Tag Archives: alcohol

Alcohol in Moderation: Not So Good, Maybe

Moderate alcohol intake has long been lauded as an ingredient of the healthy lifestyle; being good for your heart and your longevity.

According to a growing number of vocal psychologists, however, studies showing health benefits from moderate alcohol consumption are purely correlatory and any advice coming from them should be taken with caution.

From an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

The bottom line is there has not been a single study done on moderate alcohol consumption and mortality outcomes that is a ‘gold standard’ kind of study — the kind of randomized controlled clinical trial that we would be required to have in order to approve a new pharmaceutical agent in this country.

[Moderate drinkers and abstainers] are so different that they simply cannot be compared. Moderate drinkers are healthier, wealthier and more educated, and they get better health care, even though they are more likely to smoke. They are even more likely to have all of their teeth, a marker of well-being.

In fact, even the original researcher whose “landmark study [found] that members of the Kaiser Permanente health care plan who drank in moderation were less likely to be hospitalized for heart attacks than abstainers” has since discovered that even moderate alcohol consumption may increase hypertension.

The Culture of Alcohol

Realising that “drinking alcohol is one of the most socially meaningful and richly symbolic activities in [British] culture”, Vaughan of Mind Hacks offers a short introduction to what could be an interesting topic; the cultural ‘benefits’ of binge drinking.

There’s more to alcohol than getting pissed but you’d never know it from the papers. In a period of public hand wringing over ‘binge drinking culture’, our understanding of the ‘culture bit’ usually merits no more than an admission that people do it in groups and this is often implicit in the work of psychologists.

[…] In the UK at least, the social meaning of booze is often hidden behind the ordinariness of day-to-day consumption.

The Truth About Markets

My current read, The Truth About Markets/Culture and Prosperity (UK/US title respectively), is a thoroughly enjoyable—if occasionally dense and dry—introduction to economic theories and applications. Published in 2003, it’s aged fairly well.

I felt the need to share this two-paragraph excerpt from a section discussing “large models purportedly descriptive of entire economic systems” (pp. 193-194):

The error of principle—the reason these models will never be useful—is best exposed by Jorge Luis Borges’ story of mapmakers who competed to build the best possible map. They eventually understood that the most accurate map simply replicated the world. The search for realism destroyed the purpose of the map. A map is valuable precisely because it simplifies and omits. Economic models are maps for the market economy. A map can be false but never true. Our criterion for selecting among maps that are not false is usefulness, and a map can be too detailed or not detailed enough. We seek the simplest map adapted to our purpose, and it is a different map if we are walking or driving: not better or worse, but more fitted for its use. The London Underground map is a brilliant design for its purpose but useless to pedestrians. The ‘little stories’, or economic models, of this book are to be judged in the same way.

I once debated the relationship between the social sciences with some anthropologists. We adjourned to the pub, and someone bought a round of drinks: the discussion naturally turned to the reasons why. For the economists, the explanation was obvious: the practice of buying rounds minimized transaction costs, reducing the number of exchanges between the patrons and the bar staff. The anthropologists saw it as an example of ritual gift exchange and described the many tribes that had developed similar customs. I proposed a test between the competing hypotheses: did you feel cheated or victorious if you bought more rounds than had been bought for you? Unfortunately, the economists and the anthropologists gave different answers to that question.

Unlikely Events Influenced by Financial Incentives

With the UK’s Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, proposing that alcohol should cost a minimum of 50p per unit, many opposers are arguing that the increase would “punish ordinary drinkers without deterring the winos, brawlers and wife-beaters”. However, as Tim Harford notes, it may well work as the unlikeliest of events are influenced by financial incentives.

Economists Joshua Gans and Andrew Leigh have discovered that after the Australian government announced that it would abolish inheritance tax, effective 1 July 1979, the death rate fell in late June of that year before surging in early July. Gans and Leigh reckon that half the likely taxpayers managed to escape death long enough to escape the tax too.

More cheeringly, when the Australian government announced (with six weeks notice) a “baby bonus” of about £1,250 for families of children born on or after 1 July 2004, something very strange happened in the labour wards. The number of happy events on 1 July was an all-time record, and twice as many births as on 30 June.

Whether entering this world or leaving it, people respond to financial incentives.

For a primer on incentives, you can do worse than reading Russell Roberts’ Incentives Matter article—one of the Ten Key Ideas from the Library of Economics and Liberty.

via The Undercover Economist

Heston Blumenthal and Cocktails of the Future

I’ve mentioned the molecular gastronomist Heston Blumenthal before, but I’ve now been introduced to Eben Freeman, the Blumenthal of cocktails: a molecular mixologist from New York.

On the international cocktail circuit, Eben Freeman is a massive celebrity. He is A + list. He is Madonna. He’s the future of cocktails, the future, perhaps, of alcohol in general. He’s a leading light among the very modern mixology set; the handful of men who are busily reinventing notions on what it is to drink and get drunk.

The liquid-nitrogen-treated mint balls are a vital ingredient in Freeman’s Mojito of the Future. Early this year, Bacardi commissioned him to redesign the classic cocktail as a promotional exercise. […] He combined the Bacardi, the sugar and the carbonated water with Xanthan gum, so that the base liquid of the drink is viscous, and the bubbles from the carbon are suspended within it, somewhat spookily. Into that mixture, Freeman introduces the mint beads, along with an equal number of lime beads; they, too, dangle eerily in the cocktail. It looks space-agey, the kind of thing you’d drink at the Torchwood office party perhaps.

From The Guardian Food & Drink via CluelessAboutWine