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Whatever Happened To...

Whatever happened to Gennifer Flowers? Multi-paper Towns? Joey Buttafuoco? Baseball Cards with Gum? Separation of Church and State? A compendium of those lost but not totally forgotten.
 
 
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If Las Vegas is the graveyard of pop tunesmiths and aging magicians (and it is), then the Internet is the Vegas of everything. No matter how sacred or obscure your pop iconography, somewhere some weedeater with more time on his hands than brains in his head has painstakingly constructed a Web page celebrating the transcendence that is... whatever we were talking about.

And thank God for it!

As the staff of this newspaper sat around the hookah recently, trying to dream up some concept to, yet again, fill these news pages, the reminiscences inevitably began, and then the questions:

What ever happened to...?

For some entrances, we had ready answers. For others, merely speculation. And so our crack team of investigators swung into action! Yes! We would discover the truth! Even if it took an hour!

And sometimes it did. But other times, it took much longer. We endured hardship. We employed every ounce of our professional powers. We came back with the goods. So wonder no more, dear readers: The Advocate presents for your edification and amusement, the fate of many things and people you've probably tried hard to forget.

Celebrities (of sorts)

Pam Dawber

She was Mork's better half on the alien hit series Mork and Mindy. But Pam Dawber's career seemed practically non-existent after the show ended in 1982. Granted, she returned in the sit-com My Sister Sam in 1986, but hasn't been heard from since. But, wait, that's because a deranged stalker killed her, right? Nope. Robert John Bardo killed Dawber's 22-year-old co-star, Rebecca Schaeffer, in 1989 and was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Dawber has had roles in several made-for-TV movies and even an episode of The Twilight Zone. She is married to actor Mark Harmon, who plays orthopedic surgeon Jack McNeil on CBS's Chicago Hope. In real-life, Harmon and Dawber save lives, as well. In 1996, the couple pulled a man from a burning car.

Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker

Praise the Lord, we haven't heard much from the eye-lashed Tammy Faye or her philandering ex-husband, now ex-con, Jim Bakker in a long time. But both of them are still around.

A documentary, The Eyes of Tammy Faye, tracks Tammy Faye from her early days growing up poor, to her finding God and discovering false eyelashes at 16, to her marriage to Bakker and rise as the queen of God TV. Aided by the scandal over hubby Jim's mismanagement of funds and tawdry affair with Jessica Hahn, and abetted by Faye's addiction to painkillers, fellow televangelist Jerry Fallwell ousted the duo from the PTL television network. Faye ended up divorced, estranged from her daughter and struggling to help her drug addicted son.

Born again, she now lives in Palm Springs (her second husband, Roe Messner, is also in jail). In 1994, she co-hosted a syndicated talk show with openly gay actor Jim J. Bullock until her contract was cancelled in 1996. She still has plenty of fans, to whom she gladly dispenses beauty tips such as "Don't ever go out without lipstick...[it] gives you a happy look" and, on the subject of eyelashes, "I put them on one at a time with tweezers, and waterproof glue, that's the secret."

Jim, meanwhile, is still apologizing. Bakker was last heard to be working with his son as an unpaid minister in the City of Angels. He's also turned his hand to writing books, beginning with a lengthy confessional, I Was Wrong.

Do an Internet search for Tammy Faye on in Gene Simmons' "celebrity bedroom" with Phyllis Diller.

John and Lorena Bobbitt

When Lorena Bobbitt, tired of being pushed around by her abusive husband John, decided to take matters into her own hands and cut off his penis, the media leapt on the story. And while it led to all manner of worthy, socially-conscious debates about spousal abuse and what happens when women fight back, that wasn't why everyone kept talking about it. A quick survey of the Internet yields page after page of Bobbitt jokes and little ditties set to the tune of the Beverly Hillbillies. Finding the unhappy former couple, however, proved difficult. At the last media siting, Lorena had divorced John and was back to doing nails at a salon. John Wayne Bobbitt, however, found himself a new career starring in porn flicks. Apparently he felt the need to prove his manhood by demonstrating that his new, improved penis was in working order. He's made two flicks so far, Frankenpenis and John Wayne Bobbitt Uncut, both put out by Leisure Time Communications. "Ever since this whole thing happened, all everybody wants to see is my penis," says Bobbitt. "Now you can!"

Donna Rice

A middle-aged Colorado senator who is a lock for the Democratic presidential nomination. A beautiful blonde model sitting on his lap. He is grinning.

In 1987, that picture of Gary Hart and Donna Rice aboard the boat Monkey Business became ingrained on the American mindset. It ended up scuttling Hart's political career and launched a new genre of journalism: sex investigations. Gennifer Flowers, Monica Lewinsky and all of the Clinton girl toys can trace their roots back to Rice.

What's she been up to? Apparently Rice (now Donna Rice Hughes) turned down Playboy offers and modeled No Excuses jeans and posed in a bathing suit for Life magazine. Then she dabbled in acting. According to one report, she played a part in a play written by Czech president Vaclav Havel, where she was a student besotted with a professor.

Hughes married a computer expert whom she met on the Internet and has rediscovered Christianity. From 1994 until 1999, she served as vice president for Enough is Enough. That group is dedicated to make the Internet "safe for children and families." She's even got a porn-busting book coming out. We're sure it will be pithy.

Gennifer Flowers

While many have wondered what our esteemed President ever saw in Monica Lewinsky, anyone who saw the Penthouse spread of Gennifer Flowers knows what attracted Clinton to this one-time TV news reporter. Flowers looks more like Bubba's type, an attractive blonde who resembles Hillary but without the First Lady's hard edge and sharp wit.

Which isn't to say Flowers doesn't have a sense of humor. When she made an appearance in Hartford at the Auto Show about a year after the then presidential candidate's first sex scandal broke, she was asked what she'd do if Clinton ever called her again. As Clinton was still deep in denial, she cracked that if he ever called her again, she'd just about break her neck running for the tape machine.

Well, now you can hear answering machine recordings of conversations between Flowers and Clinton for yourself, (with Bill urging her to just "deny, deny, deny,") because Flowers is selling them from her Web site, www.genniferflowers.com.

The Web site also offers her albums (she considers music her true calling and mostly makes a living singing cabaret tunes) and her books (she's progressed from the expected kiss-and-tell, and is currently working on another about surviving adversity.)

While Monica is trying to use her notoriety to sell handbags, Flowers has used the publicity to generate nightclub cabaret gigs, talk show bookings and stops on the lecture circuit. (She recently went to Oxford University to give a talk on "Surviving Sex, Power and Propaganda.") Look closely at the latest Woody Harrelson/Antonio Banderas film Play it to the Bone and you'll see Flowers made a cameo appearance in that, too. It seems that bonking Bill had its advantages after all.

Jenny McCarthy

As co-host of MTV's dating show Singled Out from 1995 to 1997, Jenny McCarthy was ubiquitous. She was endlessly photographed and interviewed in magazines that noted her penchant for farting on TV, feted her willingness to be photographed while sitting on the toilet and quoted her saying, "Obviously, I'm not a trained actress, and right now I'll come out and say I'm glad I'm not." (Rolling Stone, 1997). Overnight, this big-boobed blonde became the unofficial leader of a cult for the uncouth with her own show (which flopped). McCarthy also seized the day by getting naked for Playboy and taking a role in the movie The Stupids (type casting?). So where is she now?

MTV seems to specialize in now-you-see-'em, now-you-don't celebrities. (Can you even remember the name of a single VJ from the 1980s, let alone think of one whose gone on to other things?) Like the equally irritating Pauly Shore -- who went on to make some of the worst movies Hollywood has ever turned out -- McCarthy was one of the few who have tried to use their MTV beginnings as a base for other things. She still has an agent, but the biggest event in her life last year was her wedding, which was taped and aired on television in May on a show about celebrity weddings.

Joey Buttafuoco & Amy Fisher

She was the Long Island Lolita. He was an overweight car mechanic. The then-16-year-old Amy Fisher, who was having an affair with Joey Buttafuoco, walked up to the couple's Massapequa home and shot his wife, Mary Jo, in the head. He initially claimed he never had sex with her, but many suspected Buttafuoco told the teenager to kill his wife. Fisher is now celebrating a year of freedom -- she was released from prison last May, seven years before her term was up, but she is on parole until 2003 and is not allowed to drive, drink alcohol or have any contact with Buttafuoco. Fisher is attempting to live a private life. According to a Today Show interview with Matt Lauer after she was released from prison, she is attending college full-time and working in sales full-time, as well.

Buttafuoco is still married to his wife, who championed for Fisher's early release despite the bullet still lodged in her skull. In 1996, he posed, topless, for a full-page ad in Variety, chastising Hollywood for failing to make him a star. Last year, he released a film called The Underground Comedy Movie, a series of racy sketches and parodies. Buttafuoco acted in the film, which also starred Michael Clarke Duncan (The Green Mile), Gena Lee Nolan (Baywatch) and Slash (Guns 'N Roses).

Alf

As all fans no doubt know, Alf's real name is Gordon Shumway; and ALF is an acronym for "alien life form." As introduced in the hit television series in 1986, Alf (made up to look like a bogus sort of pseudo-Muppet) crashed his spaceship into the garage of the Tanner family in LA, and took up residence/refugee status there to elude the "alien task force." It was all played for laughs.

Reports of Alf guest starring on The X-Files so far have proved speculative, at best. Alf has continued his adorable comedic schtick, though, with both cartoon spin-offs and a 1996 TV movie called Project Alf. Currently Alf can be found in reruns on the U.S. cable's Odessy Channel six days per week. He also appears in Germany, Switzerland, Australia and the Ukraine. In fact, according to the fan site at , the Ukraine's ICTV conducted an Alf marathon on March 18, airing 18 episodes in a row from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. Let's see William Shattner top that!

Mr. T

With more than 800,000 hits since its launching, the "Mr. T ate my balls" Web page has spawned a whole ". . .ate my balls" subgenre, which is highly amusing for about 30 seconds.

Also available: "Mr. T vs. Everything," "Mr. T is Tougher than God," etc., in which our gold-chained, mohawked hero takes on Airwolf ("Airfools"), Superman ("When I get through with you, you'll be in a wheelchair, Superfool!"), and Britney Spears ("I pity the fool that gets implants!") and just about everyone and everything else on the planet and beyond.

The 48-year-old, helluva tough former bodyguard, bouncer and A-Team ace was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoma of the skin in 1995, and reportedly had just $200 in the bank -- and none of his trademark $300,000 mantel of gold chains -- by 1996. But his spirit is unbowed.

In Oct. 1998 it was reported that T was living in a modest Los Angeles condo and looking to publish a new autobiography focusing on his battle with the disease. The book has yet to be published.

The recent subject of an E special on cable, Mr. T has come out as an intellectual. "People would be most surprised to know that Mr. T is very, very well read," said Topper Carew, writer/producer of Mr. T's 1983 lowbrow comedy D.C. Cab. "His reading includes deep philosophical things like Socrates and Aristotle."

Barbara Feldon

"I'm going to be in Hartford next month," says Barbara Feldon's clear voice. Wow. Get Smart's Agent 99, the original smart-chick-spy-in-the-sitcom trick, a key definer of '60s sultry (she attributed her come hither stare to terrible nearsightedness), says she'll appear at the Yale Center for British Art (actually in New Haven) on June 22, reading a play about the memoirs of composer Ethel Smyth (1859-1944) as part of a Chamber Music Plus series called Parallel Portraits. "[Smyth] led a very flamboyant life," says Feldon.

And so has Feldon. Born in Pittsburgh as Barbara Hall on March 12, 1941, she moved to New York City to become an actress. She has said she was a lonely child, channeling her energies into ballet and Shakespeare. This knowledge stood her well in 1957, when she won the grand prize on the game show The $64,000 Question. She invested her money and her life in an art gallery, marrying her partner, Lucien Feldon in 1958. She worked as a chorus girl, then slimmed down and became a fashion model and spokeswoman for deodorant pads and a men's cologne called Top Brass. In 1963 producer Buck Henry spotted her and wrote the part of 99 for her. Get Smart ran from 1964 through 1970, thereafter in syndication, and spawned hundreds of spinoffs and imitators, from star and creator Don Adams' animated Inspector Gadget to, arguably, Mike Meyers' Austin Powers. There was a Get Smart Again television movie in 1989, and a brief show revival in 1994 on Fox.

Feldon's greatest post-Smart success has been in commercial voiceovers. She's also done guest shots on Cheers and Mad About You. Living in New York City, she recently performed a one-woman show off-Broadway, even singing her hit, "99".

Feldon has also done a few books on tape, but she'd rather stick to things like the Chamber Music gig, she says: "That way I'm reading things I want to read, like Pablo Neruda."

Signs of the Times

Baby on Board Signs

You remember those insipid yellow suction signs posted in Volvos -- then later in K-cars everywhere -- circa 1984. "Baby on Board." Kindly cease driving like a truck-bomber from the Islamic Jihad, please, I'm hauling my precious heir to McNannies R Us, lest I be late for the Blue Light Special. Hey! This is my BABY! If you persist in playing Berlin's "Sex" at top volume through your Jensen power booster/equalizer, I shall be forced to admonish you again!

If you didn't have one of these insults to civil sensibility, perhaps you sported one of the many "witty" parodies, such as "Stoner on Board," or "Mother-in-Law in Trunk."

Baby on Board signs received their fondest remembrance in a 1993 episode of The Simpsons as a hit for Homer's barbershop quartet, the Be-Sharps (They also had a song about Mr. T). But few realized that the signs' maker, the Safety 1st corporation of Chestnut Hill, Mass., had just conducted an initial public offering and embarked on a mad expansion which by that year saw the company selling more than 650 separate products. Safety 1st ranked second on Forbes Magazine's list of "fastest growing companies" in 1993 as the stock soared past $32, only to collapse to about $5. On April 24 Canadian conglomerate Dorel, Inc. announced its purchase of Safety 1st for about $14 a share.

Baby on Board signs are still available. Safety 1st inventories it as catalogue number 101. , however, is a pornography Web site dealing with pregnant sex.

Legwarmers

Jelly bracelets that extended up the arm, Michael Jackson's glittery glove -- one not two -- and pegged jeans were all bad -- bad meaning tasteless, not bad meaning good -- fashion trends of the 1980s. Although there were plenty of bad accessories there was one that served a purpose -- the legwarmer.

The extended sock-as-fashion-statement trend began in 1981 when Jane Fonda turned into a fitness guru and gained widespread acceptance after the film Flashdance. The trend only lasted until about 1986, but as today's designers look to the 1980s for inspiration for the next fashion trend, now would be a good time to dive into the closet and start digging up those old accessories. While you're there don't forget the roach clip with the feather attached for your hair.

Cabbage Patch Dolls

In 1983, kids all over the country sang "Cabbage Patch Kids, growing in the garden! Cabbage Patch Kids, growing in the sun!" begging their parents to buy the garden-grown dolls with maker's, Xavier Roberts, signature on their cute little bottoms. Parents, eager to indulge their own li'l darlings, stood in line for hours, only to learn mega-stores like Toys 'R Us were running out of the dolls like sugar at a wartime rations station. CPKs had godawful names like Aldo Sheldon and Gwendolyn Leigh, but we loved them -- and those cute little butts -- all the same.

While the CPK feeding frenzy was never quite so bad again, it did spawn CPK preemies, twins, "Canadian Couture" kids and even frighteningly adorable Koosas, animal version of the kids with the very same plastic head and fabric body. Now, Mattel still sells several different versions of the dolls, including water babies that come with Jetski-like water cruisers, athletic dolls, babies that talk and special holiday versions that come dressed in red, white and green and wear either reindeer antlers or a Santa Claus cap.

Multi-paper Towns

Remember the days of two-paper towns? Receiving a morning edition of one paper and the evening edition of another? Now, only major cities like Boston and Seattle have more than one daily paper. Declining newspaper audiences and advertisers unwilling to shell out beaucoup bucks for, theoretically, the same audience has made news competition obsolete. With newspapers changing hands nearly as fast as shares on Wall Street, "shared resources" is the key phrase with huge publishing companies hoping to lower costs by sharing their reporters among several newspapers and even between newspapers and television news programs.

As with virtually all megamergers, the consumer is the loser as exposure to diverse news sources and perspectives decreases, especially as increasing numbers of companies own both newspapers and TV and radio stations in the same market. Look no further than the Tribune Co.'s proposed buy of Times Mirror, publisher of the Hartford Courant, for an example. Journalists, recognizing their ill-fate, are changing their title from "writer/reporter" to "content provider" as they jump ship to dot.coms where they are allowed a bit more freedom and where the newspaper industry will ultimately end up. One-newspaper states are not far off.

Feminism

Somehow, bra-burning transformed into "take back the night" rallies. Feminism became women's studies. Women reclaimed the word "cunt" but the f-word (feminism -- gasp!) became a dirty word. We passed legislation on sexual harassment and rape, but the Equal Rights Amendment was all but forgotten. Written in 1921 by suffragist Alice Paul, it has been introduced in Congress every session since 1923. It passed Congress in the above form in 1972, but was only ratified by 35 of the necessary 38 states by the July 1982 deadline.

Somehow backlash kicked the asses of women demanding equal pay and reproductive rights. So instead of identifying as feminists, they adopted a rock star name and attitude (riot grrls) or took an academic approach (women's studies majors).

But when they aren't hiding in college classrooms, they can be found on the Web. According to one Web site , second and third wave feminists have gone into hiding partly because of a divide between generations and a disparity in needs. And, they add, the history of the women's civil rights movement -- which started long before bra burning in the '60s and '70s -- is not part of the school curriculum. They have to wait until college where they can enroll in women's studies classes. Unfortunately, for many students, that's too late.

Crockpots

Crockpots, once the supper saver in households around America, have been around for about 30 years now, but their popularity has dwindled as the microwave has become the appliance du jour for the busy mom. The reasons are many. First, of course, is speed. Who wants to get up in the morning and start preparing the food for evening when all you have to do is grab the ready-to-go meal from your freezer and pop it in your microwave for five minutes? Plus there are a limited number of meals you can cook in the big bulky pot. After all there are no ready to make meals for crockpot users. It's a crock.

Sports Stuff

Baseball Cards with Gum

Remember when you would ride your bike to the drugstore, that $2 burning a hole in your pocket? With a knowing grin, the pharmacist would look down from his perch as you slapped down four packs of Topps baseball cards on the counter. Then you would scurry outside, sit on the curb and sift through them, hoping to get a few more new cards that would bring you closer to completing your set.

Each pack had about 15 cards, and -- bonus! -- a rectangular piece of gum roughly the length of the cards themselves. You might put all four pieces in your mouth at once, hoping you could moisten it before a stray shard cut a gash in the roof of your mouth. It was sharp stuff.

Today kids get to trade their cards like stocks, but they don't get to chew while doing it. According to a Topps spokesman, gum stopped going into the packs in 1991. As the photography has gotten sharper, better ink is needed to bring out the images on the card. So the ink used now is not food safe, which means no gum.

Bo Jackson

Bo Jackson's athletic career can be summarized like this: Bo knows. Bo slows. Bo blows. Bo goes.

By the time he retired from baseball in 1995, Jackson was a shell of his former self. The former Heisman Trophy winner and two-sport standout, Jackson was decimated by injuries and never quite lived up to those soaring expectations. More than anything, he will be remembered for helping launch the sneaker company marketing blitzkrieg that is now integrated in our culture.

Jackson now lives with his family in the Chicago area, where he finished out his career. Nike dumped him. He went back to school and got a degree from Auburn in 1995. Jackson wanted to be an actor, and appeared in a bit part in The Chamber in 1996.

Jackson has performed the role model bit well, volunteering his time to organizations that help get kids off the street. But the endorsement bug hasn't quite left him. Jackson became a spokesman for HealthSouth Corp. in Birmingham, Alabama, where he pals around with the CEO, Wall Street investor Richard Scrushy.

Canadian Hockey

Canadians thought they were in trouble in 1972 when it took seven games for their national hockey squad to beat the Soviet Union in the Olympics. What is happening to our game, our Canuck neighbors wailed.

Turns out that was small potatoes compared to today's situation. First the Canadian dollar is perpetually weak. That gives the best players more incentive to play in the States. In response, the NHL has set up a subsidy program for four Canadian franchises to try and alleviate the exchange rate deficit. Some say the Canadian tax structure also hampers their clubs.

But the problem is deeper. Canada does not have the lock on talent it did in the past. When the Velvet Revolution removed the Iron Curtain from Eastern Europe, the hockey players started trickling out. And then they flooded the market. Two of the three top-scoring forwards are slavic, and five of the top scoring defensemen are European. Canada didn't even win a medal in the 1998 Olympics. Quebec isn't the only place where babies come out of the womb with their skates laced on.

Ozzie Smith

Derek Jeter has never done a handspring when he runs out on the field, much less a back flip. Until he does, he will never be on Ozzie Smith's shortstopping level. Winner of 13 consecutive gold gloves with the St. Louis Cardinals, the Wizard of Oz set the standard of fielding excellence and is a lock for the Hall of Fame. His exuberance typified the brief renaissance baseball enjoyed in the 1980s before the strike destroyed it in 1994.

Smith is still a god in the St. Louis area, where he has been active since his 1996 retirement. He owns a restaurant there called, you guessed it, Ozzie's. He's got a foundation that gives to local charities, and he spent some time in the broadcasting booth for ESPN. And you can even call him Doctor Wizard now -- in 1997, Smith received an honorary degree, Doctor of Human Letters, from the University of Missouri - St. Louis. Check out his Web site .

Real Rock 'n' Roll

Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker

A few weeks back, Ed Bradley on 60 Minutes made a gaffe worthy of Ed Sullivan when, in his portrait of Eric Clapton, he named the members of Cream as Clapton, Ginger Baker and Jeff Beck. Poor Jack Bruce, bass player, lead singer, and co-composer of most of Cream's music, never gets any respect.

Well, neither does Baker, come to think of it. Even during the heyday of Cream, rumors circulated about the emaciated drummer's imminent death to speed and heroin (turns out Clapton was the junkie). After Cream, Baker formed a number of blues-rock assemblages, including Ginger Baker's Air Force, the Baker-Gurvitz Army and BLT (with Robin Trower, ex of Procol Harum). Then, he more or less said to hell with rock 'n' roll and, like the Stones' Charlie Watts, went back to his first love, jazz. He's now playing with heavies like Bill Frisell and Charlie Haden.

Eric Burdon

One of rock's indestructible figures, Burdon has enjoyed a busy life since the Animals disbanded in 1967. He has, in fact, reformed the Animals twice, in 1977 and 1983. Prior to that he recorded a number of excellent records with Eric Burdon's War, including the hit "Spill the Wine." He took the lead part in the overlooked 1982 film Comeback, wrote an autobiography and continued touring with many bands, including one that featured Doors guitarist Robbie Krieger. The Animals were 1994 inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Burdon is still touring and, unlike most aging rockers, his deep Brit pub-rocker voice hasn't lost an ounce of its manliness.

Arthur Lee, Love

One of the saddest of rock tales is the story of Arthur Lee, whose pure genius flared up in 1966-67, with a pair of masterpieces with his band Love (Da Capo, Forever Changes) and then never found another fully realized outlet. He continued to record music, even collaborating with Jimi Hendrix on one nearly impossible to find recording. As late as 1992, Lee tried to resurrect Love with an album released only in France. Another group, called Love, appeared in 1994, but the material was poor. In addition to troubles from drugs and, for a spell, homelessness, Lee was arrested in 1996 for threatening a neighbor with a gun. He was also, at this time, diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. After getting out of the slammer, Lee was arrested again for drug possession; this time he was victim to California's draconian "three-strikes" law. As a result, one of America's greatest rock musicians now sits in San Quentin Prison for the rest of his life.

Peter Green

Another sad rock tale with a happier ending, Green is one of the most distinctive guitarists ever to trod upon a rock stage. Prior to forming Fleetwood Mac in 1967, he was in John Mayhall's Bluesbreakers where he earned a reputation for originality in the sometimes restrictive blues genre. In Mac, he helped make rock music friendly for the more free-form format of FM radio, with musical compositions like "Oh Well" and "The Green Manalishi," which still are capable of blowing minds. After Then Play On, Green left the band under mysterious circumstances. Some stories had him giving away all his possessions and money and working as a hospital orderly; some had him joining a fundamentalist Christian sect; some said he'd blown his mind with LSD. The truth is a combination of the three. Green managed a solo instrumental album, The End of the Game (1970) before spending the rest of the decade recovering from mental illness. His silence was broken by the subpar album In the Skies (1979), then he vanished again, living as a hermit and not even owning a guitar. Almost miraculously, Green picked up a guitar again in 1996 and has been sporadically playing with a band since.

Democracy

Proportional Representation

Proportional representation (or PR) is one of the most powerful and proven tools for expanding democracy's reach that the world has ever known. We've never heard of it in the United States, though, because we've been brainwashed that the two-party system somehow "works." Obviously, it doesn't work because the two parties are now indistinguishable; they both take their orders from their corporate backers.

PR is, in essence, an electoral system that allows representation in legislative bodies based roughly on the percentage of the votes cast for political parties rather than on individual candidates. As Sam Smith, editor of Progressive Review, put it, "One of America's best-kept secrets is how strange our voting system really is -- under PR, if the Late Night TV party were to win 18 percent of the vote, it would get about 18 percent of the seats. Under the present rules, parties that win 18 percent of the vote usually don't get any seats."

Proportional representation is the antithesis of winner-take-all, because it allows for minority parties to obtain some representation. The inevitable result of a system of PR is that a higher percentage of eligible voters go to to the polls than they do elsewhere; a higher percentage of the citizens, thus, feel they have some say in the political process. In countries with PR, like Sweden, Germany, South Africa and even the former Soviet republics, the turnout of eligible voters tops 86 percent. The highest percentage of voting-age Americans ever to take part in a presidential election is 37.8 percent, when Lyndon Johnson was elected in 1964.

Term Limits

Term limits are legally designated restrictions on the number of times a person may serve in an elected office. While term limits have been established for the President by the 22nd amendment, term limits for members of Congress have been established by only 15 states. Debate over whether a similar constitutional amendment is needed to establish standardized term limits for members of Congress has been going on for many years, as has the expectation that the Supreme Court will hand down a ruling on one of the cases challenging state term limits. Thus, in 35 American states, there is no limit to the number of consecutive terms a senator or representative can serve. With term limits, we would have been spared overexposure to Strom Thurmond, Jesse Helms and Ted Kennedy.

Bipartisanship

Bipartisanship is a myth. It has never existed in American politics, and for politicians and pundits to pine for some earlier day of gentility and compromise is as ludicrous as Rush Limbaugh talking about the way it's "supposed to be." Bipartisan is a general term that connotes the existence of two political parties, while bipartisanship is a peculiarly American term that has come to mean the collaboration between the two political parties in Congress in cooperation with the President, usually on foreign policy matters. By definition, the fundamental principles of American government -- a core belief in a separation of powers and a safety net of checks and balances -- engenders a climate of competing interests; in short, partisan politics.

The seeming ideal of bipartisanship usually (or only) occurs during times of national crisis, world tension or war. Or in some patronizing legislation on flag-burning or "hate speech." Perhaps it simply comes with the linguistic territory. The original meaning of the word partisan -- either "a prejudiced, unreasoning or fanatical adherant" or a "gruesome, long-handled military weapon used by foot soldiers of the 16th century" -- has undeniably negative overtones of conflict.

Separation of Church and State?

Despite the fact that under the First Amendment, governing bodies and religious institutions shall be absolutely independent of one another, there are plenty in this country -- Pat Robertson, Gary Bauer and Ralph Reed come to mind -- who want to push the clock back to, well, the days of sundials.

Prayer in school comes up just about every election, official meetings often open with prayer and more and more politicians are adopting the President's penchant for ending just about every speech with God Bless America.

Still, while wobbly, so far the wall remains intact. Not only can Congress pass no law restricting freedom of religion, no religious organization can shape public policy. The separation of church and state derives from the Enlightenment ideal, embodied in Thomas Jefferson, of a free society with no "Established Church" and no restrictions on intellectual freedom. He incorporated this in his Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom, passed in 1779 by Virginia's legislature, which paved the way for the First Amendment. Prior to this, all but two states had strict religious requirements for those seeking public office. Sen. John F. Kennedy, campaigning for the presidency in 1960, explained the separation of church and state as, "An America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all." Amen.