Notable & Quotable: Aug. 1, 2017

Posted

The Wall Street Journal's Jason Gay asks, "Could football ever end?"

It seems crazy to imagine the end of football. The game is so beloved, so profitable, and, frankly, such a cultural mirror that it feels like a permanent feature of American life. Without football, what the heck happens to Sunday? (Or Saturday, or Monday night, or an ever-expanding number of weekday nights.)

There are a lot of institutions and franchises and schools with a deep interest in football's continued prosperity. The game is a godsend for the entertainment industry, which is why it commands billions.

That's why if football ever vanishes, it will likely vanish from within.

From the players. And parents.

Consider the conversation of the past week. A disturbing medical study was released showing brain damage in the brains of 110 of 111 deceased NFL players.

Shortly afterward, a PhD-candidate offensive lineman in Baltimore abruptly retired at age 26. In Pittsburgh, a two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback wondered out loud if the 2017 football season should be his last.

As NFL teams begin their preseason preparations, players were confronted with an ominous query:

How worried are you about continuing to play this game?

Let's be clear: football, an overtly physical game of speed and collision, has always carried bodily risk. Busted knees. Degraded hips, shoulders, ankles, fingers. Careers at the pro level tend to be mercilessly short, and players often leave with chronic pain, which can continue long after leaving the sport.

But it's the grimmer, previously unknown risks which are finally catching up to football. After years of denial and obfuscation, there is widening agreement that football carries long-term risk from head injuries. A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found signs of the progressive neurological disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, in 87 percent of 202 brains donated from deceased high school, college, semi pro and pro football players.

The report's stunner was that 110 out of 111 figure - of 111 brains donated by late NFL players, all but one showed signs of CTE.

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The New York Times' Ross Douthat discusses "The empty majority."

When we think about the ebb and flow of majorities in American politics, we like to imagine that there is a clear link between politics and policy - between gaining power and having an agenda to implement, between winning votes and responding to substantive challenges, between F.D.R.'s majorities and his New Deal or Reagan's victories and his Reaganomics.

The present-day Republican Party makes a mockery of this conceit. It is a majority party that behaves like it's in the political wilderness, an election-winning machine that has no idea what to do with national power.

It has the tics of an opposition party, the raw wounds of a beaten coalition, the dated ideas of a bankrupt force. Its attempts to pass a health care bill aren't just painful to watch; they have the same unheimlich quality as a calf born with two heads, the feeling of watching something that the laws of politics or nature should not permit to exist.

And yet it does: The same feckless GOP that exists in a constant state of low-grade civil war controls not only Congress and the White House, but most statehouses and state legislatures as well. All of the contemporary Republican Party's critics - left wing and centrist and conservative - keep saying that the GOP is broken and adrift, and years of government shutdowns and Obamacare debacles and everything about the Trump era keep proving us correct.

Yet Republican power endures, and while it's politically vulnerable, there's no reason to be sure it can't survive the 2018 midterms and indeed the entire reign of Donald Trump.

This strange endurance is a central fact of our present politics. We have an empty majority, a party that can rule but cannot govern. And whether you're a conservative who wants to reform the GOP or a liberal who wants to crush it, you need to wrestle with why Republicans keep getting returned to office even though it's clear that debacles like what we've been watching on health care are what they're likely to produce.

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In The New York Times, Adam Segal writes, "The Hacking Wars Are Going to Get Much Worse."

Reports this month that the United Arab Emirates orchestrated the hacking of a Qatari news agency, helping to incite a crisis in the Middle East, are as unsurprising as they are unwelcome. For years, countries - in particular Russia - have used cyberattacks and the dissemination of disinformation through social media and news outlets to provoke protests, sway elections and undermine trust in institutions. It was only a matter of time before smaller states tried their hand at these tactics.

Big and small countries alike should want to make sure that hacking attacks do not lead to war. But there is little hope that competing states will ever be able to agree on how to define, much less limit, information operations.

For now, the onus is on individual states to identify vulnerable targets, better defend them, and, if and when an attack succeeds, counter the spread of lies and disinformation. Countries should also work with like-minded partners to detail what types of interference will provoke what types of reactions, from sanctions to retaliatory cyberattacks. As the latest crisis in the Gulf shows, small states are learning from the big ones how to exploit cyberattacks to create political disruption. As a result, we all are much less secure in cyberspace - and in the real world, too.

Notable & Quotable is compiled by Graham Osteen. Contact him at graham@theitem.com.