About Sara K.

Sara K. is an aromantic asexual from California who has previously lived in Taiwan. She blogs at the notes which do not fit, has previously been a contributor at Manga Bookshelf, and has written guest posts for Hacking Chinese. She enjoys reading, travel, live theatre, learning languages, and gardening.

Damsels in Distress vs. Distressed Dudes in Jin Yong Stories (Part 1)

There is a damsel in distress at the top of that tower, next to a villain. He’s threatening to burn her alive.

This is part of the Rambling Series about Sexism in Jin Yong Stories.

The basic feminist objection to the ‘damsel in distress’ trope is that it treats female characters as passive possessions for male protagonists to ‘win’ or ‘take back’. For a much more in-depth feminist critique, there is of course the Tropes vs. Women video series on Damsel in Distress (though this series focuses on video games, the critique can be extended to other media).

When a male character is in distress and needs rescue, it’s called Distressed Dude, though unlike the Damsel in Distress trope, it is not the default for a Distressed Dude to be rescued by a female character, and he is much less likely to be treated as a possession/prize.

Though perhaps I do not know Chinese mythology/classic literature well enough to make this claim, it seems to be that the damsel in distress trope is not nearly as engrained there as in European-derived cultures. That’s not to say that it’s unheard of in Sinophone stories/literature/etc. it’s merely less frequent

Miss Qu clearly has a cognitive disability, possibly what is now called Down Syndrome. She is also, as this picture shows, a capable martial artist.

In Jin Yong stories, the vast majority of female characters are also capable martial artists. Old lady? Probably a capable martial artist. Princess who has been cloistered in the imperial palace for most of her life? Probably a capable martial artist. Girl who has a physical impairment, such as a lame foot? Probably a capable martial artist. It is so uncommon for a significant character of any gender to not be a martial artist in Jin Yong stories that, if a character is NOT a martial artist, that’s a notable feature.

Since the vast majority of female characters are martial artists, they often have some options other than wait for rescue if they end up in distress. If she does turn into a damsel in distress, it has to be explained usually by a) poison b) having her acupuncture points sealed and/or c) encountering superior force. These devices also often turn male characters into distressed dudes.

So yes, there are some damsels in distress in Jin Yong novels, and a female character who gets enough page space will probably need to be rescued at some point. But being a damsel in distress is rarely the defining feature of a female character, and male characters are just as likely to turn into distressed dudes.

Ah Zhu and Qiao Feng from the 1996 TV adaptation of Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils. Again.

One of the few straight-up examples of damsel in distress I can recall is, in fact, Qiao Feng and Ah Zhu. It is worth noting that, earlier in the story, Ah Zhu had rescued a different male protagonist, Duan Yu, and that she rescues yet another male character’s life later in the story (I will discuss that more in the next part). First, he treated her wounds so she would not die right away, and then gets into a badass fight so that a certain doctor will agree to cure her – in fact, this happens to be one of my favorite episodes from the 1997 TV adaptation (which I am astonished to learn is available with English subtitles – content warning for suicide). Ah Zhu falls in love with Qiao Feng while he’s taking care of her, and after she is cured, she tells him that she wants to spend the rest of her life with him.

Wanyan Honglie and Bao Xiruo in the 1983 TV adaptation of Legend of the Condor Heroes

One of these rare examples of a significant female character who isn’t a martial artist is Bao Xiruo, and yes, she is a damsel in distress as well – but with a twist. In her case, Wanyan Honglie decided to marry her, but she was already married, so he arranged for her husband to be murdered and set it up so that he could go in and ‘rescue’ her. Even though Bao Xiruo does not love her Wanyan Honglie she feels obliged to marry him because she believes he had saved her life (also, as a young widow who isn’t even a martial artst, her alternative options were bad). This is like the ‘Western’ damsel in distress in that a woman is treated like a possession to be taken. However, the difference is that this is done by a villain instead of a hero, and the guy doing this is not presented in a sympathetic way.

In fact, off the top of my head, most of the examples of damsel in distress in Jin Yong stories I can think of are one of the following:

– the ‘rescuer’ has ulterior motives (example: Wanyan Honglie & Bao Xiruo)
– the damsel assumes the rescuer has ulterior motives, and refuses to cooperate (example: Shui Sheng & Di Yun)
– rescuer turns out to be a jerk so the damsel eventually leaves him (example: Yang Kang & Mu Nianci)
– due to Stockholm Syndrome, damsel does not want to be rescued (Wen Yi – to be fair, her ‘rescuers’ were more morally reprehensible than her captor, so she was effectively choosing the lesser evil)
– even though the damsel likes her rescuer, she refuses to pursue a romance with him because it goes against her principles (example: Yilin & Linghu Chong)
– even though the rescuer likes the damsel, he refuses to pursue a romance with her because it goes against his principles (example: Duan Yu & Mu Wanqing)
– damsel in distress is rescued by a mixed-gender team (example: Zhong Ling)
– damsel does not need rescuing because she is already free (example: Ren Yingying)
– damsel has already rescued male protagonist when he was in distressed dude mode, and will probably rescue him again later in the story (example: Huang Rong & Guo Jing) (and yes, I have plenty more to say about this)

Sometimes, the boy can’t save the damsel-in-distress/pregnant woman/distressed dudes by himself, and the girl can’t save the damsel-in-distress/pregnant woman/distressed dudes by herself, so the boy and the girl have to work together to save them.

In short, there is usually some element which is at least partially ‘subverting’ the trope. I put ‘subverting’ in quotations marks because what I mean is that the trope is not working as it typically does in Anglophone cultures, but if Chinese stories aren’t working the way one would expect them to work in Anglophone media, that’s not necessarily a subversion.

Even in the example of Qiao Feng trying to save Ah Zhu’s life, she’s not being treated as a prize for him to win, he does not take possession of her when her life is saved, and most of the other characters are really suspicious of his motives.

There is an edge here, namely, that the rescuers of the damsel in distress are often suspect. On one side of the edge, one could say that Jin Yong is implying that the guys who rescue damsels in distress in order to claim ownership over them are not much – or any – better than the guys who put them in distress in the first place (and in the case of Wanyan Honglie, it’s the very same guy); real heroes do not expect rewards from damsels they rescue beyond the satisfaction of seeing the damsel set free. This is my preferred interpretation, not only because it is the more female-friendly interpretation, but it actually more consistent with what is in the novels than the other side of the edge. And what is that other side of the edge? That if trying to rescue females is a suspicious act – what does that imply about the value of female lives?

Generally, I am satisfied with the way Jin Yong uses the damsel in distress trope, and do NOT consider it to be evidence of sexism or misogyny. I do not want female characters to be invincible, and it seems to me that he does not use the damsel in distress trope in a way which depicts females as being less capable than males, or which treats females as prizes. In particular, females do not seem to be more likely than male characters to need rescue, and to the extent it is treated as a way to claim possession of damsels, it is usually depicted as a bad thing.

So, if I do not think Jin Yong expresses sexism or misogyny in his use of damsels in distress, where do I think he expresses sexism and misogyny? Well, one of the places it comes out is where the female characters are saving the distressed dudes. I will explain how that works in Part 2.

Transcendence at the Summit of Pintianshan

This is the summit of Pintianshan, with the south side of Dabajianshan in the background. Most people see only the north side of Dabajianshan (which is also the face shown in most photos of Dabajianshan), so seeing the south side of Dabajianshan felt special to me.

I recently read A Wild Faith: Jewish Ways into Wilderness, Wilderness Ways into Judaism by Rabbi Mike Comins. In chapter four, “Finding God in Nature”, he says:

It’s so difficult to talk about the who and what of God. Often the same words mean different things to different people, and our conversations get bogged down in contradictions and misunderstandings. But when I say that I have “God-moments” in wilderness, people know exactly what I mean.

I’m an atheist, and I knew exactly what he meant, even though I would not use the word ‘God’ to describe it.

Specifically, what came to mind when I read that was my memory of being at the summit of Pintianshan in Taiwan. It’s called ‘Pintianshan’ because the boxy shapes of the rocks look like the Chinese characters 品 (pǐn​) and 田 (tián​).

Here is a picture of Pintianshan. Imagine trying to hike to the top (hint, even the safest approach requires scrambling up/down nearly vertical rock right over a very long drop).

Pintianshan is, without a doubt, the most difficult mountain I have ever successfully summited. I have met hikers who are much more experienced than I am who, when they saw what they would have to do to reach the summit, decided to turn around and give up. I almost gave up too. It’s dangerous and scary (I did not take a photo of the scary part because I did not want my parents to see how scary it was). And of course, once I pressed on to the summit, I committed myself to going through the scary section a second time during the return hike.

But it was worth it! The view from the summit of Pintianshan is one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen in my life. Pintianshan is right in the middle of the ‘Holy Ridge’ (聖陵線), which was named by a Japanese mountaineer who was completely convinced that he was in a sacred place. The indigenous people also believe that these mountains are sacred – Dabajianshan is possibly the most sacred of all mountains in traditional Atayal culture. Furthermore, one section of the Holy Ridge is known as ‘the four beauties of Wuling’ (武陵四秀). Pintianshan is one of those four beauties (the other three beauties are Chiyoushan, Taoshan, and Kelayeshan).

One of the things I thought to myself while I was at the summit of Pintianshan was ‘I can die now because I have seen this.’ This was not a suicidal thought – I had no intention of dying. Instead, I felt that there was no such thing as intention. I was so overwhelmed with the magnificence of the world that I felt myself completely submit to it, including submission to my inevitable death.

Snow Mountain, as seen from the summit of Pintianshan. Yes, Taiwan, a tropical island, has a place called ‘Snow Mountain’ (it snows on Pintianshan in winter too). Snow Mountain is the highest point of the Holy Ridge, and the second highest mountain in all of Taiwan. It is higher than Mt. Fuji in Japan.

Looking back, I think the scary experience of reaching the summit of Pintianshan put me in an emotional state which made me especially receptive to being awestruck by the beauty of the landscape. As Rabbi Mike Comins says in A Wild Faith:

Statistically, I am much more likely to die from a car accident than a grizzly attack, but I’m constantly aware of potential hazards when I’m far from a hospital. Outside the human comfort zone called civilization, I am less prone to falling into routine. The risks prod me to greater awareness.

In the city, I employ a different strategy. I avoid anxiety by “forgetting” what I know about accidents. When I drive, I’m rarely thinking about driving. Neither wilderness nor the freeways are forgiving, but in the city, I deceive myself and act otherwise.

In nature, the awareness of mortality is constant. Unlike the sanitized world of the supermarket, birth and death are encountered together in the natural world. Yet most of us see beauty, not terror.

By the way, the #1 cause of death on the Pacific Crest trail is being hit by a motor vehicle while crossing a road. There is no recorded instance of a human being killed by a bear on the Pacific Crest Trail. This implies that motor vehicles are actually much more dangerous than bears.

Nanhudashan and Zhongyangjinashan, as seen from the summit of Pintianshan. Some people say that Nanhudashan is the most beautiful mountain in Taiwan, but sadly I’ve never gotten close to it.

Hopefully, at the time this post is being published, I am hiking through Washington on the PCT and all is going well with me. I’m not expecting experiences like I had on Pintianshan on this backpacking trip because I think it would be a self-defeating prophecy. But I’m sure I’m having other kinds of interesting experiences.

Why Am I Hiking through Washington?

Hopefully, by the time this post is published, I am already hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail through Washington. I can not be 100% certain that is the case, because shit happens, and I scheduled this post way in advance.

Anyway, why am I doing this?

It’s not for the beautiful scenery – if I just want to see beautiful scenery, there are much easier ways I could do that (though the scenery is a lovely bonus). Ditto for the exercise.

Well, first of all, I’m curious. I am curious what it’s like to go backpacking for more than a month. I’m curious about the state of Washington, which I’ve never visited before. That’s one of the reasons this stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail appeals to me more than the Sierras – even though I’ve never gone hiking in the Sierras, I have in fact been in the Sierra mountains when I was a little kid (and I passed through the Sierras by train last winter). I am curious about what the Pacific Northwest is like (yes, I’ve been to Oregon, but I never went north of Eugene before – I’ve mostly been to southern Oregon, which is more like California than the Pacific Northwest in terms of climate).

I also think the idea of crossing all of Washington without visiting any cities is also really cool (I’ll have to pass through Seattle on the way back home since I will only be allowed to re-enter the United States by land or sea, but at least during my first visit to Washington, I won’t ever go to a town with more than 600 residents – assuming everything goes according to plan).

It’s also been years since I’ve been in a real alpine climate (except in a train). I look forward to being in an alpine climate again.

I’m also drawn to the people and culture of the Pacific Crest Trail. I want to visit the trail towns.

However, there is more. As people who follow my blog may have noticed, I am drawn to the idea of pilgrimage. ‘Pilgrimage’ is associated with religion, but in my reading about the Shikoku henro pilgrimage, I’ve learned that even ‘religious’ pilgrimages can have many secular elements, and many pilgrims are drawn to the pilgrimage for non-religious reasons. A journey like this, when one withdraws from one’s familiar environment to plunge into a completely different environment, can foster a heightened experience which can be used for personal development. I definitely am planning to try this with some meditative exercises.

Part of me does not like withdrawing from my day-to-day life at all (in fact, one of the reasons I think I will never do a thru-hike of the PCT or other 1000+ mile / 1500+ km trail is that I do not want to withdraw for such a long period of time). But less than two months? I think I can do that. And while I don’t want to withdraw, I also like some of the benefits. For example, my internet access will be EXTREMELY limited while I’m hiking, and I look forward to that. While the internet has brought many good things into my life, I think occasionally disengaging from the internet is good for my mental well-being.

I also hope that this trek will make me more resilient. Not so much physically – I think any physical benefits will go away shortly after I end the trek – but maybe I will pick up a few useful skills and, more importantly, I hope to develop non-physical forms of resilience.

And, if I am going to be completely honest, I am resisting the aging process. Yes, I know I am still less than 30 years old, and yes, I know that many older people go hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail, and I know that I’m not being graceful about the aging process. I reaching my physical youthful peak when I was in Taiwan, and I know I will never completely return to that state. But I don’t want to quietly submit to the process of physical aging. I want to go on this trek to remind myself that, even if I am no longer at the peak of my physical youth, I still have a lot of my youthful vigor, and I’m going to use it damn it!

Oh, and I’ll reach Canada. Hopefully – shit could happen to stop me from reaching that destination. Sadly, even if I reach Canada, I probably will only stay there for a week, but hey, I’ve never been to Canada before, and staying in Canada for a week is better than never going to Canada ever, right?

Hiking without Blisters Is Amazing – and Maybe This Is What I Did Right

One of the most common things which can ruin a hike is getting blisters on the feet. In the past, I’ve generally gotten blisters by my third day of a multi-day hike. But during my hike in San Diego, I went hiking for eight days in a row (even during my ‘rest’ day I did a couple of hours of hiking) without getting any blisters. Which was amazing. And many of the other hikers were getting blisters, some of them terrible blisters, so clearly it was the kind of hike which could promote blisters.

I cannot be 100% certain why I managed to avoid blisters during this recent hike when I’ve had blister problems before and other hikers were getting blisters. But I think there are three things which I had never used before which made the difference.

1) Trail runners

Trail-runners are a type of shoe which are designed for long-distance hiking which are lighter and dry quicker than hiking shoes/boots at the cost of offering less protection and durability. I had never used trail runners before because, well, trail-runners are freaking expensive. However, I went ahead and used Brooks Cascadia 11 GTX – and now I’m sold that trail runners really are the right kind of shoe for a Pacific Crest Trail hike (though, obviously, not the right kind of shoe for every kind of hike). I think switching from hiking shoes to trail runners made it a lot easier to avoid blisters (and the fact that they dry quickly was helpful when I had to ford a creek).

Now, a lot of people have complained that the toe box of the Brooks Cascadia 11 tends to cut into the toes and cause blisters. The thing is, it is so hard for me to find a shoe which fits my feet that I’ve spent my whole life making compromises when it comes to shoes, so if the worst thing about a shoe is that it has a toe box which cuts into my toes, that seems acceptable, especially since I did not get blisters on my toes after all. And I think I did not get blisters on my toes in spite of this flaw in the Brooks Cascadia 11 is…

2) Leukotape

As soon as I figured out that the toe box of the shoes was causing hot spots on my toes (hot spots precede blisters) I slapped Leukotape on my toes. This was the first hike where I ever used Leukotape, and given that I did not get blisters on my toes, I suspect it really works. It’s comfortable enough that I do not feel it on my feet when I’m hiking, and it does last a few days. It’s certainly better than the sports tape I had used before.

And finally…

3) Gaiters

Last year, when I was hiking through the Russian Wilderness and Trinity Alps Wilderness, my feet, shoes, and socks got incredibly dirty. My feet were washable, but I was never able to get those socks or the insides of those shoes completely clean again. I decided I did not want that to have that happen again, so I decided to buy some light gaiters.

The gaiters definitely work. My feet, socks, and the insides of my shoes came out of the 101 mile hike remarkably clean. While I do not think my most recent hike was quite as dusty as the Russian Wilderness, I am fairly certain that it would have been much harder to keep my feet/socks clean without the gaiters – especially since the gaiters themselves got pretty dirty.

What does this have to do with blisters? Well, during my hike, someone told me that one reason why people get such awful blisters on this particular trail is that there is lots of fine sand which easily gets into shoes/socks and irritates the skin of the feet, promoting blisters. I did not get the gaiters for blister prevention, but maybe they also helped prevent blisters.

This seems to work for me. I do not know if it will work for you, but if you are concerned about getting blisters during a hike, especially on the Pacific Crest Trail or a similar trail, these may be things to consider.

SPECIAL UPDATE: During my 2-day hike from Samuel P. Taylor Park to my home in San Francisco, I did wear trail runners, but I did not wear gaiters or bring Leukotape. Not bringing the gaiters was a mistake. I did, in fact, develop blisters on the first day, though the blisters did not cause any pain (which was weird, but painless blisters are way better than painful blisters). This implies that trail runners are not enough to prevent blisters, and that gaiters and Leukotape also play an important role.

Leading the Ace Walks

This is for the July 2017 Carnival of Aces: “Ace-ing It Up Offline”

For a few months I led a monthly ‘Ace Walks…’ event through my local ace meetup group.


Oh, there were various reasons. First of all, at that time, I wanted more frequent offline ace meetups. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, and the way the local meetup group has worked for a long time is that there is a three month cycle – one month in Berkeley, next month in San Francisco, following month in the South Bay, repeat. I go to most (though not all) of the San Francisco and Berkeley meetups, but I have never been to the South Bay meetup because it’s not worth it for me to take the train down there (this is ironic, because I was living in the South Bay for part of the period of time I was figuring out whether or not I was ace).

Furthermore, the Bay Area ace meetups tend to center around the East Bay. That’s because the main organizers live in the East Bay, and the East Bay has more than 3x the population of San Francisco (even if you combine San Francisco and San Mateo County, there are a lot more people in the East Bay), so it is very probable that there are more aces in the East Bay than in San Francisco. However, those of us in San Francisco would prefer to have more meetups over here. I knew that some of the aces living in the East Bay did not know parts of San Francisco away from the downtown BART stations very well, so I wanted to share my city with them.

Another reason is that the regular meetups tend to happen in cafés and casual eateries, where one is generally obligated to buy something from the business providing the meeting space. This is fine, but I wanted the option of meetups which did not require people to spend money at the venue (people still have to spend money on transit, but they have to spend money on transit anyway). And even aside from the (non)commercial aspect, I just wanted a wider variety of ace social activities.

Yet another reason is that I was doing it at a time when I was immersing myself in San Francisco history and going on a lot of City Guides walks (BTW, if you visit San Francisco, and you enjoy exploring city streets, I recommend taking at least one City Guides walk – if you have trouble moving up and down slopes, I recommend the “Historic Market Street: Path Of Gold” tour because it’s one of the flattest of the regular tours). For example, I led a walk across the Golden Gate Bridge shortly after reading a book about the history of the Golden Gate Bridge, so I was able to pepper the group with trivia (such as the three times the Golden Gate Bridge was almost destroyed – the most ridiculous near-destruction of the Golden Gate Bridge was during the 50th anniversary celebration when so many people packed the bridge that they could not move and the bridge flattened out, and if the weight capacity had not been increased by retrofits in 1986, the weight of all of those people would have broken the bridge).

What happened?

I ended up leading about 5 walks (I don’t remember the exact number). Unsurprisingly, aces who live in San Francisco were more likely to show up than anyone else. Sometimes a lot of people showed up, and one time, only one other person showed up.

Incidently, my blog post “The Fake Ruin, the Real Ruin, and the Ruin in Waiting” was inspired by the Ace Walks (though it was inspired by the places we walked through, not by the aces themselves).

Looking back, I have really fond memories of the experience. I’m not sure how other participants felt.

Why did it stop?

Well, the proximate reason I stopped leading them is that I started travelling more, which meant that I was not necessarily in San Francisco every month, and planning my own travels made me less incline to plan walks (for example, this post is scheduled to go up almost exactly around the time I plan to depart for this trip). And nobody else proposed their own Ace Walks. And once I fell out of the habit…

Also, I am not as intensely interested in increasing the frequency of local ace meetups as I was before. I’m not sure why.

I think it’s be nice to have the Ace Walks continue, though at this point, I think I would prefer it if someone else led them. However, maybe I’ll get around to leading some more at some point (I’m more likely to do this if aces in the Bay Area nudge me to do it).

On (Not) Having Health Insurance and S.B. 562 in California (Warning: This Is a Rant, Not a Polished Essay)

I was there (though I don’t see myself in this specific photo).

Even under the American Affordable Care act, more than 25 million Americans do not have health insurance. About 3 million of them live in California.

I am one of them.

This definitely influences my views on health care policy in the United States, but I am uncomfortable about discussing it because, in my experience, when I bring up my own uninsured status in face-to-face conversations about politics, it leads to probing into my personal situation. I am concerned that the people who do this probing are trying to find some ‘gotcha’ which will allow them to discount my situation so they don’t have to change their own political views. I find this to be especially true among Obama supporters who only want to see the good parts of Obamacare and claim it is a ‘universal’ program which solves the problem of access/affordability of health care in the United States (how is it universal if it leaves out tens of millions of Americans?)

If your impulse is to probe me, to find out ‘why’ I am uninsured, whether I could get insurance by some means, whether I *deserve* to get insurance, here is my response: F******* YOU!!!!

Okay, I will be a little more specific than that. One of the most common responses I get (especially from Obama supporters) when I mention my situation is ‘oh, you’ll be okay because you can stay on your parents’ insurance until you’re 26. This response is terrible. Let me list the reasons:

1) I am over the age of 26. Thus, this is of no help to me whatsoever.
2) Even if I were under the age of 26, would these people expect me to remain under the age of 26? How could I stay under 26 forever?
3) This assumes that my parents have health insurance? How do these people know that my parents have health insurance?
4) As it so happens, my parents do have health insurance – due to a government program called Medicare. It is explicitly only for people at or over the age of 65 (with some exceptions). Though I am not 100% sure about this, I don’t think I would be eligible for Medicare even if I were under the age of 26 just because my parents are insured through Medicare.

I know that this policy of putting people on their parents’ insurance plans until they are 26 has allowed people to get necessary health care which they otherwise would not have gotten, and for that I am grateful. However, you don’t get to use it as a rhetorical device to dismiss the concerns of people who the Affordable Care Act has failed to help.

Looking at what is going on in Washington D.C. right now, I know that if the Republicans’ plans to cut back the Medicaid expansion and cause tens of millions of Americans to lose their health insurance so that rich people pay less taxes become enacted, there will be a lot of needless suffering and death. I do not know how to describe how vile that is in words. However, I am not concerned about how it will impact my personal situation, since even the Republicans can’t cause me to lose health insurance if I don’t have it in the first place.

Now, I want to make a very important point clear: health insurance is not the same thing as having access to health care. Some health insurance plans are absolute shit. There are narrow networks – and often patients receive ‘out-of-network’ care without their consent and then have to pay for it (and when someone is PHYSICALLY SICK, do we really expect them to be able to keep on top of whether or not the nurse taking care of them is in-network or out-of-network?) There are health insurance plans with high deductibles/co-pays. And there are some very pernicious ways which health insurance companies mess with the well-being of patients for their own profit. I don’t want to share the individual stories of people I’ve met because I do not have permission, but if you want an example of a health insurance company’s policy recklessly putting someone’s life in danger, you can read the beginning of this article.

Even though I do not have health care insurance, I have better access to health care than some people with shitty health insurance plans. For example, earlier this year, I had a tooth fracture. I was able to get it treated reasonably quickly and within my neighborhood – for $600. Luckily, I was able to pay the $600 (also, that tooth is now covered with gold, which I think is cool). Some people can’t get that kind of treatment in their neighborhoods – they would have to go a far distance. A lot people can’t pay $600 for an emergency medical treatment without risking their access to housing or food. Some people can’t afford the copay for this type of treatment even if they have dental insurance. Some people who have health insurance don’t have dental insurance. Some people can’t reach dentists who will do this kind of treatment for only $600 (most dentists in California would have charged significantly more than $600 to treat a tooth fracture). Some people, even those who have dental insurance, would not have been able to get it treated as quickly as I did – and with tooth fractures, the longer treatment is delayed, the greater the risk of complications (which would require even more treatment, or if it got really bad, removal of the tooth).

Also, I have the option of leaving the United States for medical care, and medical care is much cheaper pretty much anywhere that isn’t the United States. I can afford the travel costs, and if I needed long term treatment, I have dual citizenship, as well as relatives who would take me into their homes if I had to leave the United States for medical reasons. Most Americans do not have that option.

But really, the health insurance system in the United States – both before and after the Affordable Care Act was enacted – is ridiculous. When I was born, I had health insurance – but only because my father had health insurance, and I was immediately recognized as his dependent. And he only had health insurance because he had just been hired – he had been laid off while I was in my mother’s womb, and if he hadn’t gotten a new job before my birth, he would have been uninsured (and me too). My mother, however, did not have health insurance when I was born, so I know my parents tried to get as many of the hospital bills billed to me (because I had health insurance) and not billed to my mother (who did not have health insurance). This is an absurd situation, and a bad way to allocate the costs of health care. Remember, my mother had JUST GIVEN BIRTH, so this was a bad time to impose the stress of bureaucratic hospital billing on her. Really, all the talk about how healthcare would be better if there was a more ‘competitive market’ or more ‘consumer choice’ is bullshit – in order for ‘consumer choice’ to be effective, the consumer needs to be in a good position to negotiate, and people who have medical emergencies are generally in a bad position to negotiate.

Another example of the absurdity of health insurance in the United States is that I will very soon have health insurance again … because I bought travel insurance for my trek, and it covers medical expenses. It’s significantly cheaper than any non-subsidized health insurance policy I know about, even though there are no deductibles or copays (though pre-existing conditions are excluded – that is legal because it is travel insurance). However, one can only use travel insurance when one is travelling (and they can probably only keep the premiums low because really sick people tend not to travel so much). Nonetheless, I find it ironic that health insurance for when I’m in roadless areas of rural Washington is much cheaper than health insurance than when I’m at home in a city with multiple hospitals. I’ve met a number of PCT hikers from abroad who also thought it was ridiculous that the travel insurance policies they bought to cover their medical expenses in the United States are cheaper than the health insurance policies available to U.S. residents.

Enter S.B. 562, the legislation to establish single payer health care in California. For those of you who don’t know what ‘single payer’ is, it basically means that a single entity (in this specific legislation, the government of California) would be responsible for paying most health care costs in California, and that single entity would collect money via taxes, premiums, or fees (S.B. 562 specifically would be funded via tax revenue, not premiums or fees). It’s like the way we fund fire departments – instead of paying for the service of firefighters via fire insurance, the government pays the firefighters, and gets the funding to pay the firefighters via taxes. If you want to know more about single payer, here is a good FAQ.

I have experienced single payer first hand in Taiwan, and I am 100% convinced it is a better way to run a health system. That’s not to say single payer is perfect – the Taiwanese health care system has many problems – but it works much better.

If you are following the politics of S.B. 562, you know that Speaker Rendon shelved it in the Assembly. He claims that he is for single payer, but that the bill is incomplete, is just a statement of principles, and that he needs to shelve it so that nobody can vote on it, amend it, or formally debate it, so that the bill can become more complete..


Though Rendon claims that he’s not killing the bill, it’s obvious that this is a move that only someone who is oppposed to S.B. 562 would make. If he thinks the bill has problems, or is too incomplete, or something, then he would propose an amendment, not make it impossible to amend it. And if he’s in favor of single payer, but thinks S.B. 562 is so screwy that it can’t even be amended, then he’d write his own single payer legislation. The reason he’s making it impossible for S.B. 562 to proceed in the California Assembly without proposing alternative single-payer legislation, is that he is opposed to single payer. There is no other plausible explanation.

To be clear, S.B. 562 is incomplete, and it needs amendments. The incompleteness is on purpose, to make the legislation more flexible to political compromise. All of the advocates of S.B. 562 want amendments. But, as I just said, Speaker Rendon has made it impossible for the California Assembly to amend the bill.

And his statement that S.B. 562 is just a statement of principles. I have actually read S.B. 562, and you can too read it too. It is more than a statement of principles. However, even if it were just a statement of principles, I would still favor passing the legislation since it is better than nothing. Legislators pass legislation which is just statement of principles all of the time; it’s far from enough, but it’s not bad either.

And the classic appeal of ‘how are we going to pay for it’ coming not just from Speaker Rendon, but Jerry Brown, and a lot of politicians. Hey, did you know that there is a fiscal analysis which explains how California could pay for single payer. The proposal to fund S.B. 562 is not perfect, and I would welcome attempts to improve the funding mechanisms. If Rendon thinks that the proposed means to fund single payer are too awful to consider enacting, he may say so and explain why he thinks they are awful. However, he has not done that. Instead, he’s ignored the many people who have tried to bring the fiscal analysis to his attention. That shows that he wants CONTINUE to ‘not know’ how to pay for it. A public figure who was sincerely interested in knowing how California could pay for S.B. 562 would read the analysis and then state their opinion, even if their opinion is ‘this analysis is a piece of shit and here are the reasons why it is a piece of shit’.

And yes, one way or another, in order for single payer to happen in California it will have to pass as a ballot initiative. That is true regardless of the effects of Proposition 98. We know that, and the activists are already making long-term preparations. We still would prefer to have the Assembly pass the bill, and for the governor to sign it, because that will improve the odds and speed the implementation of singly payer.

Oh, and then there’s that press release from the Assembly Democratic Caucus. It’s basically tone policing. No, I don’t condone death threats, and neither does the nurses’ association, but I think the accusation of ‘bullying’ and the comparison to schoolyard bullying is way out of line. It’s a very gross example of tone-policing. As one of the protesters who went to Sacramento and chanted ‘Rendon, Rendon, Shame on You, Action Now on S.B. 562′ and saw some of the “violent” imagery, I though the nurses’ unions tactics were entirely appropriate. Really, the nurses’ union has been far nicer in its tactics and rhetoric than many Californians are using to oppose Trump, yet has the Assembly Democratic Caucus come out to denounce “the Resistance” for bullying Trump? Nope, nor should they, since the Resistance totally has the right to say mean things about Trump and use provocative imagery to protest him and “bully” him.

There is nothing wrong with being a sensitive person, but a politician who is so sensitive that they cannot handle pissed off constituents using imagery like this to protest his decisions is not qualified for a high-profile office. If Rendon is too sensitive to cope with this, he needs to find a different career for his own well-being.

Though I don’t agree with every statement Jimmy Dore makes in this video, I generally agree with his analysis of the press release.

All that said, the press release is a good sign in that is shows that the California Assembly has been bothered by the protests. That is part of the point of protest – to bother public figures until they act differently. It would be worse if the California Assembly were completely indifferent to the protests.

I actually have my own qualms with some of the tactics that some advocates of S.B. 562 us, but a) those qualms aren’t related to anything the Assembly Democrat Caucus mentions in the press release and b) I would rather invest effort in passing S.B. 562, or any single payer legislation which might work, than to criticize the tactics of allies who are working even harder than I am to get single payer in California.

And I am really irritated by the title of this article in the San Francisco Chronicle = “Infighting among allies over state’s tabled health care bill” Excuse me, how is Rendon an ally? Okay, maybe they just mean that the nurses’ union has historically been an ally of the Democrat Party, but I think even the implication that Rendon is an ally of single-payer advocates is wrong. Is he an ally because he claims to support single payer? Well, you know who else has said that he supports single payer? Donald Trump. If Rendon is an ally of the single payer movement, then so is Trump. Of course, we know that, in spite of what he has said, that Trump is not ally, because if he were, he’s be pushing Medicare-for-all right now. Likewise, if Rendon were an ally of the single-payer movement, he would either be pushing S.B. 562 (possibly with amendments) or he would write his own single-payer legislation.

In May, single-payer advocates marched through the California Democrat Convention in Sacramento. I was there, marching with my “Make California a Healthcare Sanctuary” sign. At one point, one of the attendees of the convention, wearing a posh dress, pulled me aside to ask “Are we on the same side?” This was so unexpected that I did not know what to say, so rather than remain separated from the group, I just returned to the group without answering her question. However, in retrospect, the answer I would have liked to have given her is “If you want to make single payer happen, then we are on the same side. If you do not want single payer to happen, then we are not.”