This American Life had an excellent episode recently: The Annoying Gap Between Theory … and Practice.

Act One: Computerized Voting: Jack Hitt describes the rather complex issues of computerized voting machine with amazing clarity and conciseness. As the Mission Impossible theme plays, he follows instructions and hacks into a touch screen voting machine to change the vote totals, covering his tracks. He walks through the complex issues of trade secrets and closed code with an expert. He explains how verifiable paper ballots solve the problem. Finally, he notes how our democracy believes not in God, monarchy, or divine right, but in a flimsy piece of paper: the Constitution.

Act Two: Political Idealism: Steve Tobocman decides to run for Michigan state representative because he wants to help Detroit. He doesn’t buy ads or take money. Instead, he goes door-to-door for days, talking to the people until his knuckles start to bleed. He wins, and once in the state legislature, he carefully reads each bill to make an informed decision about what’s right. But cynicism slowly seeps in as we see how sausages—I mean laws are truly made.

Both stories are interesting and informative, well written and beautifully produced. You can listen to them for free on RealAudio. You can also download it for $2.95 from, but their site is evil and won’t allow me to link to it. If you manage to get it through their awful site, you can put it on your iPod and listen to it in the car or on the train. Or you can do what I do, and listen to it while exercising.

posted November 23, 2003 07:27 PM (Politics) #


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Aaron Swartz (