To everyone who out of anger, irony, intellectual fire or righteous indignation ever thought about dashing off a letter to the newspaper or expressing their thoughts on world events, take a cue from Bruce Rozenblit of Waldo.
Even the most constant readers of The New York Times’ online version probably don’t recognize his name. But the 60-year-old Rozenblit, a work-from-home electrical engineer who sports Woody Allen glasses, a gray ponytail to his shoulders and a sure opinion on pretty much everything, is certainly known to a few editors at the Gray Lady.
The Times online opens up only about two dozen prime stories a day to readers’ musings, drawing 9,000 daily comments, 300,000 a month from 60,000 different people. Fourteen moderators work throughout the day at the paper to cull through the comments as they fly in, sticking gold “NYT Picks” banners on the best and brightest.
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On Monday, Rozenblit was revealed in a Times feature story as among the paper’s most prolific and popular commenters, based on the newspaper’s metrics.
“He’s in the top 10,” said Bassey Etim, the story’s author and The Times’ community editor.
Since early 2011, he’s submitted some 2,360 comments. Other commenters have far more, Etim said, some even triple that. Rozenblit’s comments tend to receive especially high reader recommendations, with his views in just the first half of 2015 receiving more than 16,000.
“I’m overjoyed. I’m thrilled. Finally, somebody is listening to me,” Rozenblit said, his voice exuberant.
At home, Rozenblit operates his own business. He is unmarried, has no children and runs Transcendent Sound, where he designs, builds and ships his own brand of high-end, tube-based stereo amplifiers.
In many of his waking moments, his thoughts are occupied with world events. He has been known to wake at 4 a.m. — “My mind is calm. I don’t have all these competing thoughts,” he said — to read the paper online and quickly craft a response, at least one a day, but sometimes three. He takes on conservative Republicans as well as Barack Obama, over what he considers to be both the president’s weak response to ISIS and what he sees as the mess of the Affordable Care Act.
He comments on science and the economy, on foreign policy and gun rights, on news stories and opinion pieces.
“I’m not a bleeding-heart, super-duper, left-wing liberal,” Rozenblit said. “I’m not.”
Regarding guns, for example, he has no problem with legal hunting but otherwise thinks people are too emotional and irrational to be running around with guns on their hips, either concealed or not concealed.
“A gun is like sex,” he said. “It ought to be kept in the bedroom and off the streets. We don’t want to have people walking the streets with pistols.”
As an engineer, Rozenblit thinks he looks at the world through a practical and pragmatic problem-solving lens.
“Anyone can rant,” he said. “I like thoughtful analysis.”
A piece this year on the factual inconsistencies of presidential candidate Ben Carson’s biography brought a long comment from Rozenblit on the reality of our personal narratives versus our own memories of those narratives. It began:
“Reality is only what we perceive it to be. What Carson wrote may very well be the product of his dreams. Some people are so confident in themselves that they allow their dreams to become their history. … We are all a bit delusional. He is just way more delusional than most.”
The terrorist attacks in Paris prompted this: “This is how terrorism functions. ISIS is waging war against our freedoms, our civilization. Their attacks cause us to turn upon ourselves and our principals that give us our freedoms. The fear they induce serves to install that which they desire. That is, to enslave us to fear. That fear enslaves us to ISIS.”
The question of whether student protesters at the University of Missouri and other colleges were wrongly trampling on the constitutional rights of others inspired more.
“I think the backlash against free speech is in response to the flood of hate speech that permeates the Internet, all social media and commercial broadcasts,” Rozenblit wrote. “Free speech was never intended to be hate speech. … The kids are sick of it. They don’t know how to deal with it. They want it to go away. They want to be protected from it. They seek sanctuary from hate.”
Rozenblit cops to having a strong anti-authority streak.
“I’m not a passive, subservient personality,” he said.
Rozenblit’s father, raised Jewish in Warsaw, Poland, left the country at age 24 in 1930, eventually making his way to Kansas City, where he worked in the garment industry. Back in Poland, all of his father’s relatives were killed in the Nazi Holocaust.
“He never got over it,” Rozenblit said. “It tore him to pieces. The pain. The guilt.”
Rozenblit grew up poor, attended Westport High School and graduated from the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 1977. Writing came slowly to him. He posted comments occasionally, including writing letters to The Kansas City Star.
“I’ve been trying to save the world since I was a kid,” he said. “No one was listening.”
He began posting comments on The Times’ website in earnest in late 2010. He has one neighbor, he said, who knows how often he writes. Most others don’t. He never uses a pseudonym and is resolute in stating the importance of having a free and open press and of speaking out.
“It’s a civic duty,” Rozenblit said. “It’s called democracy. I’m adding to the intelligent discussion of this country, of this world. I’m trying to provide my thoughts out there, to help move the needle a little bit. Maybe I can. I think I can.”
There’s also the thrill, he said, of knowing that others are hearing you, seeing his comments posted on the website, highlighted with that gold sticker as a special comment.
“Oh yeah,” Rozenblit said, seeing one of his comments highlighted by a gold sticker. “I want these.”