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The Morality of Alcohol

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I am curious to find out from those who justify their use of alcohol by its taste, color, limited amount of consumption etc., whether or not they see any similarities between alcohol and something with a more apparent threat to one's well-being: heroin.

Lets say, hypothetically, that heroin was produced and sold the way alcohol is; it is clean, legal and thus safe so long as it is not mis-used (the same way alcohol can be misused).

Would your same argument still apply? That is, would you still defend your occasional injection of heroin so long as it was in a suitable context?

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I am curious to find out from those who justify their use of alcohol by its taste, color, limited amount of consumption etc., whether or not they see any similarities between alcohol and something with a more apparent threat to one's well-being: heroin.
I don't know whether heroin has a (good) taste. A more apt comparison would be eating poppy seed cake, where poppy seeds are consumed for taste. Your comparison of drinking alcoholic beverages for gustatory purposes has no similarity with injecting clean heroin. A more appropriate analogy would be a clean IV of heroin, or an injection of straight ethanol. Both would be bad ideas (though as a step in methanol detoxification it's a good idea).
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I am not sure why this topic has created such a ruckus. Alcohol does not have morality, its use does. And how you use it determines its level of being good, so you cannot take alcohol out of its context and then call it immoral. That is like saying guns or trees or cars are immoral.

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I don't know whether heroin has a (good) taste. A more apt comparison would be eating poppy seed cake, where poppy seeds are consumed for taste. Your comparison of drinking alcoholic beverages for gustatory purposes has no similarity with injecting clean heroin. A more appropriate analogy would be a clean IV of heroin, or an injection of straight ethanol. Both would be bad ideas (though as a step in methanol detoxification it's a good idea).

You misunderstood my question. I used taste as an example of a possible reason for drinking alcohol and did not intend to ask about heroin's.

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Other than taste, the reason that has been offered for limited use of alcohol is that it can help one relax. Also important is that it is not harmful nor addictive in such doses. An additional part of a rational use would be that one is not using it as a routine "crutch" to tackle a symptom at the cost of tackling a cause.

I have no idea of the addictiveness and harm and "relaxation-value" from small enough quantities of heroin. Is it just like alcohol in these respects?

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Sure. I asked about justification. Would someone who drinks (whether on occasion or perpetually) offer the same justification for the use of heroin in the same manner?
Okay: I make and drink what I make because it tastes good. Since that rationale doesn't apply to heroin (I assume -- I've never tried it), that rationale wouldn't be applicable. There's an important difference between having a drink while you're relaxing, and having a drink in order to allow you to relax. In my opinion, you should not do the latter, since it means you have a problem that needs to be addressed. However, I suppose that just as some people have a need for cigarettes to remain alert and focused without needing psychological help, it's possible that some people may need a relaxant to relax. If that's your purpose, then alcohol would be one possiblity. I seriously doubt that heroin is a good relaxant since it is so highly addictive, but perhaps we could substitute Valium or one of those other prescription drugs, and then the answer would be "Yes, its use could be moral".
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Other than taste, the reason that has been offered for limited use of alcohol is that it can help one relax. Also important is that it is not harmful nor addictive in such doses. An additional part of a rational use would be that one is not using it as a routine "crutch" to tackle a symptom at the cost of tackling a cause.

I have no idea of the addictiveness and harm and "relaxation-value" from small enough quantities of heroin. Is it just like alcohol in these respects?

Yes. Small doses of heroin can and do serve the same function for someone who is accustomed to the substance. That is why I am juxtaposing it to alcohol. As for its addictive properties, I believe they are within the similar range (however im sure it varies from person to person).

Also, if you'll notice in my previous post, I accompanied my question with a hypothetical where the heroin was produced and sold in the same way alcohol is. In such a case, wouldn't the same principles apply and the person who advocates the use of alcohol also have to advocate using heroin?

For example, earlier in the posts it was said that drinking alcohol after a traumatic event would be in someone's rational self interest. But isn't a traumatic event one of the many times you would need your rational faculty most? Someone else even mentioned the taste as a rational purpose for drinking. So, if I happened to like the taste of opium smoke and considered its debilitating affects only a tolerable after-thought, aren't I placing my rational faculty and health below this value of taste?

I am having difficulty accepting these. My question for those people and anyone else who would care to input at all would then be: wouldn't shooting a bit of heroin after work to "wind-down" be just as permissible? If so, how? If not, why? As far as I have been able to reason, there are no fundamental differences between them to not necessitate the acceptance of both on principle.

I am asking out of genuine curiosity. I have been grappling with this issue for some time and any input is much appreciated.

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Heroin isn't even slightly comparable to alcohol. It is many times more addictive and causes permanent alterations and damage to brain chemistry. People on heroin are literally incapable of feeling any pleasure whatsoever except through the drug. It burns out the brain's receptors, damaging your ability to feel.

No such comparison should be attempted. This is either ignorance of heroin or highly dishonesty.

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Ok, putting aside that i disagree and believe alcohol is prefectly comparable to heroin as far as its damages - let me restate my thoughts.

I can only imagine one reason people should want to use alcohol and that is to achieve a state of relaxation that would otherwise be impossible to achieve naturally. I can only think of two reasons someone would want this: 1. one believes natural relaxation is inadequite, or, 2. Someone has a physiological or psychological impairment such as a stress or anxiety disorder and therefore seeks out alcohol as a temporary fix which I regard as an evasion.

Have I left anything out? Are these reasons to want to drink justifiable?

Edited by apathetician
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There's an important difference between having a drink while you're relaxing, and having a drink in order to allow you to relax. In my opinion, you should not do the latter, since it means you have a problem that needs to be addressed.

I am afraid that I completely disagree with this.

The fact that one might need some assistance in order to relax is not necessarily indicative of some sort of "problem." There are certain situations where it is entirely natural for a person to become very much "wound up." For example, one could have a very intense and stressful day at work. One could have a very stressful and frustrating commute home due to a wide variety of idiot and discourteous drivers. One could receive a phone call with news that makes one justifiably very angry and irate. In all of these instances, it is entirely normal for a person to be stressed out, energetic and perhaps have a degree of an adrenaline rush.

Now, let's suppose that a person in such a situation has to immediately go to some sort of engagement where being thusly "wound up" would be a significant disvalue to the other people he is going to be with. Let's say he is going on a date or about to celebrate his anniversary with his wife over a nice dinner or maybe he wants to chat with a few friends. Obviously, his being all stressed out and wound-up would seriously impact his ability to be particularly good company - and since he values these people and wants them to value him in return, he has a very rational and selfish motive to want to be good company. Plus, if he is all wound up over other concerns, that will take away from his ability to fully enjoy what would otherwise be a wonderful and precious moment.

It is normal for it to take a while for a person who is extremely excited, agitated or stressed out to "wind down" naturally and for his body chemistry to change gears accordingly. If having a glass of wine or a beer enables a person to speed up that process and make it possible for him to function better in the new context he is about to enter, then that is a good thing. Just because method he used to wind down and relax was not "natural" does not, in and of itself, mean that it is a bad thing.

And just in case someone thinks what I have said might be nothing more than rationalization for behavior I engage in, this is coming from a person who no longer drinks at all and for whom alcohol has never had the relaxation effects that people talk about. The only real effect that alcohol used to have on me was to make me very spacey and sleepy - and, in doing so, it made me less fit for social situations. The only reason I even drank at all was because I loved the taste of certain beverages and the sensation that it had in my mouth and when I was swallowing it. All subsequent reaction I had to it was a disvalue to me and, for that reason, I have never been a frequent drinker. But, because alcohol made me sleepy, I usually kept a small quantity in the house for those relatively rare occasions when I had difficulty falling asleep. Over time, however, I noticed that the sleep that I got that way was not at all restful and that I felt worse than I would have had I gotten a few hours less sleep by eventually drifting off naturally. In the past couple of years, however, I noticed that, whenever I had a glass of wine to put me to sleep, I would awake the next morning with a headache and felt spaced out all day - so I stopped using it for that purpose. Last summer, I was hanging out with a friend and we went to a Mexican fast food joint that has the world's best frozen margaritas - a drink I have always loved the taste of. Since he was driving, I decide to give one a try. It was the first drink I had in a year and I had a mild headache before I even finished the thing. Clearly my body has always reacted to alcohol differently than most people's and perhaps as I get older and my metabolism slows down the effect is compounded. I suspect that frozen margarita was the last alcoholic drink I will ever have because I have no desire or reason to have another one.

That having been said, I think it would be kind of nice if alcohol could have the same effect on me that it does on others. I have a tendency to be rather energetic and, at times, almost hyperactive. There are some contexts in which that is a good thing and desirable - and for me it has always been perfectly natural. But there are other contexts in which being in such a mood can seriously get on other people's nerves. In many cases, I couldn't care less if it gets on their nerves. But on occasion I do care. If, instead of trying to talk myself into or fake a mood which is more in sync with everybody else's, I could simply have a beer like most people do, that would be a very good thing.

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For example, earlier in the posts it was said that drinking alcohol after a traumatic event would be in someone's rational self interest. But isn't a traumatic event one of the many times you would need your rational faculty most?

I suspect that you are referring to one of my postings.

I made my comment as an example of how, in a very extreme and unusual context, it would not necessarily be immoral for a person to wish to temporarily obliterate his awareness of reality and, therefore, wish to get rip roaring drunk. The example I gave was someone who had just witnessed the horrors of 9-11 at the World Trade Center. Let's say that the person was standing on the sidewalk very close to where the people who jumped from the windows landed. Let's make it more extreme: let's say that one of those people who fell nearby was someone he knew and cared about.

Obviously, with such chaos going on and with one's own life in potential danger, one would need every bit of one's rational faculty that one could muster up and drinking alcohol at such a moment would NOT be appropriate. But what about 12 hours later when the person is back at home and is long out of any sort of danger? What if all that person can think about is the horrors that he saw that day? There is absolutely no action that he can take that will correct the situation or somehow make it more bearable. He can't just go about his normal nightly routine as if nothing had happened - he can't get it out of his mind. He tries to go to sleep but as soon as he closes his eyes, he sees everything happening all over again - he can't get it out of his mind. I think it would be perfectly understandable for such a person to wish to be sedated so that he CAN get it out of his mind temporarily. And since alcohol is easy to get and a form of chemical sedation and/or escape from reality that most people have at least some degree of experience with, it is understandable why he might turn to it.

Clearly, at some point, the person does have to face the reality of what he saw and deal with the resulting psychological effects. But doing so is a lot easier after the initial shock has worn off and one's subconscious mind has had an opportunity to integrate to at least some degree what has happened. Haven't you seen in the movies scenes where a doctor administers a sedative to a person who has become hysterical over traumatic news? That is basically the kind of situation I was talking about in my post and, as I stated, such contexts are rare and unusual.

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I am afraid that I completely disagree with this.

The fact that one might need some assistance in order to relax is not necessarily indicative of some sort of "problem." There are certain situations where it is entirely natural for a person to become very much "wound up." For example, one could have a very intense and stressful day at work. One could have a very stressful and frustrating commute home due to a wide variety of idiot and discourteous drivers. One could receive a phone call with news that makes one justifiably very angry and irate. In all of these instances, it is entirely normal for a person to be stressed out, energetic and perhaps have a degree of an adrenaline rush.

Now, let's suppose that a person in such a situation has to immediately go to some sort of engagement where being thusly "wound up" would be a significant disvalue to the other people he is going to be with. Let's say he is going on a date or about to celebrate his anniversary with his wife over a nice dinner or maybe he wants to chat with a few friends. Obviously, his being all stressed out and wound-up would seriously impact his ability to be particularly good company - and since he values these people and wants them to value him in return, he has a very rational and selfish motive to want to be good company. Plus, if he is all wound up over other concerns, that will take away from his ability to fully enjoy what would otherwise be a wonderful and precious moment...

So you support the use of alcohol as some kind of personality crutch? A glorious novelty one uses to make up for a character defecit? Any person acting on this idea will very quickly realize the thing they are embracing is a vice.

Could you please explain how you arrive at your judgement that the use of alcohol to make up for some inability to cope with daily stressors is a "good thing"? This is alcohol dependency in the making.

In your example, you seem to try and justify the use of alcohol by the urgency of some social event afterward that requires no less than the "good company" the person drinking could be had those stressors not impacted him so negatively. Its almost like he just wants to erase the fact that those stressors impacted him so. Like he wants to erase the fact that they even occured. You know, its almost like he just wants to evade the reality of it ALL - the events that took place AND himself with his responses.

Disregarding the idea that this person might be acting to dishonestly appease his company by operating under the false pretense that everything is ok by means of a steady buzz, I would - again - disagree with you even in saying it is a rational and selfish motive by your reference to the value he is to others. Those people who care about him so much (if they do in fact care) are going to WANT to experience him in all his stressed-out, wound-up fury because that is who they are valuing. (or at least thats who they thought they were valuing.) THAT is the purpose for my word "natural" in my previous post, if that helps.

Please bring to my attention anything I misconstrued or left out. Thanks.

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Somehow the posting I am responding to escaped my attention at the time - which may not have been all that bad a thing.

Agreeing with Ayn Rand about smoking is no more dogmatic than sharing her opinion about modern architecture, Victor Hugo -- or tiddlywink music.

Well, I have encountered dogmatic individuals who mouthed opinions in favor of and went through the motions of demonstrating a passion for modern architecture, Victor Hugo and tiddlywink music for no other reason that the fact that Ayn Rand liked them. It is not particularly difficult to spot when somebody claims to have a passion which is not genuinely, first handedly felt. What matters most is not what somebody likes and dislikes but why he has such likes and dislikes. And, so far, you have so far not given any reason for supporting Ayn Rand's opinion on smoking other than merely stating that it was her opinion.

BTW - Ayn Rand would have utterly disliked many of the buildings that I think are really cool. And while the couple of books I read by Victor Hugo were ok, I have never made a point to read any of his others. And while I think Ayn Rand had outstanding taste in music and my research on that subject has led me to discover some works that I truly adore, I have reason to suspect that she would not have been especially fond of a lot of music that I really enjoy. After all, there is a reason such things are called a matter of taste - and one's opinions on that are in a somewhat different realm than the issue of the potential health impact of smoking. And in those area where my taste clashes with Ayn Rand's taste I am fully capable of explaining why.

My guess is that Ayn Rand would have had far more respect for and could better relate to a person with a genuine first-handed passion for tastes she did not care for than she would a rationalistic robot who went around constantly trying to ape hers.

Let me know when you come across a work of Ayn Rand's that says it's okay to get carried away every now and then and have a few too many. Or when you find a passage in her writing that tolerates "the willful suspension of one's consciousness" on occasion.

Oh, I guess since her dogm....er....., I mean, writings, did not specifically enumerate such things and give explicit sanction to them, they mustn't be moral under any circumstances whatsoever regardless of the facts at hand and the context in which those facts arise. Gee, how could I forget that? What can I do to be more focused and avoid straying from the straight and narrow in the future? Oh, that's right! Jim states: "Unlike booze, which is an escape from reality, cigarettes help one focus and are a symbol of man's achievement."

Hmmmm. I know! I will inhale a pack of Lucky Strikes and say a few dozen "A is A's" to help me better remember and stick to the straight and narrow!

Let's see...... in no work of Ayn Rand's do I recall her saying that it's okay to play practical jokes. Nor do I recall her saying that it is okay for 16 year old boys to jerk off. Nor do I recall seeing any passage where she said it was ok to watch a boxing match - or to participate in one. And I do not recall her ever saying that it is okay to get plastic surgery. And not a single one of the good guys in her novels, to my recollection did any of these things. Gee - that must mean that those things are not moral.

Personally, I have more respect for and would much rather spend time around a person who has a somewhat messed up philosophy which he acquired as a result of his own thinking than one who dogmatically spews out of context regurgitations of Objectivism. I also strongly believe that ten people who are openly and loudly hostile to Ayn Rand and Objectivism do far less damage to the philosophy and the task of convincing rational people to look into it than does a single in-your-face dogmatist who claims to understand and support the philosophy.

Edited by Dismuke
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In response to my posting the following was asked:

So you support the use of alcohol as some kind of personality crutch? A glorious novelty one uses to make up for a character defecit?

It might be a good idea to actually read the posting you are responding to more carefully before responding because I have never suggested anything of the kind.

Could you please explain how you arrive at your judgment that the use of alcohol to make up for some inability to cope with daily stressors is a "good thing"?
I never said that it was. I did not make any comments at all about an "inability to cope with daily stresses." Having the physiological effects of being wound-up, excited, tense or having an adrenaline rush as a result of daily stress is NOT the same thing as an "inability to cope" with daily stress.

Disregarding the idea that this person might be acting to dishonestly appease his company by operating under the false pretense that everything is ok by means of a steady buzz,

I never said anything of the kind.

I would - again - disagree with you even in saying it is a rational and selfish motive by your reference to the value he is to others. Those people who care about him so much (if they do in fact care) are going to WANT to experience him in all his stressed-out, wound-up fury because that is who they are valuing. (or at least thats who they thought they were valuing.)
Really? So some guy's wife is going to want to spend a romantic dinner celebrating her wedding anniversary with a husband who is still all grumpy and grouchy because, earlier that day, a goofball employee of his insulted his biggest and most valuable client and some hit and run driver put a huge dent in his expensive car when it was parked? Because she values him, she is going to WANT him to be all upset about those things instead of focusing on things like......uhmmmm........ their relationship? Er.... what planet are you from? Do you ever get out and interact with people? Or do you read other people and their behavior and their body language as accurately as you just read my posting?

Please bring to my attention anything I misconstrued or left out. Thanks.

I do believe that I have just brought it to your attention.

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Hah, just how do I go about ACTUALLY reading your posts? Am I going to have to drink any alcohol for this?

If none of my interpretations were correct, could you please offer clarification?

As to "some guy's romantic wedding anniversary dinner," I don't understand how drinking to cope (yes cope, that is what you are suggesting - believe it or not) with issues at work or (and i cant believe you consider this a good reason) dishonest drivers is justified. I would venture to guess that this "guy" has larger problems than the dent in his car if he needs alcohol to focus on his relationship.

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Hah, just how do I go about ACTUALLY reading your posts? Am I going to have to drink any alcohol for this?

Maybe you could give that a try. Who knows? Perhaps it would help.

If none of my interpretations were correct, could you please offer clarification?

Well, I for one, do not buy into the premise that my writing and communication skills are all that bad. And since you have demonstrated a pattern of taking what are intended to be examples of commonplace, benign behaviors and transforming them into psychological basket cases - well, very clearly something is wrong with the situation. Perhaps I am just a whacked out psychological basket case myself. Or perhaps the issue is with you and the manner in which you approach my postings. Either way, I do not see anything productive to be gained from further discussion in such a context. So please do not expect any further response from me to your postings.

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The fact that one might need some assistance in order to relax is not necessarily indicative of some sort of "problem." There are certain situations where it is entirely natural for a person to become very much "wound up." For example, one could have a very intense and stressful day at work.
I'm afraid (pretty low-level fear) that I have to totally disagree with your disagreement. If you have a hard day at the office, let's say the boss tripled your work-load 5 minutes before quitting time, and it's your anniversary, then you should decide "That bastard, what an evil jerk. I oughta quit. Well, I'll think about it this weekend, because tonight is our anniversary and I'm not going to let him lay claim to my life". Of course if you find that you do not have the moral strength to do that, then betwixt the Scylla of having a drink to relax yourself, and the Charybdis of denouncing your beloved wife of 25 years as a shrill harpy, you should have the drink (at least, in my world). I still want to know why you can't just leave the job at the office: that is the problem you (one, the guy drinking to relax) should address.
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Hah, just how do I go about ACTUALLY reading your posts? Am I going to have to drink any alcohol for this?

If none of my interpretations were correct, could you please offer clarification?

None of your "interpretations" were correct. What you responded to, and the insults you made to Dismuke, have no bearing on what he wrote, or on reality. Does that 'clarify' it for you?

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I still want to know why you can't just leave the job at the office: that is the problem you (one, the guy drinking to relax) should address.

I agree that leaving the job at the office is a desirable and largely necessary skill. Some people, however, are better at it than others. Furthermore, there are occasions when doing so can be more difficult than usual. A person who never has difficulty doing so might suddenly have difficulty if there are extremely traumatic and/or out of the ordinary events going on at work.

My point, however, is primarily this: things such as stress, anger, excitement etc. can all have certain physiological effects on a person - and those effects don't simply disappear immediately because you decide to focus your mind on other matters.

For example, if you get unexpected news which makes you profoundly angry to the point that you are agitated and irate - well, your body is going to have a rush of energy, your blood pressure will likely rise and you will be more hyper than usual. The fact that you need to and want to immediately walk into another room where it is in your best interest to present yourself as being in a cheerful and happy-go-lucky mood is not alone enough to make that rush of energy and the impact it has on your mood suddenly dissipate. Until your body has a time to wind-down a bit, it is going to have an impact on how much enjoyment you derive out of the situation and, unless you are a darned good actor, it is going to have an impact on how you come across to the other people in the room.

The same holds true for someone who has just come home from a very stressful day at work. That person may be perfectly capable of leaving his work at the office and not focusing on it when he is at home. But it is entirely possible for his body to still be tense from the day's stress and for his nerves to be a bit on edge as he tries to focus on his after-work endeavors. This is very commonplace and is entirely normal. It is NOT a sign of a psychological or moral weakness. And there is absolutely nothing wrong if a person occasionally has a beer or a glass of wine or something in order to have a more relaxed and enjoyable evening. Now, if he is unable to get through the evening without a drink, that might be a problem. But that is not what I am talking about. And there are other things besides alcohol that people use in order to have a similar effect. Some people get a massage. Some people sit in a hot tub or go to the gym. I often listen to music for that purpose. Do you have a problem with people doing things like that in order to relax? If not, then what is your basis for having a problem with someone using alcohol to accomplish the same purpose with less of an expenditure of time or effort?

Alcohol is a drug. Like all drugs, it has a range of effects on the human body depending on the dosage that is used. Like many drugs, some of the effects that alcohol has at a particular dosage are considered beneficial in certain contexts. As with all drugs, at other dosages it has certain effects that are either highly undesirable or fatal. Like most drugs, alcohol is potentially addictive. Unlike some drugs, there are dosages of alcohol where its use is perfectly safe and the effects are mild. Within certain contexts, the mild effects of a reasonable dosage of alcohol can be beneficial for certain people. I am not one of those people and maybe you aren't either - but so what?

How on earth is a person having a glass of wine in order to wind down at the end of a busy day somehow worse than if I order a super-duper sized white chocolate mocha with an extra shot of espresso at Starbucks (caffeine, being a drug) so that I might be more alert for a road trip that I need to take? I am amazed that this subject is even considered controversial - especially on an Objectivist forum, of all places.

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Capitalism Forever said:

If a glass of Scotch makes it easier for you, all the better.

And dondigitalia said:

That's all fine and dandy, except Scotch is gross. Gimme a Guinness. ;)

Gentlemen:

Scotch? Guinness? Aw, that stuff's for kids! Way too tame.

Here's what I use instead. Great stuff. Better than even Geritol - and that says a lot!

pronto.jpg

A perfect way to re-lax. And, if you mix it with an equal amount of prune juice, you get a really swell cocktail! (w00t)

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