Being Gay in the World of Mad, Mad Men

Monday, May 21st, 2012

David Leddick explains what it was really like being gay in the world of mad, Mad Men:

Yes, some agencies were like the one where Don Draper works. But these stuffy, old-line agencies were the big ones — BBDO, J. Walter Thompson, Leo Burnett — not agencies like Draper’s. They were top-heavy with upper-level management from Ivy League schools; they were agencies where women could only be secretaries or work in what was called the “Women’s Division” (food, fashion, and cosmetics). In those kinds of agencies, if you were gay, you were probably closeted, like that poor character on Mad Men. But more likely, if you were gay, you didn’t stay long at such an agency, as many of the smaller agencies were quite different — fun agencies to work for, where being gay was not an issue.

The fact that no one at the Mad Men agency changes jobs is very unreal. In the advertising world I knew, you rarely worked anywhere more than two years, as other agencies wanted you for your knowhow on whatever account you had been working on. And your salary soared. You almost doubled your salary each time you moved. I went from $95 a week when I started at Kenyon and Eckhardt to something over $22,000 a year at Hockaday Associates in four agency moves. In the early 1960s that was good money. I spent two years at BBDO and only about a year at J. Walter Thompson, and voilà! Everybody did it. Why didn’t Salvatore?

After I left BBDO, a friend told me he’d overheard comments about me in the elevator, along the lines of, “So, they were in a lot of trouble here when the queer that was writing all the great stuff left. But then they found another queer who could write just as fancifully.”

When I finally hit Hockaday Associates, a small agency specializing in high-end fashion, furniture, cosmetics, and the like, it was a different world.

All the art directors were gay, and all the account executives were women. The agency president was in fact a Miss Hockaday, and she had her own take on the 1960s. Everyone really dressed to the nines. Everyone was good-looking, and there was wall-to-wall green carpeting in the foyer. A lady with a cart served tea every afternoon at 4 o’clock. Clients came in and were overwhelmed by the chic and wonder of it all. We were famous in the advertising world because Miss Hockaday dropped the Elizabeth Arden account. After Miss Arden kept her waiting for an hour for a meeting, Miss Hockaday swept in and said, “Miss Arden, you are a tyrant. We do not want to have this account,” and swept out.

Can we please have more scenes like this on Mad Men?

The gay men on staff knew everything there was to know at the time about clothes, interior décor, you name it. I learned a lot. This was the early 1960s; being witty was important then. And let’s face it: This was New York, where being gay was hardly a hidden-away phenomenon. In Greenwich Village the gay men were lined up every night along the western side of Washington Square. They sat and lounged against the low pipe railings there, which were called “the Meat Rack.” You could drop in at Mary’s on Eighth Street or go dancing at the Cherry Lane bar (men did the two-step there, clasped in each other’s arms), right next door to the Cherry Lane theater. There was a large sign by the door: “Out of Bounds to Military Personnel.” If you were gay in New York, you didn’t need to run around hiding it.

And there were plenty of places in the advertising world where you could work and it just didn’t matter. What outsiders little realized was the tightrope danger of the advertising industry. There was not a day you went to work that you couldn’t get fired, regardless of whether you were straight or gay. If the client vamoosed, the entire group servicing that client was fired. Immediately, to not waste salaries. You deserved “flight pay,” we called it, like the pilots in the Air Force. Employees who could hang onto those slippery, shifting clients were highly valued. I was one of those employees. And I didn’t care who knew I was gay. I was myself. Lots of ladies in the office told me that their closeted gay friends would sigh, “If only I could be as openly gay as Leddick.”

And then I went to Grey Advertising…

I always said that everything I was or ever hoped to be in advertising I owed to Revlon. I was hired as the Worldwide Creative Director of Revlon at Grey Advertising in the mid-1960s. Grey Advertising was huge, the largest agency in the U.S. It was not like stuffy BBDO and other biggies. It was like Hollywood. It had scale, it had dough, and it was heartless. Revlon was the same thing, but only more glamorous, with more money, and heartless in their way, but very loyal to those they valued.

I was never “in” the closet, and actually, I enjoyed making all those white, heterosexual, tough guys face up to the fact they had to have me in that job, because Revlon liked me; they liked a creative director who was taller, blonder, and better-dressed than anyone else in their meetings. When they screamed and cussed and bellowed in their meetings, I would say, “Keep this up and I will lose my enthusiasm.”

And during a tense meeting, when I took out my lip balm, my crew knew the meeting was over.

Every year on Advertising Age’s “worst clients list,” Revlon was always voted the number-one worst client in the United States. And I didn’t care, because Revlon liked me, and they liked me for what I could do.

In meetings with Revlon, a head honcho would be chewing out the president of Grey Advertising, saying things like, “You guys are useless. You don’t know what you’re doing. You’re a waste of time. The only reason you have this account is him!” And they would point to me. Gee, it felt great. They were loyal to those who truly were on their team.

At one point, my staff went on strike and told management that it was either me or them. They didn’t want to work for me anymore. The head account executive called Revlon while they sat in front of his desk in assembled mutiny. He spoke briefly to the client and hung up. He said, “They like David. You’re all fired.” I only found out about this later.


We were anticipating the 21st century about half a century before it arrived.

The best way to predict the future is to invent it.

A Lesson for Future Kings

Monday, May 21st, 2012

Devin Finbarr offers a lesson for future kings:

The European monarchs won a number of battles against the democratic radicals of the 1600-1800′s. The kings were not savage tyrants of the sort that afflicted the 20th century. So rather than slaughtering dissidents wholesale, the monarchs usually expelled the radicals to the Americas. Thus the Puritans departed for America in the 1630′s as Charles I cracked down on dissenters. Numerous German revolutionaries departed after the failed 1848 revolution.

Unfortunately for the kings, they had just granted their enemies three million square miles of fertile, resource rich land. The dissidents conquered the continent, plowed the plains, drilled her oil, and multiplied like rabbits. The fertility rates in Puritan New England were close to 10.0, the highest in recorded history. Out of 20,000 Puritan settlers 16 million are now descendents.

The radical American settlers used their power first to break free of the English monarchy. Then they exported their ideas around the world, to France and South America. They intervened in World War I to crush the counter-revolutionary regimes once and for all and wiped out monarchy across Europe.

A lesson for future kings: do not export your dissidents to the most fruitful land on Earth. Try Siberia next time.

What Makes Countries Rich or Poor?

Monday, May 21st, 2012

Jared Diamond (Guns, Germs, and Steel) reviews Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty, by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, and brings his own knowledge of geography to answer the question of what makes countries rich or poor?

Two major factors contribute to the poverty of tropical countries compared to temperate countries: diseases and agricultural productivity. The tropics are notoriously unhealthy. Tropical diseases differ on average from temperate diseases, in several respects. First, there are far more parasitic diseases (such as elephantiasis and schistosomiasis) in tropical areas, because cold temperate winters kill parasite stages outside our bodies, but tropical parasites can thrive outside our bodies all year long. Second, disease vectors, such as mosquitoes and ticks, are far more diverse in tropical than in temperate areas.

Finally, biological characteristics of the responsible microbes have made it easier to develop vaccines against major infectious diseases of temperate areas than against tropical diseases; we still aren’t close to a vaccine against malaria, despite billions of dollars invested. Hence tropical diseases impose a huge burden on economies of tropical countries. At any given moment, much of the population is sick and unable to work efficiently. Many women in tropical areas can’t join the workforce because they are constantly nursing and caring for babies conceived as insurance against the expected deaths of some of their older children from malaria.

As for agricultural productivity, it averages lower in tropical than in temperate areas, again for several reasons. First, temperate plants store more energy in parts edible to us humans (such as seeds and tubers) than do tropical plants. Second, diseases borne by insects and other pests reduce crop yields more in the tropics than in the temperate zones, because the pests are more diverse and survive better year-round in tropical than in temperate areas. Third, glaciers repeatedly advanced and retreated over temperate areas, creating young nutrient-rich soils. Tropical lowland areas haven’t been glaciated and hence tend to have older soils, leached of their nutrients by rain for thousands of years. (Young fertile volcanic and alluvial soils are exceptions.) Fourth, the higher average rainfall of tropical than of temperate areas results in more nutrients being leached out of the soil by rain.

Finally, higher tropical temperatures cause dead leaves and other organic matter falling to the ground to be broken down quickly by microbes and other organisms, releasing their nutrients to be leached away. Hence in temperate areas soil fertility is on average higher, crop losses to pests lower, and agricultural productivity higher than in tropical areas. That’s why Argentina in South America’s south temperate zone, despite its conspicuous lack (for most of its history) of the good institutions praised by economists, is the leading food exporter in Latin America, and one of the leading ones in the world.

Thus, geographical latitude acting independently of institutions is an important geographic factor affecting power, prosperity, and poverty. The other important geographic factor is whether an area is accessible to ocean-going ships because it lies either on the sea coast or on a navigable river. It costs roughly seven times more to ship a ton of cargo by land than by sea. That puts landlocked countries at an economic disadvantage, and helps explain why landlocked Bolivia and semilandlocked Paraguay are the poorest countries of South America. It also helps explain why Africa, with no river navigable to the sea for hundreds of miles except the Nile, and with fifteen landlocked nations, is the poorest continent. Eleven of those fifteen landlocked African nations have average incomes of $600 or less; only two countries outside Africa (Afghanistan and Nepal, both also landlocked) are as poor.

The remaining major factor underlying wealth and poverty is the state of the natural environment. All human populations depend to varying degrees on renewable natural resources — especially on forests, water, soils, and seafood. It’s tricky to manage such resources sustainably. Countries that excessively deplete their resources — whether inadvertently or intentionally — tend to impoverish themselves, although the difficulty of estimating accurately the costs of resource destruction causes economists to ignore it. It helps explain why notoriously deforested countries — such as Haiti, Rwanda, Burundi, Madagascar, and Nepal — tend to be notoriously poor and politically unstable.

This would explain why Zimbabwe is so much poorer than Rhodesia. More seriously, Diamond contends that societies with a long history of agriculture also have a long history of government and have thus developed better institutions for economic growth.

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

Sunday, May 20th, 2012

I read Heinlein’s Starship Troopers as a young teen, and I read Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War a few years later. The second was clearly a post-Vietnam (1974) response to the first (published in 1959).

Ted Gioia argues that this conventional wisdom pigeonholes Haldeman’s novel:

One might call this the “whig approach” to literary criticism — something akin
to what Herbert Butterfield once called the “Whig interpretation of history.” It reduces all the complexities and richness of past fiction to some simple coordinate based on the conventional wisdom as of this morning. So Sappho is only understood in terms of today’s view of gender roles; Hemingway is dissed because he falls short on the same scale; Twain moves from being anti-racist and into the racist camp because he didn’t know the acceptable “framing” words of the 21st century. Who cares anymore how these writers related to the value systems of their times? We judge them based on the prevailing mood of the most recent MLA. Of course, it hardly occurs to us that we ourselves may be found wanting according future MLA truisms yet to be invented.

Under this sledgehammer approach, novels are either written by progressive authors or reactionary authors, and once you know which bucket in which to toss any given writer, you are no longer obliged to read them. And the Whig view of sci-fi makes Haldeman into the hero and Heinlein into the villain. End of story.

From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne

Saturday, May 19th, 2012

Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon plods along, but it correctly predicts many of the technical and political details of the later moon mission:

Yet Verne gets high marks for how much he anticipated the details of the later Apollo journey, from the starting point (he launches his astronauts within a two hour drive of Cape Canaveral) to the size of the capsule and the duration of the trip. Not all the science here adds up — when I tried to check some of the sources cited by Verne, I came up empty-handed, so he clearly bent his “facts” to match his story. And you will be amused to find the launch team counting up to forty rather than down to zero for blastoff into space, while five million bystanders sing “Yankee Doodle.” Even so, I have a hunch that, if a gathering of leading technologists and industrialists had been convened in 1865 to come up with the most realistic plan for a moon trip based in on means available to them at the time, they would have arrived at a plan largely similar to the one Verne concocts.

Verne was also sensitive to the cultural and political ramifications of his subject. His nineteenth century space program is the result of the armaments industry in the US trying to cope with the end of the Civil War. They need a new goal to justify their role in a time of peace. The exact same scenario played out after World War II, when advances in rocketry were achieved by Werner von Braun and others who had been closely involved in weapons production. So Verne not only predicted many of the specifics of space travel, but also must be seen as one of the first to call attention to what was later dubbed the “military-industrial complex.”

Man arrested over roasted foetuses

Friday, May 18th, 2012

I find black-magic and witchcraft stories out of Africa disturbing.  Out of Asia?  Just as disturbing:

Six human foetuses which had been roasted and covered in gold leaf as part of a black magic ritual have been seized from a British citizen in Bangkok, Thai police said today.

Chow Hok Kuen, 28, who is of Taiwanese origin, was arrested with the grisly haul in the city’s Chinatown yesterday, police said. The corpses had been packed into luggage and were set to be smuggled to Taiwan.

The suspect bought the foetuses several days ago from a Taiwanese man in Thailand for 200,000 baht ($6500) and planned to sell them in Taiwan for up to six times that amount, police said. The origin of the foetuses was unclear.

“He said he planned to sell the foetuses to clients who believe they will make them lucky and rich,” said Colonel Wiwat Kamchamnan of Bangkok police.

The man faces one year in prison and a 2000 baht fine for possession of the foetuses.

David Petersen’s Muppet Comic Covers

Friday, May 18th, 2012

David Petersen, the artist behind Mouseguard, has illustrated a number of covers for Boom Studios’ Muppet comics:

How to invent a sport women would like

Friday, May 18th, 2012

Steve Sailer ponders how to invent a sport women would like:

In the name of gender equity, the Summer Olympics are debuting women’s boxing at the London games. Women’s wrestling was added at the 2004 Athens games.

The problem, of course, is that very few women are interested these highly masculine sports. Yet, as part of Chris Rock’s Keep Your Daughter Off the Pole movement, it would be good to invent some sports that would appeal to normal girls and young women. The idea would be to come up with something less crudely sexualized than pole dancing but less unfeminine than wrestling.

As he said elsewhere:

Why is women’s wrestling now part of the Olympics? What percentage of the U.S. women’s wrestling team is made up of lesbians whose dads were high school wrestlers who didn’t have any sons to push onto the mat? And what percentage of the female population is that? O.2%?

By contrast, many women enjoy Winter Olympics sports, where, he notes, they can do things they like — “such as, go fast elegantly and show off, all while wearing this winter’s most fashionable sports attire.”

More seriously, he suggests emphasizing freedom from gravity:

Figure skaters glide endlessly and then leap and twirl. Gymnasts fly through the air. The final night of women’s figure skating in the Winter Olympics is to crown the World’s Greatest Princess and the all-around night of women’s gymnastics in the Summer Olympics is to crown the World’s Greatest Pixie.

The problem with this is that nobody really is free from gravity. Competitive cheerleading, for example, is a feminine sport that has evolved toward ever more high-flying death-defying stunts, which is great, except for the cheerleaders who end up in wheelchairs for life.

Trampolining was recently added to the Olympics and it’s very exciting because it’s amazingly high-flying. But it’s also terrifying to watch. I don’t think the dads and moms of America are going to get too excited about their daughters taking up trampolining. When I was a little kid in the 1960s, trampolines were a popular backyard amenity. But then they stopped being common because so many kids got hurt on them.

This aside, by the way, made me think of J.K. Rowling’s byzantine quidditch rules:

One problem is that the kind of sports-minded nerds who would be good at inventing the rules for sports generally don’t understand women well, and conventional female minds aren’t tuned to inventing universal rules for sports. There have been a lot of studies of little boys and little girls making up games with balls. The boys argue a lot, but from their arguments actually do evolve better rules that deal fairly with an ever-larger percentage of future situations. The girls, in contrast, tend to devolve the rules to make participants feel better in the present by making ad hoc exceptions when feelings get hurt.

Anyway, the first “sport” to come to mind, besides dancing and pageant-like fitness competitions, was Kunoichi, or Women of Ninja Warrior, the all-female counterpart to the cult-hit obstacle-course show, where the obstacles do not require amazing power-to-weight ratios but grace and balance.

As a rule, most sports favor manly men over less-manly men, and they thus favor manly women over less-manly women, too. That’s why artificial male hormones are performance-enhancing drugs, after all.

Donna Summer

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

Donna Summer just passed away at age 63, following a battle with cancer.

The Queen of Disco was born into a devoutly Christian family and began singing in church at a young age — when her name was still LaDonna Adrian Gaines.

Donna Summer was the stage name she took after she moved to Munich and married Austrian actor Helmuth Sommer — and had a child and divorced him for German artist Peter Mühldorfer.

Her breakout hit was one of the first extended dance club remixes, a 17-minute version of “Love to love you baby” — made infamous by Summer’s moaning. The shorter radio mix climbed the charts in 1976.

She later renounced her disco lifestyle and became a born-again Christian.

Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light won the Hugo in 1968 and almost became a big-budget Hollywood movie a decade later, after Star Wars paved the way — but even though it didn’t get made, it still made history:

In 1979, a $50 million film version of Lord of Light was announced. The plan to make a movie collapsed due to various legal issues, but the CIA acquired some set designs and parts of the script, and used them to set up a cover for a team sent to Tehran — ostensibly scouting shooting locations, but really to help rescue six members of the US embassy staff who had narrowly missed being held prisoner during the Iranian hostage crisis because they had been out of the building at the time. These half-dozen people were in hiding in the Canadian embassy, and the Lord of Light pretext contributed to the CIA bring them safely out of the country.

I’m not sure I’d choose a script with this premise for my cover while traveling into revolutionary Iran:

The plot is simple enough. A group of tough characters have acquired some radical technology, and they use it to set themselves up on a colonized planet as quasi-deities modeled on the divine figures of Hinduism. But one breaks away, reinventing himself as a Buddhist alternative, taking on the guise of Siddhartha, and thus undermining the more rough-and-tumble philosophy of his rivals.

The book opens: “His followers called him Mahasamatman and said he was a god. He preferred to drop the Maha- and the -atman, however, and called himself Sam. He never claimed to be a god, but then he never claimed not to be a god.”

(I somehow forgot that Wired had a piece on the escape a few years ago.)

Stay unmassive, Allyson

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

To Steve Sailer, the most interesting storyline going into the 2012 Olympics is whether the American long sprinter Allyson Felix will finally give in and go over to the dark side in her pursuit of individual gold:

She had to settle in 2004 and 2008 for silver medals in the 200m, losing each time to Jamaican women with biceps twice the diameter of hers.

Felix is the 21st Century black female version of the old Chariots of Fire Olympians: a well-spoken minister’s daughter from the nice middle class black suburb of L.A.. She’s just really fast. She turned professional right out of high school, so she couldn’t run college track, but still got her U.S.C. degree quickly. It’s easy to picture her as a high school principal some day. Corporate America would love to give her lots of money, if she’d only win individual gold. So, I imagine, there’s a lot of pressure on her to Do What It Takes. Americans love a winner.

And, at the 2011 world championship (pictured above), Allyson lost in the 400m by 0.03 seconds to a Botswanan with massive biceps.


I went to the 1984 Olympics at the L.A. Coliseum and saw an NFL receiver’s wife with massive arms edge out a skinny Florence Griffith-Joyner for gold in the 200m. Then Flo-Jo lost the 1987 world championships to an East German with big arms. So, she showed up in 1988 looking like Wonder Woman, and set all the records, which still stand. She died in 1998.

Allyson has actually been training for years under Bear Ross, who describes the Holy Grail of Speed Training as increasing mass-specific force — or getting stronger without adding bulk. He recommends a program built around deadlifts and plyos:

The key to this workout’s effectiveness? TIME.

What was timed? The rest period between sets is exactly 5 minutes allowing up to 90% or more ATP regeneration. The benefit is much more rapid strength gain. By keeping sets and reps low, timed and without lifts to failure, lactic acid was minimal or non-existent. The benefit was that the athletes felt exhilarated and ready for a full event workout after lifting.

Great, but does it work…

In September of 2002, we began high school sprinter Allyson Felix’s final assault on Marion Jones’ national high school 200-meter record. At the time, Allyson weighed 121 lbs. She had improved at a rate of ½ second or better the two previous years so we were not expecting anywhere near that improvement rate in 2002. When you’re already under 23 seconds in the 200 meters an additional half-second drop in time in a single season is incredible.

Allyson, and the other athletes we trained, began the new training protocol in September. Allyson’s previous best deadlift was 125 lbs, primarily because we did not focus on that lift in the past.

Allyson increased September’s 125 lbs deadlift to 270 lbs in mid April (as witnessed by Tim Layden of Sports Illustrated) and to an estimated 300 lbs by June. Her body weight increased a paltry 2 pounds from 121 lbs to 123 lbs. Meanwhile, her 200-meter sprint time dropped from 22.83 in 2003 to 22.11 in 2004 (adjusted to 22.30 for altitude, a ½ second or better gain!). She had run the fastest 200 meters in the world (without resorting to drugs) for all women.

Right about now you may be thinking that Allyson Felix is a gifted athlete and that this is not good proof of the effectiveness of the workout.

Sure, Allyson’s tremendous natural talent allowed for eye-popping times, but ALL of her teammates showed significant reductions in time for sprints, as did the athletes of other sports doing the same workout. They also showed as large or larger increases in strength both in actual pounds and percentages.

One of Allyson’s sprint partners increased from 85 lbs to 215 lbs in the deadlift over the same time period yet increased her body weight from 98 pounds to 100 pounds. She had shown little improvement in her hurdle times over the previous 2 years but improved dramatically in 2003. Her best time in the 300 hurdles in 2001 was 46.67. In 2002 her time regressed to 46.83. In 2003, using the workout described above, she won the California Southern Section Division IV 300 meter hurdle championship in 45.88. This was a big improvement for someone who had been running competitively for at least 7 years. Soccer players had equivalent gains as did athletes in baseball and other sports.

Peter Weyand’s study has not been universally accepted by the coaching elite. Some may not trust the study because it challenges long-held concepts of what makes people run faster or it runs counter to what they think they see. Others may feel there is no way to adjust training to fit the study. From our experience, neither could be further from the truth!

A Resolute Nation

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

In the 1960s, what percentage of Americans believed the Apollo program was worth the expense?

Seventy percent? Eighty percent?

In reality, it was less than 50 percent.

Erik Conway, historian at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., explains: “The Apollo program only had a majority public support — over 51 percent — for the few months around the 1969 moon landing. That’s it. Otherwise, it was less than 50 percent.” In a 1969 opinion poll taken after the lunar landing, just 53 percent of American adults believed that the moon excursion was worth the expense. In fact, during the nine years of the Apollo program, American support pretty much fluctuated between 35 percent and 45 percent.

In a 2005 paper, Roger Launius, chief historian at NASA, wrote, “While there may be many myths about Apollo and spaceflight, the principal one is the story of a resolute nation moving outward into the unknown beyond Earth.” Nostalgia for the Space Age is rooted more in The Jetsons than in reality.

(Hat tip to Winchell Chung.)

Buying Olympic Gold with Visa

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

Americans no longer dominate the Olympics, but the top three decathletes are all Americans — apparently because of a little decision by Visa years ago:

For nearly a decade, the credit-card giant Visa provided funding for the U.S. decathlon team. But in a demonstration of how far a modest amount can go, that funding ended nearly 13 years ago and never added up to a fortune. “It really was almost a rounding error in our budget,” said John Bennett, a retired Visa marketing executive who has been hailed as “the Godfather” of American decathlon.


But this decline [after Bruce Jenner's 1976 win] bothered many in track circles, particularly Fred Samara, a former Olympic decathlete and the men’s track-and-field coach at Princeton. Along with fellow decathlete coach Harry Marra, Samara began knocking on corporate doors in search of funding. “We beat the bushes,” said Samara. “I mean, it was a long succession of pitches that didn’t go anywhere” — until they approached Visa. As an international Olympic sponsor, Visa was already spending $40 million on the Games. But Bennett, its marketing honcho, was intrigued. “I said, ‘Well, what do you need?’” Bennett recalled.

They created the USA-Visa Decathlon team, granting membership to the top-10 finishers at the annual national championships. Each athlete would receive a monthly stipend ranging from roughly $300 to $900, and the entire team would convene twice a year for national training camps, where they would receive top level-coaching. The entire program would cost just $200,000 per year.

Launched in 1990, the team recorded progress in 1992, when Dave Johnson secured America’s first decathlon medal in 16 years by taking a bronze. Four years later, Dan O’Brien broke a 20-year gold drought by finishing first at the Atlanta Games. America hasn’t gone without a decathlon medal since.

The Visa program ended in 2000, not long after Bennett retired. But its influence remains evident. Clay, the defending Olympic champion, attended Visa’s developmental programs as a youngster. At 32, Clay is hoping to become the first decathlete to win medals at three Olympic Games. “I would love to own that piece of history,” he said.

Eaton is coached by Marra, the cofounder of the Visa team. A three-time NCAA champion at the University of Oregon, Eaton is hoping at age 24 to win a spot at his first Olympics. And Hardee, who has posted two of the top three scores in the world since the Beijing Games, is coached by Mario Sategna, who competed as a member of the Visa team. Hardee, 28, was holding down fourth place in Beijing until he bonked the pole vault.

At the University of Arkansas, meanwhile, is a young hotshot named Gunnar Nixon — a freshman who holds the national high-school decathlon record. His coach studied under Kip Janvrin, who once starred on the Visa team. Marra said he considers Nixon to be a “third generation” product of the Visa program. “It’s heartwarming to see what we started still going forward,” said Marra.

How Ferragamo Remade the Shoe Industry

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

Salvatore Ferragamo first made his name by developing comfortable, attractive, period-appropriate cowboy boots for Hollywood:

“The West would have been conquered earlier if they had had boots like these,” said director Cecil B. DeMille.

Then he developed the arch:

He enrolled at the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles, to study anatomy.

There, Ferragamo tested his theories about weight distribution and the human skeleton. And he realized that he, like everyone else, was making shoes wrong. By measuring the foot while flat, they were creating shoes that supported the ball and the heel only. But human feet, when they are wearing shoes, need arch support. Ferragamo began building it into his shoes, and suddenly his customers began telling him he made them the most comfortable shoes they’d ever worn.

After establishing a successful shoe shop in Los Angeles, he went back to Italy:

Over the years, to increase his inventory, he had begun to sell some machine-made footwear — made on his own arch-friendly lasts — but had never been satisfied with the quality of the shoes. He began to wonder why the factory model couldn’t be applied to handmade shoes. In Italy, where labor was cheaper than in America and shoemaking a more widespread artisanal craft, he could hire other cobblers to work for him, creating an assembly line on which every stage of manufacture would be touched by human hands.

Italian shoemakers weren’t won over easily, however. Ferragamo went first to Naples, where the cobblers laughed at his proposal. He tried Rome, Milan, Turin, Venice and Padua with no luck. Finally, he settled in Florence, all but bribing shoemakers to work for him by offering the highest wages around. With 60 men in his employ, Salvatore designed an 18-shoe collection. Then, after sailing back to New York, he invited the city’s top department-store buyers to his room at the Roosevelt Hotel to see his new shoes.

George Miller of the I. Miller department store was first to arrive. “You have nothing, nothing!” he proclaimed. “Go back to Hollywood.”

Ferragamo then called Manuel Gerton of Saks Fifth Avenue and braced himself.

Gerton was in a rush, but Ferragamo could see that his eyes were alight. “You have done something new, Salvatore,” he said. “You keep these shoes away from everyone. I want them.”

And so Ferragamos became the first Italian shoes ever to be exported and sold internationally.

The Great Depression and sanctions imposed on Italy almost killed his business. Then he developed the wedge.

How Unhip Amazon Can Walk the Fashion Runway

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

How can a middle-brow company like Amazon become a credible source of fashion rather than merely apparel? Virginia Postrel offers a few suggestions:

Emphasize that you are providing a large market, rather than a mass market.

Mass markets spread the fixed cost of producing the same good over a lot of different buyers. They tend toward homogeneity and one-size-fits-all products. Large markets simply have a lot of people in them. A large population can transform a formerly unprofitable niche into a profitable market. The bigger the market, the more varied the goods. That’s why you find more variety in New York than in Kansas City.

The big advantage an online retailer like Amazon offers a fashion house is the chance to bring together all the potential customers scattered outside the largest cities. At the pricey end, at least, Amazon is not looking for a mass market. It is creating a large one — making room for many more niche brands and potentially for a given brand’s full line of styles. Success doesn’t depend on dumbing down fashion. And selection, not low prices, is the killer app.

Don’t be Macy’s when you can be Bloomingdale’s.

Macy’s Inc. owns both department stores, but Bloomingdale’s Inc. carries more expensive, exclusive fashion brands. Amazon’s primary site competes with middle-market Macy’s. It needs a different brand to compete with Bloomingdale’s. That could be MyHabit, its existing upscale flash-sale site, or it could be something new.