Those Were the Days

     Back in the days before our newspapers were owned by three competing corporations (Bad Inc., Worse Corp., and the Worst LLC) I used to edit the damn things.
     Hemingway said journalism was a great education for a writer, “if you get out in time.”
     News editors get so much information so fast: We get so hardened to the daily slaughter of innocents that the dead people barely matter anymore. It’s not a question of what the news is – it’s just a question of where to play it.
     Of course we care. But if we cared even a little too much, we’d be useless – to our bosses, and to you.
     As a newspaper editor, I took my pleasures where I could. I invented weather. On orders from the publisher, I wrote a gardening column – until the publisher read it.
     Much of a news editor’s job is fitting things in: Cut this story here; fit that one in there. Three inches on the latest idiocy from Kansas.
     All newspapers buy packaged “news features” to cram into a box on Page A2: Celebrity News, though they call it something else. “What You Need to Know Today,” perhaps. Oh, I beg your pardon, I believe that’s a new feature from The New York Times.
     My favorite part of posting the box on A2 was editing “Today in History,” from The Associated Press.
     It’s a great feature, though meaningless. It gives you a look at history, though Feb. 5 has nothing to do with it.
     I wished could comment on Today in History back then, though I didn’t have the time, and it would have been pointless anyway. But now that I have the time:
     On Feb. 5, 1849, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s first class met at the Madison Female Academy.
     Isn’t that a great name for a college? The Female Academy? U.S. teachers were abominably paid, prohibited from getting married, leaving their homes after dark or smoking until high schools were set up in the early 20th century. A shortage of female teachers forced us to hire men. So we started paying teachers better. A little bit better.
     On Feb. 5, 1885, King Leopold II of Belgium established the Congo as his personal possession.
     Cool, huh! So Leopold was a king and a corporation at once! Plus, he was in charge of the taxes! Eat your hearts out, Koch brothers!
     On Feb. 5, 1900, the United States and the United Kingdom signed a treaty for the Panama Canal.
     Wow! And Panama belonged to Colombia, which didn’t have to sign anything at all! Talk about “government efficiencies”!
     On Feb. 5, 1917, Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1917, over President Woodrow Wilson’s veto. Also known as the Asiatic Barred Zone Act, it forbade immigration from China and Southeast Asia.
     Since Chinese immigrants had finished building our railroads, we deported tens thousands of them to Mexico, which is why Chinese restaurants in Mexicali and Calexico are excellent to this day.
     On Feb. 5, 1958, the Air Force lost a hydrogen bomb off the coast of Savannah, Ga. It’s never been found.
     Heaven help us if the terrorists get it.
     And let us never forget that thanks to an act of Congress, Feb. 5 is National Weatherperson’s Day.
     Happy day, Weatherpersons!

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