News from the Republic
Year of the Meteor is part of a tiny Republic of Newsletters, the contours of which you will detect over the course of the year. Its neighbors include Alan Jacobs’s newsletter Snakes and Ladders, Alexis Madrigal’s 5IT, Joanne McNeil’s All My Stars, and Warren Ellis’s outstanding Orbital Operations, which remains the best ongoing chronicle of a working writer in the English language.
The Republic, if you would like to visualize it, is a small seaside town, just like the one in Studio Ghibli’s From Up on Poppy Hill.
On this page, I’ll keep a collection of all the different email newsletter recommendations I make this year.
High up on the hill lives the very smartest member of the Republic—he is a wizard, just about—who is named Charlie Loyd. His latest dispatch was a stunner, even by the very high standard he has established; I’m almost afraid to send you over, for fear you’ll never return. There are sections I could blockquote—want badly to blockquote—but blockquotes don’t do Wizard Loyd’s emails justice, because they are so organic, so clearly Made From Thoughts.
“It was an infrastructural hand raised for a high five that never came,” he writes. Go see what he means by that.
If you go down to the docks, odds are good you’ll run into Jeremy Singer-Vine; he’s always chatting with the crews of the boats that come and go, angling for a peek at their manifests. He has an office nearby, and from there, he sends a newsletter called Data is Plural showcasing new and/or interesting datasets that are publicly available for download and analysis.
Even if you’re not interested in downloading or analyzing anything, ever, the newsletter is consistently fascinating because it shows you what’s available: what counts, and is being counted.
A recent edition pointed to datasets concerning: air strikes in Yemen; the global supply of teachers; the composition of the U.S.’s mid-Atlantic shoreline; and… “moralizing gods”??
Moralizing gods. To test the “moralizing gods” hypothesis (which posits that “belief in morally concerned supernatural agents culturally evolved to facilitate cooperation among strangers in large-scale societies”), the authors of a recent paper in Nature) “coded records from 414 societies that span the past 10,000 years from 30 regions around the world, using 51 measures of social complexity and 4 measures of supernatural enforcement of morality.” The dataset is available to download. Findings: “Our analyses not only confirm the association between moralizing gods and social complexity, but also reveal that moralizing gods follow—rather than precede—large increases in social complexity.”
“4 measures of supernatural enforcement of morality”!!
She lives farther up the coast and only comes through our town once in a while, but when she does, it’s an event.
Meaghan O’Connell has got a VOICE. She’s one of those writers who can offer a block of text (with really very few line breaks) about anything, truly, and you gobble it up; you can’t get enough. Her most recent dispatch is just—ah! It’s wonderful. What a mind. What a voice.
In addition to its basic and appealing Meaghan-ness, the dispatch is an exemplar of one of my favorite genres, the “narration of an interaction overheard in public,” or perhaps, if we must, the “OH” for short.
This is a genre of tweet, too—it used to be more prevalent—and for me, they are gold. Exactly what I want from the social internet. I want to feel like the spymaster Varys, except instead of court intrigue, my informants are bringing me news of conversations in cafes, small kindnesses witnessed, interesting shadows on sidewalks.
If there was a way to set up a social network for these little sketches alone—moments in public; concise reports of humor and grace—and really enforce that standard, it would be the only one I would ever use. It’s not possible, of course. You have to just appreciate the OHs where you find them.
At one end of our little town’s main street, there’s a building that used to be a mill but is now a laboratory, a workshop, and a school, all in one. Its proprietor is Deb Chachra, and if you sat across the street spying, you’d see a steady stream of visitors: many from the island, yes, but even more from abroad, and they’ve made great voyages just to be here, to find this building, to bring news to Deb and receive news in return. She is a great node, a vital hub—and if we don’t always hear from her, it’s just because the visits never cease.
We just heard from her.
Far up the coast, in the bright gradient flow of the Automatic City, Jack Clark writes the essential weekly briefing on new developments in artificial intelligence.
Honestly… I can’t claim this one for our little republic of newsletters. It plays for bigger stakes. People who make important decisions about AI technology and policy read Jack’s email. He testified before Congress!
And, I have to say, if you’re concerned about the future of AI, here is something that should hearten you: Jack Clark is the ideal editor to be keeping this particular gate. He’s brilliant, curious, and deeply moral. It’s honestly a little bit unbelievable that a person of his quality has taken up this work with such energy and success; in this respect, at least, our splinter timeline is a lucky one.
Jack is also creative! Along with the week’s news, every email includes a tiny gem of a science fiction story. Or, not a story, exactly; more like a scene. A conjuring. A glimpse.
Jack’s most recent story/scene/thing was one of my favorites so far, which is saying a lot. Scroll down to where it says “Dream Mountain.”
There’s more of this small seaside town to be mapped! Sign up for myyy newsletter to receive fresh News from the Republic on a weekly-ish basis.
June 2019, Oakland