The sense of smell is the only sensory modality in which the actual airborne molecules of the perceived object enter our bodies, attaching to receptor cells that are themselves neurons.  Our olfactory nerves consist of neurons with one end in direct contact with the external world and the other in direct contact with the brain. It may be the most primal, but it is also the most intimate of our sensory modalities, performing an act of neural intercourse every time we take a whiff.

Science is coming to understand the importance of the olfactory sense in more ways than one. Just as some of the recent research has shown an impaired sense of smell in COVID and post-COVID-infected patients, it is often bound up with neural diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, as well as autoimmune disorders, from MS to rheumatoid arthritis to lupus. It is also experienced to a much higher degree by those suffering from depression. Interestingly, it has been found that “children with autism have different automatic sniff reactions than those who are neurotypical, and they use more parts of their brains to process odors. They can also follow social cues better if they can smell a mother’s odor, even if she isn’t present.”

For me, olfaction has never been a “forgotten sense.” It is something of which I am deeply aware. I cannot imagine a world without a sense of smell. It is such a crucial part of my sensory apparatus that I have never taken it for granted.

It also has a way of transporting me to places buried deep in my memory. That acrid smell of burning plastic, metal, and human flesh that inhabited southern Brooklyn in the days after 9/11 is something I will never forget. But it is not just tragic memories that the sense of smell conjures up. Walking through my neighborhood, picking up the scent of fresh baked bread or a pizza emerging from a hot oven can get my salivary glands going immediately. I cannot forget the scent of a brand-new car or of an infant child—a parent, a friend, a partner. Just the scent of a certain perfume or cologne conjures up immense feelings of a particular person, time, and place that are not triggered in the same way as, say, looking at a photo of that same person, time, and place. One whiff of Aqua Velva conjures up whole memories of my Dad, who passed away in 1972 in ways that a photo or a video image cannot. One whiff of Chanel No. 5 conjures up a flood of memories of my Mom, who passed away in 1995, in ways that a photo or a video image cannot.

A greater understanding of the “forgotten sense” is one of the more welcome scientific by-products to have come out of a tragic pandemic. Let us hope that research continues to unlock not only the mysteries of COVID, but the continuing mysteries of how our organisms function—and why it is so important to recognize when something so crucial to being human is just not functioning the way it should.

Eric Fleischmann on Social Change and Thinking Dialectically…

I first encountered Eric Fleischmann back in 2018 when I came upon one of Eric’s papers on Academia.edu. So intrigued was I by this article—and its reference to my book Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism (2000, Penn State Press)—that I dropped Eric a note. Since then, we have become the best of friends and watching Eric’s intellectual and personal growth has been a remarkable adventure. I mean, back then, Eric was a junior in high school. Today, Eric is a sophomore at Bates College (in Lewiston, Maine), double-majoring in anthropology and philosophy.

As a left-libertarian anarchist and a contributor to the Center for a Stateless Society, Eric is currently involved in two forthcoming book projects, as a co-organizer of—and contributor to—Defiant Insistence: David Graeber, Anarchist, Anthropologist, Fellow Worker (1961-2020) and TOTAL ABOLITION: Police, Prisons, Borders, Empire

Today, I had the great pleasure of listening to a wonderful interview with Eric given by host Joel Williamson as the second episode of The Enrages. Folks can listen to the interview, which covers topics all over the ideological map—from abolitionism and social change to intellectual history and dialectical method. I especially appreciate Eric’s shout-out to me as friend and “mentor” and also for telling the world exactly how to pronounce my last name (around 31 minutes or so in!).

Check out the interview here. Proud of you, Eric! Keep up the great work!

Oh, and one other thing: I will be featuring one of Eric’s scintillating punk-rock performances on my “Song of the Day” series in the near future. Don’t let that calm and relaxed conversationalist fool you; Eric’s a Total Tiger on the Stage!

Song of the Day #1846

Song of the Day: Soul (“Born to Play”) [YouTube link], composed by Jon Batiste, is just one of the many swinging tracks from this 2020 Disney-Pixar animated film. The original motion picture soundtrack features ambient, new age selections by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross of Nine Inch Nails fame. “Music From and Inspired by Soul,” on which this piece can be found, was released on vinyl, with jazz compositions and arrangements by Batiste. It’s a fun film with a kaleidoscope of musical sounds.

Song of the Day #1845

Song of the Day: Dear Heart (“Main Theme”), music by Henry Mancini, lyrics by Ray Evans and Jay Livingston, is from the 1964 film of the same name, starring Glenn Ford and Geraldine Page.  This Oscar-nominated song is ever-so-appropriate for Valentine’s Day. But I also dedicate it to my sweetheart friend, Mimi Reisel Gladstein, who celebrates her birthday today, and who has been calling me her “dear heart” practically from the beginning of our friendship in the 1990s. A happy and a healthy birthday, dearest Mimi! And a Happy Valentine’s Day to all who love. Check out the original recording and renditions by Andy Williams, Frank Sinatra, Jack Jones, Al Martino, and Bobby Vinton [YouTube links].

Better Call My Cousin Vinny

I don’t care what your political persuasion is; the reference to one of my all-time favorite comedies gave me a chuckle. Where’s My Cousin Vinny and Mona Lisa Vito when you need them?

Courtesy of Bramhall’s World (New York Daily News, Feb.11, 2021)