The (pretty amazing) Adidas story

150px-Logo_brand_AdidasThe year is 1918 and a young man from Herzogenaurach (a small town in Franconia, Germany) sits in his mother’s wash kitchen, assembling shoes. Not just any shoe, though, a lightweight, flexible, one suitable for running and walking. Power is fickle and so he often uses a stationary bike to generate electricity for light and his sowing machines. He’s not a pro, even though his father and brother used to work at a shoe manufactory before heading off to fight in World War I. His name is Adolf (“Adi”) Dassler, and while he doesn’t know it yet, he’ll revolutionize a lot of things.

His brother Rudolf, the hothead, joins him in 1924 after Adi’s work begins to pay off. Together they found the Brothers Dassler Shoe Factory (Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik), or GDS, with each of the letters in a white stripe inscribed upon the shoes. With almost doubled output, Adi and Rudolf sell between twenty and forty pairs of their shoes a month, enough to make ends meet, move out of the wash kitchen, and set aside money for an event almost twelve years into the future: the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

The Jesse Owens shoe
The Jesse Owens shoe

A week before the official start of the games, Adi Dassler rode a train from Herzogenaurach to Berlin, a multi-day adventure at the time, and talked his way into the US athletes’ quarters. There he picked the most athletic looking guy, a man by the name of Jesse Owens. Dassler explained, in broken English, that he had spikes that would improve anyone’s run and, after a simple handshake deal, had his first sponsored athlete. With this, Dassler became the first German company to sponsor anyone in sports and the first company worldwide to do so with an African American. Owens won four gold medals in Berlin, the highest at its time, which increased Dassler’s reputation manyfold, selling over 500,000 pairs of shoes between 1937 and 1939.

The Dassler’s factory was recommissioned in 1940 to produce weaponry, putting the brothers out of business. Poverty and living in close quarters in a town designated a major target for US air raids took its toll, cumulating in 1943 in a bunker near both families’ houses. Adi, entering the bunker, remarked that “those bastards are here again,” a comment his brother who’d arrived earlier with his wife, took to mean him.

Adi Dassler
Adi Dassler

The final split happened shortly after the end of the war when Rudolf was arrested and convicted of being a member of the Waffen SS (a bogus charge based on one of the bounty drives in which US GIs would give anyone money who could name a Waffen SS member in their street, often used to air pre-war grievances).

American troops marching on Nuremburg and Herzogenaurach had already placed charges and were waiting for order to blow up the Dassler’s factory on a rainy morning in April 1945 when Adi’s wife Käthe, a beautiful and smart woman who would later go on to be the brains behind most of Adidas’ operations and sales, convinced the Major in charge to spare the building and allow a restart of the shoe production lines. A few days later Mussolini and Hitler died, effectively ending war in Germany.

Despite strained relationships, requiring two similarly equipped offices at opposite ends of the building, the brothers resumed production, selling predominantly to US GIs and British soldiers. The memory of Jesse Owens aided sales with Adi once proudly proclaiming that “Blacks come from Berlin to buy my shoes.”

In October 1947, a few days after a particularly harsh fight between the brothers about a design decision on one of the shoes, Rudolf found himself locked out of his office. Adi Dassler (or, better, his wife) wasted no time, rebranding the company into the portmanteau Adi Dassler. Rudolf, meanwhile, started RuDa a mile away.

This was the beginning of two trailblazer sports companies. And, more interestingly, the world’s greatest commercial family feud. So big and well known was this rivalry that visitors and handymen alike would deliberately wear the other brothers’ shoes when visiting, knowing that both would hand them a new pair of their own shoes to wear before entering the house.

Rudolf Dassler
Rudolf Dassler

RuDa rebranded Puma in 1948 and scored a huge victory right from the start: Rudolf equipped the German soccer team with Puma boots and gear. Sponsorship rivalry saw its weirdest moment in 1960 when sprinter Armin Hary, having been rebuffed for his outrageous demands by Adidas, won gold in Pumas. Attempting to cash in on both companies he switched shoes to Adidas before the ceremony, leading to both brothers’ scorn and no payment at all with Adi banning Adidas from ever sponsoring a German sprinter again.

Rudolf Dassler died in 1974, his brother in 1978. They’re buried in the same cemetery but on exactly opposing sides.

Though many sports wear companies have learned from and copied Adidas, Nike would go on to surpass both and the rest. Nike was initially founded as Blue Ribbon Sports to distribute Adidas and Puma in the United States but, after both companies insisted on exclusive deals, imported Japanese shoes instead. And, sure, those Nike shoes are good, the swoosh is iconic, and the “Just Do It” on almost everything. But none of those upstarts can claim to have started on a stationary bike for electricity and to have torn asunder with its rivalries the very town it brought from a sleepy 1200 souls to a booming sports wear metropolis.

Twothousand Fourteen Health

It’s actually pretty cool to be sick in 2014. Not like the early naughts, the nineties, or — I presume — before that. Technology has made being not all upright a pretty easy and enjoyable (within the framework of, you know, being sick) affair.

My doctor emails me and responds to my inquiries via the same. He’s on Hangouts if I really need something quick, pops off when he’s off work, and can — in those cases where it’s warranted — initiate a quick video Hangout. My prescriptions are coded onto my health card, one swipe at the pharmacist’s and I get what I need, no chickenscratch accidents. If one of my renewals runs out I can SMS or email the lady in charge at the hospital and she’ll renew me, right there, while I wait at the pharmacy. I book my appointments online, my calendar gets an automatic sync and Google Now reminds me when to leave to be there in time.

Something like a three day fast can be researched from the comfort of my own office, the best resources marked and tagged in Google Stars for reading on the train.

A quick Google search and I am a member of three communities of people dealing with the same issues. Worst case I could find the appropriate Subreddit or even ask on Quora.

Detractors claim this takes away from the human contact. False, I say. I spend less time in solitary confinement inside waiting rooms and more time speaking to my caregivers and people like me. I miss no appointments and a coded health history and prescription record helps my pharmacy to have a chat with me about supplemental things and remedies. Because I found my doctor via a recommendation engine I have someone I trust completely that makes me feel cared for. The system knows I am no friend of faith healing or faith in general and abhor the abomination upon thinking homo sapiens that is homeopathy and other quack remedies of its ilk. It recommended accordingly, a fact that makes it easier to speak freely with my medical counterparts.

It’s not just being able to play Leo’s Fortune while waiting to have needles stuck into me. But it helps.

Putting My Chef’s Hat on for a Second

Recently a restaurant posted a lengthy Craigslist screed about cell phones and how they ruined their service. After, so says the post, reviewing old and new security footage, the owners found that bad reviews weren’t their fault. It’s the damn smartphones and the weird foodies who use them and take pictures with them.

Now, let me be clear here: I abhor(!!) the photo taking customs in restaurants. As a chef I hate how my food is being turned around from its intended purpose as a means to satiate, excite, stimulate, and invigorate to a tool in someone’s bragging rights arsenal, a Likes-catcher, Loves-maker, Instagram-filler. As a cook I am appalled by the fact that my work in the kitchen is being Instagram-filtered and reduced to 600×600 pixels instead of enjoyed. And as a diner I want to strangle the companions on my table who spend more time taking pictures of their food than enjoying it. I won’t mention the unspeakable things I have often wished upon those on the next table over whose flashes and hubbub over pulling out $2000 cameras to photograph a $9 burger have disrupted my meal more than once.

I’m not a fan of people Facebooking, Instagramming, Tumblring, Twittering, Yelping, Tindering, Grinding, or whatever during a meal.

But more, much more than that, am I not a fan of restaurateurs who spew this kind of crap onto the market.

“Chef checks his video feeds and what he finds will make you forget everything you thought you knew”

“Restaurant wonders about customer reviews, the result will leave you speechless.”

No. Fuck, no.

Let’s presume for a second that they’re right. That in 2004 everyone watched their food come with rapt attention, no one used any form of communication, whatsoever, and that — indeed — everything was better, then. Let’s just presume that, doubtful as it may be.

Even in that case:

Firstly, no restaurant functions in a vacuum. If this places’ story were true, really true, then every good restaurant out there would suffer from the same issues: great service, great food, bad reviews. That’s just not the case. Many restaurants managed to maintain great ratings, still serve amazing food, still have amazing service, and still get great ratings. Hop on Yelp, Google Local, and others, and scroll back. Often, unless a total change in service, food, and ownership occurred, early reviews (Yelp goes back to 2005 as far as I can tell) mirror those of today’s diners.

Secondly, those thing happen. Restaurants change. Most any idiot can cook a few dishes after having been shown how to do it a couple of times by a trained chef. Most any imbecile can serve plates. Our value as restaurants comes from our ability to read our clientele, know our customers, and rapidly adapt to their realities. Great places do this from Maitre d’ to the final check, we communicate in small notes between the margins, tell each other our observations, and attempt to excite and satiate even the most complicated customer. That is our pride. Seriously, I can teach a monkey to cook and serve food, I am sure. It takes a professional, an artisan, a craftsperson, someone with love and dedication to the craft, to always perform in a way that deserves, gathers, keeps, and uses, a customer’s attention.

This piece uses a common boogieman, the camphone wielding, anti-social, diner, to excuse away a host of issues. Front and center the restaurant’s inability to create an environment in which such a customer would feel better if they didn’t Snapchat someone’s food and, instead, ordered theirs. It’s cool to hate on Instagrammers and put mediocre eateries onto a pedestal. Don’t. Great food still attracts great reviews. We all have cell phones. We all have Facebook and Instagram and Pinterest and Tumblr.

Did you know that similar complaints can be found in the 60s, when restaurateurs bemoaned the “hectic” lifestyle that killed the lounge in many fine dining restaurants. Did you know that the loss of cigarette girls was once blamed for shorter, grumpier, meals?

Technology, people with cell phones, Instagram, all those things might look like they’re to blame. But we’re not in the blame game as restaurateurs we’re in the hospitality business. To hate progress, to decry changes in dining habits, to blame the Internet and the people who use it everywhere, is to shift blame from where it really belongs — the restaurant. Diners have a choice. Diners evaluate all choices based on their own baseline experiences. If your restaurant gets worse ratings than comparable restaurants, which are frequented by the same diners, you’re very mistaken in blaming them.

Sentiment – made simple by looking at Internet comments

Media:

A Google Executive is found dead on his boat after having been injected with heroin by a call girl. She fled the scene without calling for help and was caught after cops analyzed the security camera footage on the boat.

Right leaning commenter:

This shows, once again, the decay of moral values in the United States. A good Christian man would have been at home with his wife and children and would not have been on a boat with a prostitute doing drugs. If he’d been a Good Christian-America[tm] this would not have happened.

Left leaning commenter:

This illustrates clearly the failure of US drug policies. If drug use were not illegal she would have gone to fetch help. It’s the criminalization of drugs that leads to deaths.

German commenter:

Typical. She got caught because he violated her rights to privacy by filming her. This so clearly demonstrates that Google and its employees are nothing but troopers in a surveillance  apparatus. Did you expect anything else from Google?

2014-07-17 10_31_26-Callgirl soll Google-Manager umgebracht haben

Why a Female Thor is absolutely a-OK

… and why it has nothing to do with 21st century gender sensibilities.

When Marvel announced the next version of its iconic Thor would be female, the (nerd-)world imploded. Half found it amazing and a great gender awareness move, half seemed appalled that Marvel took liberties with a beloved comic figure, historical mythological creature, and religious symbol.

Thor_and_J_rmungandr_by_Fr_lich-270x285
Thor battling Jörmungandr

Some defenders of the move approach this from the “likeness but not representation” side, which is — frankly — idiotic. If Marvel used a male version of Mother Goddess Parvati, complete with name and live-in love life with another male god named Shiva, no one would presume it just being inspired by Hindu mythology. It’s a gender-swapped Parvati, simple as that.

Some of the offended point at Thor’s qualities, his “male” traits, violence, honor, that stuff. Which is — even more so than the defense above — idiotic. Mythology (even within Norse) and history has many female violent, honorable, torn, ignorant, and duty-bound to a fault characters. One only needs to look as far as Thor’s mother, Fjörgynn (Hárbarðsljóð 56 and Völuspá 56), who is both Earth personified and had a brief relationship with Thor’s father, Odin, and (as Fjörgynn, Gylfaginning 9, and Skáldskaparmál 19, Lokasenna 26) the father of Odin’s wife Frygg.

Both arguments are tractionless within the framework of Norse mythology, however. Unlike Christianity and many other mythologies, Norse embraced the impossibilities and grandstanding of its stories. Few Norse actually “believed” in Thor, Odin, Frigg, or Loki, and instead viewed the stories of Æsir and Vanir as just that — great stories, meant to convey a deeper meaning upon which humans built their own brand of morality.

Ah,_what_a_lovely_maid_it_is!_by_Elmer_Boyd_Smith
Thor dressing in a bride’s outfit to travel to Jötunheimr with Loki, impersonating Freya.

Snorri Sturluson opens his Prose Edda with this explanation, that humans who once won wars were venerated and eventually became gods in the stories told around the hearths and campfires of their people. Whom better to take it from than the man who essentially developed the image of Thor used in Marvel’s comics?

Even outside Snorri’s intro there’s ample evidence that to the peoples of the Viking age the gods and goddesses of their stories were fantastical figures with no claim to realism. The storytellers of old freely wove in Roman, Greek, Baltic, Slavic, and Celtic attributes and story elements, turning the whole Norse pantheon into a source of inspiration and fables meant to convey meaning, not reality. While it is true that the Temple at Uppsala saw its fair share of human sacrifices to Odin, many mythographers argue that these sacrifices were more to an idea than a manifest god.

In “Stargate” Thor is an Area 51-looking genderless alien, few complained about that one.

In a sense then Marvel’s comics are closer to the reality of Viking era storytelling than the idea that Thor or other Norse gods have a definite personality or gender. The comic book artists of today follow in the footsteps of Norse storytellers who used the loose framework of a divided universe and familiar name/place combinations to create stories that inspired, invigorated, and suggested specific modes of interaction with the world around the listener. Thor, Loki, Odin, Frigg, Njord, and others were convenient and well known antagonists and protagonists (the latter more than the former), comic book heroes in the hands of crafty tellers of tall tales.

Let’s celebrate the fact that — while the message changes — the tools remain the same. It fills me, as a convicted follower of Norse morality, with pride and hope when the devices that informed the lives of many Norsepeople before me will still be used to further the ideas that should be common sense – from gender equality to the fact that sometimes you need to swing a hammer and smash someone’s head in, no matter your chromosomal makeup.