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Safire: Plan for your AARP-aged future

William Safire would like you to think about the fourth quarter, and he does not mean the end of the football game: He means the last part of your life, the years about which you concoct elaborate daydreams that involve sleeping in, fishing and being the soul of schadenfreude who sides with the grandkids in their disputes with your children.

Safire would like you to get a plan. That plan should involve a new career.

Safire, 77, is known as a plainspoken observer of many things, foremost among them as a phrasemaker. He is the man who called Hillary Clinton a "congenital liar," earning the columnist a veiled threat from then-president Bill Clinton to take vengeance on the bridge of Safire's nose.

Safire is also the brains behind vice president Spiro Agnew's "nattering nabobs of negativism," still as succinct a bit of alliterative political meanness as was ever uttered (in this case, by media-baiting vice president Agnew, but created by Safire, the former Nixon administration speechwriter who has called himself a "vituperative right-wing scandalmonger").

Safire writes books, both novels — including Freedom, about the first years of the Civil War and Scandalmonger, about the roots of freedom of the press — and nonfiction, including the recently updated Safire's Political Dictionary (Oxford University Press, $22.95 paperback). He was a longtime political columnist and still writes his "On Language" column for the New York Times.

He also has a fourth-quarter job: Safire is chairman of the Washington-based Dana Foundation and the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives, which promotes brain research.

Jodie Bingham, director of the Center on Aging Foundation, said the center had long been interested in having Safire as a speaker because he exemplifies the dinner's purpose: to showcase individuals who focus on and are examples of successful aging.

Safire was invited to speak by Center on Aging director Dr. William Markesbery. Bingham said that the center and Safire share some common values: "Always be active, always be involved, always be looking for that next challenge."

For you, the retirement-bound, Safire suggests the five-minute rule: Use five minutes each day to plan for your AARP-aged future. Don't let retirement take you by surprise.

Safire has spoken in Louisville before, and remembers learning to master the way we pronounce the name of Kentucky's largest city: Lou-AH-vul. He remembers telling the crowd that, in fact, he had seen the statue of King "Louah." (To be fair to Kentuckians, the way we pronounce Louisville is nothing compared to what we do to Versailles, or VUR-sales.)

Safire has another Kentucky connection: He keeps a picture of Kentuckian John Breckinridge — the Civil War-era Breckinridge, not the 20th century Congressman from Lexington — in his office.

He says that presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain are "two remarkably articulate candidates": Obama's eloquence is comparable to that of Adlai Stevenson, the liberal idol of '50s American politics, Safire says, while McCain is more comparable to the late Harry Truman, direct and less inclined to stylistic flourishes. Obama is fond of using the word "distraction," a defensive word, where McCain has appropriated Franklin Delano Roosevelt's "my friends," inviting Americans into his conversation.

Does Safire have a candidate? Well, sure. He's Safire. He's a conservative Republican, a foreign policy hawk, a McCain voter.

Safire laments the "super-specialization that you get in Internet media."

He dislikes "pancake people," those leaping from Internet link to link: a horizontal education, as opposed to the vertical knowledge you get from reading a book.

In newspapers, Safire says, you are invited to read articles that you didn't know that you wanted to read, a practice that yields general information on a variety of subjects; on the Internet, you can hop from site to site or tailor your site visits to fit a narrow range of interests or viewpoints.

"I worry about the impact of the kind of self-education that you get on the Web," Safire says. "It's so much opinions and so little ... reporting. .. If blogs are your main source of information, you're going to get warped information."

Safire calls it his late-life career a plan to keep the synapses snapping. He points to long lives of Daniel Schorr, a onetime CBS news correspondent who can still lash through pretensions with a single blow of his tongue at 92, and novelist Herman Wouk (The Caine Mutiny, The Winds of War), "still relatively young" at 93.

The Sanders-Brown dinner also will honor four seniors who have kept active even at an advanced age, among them Essie Barned of Louisville, still vigorous at 100.

Says Jane Elam, president of the Fayette County Republican Women's Club, who nominated Barned: "She remains young. She's young at heart."

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