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Rex Smith

Rex Smith, the co-host of The Media Project on WAMC, is the former editor of the Times Union of Albany and The Record in Troy. His weekly digital report, The Upstate American, is published by Substack."

  • It was President Jimmy Carter’s second attorney general, a lawyer from Peekskill named Benjamin Civiletti, who made the decision that government must shut down whenever there is a so-called “lapse of appropriation.” And so it has: 22 times since the current budget process was enacted in 1976, we’ve had a situation where a political impasse on Capitol Hill has forced the government to curtail activities and services – to close down non-essential operations and furlough workers. Only public officials whose jobs involve the safety of human life or the protection of property – like air-traffic controllers – can keep working if the government shuts down. That’s the Civiletti rule, and it’s still in effect.
  • So as we near the end of the Major League Baseball regular season, it seems the new rules have gone down just fine. You know, the pitch clock and bigger bases and such haven’t changed the sport, really – baseball is still about throwing a ball, hitting a ball and catching a ball. There are no tackles and blocks, no headers, and nobody aims a jab at a jaw. That happens in other sports. There are rules against that in baseball.
  • So here we are, just after Labor Day, meaning that we’ve just passed the prime vacation season. Which gives me a chance to tell you my favorite story about vacations. It involves a guy named Arthur Brisbane, who is largely forgotten now, but who was perhaps the most influential journalist in America in the 20th century’s first decades. Brisbane was both the editor of the New York Journal and the author of a syndicated column that was read by 20 million people. One day his boss, William Randolph Hearst, gratefully offered him a six-month sabbatical. Hearst wrote that it was “in recognition of your outstanding work.”
  • Do you prefer Dolly Parton’s version, or Whitney Houston’s, of “I Will Always Love You,” the classic pop ballad? How about choosing between Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” and the original, recorded by Otis Redding? Or maybe you’d like to compare The Byrds’ tight harmonies and jangly guitar rendering of “Mr. Tambourine Man” with Bob Dylan’s first take on the song a few years before.
  • At a fire department garage in northern California, there’s a light bulb that has burned continuously for more than 120 years. Why have your bulbs at home been burning out while what’s known as the Livermore Bulb has kept shining? It’s because a handful of powerful men decided a century ago that light bulbs should be made worse — that is, less long-lasting and dependable.
  • Ask an American to name the first European settlement in what became the United States, and you’re likely to hear about the Pilgrims’ landing at Plymouth Rock in 1620, or maybe the English colony established in Jamestown in 1607. Both answers are wrong. But don’t feel bad if those were your choices. Even most history professors won’t be able to name the place.
  • Truthful information is the lifeblood of democracy: It’s only with a grasp of what’s true that voters can make good choices when they cast ballots. And it is a blatant challenge to truth that has propelled us to a crisis in America: our most recent former president indicted for trying to overturn the will of voters and hold onto power. Our nation is imperiled by lies.
  • If we’re not so susceptible these days to delusion in our sightseeing, why are we tolerant of the proliferation of falsehood as an instrument of governing? We’ve got to stop it. The stakes are a lot higher than the few bucks you might have wasted at a tourist trap.
  • My side gig as a musician took off when I was 5 years old. That’s when I confidently sang “A Teenager’s Romance,” Ricky Nelson’s big hit of 1957, before about three dozen relatives at the annual family reunion. I think I must’ve killed it.
  • In uniform, I never got beyond Wolf, which is the next-to-bottom rank in the Cub Scouts. But many years later, I did study leadership at the Army War College, and from some smart faculty members from Northwestern and Penn and Harvard business schools, courtesy of the big media company I used to work for.