Sam Bauman: A suggestion for state and national office candidates

I suspect this idea will be widely ignored these final weeks of election campaigning, but I’ll make it anyway. I would think it would be smart if all candidates for national and state offices were to read and discuss historian Barbara W. Tuchman’s fascinating discussion of folly, and the role it has played through book. She discusses folly in her history “The March of Folly” ranging from six popes whose follies nearly destroyed the papacy to the wooden horse of Troy to Vietnam. She defines folly as “pursuit of policy contrary to self-interest.”

Reading this history might well deter elected officials from pursuing similar follies, or it might not stop prejudice from waving its flag. But it might stop some ill-fated policies. To look at some examples of folly Tuchman starts with the six popes of the 15th century whose ignorance of what was happening to Christianity was obscured by their avarice, gluttony and selling of office. Starting with Sixtus IV through Clement VII through the birth of Luther under Leo X, these six popes ignored the perils of follies and self-indulgence.

She next looks at the birth of the United States which seems to have occurred largely thanks to British wrongheadedness as to American revolution. The passage of the Stamp Act roused American insistence of “No taxation without representation,” which the Brits refused to consider. Resulting in the Battle of Bunker Hill and the tax on tea, which triggered the Tea Party of modern day (despite getting it wrong as it was the merchants who instigated the dumping of the tea).

The Brits fumbled around, making relations with the colonies constantly worse, each act from unknowing George III’s government such as “asserting a right you know you cannot exert.” Folly indeed!

Tuchman peers into the American war in Vietnam and comes up with multiple samples of the pursuit of folly, from ignoring the will of the citizens about Diem to the Buddhists’ fiery protests, including self-immolation carefully tipped off to the media.

It’s hard to remember that the U.S. put 500,000 troops in South Vietnam with more requested by the generals, when these days a modest couple of hundred “boots on the ground” causes such political hand-wringing.

At conferences in Washington few voices were raised against the “folly” of Vietnam policy. One who spoke out about the wrongheadedness of current policy was Robert Kennedy, who asked in 1963, “whether the Communist takeover (of South Vietnam) could be successfully resisted by any government. If it could not, now was the time to get out of Vietnam entirely, rather than waiting.”

A perfect example of folly recognized but not aborted.

So let the candidates read “Folly” on rest stops between oratory. Do they have the time to peruse 387 pages of warnings now or will they do it once in office? I think we know the answer to that.

“While all other sciences have advanced,” said America’s second president, John Adams, “government is at a stand, little better practiced now than three or four thousand years ago.”

I’ve read another of Tuchman’s histories, “The Guns of August,” which clearly showed how World War II erupted. I can’t ask politicians to read two books. That might interfere with campaigning.

“What did you say?”

I got tired of saying that when my sons complained and sent me to the audio counter at Costco; $1,500 later I had hearing aids that worked fairly well but were easy to lose (I dropped two in the snow while skiing.)

Then the VA wanted to replace the hearing aids I had with the new wireless ones that improved hearing and allowed for phone calls to be transferred directly to the aids at the push of a button.

These hearing aids are no inexpensive. The VA ones were priced at $6,000. At first, a washout as the molds in the ear canal were ill-fitting, and the VA couldn’t help. But Dr. Wells of Carson City made me new ones that worked perfectly. So while my hearing isn’t as good as when younger they do OK.

But you don’t have to lay out big bucks for better hearing. As of late I’ve gotten lots of emails about new hearing aids that are smaller and cost much less. Several audiologists in town offer them. And you can also shop the Internet for aids. Some are quite good, some a waste of money.

The newest crop doesn’t call themselves “aids” but simply PSAP “hearing enhancements.” I’ve tried a couple in the under $100 range. Not all the technology of my costly ones, but they work.

Consumer Reports on Health reports that readers reported paying $2,710 for aids, topping out at $5,000 or more. But two-thirds of the cost goes to audiologists who help with choice, fitting and maintenance.

If you’ve got hearing problems, don’t wait for things to get better. Enjoy life and laugh more.

Sam Bauman writes about senior affairs, among other things, for the Nevada Appeal.


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