My mind is empty as a cup today. We now get three newspapers delivered to the door — a WSJ salesperson called the other day, and I took pity — and I can’t think of anything to write about. Well, there was this: A story in the NYT about a lawyer’s plan to use Google searches to establish community standards. Since more people search “orgy” than “apple pie,” the reasoning goes, this proves the community tolerates more porn than may be immediately evident on its public face.
The NYT calls this a novel approach. I don’t think so.
In the 1970s, Columbus, Ohio was the country’s first test market for an interactive cable service called QUBE. Warner QUBE, to be exact. It was ground-breaking for the time — 30 channels! — and offered what was then cutting-edge technology, the ability to talk back to your TV. The box was hard-wired to your TV and lots of people tripped over the cable, but it was so novel no one cared. Three rows of buttons adorned the box, the size of a fat trade paperback. Ten channels were local broadcast (with Cincinnati’s and Cleveland’s included), 10 more were “community” channels, but the real interesting ones were the 10 on the far right, which were premium — pay-per-view. And of that 10, the most interesting was P-10, in the southeast corner of the box. This was the porn channel. You could have it disabled, but no one I knew did. The free-viewing period before the charge kicked in was ridiculously long by today’s standards — two whole minutes. It was what we’d now call hotel-room porn, hardcore movies with the closeups excised, but they were the real deal. I watched “Captain Lust” there with some friends, agog at the novelty of it all, not to mention the original theme song, sung as a sea chanty (Captain Lust was a pirate): Oh Captain Lust, he’s greedy, mean and horny-o… To give you an idea of how swiftly this changed the local lexicon: I was at a party around that time, and there were three guys named Pete in attendance. The host introduced the first two as P-1 and P-2, but the last guy was a real ladies’ man, so they called him P-10. Everybody got the joke.
We weren’t the only ones experimenting with this amazing technology. (Some things “Swingtown” gets right.) Remember, Betamaxes still cost in the $700 range back then, and this would have been among the first opportunities Americans had to view pornographic movies in the privacy of their own homes.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the city, an eager prosecutor is preparing a case against a dirty-bookstore owner, or maybe it was a dirty-movie theater owner. Can’t recall. (Kirk, Bernie Karsko told me the rest of this story, and maybe you remember it better.) He’s using the community standards offense. The defendant is smart enough to hire the right lawyer, who looked at his QUBE box, added two and two, and drew up a subpoena of the company’s records regarding P-10 movie purchases. Let’s just see what the community’s standards are when they’re behind closed doors, he says. Warner gets wind of this, pees its corporate pants, raises a stink, etc., and I believe the prosecutor backed down almost immediately. He knew he had a loser on his hands.
I think, but again I’m not sure, that the lawyer in question was Alan Isaacman, the same guy Edward Norton plays in “The People vs. Larry Flynt.” Smart guy. (And a very good movie, I might add, despite its repellant central character.)
So, some bloggage:
Sometimes I think the difference between entrepreneurs and the rest of us is simply the power to get up off the couch. I thought of the human-powered gym years ago. You probably did, too. It’s impossible to sit pedaling, treadmilling, elliptical-ing or whatevering in one of those long lines at most gyms and not wonder why the whole setup isn’t hooked up to a generator. Screw the banks of TVs tuned to ESPN and CNN; what you need to keep going is the dimming of the overhead lights.
(Note that news item is over a year old. I only read about it today, buried within a Slate story about harnessing the power of the breast-bounce. Sorry, guys — no pix.)
Spend any time in Amish country, and you learn a thing or two about storing power. I once visited an Amish quilt shop in rural Allen County. It had a high, pitched roof, and on the south-facing side of the roof — also, coincidentally, the side that customers didn’t see, entering through the front door — was a bank of solar panels. Wires led to a stack of six car batteries, and wires from those powered a huge, industrial-type sewing machine of the sort found in any Asian sweatshop. This is where the quilts were made, and if you know sewing at all, it was obvious in the evenness of the stitching. They never claimed they were hand-sewn, but I always think of this as the height of Amish tricksiness. Many people think of the Amish as North America’s very own tribe of aboriginal innocents, but surprise, they’re not.
Off to work. Back to regular morning blogging this week, I think. I’ve finally slept enough.
brian stouder said on June 24, 2008 at 2:05 pm
I was just thinking about ’70’s porn last night, as I caught “X Rated” on Showtime
I fell asleep just as the Mitchell brothers were confronting the mob guys who were pirating their smash hit Behind the Green Door…so I missed their disintegration (although the movie has them snorting cocaine approximately every other scene). The movie begins with the brothers after their disintegration, so there was not going to be a surprise there, anyway.
But the thing that was entertaining was that the movie depicted the Mitchell brothers’ up-from-nothing startup in the nudie movie business in a pretty comical way (the one brother gets lectured by his film school professor, so he leaves the film class and just starts in)…and they foul up as often as not (learning to use the new camera “on the fly” [so to speak], instead of reading the directions)
One couldn’t help but imagine Madame Telling Tales and her determined band of film makers, out on location!
An interesting movie – from what I caught
Kirk said on June 24, 2008 at 2:12 pm
Not gonna be much help, Nance. I remember the tactic but can’t remember whether it was a semi-famous lawyer. I do think that some prosecutor might have been going after Mark Wolfe, owner of the Lion’s Den bookstores, which remain in business.
brian stouder said on June 24, 2008 at 2:27 pm
Seems like he’d a named his bookstores the Wolfe’s Lair, instead of the prosaic Lion’s Den…
edit: after reading the “harnessing the power of the breast bounce” article, one see’s Nance’s plaintive opening sentence in a different light!
john c said on June 24, 2008 at 4:06 pm
The lawyer’s tactic reminded me of a priest I had in high school. Catcher in the Rye was the assignment, and he remembered a nutty parent incensed that Jesuit priests would have high school boys reading a book that contained profanity. Tell me, Fr. Sproul said, did your son have to look up any of the words?
coozledad said on June 24, 2008 at 5:33 pm
I was recently trying to figure out how to split some old elm trees that had fallen on our property. Google took me to one site where a guy advocated pushing the nose of a chainsaw into the end of the log, filling the gap with black powder, and igniting it with a fuse. He mentioned that this technique had killed one of his co-workers. In the comments, someone said the Amish use a car battery with fifty foot leads, and have taken sufficient cover by the time they hook the wires to the battery. They go through a lot of wire, but have significantly fewer fatalities.
I remember sneaking into an old drive in theater in Durham to watch “French Shampoo” without sound. There were actually sections of the movie that appeared to contain dialog. I nearly felt ashamed because many of the actresses were obviously older than my Aunt Ruth. The guys all looked like Peter Falk, if Peter Falk had dropped his raincoat to reveal the body of a howler monkey draped with redundant gold medallions. But I guess the interplay of the different characters ultimately worked for me, because I spent a great deal of time later trying to recall certain details.
moe99 said on June 24, 2008 at 6:03 pm
Woman climber saved by her sports bra. Seems apt for today’s column…….
coozledad said on June 24, 2008 at 9:53 pm
It may be time for me to consider a sports bra. In fact, I’m beginning to feel like one of those consumer/entrepreneurs like the president of Hair Club for Men. If I could get Hugh Hewitt on board for marketing, we could just call it the Jogstrap, or the more poetic Hewititty. Either way, I think this would go a long way toward reducing visual distress in parks and greenswards across the nation.
whitebeard said on June 24, 2008 at 9:55 pm
I laughed with all the rest of you over Lee Abrams Tribune memo linked here, including the point about “15. MAPS: We are in the GPS age. The eye candy age (and I’m not talking about Page 3)…” My laughter was squelched when I saw my newspaper’s story today about arrests made after two dead bodies were dumped on interstate ramps in Connecticut and saw the link to two Google Earth captures of the ramps, a photograph of the street where an arrest took place and another street scene photo showing the building where the murders allegedly took place. It’s the GPS age, but GPS stands for God Preserve Us in this case.
I plead guilty, however, as a young radio reporter, standing on the waterfront in The Soo and talking for hours live on the air from our mobile unit about the royal yacht Britannia, sans Princess Elizabeth, anchored in the St. Mary’s River. Back at the station, my control room host would not take back the mike, despite many hints and pleas from me until the police called and said the broadcast was creating the traffic jam of traffic jams and would I please shut up.
Later, during her actual visit, I took photographs and a short film clip of Princess Elizabeth visiting the steel plant. Those were the glory days, Film at 6 and 11.
By the way, the Britannia is now anchored at Edinburgh, Scotland, http://www.royalyachtbritannia.co.uk/ can be hired for corporate events and is open for tours during the day. “Look out for the on-board Garage housing one of Her Majesty’s Rolls-Royces.”