Once in awhile one gains a new perspective, a slightly different way of looking at the world or a new appreciation for ideas one previously thought were settled and done. Turns out the factoids of life are not, even in those of advanced age, necessarily un-moveable.
Three things changed for me, just a little bit, during the last week in August when my Dear Fellow Camper and I spent a week at the Stanford Sierra Camp on Fallen Leaf Lake. This is a delightful old-time resort that caters to families: three excellent meals a day, all sorts of entertainment ashore and afloat and in the mountains, but also the chance to enjoy one’s fellow campers or to be left alone to just enjoy that balmy alpine air of the Tahoe region. Perfect really.
During this week I met beer enthusiasts, Justice Anthony Kennedy and “Darwin’s Ghosts.”
Turns out a certain Stanford camper knew me and what I do and so I found myself giving a short lecture on brewing as part of the guest-to-guest evening; as a theme I used the famous misquote from Benjamin Franklin that “Beer is proof that God loves us.” The story went over rather well, and I suppose it was no real surprise when a dozen or so craft beer enthusiasts invited me to meet them for a more intimate conversation. I was easily persuaded — after all, when they blow the trumpet the old warhorse pricks up his ears!
This gave me a new perspective. I had previously not thought of craft beer drinkers in any complex way. But it turns out, even among this small group of beer fans, the narrative that caused them to be part of the 5 percent of American beer drinkers was quite varied; what they knew and thought about beer, both their ignorance and their knowledge, or the narrowness or breadth of their experiences was a surprise to me. There was the home-brewer (of course), the world traveler and beer-from-Belgium-only drinker, the Anglophile, the beer snob and the beer Nazi, the anti-big-brewer-organic-is-best-man, the “I know and prefer quality” and “domestic beer is horse p*ss” freak, the wilder the beer the better adventurer, the beer club member who wants a take-home message, the beer hunter, the name dropper, the “have you heard of” and “when I was in X”-man, the wine convert and even the one who doesn’t drink beer but likes the idea (!).
I spoke to them about my three favorite beers: Budweiser, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Guinness Stout and explained why each demonstrates the epitome of brewers’ traditions and of brewing arts and science. It was fun and I think we all left better informed, and I with a slightly different appreciation of this beer-drinking cohort.
Justice Anthony Kennedy is a Stanford graduate and so is most of his family; they were at the camp. Justice Kennedy gave two one-hour chats that were a delight to listen to. He had serious things to say about the court and how it works, our Constitution and our constitution that he told with humor enough for a stand-up comic; he is clearly a man who does his job with deep thought, an honest and well-informed intellect, and an appreciation of history, art and literature all brought to bear in uncompromising service to the Constitution, the court and our country.
As he described for us the workings and mechanisms of the court in action, it was clear that he has great respect for all his fellow justices; that was no surprise. My reaction to Justice Kennedy however, was a surprise to me: I am now willing to agree that all the Supreme Court justices have the same deeply intellectual and thoroughly examined basis for what they do and the same commitment to the Constitution and our country; just because I rarely agree with the Scalias and Aliotos of the court, does not necessarily mean they arrive at their conclusions by anything but honest intellectual inquiry. That gives me comfort and a greater confidence in the court than I have enjoyed heretofore.
During this interesting week, I read “Darwin’s Ghosts” by Rebecca Stott. This book addresses a problem that happens often in science: an author fails, by lack of attention or an excess of self-importance, to acknowledge those who contributed materially to the field and upon whose ideas s/he builds. In the first edition of “The Origin of Species,” Darwin failed in this task in spades: he made no mention at all of those who went before. This book addresses that shortcoming by giving credit to men from Aristotle (who came nowhere near Darwin’s answer) to Wallace who exactly perceived it.
In the old days scientists needed extraordinary courage to publish works that contravened the laws of God and Creation as fully explained in the Bible. Darwin was no hero in this respect. Scientists could suffer loss of their employment and much worse at the hands of a society fully invested in traditional religious views. And that is my new insight, I suppose, into those whom I have previously ridiculed for their unwillingness to accept the way of nature that Darwin revealed: Such religious folk feel they must make the awful choice between God and Science.
What a dreadful conflict for the faithful to endure! No wonder they squirm about to come up with schemes to undo Darwin; I am now less dismissive but rather more sympathetic toward those with such a conflict that, after all, could affect the destination of their immortal soul.
So there you have it: a week in which I learned something about aficionados of craft beers, something about the Supreme Court justices and something about religious fundamentalists. I hope these new insights and sympathies outlast my next contact with a beer Nazi, the next wrong 5-4 decision at the Supreme Court and the next loony outrage by religious conservatives.
We shall see.
— Reach Michael Lewis at [email protected] Comment on this column at www.davisenterprise.com