Like It's 1996

Remember the mid-'90s? Come on, it wasn't all that long ago.

A lot of Big Things have come -- and gone -- since then: Monica Lewinsky, the dot-com bubble, the rise and fall of Enron. Other big changes have been more permanent: three huge, expensive sports palaces built by Houston taxpayers; a quantum leap in the hassles of taking a commercial flight; a huge crater in the ground where the country's two tallest buildings once stood.

A lot of changes, though, have been subtler -- our air is cleaner, if statistics can be believed; our current computers would have dazzled even a hard-core techie back then; we're surrounded by more and more -- and ever larger -- SUVs and monster trucks.

There's no one way to sum up the zeitgeist of any given time, of course, but we arbitrarily picked 1996 and took a look at a varied bunch of categories, comparing them to the present day. This, then, is how they've changed from the days of "911 Is a Joke" to when 9/11 is a pretext for war.

Category 1996 2002-3

Number of jobless nationally

In Houston

7.3 million


8.6 million


Defense budget
(not including any Iraq war)
$266 billion $369 billion
Barrel of oil $26.80 $33.91
Hot reality-TV show Rescue 411 Joe Millionaire
What Ozzy was up to Starting the soon-defunct Ozz records Being a cultural icon
Stock price for Northrop Grumman (defense contractor) High for 1996: 84.25 High for 2002: 135.00
Stock price for American Airlines Low for 1996: 74.88 Low for 2002: 3.01
Average appraised value of a Harris County home $77,713 $119,183
Avg. property tax bill $1,580 $2,695
Americans “not at all worried” they or a relative will be a terrorist victim 27 percent 24 percent

Americans who use a computer at least “occasionally”

Of those, the percentage who go online

59 percent

21 percent

74 percent

66 percent

Typical computer 133 megahertz processor, 1 gigabyte hard drive, 32 megabytes RAM, $2,000 2,350 megahertz, 80 gigabyte hard drive, 512 megabytes RAM, $1,250
Hot SUV Ford Expedition (14 mpg city/20 hwy) Hummer 2 (8 mpg city/10 hwy)
New SUVs/trucks sold in Harris County 92,500 (42% of total vehicles sold) 143,500 (53% of total)
Presidents/VPs who ducked Vietnam service 1 2
Music cassettes sold in the United States 101.9 million 16.7 million
Pirated CDs seized (CD-Rs) 87 (January-June 1997) 2.8 million
Houston’s home fields Oilers: Astrodome
Astros: Astrodome
Rockets: The Summit
Texans: Reliant Stadium
Astros: Minute Maid Park (née Enron Field)
Rockets: Your-Name-Here Arena (in Oct.)
Congressional bills dealing with “profiling” 15 155
Wiretaps approved by state courts 568 1005 (in 2001)
Starbucks stores in the United States 1,015 5,886
Carcinogens released into Houston’s air 3.9 million pounds 2.8 million pounds
Days the Houston area exceeded federal ozone pollution standards 28 26
Harris County’s State House delegation 14 Democrats, 11 Republicans 11 Democrats, 14 Republicans
Top box office hits
(third January weekend)
1) From Dusk Till Dawn
2) Mr. Holland’s Opus
3) 12 Monkeys
1) Kangaroo Jack
2) National Security
3) Just Married


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