In my grad schoolwork, I came across the following uncredited passage:

The local history of racism and inequity in Memphis has tangible implications for students today. Schools in Memphis remain highly segregated more than 65 years after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka Supreme Court decision that outlawed racial segregation in U.S. schools. The majority population in Memphis is Black (63 percent) while the majority in the surrounding nearby towns is White (68 percent). Suburban schools are better funded than those in the city, and more than half of these under-funded city schools have student populations in…

There are many laws I wish the Democrats would pass, which have heavy lobbying against them, and would be opposed by many conservative voters. I wish these bills would pass, but they probably wouldn’t. And if they did pass, Dems would have to spend political capital to get them through.

But there are other proposals that Democrats could pass tomorrow, which have few opponents and would improve Americans’ lives immensely. You could think of them as “freebies”. …

A productivity hack that’s finally made its way into the base code

Chrome version 88 came out on January 19, 2021, and it quietly introduced a feature that users have been asking for for years. I’ve been using this feature in Chrome’s “Canary” beta version for several months, and it’s become crucial to how I work.

It’s called “Window Naming”.

Window Naming: a new Chrome feature that lets you assign each window a name that will show up in menus and on the dock

Here’s the problem it solves. Have you ever hunted around in Chrome for the right window or tab? …

from Stoke by Sam Wade

My highest recommendations, in a nutshell:

  • Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino
  • Exhalation by Ted Chiang
  • Dawn by Octavia E. Butler
  • Always Coming Home by Ursula K. Le Guin and Margaret Chodos-Irvine
  • Anastasia series by Lois Lowry
  • Inkheart by Cornelia Funke
  • Guts by Raina Telgemeier


  • Fiction
  • Comics
  • Children’s books
  • Plays
  • Nonfiction

Other years

2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014

We were, collectively, miserable in 2020. But a silver lining was that we were miserable in ways that felt like a shared experience. To twist Tolstoy’s line from Anna Karenina, there were ways that we were unhappy in different ways — I never had to risk my life in my…

Unlike most other progressives, I think Constitutional originalism is perfectly reasonable.

In my understanding, “originalism” means to interpret the Constitution, or any law, as having had all of its legal meaning set at the time of its enactment, with the precise words it consisted of, as understood by those who made it law.

That approach is embraced mostly by conservatives, and it’s often derided as leaving society stuck with the rules of the 18th century. But I think that’s a mistake. …

The primer that everyone needs

Recently, a family member of mine got scammed by some clever crooks. They sent her an email that appeared to be an Amazon receipt for expensive items she did not order, and she did what she thought was the responsible thing — she called the fraud number on the email. A nice person on the other end “helped” her out, and smoothly and gently talked her into making a bunch of credit card charges that she did not understand.

MasterCard thankfully agreed to not put her on the hook for the money they stole, so…

photo by Filip Filipović

How a common dismissal of racism actually points to its persistence

A New York Times piece about racial bias at Amazon got me thinking about one of the most common misunderstandings that smart White people have about racism.

I’ll call it the “color of money is green” theory.

Here’s the theory, as it might be used to defend Amazon:

“Come on man, Bezos didn’t start the company to do racism, he’s trying to make money and innovate in a hurry. They need smart people constantly — why would they deny promotions to qualified Black and Latin people?”

Of course, this theory is partially right. There’s a lot that it correctly understands…

The question of whether it is illegal to lie to the police (brought to my mind by the viral video of Amy Cooper falsely telling the NYPD that “an African-American man is threatening me”) is a great window into the epistemology of law.

Here is the answer I contributed to the question on Quora, where the answers were deeply inadequate:

Most of these other answers do a poor job of conveying the reality of what “illegal” means, in reality.

There are tons of laws that could be argued to apply to any given action. For instance, if you tell a…

Illustration that accompanied the BBC radio play of Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness

My highest recommendations, in a nutshell:

  • The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • The Earthsea series by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Jefferson’s Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
  • Radicalized by Cory Doctorow
  • My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry


  • Fiction
  • Children’s books
  • Comics
  • Plays
  • Nonfiction

Other years

2019 was a year of settling in to my new job at the MIT Media Lab —…

Here’s the letter I wrote today to my doctor, who I won’t be able to keep seeing in 2020:

Dr. ________, one note — I just did some online research and I see that chlorhexidine mouthwash is also available over the counter. It would have been good for our conversation about my care, I think, to find that out and let me know. Managing to procure prescription medication can be difficult and expensive! …

Ben Wheeler

Independent programmer, chatterbox.

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