Sunday, February 1, 2015

Point of Brew: Police officers and wisdom from tasting home brew


From page A11 | August 28, 2014 |

From time to time, enthusiastic home brewers ask me to taste their beers. I am always reluctant to engage in this exercise because their home brew was not made for my palate and so my opinion is of no consequence. Furthermore, I have expectations and experiences and make assumptions that are quite different from the home brewer who is seeking approbation for his product.

This is, therefore, always an interesting meeting of two different personalities over a rather trivial issue.

Our relationship usually survives this preamble and I taste the home brew. I find some positive and even laudatory qualities to comment upon; these days that is usually quite easy because many home brewers are skilled and have access to excellent raw materials. I conclude by making some suggestions for minor adjustments to promote clarity or foam stability or to balance the bitterness, for example, and we part friends with no harm done.

Life is full of little meetings such as these. For the most part, they are navigated with skill, involving tact and courtesy, and there is no harm done. Quite easy, really.

Meetings are somewhat less easy to navigate when they are asymmetric and there is a disparity in position or power and when the expectations, experiences and assumptions of the participants are widely different. Under such conditions, even the trivial act of tasting home brew might easily turn into a shouting match of escalating opinions and some harm may be done.

I suppose the most traumatic asymmetric meeting for most ordinary citizens is when they are confronted by a police officer, uniformed and well-armed. Ordinary citizens and police officers often have widely different expectations, experiences and make different assumptions. As we know, most recently in Ferguson, Mo., and in too many other places, such meetings are not always navigated with skill, tact and courtesy and soon can escalate into confrontation with deeply harmful results.

Meeting a policeman is not at all like tasting home brew.

With this in mind, I have reviewed my own experiences with police officers over the years, most of which I remember with some clarity and little pleasure. I used to think I had a Lewis gene for automatic resistance to authority because such asymmetric meetings unnerve me and ignite, perhaps irrationally, an internal rage. I call it the resentment gene.

Later, I understood this to be a Welsh gene by which so many non-English ethnics resent the authority of the mostly English constabulary. Now I realize this is a human gene: We all resent such asymmetric meetings.

My earliest brush with the law was at least 65 years ago and is still clear in my memory. I was playing football in our street with my mates. Before us, generations of urchins had played football on that same street; the goals, the half-way line and the penalty spot were known indelibly to each of us by long tradition though, I suppose, quite invisible to any casual observer.

One day along came a bobby on his bike and told us to clear off. We protested loudly, of course, lacking tact and courtesy, whereupon, escalating, he confiscated our football. He failed to realize that the scruffy old ball was the dearest possession of our urchin community and, besides, the ball was actually mine. I therefore snatched the ball from him, escalating, and made off with it. Now, had I run in practically any direction other than home I might have gotten away with it.

But home I went, followed closely by the bobby with a summons in hand. My Dad and I appeared before the chief superintendent at Hay Mills Police Station (later to be a pub called appropriately The Billy Club). My Dad took my part, mainly because he had a double dose of the resentment gene, explaining my case clearly, passionately and rationally, and nearly landed himself in the slammer.

Though, demonstrably, not himself very good at it, Dad later explained to me how to play it smart in front of authority.

That advice came in useful a few weeks ago. As usual on Sunday morning we were in Winters for breakfast at Putah Creek Café. I maneuvered my car to the shady side of the street to park but, too late saw, in the corner of my eye, a police cruiser. The police officer advised me that I should not make a U-turn across a double yellow line in the middle of the block in a business district.

The resentment gene switched on; fortunately, Dad’s advice suppressed it and the temptation, escalating, to make irrational and stupid and loud remarks about the deserted town and Sunday mornings and shady parking spaces and inappropriate yellow lines, and “you call this a business district?” quickly subsided.

I thanked the officer for his tact and courtesy and swore never to do it again. Nor have I. It was almost like tasting home brew. Now, had the police officer and the citizen in Ferguson, Mo., had that kind of meeting and instead of confiscating or snatching that old football …

— Reach Michael Lewis at [email protected] Comment on this column at



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