Following a flashed stimulus, I show that a simple neurophysiological mechanism in the primary visual system can generate orientation selectivity based on the first incoming spikes. A biological model of the lateral geniculate nucleus generates an asynchronous wave of spikes, with the most strongly activated neurons firing first. Geniculate activation leads to both the direct excitation of a cortical pyramidal cell and disynaptic feed-forward inhibition. The mechanism provides automatic gain control, so the cortical neurons respond over a wide range of stimulus contrasts. It also demonstrates the biological plausibility of a new computationally efficient neural code: latency rank order coding.