Years that end in ’94 are seldom-vintage ones. The American Revolution began in 1776; the French Revolution in 1789, the Russian in 1917, and Elvis Presley died –or went somewhere — in 1977. By those standards, 1994’s high point — Republicans winning Congress — seems unexciting.

But big events don’t tell the whole story. History is the product of countless unseen changes. As Leo Tolstoy said, “The movement of peoples is not produced by the exercise of power … but by the activity of all men taking part in the event.” More particularly, mega trends are determined by how individuals behave towards their environment — which not only includes bobcats, bees and trees but also themselves and other people.

So, to find the real significance of 1994, let’s recall some small happenings:

In January, a National School Boards Association survey found “an epidemic of violence” in schools — 82 percent of the districts said it had increased in the last five years. Later, the National Adult Literacy Survey reported that 90 million American adults suffered reading deficiencies and 20 million were completely illiterate– up from 3 million in 1930. Meanwhile, Congress passed “Goals 2000” legislation, mandating “Outcomes Based Education.” This means that rather than teaching hard stuff, like reading, schools will instruct kids how to conform and to “use the environment responsibly.

In March, the 1934 snapshot of the Loch Ness monster was revealed to be a hoax, and by summer, a Gallup Youth Survey would report that 76 percent of teenagers think angels exist.

In April, the Fund for Animals issued a press release, calling “on hunters to clean up (their) image.” In November, the Associated Press reported, “Environmental groups struggle to keep members” and announced that Sierra Club was cutting its staff 10 percent after losing $2.9 million over the last four years.

In June, the Environmental Protection Agency gave $500,000 to Utah State University to find ways to reduce bovine flatulence. Letting wind, says the EPA, pollutes the air with methane, a gas it blames for global warming, even though rising temperatures have neither happened nor been proved to be imminent. Anyway, by November, Australian scientists reported they had already discovered such a valuable anti gas-passing compound.

Last summer, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service advertised a job vacancy, saying that “mentally challenged are strongly urged to apply,” and the Forest Service sought to fill a vacancy by announcing, “only unqualified applicants will be considered.” The same month, the Forest Service declared three California fairy shrimp as endangered, while — perhaps coincidentally — the Merit Systems Protection Board reported federal employees were happier than they used to be. But free markets still valued smart people, and in June, The Washington Post reported “Sperm Banks Seeking Ivy League Deposits.”

In July, the National Center for Health Statistics reported that one-third of Americans are overweight. In October, a poll found most people feel they have realized “the American Dream” but are pessimistic about the future.

Also in July, the EPA announced it favored ethanol as an additive in alternative fuels – a decision later postponed because of an oil-industry lawsuit. But what the EPA preferred in gas it didn’t like in bread – the baking of which produces ethanol. Facing a federal mandate, by September, 33 states had declared the odor of baking bread a pollutant.

Several times during the year, the EPA “leaked” non-peer reviewed alarms about chlorine. But the folks in Latin America had already learned not to take these warnings seriously. By 1991, several communities there, heeding EPA warnings, had stopped chlorinating drinking water. Immediately afterwards, a cholera epidemic spread through 21 of these countries, infecting a million people and causing over 8,500 deaths.

Meanwhile, countries such as Bosnia and Somalia also faced real environmental crises -namely war, poverty and disease. The once-fecund Georges Bank fishing grounds off Canada became a virtual Dead Sea. And the anchovy-eating rainbow jellyfish had devastated salty harvests of this antipasto delicacy in the Black Sea.

In sum, in 1994, Americans grew fatter, dumber, happier (especially if they worked for government), more superstitious and less optimistic. Federal agencies were obsessed with diversity but treated intelligence like a disease. Officials fretted about nonexistent threats and ignored real ones.

That was the country’s portrait in 1994: Its problems were neither political nor environmental but cultural. Main Street was as much to blame as Washington. That means the Republicans’ “Contract with America” is unlikely to change things much. But when things are eventually turned around – and they will be – that shall mark the real year to remember.


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