Let's play a game called "Guess when this happened." I'll quote from an actual news story that appeared in this paper. You guess which year it happened. Ready? Here's the first one:

"The state's new registration law, which for the first time required citizens to declare their party affiliation before voting, is being widely blamed for prompting voters to stay home."

Think you've got it? Here's the second one:

"Utah education systems should aim toward a 'professional salary schedule' for teachers, local presidents of the Utah Education Association resolved Saturday in a meeting. ...

Finally, I present this gem:

"German alien women of religious denominations that require their women members to wear any peculiar headdress will be allowed to have their photographs for their registration cards taken with such headdress. ..."

By now you must have figured out these are trick questions, or I wouldn't be asking them. The first quote easily could have come from any primary election since 2002, when the Republican Party in Utah required people to register with the party before voting for one of its candidates.

Actually, it was published Sept. 14, 1966. That year, the state required primary voters to register by party, too. Then, as now, many Utahns took offense and stayed home. The difference is the requirement was abandoned later in the '60s, whereas today's state GOP won't budge.

The second quote might have been published at any time in the state's history. Teachers tend to think they have just now been saddled with low pay, but it has been a continual complaint through the ages. If I'd finished the quote, you would have been better able to guess its age. The meeting took place at the Newhouse Hotel in Salt Lake City, and the goal was to set a $2,400 minimum annual salary for new teachers and a $4,000 maximum for those with 16 years of service. It was published Feb. 5, 1950.

The third one is tricky. The wording is a bit awkward, but the topic is as fresh as a recent decision in France to ban Muslim head scarves from schools, or an Inter Press Service story last February about efforts in Turkey to lift a ban on head scarves at universities. It might have come from modern Germany, where Muslim immigrants are a source of tensions.

In fact, it was published on June 13, 1918, and originated from a Germany in the final throes of World War I.

What is the point of this game? People are fond of quoting the philosopher George Santayana, who said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

That is baloney. People rarely actually repeat the past because the context keeps changing. In truth, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to treat every issue as if it were just invented, without the benefit of knowing how previous generations handled similar problems. They also are more likely to be snookered by con men, feebleminded pundits and politicians.

This is particularly true during an election season. It is true at a time when America is facing a war on terror quite similar to the one against anarchists and other "terrorists" a century ago, or when politicians are faced with situations similar to those in 1929, without any apparent appreciation for the mistakes that were made back then — mistakes that prolonged the economic downturn for a full decade.

We live in the Information Age. Vast archives are as close as the nearest keyboard, as are a few unbiased sources that can unravel the spinmeisters. Those who wish to cut through the cacophony of Internet carnival barkers and get to the truth can do so in many different ways. But it's up to us to do so.

OK, just for kicks, I'll give you one more:

"We as a nation cannot afford to overspend our federal income, and the nations who are our friends cannot afford to have us do it, either. Because if we do, we threaten the soundness of the American dollar ... the key and the anchor and the foundation rock of whatever good money there now is in the world."

That was from an editorial published Jan. 22, 1950. It could have been a reaction to stories last week on the mounting federal deficit. Isn't the past fun?


Jay Evensen is editor of the Deseret News editorial page. E-mail: even@desnews.com