Archive for August, 2010

The Discovery Channel is rerunning the Dual Survival series with Dave Canterbury and the barefoot Cody Lundin. In this viewing, I’m noticing more the assumptions that are being made about Cody’s bare feet. I do a lot of hiking in various situations, barefoot of course, and these assumptions just don’t ring true. They are the typical reactions of the shod who really have never tried these sorts of barefoot feats. It may also be the case that the producers (and editors) of the show are playing up the whole barefoot thing to make it seem more difficult (and thereby “show-worthy”) than it really is.

In “After the Storm,” they are descending a bunch of fairly sharp rocks. Dave expresses his concern about them, while Cody does his usual careful stepping on them. In fact, Dave makes the comment about how sharp the rocks are and how getting cut from them could be very dangerous. The first thing to note is that, because he is barefoot, Cody descends much more cautiously. As he puts his foot on each new footing, he is getting a bunch of sensory feedback from his soles that tell him exactly how good his footing is. And that proves to make a difference—the one who slides down the hill is Dave, who not only risks a sprained ankle, but manages to cut himself on an agave (admittedly on his arm, but that could be just as dangerous). Yet, the focus is on the danger of a cut on Cody’s bare feet.

But the other comment from Dave is about how the rocks are sharp, which could lead to a cut, which could lead to an infection.

Around where I live we have Flint Ridge, which was used by the Indians from time immemorial. They actually mined the stuff there.

I’ve hiked Flint Ridge many, many times, barefoot. That’s right, I have hiked walking on flint. No problem, even if it is sharp. The secret, which you learn very quickly if you go barefoot, is not to slide or shuffle your feet. The skin, the leather, on the bottoms of your feet just doesn’t puncture easily, though it does slice. So putting your feet straight down (which you end up doing almost automatically when barefoot) easily protects from any danger on sharp rocks.

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I am going to pull up some comments from the entry on the death of James J. Kilpatrick, in which I mentioned his article about my lawsuit against the Columbus Metropolitan Library.

In Kilpatrick’s article, he mentions the child who was hurt by a staple on the library floor, but not on the child’s foot, but on his arm (lying there during storytime). “vas” then asked:

Bob, do you know if the child’s parents sued the library over this scratch?

My answer was, no, the child’s parents did not sue the library. In fact, I really did not find any lawsuits for injuries against the library. Their fear of lawsuits was strictly theoretical.

“vas” then further asked:

Then what made the library expect a lawsuit for a hypothetical barefoot injury? And why did they not issue a “no bare arms” or “no lying on the floor” rules? Or did they?

Why would the library expect a lawsuit for a hypothetical barefoot injury? That’s a good question.

I suspect the answer is a combination of ignorance and arrogance. (And no, they did not have any rules about kids lying or crawling or playing on their floors.)

The ignorance part we are all familiar with. Those who do not go barefoot regularly are absolutely convinced that the world is littered with a minefield of dangers. We barefooters know differently. There is also this myth that people sue at the drop of a hat, and even that is pretty much a myth. The reason that the silly lawsuits make the news is simply because it is news, not an everyday occurrence.

So that leads us to arrogance. Think about it. You are the director of some large organization. You got there with a lot of hard work. You’ve proven that you are “better” than others by rising to that position. How dare anybody question your decisions?

You think you can make the rules, so you do make the rules.

I did make quite a few attempts to educate the director of the library. They were all rebuffed. He just knew that there should not be bare feet in libraries. Arrogance.

I don’t think he even knew why there shouldn’t be bare feet in libraries, except a casual acceptance of the “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service” signs.

Near the end of our correspondences, the director sent a letter to the library’s legal counsel, asking what legal basis they could use to maintain their shoe rule:

This gentleman has not taken “no” for an answer for about a year now. (Please reference the attached Security Incident Report and January 19th letter to the President of the Board of Trustees). Would you please draft a response for our Board President’s signature which includes the legal reasons that CML can give for requiring its customers to dress appropriately for a public place?

We see here why the director wants the shoe rule: it is inappropriate dress in his eyes. Why that should be a library’s concern is beyond me—their concern is supposed to be making library materials available to their patrons, not being the fashion police.

But it went further . . .

Later, during the lawsuit, the director filed an affidavit. In it, under oath, he stated:

I approved the procedure requiring that patrons wear shoes to protect the health and safety of Library patrons, who may be harmed in the Library if allowed to enter barefoot.

I also approved the procedure requiring that patrons wear shoes to protect the economic well-being of the Library, by averting tort claims and litigation expenses stemming from potential claims made by barefoot patrons who could have suffered injuries that shoes could have prevented.

We already know that that is not the truth. My strong suspicion is that that is what his lawyers told him to say to provide support for the library’s defense.

By the way, lying under oath is called perjury. The courts seemed remarkably unconcerned when I pointed that out.

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Restoring Tiger Woods

Since the whole Tiger Woods imbroglio, he’s been playing pretty terribly. Until this week. According to this story on CBS News, he’s been working with a swing coach, who makes him practice his swing, TA-DA!, barefoot. It’s part of the swing coach’s regular prescription:

Foley had Woods remove his shoes and socks and hit balls barefoot. As crazy as it sounds, Foley says he has pupils do it all the time, because anything in the swing that’s herky-jerky or violent, or if the firing sequence is out of whack, can make a guy slip and slide all over the range.

The real question, in my mind, is if this works so well, why don’t the golfers also then compete barefoot? Hey, it worked for Sam Snead.

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Massage Therapy

This is just a pointer to an article on the Massage Therapy Schools blog about barefoot running. Of course, foot massage is very relaxing, and there are even members of the Society for Barefoot Living who do foot massage There is a lot of good information in the article.

The article, in short bullet points, addresses such things as “Running shoes may cause more injuries,” “We run better barefoot,” “You’re not going to catch a disease and die,” and “Don’t let other people’s ignorance set you back.”

I do think they are overly cautious on one of their bullet points, “Start on soft surfaces”:

Your feet and eye-foot coordination aren’t going to be prepared to navigate the pavement, glass shards or pebbles right away, so practice on sand or grass first.

All practicing on sand or grass will do is teach you how to run on sand and grass. The way to learn to run barefoot is to run barefoot, everywhere. Use the sensation provided by your soles to give you valuable feedback. If running on asphalt or concrete hurts, you are doing it wrong, and you need to consider your form. Sand and grass just don’t give you that sort of feedback, so you may be training yourself to run incorrectly for being barefoot. Also, don’t run “barefoot” using those “minimal” shoes like the Vibram Five Fingers. Those don’t let your soles tell you when you’ve had too much—yeah, they let you keep going, but if your soles have had too much (and you don’t know it), then all the muscles and tendons in your feet have also had too much, but you have not been warned by your soles. That can lead to injury.

I’m not much of a runner (it just bores me—sorry). I have found that hiking really builds up the feet. The stimulation of various pebbles and sticks and such built up both my muscles and padding, so that whenever I do try something a bit more adventuresome, like running or rappelling or playing tennis, my feet have already been in such great shape, that I can do the extra activity with ease.

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Transit Travesty

A teen in Central Saanich on Vancouver Island was refused bus service by BC Transit because he was barefooted. This was at 11:00 in the evening. The supposed reason was “safety”. (How many times have we heard that before.) Here’s the news report on the incident:

It turns out that BC Transit does have a policy requiring shoes, here:

For safety reasons, drivers will refuse service to passengers not wearing shirts and footwear.

Regular readers will immediately recognize that this is based on the standard myths and misconceptions that have been propagated since the 1960s. Glass? Where? Even more so, how would not wearing a shirt be a safety issue? Of course it is not, and this is just the standard excuse to justify the ignorant exercise of authority.

Let me also point you to the blog entry of The Barefoot Professor, Daniel Howell and author of The Barefoot Book. He does a good job discussing the issues.

I would also like to mention that where I live, central Ohio, the bus system for Columbus, COTA, does not have a footwear rule for their system. (In fact, they simply rely on state law regarding behavior on buses. I confirmed this by talking to their legal counsel.) Of course, that didn’t stop a bus driver from yelling at me one day. Fortunately, that time I was exiting the bus, not trying to board it. However, since I am fully aware of my rights for my particular case, if one tried to stop me from boarding, I would board anyways, let them call dispatch (or the cops), and that would lead to a very interesting situation.

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Since the last episode of Dual Survival ended on Friday (repeat today, Sunday), I thought I’d give my overall thoughts on the series.

I really liked it.

That’s not too surprising. I liked Survivorman, and I watch Man vs. Wild (the latter has a bit too much showboating for my tastes, though).

In Dual Survivor they probably played up the “dangers” of bare feet a bit too much, but I guess that’s what sells. It seemed that at least twice an episode they had to make some sort of comment about the difficulty of going barefoot.

Yet Cody Lundin just kept trekking. It also seems to me that Dave Canterbury gained a whole lot of respect for Cody along the way.

A couple more comments. At one point in the Pacific Northwest episode, they were crossing a tree trunk, and Dave made some sort of comment about the slippery trunk and how Cody’s bare feet had better not slip off of it. I have found that bare feet are always really better than shoes. With my bare feet I can curve my feet around the trunk to get a really good grip. You just cannot do that with a rigid or semi-rigid sole.

They also seemed to me to be overly concerned about the few dings that Cody’s feet got. Yet, they never seemed to care much about the scratches or thorn pricks on the rest of both of their bodies. But that sells too, I guess.

Watching Cody walk, you could tell that he was not just tromping along. You could see that he mostly put the ball of his foot down first, for more of a stalking look. Generally, I don’t do that at all, even in the woods. Except, that’s exactly what I do when bushwhacking. And if you think about it, that’s exactly what Dave and Cody do throughout the entire series. They are not following any sort of trail at any time. Thus, if you thought that barefooting had to look weird, realize that, for that sort of bushwhacking, that ball-first step gives one the opportunity to check the footing and ground before one puts one’s full weight on it. Very useful.

One side note: it turns out that Dave Canterbury, who runs The Pathfinder School, lives within an hour or so of me, and has run classes in at least one of the state forests I regularly frequent, Tar Hollow State Forest. I’ve never seen him there (as far as I know.)

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Serena Williams has now withdrawn from the U.S. Open because of her cut foot. Other similar stories here and here. Notice what they all say:

Williams, 28, sliced her right foot on a piece of broken glass at a restaurant in Munich last month, a few days after winning her fourth Wimbledon singles title. She had surgery in mid-July and has not played since.

This has now become the standard story, and all it does is re-enforce the idea that restaurants are dangerous places and that it is very easy to cut your foot by being barefoot there. I discussed this in a previous post, Foot Fault. Notice that none of the stories express any of the doubt that circulated at the time of the original injury in July.

For instance, take a look at this statement from Serena’s spokesperson at the time of the injury, from Tennis Fanhouse:

“She didn’t step on glass,” said Williams’ agent and spokesperson, Jill Smoller. “So I don’t know where that came from. Her foot was cut. There was a deep laceration. She had surgery Thursday in Los Angeles … to repair a deep laceration on top of her foot.”

That sure doesn’t sound like stepping on a piece of glass, the fear that all the articles are propagating (yes, none of them actually says she stepped on it, but there sure is that implication). There has got to be something else going on.

But none of them express any of the doubts that occurred earlier. And that is how anti-barefooting myths are propagated.

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James J. Kilpatrick has died

Here is a UPI story about the death of conservative columnist James J. Kilpatrick. Mr. Kilpatrick was probably best known to many people for his role on the Point/Counterpoint segment on 60 minutes, which then led to a Saturday Night Live skit featuring Jane Curtin and Dan Ackroyd (“Jane, you ignorant slut!”).

But as a columnist, he was well-known as a lover of words (and I quite enjoyed his column on that). He also had a weekly column in which he discussed Supreme Court issues. And that is how I ended up being interviewed by him.

You see, back in 2001 I sued the Columbus Metropolitan Library over their shoe rule. By 2004, that case had made its way to the Supreme Court. I had filed a Petition for a Writ of Certiorari, which is how one requests that the Supreme Court takes your case and decides it. As part of his Supreme Court work, and with a dedicated thoroughness, Mr. Kilpatrick must have looked at every petition filed with the Supreme Court, since he managed to see my petition and was intrigued.

Here is how he started his column about my case:

One of the happy aspects of covering the Supreme Court is that a reporter never knows what will turn up in the daily crop of petitions for review. Most of the petitions range in dullness from the merely soporific to the truly stupefying, but now and then a case comes along that brightens the jaded eye. For example, Case No. 03-1263, Neinast v. Board of Trustees.

He was quite even-handed in his treatment:

The petitioner makes a persuasive case. A public library is surely at least a limited public forum. Accordingly, limitations on access to its resources must have a rational basis. Such limitations may properly seek to prevent future harms, but these potential harms “must be real, not merely conjectural.” There must be some plausible evidence that a proposed limitation will alleviate these harms in a direct and material way.

The library’s response to this line of argument is remarkably flimsy. There was some testimony that “feces, semen, blood and broken glass” occasionally had been observed on library floors. In its effort to document incidents of hazard “to barefoot patrons,” the library specifically cited an incident in which a patron hurt himself on a staple in a carpet. As Neinast observes, the patron was a child lying on a carpeted floor during a story-reading session. The awful gash was not on his foot. It was a scratch on his arm, quickly covered by a Band-Aid. Quelle horreur!

You can read the whole column here. [By the way, the Supreme Court did not take my case, so the current state of the law, at least in the 6th Circuit, is that it is not a violation of the First Amendment right of access to free speech for libraries to exclude barefooted patrons.]

I shall remember him fondly.

UPDATE: You can see my petition here (PDF).

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Suing for injuries?

We had a comment to the last “A Library Attempt” entry that I would like to highlight, since it is so typical of the misconceptions that we barefooters have to address. In that entry, Matthew NcNatt of Ottawa, IL, is the subject of a story about his attempts to have the Ottawa library remove its shoe rule.

In the comments, Patrick Hanna says:

The main reason for the ban on going barefoot in public places is for safety purposes. In Abe Lincoln’s day, a child who cut his foot in the library on something another person left lying around would have just wrapped the cut and went on about his or her day. If that were to happen today, the library would be slapped with a $5000 civil suit and that would be the end of the library.

This is so wrong in so many ways. I will grant that there is a common perception about safety and suing, but it is based on myths and ungrounded fears. But that is wrong.

Regular readers of this blog are well-aware that the dangers of bare feet are highly exaggerated. The shod are somehow convinced that there are hazards everywhere, yet somehow I and plenty of other barefooters go about their lives without ever encountering a problem. And then there is the question of libraries. If anything, a library is probably the safest place possible for walking in bare feet. It probably has even fewer hazards than the typical home. So why ban bare feet there? What we do know is that many shoes are much more dangerous than bare feet. We’ve discussed before how running shoes do bad things to knees. We’ve discussed before how high heels do really, really bad things to knees, and to feet in general. Yet, we never see places banning running shoes or high heels “for safety purposes.”

And then there is the fear of lawsuits. Totally unjustified.

First, one must realize that one can file a lawsuit for any reason, so there is nothing a library can do, banning anything, that would really reduce their chance of being sued. But when the suit is unjustified, it can usually be dismissed pretty quickly. The reason that the silly lawsuits that make people afraid hit the news is because they are news. They are rare; they are silly. That is prime material for making the news.

But in real life, it is not bare feet but high heels (or even other shoes) that generate a lot of lawsuits. There is a list here. Would Patrick also advocate that a library should ban high heels because it would be hit with a $5000 lawsuit that would be the end of the library? Of course, libraries do no such thing. In fact, libraries have insurance (and here in Ohio they have something called limited sovereign immunity that means they cannot be sued for even high-heel injuries unless their conduct was “willful and wanton”. It’s all a big smokescreen.

In fact, most libraries even have a children’s story hour, in which they allow children to sit with bare arms and legs on the floors that so many people are sure are too unsafe for bare feet. Here’s an article from the Lancaster Eagle-Gazette showing exactly that:

Children, families learn about animals at main library

Click on picture to enbiggen.

There really is no good reason for a library to ban bare feet. It’s all a bunch of entrenched misconceptions about safety, lawsuits, and often “decorum”.

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A Library Attempt

Here is a story about a guy in Ottawa, IL, attempting to get his library’s “no bare feet” rule changed.

Matthew McNatt’s request may have caught the Reddick Library Board flat-footed.

Monday, McNatt, the owner of the McNatt Learning Center in Ottawa, asked the board to allow library patrons to be barefoot.

“Prohibiting bare feet is historically ignorant, culturally insensitive, medically uninformed, legally irrelevant, unnecessarily restrictive and contrary to the spirit of personal freedom that the library is asked to maintain,” said McNatt, who wore a pair of black shoes.

I have also given a presentation to a library board to try to get them to remove a shoe requirement. McNatt’s points are spot on.

The board heard his presentation but postponed action on the request until its September meeting.

Library Trustee Jameson Campaigne suggested McNatt show there was more support for his position.

“A petition with a couple thousand signatures might be a little more persuasive,” Campaigne said.

I can predict what will happen. First, the board will say they need to retain their rule for reasons of “decorum”. And then, if McNatt presses further, the board will suddenly switch to an excuse about how dangerous bare feet are (while ignoring the dangers of, say, high-heels).

Also, of course, why should the exercise of liberty require a petition with a couple thousand signatures? In a city of about 20,000, that’s about 10% of the total population.

McNatt also draws on Abraham Lincoln’s barefoot youth (as did I):

McNatt said as a youth Abraham Lincoln often went barefoot.

“Legend even has it that Lincoln delivered the first speech of his political career barefoot at age 21, as commemorated by the Barefoot Lincoln statue in the town square in Decatur,” he said.

I also pulled in a famous Ohio barefooter: Johnny Appleseed.

I wish McNatt the best of luck. But experience has taught me not to be optimistic.

(H/T to Chris of the Barefoot Hikers of PA.)

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