Saturday, February 6, 2016

National Bilingualism: Good or Bad? / Bilinguisme National: Bon ou Mauvais?

When I was growing up in rural Virginia in the 1980’s, I almost never encountered any language other than English, except in French class. Today, any company worth an automated menu system begins it with “Press 1 for English, Press 2 for Spanish.” I know I am not alone in wondering when I hear these ubiquitous answering systems, “Am I still in Virginia?”

The number of Spanish-speaking people in America* has skyrocketed in the past few decades. According to the US Census Bureau, Spanish is now the primary language spoken at home for more than 38 million American residents. (I say ‘residents’ because roughly 1/3 of these people are in America illegally or as guests and are not citizens). In case you struggle with math, 38 million is more than 10% our nation’s population of 330 million. It is the equivalent of five States where every man, woman, and child speaks Spanish as their primary (or sole) language.

Now, let me be clear. I have nothing against the Spanish language or the people who speak it. However, I’ve wondered why Congress has failed over the decades to address the growing bilingualism in the United States. By 2012, the number of Spanish-speaking Americans had more than doubled since 1990, and I suspect 1990 was not the beginning of the growth curve. It was reported in 2015 that America now has more Spanish-speaking residents than Spain. As a nation, it is utterly foolish not to ask ourselves if this is desirable. Is this really the road we want to travel? Fortunately, we don’t have to ask that question in a vacuum. Other nations have large chunks of their population speaking different languages, including our neighbor to the north, Canada. As it happens, I lived in Quebec, Canada for two years, so I have some personal experience on this issue.

A House Divided Cannot Stand
Une Maison Divisée Contre Elle-même Ne Peut Subsister

Presidential hopeful Marco Rubio, of Cuban descent and fluent in Spanish, has frequently employed Spanish to woo Hispanic voters in their native tongue. While this might be a smart move politically, I believe it sends the wrong signal that the USA should officially embrace national bilingualism. For this, some might think I'm xenophobic, but nothing could be further from the truth. My position is grounded in common sense and personal experience. Although I was raised on a rural farm in Virginia surrounded only by English, I fell in love with the French language in high school. So much so that I made the highly unusual decision (in my field) to pursue a postdoctoral position outside the United States in French-speaking Quebec. For two years I worked at McGill University in Montreal and I lived in one of the most diehard Francophone suburbs of the city (Verdun). Many people in my suburb did not speak English at all. So let me emphasize that I am referring to national bilingualism, not individual bilingualism. Alors, je me parler une deuxième langue, but a nation that speaks two languages is a nation divided. Language does more than string together words, it embodies culture. Nowhere is this lingual and cultural divide seen more clearly than in Canada.

The cultural and lingual division of Canada into English and French provinces has led to serious political problems. Anyone who follows Canadian politics is aware that Quebec goes through regular cycles of threatening cessation from Canada. (In typical French fashion, however, their actions never quite equal their rhetoric). In Quebec, anti-Canadian sentiment can run high, especially on July, 1st.

July 1st is Canada Day. It is somewhat analogous to Independence Day in America. As a patriotic American, I thought I would share in Canadian patriotism my first July 1st in Montreal. That’s when I quickly discovered that Quebec is not Canada. While I was still hanging my Canadian flag on my front porch, one lady barked rather rudely (in French, which still sounds beautiful even when barked) while others looked rather snidely in my direction. Stubbornly, I left the Maple Leaf hanging on my porch but was later told that it might have been literally dangerous doing so.

If you think that kind of animosity can’t happen here, then just wait until Florida is completely Spanish in language and in culture. It can happen here. And I predict it eventually will. It's worth noting that Marco Rubio has been accused of speaking one political message in Spanish and quite another in English. A political maneuver that not only fosters division but should disqualify him from the race, according to some political leaders.

Half the Space, Twice the Cost
Moitié de l’Espace, Deux Fois le Coût

Not only does national bilingualism divide a nation culturally and poltically, it creates a waste of resources. Do you have any idea how many pages are printed by the federal government every year? (Hint: it’s a LOT). Now double it. Every communication from the Canadian government must be done twice, once in English, once in French. Every product sold in Canada has labels in English and labels in French. This much is already becoming common here. I bought a product the other day from a big box store and was struck by the fact that half the box described the product in English while the other half described it in Spanish. In effect, this company lost half the space they could have used to persuade me to buy their product to merely repeat what was already said once in another language. The instructions inside? Twice the paper, twice the ink, twice the length, twice the cost. And when you call the big box store just to find out what time they close, you first have to press 1 for English, 2 for Spanish.

I don’t know a single person who regards bilingualism in an individual as a bad thing. On the contrary, virtually everyone (myself included) thinks quite the opposite; that mastering more than one language expands your thinking in ways that few other cerebral accomplishments can. But national bilingualism is a disaster. And if it’s still possible to exit this road, we should.

*For those who might be confused, I use “America” here in the traditional sense to describe the United States of America, not the continents.

Monday, February 1, 2016

PC and Manners Lost

Like most conservatives, I despise political correctness (PC). I proudly teach at a university whose unofficial motto is Politically Incorrect since 1971. I say “like most conservatives” because PC has frequently been used to shame and silence conservative voices. However, PC has grown so out-of-control that liberals now destroy other liberals who inadvertently say the wrong thing. While that is entertaining to watch, PC is still disastrous wherever it strikes. It’s not just conservatives who despise PC anymore, it’s the in-the-middle folks and conservative liberals that now despise it, too.

PC emerged in the 80’s and reached full maturity in the 90’s, so we’ve had it for over 30 years now. It’s gotten so bad on university campuses that comedian Jerry Seinfeld stop doing the college circuit. So what is PC exactly? Essentially, it is societal censorship. As I said, PC has been used to bash conservatives into silence, but that only accounts for the most egregious elements of PC. Most PC is really not all that bad. In fact, most PC is just plain ole’ manners. In a polite society, you wouldn’t call a female television anchor a bimbo because doing so would be rude. The difference between PC and good manners is that good manners require self-censorship whereas PC is societal censorship.

In this presidential election cycle, Donald Trump has blown the lid off of PC. Many of us think that is a great thing. He speaks his mind without any filter and doesn’t care who gets offended. After a generation of PC suffocation, Trump is a breath of fresh air and the masses of conservatives, in-the-middle folks, and conservative liberals are inhaling deeply: “Politically incorrect” has recently become a popular self-description on Twitter profiles.

But there’s one ‘yuge’ problem.

Many of those now feeling liberated from PC have apparently forgotten, or never learned, good manners. Nowhere is this more obvious than with Trump supporters online. They are obnoxious, rude, intolerant, and just plain mean. Trump has suddenly given everyone permission to flush political correctness, but he hasn’t led the way with good manners. In fact, he’s done the opposite.

No one is more pleased to see PC die than I am. However, if we want to live in a polite post-PC world, we need to remember our manners. That includes me, too, BTW.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Feet FreeX - Join the Tribe!

I am so excited about Feet Freex - the grassroots movement started by Jessi Stensland to liberate our feet and persuade the footwear industry to provide smarter shoes for our feet. People everywhere like Jessi are waking up to the reality that shoes, especially as they are designed today, are actually harming our feet and bodies.

Did you know that roughly 1/3 of America’s foot doctors are educated by the Dr. Scholl’s School of Podiatry? Dr. Scholl’s is a medical institution with a clear financial interest in orthotics and maladapted footwear. To be clear, I am not implying that shoemakers are intentionally producing harmful shoes or that there’s a conspiracy between doctors and cobblers. I am saying that podiatrists and shoemakers share a worldview that is flawed. In their worldview, the bare foot by itself is insufficient to perform its intended functions – standing, walking, running, and jumping. In their view, our feet need the aid of man-made, artificial devices, i.e., shoes and orthotics. I believe they are wrong. Unfortunately, the public relies on them – the foot experts – to tell us how to care for our feet, yet 70% of runners are injured every year and millions of people seek relief from shoe-induced ailments never realizing the shoe is the problem and simply taking it off is the answer.

Despite a growing barefoot community, most podiatrists still insist that shoes are modern necessities and do not advocate walking or running barefoot. With the exception of Vibram® and a few smaller companies, shoe manufacturers still refuse to make shoes that conform to the anatomy of the human foot or truly augment the biomechanics of ambulation (see Jessi's video on her cycle shoe surgery). Rather than embracing truth and knowledge to forge a new path to smart shoes and healthy feet, large shoe manufactures have “dug in their heels” and refuse to change their habits. They do so at their own peril.

Going barefoot is natural and healthy. Our feet are designed for it. We wear shoes primarily for cultural reasons and the shoes we wear are built for fashion not function. If you’ve been wearing shoes for years, you may need to rehabilitate your feet but liberating them from shoes will make you stronger and healthier. To learn more about your feet and shoes, please join the Tribe. Also, get a copy of my book, The Barefoot Book: 50 Great Reasons to Kick Off Your Shoes. Share what you learn with your friends and family. Together, we can tear down the cultural barriers that keep us in shoes that tear up our feet!

Go to and join the movement!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Elementary, My Dear Watson

My son introduced me to the BBC series SHERLOCK (available on Netflix) and I was immediately hooked. We quickly watched all the available episodes and anxiously awaited the most recent season with great anticipation. Upon its arrival we were disappointed only by the small number of episodes (more! Please!). Anyway, the TV series reignited my love for the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and so I recently purchased the complete set of crime mysteries in two volumes (containing four novels and fifty-six short stories). I hadn’t read the original Holmes mysteries since my teen years, and while enjoying The Sign of Four I noticed something that went under my radar the first time I read it so many years ago:
     We clambered up through the hole [in the ceiling]. Holmes turned his light once more upon the footsteps in the dust.
     “I wish you particularly to notice these footmarks,” he said. “Do you observe anything noteworthy about them?”
     “They belong, “ I said, “to a child or a small woman.”
     “Apart from their size, though. Is there nothing else?”
     “They appear to be much as other footmarks.”
     “Not at all. Look here! This is the print of a right foot in the dust. Now I make one with my naked foot beside it. What is the chief difference?”
     “Your toes are all cramped together. The other print has each toe distinctly divided.”
     “Quite so. That is the point. Bear that in mind…”
A few pages later the mystery of the footprints is considered further. Says Holmes:
     “Now, do consider the data. Diminutive footmarks, toes never fettered by boots, naked feet, stone-headed wooden mace, great agility, small poisoned darts. What do you make of all this?”
     “A savage!” I exclaimed. “Perhaps one of those Indians who were the associates of Jonathan Small.” 
That the super-sleuth Sherlock Holmes deduced the effects of footwear on foot anatomy is not particularly amazing, but when we recall that our fictional detective springs from the mind of the mere mortal Conan Doyle our wonder is more deserved. Conan Doyle likely penned those words sometime in 1889 as The Sign of Four was published in February 1890. His astute observation was prolly aided by the fact that Doyle himself was a world-travelling medical doctor as well as the author of fictional crime mysteries. Still, the observation is treated as common-sense by both Holmes and Watson. Some 15 years later, in 1905, Dr. Phil Hoffman would publish a report in The American Journal of Orthopedic Surgery  titled “Conclusions Drawn from a Comparative Study of the Feet of Barefooted and Shoe-wearing Peoples”.  In that study, Hoffman methodically documented the foot deformities (both in anatomy and functionality) caused by footwear. The figure above is taken from this study. To my knowledge, Hoffman’s report is the first rigorous scientific investigation on the impact of shoes on feet, but once again, it appears that Sherlock Holmes was one step ahead of the experts. Sadly, more than 100 years later, most people - including most podiatrists - still don't have a clue that shoes cause so many foot problems and that going barefoot is good and healthy for your feet. Indeed, they firmly believe that shoes are "modern necessities" and feet will suffer irreparable harm without them.


What's more, after all these years the most common deduction about someone who goes barefoot remains "A savage!"

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Barefoot Hiking: Why & How

It’s summer! Days are hot, but the trail is shady and cool. Long days meander slowly into evening. It is the season for hiking and what better way to experience nature than hiking barefoot?

Yes. Barefoot!

If you’ve only hiked in big, bulky hiking boots, then I’ve got a treat for you. Lose the shoes and experience the trail with your toes. Doing so will completely transform your hiking experience. It’s as if you’ve only seen the forest in black-and-white, but soon it will flood your senses in full color! And don’t worry, it’s completely safe even for the novice if you take just a few common-sense precautions.

Barefoot hiking is one of those quintessential simple pleasures of life. Like all of the other ‘best things in life’ it is free, requires little preparation, and is like a reset button for your soul. For myself and many others, hiking barefoot is therapy. In an utterly unique way it reconnects you to Nature and Nature’s God. In addition to the emotional and psychological benefits of walking shoeless through nature, there are tangible physical benefits, too. Some studies suggest that hiking barefoot boosts the immune system by exposing you to non-pathological soil bacteria. Tannins in fallen leaves give your soles that leathery toughness so essential for comfortably walking barefoot.

Not only is hiking barefoot good for you, it is better for the environment than hiking shod. I can lead a troop of twenty barefoot hikers down a trail and do less damage to the path than a single rambler in ‘hiking boots’.  The bare foot leaves almost no trace after passing through a trail, but hiking boots trample plant life and leave deep imprints in the dirt.

If you’d like to try your hand at barefoot hiking, here are some tips to ensure the experience is enjoyable.

·         If one exists in your area, consider joining a barefoot hiking group. If no group exists near you, you might want to start one!
·         Choose a trail that is smooth and mostly dirt or pine needles. Rocks and roots are fine for those with experience and tough feet but are usually uncomfortable for the tender-footed novice.
·         Avoid (or be very careful) crossing streams and rivers. The mountain stream may, ironically, be the only place a shod hiker might remove their shoes, but it happens to be the most dangerous place to do so. Muddy waters hide real hazards like broken glass, shards of metal, and other dangerous litter. I have hiked hundreds of miles barefoot and the only quasi-serious injury I’ve received is from broken glass in a river. My motto: “Don’t Step Down Where You Can’t See The Ground.” Be careful in rivers!
·         Trim your toenails. Keeping your toenails short will prevent you from snagging a nail on the trail.
·         If you are allergic to poison ivy, you obviously want to avoid the plant. I am allergic to this stuff, but in my experience if I rinse my feet and legs soon after returning home from the trail, then I can avoid breaking out with hives.
·         Wear shorts or capris. Keep your feet and ankles free.
·         Watch your step and don’t drag your feet. Shuffling your feet on the ground is a good way to get cut or stub your toes.
·         Take along some bandages and tweezers. Especially if you are new to barefoot hiking you should expect some cuts and bruises. Rest assured, most injuries can be avoided by simply paying attention, and the more experience you have hiking barefoot the less likely you are to get injured. I must confess, I usually don’t carry these items with me anymore unless I’m leading new barefoot hikers.
·         Check for ticks upon your return. In my experience, you are far less likely to pick up ticks when your skin is exposed (bare feet and shorts) than when your skin is hidden away in shoes and long pants, but you still should check yourself.
·         Keep hydrated. This has nothing to do with feet per se but is good hiking sense!

I hope you will give barefoot hiking a try. Believe me, it is transformational. J

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Education Crisis

Note: This blog is usually about foot health and barefooting, but since I am the Barefoot PROFESSOR, I am devoting this post to the crisis of education in America.

I recently came across an 8th grade graduation test from 1912. I will discuss the test more in a moment, but first I want to point out that in 1912 most people were expected to finish the 8th grade, but only a few of them would continue their studies through high school, and fewer still would dream of college. I mention this because education in America is in a crisis – both higher education and secondary education, but for different reasons.

First, higher education.

Higher education in America is in a crisis largely because of cronyism. Cronyism is when government beds with industry in a way that undermines free-market capitalism. The result of cronyism is always the same: higher prices and lower product quality. In the case of higher education, our federal government really busied itself with universities for the first time during World War II (with the development of the atom bomb) and federal research funding quickly transformed the meaning and business of colleges.  Previously a high-risk venture that often failed, colleges became much more secure with a constant influx of federal research dollars. Then, in the 1970’s, the federal government began subsidizing student loans and since that time college tuition rates have skyrocketed – far outpacing inflation – and the education has arguably degenerated. The problem created by government interference is now so bad that government will soon feel compelled to “step in” and take over higher education completely. This is evident by several observations, the most recent being a move by president Obama to rate colleges to “make sure that federal student aid money is well-spent.”[1]

One of the best football coaches in history, Vince Lombardi, was famous for starting each season by going back to the basics, holding out a football to his professional players and stating flatly: “This is a football.” Perhaps it’s time we went back to the basics with respect to higher education:

“This is a college.”

What is the purpose of college? Today, roughly 30% of the population in the United States holds a bachelor’s degree.[2] If that number seems low to you, consider that in 1912 only one in four hundred Americans went to college and even by 1940 only 5% of the population held a bachelor’s degree. Prior to the 20th century, college was a calling. Of course, you had to be academically gifted to succeed, but only a fraction of the intellectually smart-enough actually went to college. Most professions didn’t demand a degree and the earnings one lost to spend four years on campus was enough to dissuade most people from going. Those who did go to college were obtaining the highest education possible and were expected to contribute highly, as well. The 19th century and early 20th century was a gilded age for higher education and the world was being conquered by the Bohrs, Mendeleevs, Paulings and Einsteins that occupied the ivory towers. Notably, college was not then and never was only for the rich. Funds were available for those with the intellectual prowess and the calling to obtain higher education. It was also during those years – perhaps in part because of the success of great academicians (Einstein was the world’s first celebrity-scientist) – that college admission began to boom. No doubt this was also fueled by the industrial revolution. Regardless, more and more people wanted to be a part of the higher education scene and universities were being viewed in a different light by the public at large. Over the next one hundred years, more and more jobs would require a college degree and, remember, by the 1940’s Uncle Sam was getting involved. Now, in 2014, going to college is expected of most Americans and we have a president who wants “college for all.”

But perhaps college was never meant to be for all. Perhaps college for many is nothing more than a diversion robbing them of their most creative and energetic years. There doesn’t seem to be a correlation between the percentage of folks with a college degree and the economic success of a nation. [3] Bill Gates provides a great example of a young man who started college simply because it was expected of him, but found his true calling outside the classroom and never graduated. Mark Zuckerberg is another. Most people, however, spend five years drudging through classes only to leave with a $100,000 piece of paper and the expectation of a job. A job which may or may not actually exist.

College was never meant to prepare one for a job. Trade schools prepare one for a job. And yet that is now the expected role of college from our students, our government, and even most of our college administrators. The university is no longer a place to prepare the few for a life of science, or literature, or the clergy, or to be the bearers of knowledge and wisdom for the counsel of kings and governments. It’s to prepare the masses for a job.

Perhaps “college for all” is a very bad idea. Perhaps even one-third of the population having a college degree is too high, unless college in 2014 is not what college was in 1914. And there is the crux of the matter. I submit that it is not. College today is the high school of yesteryear.

Which brings me to the crisis in secondary education. Virtually no one denies that secondary education in America is in serious trouble. We spend roughly 3x more money per pupil on secondary education than the next highest nation, and yet our ranking in the world continues to drop. Our students currently rank 30th in math test scores. [4] There are TWENTY-NINE other nations that outcompete our students in math! Again, I blame government intrusion that undermines a free marketplace and, perhaps even more culpable, the teachers union. Regardless, we are slipping on the world stage, and we are slipping compared to our own grandparents.

Which brings me back to the 8th grade graduation test from 1912. That test is HARD. Very few adults today with a bachelor’s degree could answer those questions. I certainly stumbled over several of them, especially the American history questions which surprised me because I LOVE American history! Even more interesting than the test itself is how the website prepares the modern reader for his imminent feeling of stupidity. “Remember to smile a little while reading this exam” we are forewarned. “Smile. We are all learning from this test.” Indeed, we are learning how much dumber we are now than an 8th grader in 1912.

Looking over the educational landscape of the past 100 years, it appears that in America college is the new high school. And as secondary education continues to get watered down while college education focuses on job preparation, neither of them are teaching students to think as well as 8th graders in 1912. Indeed, they are not even teaching the facts of our own history and culture so desperately needed by a nation that governs itself.

But every kid knows how to use a condom.


2. Surprisingly, the exact number seems hard to pin down as every source I checked gave significantly different numbers, from as low as 17% to as high as 33%. Most gave 25-30%.

The 8th grade test:

Monday, April 21, 2014

From Opinion To Observation: More Evidence That Going Barefoot Is Best For Your Feet

There is a growing body of anecdotal evidence that walking and running barefoot can actually reverse some of the damage done to your feet by footwear. Specifically, several podiatrists and scientists have reported a rise in arch height due to walking and/or running barefoot (or in minimalist shoes). In this post I review the observations that have been made by others and add my own data to the mix.

Back in 2011, Dr. Nirenberg reported on his blog ( that he was seeing foot arches rise in a patient as a result of barefoot running. The 41-year old male had worn conventional shoes prior to making the switch to running barefoot. He also ditched his shoes for most daily activities and adopted a largely barefoot lifestyle. Dr. Nirenberg captured a stunning set of footprints that document the changes to his feet.

More recently, Dr. Nick Campitelli reported a similar finding on his blog. His two-year study demonstrates dramatic changes in the arch height and ankle-foot alignment of a 34-year old woman after she switched to minimalist shoes for running. Going minimalist not only raised her arches and aligned her foot and ankle bones, but it alleviated her knee pain.

In my own study, I’ve been observing a 48-year old male transition from typical shoe use to barefoot living – both for running and walking during his daily routine. At work, this individual switched to using minimalist shoes. Although he stated he had flat feet “all his life”, his feet began to change after adopting a barefoot lifestyle. Below are the footprints I acquired from this individual over a 4 ½ year period beginning with his adoption of a barefoot lifestyle in 2009.

There are several published methods to quantify arch heights, but several years ago I devised my own method called the transverse arch index (TAI). A TAI value less than 1 indicates a high arch while a TAI value greater than 1 indicates a low arch. After switching to a barefoot lifestyle, this individual’s TAI value decreased a staggering 81% from 5.2 (a very low arch) at the start of the study to 1.0 (average arch) four years later. Much of the change occurred in the first 2 ½ years.

In my opinion, and I believe Drs. Nirenberg and Campitelli would agree, shoes are casts that immobilize the foot and weaken the musculature and ligaments of the foot. Because those muscles and ligaments support the arch and properly align the 52 bones in the feet and ankles, some have speculated that the overuse of shoes – especially during exercise that involves walking or running – is a major source of many of the ailments that plague our feet. Indeed, footwear is likely responsible for more than flat feet and fallen arches, they have been implicated as a major contributor to bunions, Hallux valgus, plantar fasciitis, neuropathy, athlete’s foot, toenail fungus, ingrown toenails, and hammer toes.

Personally, I believe that simply eschewing the shoe and walking barefoot is the single best thing you can do for the health of your feet. Heretofore, that opinion was based mainly on the premise that the human foot is designed well for its functions and that man-made footwear, while useful in some situations, is largely disruptive and impedes those functions. Happily, we are now acquiring a growing body of empirical evidence that validates that opinion, such as the results presented in these three case studies.

I think it’s important to recognize two realities: 1) we typically wear shoes for cultural reasons, not physical or biomechanical reasons, often even when we think otherwise. And 2) shoes often do more harm than good to our feet. Once you become fully aware of those two points, the solution to our foot woes becomes obvious: remove the shoes and go barefoot much more often. Fortunately, more and more people are connecting the dots and kicking off their shoes in response. Going barefoot in public is becoming more common as people realize the damage that shoes can cause our feet and the healthy benefits of leaving them at home. Furthermore, going barefoot is quickly being recognized as just another individual lifestyle choice in our increasingly diverse society. So, do your feet a favor, take off your shoes and walk barefoot! Not only does it feel good, it’s good for you. And there’s science to back that up!

Daniel Howell, Ph.D.

PS. In addition to these studies, I am aware through personal communication of other studies by top-notch scientists which make the same general conclusions, but they have not at this time publicly announced their findings.