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Fish TV, Used Golf Balls: US Capitalism Today


`The bell rings, the starting gate opens, and the pigs take off lickety-split.... It happens so fast the spectator must really videotape a race and play it in slow motion to capture the true grace and beauty of pig racing. Witness how the flapping ears seem to propel them around the course, almost giving flight to the pig.''

- Bill Geist, ``Monster Trucks & Hair-in-a-Can''

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IN his new, zany book, Bill Geist, a lighter-side-of-the-news CBS correspondent/commentator and author of three other books, attempts to dispel the notion that the United States doesn't make -

more specifically, invent - anything anymore.

America has pioneered plenty, he tells us. Maybe it no longer makes fax machines, baseballs, or VCRs, he writes in his introduction. But, hey, he says, let's look at what a few enterprising Americans have come up with: ``shot fashion'' (clothing punctured by shotgun pellets); the ``all fish, all the time'' Fish Channel; a used-golf-ball empire; a traffic-violation school that offers bad stand-up comedians, chocolate truffles, and the Armenian language; and Oreo-eating racing pigs.

Geist tells how 19 fresh-thinking individuals concocted 17 truly innovative businesses in the Land of Opportunity and made money.

``[To those] who lament that America has lost its creativity and competitive edge, well, perhaps you're just looking in the wrong places....,'' Geist suggests. ``Everywhere we look we see America's global domination: in the aerosol hair industry; in our vast reserves of Elvis impersonators ... and in important areas such as pro wrestling, where the United States maintains its stranglehold on every major title belt!

``Ours is a changing America,'' Geist shrewdly concludes.

In lively, pun-filled prose, the author doesn't try to explain why, only how America is changing. This is fortunate for the reader, as a serious discourse would likely slow down the fast-paced, fluid nature of this wacky book.

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Some of the oddball enterprises Geist profiles are world famous: the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic-book characters, toys, etc. and the American Gladiators TV show. Others, such as Gary Calvert's company - which locates the exact center of Illinois - and Kymberly Lee's fingernail-products business, are little known to the general public but no less fascinating to Geist.

``They are entrepreneurial pioneers all, making their way in postindustrial America with ingenuity, individuality, and often with that dash of courage/craziness necessary to step outside the corporate structure and do what they wanted to do,'' he writes. ``America may not be making much, but we're delivering it at the speed of light,'' like Lee, who makes house calls in fingernail emergencies.

``A century ago, these people might have built railroads, produced steel and oil, invented cars, telephones, light bulbs, and airplanes, as did Commodore Vanderbilt, Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Henry Ford, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, and the Wright Brothers in the Industrial Age,'' he explains. ``But this is more the Age of Amusement, and these men and women operate within the template of their time.''

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