If you combined Harper’s Index with its Findings section and dramatically lowered the research quality of both, you would get my mind after a good Internet k-hole. Here are all the things I learned this week.
Beer jugs from the Stone Age suggest that humans have been intentionally producing alcohol since at least 10,000 B.C. As the first intoxication was likely an accident, we’ve probably been drinking booze for even longer. Recently, researchers theorized that the human ability to metabolize ethanol evolved when our primate ancestors became less tree-dwelling and more terrestrial, eating fruits that fermented after falling to the ground.
In ancient Egypt, the dead were buried with items thought necessary to lead them through the afterlife: spells and instructions, combs and pottery, masks, money, and alcohol. When they excavated King Tut’s tomb, archaeologists found 26 clay jars of wine, each marked with name, year and vineyard; in an arrangement suggesting the idea of rebirth, the white wine was placed to the east, the red to the west.
Wine by the glass accounts for around 75% of all wine purchases and usually carries a greater markup than wine sold by the bottle. The standard markup for a bottle of wine is three times the wholesale cost, but cheap wine tends to be marked up more than expensive wine; a bottle of Sutter Home at the Times Square Olive Garden costs six times its retail price. Over the next few years, Olive Garden franchises will open all over the Middle East, including Egypt. In Cairo, you can already eat at Applebee’s and Chili’s, but the drink menus are endangered; last week, the Egyptian government ruled that they would no longer issue or renew alcohol permits in cities. “The sale of alcohol leads to problems, including attacking women and randomly ringing doorbells of people’s homes,” stated the vice president of NUCA, the agency responsible for the temperance initiative. This month, the Islamist government has also temporarily banned YouTube and ordered a belly-dancing TV channel off the air for being too arousing.
In Europe, people drink three to six times as much wine as we do in America, but they tend to spend less money; Germans pay $1.79 on average for a bottle of wine. One team of neuroscientists measured pleasure responses while study subjects tested a variety of wines labeled with arbitrary prices. They found that the higher prices led to higher taste expectations, which led to a heightened pleasure response in the brain regardless of the actual cost or quality of the wine. So: get someone to tell you your wine is expensive and it will taste amazing.
During Prohibition, vineyards sold bricks of grape jelly called VINE-GLO, warning consumers not to mix the jelly with water and let it sit, or else it would turn into wine in twenty days. Around the same time, bootleggers birthed stock-car racing when they modified their cars to better facilitate fast moonshine deliveries on twisty mountain roads. The sport stuck around, and in 1949 became NASCAR. Last Saturday, flying debris from a 10-car crash injured 28 fans at the Daytona Speedway; Sunday’s race continued as usual. “Anywhere you go, you run the risk of being injured,” said one spectator from New York City. Another said, “We come for the thrill, the excitement. We can feel the heat, the tire rubber in our eyes.”
There is a parasite that affects rodent brains, causing them to be attracted to cats that will kill them. Many animals will drink alcohol when they find it. When I lived in Kyrgyzstan, I drank moonshine made by someone who was already blind. A primatologist at U.C. Berkeley hasproposed that human subjectivity—our greatest evolutionary asset—may be the source of our species’ uniquely fraught entanglement with drink. “Humans might be the only animals that wish to escape from their consciousness,” she said.