Two recent pieces about alcohol, while not exactly beer-related, are worthy enough to bring to your attention. The first, by the New Yorker‘s Malcolm Gladwell, challenges our assumptions that alcohol consumption dulls experience and makes the drinker less attuned to his immediate environment. Instead, Gladwell argues, alcohol’s real effects are to encourage a kind of “myopia” in which drunk people react even more acutely to what’s in front of them. For example, a man drinking a beer and watching football might pay even closer attention to the game, his other worries fading into the background, while frat boys in a bar act like fools urged on by flashing lights, music, noise, etc. Among the more shocking anecdotes from the piece is the claim that tribesmen in Bolivia drink a homemade rum that clocks in at 180 proof—strong enough that it might as well be called poison.
Poison is the subject of the second piece we recommend. Writing in Slate, Deborah Bloom describes the little-known “chemists’ war of Prohibition”—a federal program during the 1920s/30s that poisoned over-the-counter industrial alcohols to discourage bootleggers from using them in their homemade concoctions. Bloom recounts an incident in the emergency room of New York’s Bellevue Hospital over the Christmas holiday in 1926, when over 90 people were admitted for alcohol poisoning. In just two days, thirty-one of them died. All told, the federal initiative led to some 10,000 deaths before Prohibition ended in 1933.
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