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Draft Day

draft-day

The movie Draft Day answers the question, “It is possible to make a movie that’s less entertaining than Cleveland Browns football?” The answer is no. This movie is more enjoyable to watch than most Browns games. It’s a low bar, but the movie clears it.

As you may or may not know, I am a longtime Browns fan who has vowed not to watch another game until this decrepit corpse of a franchise posts a record that is two games over .500. I happen to think the Cleveland Browns since their return in 1999 have been a complete and total fraud, a shoddy facsimile of a football franchise owned and run by a series of incompetent executives who have taken advantage of one of the great fan bases in pro sports and salted the Cleveland sports terrain with awful coaching decisions and terrible draft picks. That the team is now owned by a man being investigated by the FBI for swindling his business customers does not give me hope for the future of the team. If anything, it fits the pattern quite nicely.

I wanted to hate Draft Day. I said as much on Carlos Jaime’s “Come to Your Senses” podcast. As part of the podcast, we watch movie trailers, and we goof on them. The Draft Day trailer was so boring I thought I was watching an actual Browns game. Kevin Costner looked as dynamic as the Browns’ running game, the plot did not appear to have a central conflict and the action revolved around an invisible thing—a decision. Cleveland sports history is littered with bad decisions, from trading Rocky Colavito to Red Right 88, to the Prevent Defense on The Drive to The Decision.

Unlike the Browns, Draft Day was not as awful as I thought it would be. Granted, it’s not a great movie. It will soon be forgotten. Probably the most damning aspect of all: It’s a big wet sloppy kiss to the NFL—all rah-rah with none of the unseemly underside, like, you know, injuries, permanent brain damage, crime and ruined lives. NFL execs have to be very pleased with how this particular slice of football propaganda turned out. Nonetheless, the film held my attention all the way through. Part of this was because of the way it was written as a sports mystery. Part of it also was that I was engaging in Browns fantasy play in my head, hoping and wishing the Browns will make the right decision, because maybe in a world constructed by Hollywood that might actually happen.

Some of the scenes are unintentionally hilarious because of awkward or lazy cinematography. There are segments of dialogue that are preposterous. I heard Bill Simmons talk way back about how every sports movie should have a hardcore fan or insider as a producer, to avoid unrealistic scenes and dialogue. Draft Day could have used one of those. But there were some enjoyable moments in the film, and the acting by Jennifer Garner, Griffin Newman, Chadwick Boseman and Arian Foster was pretty good. And the movie unexpectedly contains Sam Elliott. I’ll take unexpected Sam Elliott in every movie please.

My biggest criticism is that some dick put John Elway and The Drive in the middle of the movie. Oh, thanks, and f#$% you, too.

If you’re a Browns fan, I’d say it’s worth watching, if for no other reason than it will be more entertaining than the Browns’ actual draft day, which is the highlight of every Browns’ fan’s calendar until … the ensuing draft day. And so on and so forth, as it was and as it shall be forever and ever.

- @joedonatelli

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Flash Boys

flash-boys

In Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt Michael Lewis deftly explains how modern Wall Street works, which is a notable challenge, because you get the impression from reading this book that many top people on Wall Street don’t completely understand how Wall Street works. Lewis uses plain language and easy-to-understand examples to illustrate complex systems that mainly exist in fiber-optic cables and servers.

The hero of the story is Brad Katsuyama, a Canadian Wall Street guy (an outsider, really) who breaks with the go-along-get-along culture on Wall Street and questions what his company and others like it are actually doing with investor money. It turns out Wall Street trades are being front-run by high-frequency traders who, thanks to their better technology, are able to see orders before they’re actually placed and buy low and sell high to investors. Katsuyama says the market is rigged, and it’s hard to argue with this assertion. His solution was to build an exchange—called IEX—that eliminates the advantages of high-frequency traders.

Here are Katsuyama and Lewis in a CNBC segment that reportedly brought Wall Street to a halt.

The highlights

The whole thing

And Michael Lewis on ’60 Minutes’

Why does this matter for any of us outside of Wall Street? Because our money that is being invested for our retirements is part of a corrupt system that is—according to Lewis and Katsuyama—being gamed by companies that aren’t interested in investing money but rather in exploiting legal and technological loopholes. We’re all party to this, and we’re all losers under this scheme.

Flash Boys is a revealing, educational and maddening story, and I hope it gets the attention it deserves. Capitalism is practiced every day by hardworking people across the country, but the public face of capitalism, and the choke point where Main Street investor capital lies, appears to be corrupt.

- @joedonatelli

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Virtual Reality in Cleveland

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People who move away from the state they grew up in tell pollsters they leave for economic reasons. Those who stay cite family relationships and connections. That sounds about right. I left Cleveland for work. There are more opportunities to write and edit in bigger cities such as Washington and Los Angeles. (Although the Internet is turning some of these jobs into telecommuting positions, which mitigates the advantage of location. Not entirely, though. Face-to-face relationships matter.)

I couldn’t find any data on what factor weather plays in migration, but my thinking is that it matters some. Boston, Chicago and New York are larger cities that also have lousy winter weather, but those cities are dynamic business, capital, technology and educational centers. People will pay the price of bad weather in exchange for the opportunities afforded by living there. Cleveland does not have their allure. Add in the awful weather, and there are more reasons to move if you’re a new college grad who doesn’t mind living away from parents.

Which is why I think Mark Zuckerberg’s purchase of Oculus Rift could be terrific news for Cleveland.

What?

Follow me on this one. It’s 2024. “Melissa” teaches at an experimental charter school. It’s completely virtual. She works from home in her Shaker Heights basement. Her students are in their bedrooms all over Cleveland. They’re all learning via virtual reality headsets, which not only connect them as if they are in the same room but give Melissa access to an Internet’s worth of video, photos and web pages with which to teach. These children will have never heard of a slide projector. The students who get stuck on math problems use their Khan Academy plug-ins for help quite a bit. Analytics allow Melissa and school administrators to see which students are slipping and where so as not to let them fall behind.

There is a one-hour recess, which Melissa uses to make a smoothie, log into the “Los Angeles” setting on her virtual reality glasses and jog down Santa Monica beach, which thanks to Google’s Google Earth plugin, looks exactly like Santa Monica Beach. While she is jogging she is able to soak in the sights or send and receive email, phone calls and text messages.

One of the messages is from her real estate agent. She thinks Melissa should sell. Virtual reality is causing a massive population shift. People are now fleeing the overcrowded and expensive coastal cities for more livable and affordable cities like Cleveland, and her giant, 100-year-old home could fetch quite a sum. She’ll think about it.

Melissa’s students, meanwhile, eat lunch at home and then log back in and play virtual games of kickball, tag and baseball, not unlike we play on the Wii today. They talk directly or text to each other and tell secrets or share jokes, just like kids everywhere. A school administrator watches over them to make sure no one misbehaves.

School resumes in the afternoon, and the students partake in independent study projects. Melissa is on hand to guide them and answer any questions, as are older students from the same school who volunteer to help their younger counterparts. The boys in the class are working on creating a perfect simulation of Cleveland Browns Stadium to play football in. Some of the girls are too, as virtual reality has leveled the gender playing field for virtual sports. The best quarterback in the class is also its smallest girl, in terms of physical stature. But she has a great arm and knows how to read a “cover-2 zone” better than any of the boys.

After school our teacher Melissa logs off for an hour, takes care of some errands, and then she logs onto the Winking Lizard plugin, where she hangs out with her friends and plays trivia and other games. Someone suggests they all go check out the Pyramids of Egypt, much like today we might say, “Let’s go see a movie.”

“I can’t afford the Pyramids,” says Melissa. “Not on a teacher’s salary.”

That’s OK, says her friend, “John.” His employer, Progressive Insurance, bought all of its Cleveland employees the Pyramids and the Great Wall of China as a holiday bonus this year. Progressive spends a lot of money on virtual benefits because they lead to higher employee retention and satisfaction at its Cleveland headquarters.

After a few hours of exploring the Pyramids, Melissa logs off. She spends an hour in her living room playing piano, which she has been learning from a teacher in Japan. It’s important, she knows, to keep some roots in the real world, especially when she’s spending all day online.

At bedtime she brushes her teeth, changes into her sweats and walks to the kitchen for a glass of water. She looks out the window for the first time all day and notices how hard it’s snowing.

She clicks off the light and heads to bed.

- @joedonatelli

Photo by Erik Drost

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