2019年10月31日 星期四

Australia Letter: Beer With Bella | Benjamin Law

You can learn a lot from an interview. Can you learn more over a drink? Introducing a new series.

Letter 131

Beer With Bella:Benjamin Law

Melinda Josie

You can learn a lot about someone from an interview. But can you learn more over a drink? The Australia Letter introduces a new series, "Beer with Bella," in which one reporter in the Sydney bureau who hates beer but loves chatting (an unfortunate combination) meets interesting Australians over a drink of their choice.

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First Impression

The bar where I met author and journalist Benjamin Law is all open windows and classy lighting — what he calls a "bougie bar," except he adds an Australian expletive we all know and love.

He used to be more a beer person, he told me, but this place is close to his home in Sydney, has excellent wine and a good-looking sommelier called Anthony.

We settled into a table by the window.

"I just think I reached the stage in my life where I was like, I'm ready for bougie wine." Mr. Law said, grinning. "I'm leaning in, Sheryl Sandberg style, into my destiny."

An author, journalist and presenter, Benjamin is best known as the mind behind "The Family Law," a television show based on his memoir of the same name about the lives of a Chinese Australian family in Australia's Sunshine Coast. He recently hosted "Waltzing the Dragon," a documentary exploring Chinese Australian history. For many people, his show was the first instance of seeing an Asian Australian story on a major television network.


But before we had a chance to discuss all of that, our conversation derailed into our formative years, writing and multiculturalism.


The Order

A Clare Valley Riesling that supposedly tastes like "dry mineral-y blocks in your mouth." And some spicy cheese because, why not?


The Chat

Because I grew up in an area with immigrants, I've always wondered how it is to grow up somewhere less diverse. Why did your parents decide to settle in Queensland?


I had no idea how white my upbringing was. I went back to my hometown several years ago to help my mum pack up her house and there was like a hijabi woman in the car park and I wanted to race over to her and just like, 'Are you sure you want to be here?'

There was one other Chinese Australian family there. When they were coming out from Hong Kong as newlyweds, Dad was like, oh there's a work opportunity there. And they actually really loved what they saw. It was really clean versus Hong Kong; versus this megalopolis. But it was kind of dead. So Mum had mixed feelings. She was just, like, it's really clean and beautiful. And it's really boring and there's no one to talk to and I have no friends. So it's kind of like it's a beautiful place where my soul will be crushed.

'Let's stay here and raise children!'

Completely. Happy primary school years, not so happy high school years — like my parents' divorce coincided with the rise of Hanson-ism.

It's One Nation heartland where we grew up. Looking back I now realize what it was.

Being a writer can be a structureless existence — how did you make it?

Because I'm the son of entrepreneurial migrants and I've seen how hard both my parents have worked. I don't need to have that lesson. You just see how it works.


I was a pretty anxious teenager. Mental health wasn't necessarily great. And I remember having a really intense anxiety attack about a year into my creative writing degree thinking: What the hell am I doing? I just knew there and then after this panic attack, that I needed to carve my own path.

So I just picked up the phone and rang every Brisbane magazine for work experience. By the time I graduated, I was writing for The Courier Mail, and then making magazines with friends and finding work opportunities. I just remembered thinking, there is no job security; like you have to hustle.

Was it easy to get "The Family Law" made?

I had no plans to write the book "The Family Law." And I had no plans to pitch it as a TV show. That's how insanely lucky and lazy I am. I submitted two stories to an anthology called "Growing Up Asian in Australia," edited by Alice Pung. It was the publisher Chris Feik who sent me an email saying: "Do you have a book idea? I obviously really like your essays."

Internally I was like, no. But me being the son of entrepreneurial migrants I was like, give me three days and I'll have a pitch to you. I was reading a lot of David Sedaris at the time. I pitched a collection. They said yes.

I was really lucky in that production companies for a while felt that there hadn't been Asian-Australian stories onscreen, and in good faith had been looking for them. I was in the right place at the right time.

So I think it's a lot to do with timing and forming little Asian arts mafias.

You've said Australia is behind: What do you think is holding us back?

By and large, we do multiculturalism quite well in this country. And I think we pat ourselves on the back about that. We pride ourselves on our egalitarianism and therefore we're complacent about it. Because that egalitarianism is mistaken for meritocracy. You don't live in a meritocracy if all the gatekeepers are predominately, Anglo able-bodied heterosexual cisgender men. They might feel a little flinch-y at those labels but they've just never had to think of themselves as having labels.

We have a real hand-wringing attitude toward tokenism and I'm like, 'Guys, we have not even achieved tokenism yet.' We really need to be less anxious about tokenism and more anxious about nepotism and exclusion. Those don't seem to be worries about the workplace because those are kind of these invisible, tacitly accepted structures.

I guess I'd describe you as fairly open on social media. How do you process that line between your public persona and who you are inside?

Part of why I use social media a lot is because I have no colleagues and I'm isolated. I need to replicate human interaction — kind of that Tom Hanks in "Castaway" vibe.

We all curate ourselves online. But I actually feel like part of my curating of what I put online is kind of coming at it from a professional way, which is, what's the magazine I'd like to read? Can you give something of value to people?

My social media feed is probably replicating the kind of conversation I'd want to have with a friend. My rules are either inform me or make me laugh.

What's your least favorite thing you've ever written?

Anything that's at least six months old. What's that Zadie Smith quote? To read back on past work is to induce nausea.


The Drink Verdict

"It's unpredictable," Ben said, "I've discovered I'm a dry mineral-y Riesling person which makes me sound like a wanker." He thinks I might be a Riesling person too, he added.

Alas, he's right.

Do you have an idea for who Bella should have a beer with? Send us your suggestions at nytaustralia@nytimes.com. And don't forget to sign up and get the Australia Letter in your inbox.

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On Politics With Lisa Lerer: Do More Candidates Frighten You?

We asked, you answered: Is there another candidate you'd want to run for president?
Author Headshot

By Lisa Lerer

Politics Newsletter Writer

Hi. Welcome to On Politics, your guide to the day in national politics. I'm Lisa Lerer, your host.

There was some big impeachment news this week — we'll get to that below. But first, let's open the mailbag.

Tim Lahan

We asked. You answered!

There's been a lot of debate within political circles over whether Democrats are calling out for a savior to enter the 2020 primary, or whether they're just fine with who they've got, thank you very much.

Names have been floated: Clinton and Bloomberg and Obama, oh my! And the clapping back from those in the field has been, well, not very subtle.

"Look no further," Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey announced last week.

Well, we put the question to you, dear readers. And so many of you wrote back — both with candidate suggestions and with pleas to stop all the madness. (You're a well-read — and awfully creative — bunch of engaged readers!)

Here's what some of you had to say about the Democrats. (Republicans, of course, still largely back President Trump.)

Eighteen is enough!

Kathleen Jordan, of Pleasantville, Iowa, says she doesn't want any more candidates jumping into the race.

"I believe that would be unfair to the candidates who declared months ago," she said. "Those who are having Maalox moments would have them even if Hillary were to enter now. They also are likely to be the same people who would criticize her for waiting so long. There are 'mouths' that are never satisfied."

Fiona Taylor of New York City agrees, telling us that the current field is just fine.

"We have a lot of smart and ethical candidates. However, the operative words are 'a lot.' I think a lot of the discomfort people are feeling stems from having too wide a field at the start. It seems overwhelming to educate yourself about every candidate," she said. "The Democrats need to stop slitting each other's throats and emphasize their own strengths, rather than going for each other's weaknesses."


'For God's sake, Hillary, go home'

Anne Ellis, of Cookeville, Tenn., has a simple message for Hillary Clinton: "For God's sake, Hillary, go home," she said. "Watch this whole episode on TV."

"We were loyal Bill & Hill fans for many years, starting when Bill was governor of Arkansas, where my husband had his roots," she added. "But your time has come and gone. Please don't get involved with this important election as a potential candidate. Too much is at stake."

Robin MacDonald, of Ann Arbor, Mich., says she loves Mrs. Clinton but has no desire for her to mount a third presidential bid.

"I do think her time has passed," she said. "Not in terms of age but in terms of timing. Too bad. I think we have to go with one from the list of those currently running."


And Dr. Mario Milch of Los Angeles has his prescription pad ready for those who want Mrs. Clinton to enter the race.

"The Democrats who want Hillary (or Michelle or Bloomberg) to run need to take an anti-anxiety medication," he said. "It is ridiculous to think that Hillary, who heavily contributed to her defeat, should try it again. The present lineup is fine!"

Or not …

Sam Yankovich, from Sonoma, Calif., sees a third campaign by Mrs. Clinton as the only way for the country to move past the 2016 election.

"A Clinton/Trump 2020 general election is perhaps the only closing chapter of a three-year ordeal that has baffled the country," he said. "It would be symbolic: a rematch between these titans who each seem determined to re-litigate 2016. The fact that the 2016 election continues to occupy so much of the country's public consciousness — and that Trump continues to poke at Clinton even as she attempts to remain above the fray — make the prospects of a rematch feel simultaneously inevitable and impossible."


And there was plenty of wishful thinking

Larry Abbott of Asheville, N.C., wants Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio to jump into the race.

"I'm from the Rust Belt and still believe some of those swing voters who voted twice for Obama then decided to give Trump a try must be experiencing Buyer's Remorse," he said.

Eric Nodiff of Boca Raton, Fla., says he's been disappointed by the Democratic field and worries that none of them can beat Mr. Trump. His answer? "Abrams for President in 2020!"

"We need a high-integrity candidate who can mobilize not only the Democrats, but the independents, particularly those D's and I's who voted for Trump. The answer, I believe, is Stacey Abrams," he says. "She will be a strong candidate against Trump, garnering support from a broad coalition of voters not limited to women and blacks (which itself is critical to a victory) but also to those Dems and independents who think Sanders and Warren are pulling the party too far to the left. I had never heard of Abrams prior to her race for governor, but every time I heard her speak I was so impressed."

Samuel J.M. Greeley of Grover Beach, Calif., went to Hollywood to find a fresh political face.

"I propose Tom Hanks. He is intelligent, widely read in American history, universally loved by Americans, has a high profile, is articulate, and, if Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump can govern, he would be a quick study in the art," he said. "Of course, he would never run — that's why he is smart."

And Phil Stevenson, of Jackson, Wyo., posed a "crazy" question:

"I know a president is limited to two consecutive terms, but could a two-term president serve again if the third term were nonconsecutive?" he said. "If so, then…."

(Sorry, Phil, the answer is no.)

Thanks so much to everyone who wrote us — I loved reading all your comments. Keep them coming!

Drop us a line!

We want to hear from our readers. Have a question? We'll try to answer it. Have a comment? We're all ears. Email us at onpolitics@nytimes.com.

The week in impeachment

Erin Schaff/The New York Times

With the impeachment inquiry racing ahead, it can be hard to keep track of the stream of new developments. So our colleagues from the Impeachment Briefing newsletter have generously volunteered to catch us up every Thursday on what has happened during the week.

  • The House voted on impeachment. The House approved a measure that officially set the rules and procedures for the impeachment investigation. Only two Democrats voted against it — a sign of how unified the party has become just in the last few weeks. The measure was also an unofficial affirmation that the inquiry had started, calling the bluff of Republicans in Congress and the White House who said the proceedings were not legitimate without a vote.
  • We learned what the public phase of impeachment will look like. With the rules in place, public hearings are expected to begin as soon as mid-November, led by the House Intelligence Committee and its chairman, Representative Adam Schiff. The committee will also produce a public report on its findings and release transcripts of witness interviews before handing the case to the Judiciary Committee, which would then consider recommending articles of impeachment.
  • New details emerged about the infamous phone call. Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a Purple Heart recipient and the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, was the first witness to have listened in on the July 25 call between President Trump and the president of Ukraine. He said that he had heard Mr. Trump ask Ukraine to investigate the Bidens, and told investigators that the White House transcript had omitted a few key words.
  • Investigators requested testimony from some major figures. They called on John Bolton, Mr. Trump's former national security adviser, and John Eisenberg, the top lawyer on the National Security Council, to appear before investigators next week. A lawyer for Mr. Bolton said he would not appear voluntarily.

You can sign up for the Impeachment Briefing newsletter here.

… Seriously

I'm pleased to announce the winners of our political Halloween costume contest. There were so many awesome entries, we couldn't pick just one.

(Drum roll, please.)

Presenting …

Justice Pooch Bader Ginsburg

Helen Ippolito

(Otherwise known as Springer.) Thank you so much for sending, Helen Ippolito from Seattle.

And here's Quid Pro Quo — er, Squid Go Pro — as portrayed by Michael J. Petrilli of Washington, D.C.

Michael J. Petrilli

A big thank you to everyone who sent in photos. You all made a rainy Halloween in Washington much brighter.

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Thanks for reading. Politics is more than what goes on inside the White House. On Politics brings you the people, issues and ideas reshaping our world.

Is there anything you think we're missing? Anything you want to see more of? We'd love to hear from you. Email us at onpolitics@nytimes.com.

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