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Don’t trust these three: The woman, the Turk, and the teetotaler. – Based Peter the Great.

Can the Ukrainians really be trusted?

This is the question that arose on finding that paper. Probably not!

stats-imperial-russia-drinking

Anyhow, AP, you’re welcome to this latest nugget of Ukrotriumphalism.

stats-imperial-russia-drinking-2

Fig. 1. The rate of sudden male deaths due to drunkenness in the Russian provinces in 1870–1894 and sudden deaths due to drunkenness and from alcohol poisoning in the European part of Russia in 2009 (per 100,000)

Some observations:

1. Even within Russia, alcoholization increased to the north and east, as well as the center, while falling towards the south and west.

map-russia-alcohol-problems

Note that this tallies even with modern statistics, where northerners/easterners continue drinking more (and consuming harder drugs) relative to southerners.

Indeed, the authors find a correlation in deaths due to drunkenness between then and now of r=0.336 (rising to r=407 if Moscow is excluded).

I should note there’s zero connection to developmental levels. Yaroslavl, for instance, has one of the highest numbers of alcohol-related deaths, even though it was the most literate non-capital/non-Baltic province in the Russian Empire, and had the highest share of peasant households with savings accounts (2/3 on the eve of the Great War). If anything, there might be a slight correlation between low drunkenness and lagging development.

There is also a good connection with popular stereotypes. For instance, Moscow is known as a gruffer, more hard-drinking place than Saint-Petersburg in late 19th century literature.

2. Despite this being an old phenomenon – and one that helps understand the context of certain historical political decisions, such as the Imperial government’s ill-advised decision to introduce temperance at the start of World War I – it’s clear that the late USSR still saw a drastic worsening, even relative to the unsatisfactory situation in Imperial Russia.

stats-russia-male-alcohol-mortality

Blue line: Male mortality from alcohol poisoning in Russia, 1965-2015.

First, as the authors note, the category “sudden deaths from drunkenness” is systematically higher – by up to 50% – than the more restrictive category of “accidental deaths from alcohol poisoning.”

Even so, male deaths from alcohol poisoning started off from about 18/100,000 in 1965, before the onset of the profound alcoholization that affected Russia c.1970-2010 (so perhaps 25/100,000 deaths from sudden drunkenness, relative to 15/100,000 during the late 19th century). During the late Brezhnev period, it peaked at 40/100,000 (translated: maybe 60/100,000), dropped temporarily during Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign, then recovered with a vengeance during the 1990s.

For comparison, the authors state that the death rate from drunkenness for Finland was 11.2/100,000, and 4.7/100,000 for Poland (for comparison, 15/100,000 for the Great Russian provinces, and 2.5/100,000 for the territories of present-day Belorussia and the Ukraine). The Finnish and Polish rates are lower c.2009, by 50% and a factor of three, respectively.

I assume that the reason the Poles drank more than the Ukrainians/Belorussians was because they were somewhat more industrialized, and Finland in particular was both much more industrialized and had a penchant for alcoholism as a Finno-Ugric nation. The latter factor must also explain the greater drinking in the more Finno-admixed parts of Russia. I don’t have much of a clue why, say, south-western Great Russians still drank somewhat more than Ukrainians. As Mark Schrad explains in Vodka Politics, The Russian Empire during that period encouraged vodka sales, and they constituted about a quarter of its tax earnings. However, I don’t recall anything about policies being more pro-vodka in the Great Russian provinces as opposed to Malorossiya or Belorussia. Incidentally, the USSR also promoted vodka sales until Gorbachev, where they also contributed significantly to the budget.

 
• Category: History • Tags: Alcoholism, Demographics, Tsarist Russia 
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  1. I should note there’s zero connection to developmental levels. Yaroslavl, for instance, has one of the highest numbers of alcohol-related deaths, even though it was the most literate non-capital/non-Baltic province in the Russian Empire, and had the highest share of peasant households with savings accounts (2/3 on the eve of the Great War)

    The same is true of fin-de-siècle Sweden, which was drinking itself into oblivion despite booming industry and rapidly increasing human capital. Maybe there is something about these northern climes that makes people take to strong drink?

    Read More
    • Replies: @reiner Tor
    Yes, it’s called “more recent adoption of agriculture” and “not enough time for evolved defenses to alcoholism to spread in the gene pool.” (Agriculture = the appearance of alcohol.)
    , @Dmitry
    Imagine trying to survive winter with no YouTube, no internet, no television, no music on demand.

    And in 1900, it's worse than that.

    Vast majority of people were not literate until around 1925-1930, so most likely - you would not be able to read a book.

    So, no reading was possible either for vast majority of people in this era.

    And you could not exactly play sports, or go to the heated swimming pool in the evening.

    On a winter evening, getting drunk, whether with friends or even by yourself, was really one of the only entertainments.

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  2. Adam says:

    So where do you think the Russian pathology for alcohol originates from?

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  3. @Swedish Family

    I should note there’s zero connection to developmental levels. Yaroslavl, for instance, has one of the highest numbers of alcohol-related deaths, even though it was the most literate non-capital/non-Baltic province in the Russian Empire, and had the highest share of peasant households with savings accounts (2/3 on the eve of the Great War)
     
    The same is true of fin-de-siècle Sweden, which was drinking itself into oblivion despite booming industry and rapidly increasing human capital. Maybe there is something about these northern climes that makes people take to strong drink?

    Yes, it’s called “more recent adoption of agriculture” and “not enough time for evolved defenses to alcoholism to spread in the gene pool.” (Agriculture = the appearance of alcohol.)

    Read More
    • Replies: @Swedish Family

    Yes, it’s called “more recent adoption of agriculture” and “not enough time for evolved defenses to alcoholism to spread in the gene pool.” (Agriculture = the appearance of alcohol.)
     
    That could be it, but before we look to genetics for an answer, we would do well, I think, to rule out any possible sociocultural factors.

    There is, for instance, Martin Amis' argument that English tourists (and football fans) visiting the European mainland overdrink as an act of defiance to a continental refinement that they feel they can never aspire to. This reasoning could be equally applied to Swedes, who are infamous for being bashful and taciturn when sober, only to turn into that very opposite as they get merrier.

    Anothing thing I have been wondering about is if protestantism/orthodoxy vs. catholicism might have something to do with it. 19th century Swedish literature is full of drunk priests (and drunk churchgoers -- Sunday was binge day), but I somehow suspect catholic priests (and congregations) were more temperate.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  4. Dmitry says:
    @Swedish Family

    I should note there’s zero connection to developmental levels. Yaroslavl, for instance, has one of the highest numbers of alcohol-related deaths, even though it was the most literate non-capital/non-Baltic province in the Russian Empire, and had the highest share of peasant households with savings accounts (2/3 on the eve of the Great War)
     
    The same is true of fin-de-siècle Sweden, which was drinking itself into oblivion despite booming industry and rapidly increasing human capital. Maybe there is something about these northern climes that makes people take to strong drink?

    Imagine trying to survive winter with no YouTube, no internet, no television, no music on demand.

    And in 1900, it’s worse than that.

    Vast majority of people were not literate until around 1925-1930, so most likely – you would not be able to read a book.

    So, no reading was possible either for vast majority of people in this era.

    And you could not exactly play sports, or go to the heated swimming pool in the evening.

    On a winter evening, getting drunk, whether with friends or even by yourself, was really one of the only entertainments.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Guillaume Tell

    Imagine trying to survive winter with no YouTube, no internet, no television, no music on demand.

     

    How about being intimate with your wife every evening? That does not sound THAT bad.
    , @Swedish Family

    Imagine trying to survive winter with no YouTube, no internet, no television, no music on demand.

    And in 1900, it’s worse than that.

    Vast majority of people were not literate until around 1925-1930, so most likely – you would not be able to read a book.

    So, no reading was possible either for vast majority of people in this era.

    And you could not exactly play sports, or go to the heated swimming pool in the evening.

    On a winter evening, getting drunk, whether with friends or even by yourself, was really one of the only entertainments.
     
    I don't disagree with you, but literacy was more or less universal in Sweden by this time. Volksschule (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volksschule) were introduced all the way back in 1842, so the average Swedish farmer was literate some half a century earlier than his Russian equivalent.
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  5. AP says:

    So a big difference between Ukrainians and Russians, for Thorfinnsson.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Anatoly Karlin
    https://i.redd.it/j8722729qie01.jpg
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  6. Despite rapid urbanization and the increase in alcohol consumption, that came with it, alcoholism was on the decline in the late empire, as the statistics above show. This was largely the result of replacement of Vodka with beer. https://bash-m-ak.livejournal.com/20997.html

    Actually the difference in per capita consumption of hard alcohol between Russia and other northern European countries wasn’t very large in 1913. Back then Germans, English ect, where drinking hard alcohol in far larger quantities, then they do today. Everywhere in Europe a transition from hard to soft alcohol was taking place. In Russia it was interrupted by the revolution tough, but it seems as if its currently progressing rather well.

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  7. If only Russia could find some Mediterranean-type group with low rates of alcoholism to people its land. Oh well.

    Read More
    • Replies: @melanf

    If only Russia could find some Mediterranean-type group with low rates of alcoholism to people its land
     
    Old believers and some other Russian sectarians practically do not drink alcohol.
    , @utu

    If only Russia could find some Mediterranean-type group with low rates of alcoholism to people its land.
     
    What a nonsense. If the data from the paper are correct that Ukrainian and Belorussian fatalities are 5-7 times lower than Russian fatalities then clearly the difference is cultural/economic.
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  8. utu says:

    I do not buy these data. The differences between Russian vs. Ukrainian and Belorussian provinces are too high.

    Where the data come from? How the deaths were reported and recorded and by whom?

    Read More
    • Replies: @utu
    Tabel 1 has data for five 5-year intervals since 1870 to 1894. From these data one can estimate the ratio of population(non-Russian provinces) to population(Russian provinces). The result is as follows:

    1870-1874----0.596---------------1
    1875-1879----0.645--------------- 1.08
    1880-1884----0.660---------------1.10
    1885-1889----0.679----------------1.14
    1890-1894----0.708----------------1.18

    Is there any reason that population in non-Russian provinces was steadily increasing and in 24 years increased by 18% more than in Russian provinces?

    This is the only consistency check on data I could make. I suspect that that a bigger problem is elsewhere, i.e., death reporting and recording.

    When the serfs were liberated different rules were used in proper Russia and former Poland parts that included Belorussian and Ukrainian provinces. There also could have beed different administrative procedures.
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  9. utu says:
    @utu
    I do not buy these data. The differences between Russian vs. Ukrainian and Belorussian provinces are too high.

    Where the data come from? How the deaths were reported and recorded and by whom?

    Tabel 1 has data for five 5-year intervals since 1870 to 1894. From these data one can estimate the ratio of population(non-Russian provinces) to population(Russian provinces). The result is as follows:

    1870-1874—-0.596—————1
    1875-1879—-0.645————— 1.08
    1880-1884—-0.660—————1.10
    1885-1889—-0.679—————-1.14
    1890-1894—-0.708—————-1.18

    Is there any reason that population in non-Russian provinces was steadily increasing and in 24 years increased by 18% more than in Russian provinces?

    This is the only consistency check on data I could make. I suspect that that a bigger problem is elsewhere, i.e., death reporting and recording.

    When the serfs were liberated different rules were used in proper Russia and former Poland parts that included Belorussian and Ukrainian provinces. There also could have beed different administrative procedures.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Unknown128
    Actually, there was much more land in the hands of large landowners in the south, then there was in the center, by 1890. This was due to the fact, that the south had most of the commercial, grain and sugar exporting areas of the empire. The population increase of the "Ukraine" was a combination between migration to Novorossia, which didn't really stop till around 1900, when the east became the main magnet of migration and of a higher life expectancy, which existed in the west, due to wider spread of European norms of hygiene there. They started spreading in these areas, due to closer proximity to Germany (Especially in Belorussia, where a good chunk of the population worked as seasonal labor in Eastern Prussia). Belorussia was poorer than most of the Great-Russian center back then, but still had a much lower mortality rate. Most of it was infant mortality tough, since adults in Russia had about the same life expectancy as in Germany.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  10. @utu
    Tabel 1 has data for five 5-year intervals since 1870 to 1894. From these data one can estimate the ratio of population(non-Russian provinces) to population(Russian provinces). The result is as follows:

    1870-1874----0.596---------------1
    1875-1879----0.645--------------- 1.08
    1880-1884----0.660---------------1.10
    1885-1889----0.679----------------1.14
    1890-1894----0.708----------------1.18

    Is there any reason that population in non-Russian provinces was steadily increasing and in 24 years increased by 18% more than in Russian provinces?

    This is the only consistency check on data I could make. I suspect that that a bigger problem is elsewhere, i.e., death reporting and recording.

    When the serfs were liberated different rules were used in proper Russia and former Poland parts that included Belorussian and Ukrainian provinces. There also could have beed different administrative procedures.

    Actually, there was much more land in the hands of large landowners in the south, then there was in the center, by 1890. This was due to the fact, that the south had most of the commercial, grain and sugar exporting areas of the empire. The population increase of the “Ukraine” was a combination between migration to Novorossia, which didn’t really stop till around 1900, when the east became the main magnet of migration and of a higher life expectancy, which existed in the west, due to wider spread of European norms of hygiene there. They started spreading in these areas, due to closer proximity to Germany (Especially in Belorussia, where a good chunk of the population worked as seasonal labor in Eastern Prussia). Belorussia was poorer than most of the Great-Russian center back then, but still had a much lower mortality rate. Most of it was infant mortality tough, since adults in Russia had about the same life expectancy as in Germany.

    Read More
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  11. melanf says:
    @anony-mouse
    If only Russia could find some Mediterranean-type group with low rates of alcoholism to people its land. Oh well.

    If only Russia could find some Mediterranean-type group with low rates of alcoholism to people its land

    Old believers and some other Russian sectarians practically do not drink alcohol.

    Read More
    • Replies: @reiner Tor
    That’s just the other side of the same coin. They either become alcoholics or teetotalers. No middle way. (I also have a bit of the problem, though I often manage to drink just a couple of glasses. But there’s always the urge to have just one more drink...)
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  12. @melanf

    If only Russia could find some Mediterranean-type group with low rates of alcoholism to people its land
     
    Old believers and some other Russian sectarians practically do not drink alcohol.

    That’s just the other side of the same coin. They either become alcoholics or teetotalers. No middle way. (I also have a bit of the problem, though I often manage to drink just a couple of glasses. But there’s always the urge to have just one more drink…)

    Read More
    • Replies: @Dmitry
    Most people are not alcoholics though.

    Proportion of the population who are today, are also often using it partly in the function of anti-depressants or other medication (my dad was needing to get drunk every night for years, always minutes before bed as a kind of sleeping pills, to fall asleep at night - but once sleeping problems solved, does not need to).

    Nicotine, by comparison - you can probably get anyone addicted to.

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  13. utu says:
    @anony-mouse
    If only Russia could find some Mediterranean-type group with low rates of alcoholism to people its land. Oh well.

    If only Russia could find some Mediterranean-type group with low rates of alcoholism to people its land.

    What a nonsense. If the data from the paper are correct that Ukrainian and Belorussian fatalities are 5-7 times lower than Russian fatalities then clearly the difference is cultural/economic.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  14. @AP
    So a big difference between Ukrainians and Russians, for Thorfinnsson.

    Read More
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  15. Dmitry says:
    @reiner Tor
    That’s just the other side of the same coin. They either become alcoholics or teetotalers. No middle way. (I also have a bit of the problem, though I often manage to drink just a couple of glasses. But there’s always the urge to have just one more drink...)

    Most people are not alcoholics though.

    Proportion of the population who are today, are also often using it partly in the function of anti-depressants or other medication (my dad was needing to get drunk every night for years, always minutes before bed as a kind of sleeping pills, to fall asleep at night – but once sleeping problems solved, does not need to).

    Nicotine, by comparison – you can probably get anyone addicted to.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  16. @Dmitry
    Imagine trying to survive winter with no YouTube, no internet, no television, no music on demand.

    And in 1900, it's worse than that.

    Vast majority of people were not literate until around 1925-1930, so most likely - you would not be able to read a book.

    So, no reading was possible either for vast majority of people in this era.

    And you could not exactly play sports, or go to the heated swimming pool in the evening.

    On a winter evening, getting drunk, whether with friends or even by yourself, was really one of the only entertainments.

    Imagine trying to survive winter with no YouTube, no internet, no television, no music on demand.

    How about being intimate with your wife every evening? That does not sound THAT bad.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Hyperborean
    Alcohol would make it even better; it warms the body and loosens inhibitions.
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  17. @reiner Tor
    Yes, it’s called “more recent adoption of agriculture” and “not enough time for evolved defenses to alcoholism to spread in the gene pool.” (Agriculture = the appearance of alcohol.)

    Yes, it’s called “more recent adoption of agriculture” and “not enough time for evolved defenses to alcoholism to spread in the gene pool.” (Agriculture = the appearance of alcohol.)

    That could be it, but before we look to genetics for an answer, we would do well, I think, to rule out any possible sociocultural factors.

    There is, for instance, Martin Amis’ argument that English tourists (and football fans) visiting the European mainland overdrink as an act of defiance to a continental refinement that they feel they can never aspire to. This reasoning could be equally applied to Swedes, who are infamous for being bashful and taciturn when sober, only to turn into that very opposite as they get merrier.

    Anothing thing I have been wondering about is if protestantism/orthodoxy vs. catholicism might have something to do with it. 19th century Swedish literature is full of drunk priests (and drunk churchgoers — Sunday was binge day), but I somehow suspect catholic priests (and congregations) were more temperate.

    Read More
    • Replies: @jimmyriddle
    In Britain, Irish Roman Catholic priests have a reputation for hard drinking:

    http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/commentandblogs/2014/08/25/why-are-so-many-priests-alcoholics/

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NL69U60mwrk
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  18. @Dmitry
    Imagine trying to survive winter with no YouTube, no internet, no television, no music on demand.

    And in 1900, it's worse than that.

    Vast majority of people were not literate until around 1925-1930, so most likely - you would not be able to read a book.

    So, no reading was possible either for vast majority of people in this era.

    And you could not exactly play sports, or go to the heated swimming pool in the evening.

    On a winter evening, getting drunk, whether with friends or even by yourself, was really one of the only entertainments.

    Imagine trying to survive winter with no YouTube, no internet, no television, no music on demand.

    And in 1900, it’s worse than that.

    Vast majority of people were not literate until around 1925-1930, so most likely – you would not be able to read a book.

    So, no reading was possible either for vast majority of people in this era.

    And you could not exactly play sports, or go to the heated swimming pool in the evening.

    On a winter evening, getting drunk, whether with friends or even by yourself, was really one of the only entertainments.

    I don’t disagree with you, but literacy was more or less universal in Sweden by this time. Volksschule (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volksschule) were introduced all the way back in 1842, so the average Swedish farmer was literate some half a century earlier than his Russian equivalent.

    Read More
    • Replies: @melanf

    I don’t disagree with you, but literacy was more or less universal in Sweden by this time. Volksschule (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volksschule) were introduced all the way back in 1842, so the average Swedish farmer was literate some half a century earlier than his Russian equivalent.
     
    This is (mainly) the result of the difference in religion. The Swedish peasants (Lutherans) had an incentive to learn - reading the Bible was necessary for the salvation of the soul. In Orthodoxy, religion is reduced to the performance of rituals and worship of icons, saints, etc., so that the peasants had no incentive to learn.
    Peter the Great's attempt to introduce Protestant practice of religious reading in Russia ended fruitlessly - religious worldview cannot be changed by order.
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  19. melanf says:
    @Swedish Family

    Imagine trying to survive winter with no YouTube, no internet, no television, no music on demand.

    And in 1900, it’s worse than that.

    Vast majority of people were not literate until around 1925-1930, so most likely – you would not be able to read a book.

    So, no reading was possible either for vast majority of people in this era.

    And you could not exactly play sports, or go to the heated swimming pool in the evening.

    On a winter evening, getting drunk, whether with friends or even by yourself, was really one of the only entertainments.
     
    I don't disagree with you, but literacy was more or less universal in Sweden by this time. Volksschule (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volksschule) were introduced all the way back in 1842, so the average Swedish farmer was literate some half a century earlier than his Russian equivalent.

    I don’t disagree with you, but literacy was more or less universal in Sweden by this time. Volksschule (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volksschule) were introduced all the way back in 1842, so the average Swedish farmer was literate some half a century earlier than his Russian equivalent.

    This is (mainly) the result of the difference in religion. The Swedish peasants (Lutherans) had an incentive to learn – reading the Bible was necessary for the salvation of the soul. In Orthodoxy, religion is reduced to the performance of rituals and worship of icons, saints, etc., so that the peasants had no incentive to learn.
    Peter the Great’s attempt to introduce Protestant practice of religious reading in Russia ended fruitlessly – religious worldview cannot be changed by order.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  20. @Swedish Family

    Yes, it’s called “more recent adoption of agriculture” and “not enough time for evolved defenses to alcoholism to spread in the gene pool.” (Agriculture = the appearance of alcohol.)
     
    That could be it, but before we look to genetics for an answer, we would do well, I think, to rule out any possible sociocultural factors.

    There is, for instance, Martin Amis' argument that English tourists (and football fans) visiting the European mainland overdrink as an act of defiance to a continental refinement that they feel they can never aspire to. This reasoning could be equally applied to Swedes, who are infamous for being bashful and taciturn when sober, only to turn into that very opposite as they get merrier.

    Anothing thing I have been wondering about is if protestantism/orthodoxy vs. catholicism might have something to do with it. 19th century Swedish literature is full of drunk priests (and drunk churchgoers -- Sunday was binge day), but I somehow suspect catholic priests (and congregations) were more temperate.

    In Britain, Irish Roman Catholic priests have a reputation for hard drinking:

    http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/commentandblogs/2014/08/25/why-are-so-many-priests-alcoholics/

    Read More
    • Replies: @melanf

    In Britain, Irish Roman Catholic priests have a reputation for hard drinking:
     
    This is not a unique feature
    https://triboona.ru/uploads/posts/2018-06/15301703923primetyi1.jpeg
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  21. melanf says:
    @jimmyriddle
    In Britain, Irish Roman Catholic priests have a reputation for hard drinking:

    http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/commentandblogs/2014/08/25/why-are-so-many-priests-alcoholics/

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NL69U60mwrk

    In Britain, Irish Roman Catholic priests have a reputation for hard drinking:

    This is not a unique feature

    Read More
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  22. @Guillaume Tell

    Imagine trying to survive winter with no YouTube, no internet, no television, no music on demand.

     

    How about being intimate with your wife every evening? That does not sound THAT bad.

    Alcohol would make it even better; it warms the body and loosens inhibitions.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  23. “In Britain, Irish Roman Catholic priests have a reputation for hard drinking”

    Well alcohol is not prohibited during fasting, making it a “fasting drink”. Since catholics and Orthodox try very hard to have their fun, while still upholding the fasts, the results are predictable.

    Read More
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