Vaughan’s technique is absurdly simple: He uses a saw to chop healthy hard coral pieces into much smaller fragments; these grow back extremely quickly atop small concrete plugs and are then replanted in the sea. In essence, he’s created a sea-life version of Mickey Mouse’s broomsticks in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Smash them up, then watch them come roaring back with a vengeance.
The technique is a vital one for the field. Coral’s biggest problems might be warming seas and rising acid levels, but those are magnified by a sad fact of life for corals: They aren’t very good breeders. “We actually didn’t know how corals reproduced until the 1980s,” Vaughan said. That’s because, as if adhering to some dirty fairy tale, corals breed only a few days a year, en masse, for around 30 minutes, shortly after the full moon in August, when they simultaneously fill the sea with their white, snowy-looking gametes in a single, very unkinky orgy.
The only sure thing about covering North Korea is this: The lead is always clear, the second sentence isn’t.
Over the past week, the latest twist in seven decades of inter-Korean conflict unfolded before thousands of journalists. After sharply accelerating its pursuit of nuclear weapons last year, North Korea seized an offer from South Korea to show a different side at the Winter Olympics, one of the globe’s biggest media events. It sent a handful of athletes, 229 cheerleaders, a music group, dozens of coaches and minders and Kim Yo Jong, the sister of dictator Kim Jong Un and the first member of the Kim family to ever visit South Korea.
And suddenly, the dominant narrative flipped. The tyrannical North Korean regime was…okay? But was it really? Was everyone, including the international media, being outsmarted? What was the regime really doing?
But the hunger for that older way of doing things persists. Movie studios and television networks are soulless, monstrous entities, ravenous heads of a corporate hydra. A Broadway theater is an empty shell. There is not much we see that commands our loyalty, or inspires our solidarity. The unsatisfied, atavistic part of ourselves that harbors a dim memory of those wondrous nights in the village square experiences a special frisson, a jolt of recognition and excitement, when we witness the work of players who seem loyal to one another.
This is why we react with a special kind of excitement when we encounter what looks like the work of a genuine troupe in the crowded, highly mediated, aggressively monetized postmodern landscape where we scavenge for beauty, fun and enlightenment. What connects certain television shows, movies and stage productions to ancient folkways is a particular blend of novelty and familiarity. You see the same faces again and again in new disguises. The afternoon’s clown is the evening’s tragic hero; yesterday’s princess is tomorrow’s wicked stepmother.
Among Irish people alive today, my mother is rare in that English was not her native tongue. She was born in the Gaeltacht, the ever-waning sliver of the country where Irish is spoken daily, in a place whose name translates to “Step of the Deer,” after the moss-obscured legend of a stag’s miraculous leap in flight from the hunting hordes of ancient days. In the village of her birth, speaking Irish was unremarkable, as water is unremarkable to the fish that breathe it.
But when as an adult my mother moved to America, there was no one to speak her native language with, and a curtain fell across this part of her life; slowly, by degrees, the words faded from her mind as dew goes from the grass. By the time my siblings and I were born, I doubt she ever seriously entertained the notion of teaching it to us. As I grew older, old enough to register a lack, I would ask her about this and receive a fatalistic response: “There’s no point in learning it,” she would answer. “It’s going extinct.” Our mother’s first language became to us like an heirloom once treasured but now lost, or like a member of the family who remained now only in sepia pictures: a wedding photo, a grainy beachside snapshot, a picture of childhood sport, the laughter and movement rendering their features nothing more than a blur.
Ground Work is an extraordinary and life-affirming book. Perhaps its greatest value lies in the multiplicity of ways in which its contributors connect and communicate with the natural world and with the places and people about them. One doesn’t need to be a farmer, or a conservationist, to justify a relationship with the wild. We just need to learn to look properly, and to find the common ground.
If the urbanistic publishing-academic complex substituted the words “the world” for “the city”, the grandiosity of their projects would immediately be exposed as preposterous. But writing about cities has purpose, if it stays close to specific cases. Building and Dwelling, subtitled Ethics for the City, doesn’t escape all the traps that go with writing on “the city”. It becomes so general that the complexity it champions gets simplified. It’s when he gets specific, intellectually and observationally, that Sennett’s insights are worth reading.
She’s careful not to suggest that it’s all nature over nurture. But her view that women are generally more conscientious and collaborative than men, if less openly ambitious and confident, feels surprisingly conservative in a book about turning conventional thinking upside down. For women who want to smash down the boardroom door, this is a terrific read. But smashing the system? That, it seems, would be a step too far.