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.