Bernard Keane, politics editor
“Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the nature and existence of mathematical infinity. Jonathan Swift encapsulated the counter-intuitive character of infinity with insouciant style: ‘So, naturalists observe, a flea/ Hath smaller fleas on him that prey/ And these hath smaller fleas to bite ‘em/ And so proceed ad infinitum.’Alas, the developing utility mathematicians put to the idea of infinity did not find the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes quite so relaxed. When confronted with a diagram depicting an infinite solid whose volume was finite, he wrote, ‘To understand this for sense, it is not required that a man should be a geometrician or logician, but that he should be mad’.”
Sally Whyte, journalist
“For years, the research team at West Virginia University, which first noticed big discrepancies in Volkswagen’s diesel emissions, has scrounged for grants and research funding to survive. Only a fraction of its $1.5 million annual budget comes from the university, and that is being cut.
“’I still have sleepless nights trying to figure out how I’m going to pay the guys the next pay cycle,’ said Dan Carder, director of the university’s Center for Alternative Fuels Engines and Emissions.”
Sophie Benjamin, engagement editor
“Two years ago, not long after Patrizia Reggiani was released from prison, a camera crew from a trashy Italian TV show turned up unannounced at her Milan workplace. Reggiani had just spent 16 years inside after being convicted of arranging the murder, in March 1995, of her ex-husband Maurizio Gucci, the last of the Gucci family dynasty to run the luxury brand. The former socialite had always maintained her innocence – her best friend had set her up, she said – but the TV crew caught her in a reckless mood.
“‘Patrizia, why did you hire a hitman to kill Maurizio Gucci? Why didn’t you shoot him yourself?’ badgered the reporter.
“’My eyesight is not so good,’ she lobbed back. ‘I didn’t want to miss.’”
Josh Taylor, journalist
“The first time I joined Twitter, there was no app. If I remember correctly you joined on a website, then communicated with the service via text message. Twitter was more akin to group message platforms like GroupMe, the kind popular with today’s youngs. To use Twitter in 2007, I needed my friends to join. This request was swiftly and unanimously vetoed by everyone I love, which in hindsight, may have been their subconscious effort to protect me from myself.”
Cassidy Knowlton, editor
“But, after losing to Obama in the Presidential primary, Clinton saw the State Department as a place to establish herself as an effective leader. Her new staff members described Guantanamo as a painful liability. ‘Gitmo was a goddam weight around our neck,’ Daniel Fried, who had worked under Bush as Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, told me. ‘It hurt everything we tried to do. I went to Germany to talk about Russia, I got a lecture on Gitmo. I’d talk about energy security, I got a Gitmo lecture. It cost us political capital.’
“Soon after arriving at the State Department, Clinton asked Fried to take the newly created job of Special Envoy for Closure of Guantánamo. He would help lead the transfer process, in which State’s role was to find other countries willing to take detainees and then work with Defense and other agencies to make sure that the security arrangements were adequate. A seasoned, irrepressible diplomat, fond of quoting Napoleon, Fried saw the political risks involved. As he moved into his unprepossessing office, on the department’s sixth floor, Clinton told him, ‘Good luck — and I’m afraid we’re already in trouble!’”
Jason Whittaker, publisher
Stephen Spinella (Prior in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York): I guess we met the fall of 1981, I wanna say? We were both students at NYU’s graduate program. We had an argument about the New York Review of Books versus the Village Voice. He was on the side of the Village Voice.
Mark Bronnenberg (Kushner’s lover, 1982–86): He was directing a play I acted in called Age of Assassins. It was a wonderful play about Emma Goldman and these five anarchist assassinations. The Italian premier. Archduke Ferdinand.
Stephen Spinella: I had to kill the empress of Austria.
Mark Bronnenberg: We moved in together in Brooklyn like six months later, something like that. We were on Clinton Street down near Luquer.
Stephen Spinella: We formed a ragtag theater company with a number of other people. Three of them were people he met at the U.N. Plaza Hotel, where he used to work in the switchboard office. All of us were pulled pretty much into his vortex.
Mark Bronnenberg: They did a show called La Fin de la Baleine, The End of the Whale.
Stephen Spinella: “A poem for the end of the apocalypse.” There was a whale ballet in which a choreographer danced en pointe with a sousaphone.