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The question usually comes toward the end of a public meeting. Some knotty problem is being discussed, and someone in the audience will raise his or her hand and ask, “Okay, so what can I do about it?”

I love that question. Not because I’ve ever answered it to my satisfaction, but because it bespeaks such a constructive outlook. Democracy is no spectator sport and citizens are not passive consumers. I’m always invigorated by running into people who understand this. But that doesn’t make answering the question any easier.

The usual advice that politicians give is to vote, work for a candidate, let your elected officials know what you think, join an organization of like-minded citizens, and participate in community life. This is good counsel — but only as far as it goes. With a little more time now to answer the question, I’d add a few points.


In the last six months we've seen the passing of two prominent extraterrestrials – Mork and Spock from the planets Ork and Vulcan, respectively. Their earth names, of course, are Robin Williams and Leonard Nimoy. While both men had successful acting careers that encompassed many roles, their iconic alien persona’s in particular, will shine for many light years to come.

Back in August, I learned that Robin Williams had taken his life when a stranger in a shopping mall told me of the news. The young man said that he had a strong and a strange urge to tell someone of what he had learned. We chatted briefly, shook hands and I thanked him for sharing the news that was heavy on his heart. When Williams died I also felt a need to say something but was at a loss as to what to write, other than restating the obvious tragic nature of it all. I knew that the comedian's life and subsequent death had importance to me, but in what way, I wasn't sure.

Last week, my friend Sallee told me about the passing of Leonard Nimoy. She initially said that Dr. Spock instead of Mr. Spock had died, which is technically correct since the famous pediatrician Benjamin Spock died 17 years ago. All teasing aside, there's something comforting about directly being told of someone's passing. For this reason I have given my friends standing instructions not to text or Facebook my demise.


Imagine if our perception of world events were being shaped by some guy at home, sitting in his underwear, pecking away on his computer keyboard. No, I'm not talking about myself, but thanks anyway. A growing number of news stories originate from unnamed sources and social media. “According to reports” is often a fancy way of saying, “Rumor has it ...”

In a bygone era, reporters traveled to the hinterlands, collecting information while risking life and limb. Now, deathdefying reporting is increasingly being replaced by digital posting far from the danger zones and even further from the truth. Arguably, the Middle East is the most volatile part of the world but it has some of the least credible reporting. Armageddon is scary enough without thinking it could be triggered by a Twitter tweet. I randomly picked out a story about the current bogeyman, ISIS, to check its sourcing. The article is a classic example of “news laundering,” and part of it follows below.


One of the coolest things I learned from elementary school was taught just outside the classroom. In the early 1960s, marbles on the playground were phasing out of popularity. However, I managed to catch the tail end of the action on what was an incredible macrocosm of social and financial principles. Long before “economic inequality” was touted as an evil of society, marble players had their own version of “wealth disparity” with those who owned the lions share of bumblebees, steelies and cat's eyes. Marbles were a free and open system with disputes settled in a mostly peaceful manner. A good player never had to buy marbles, he won or earned them. The holdings of marble magnates tended to grow, while the less diligent and proficient players needed to tap into their allowances to keep in the game. If my memory serves me right, I was mostly marble middle class.



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