All posts by Tom


My first exposure to the writing of William Safire came via his “On Language” feature in The New York Times Magazine.  His column was a favorite of mine and of word mavens the world over, I suspect. His love of language was infectious, clever, sometimes incandescent and often erudite.

I found his 1975 book, titled Before The Fall, in hardcover, on the cart of books being discarded by the local public library, and took it home with me. In a previous professional capacity, Safire had worked as a speechwriter for President Richard M. Nixon. As such, “Bill” Safire was a witness to history.

I seldom agreed with Safire’s or Nixon’s politics per se. Then again, those were different days. Our differences over public policies never amounted to the putrid partisan and ideological sinkholes that are currently being fracked between the Democrats and Republicans in this election year. The moderate Republican was not back then an endangered species as it is in the present day.

Safire was himself secretly and illegally wiretapped. He knew the crimes now memorialized in the word “Watergate” were wrong and a cautionary tale. But Safire’s book covers the breadth and depth of the Nixon years in more nuanced detail.  In no particular order, the Nixon administration pursued diplomatic relations with China; it obtained the first strategic arms limitation treaty with the then-called Soviets; the Environmental Protection Agency was established. Troops were ordered home from Vietnam. Richard Nixon was a paranoid villain and pragmatic beyond a fault, and yet he was a transformational figure in American politics.

According to the jacket copy, Mr. Nixon’s “assessment” of Bill Safire was that “he’s a writer.” Safire was that and more. Safire never sought to write words for their own sake but also worked to imbue those words with their true meanings. As polemical as his linguistic prescriptions and proscriptions may have been, I believe he believed them; Safire was honest that way.

Also memorable was Safire’s attribution to arguably the smarmiest and most cynical of the Watergate co-conspirators, the indicted presidential political advisor Charles “Chuck” Colson. A few months after leaving the White House but a few months before copping a plea, Safire quotes Colson as saying: “I’ve discovered that all the guys we thought were our friends weren’t so good, and all the guys we thought were our enemies aren’t so bad.”


It was only a matter of time, once the Internet was up and running: social networks were going to spring up. Many sites have come and faded in favor of the next best thing.

I was a late adopter to Facebook, and never really used it for anything except to establish a presence.  Over the past three years, the tweaks FB have made have not impressed me, but they have annoyed me. No surprise then that the mandatory migration to their “Timeline” format irks me.

Writing in the LA Times on July 31, 2012, Salvador Rodriquez again sounded the alarm that the changeover was coming. On August 1, I logged on to my FB account and was told my account would be converted to Timeline on August 8.

The Facebook IPO (Initial Public Offering) earlier this year did not go well. I think rightly that some investors were spooked by the metrics Facebook puts out about how active their users actually are.

Now those users such as me are visiting their sites to assess the prospective damage to our privacy. I can only think the net result is to artificially “up” Facebook’s metrics, to hype undeserved confidence and hopes among its now-and-future stockholders.


In The New Yorker (Comment, May 28, 2012), Nicholas Lemann examined the societal benefits of higher education. The dollar value of a college education is not clear for many students. However, college graduates are making eighty-four per cent more than high-school grads, and that income gap has been widening. Lots of jobs (the number is debatable) do not require a four-year college degree. Looking at the costs, there is a crisis in our national effort to make higher education universal.

In “The Mail” (June 25, 2012) professor of philosophy Howard Ruttenberg at the City University of New York observes: “We need a greater commitment to the broad intellectual development of all our citizens. Lemann is right that the cost is worth ‘the kind of society it buys.’ “