The Blank Check

 “A veteran is someone who, at one point in their life wrote a blank check made payable to The United States of America, for an amount up to and including their life.”

That’s an unattributed quote that gets thrown around a lot. It’s a thought that’s never quite squared with me though. I’m a veteran. And when I signed up, I didn’t write any blank checks. I signed up to do a job for a reason. I did it because it was a good and honorable profession. It paid for my college. And when that obligation was met I kept doing it because it paid me well and took care of my family. And then one day when I couldn’t do it any more, I stopped. Or at least I tried. But I couldn’t. Because I didn’t know how.

When I started, I never really thought that my life was at risk any more than anyone else that drove on a freeway to work, or flew a plane for a living or worked on a high-rise construction site. I’d like to think that I chose the path that I did out of patriotism. That I raised my hand because I loved my country and that I wanted to defend our way of life.  It’s not that I don’t. Or that I wouldn’t. It’s just been a long time since anyone of us had to actually defend an American’s ability to live the American way in America. Really long. Centuries. So when that particular reverence is paid to vets, I struggle with it. Because when we’re really honest, most vets would tell you what I just did.

There’s something comforting to the notion that those that made the ultimate sacrifice had an expectation that their service may be their end. Somehow, it makes us feel better about it. They all knew what they were getting into. Or so goes the story. The truth is, that’s not how it works. We signed up for our own reasons and hoped for experiences that would help shape us. We wanted camaraderie and war stories. We wanted the glory of serving during battle and the recognition that came with it. None of us wanted to die.  Almost none of us expected we would. But sometimes it happened.  It’s a heavy price to pay. And one that’s been paid by too many of our nation’s young.

Every now and then, I take a run to the Cabrillo Monument, out at the end of Point Loma where I live in San Diego. It’s a beautiful run that takes you past a panoramic view of the harbor and the San Diego skyline. It also takes you through Fort Rosecrans cemetery, where thousands of veterans are buried in a long rolling plot of land that is straddled by the bustling of San Diego harbor on one side and the quiet enormity of the Pacific on the other.

There’s one particular marker that sticks out, near the ocean side entrance. SGT Alejandro Dominguez was killed June 25th 2008, ten weeks short of hisTombstone 25th birthday.  I didn’t know SGT Dominguez. We didn’t serve together.  His gravestone, his obituary and an official press release with a two line blurb about his death are all I needed to know.

He woke up on his 18th birthday, September 11, 2001, to see the attack on the World Trade Center. The day he was old enough to go to war for his country, his country went to war. Shortly after, he enlisted and made multiple deployments to Iraq. On his last, while serving in Al Anbar, his vehicle hit a roadside bomb, killing him and SPC Joel Taylor and PFC James Yohn, two soldiers junior to him whose lives he no doubt felt accountable for.

There’s a narrative about SGT Dominguez that  you could build that sounds like this.  He was born on 9/11.  In an act of patriotism he rushed out to defend his country and willingly sacrificed himself to defend our way of life. In the end he payed the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. May he rest in peace.

Knowing what I know about the young men and women I served with, there’s probably truth to that. But I also know something else. It’s incomplete.

SGT Dominguez did his part. He raised his hand. And served his time. But he went back for more. Because like so many, he did write that blank check. Not to America. But to the life of a soldier at war.

In 2004, about the time that SGT Dominguez was heading out for his first deployment, I was coming home. I’d just completed back to back tours in Operation Enduring Freedom. I was done. I resigned my commission and transitioned out a few weeks after I returned to be with my wife and start a family. About six months later, Operation Red Wings went down. It was the mission that would eventually be made into the movie Lone Survivor. 19 Special Operations personnel were lost. Men I knew.

The day that it happened, the wife of a friend of mine called me. Her husband was deployed. It was heir first go at it as a married couple. She had watched the news and was worried. She asked me if I had any information about the operation or who had been involved and if her husband were ok. I couldn’t tell her anything. I didn’t know anything. I was out of the loop. I was away from the life, getting my information from the news, just like her. I hung up the phone and got sick. I may have been done with the life, but it wasn’t done with me. The guilt was overpowering. The urge to fight back was all consuming, but impossible all the same. I was lost.

About a year later, I was recalled back to active duty. I was happy to be back where I belonged, with my brothers and sisters in arms, fighting again.

I hadn’t realized that I too had written that blank check, or who I had written it to, until  I was standing on the tarmac at the on ramp of a C17 heading to Iraq, leading a troop one last time. I felt whole again. More whole than I ever felt as a husband. More whole then I ever felt as a father. Perhaps like SGT Dominguez, watching over his two junior soldiers heading out the door one last time, leaving a wife and two young children behind, never to see them again.

The life is hard to stop living.  And the fallen of my generation, more times than not, fell before they had a chance to try.  And too many more of them fell after they left, failing to find the purpose or the drive they once felt at war.

The fallen are heroes. Maybe more than we realize. All of those men and women laying beneath those humble stones had plans for the days after they died. They all had hopes to get out alive, even if they didn’t know how. To start or finish a family. Write a book. Start a blog. But none of them did. They gave their life to a task that only they could do. Or a teammate only they could save. For many of them, the life of a warrior was all they knew any more. All they would do. All they could do.

This war has shaped my generation the way that only a war that travels with fighting men and women for 15 years can. And for those of you whose check was cashed, we remember you this weekend. Not because of the hundreds of millions of Americans sleeping soundly in their beds at night. Chances are, they’d still be sleeping soundly if you were still alive, perhaps even if you never went. Remember you for the brothers and sisters who fought this war with you. And the bond we have. And the debt you paid for us. You never got the chance to try to stop living the life. And for that, we will be forever in your debt.


Fierce Lives Matter

I am a graduate of the mighty class of 1999 from the United States Naval Academy. While I was there, I was less than a model midshipman. I was a lousy student. I struggled to follow the thousands of ridiculous rules and finished in the bottom of my class. I made a lot of friends though. And had a lot less fun than most college kids have at college. But it was worth it. Of that, I am sure.

Getting yourself into and out of trouble at a service academy is an art form. Some master it better than others. The night before the Army/Navy game in 1997, a bunch of kids from 19th Company, my company, decided to do something stupid. What isn’t important. I don’t even remember what it was to be honest. But we were all put on lock down for the weekend.

Screen Shot 2016-05-13 at 9.38.53 PMThe next day we all got on a bus and drove to Giants Stadium to go sit in the stands and cheer our team on, in uniform, as has been the tradition for a century. Afterward, while the rest of the school went on liberty and spent the night in New York, we got back on the bus and drove back to Maryland.

In protest, a few of us wore luau shirts under our uniform jackets so that the ridiculous pastel patterns would muddy up the pure black sea of midshipmen coats at the end of the stadium. After halftime, a giant banner unfurled from the deck above us with the words “Free 19” on it-an effort to gain our freedom.

My roommate and I were from New Jersey.  And Giants Stadium was our hometown. The lock down was going to cost us a whole lot of fun. This was our protest. Our cause: Beer and partying. And no one cared that a bunch of boys from Annapolis were disrespecting the uniform in service to missing out on partying. On the contrary, it started a tradition. Free 19 is a phrase that lives on to this day at Annapolis.

Last week 16 of the 17 African American women in the 2016 graduating class of the United States Military Academy at West Point posed for pictures in their uniforms. In one of the photos, they raised their right fists. Shortly after, the Army conducted an investigation into whether or not the women violated DOD regulations prohibiting political displays while in uniform-African Americans with raised right fists being a symbol of the “Black Lives Matter Movement”.

Within days, they were all cleared of any formal offense. No punitive actions were taken against them. There’s still a bit of a political debate going on. So I’d like to take a little time to share my point of view on it.

Rules prohibiting military personnel from displaying political support as official representatives of the military are important, maybe about as important as any rule the military has. Those rules affirm a critically important thing about our military and our society. That we have a force of arms, completely separate from the political process, entirely under the command of civilian elected officials and therefore formed entirely in service to the American people.

The military serves the people. And as a result, we enjoy a society where the American people have lived free of fear from the most destructive man-made force the world has ever seen. So those rules are important.

If there’s one thing that I can absolutely assure you, all sixteen of those cadets are aware of that now, if they weren’t a few weeks ago. The military has a good way of making you realize when you’ve wandered off the path. The Army was doing its job to ensure that critical rule was recognized in what I think was an important, teachable moment. Not because of the nature of the movement in question but because the rule matters that much.

That’s a very important distinction.

I’d like to respond to some of the more offended folks I’ve seen take this topic to task though. Because there’s some mad people out there. And their frustration is worth responding to.

If a lack of punishment here bothered you deeply, you probably didn’t go to a service academy-West Point, Annapolis or the Air Force Academy. If you did, you probably weren’t a woman that graduated from one of them. And if you were, you probably weren’t a woman of color.

This year, at West Point, 17 out of about a thousand graduates were African American women. Which means that for the four toughest years of their lives, and the lives of most people they will run into, one had to fill a room with 75 classmates before statistically, one could expect the 76th to look like them.  And that’s hard. Because we don’t tend to give people that aren’t like us the same leeway.  Even if it’s not on purpose. It’s just the way it is. Getting through West Point with less leeway is hard. Crazy hard.

I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman at a service academy but I know with certainty, they didn’t have it easier than I did. I was a male athlete at Annapolis and I made it through on the goodwill of others that these women unquestionably had less of. If you think that’s not true, go ask any woman who ever graduated from a service academy.  If you can find one.

In America, the racial inequality divide is staggering. We can debate the causes but when you’re black in America, the chance that you came from a poor family, a family with a single parent or an incarcerated parent or a low income neighborhood is so disturbingly slanted against you that graduating from a school like West Point is statistically so improbable, that it’s literally unbelievable. As in, if someone tells you they did it, you should be skeptical because it’s so rare.

Here’s a hard truth.  These women would never say this. So I will. You didn’t do what they just did. And you probably couldn’t. So take a breath.

I have no idea what the intent of those women were. I’m not naive enough to believe that all of them were just fired up at graduation. Some probably were.  Or maybe they were doing it to shout at the top of their lungs that that black lives do matter. And that they matter because this is what can be done with one.

One of the most valuable lessons I ever learned at Annapolis was learning the nuance of how not to conform amidst an overwhelming sea of conformity.  And learning it meant that I got it wrong a lot more than I got it right. And like those West Point cadets, I took some lumps for it along the way. But it was worth it. There’s some heavy decorations and more than a half dozen war time deployments on those idiots in the luau shirts above. Much of it was enabled by one indomitable notion. Don’t tell me I can’t. 

We were misfits and failures. And people told us in no uncertain terms we weren’t fit to lead.  But that streak of defiance, the very one that drove us to places others wouldn’t go, is an important one. The trajectory of humankind has pivoted on it. It always has.

It always will.

So, if you’re going to break that rule, and I want to be clear, it’s a good rule, that’s how you do it. Go be one of the 17 black women on the planet that graduated from West Point this year. And in a moment of pride and realization of all you’ve been through to get to that moment,  raise your right fist. Because the world told you and your brothers and sisters that you couldn’t accomplish what you just did.  And you said, don’t tell me I can’t. Because black lives do matter. Because they can be fierce lives. And fierce lives move us.

The separation of politics and the military will survive it. So for the vocally outraged, you can rest easy. Everything is going to be all right.

And for those proud women, I’ll add one more thing. Welcome to the family ladies. Now get to work. There’s plenty of opportunity to put boot to ass for God and country right over the next ridge line. And I would have been proud to serve with any one of you any day.

The Cult of Personality

It finally happened. While I sat in my car during one of my soul crushing Southern California commutes, jammed into the I-15 freeway, paying my morning penance for living in the suburbs, it happened.  On the radio, pundits were worked into a lather, clambering about the latest runaway victory of candidate Trump. Their tone was acceptance.  Gone was the harsh warnings of the danger of nominee Trump or President Trump, dare we say. Gone was the disbelief or predictions of failure. Acceptance had seeped into their consciousness. And for the first time, I felt myself starting to normalize a Trump general election candidate-then a President Trump.  I could feel myself preparing for what that might be like. Because that’s what we do.

We humans are capable of normalizing amazing things. We can put up with a lot, if we choose to. Years ago, deployed as a Naval Officer to Africa, my team built a camp in a remote location. Within days, a massive hive of killer bees infested the showers and stung us to death whenever we wanted to get clean. I remember one time in particular after I’d showered and endured a half dozen bee stings to the face,  mumbling to a buddy heading the other direction, “At least I’m clean”.  I was willing to deal with quite a bit of downside-repeated bee stings to the face, because I was so dirty. I felt it was a fair trade off. Get clean, or don’t get stung by bees. I had no third option. Now I was normalizing President Trump, because I felt like I had not other choice.

So there I was, sitting in my car, stuck in traffic, suffering through the bee stings to the face that was candidate Trump’s victory speech in Nevada. I started thinking, “maybe it wouldn’t be too bad to have that ass hole stick it to the Chinese…maybe he might finally strike a deal between Israel and Palestine…maybe he could bully congress into doing something for once” and then I caught myself. I was surrendering. And I’m not the only one. We have entered into dangerous territory.

Here’s some background. I grew up in Atlantic City. Donald Trump has been a part of my life for my entire life. My family has worked in his casinos. I used to watch his helicopter land on the pier on the beach that I worked on as an ocean rescue lifeguard in high school. He ran those businesses into the ground and got out, in the nick of time, Trump style. Atlantic City is for losers is likely what he would say.  I don’t know him. I’ve never been in the same room as him. But I know plenty who have.  And they all say mostly the same thing about their personal encounters with him. He seems like a nice guy. He makes you feel important.  And he’s very gracious with his attention.  That’s about all I really know about him aside from the cartoon character he’s been playing in the media the last few decades. As a guy, he sounds lovely. Of course, that’s also what people said about Saddam Hussein.  About Joseph Stalin…about Hitler.  Which brings us to the problem.

Trump isn’t Hitler. He’s not Stalin. He’s probably not even Putin. But people haven’t really figured out how to articulate why he shouldn’t be president. They scream louder and louder that he can’t or won’t win and like a cosmic sci-fi movie villain, he absorbs the negative energy and grows stronger with each word of malice. I’m done predicting that he won’t win. I’m done predicting anything because I’m sick of being wrong. I won’t tell you why he can’t be president.  Because he certainly can be president. And if we’re not careful, he will. Instead, I’ll try another approach. I’ll tell you why he shouldn’t be president. But I’m going to do it in a way besides pointing to the fact that he’s Donald Trump. That’s clearly not working.

Here’s how we’ve tried so far.

He’s a chauvinist bigot. 

He might be. He might not be. I don’t believe anything he says is sincere so it could all be an act-hold that thought. He’s a 70 year old white guy from New York who was born with a lot of money so he’s probably got a little of the old white guy thing going on that we white folks know many of our dad’s generation struggle with-prejudice and sexism. Sorry folks, that may be a little uncomfortable truth for some of us. The people who like Trump-angry white people-don’t care.

He’s a dishonest demagogue that will say anything to make you support him. 

Congratulations, welcome to politics.

He’s a bully. 

See last item.

He’s a manipulator.

See last two items.

He is a lousy businessman who has filed for bankruptcy four times.

That’s actually a lot of bankruptcies. But it’s a pretty normal practice and it was chapter 11, the type where you do it so the business lives to see another day. It’s not a smoking gun.

He’s a rich kid who got all his money from his father.

Ever hear of the Roosevelts?  JFK?

He’s a draft dodger.

We’ve had one president in the last 50 years serve in combat. Thank you George H.W. Bush for your service.

You get the point.  You can play this game all day long. It doesn’t work. Trump’s most brilliant talent is staying relevant in our ever shifting culture. He started with real estate and then moved into our consciousness as someone synonymous with simply being rich in the 80’s and 90’s. Then he morphed into a reality TV star and invaded social media and now he’s impregnated our political machine with the Trump brand.

When someone becomes that ubiquitous, they become a walking talking, tweeting, insulting, bullying, Rorschac test. People start to see in him what they want. For those feeling left behind by a changing economy, he’s a business man who will solve it. For those feeling marginalized by our changing culture, he’s going to kick out all the foreigners. For those scared of terrorists, he’s going to bomb the hell out of ISIS. For those of us who want to shout down inequality and bigotry, he’s someone to hate.  He is different things to different people. Like scripture, if you stare at candidate Trump for long enough, he will tell you whatever you want. And there’s one thing you can’t argue about with someone. It’s their religion.

But that doesn’t mean we should get baptized by him. Here’s why.

There are three critically important dimensions to useful political thought.  Effective political thinkers need be equally principled, empathetic and pragmatic. Looking back at candidate Trump’s public and private life experiences, he fails this test in an extremely dangerous and troubling way. More so than any person seeking the office of President of the United States in a long time, maybe ever. After 40 years in the public eye, it’s almost impossible to point to areas where he has been a part of something bigger than himself, built on a guiding principle that made other people’s lives-people he didn’t know or wouldn’t be in a position to receive something in return from-better.

He appears to be entirely devoid of anything that mimics empathy. Heads of government need to be able to feel the pain of the people they govern as if it were their own. That doesn’t mean that they have to be selfless or even charitable. It means that they have to have the capacity to care about the outcomes of other people. Candidate Trump fails.

He does have one thing in abundance-pragmatism. Unfortunately, pragmatism without empathy towards those you govern and not grounded in principle other than self promotion is powerfully dangerous. It’s that thing that the truly dark rulers of history seem to have in common- the ability to get things done without the troublesome headwinds of principle and care for others. It’s the recipe for how the governing of man has gone horribly wrong for thousands of years.

This is usually where supporters of one candidate start to throw out the flaws of the other candidates in response. But here is where that doesn’t really work for candidate Trump. Every other candidate, on some level, does better at the standards explained above. Here’s how you can tell. Take a look at how they’ve spent their life and then look at candidate Trump. Candidate Trump was named the president of his father’s $200M real estate firm in 1974, when he was 28, six years after he graduated from Wharton.  What he’s done since, is on display for the public to see. At no point has he even appeared to serve someone else. And that’s hard to find, even for someone not running for president.

If you run the other candidates and recent presidents through that test, the difference is staggering. Hillary Clinton was one of 27 women in her graduating class from Yale Law School. She had a wealth of opportunity and chose the Children’s Defense Fund as her first professional role. Ted Cruz is the son of a Cuban immigrant who graduated from Harvard, was the editor of the Harvard Law Review and then served as a clerk for several federal judges including Supreme Court Justice Rehnquist. He’s horribly unlikable but he appears to actually believe in something other then himself. Bernie Sanders chooses to call himself a democratic socialist, something that has limited him his entire career until recently, because he believes in it. John Kasich has answered to the people of his state as the Governor of Ohio. Some are supporters.  Some are not. But at a minimum, he appears to have governed with benevolent intent. President Obama, same a Cruz, son of an immigrant, Harvard graduate, became a community organizer. Reagan was the president of the Screen Actors Guild and then governor of California. JFK was a decorated war hero as the commander of PT-109. You can go down the list and point to times, whether you agree with them or not, that other candidates have served someone other than themselves.  

But you can’t for Trump.

And this is what that means. If candidate Trump were to be President Trump, the first group of people that he will be responsible for serving, above his own interests, will be the entirety of the American people and by virtue of our standing as a global power, mankind.  And that is as strong a case as anyone can make against anyone doing anything. There’s a lot at stake here. It’s not the time to get comfortable with candidate Trump. And if he is nominated by the Republican Party to run for office in the 2016 Presidential Election, it’s not because he’s right. It’s the death spasm of a scared, angry ideology that has poisoned the conservative mind of our country. And we should think that it’s as ridiculous now as we ever have. Because it is. It’s just a lot more dangerous.






Archie’s Prophecy

In February of 2004, Eli Manning, the younger brother of NFL star quarterback Peyton Manning and son of All Pro New Orleans Saints Quarterback Archie Manning, was poised to be the number one pick in the NFL’s draft after a record breaking college career at his father’s Alma-mater, Ole Miss. The San Diego Chargers, coming off of a dismal season, their 10th losing season in the previous 11, had the first pick in the draft.

Eli was to be their savior, just like his brother was to the good people of Indianapolis.

There was one problem though.

His dad.

Archie had a very clear message for his son. The Manning’s were too good for San Diego football. He was right.

Looking back on the last 11 years of football in the NFL, it’s hard to point to a more prophetic piece of advice than Archie’s to his son.  Even beyond football, his guidance has proven to be one of the great “listen to your dad, son” moments in history.

Let’s review:

In 2004, the Chargers already had a quarterback, Drew Brees. They went ahead and drafted Eli anyway only to trade him to the Giants for their first pick that would ultimately land the Chargers their current quarterback Philip Rivers. Which means that during one calendar day, April 24th, 2004 the San Diego Chargers had Drew Brees, Eli Manning and Philip Rivers on their roster. Two of those three are on their way  to the hall of fame. The other presently plays for the Chargers.

It’s not Philip River’s fault though. And he may make it to the Hall. Besides Warren Moon, he’s thrown more touchdown passes than any other quarterback never to play in a Super Bowl. Which appears to be a very Charger thing to do. There are only five players in NFL history to throw over 250 touchdown passes and never play in a Super Bowl. Two of them, Rivers and hall of famer Dan Fouts, played for the Chargers. Which means that if your goal is to have your son be the best quarterback of his generation never to win anything, then the Chargers are your team.

Archie, who played 15 years in the NFL, made the Pro-Bowl and was widely regarded as one of the best quarterbacks of his era, never had a winning season. He knew the tune being played in San Diego well. And he didn’t like it.

Besides never really winning anything, as that’s not quite enough, there’s one other thing that is hard to put your finger on about San Diego and football that perhaps is even more damning. One that Archie probably sensed when evaluating his son’s opportunity. One that no one who loves football in San Diego is really willing to admit.

San Diego just doesn’t care that much about the Chargers.

Today the Chargers might be playing their last game as the San Diego Chargers. Because they are leaving. If not this year, soon.

For decades, the Chargers have been in a battle with the city of San Diego over the construction of a new stadium that deep down inside, most doubt was ever going to be built. Because it takes tax payer money.

On average, the 20 or so NFL stadiums built over the last 20 years have averaged about 65% public funding. Which means at a price tag of 1.5 Billion dollars, the city would have to come up with about a billion dollars.

Last year the city of San Diego paid their entire police and fire departments about $650M. Starting to see the problem?

You really need to care about football, more specifically about your team, in order to make that kind of investment. You need to care about football in a way that your football team is synonymous with your city. In a way that you feel like this type of investment and re-development will turn you city around. In a way where you believe that the existence of your football team is going to make your city more “livable” over the next 30 years.

If this is you, chances are, San Diego isn’t your town.  .

There’s an interesting thing that happens when you look at the demographic data of any given NFL city and the surrounding areas. If you take a look at how many people in a city are native to the area and expand that to the state as a whole, something interesting happens. It gets even more interesting when you factor in a team’s historic winning percentage, how long that city has had NFL football and the proximity of other established NFL teams. You can create what I like to call, a cultural significance index for any given NFL team. It’s not a fan support index as any team’s current performance is the indicator for that. It’s an index of how ingrained in the culture of the population of a given city a specific team is; how much they identify with the team.

Here’s what the data says:

Top 10 most culturally significant NFL teams for their current city:

  1. Green Bay Packers
  2. Pittsburgh Steelers
  3. Chicago Bears
  4. Cleveleand Browns
  5. Detroit Lions
  6. Philadelphia Eagles
  7. New England Patriots
  8. Minnesota Vikings
  9. New York Giants
  10. Buffalo Bills

Top 10 least least culturally significant NFL teams for their current city:

  1. Arizona Cardinals
  2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  3. Miami Dolphins
  4. Jacksonville Jaguars
  5. San Diego Chargers
  6. Seattle Seahawks
  7. New York Jets
  8. Houston Texans
  9. Oakland Raiders
  10. Atlanta Falcons

There’s some culturally insignificant teams that are filling the stands with lots of energy these days.

Seattle and Arizona come to mind.

Remember, this isn’t an index of how happy a city is with their team. It’s how much their city identifies with that team as part of their culture. If the Seattle Seahawks rattled off three or four losing seasons in a row, chances are the city would be significantly less energized. If the team left, life would go on.

If the Green Bay Packers or Pittsburgh Steeler’s left, people would wander around in the empty parking lot crying tears of despair for decades, largely unsure of their purpose as a community.

The Chargers are the 5th least culturally relevant team in the NFL. Of the four less significant then the Chargers to their respective area, only the Arizona Cardinals have had less winning seasons over the last 20 years. Of those five teams the Chargers play in the oldest stadium, 50 year old Qualcomm, ranked 30th out of 31 by Athlon Sports and Life Magazine’s stadium quality index.

So, you get it.

If the San Diego Chargers were a stock, you’d sell them. Because they’re in San Diego. And now they’re leaving. Because they should.

The billion dollars that San Diego tax payers would have to shell out to build a new stadium is something almost all San Diegans will realize no financial return on. Some local businesses may. Corporations may gain access to box suites. They might get a Super Bowl every 15 years. But your average San Diegan will get nothing, except the satisfaction of knowing their beloved Chargers are still here.

Here for the 29% of San Diegans over 25 who are actually from San Diego.

If San Diego is smart, they’ll never build it. They’ll move up the road to Los Angeles. Which by the way, doesn’t care about football either.  They haven’t had a team in 20 years. But they will have a stadium.  Because they’re big enough for two teams.

Look a little further down the list of culturally irrelevant teams and you’ll see the Raiders. They’re #9. And their stadium is #31. Get ready for 16 weeks of home games in Los Angeles. Because anything else doesn’t make any sense.

As for Eli, he’s got two Super Bowl rings, playing in a brand new stadium the the Giants and Jets self funded without any tax payer money for a team that is hugely culturally relevant in the largest market in the country. He’s played for the same head coach his whole career and he’s got a new contract worth $84 million.

The Manning’s won this debate. It’s not close.

Something about the “awe shucks”  delivery of Archie Manning makes me feel like he didn’t take the time to do the data dive that I’ve done to validate his guidance though. But like legendary tennis coach Vic Braden, highlighted in Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, who can predict a fault on a serve over 85% of the time before the ball is even hit because he’s simply seen that many of them, Archie Manning  has seen enough bad football to know it when he sees it.

It’s likely the people of San Diego will see the last of theirs today.

The Second Amendment in Today’s America

A long time ago I swore an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.”  Originally, the words meant little to me.  They were a tradition, an obligatory ceremony to enable me to do what I really wanted-to lead men and women in the service of arms.  I’ve been places since then.  Seen things that others perhaps have not-things perhaps I wish I had not.  As a result, my appreciation for that document and the society that it provides the working framework for have grown over the years.   With that appreciation has come a more developed need to understand it.  To understand not just the literal words that it includes but the important context in which it was written, amended and interpreted over the years.  To understand what exactly is foundational, and what is less so.  Because there are times when we, as a function of our civic duties, have to answer for our votes.  Times like the one we’re living in now.

In the last  15 years, there have been over 300 thousand people killed by firearms in our country. There have been 247 mass shootings in 2015 to date.  Presently, the ownership of personal firearms is protected by the Second Amendment.  As a result there has been no substantive federal legislation passed to address any public safety risk caused by the existence of firearms in our country.  Though the impact that meaningful legislation would have had these last few years is debatable, it is hard to imagine a reality where there would be none.  Which means that Americans are giving their life, every day, involuntarily, to preserve the Second Amendment.  And so we owe it to them to explain our unwavering support for it.

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

This ambiguous, grammatically clumsy 27 words is at the heart of one of the most publicly argued debates of our times.  Though there’s plenty of room for interpretation of what the words mean, the Supreme Court has repeatedly interpreted its meaning to be at a minimum, focused on personal ownership of firearms.  I’ll leave the debate of interpretation to the lawyers, because for once, I am satisfied to take present rulings at face value.  When it comes to the Bill of Rights, interpretation is less important then understanding the role it has had in our national identity.   If the seven articles of the Constitution are the backbone of our government, the first ten amendments, the Bill of Rights, is its soul.

When you spend time in a place where most of these rights are in question, you find yourself saying things like, “if only they had a free press…if only they had due process…if only the government just didn’t take whatever they wanted from their people…if only these people didn’t fear the knock at the door in the night…”  You really get a sense of the power of the Bill of Rights by witnessing what happens in its absence.

There is one thing that I can’t ever recall saying though.  It’s this.  “If only these people had their own guns.”   Which tells me that as far as I have experienced, in a modern world, the Second Amendment’s utility holds a different value then some of the other amendments.  Which is fine.  Not all ten amendments in the Bill of Rights are created equal.  Most people outside of the legal profession couldn’t begin to tell you about the Seventh Amendment.   No one is dying over the right to a jury in a federal civil case though.  But arms that we have the right to bear are killing people every day.  So what were our founding father’s thinking when they passed it?  Thankfully for us, they left us a well documented explanation.  One that is a clear and unambiguous case for its re-assessment in our modern world.

In May of 1787, four years after the Treaty of Paris ended the American Revolution and six years after they were originally ratified, delegates from each of the 13 American colonies met in Philadelphia to improve the Articles of Confederation.  Four months later, the 55 delegates emerged from their secret meeting with a signed draft of the Constitution of the United States of America.  Which was not their tasking.  Professor Robert Ferguson of Columbia University writes:

“We forget how controversial the Constitution was in the moments of its birth. The document that now governs the United States was drafted in secrecy by men who knew that they had acted beyond the mandate given to them…they junked the Articles of Confederation altogether and wrote out their own document of fundamental principles. When they were done, they had substituted a much stronger ideal of union than the suspicious compromisers of the original Confederation had contemplated or would have allowed.”

It was as if today’s congress had formed a committee to review our congressional term limits or budgetary processes and had returned with an entirely new proposal for government.  You can imagine, the people of the day needed some convincing.   Enter Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay, also known as the Federalists.  Over the next year, these three men would publish 85 essays in the press aimed at convincing the American public that the newly drafted Constitution was a good idea. The essays would be called the Federalist Papers.  They represented one side of two major schools of thought at the time; union or confederacy (yes we would fight this out for good four score and seven years or so later).  Support for the Constitution meant you supported stronger central government than the present confederacy allowed.

Within a year, the campaign hit its mark and the Constitution would be ratified by all 13 colonies with one stipulation from Hamilton’s home state of New York.  A “bill of rights” must be added.  In 1789, James Madison, one of the three federalists introduced the “Bill of Rights” that would be signed into law  two years later.

This walk through your freshman year civics class is helpful because of context.  We’re trying to add some meaning to the Second Amendment, more meaning than the 27 words written into law.  People are dying.  And it’s important.  And the same men that wrote those 27 words, also wrote 85 essays advocating for their cause.  85 essays that cover 480 pages to be exact.   And you can find your answer clear as day in #8.

Alexander Hamilton wrote 51 of the 85 essays.  In #8, titled The effects of Internal War in producing Standing Armies and other institutions unfriendly to liberty we see some of our founding father’s most currently relevant thoughts on the Second Amendment.  In it Hamilton outlines two distinct types of nations.  Ones under constant threat of invasion and war and others that aren’t.  He references Great Britain as the latter and the other European countries as the former.   His argument is of course for Union because as one country, we are less likely to be at odds or threat of war with each other.

In such instances, Hamilton writes, “The army under such circumstances… will be utterly incompetent to the purpose of enforcing encroachments against the united efforts of the great body of the people”

On the other hand, if we remained a confederacy, our loosely affiliated states would leave us constantly defending our borders from each other.  Leaving a nation in which “The continual necessity for his services enhances the importance of the soldier, and proportionally degrades the condition of the citizen.”

Hamilton was selling the Union by highlighting the benefit of the small standing army it would require.  And with a small standing army, the power is always in the hands of the people, even when it comes to battle, just as long as no one decides to pass a law that prohibits us from owning our own guns.  Enter the Second Amendment and we’ve come full circle.  There’s one problem though.  We stopped being that nation that Hamilton had in mind a long time ago.

Eight days short of the 150th anniversary of the adoption of the Bill of Rights, the Empire of Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.  Thirty years of draft, four major wars and a defense budget that dwarfs any other country on the planet and we live in a very different world than the one Hamilton envisioned in 1788.  We have become the nation that he warned we would without our strong union.

Hamilton could not have predicted the path of globalization and technology that has shrunk the world to the scale that he viewed Europe or a North America of disagregated states.  But he did predict the outcome clearly.  “Our liberties would be a prey to the means of defending ourselves.”   Hamilton was not advocating for a small standing army at all costs.  Instead he was advocating for a union that would avoid the clear necessity of a large one.  Our union alone cannot do that today and though there are arguments for shrinking our military and a more isolationist approach to foreign affairs, a reality where individual gun ownership protects us from the force of our government has long since past.  And with it, so has the original intent and utility of the Second Amendment.   So why haven’t we changed it?  The answer, unfortunately has much less thought behind it than our forefathers put into drafting it. It’s not the NRA either. In a word, it’s tradition.

For 224 years, the same document that has given us our freedom of speech and assembly, our right to due process and worship, has told us it’s our right to be entirely unimpeded in our pursuit to own firearms.  Guns have been a part of our culture for much longer than we’ve been horrified by mass shootings or had murder rates in our inner cities on par with war zones.  We’ve bought guns to protect our homes, no matter how statistically less safe that makes us.  We have political activist groups whose sole purpose is to preserve it, though like I said, don’t blame them.   The NRA is an expression of our traditional mindset and frankly by itself, couldn’t make a dent in the media market that competes for our consciousness. In the 14 years before Sandy Hook, the NRA spent in total $81 million on congressional campaigns.  The annual media market in America is $288 billion.  The NRA, its small money and 1.5% of the population that are members are virtually inconsequential.   It’s not the NRA our politicians are afraid of.  It’s the media storm that comes with the suggestion of change they fear they won’t survive.

The gun advocates are the voice of tradition and principle. Which sounds and may even feel right.  But when we’re honest with ourselves, the intent of the Second Amendment as written, to keep the government powerless against and armed populous, has long since past it’s utility.  It’s not guns that keeps the government in check in 2016.  It’s information.  And organization.  And an aware population.  When we really get down to why we care about guns, it’s tradition.  And a part of our identity.  And I don’t want to minimize that without a reason.  But I think we’ve got a fair reason.

Something  happens when a tradition that is hurting or excluding people loses its utility though.  It dies. Like slavery, segregation, male privilege and marriage inequality, its time eventually comes.  My children won’t remember the “good old days” where people treated people right and you could have guns without problems.  They’ll remember mass shootings though.  They’ll remember a world where they can’t walk into anywhere with more than a few people without walking through a metal detector.  They’ll remember armed guards in schools.  They’ll remember never driving anywhere in the city after dark.  And then eventually, they’ll remember when someone somewhere decided enough was enough, and made a difference.  It may not be tomorrow. It may not be any time soon.  But it will happen.  And though I’m sure that means that our country is headed towards ruin, I’ll respectfully take this opportunity to point out that future generations have been ruining our nation with progress for centuries, just like those radical 55 delegates ruined the Articles of Confederation with the Constitution.

When I raised my hand to support and defend that document, that meant keeping it relevant too.  Right now part of it is in question.  And the consequences are unacceptable. We owe it to ourselves not to stop the discussion with the hand wave of the Second Amendment.  There’s too much at stake.  There’s a process to change things.  And one day, if we don’t allow room for incremental change on purpose, sweeping change will happen to us.  And that’s likely to be a far less desirable outcome for those who oppose it.