Mugwumps, Elon Musk, & #LongCovid

"Mugwumps!!" U.S. Senate Collection.

Puck, America’s first political satire magazine
June 23, 1886
U.S. Senate Collection

I spent several years tutoring economics. Not exclusively, thank God, but kind of wedged in between US history, world history, and government/civics. I have exactly zero interest in economics as a stand-alone discipline, and, frankly, it gives me headaches. But I do find economics interesting and necessary to understanding the subject areas I prefer: history, geography, political science, and sociology.

In all the hours I spent trying to help teenagers understand mind-numbingly boring economic graphs and charts, only two concepts piqued my interest in any way: scarcity and opportunity cost.

Which is interesting because those two concepts are inextricably linked.

Scarcity in economics is just what it sounds like. There are only a finite amount of resources on our planet and all of humanity is in competition for those resources. This, obviously, causes a vast amount of problems for us as we try to share our planet, hopefully/ostensibly in an equitable and sustainable way.

I always found opportunity cost tricky to explain to high school students when I was tutoring. I sort of feel like it’s a concept that you either “get” intuitively or you don’t. So because my job as a tutor was in the service of a junior elite hockey team, I usually started there–with hockey.

For example, if you play the center position and you have the puck in your opponent’s zone, you have a few choices.

  1. Head straight for the goal and try to score unassisted.
  2. Look around to see where the other forwards are and evaluate if they are in a better scoring position than you and pass the puck to the player with the best position.
  3. Give up and pass the puck to a defenseman, who may skate back behind your team’s net for a moment in order to allow your coach to make a line/shift change.

“Opportunity cost” in economics means “every time you make a choice…you are also choosing to forego other options.”

So if a hockey forward chooses to head straight for the net and tries to score unassisted, she is foregoing the option of giving someone else a chance to score, possibly someone who is a better scorer or who is in a better position on the ice strategically. If we were to put a moral value on this decision, we could say “that player wanted to score for herself/her stats/to impress her coach.” She sacrificed teamwork for her own success. Of course, that’s a bit of a judgmental way to look at it. Most hockey players I have known were “team players,” but I think you get my point. The opportunity cost (philosophically) in this scenario is valuing individual glory over teamwork. Possibly at the expense of/to the detriment of the group’s shared success.

Which brings me to Elon Musk.

I strongly believe that the best way to deal with a narcissist is to delete them from the conversation. So I am pretty reluctant to give Mr. Musk any of my oxygen.

However, I have Long Covid. I’ve been living with it–the medical/scientific term is post-acute sequelae SARS-CoV-2 infection (PASC)–since March of 2020 following a covid infection that became symptomatic on February 21, 2020.

There is pretty much zero easily accessible support for people with Long Covid. I have survived this illness (plus my intitial covid infection) for 1,001 days now. Probably 75% of the “support” I received for dealing with and living with Long Covid has come from myself. About 20% came from a handful of my friends. The remaining 5% came from Twitter.

It was the #LongCovid community on Twitter that, finally, gave me some hope. On Twitter, if you say “I’ve been in bed for two-and-a-half years and can only manage a shower once a month” and then add the hashtag #LongCovid, you will be immediately supported and will receive the gift of hearing other peoples’ stories, advice, insight, and humor. If you make the same statement to a person or group that doesn’t believe Long Covid “exists” because they have not personally experienced it, you can expect some pretty dire and painful consequences.

Which is interesting because the latter group is therefore operating at Piaget’s first stage of cognitive development which, generally, occurs in humans between birth and 24 months of age. According to Piaget, it is not until an individual reaches the space between ages seven and eleven years old that s/he/they become “less egocentric, and more aware of the outside world and events.” And human cognitive ability to grasp abstract concepts and “make hypotheses” again according to Piaget (a stage which he called formal operational) only begins to occur once the individual reaches adolescence.

I’m not as big a nerd as that paragraph makes me appear, although I am a pretty big nerd. My master’s degree is in middle school education, and the concepts above regarding human cognitive development were the backbone of my graduate work. As a teacher, I taught seventh grade exclusively for many years. The beauty of seventh graders is that cognitively and socially they are the ultimate “mugwumps.”

What is a mugwump?

The Guardian newspaper put it this way in a 2017 article about Boris Johnson, who, as Britain’s foreign secretary, had just entered the general election campaign and was targeting Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn:

“One 1930s humorist…define[d] mugwump as ‘a bird who sits with its mug on one side of the fence and its wump on the other’.”

Boris Johnson, a Conservative, called Jeremy Corbyn a “mutton-headed old mugwump.” Which, obviously, was not meant as a compliment.

The Guardian, citing Merriam-Webster, notes that historically the word “mugwump” was used in two ways in American politics:

  1. “A bolter from the Republican party in 1884.”
  2. “A person who is independent (as in politics) or who remains undecided or neutral.”

In terms of the original etymology of the word, Merriam-Webster says: “Mugwump is an anglicized version of a word used by Massachusett Indians to mean ‘war leader.’” And “The word was sometimes jestingly applied in early America to someone who was the ‘head guy.’”

The Guardian’s 2017 explanation of the meaning of “mugwump” as a bird sitting on a fence is also how the term was first explained to me at my summer camp in Vermont, where a Mugwump is a young woman in the counselor-in-training program. She is neither camper nor counselor. She is a former camper learning how to become a counselor. The ultimate in-betweener whose strength as a valuable member of the camp community comes from her unique perspective on both primary camp roles: camper and counselor. She is neither of those things–camper nor counselor–but she was recently a camper, and therefore “gets” the camper experience, and, simultaneously, she is learning how to be a counselor with new responsibilities, training, and partial inclusion in the leadership community.

Any Buddhist reading this will immediately recognize a mugwump as a concrete manifestation of The Middle Way, which, like scarcity in economics is exactly what it sounds like. The Middle Way can be considered one of the “prime directives” in Buddhism, insofar as Buddhism has directives. In the simplest terms, it means a practitioner should avoid extremes. One should pursue the moderate path whenever possible. It is a bit more complex than that but I hope that makes sense for our purposes here.

In my opinion, the reason seventh graders, mugwumps/Mugwumps, and Buddhists who work to adhere to the Middle Way are valuable in our society is because we, as humans with a “civilization,” have become astoundingly dualistic in our thinking, actions, and planning. And I say that in the context of Merriam-Webster’s third definition of dualism:

“A doctrine that the universe is under the dominion of two opposing principles one of which is good and the other evil.”

I’m fairly certain that I do not need to provide examples of this from 2022. Or 2020. Or 2016. Which is good because, frankly, I’m exhausted by all the black-and-white thinking/arguing, etc.

So what’s my point?

Elon Musk. Twitter. #LongCovid.

There are two people I follow on Twitter who are devoted leaders/guides to our rapidly-growing #LongCovid community. Dr. Alice and D.Dave the L.C. Barbarian.

This morning, I woke up and saw this:

And this appeared on the same day as fears that Mr. Musk was planning to dissolve or radically change Twitter. For some people, that would just mean an annoying switch over to Mastodon. But for others–many, many others–it would mean losing their only support system for their chronic illness. And I don’t just mean people with Long Covid. I mean people with MS, MECFS, Lyme Disease, POTS, and a myriad of other conditions that have been swept under the rug by society and a large chunk of the medical community.

These people finally have a voice. We should protect that space at all costs. As someone said today on Twitter, the platform is almost like a “public utility” for millions and millions of people all over the planet.

We, collectively, don’t need Mr. Musk’s issues/moods to manifest in such a way that makes Twitter, the center of #LongCovid grassroots organizing, evaporate.

We don’t.

We need to stop the dualism.

We need to work together if we are going to beat covid and begin to repair the lives of the millions and millions of people worldwide who have Long Covid. Many of whom don’t even realize they have it because government messaging globally about the single most likely bad outcome from a covid infection is, frankly, horseshit/nonexistent.

In closing, a few words from Samuel Clemens.

“I was a mugwump. We, the mugwumps, a little company made up of the unenslaved of both parties, the very best men to be found in the two great parties–that was our idea of it–voted sixty thousand strong for Mr. Cleveland in New York and elected him. Our principles were high, and very definite. We were not a party; we had no candidates; we had no axes to grind. Our vote laid upon the man we cast it for no obligation of any kind. By our rule we could not ask for office; we could not accept office. When voting, it was our duty to vote for the best man, regardless of his party name. We had no other creed. Vote for the best man–that was creed enough.”


North American Review, December 21, 1906

What NOT to Say About “Trauma”

When I was going through a very difficult time earlier this year and dealing with severe grief, loss, and ableism (as a person with PTSD/CPTSD, and thus, a person with a trauma history) a family member said to me:

“I understand PTSD because I have interviewed people with PTSD.”

Which is a bit like saying “I understand the experiences of Black people because I have Black friends” if you are white.

In other words, it’s toxic positivity horseshit.

Here’s a little video that explains it better than I can.


Never, ever be so arrogant and naive as to think you “understand” anything–at all–about someone else’s trauma.

Especially if you are also choosing to believe it does not exist and taking actions based on that belief.

I have some family members who could benefit from reading this:


“Page…also notes that as humans, we mirror what was done to us if we haven’t processed it. “And that’s why the Buddhists say when you heal a family lineage wound like this, you heal seven generations past and seven generations future,” he says.”

The Women of The Iliad

Kate Spitzmiller: Remember the Ladies


In honor of my upcoming novel, Companion of the Ash, I would like to provide an introduction to the women whom Homer included in his epic eighth-century B.C. work, The Iliad. There are many women in The Iliad, but I am focusing on four–the four who I have included in my novel.

Bearing in mind that women in ancient literature were often treated as “extras,” serving the needs of men and as a sort of window-dressing for the author, I will do my best to illuminate the characters as they were revealed to us by Homer. We have a sorceress, an unpleasant woman, and women who are incessantly sad. These were pretty much standard roles women were relegated to in ancient literature.

Women were also only given roles in relation to men–they were the mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters of heroes and villains. Women did not appear…

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2am, October 7th (#MeToo)


It’s two o’clock in the morning on Sunday, October 7th. The day after Brett Kavanaugh was sworn in as a Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

My conscious mind got through yesterday just fine. I watched movies–had a movie marathon actually, starring one of my favorite actors–and blotted out the reality that was unfolding in the world.

But when I went to sleep, my brain betrayed me. I dreamed of being detained by corrupt police officers and of being in a situation where no one was listening to me.

And then I woke up. And here I am, at two a.m. Typing.

I’m typing because all I can think about right now is how I used to tell my boyfriend he was hurting me. And how he turned it around and made it my fault. I know now–as I should have known then–that consensual sex between two people shouldn’t hurt. Biologically, we aren’t built that way. He should have stopped when I told him he was hurting me.

But, like the senators on the Judicial Committee, he didn’t care. He heard me loud and clear, but he wanted what he wanted. He was bigger than me, stronger than me, and could get angry very, very quickly. He wanted sex, and he got it. That’s all that mattered to him.

And so, I am now left here with my memories–memories that I don’t really want to be thinking about at two a.m. Memories of a man who said he loved me, but who hurt me instead. And I carry those memories with me now into a world that has changed irrevocably. There is now an attempted rapist on the United States Supreme Court–a lifetime appointment. My lifetime.

I can’t do anything about my ex-boyfriend.

I can’t do anything about Kavanaugh.

I can’t do anything about my memories.

All I can do is continue to resist. And survive.

Partner Rape: Yes, It Does Exist


For me, growing up in the 1980s, rape was defined by what I saw on television–a man in black mask attacking a woman in a dark alley. It was always a stranger, a criminal, “the bad guy.”

But 72% of sexual assaults are committed by people who know the victim.

One category of this is partner rape, a much-misunderstood phenomenon that occurs when one member of a committed relationship commits sexual assault upon the other.

According to the Rape Prevention Education network of New Zealand, partner rape occurs when your spouse or partner “has sex with you without your consent.” This can mean “if you feel pressured, threatened, or coerced into participating in…sex when you don’t want to.”

I was in a relationship such as this for four years. The relationship was verbally, emotionally, and physically abusive. My partner used threats of violence and coercion to force me to have sex with him.

I did not truly realize this was rape until twenty years later.

At the time, I thought, “He always wants to have sex, and I never want to have sex. But we do it anyway.”

It was painful, but he always blamed me. I wasn’t “doing it right,” or some other nonsense. I was young and scared and believed him. After all, everything in the relationship was my fault.

The only time I had the conscious thought that I had been physically violated was when I woke up one morning and he was having sex with me. I hadn’t consented. That was clearly rape.

But I came of age in the 1980s, the era of TV rapists in black masks in dark alleys. No one ever told me my partner could rape me–such a concept didn’t exist in the early 1990s.

But now I know. Now I know that I spent four years in a relationship where I was raped dozens of times. And it has affected my life in the extreme. I am terrified of intimate relationships–after all, if the man who said he loved me and wanted to spend his life with me could treat me that way, how could I trust any other man to treat me well?

This past week has been tough. I did not watch the Kavanaugh hearings–I knew I would become too upset. I have been having vivid memories of my time with my ex-boyfriend, memories which I would rather leave buried.

But I am glad men are finally being called out for sexual assaults they perpetrated years ago. I know I will never be able to gain recourse for what happened to me, but perhaps other women can. And women like Dr. Ford, who step forward with courage and patriotism, are a role model for us all.

When I think, “I can’t do this anymore,” I think of Dr. Ford.

She’s doing it. And so can I.

Rape Prevention Education (New Zealand)

The Women of The Iliad


In honor of my upcoming novel, Companion of the Ash, I would like to provide an introduction to the women whom Homer included in his epic eighth-century B.C. work, The Iliad. There are many women in The Iliad, but I am focusing on four–the four who I have included in my novel.

Bearing in mind that women in ancient literature were often treated as “extras,” serving the needs of men and as a sort of window-dressing for the author, I will do my best to illuminate the characters as they were revealed to us by Homer. We have a sorceress, an unpleasant woman, and women who are incessantly sad. These were pretty much standard roles women were relegated to in ancient literature.

Women were also only given roles in relation to men–they were the mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters of heroes and villains. Women did not appear in ancient texts as free-standing characters, unanchored to men. One exception to this is Penthesilea, the Amazon Queen, who does appear in The Iliad and other ancient works. It should be noted, however, that the Amazons as a group were described as “man-like,” and thus were given a sort of license to stand on their own as characters devoid of male counterparts–other than the centaurs, who were not fully men.

Kassandra was sister to Hector, Paris, and Helenus. She was the daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba. Thus, she was a princess of Troy. She was single, and, as such, served in the only real capacity a single woman could in the ancient world–as a priestess. She was also a “seer,” with the gift of prophecy. For this, she was considered insane. It is Kassandra who warned Paris not to go to Sparta because he would meet Helen, and it was Kassandra who predicted the fall of Troy at the end of the Trojan War. But she was cursed–no one believed any of her prophecies, even though they were all true.

Queen Hecuba appears in several ancient works, but I will focus on her role in The Iliad here. She is best known, perhaps, for being a mother–of nineteen children. These children include the heroes Hector and Paris, and the scholar and prophet (who people believed), Helenus. She was also mother to Kassandra, who she dismissed as insane. She appears in Homer’s work at prayer, and as–variously–a doting, anxious, and grieving mother.

It is on Helen’s shoulders upon which the entire Trojan War rests. We know now the famous quote, “the face that launched a thousand ships.” Well, it was also the face that brought down a great city. Helen returning to Troy with Paris was the literary cause of the Trojan War (but almost definitely not the historical cause). Homer paints her as sorrowful and regretful–perhaps even as a woman who misses her husband Menelaus in Sparta. In The Iliad, she is reunited with Menelaus in the end, after the fall of Troy and the death of Paris. She is a rather pathetic figure, considering the war is her fault.

Andromache is the wife of the hero Hector. This connection is so central to her character that in Book 22 of The Iliad, Andromache is not even named. She is simply referred to as “the wife of Hector,” despite being a relatively major character in the work. Throughout the epic, Andromache is seen weeping and carrying on over deaths and deaths-to-come. She is portrayed as a weak woman; a woman who exists only for the purpose of providing emotional responses to her husband’s deeds. She is never given a full character of her own.

And it is to Andromache that I turned in writing my novel. I was taking a writing class in Derbyshire, England, in 2003, and the instructor asked us to answer the question, “What if?” After much scribbling and musing, I came up with the question: “What if Andromache was a strong, capable, fully-developed character?”

And, thus, Companion of the Ash was born. It is set for release this year from Spider Road Press. The story is a sequel to The Iliad, starting at the death of Hector. It is told through the eyes of a strong, courageous Andromache.

I thought, after twenty-eight centuries, she deserved as much.