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Now there is W. Joseph Campbell’s “1995: The Year the Future Began” (California), a worthy, informative, and sporting attempt to convince us that the world we live in was crucially shaped by things that happened in 1995. (Campbell insists that there is a distinction between “the x that changed the world” books and his own “the year the future began” book, although it’s hard to grasp.)

 

The book is not completely persuasive, but that’s not important. None of the “x that changed the world” books are completely persuasive, for the reason that all dots have dots of their own. Unless you count God, there is no uncaused cause. Even the butterfly that started the hurricane flapped its wings for a reason. Whatever happened in 33 or 1959 or 1995 never would have happened unless certain things had happened in 32, 1958, and 1994. And so on, back into the protozoic slime. All points are turning points.

All points might not be tipping points. But that’s not what these books are arguing. They are seeking to confer before-and-after explanatory power on a single thing, or on what happened on a single date on the calendar. We can doubt the premise. But what the melodramatic titles are really and usefully doing is drawing our attention to something—pepper or 1959—that we might otherwise have ignored. Do melodramatic titles also sell books? So what if they do? We’re in favor of selling books.

Campbell’s book draws our attention to the nineteen-nineties. And he’s right when he points out that the decade is pretty much ignored. Maybe this is because many Americans remember the nineteen-nineties as a tranquil time or maybe it’s because the decade is wedged between two periods that attract a lot of industrial-strength historical notice: the Reagan era and the “age of terror.”

How tranquil were the nineteen-nineties? “Our Long National Nightmare of Peace and Prosperity Is Finally Over” was the headline in the Onion the month George W. Bush took office, January, 2001. His Administration took care of that in a hurry. In fact, though, the nineteen-nineties were not so peaceful. Dozens of wars were under way around the world. It’s just that, especially while Bill Clinton was President, the United States was involved in very few of them.

It was, however, genuinely a time of prosperity. In 1993, the year Clinton became President, median household income in the United States was $48,884. Six years later, it was $56,080, and the federal government ran a $125.6-billion surplus. There was an even bigger surplus in 2000, and ever since 2001 the federal government has been in the red. In 2013, median household income was $51,939, and the budget deficit was $680 billion (which was small by post-Clinton standards).

 

The stock market began the nineteen-nineties with the Dow at 2,753. At the end of trading in 1999, the Dow was at 11,497. Middle-class Americans tend to feel that life is good when their 401(k)s are robust. But the quality of public life in the nineteen-nineties, as measured by the headlines, was actually somewhat sad and tawdry. Names in the news: Tonya Harding, Rodney King, Ted Kaczynski, Lorena Bobbitt, Amy Fisher, Heidi Fleiss, Susan Smith, Clarence Thomas and his can of Coke. The movie of the decade was “Titanic.” The No. 1 pop star was Mariah Carey. In baseball, it was the steroid era. (In basketball, there was Michael Jordan, so that much was good.)

The nineteen-nineties was Columbine, the Atlanta Olympics backpack bombing, the World Trade Center truck bombing, and the siege in Waco. Elsewhere around the globe, there was a civil war in Somalia, genocide in Rwanda, and ethnic cleansing in the place formerly known as Yugoslavia. Chechnya was at war with Russia, and a civil war began in Sierra Leone that lasted eleven years. The decade ended with the worldwide Y2K hysteria, a nutty cocktail of digital overthink and Luddite millennialism.

“Don’t ask, don’t tell,” the phrase coined to sum up the Clinton Administration’s policy of resolving the issue of gays in the military by resolving to leave the issue unresolved, seems a fitting slogan for the era. It was a period of loose ends, of isolated eruptions, spasmodic violence, and one-off scandals. Nothing went with anything else. This is because there was no context to hold the headlines together. There was no Cold War, no civil-rights movement, no Vietnam or oil embargo or Reagan revolution, no catchy new mode of music or art or fashion to be forever and fondly associated with the times. Clinton was the obvious person to give the decade an imprint, but he turned out to be the protagonist in yet one more set of depressing headlines about behavior that made no sense.

 

Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky is one of the five things that happened in 1995 that Campbell believes opened the door to the future. The others are the O. J. Simpson trial, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Dayton negotiations that settled the Bosnian war, and the rise and fall of the Internet browser Netscape Navigator.

The list certainly reflects the inchoate spirit of the age. But that is not Campbell’s point. His point is that our contemporary (American) world started with a White House sex scandal; the murder trial of a former football star; a set of agreements hammered out among foreign heads of state on an Air Force base in Ohio; a loner who thought that blowing up a federal office building was justified on political principles; and a computer program that ultimately lost the “browser wars” to Microsoft. You have to admire a historian who proposes to extract reverse-prediction gold from that material.

Campbell’s specialty—he teaches in the School of Communication at American University—is the history of journalism. He is the author of the indispensable “Getting It Wrong: Ten of the Greatest Misreported Stories in American Journalism,” a debunking of exaggerated or fallacious stories that were repeated so often they became what he calls “media myths.” These range from William Randolph Hearst’s promise to “furnish the war” with Spain, in 1897, to the Jessica Lynch story, in 2003, and the coverage of Hurricane Katrina. So “1995” is devoted less to the five world-changing events of that year than to the way they were covered, interpreted, and handed down to us.

What was the lasting importance of the O. J. Simpson trial, which began on January 24, 1995, and concluded on October 3rd? Was it the demonstration that a rich defendant can lawyer up and beat a criminal prosecution? That hardly seems news. A lot of people have thought that the importance of the Simpson trial had to do with race. When the verdict was announced, many white Americans were surprised that a jury could acquit a man who had motive, opportunity, and no alibi, and whose blood appeared to be all over the place. Most people consider it highly unusual for their blood to be anywhere outside their bodies. Black Americans tended to be surprised (or not) that white Americans could be surprised that the case of a black defendant might be mishandled by the cops. The trial was therefore taken to expose the insidious role that race plays in the law-enforcement and criminal-justice systems, and the response to the verdict to reveal a deep split between white and black views on the state of racial relations.

 

Campbell thinks that the significance of the Simpson trial had almost nothing to do with race. He thinks that Simpson was acquitted because, well, he was a rich defendant who lawyered up and beat the rap. Campbell doesn’t put it this way, but if Simpson had been a white sports celebrity he would very likely also have got off—and although some people might have been upset by the outcome, no one would have been astonished. The Simpson verdict was an anomaly because Simpson was an anomaly, a wealthy, unthreatening, well-connected entertainment star who happened to be African-American. In his case, money and fame bought him a huddle of high-priced lawyers, folks who don’t chase just any ambulance.

The day the Simpson verdict was announced—the judge, Lance Ito, had held the verdict overnight, in part to insure that the announcement would receive maximum coverage—was an interesting moment in the history of American race relations. Campbell doesn’t dispute this. What he disputes is that it was a moment of enduring impact. He says that the trial “dented but did not reverse” a trend in public-opinion polls showing that both white and black Americans believed that racial relations were improving. Simpson’s acquittal was a blip, not a turning point.

So what does Campbell think the enduring significance of the Simpson trial was? It established the credibility of DNA evidence. That is not the first thing that jumps to mind. After all, the DNA evidence against Simpson was ripped apart by one of his lawyers, Barry Scheck. How could this have made people more comfortable with the use of DNA evidence in criminal trials? Campbell argues that Scheck never challenged the validity of DNA evidence per se. He only challenged the handling of that evidence by police investigators. The implication of Scheck’s argument—that Simpson’s samples were corrupted—was that properly handled samples would have yielded admissible results. Which is, in fact, what Barry Scheck believes.

This is sideways history. A relatively technical courtroom exchange has unexpected consequences for the criminal-justice system—and only because the defendant happened to be famous and the crime spectacular, which meant that the trial was televised and millions of people watched it. Like a lot of sideways history, the theory is provocative and a little deflating, especially for someone who knows that, no matter how productively he spends the rest of his life, he will never make back the time he spent following the Simpson trial. Such a person would hope that the experience held a grander lesson than this.

Much of “1995” is sideways history, extracting unintended or unexpected long-term consequences from apparently isolated and eccentric events. But Campbell’s discussion of Netscape Navigator and the Internet is an exception. There he makes a tipping-point argument.

 

Netscape Navigator was a browser created by a group led by a twenty-four-year-old named Marc Andreessen, who was described in Newsweek as “the über-super-wunder whiz kid of cyberspace.” The company’s I.P.O., on August 9, 1995, was a huge success. Five million shares went on sale on Nasdaq, at twenty-eight dollars a share; they closed the day at $58.25. The Times called it “the best opening day for a stock in Wall Street history for an issue of its size.”

A little more than two weeks later, Microsoft released Windows 95, backed by what was reported to be a three-hundred-million-dollar marketing campaign, along with its own browser, Internet Explorer 1.0, and the browser wars were on. Netscape, of course, was quickly and easily outmuscled by Microsoft. In 1998, Netscape was acquired by AOL, and it faded into insignificance. (Although, Campbell points out, a nonprofit venture that Netscape had set up, Mozilla, later produced the popular open-source browser Firefox.)

Campbell thinks that the Netscape I.P.O. woke the world up to the Internet. It “brought the Web into popular consciousness,” he says; it “demonstrated that the Web could be a place to make fortunes fast.” This does seem a lesson of lasting impact, although no one wants to invent anything so complicated as a browser or an operating system anymore. Today, everyone dreams of inventing an app with a couple of friends from college, selling it to Google for a hundred mil, and kicking back for the remainder of life.

Possibly the Netscape I.P.O. was not what tipped the Web into mainstream life. But it was arguably part of a critical mass of Internet phenomena that emerged at almost the same moment. Campbell estimates that in 1995 between twenty and forty million people used the Internet. That number seems the key to what happened: twenty to forty million people was just enough for entrepreneurs to figure that it might be worthwhile launching a boat or two in the direction of this unmapped continent. It might turn out to be Greenland—but what if it was India!

The predecessors of Craigslist, eBay, and Salon all started up in 1995. Yahoo! was incorporated that year, and the New York Times Web site began appearing. Java was introduced, by Sun Microsystems, in 1995. And 1995 was the début year of Amazon and of the wiki (which Campbell reports is Hawaiian for “quick”). In an industry that has tremendous turnover, and in which capital seems to chase every new idea the moment it’s whiteboarded, the longevity of these early sites is impressive.

 

But what kept them in business was the transformation of the computer from a place of work into a place of recreation. Ideally, if you are selling things, you want people to be somewhere you can find them, and to be there for reasons other than to be sold something. People read magazines for the stories, not the advertisements; they watch television for the shows, not the commercials.

In the beginning, what got people to turn on their computers during leisure hours was the computer game. Gamers were a reliable, even addicted, audience, but they were not a huge audience. What transformed the Internet into the virtual “place” for almost every kind of transaction was social media. The big mover there was Facebook, a Web site that people would apparently go online to check out every time they had a spare nanosecond. And Facebook wasn’t launched until 2004. A turning point. The Web site that changed the world. Someone is probably writing a book about it right now. 

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Vintage Report

Bordeaux / An excellent year for both sides of the Gironde and just the vintage that Bordeaux needed after the rain affected vintages of the previous 4 years. A mild winter and early spring was followed by a dry, hot summer. It did rain in early September but the rain was less than in the previous 4 vintages and, crucially, there was perfect weather from September 20th through to October.

Quality is high across all levels and appellations, with the Merlot-dominated wines of St-Emilion andPomerol being particularly successful. The best wines are very ripe and display good concentration and structure.

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Vintage Report

Napa Valley 1995 / A year of weather extremes marked the 1995 vintage, which saw winter floods, spring rains and a June hailstorm. The dramatic weather events got the growing season off to a late start, and although summer heat pushed grapes to maturity, harvest was late and yields were down. Moderate Indian Summer temperatures permitted extended hang time for red varieties, important to the development of rich flavors and deep color. Overall, vintners characterized the year as late, light and luscious.

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Vintage Report

Burgundy Vintage by Leflaive: Following a very mild winter and a rainy spring, flowering for Chardonnay was early at the beginning of June. Cool temperatures at that time caused partial flowering and low yields (20-25 hl/ha). 
The fine weather and heat of the summer made up for the spring delay, enabling good ripening in August and September. 
Given the small volumes involved, the harvest went very quickly, starting on 25 September and continuing in sunshine for 5 days. 
The cool nights preserved the healthy state of the grapes. The wines are structured, solid and well constituted, with exceptional aromatic intensity. 

They will need waiting for, because the 1995 vintage is definitely among those Burgundian vintages with great wines for ageing.

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Italy Vintage Report by Tb: 1995 marked the beginning of a series of strong vintages. Indeed, 1995 itself was a year that saw tribulations transformed into triumphs. Spring started off nicely with warm weather only to turn rainy during the blooming period, which effectively stopped fertilisation at its halfway point. An extremely hot July made a dramatic transition into a chilly August. Excess moisture also led to the spread of mold-related diseases. This moisture, however, was duly evaporated by the Indian summer that followed, thus saving the vintage. In Piedmont August hailstorms destroyed as much as 70% of plantations in some areas. Tuscany was spared from the hail and the hot topic of discussion that autumn was the 45-day stretch without rain just before the harvest.

Wines from this vintage are very long-lasting and still require further bottle maturation to reach their full potential. In my opinion, the Chianti Classicos should be drunk right now, even though they could do with a bit more maturation.

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1995 Rhône Vintage Report by Jaboulet  / An Indian summer follows the harvest. The autumn, however, begins with rain and at the end we drift towards a mix of hot and cold air, and we see the first frosts at the beginning of December.

The mild weather continues until January, when the temperature drops below zero, announcing the arrival of winter. At the end of January the rain falls and many areas are flooded. February is very mild (15°C), but the frost and the snow arrive at the end of the month. It is too mild a winter where we are, and wet as normal, as we have been spared the flooding.
1995 lacks a good frost to cleanse the earth.

Up to the 24th April we have cool nights and magnificent days : the drought makes itself felt.
In late April, the rain appears, on and off until May. The spring is too erratic; not enough rain at the beginning; lack of warmth at the end.
The summer is very hot; we can see crop failures in the vineyards. The rain comes back just before the harvest, then the fine weather returns. We harvest very healthy grapes, but in small quantities. 1995 will be a good vintage for both reds and whites. This wine will be much sought after.

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The best wines of the 1995 vintage

Name Tb Producer Location
1 Dom Pérignon P2 96.9 Moët & Chandon Champagne, France
2 Cristal Rosé 96.4 Louis Roederer Champagne, France
3 Bryant Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 96.4 Bryant Family Vineyard Napa Valley, United States
4 Musigny 96.4 Domaine Georges Roumier Burgundy, France
5 Richebourg 96.3 Anne Gros Burgundy, France
6 Screaming Eagle 96.3 Screaming Eagle Napa Valley, United States
7 Araujo Eisele Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 96.3 Araujo Estate Napa Valley, United States
8 Château Haut-Brion Blanc 96.0 Château Haut-Brion Bordeaux, France
9 Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon 95.9 Shafer Vineyards Napa Valley, United States
10 Chevalier-Montrachet 95.8 Domaine D'Auvenay Burgundy, France
11 Corton-Charlemagne 95.8 Coche Dury Burgundy, France
12 Chambertin 95.8 Domaine Armand Rousseau Burgundy, France
13 Barolo Monfortino Riserva 95.7 Giacomo Conterno Piedmont, Italy
14 The Bribe 95.5 Sine Qua Non California, United States
15 Côte-Rôtie La Landonne 95.5 E.Guigal Rhône, France
16 Blanc de Blancs Vinothèque 95.5 Palmer & Co Champagne, France
17 Eisele Vineyard Syrah 95.5 Araujo Estate Napa Valley, United States
18 Maya 95.5 Dalla Valle Napa Valley, United States
19 Bonnes Mares Grand Cru 95.5 Domaine Georges Roumier Burgundy, France
20 La Grande Année 95.5 Bollinger Champagne, France
21 Dom Pérignon P2 Rosé 95.4 Moët & Chandon Champagne, France
22 Chambertin Clos de Bèze 95.3 Domaine Armand Rousseau Burgundy, France
23 Pingus 95.3 Dominio de Pingus Ribera del Duero, Spain
24 Vintage Collection 95.3 Palmer & Co Champagne, France
25 Dom Pérignon Oenothèque 95.2 Moët & Chandon Champagne, France
26 Blanc de Millenaires Vinothèque 95.0 Charles Heidsieck Champagne, France
27 Krug Clos d'Ambonnay 95.0 Krug Champagne, France
28 Cabernet Merlot 95.0 Cullen Wines Margaret River, Australia
29 Blanc de Blancs Collection 95.0 Veuve Devaux Champagne, France
30 Ojai Syrah Roll Ranch Vineyard 95.0 Ojai Vineyards California, United States
31 The Armagh 95.0 Jim Barry Wines Clare Valley, Australia
32 Herb Lamb Cabernet Sauvignon 95.0 Colgin Cellars Napa Valley, United States
33 Kiedricher Gräfenberg Riesling TBA 95.0 Weingut Robert Weil Rheingau, Germany
34 Bâtard-Montrachet 95.0 Domaine Étienne Sauzet Burgundy, France
35 L'Eglise-Clinet 95.0 Château L'Eglise-Clinet Bordeaux, France
36 La Grande Année rosé 95.0 Bollinger Champagne, France
37 Brunello di Montalcino 95.0 Soldera Montalcino, Italy
38 Rüdesheimer Berg Schlossberg Riesling Beerenauslese 95.0 Kloster Eberbach Rheingau, Germany
39 La Landonne 95.0 Domaine Rostaing Rhône, France
40 Mumm de Cramant 95.0 G.H. Mumm Champagne, France
41 L'Ermita 95.0 Álvaro Palacios Catalonia, Spain
42 Steinberger Riesling Auslese 95.0 Kloster Eberbach Rheingau, Germany
43 Montrachet 95.0 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Burgundy, France
44 Chardonnay Napa Valley 95.0 Pahlmeyer Napa Valley, United States
45 Steinberger Riesling Spätlese 95.0 Kloster Eberbach Rheingau, Germany
46 Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos 95.0 Royal Tokaji Wine Company Tokay, Hungary
47 San Leonardo 94.9 Tenuta San Leonardo Trentino , Italy
48 Grand Vintage Collection 94.8 Moët & Chandon Champagne, France
49 Côte-Rôtie La Mouline 94.8 E.Guigal Rhône, France
50 Pétrus 94.8 Château Pétrus Pomerol, France
51 The Dead Arm Shiraz 94.7 d'Arenberg South Australia, Australia
52 Le Pin 94.6 Le Pin Bordeaux, France
53 Dom Pérignon Rosé 94.6 Moët & Chandon Champagne, France
54 Chevalier-Montrachet 94.5 Domaine Michel Niellon Burgundy, France
55 Comtes de Champagne Rosé 94.5 Taittinger Champagne, France
56 Montrachet 94.5 Domaine Ramonet Burgundy, France
57 La Turque 94.5 E.Guigal Rhône, France
58 Riesling Spätlese Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle 94.3 Weingut Hermann Dönnhoff Nahe, Germany
59 d'Yquem 94.3 Château d'Yquem Bordeaux, France
60 Château Margaux 94.3 Château Margaux Bordeaux, France
61 Blanc des Millénaires 94.2 Charles Heidsieck Champagne, France
62 Harlan Estate 94.1 Harlan Estate Napa Valley, United States
63 Dom Pérignon Oenothèque Rosé 94.1 Moët & Chandon Champagne, France
64 Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 94.0 Robert Mondavi Winery Napa Valley, United States
65 Rosé vintage 94.0 Charles Heidsieck Champagne, France
66 Clos de l'Obac 94.0 Costers del Siurana Catalonia, Spain
67 Erdener Treppchen Riesling Auslese 94.0 Joh.Jos.Christoffel Erben Mosel, Germany
68 Grand Siècle 94.0 Laurent-Perrier Champagne, France
69 Chevalier Montrachet Demoiselles 94.0 Maison Louis Latour Burgundy, France
70 Grace Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 94.0 Grace Family Vineyard Saint Helena, CA, United States
71 Meursault Charmes 94.0 Domaine des Comtes Lafon Burgundy, France
72 Baron de Chirel Reserva 94.0 Marqués de Riscal Rioja, Spain
73 Bâtard-Montrachet 94.0 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Burgundy, France
74 Chevalier-Montrachet 94.0 Domaine Leflaive Burgundy, France
75 Richebourg 94.0 Meo Camuzet Burgundy, France
76 Messorio 94.0 Le Macchiole Bolgheri, Italy
77 Richebourg 94.0 Domaine Leroy Burgundy, France
78 RunRig 94.0 Torbreck Barossa Valley, Australia
79 Astralis 94.0 Claredon Hills South-Australia, Australia
80 Bonnes Mares Grand Cru 94.0 Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé Burgundy, France
81 Clos-de-la-Roche 94.0 Domaine Dujac Burgundy, France
82 Pinot Noir Hirsch Vineyard 94.0 Williams Selyem Winery Sonoma Valley, United States
83 Salon 94.0 Salon Champagne, France
84 Château Climens 94.0 Château Climens Bordeaux, France
85 Clos des Goisses L.V. 93.9 Philipponnat Champagne, France
86 Comtes de Champagne 93.8 Taittinger Champagne, France
87 R.D. Bollinger 93.8 Bollinger Champagne, France
88 Proprietary Red 93.8 Pahlmeyer Napa Valley, United States
89 Hommage à Jacques Perrin 93.7 Château de Beaucastel Rhône, France
90 Château Haut-Brion 93.6 Château Haut-Brion Bordeaux, France
91 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 93.5 Robert Mondavi Winery Napa Valley, United States
92 Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste 93.5 Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste Bordeaux, France
93 Vosne-Romanée Les Beaux Monts 93.5 Domaine Leroy Burgundy, France
94 Grosset Gaia 93.5 Grosset Wines South Australia, Australia
95 La Mission Haut Brion 93.5 Château La Mission Haut-Brion Bordeaux, France
96 Signature Rosé’ 93.5 Jacquesson Champagne, France
97 Amour de Deutz Brut 93.5 Deutz Champagne, France
98 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 93.4 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande Bordeaux, France
99 Krug Vintage 93.3 Krug Champagne, France
100 Dominus 93.3 Dominus Estate Napa Valley, United States

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