About 'Alpha+Good'

Alpha+Good (a bad wordplay on Orwell's "double plus good" and old machismo - I'm the realest after all) is a side project that belongs to 'Onklare taal' ('Unclear' or 'Unripe language'), the umbrella of several literary projects in Dutch.

This section is almost exclusively in English and comprises my ongoing thoughts on progress, gender, politics and various other social themes. Why is this in English why everything else in Dutch? Because I want to gun for a much wider audience here. Also, my literary English isn't good enough, otherwise I would always write in English.

Are you a little lost? This link will take you right back to my home page.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Calvin Harris and Dua Lipa's Summer hit is atrocious

Frankly, I'm rather neutral on Calvin Harris's work. I own Dua Lipa's self-titled debut album and I think it makes for a good pop record. I also enjoyed her empowering songs like 'New rules' and 'IDGAF', which will probably be very recognisable to a lot of girls and women. So go Dua!

But I hate - and I turn off the radio every time I hear it - her collaboration with Calvin Harris. On an artistic level, it sounds bland and low on energy, like the kind of generic cocktail bar elevator music you might hear in some non-descript seaside pop-up. But the lyrics are even more galling.

The accused in case: "I look like all you need." I like Dua Lipa's music, but I have a big problem with this line of hers. I'm all for female empowerment and I'm all for tearing down patriarchy. What I'm not for is replacing it with an entitled attitude. Any woman who would ever say that phrase to me would get the boot. Shocked? Imagine a man saying that to a woman. Yes - the context is different, in that male entitlement is a huge issue (leading some men to outright murder women), but adding female entitlement is hardly a solution to gender issues.

"I look like all you need" is just the Coca-Cola guy of feminism. Creating a female gaze doesn't erase the male gaze, and objectifying men doesn't reduce objectification of women. It sounds tone-deaf and narcissistic. It syncs up with a movement where people are supposed to not have any standards when it comes down to female beauty. And while I recognize that society's tastes have been super-narrow for decades, moulded by fashion giants and the media, replacing that taste with an equally forcible image isn't going to make things better.

Have I been infected by patriarchy and its absurd ideals of beauty? Absolutely. Am I, as a man, also not living up to the increasingly popular idea of a man as a muscular, athletic guy? Also, yes. But to be truly inclusive and broad, we need to remove this kind of zero-sum game from the equation altogether.

No, 'One kiss' is not all it takes.

Monday, July 09, 2018

Let's hope football is not coming 'home'

England's having a good run at the World Cup. Its players look like a tight-knit squad of hard workers with no delusions of grandeur and with a lot of heart. But in many ways, they resemble the Germany team of 2002 and the Argentina outfit of 2014: good teams that scraped by on the tightest of margins and an iron-clad mentality, eventually found out at the finals. It would be a shame if this England would become world champions.

This segues nicely into my primary reason why I will never support England: they're just not good enough. In terms of titles, they are level with ancient imperial rivals Spain and France, and paltry in comparison to the pedigree of its former modern-day enemies Germany and Italy. Feeding off of faded glory from a title won over 50 years ago is like tabloids still digging up tired Nazi references whenever Germany or the European Union come up as topics.

Secondly, allowing the United Kingdom four different national teams is an outdated anachronism and reeks of arrogant exceptionalism only outdone by the United States, who stubbornly insist on calling football soccer and reserve the football label for a sport that requires full body armour and helmets lest people actually die on the pitch. It's no wonder American conservatives dislike football, because it doesn't come with a cheat code that makes them world contenders in it and shatters their delusions of superiority in competitions like the "World" Series where only North American sports teams compete.

Gareth Southgate seems like a decent, likable man. I'm sure he is a good manager, and he has imbued his squad with a good work mentality. But I simply cannot believe the self-delusion that's been building up in English media about this team. While lauded as a tactical master-stroke to lose to Belgium in the group phase, England struggled mightily against an impaired Colombia and then didn't exactly trounce a modest Swedish side. Croatia is battered from fighting two matches into extended time and penalty shoot-outs, and so it looks likely that England will face either France or Belgium in the finals - where they will lose spectacularly, unless they find a higher gear.

I'm not being harsh for the sake of simply hating or for wanting to be pooh-poohing English exceptionalism (though it is part of it). But, like Germany in 2002 and Argentina in 2014, they don't play very exciting football, give or take the odd match (just like those two aforementioned sides, who each had exactly one brilliant, riveting game in their runs), they faced considerably weaker opposition than their likely finals counterpart, and even if the squad itself remains modest, the media circus around it is an excercise in delusions.

So, unless the United Kingdom can manage to send one united team to the World Cup just like everyone else, instead of insisting on rotten old glory from a century ago, and unless it can manage to ditch the ghosts of victory from a time where competition was easier, and unless it can actually create an FA that is not a paltry shadow of its own Premier League, England will never get my support at major football competitions. Football's home is the world. Not England.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

20 people I admire (XX): FKA twigs

Who? FKA twigs (FKA meaning ‘formerly known as’ because apparently there’s some other twigs out there) is a British musician, performer and dancer known for her ‘dark’ r&b-style and eccentric electronic music performances.

Why? Around 2015, twigs emerged with a style that seemed like a continuation of refreshing themes in electronic music started by artists like Burial and the Hyperdub label, yet suffused it with production, rhythm, theme and voice elements all her own. 

What resonates with me? She toys with themes in a clever way that rarely gets overwrought, blending visuals and topics with an exciting, almost tangible hum that is always there in the background. Her music feels both deeply personal as well as accessible. Her skill at performing just tops it all off.

Best bit? My personal favourite of hers is probably ‘Papi Pacify’, a track that manages to arouse, slow down, call up some of the mind’s darkest recesses, and is a technical piece of perfect progression. It captures the feeling of being lost in an altered mental state with total confidence and frailty intact. 

Next up: None, or well, perhaps some summary, aye?

Saturday, March 24, 2018

20 people I admire (XIX): Laurie Penny

Who? Laurie Penny is a pretty prolific writer of opinion pieces, longreads and non-fiction. She’s been published on the Guardian, New Statesman and other highly-regarded progressive venues.

Why? Penny has a unique knack for capturing the jittery zeitgeist of contemporary progressive politics. She is both thoughtful as well as unapologetic for what she believes in, but interweaves it with a snuff of self-deprecation and compassion that makes her stand out as someone who is at once deeply humanist and also deeply human. 

What resonates with me? Her wit, derived from equal parts ironic distance and genuine engagement, makes her feel like some distant friend who knows what it’s like to suffer the sometimes banal struggles of trying to put ideals to practice. That, and her deeper insights into the collective psyche of the Anglosphere, and by extension, the West.

Best bit?Maybe you should just be single’ (shameless plug: here's my response

Next up: FKA twigs, British musician, performer and dancer

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

20 people I admire (XVIII): Neil deGrasse Tyson

Who? Neil deGrasse Tyson has sort of become a living saint for science, much in the way of the late Carl Sagan. He can speak about science in an accessible, affable manner and is capable of inspiring young boys and girls like few other scientists can.

Why? Tyson always seems like a friendly uncle or great-uncle who wants to share his passion for his work in ways that make people want to listen to him. 

What resonates with me? Apart from being a notable black intellectual in America, Tyson is also a voice of reason, subtlety and wonder. His academic credentials haven’t taken away his almost child-like sense of marvel at how strange and big the universe is, and he can carry over this spirit to his audience.

Best bit? Obviously, there’s the ‘Whoa, we got a bad-ass over here’ meme, but other than that, I would venture that there is no single best bit. His entire career as a spokesperson for science is one big goodie. 

Next up: Laurie Penny, British journalist and writer

Sunday, March 18, 2018

20 people I admire (XVII): Jan Decleir

Who? Jan Decleir is a national treasure of Belgium. Despite having never had major roles in big Hollywood productions, movie buffs consider his talent and range to be on par with the world’s greatest.

Why? Decleir is an extremely versatile actor. He can handle kid-friendly, avuncular roles such as Saint-Nicholas (many people still consider him to be the ultimate Saint-Nicholas), but he can also be dramatic and engaging in playing businessmen, crime lords, manipulative politicians and priests. 

What resonates with me? Even if he was once approached by Stanley Kubrick for a role (in ‘Eyes Wide Shut’, his last movie), to me Decleir remains an avatar of Belgium, and Flanders in particular, in all its emotional complexity. He can be funny, walled-off, wry, fiercely good-hearted and gruff at the same time. I suspect many fellow Flemings can recognise themselves in this.

Best bit? Arguably, his most-internationally noted performance was in ‘De zaak Alzheimer’ (‘The Memory of a Killer’ to English-speaking audiences), where he played an assassin plagued by Alzheimer’s disease and a sudden uptick in his conscience. 

Next up: Neil deGrasse Tyson, American astronomer and physicist

Thursday, March 15, 2018

20 people I admire (XVI): Molly Crabapple

Who? Molly Crabapple travels around the world, with a penchant for the Middle-East, making illustrations and graphic art that manage to capture the Zeitgeist of the moment.

Why? I have a huge amount of respect for Crabapple and how she inserts herself into the reality ‘on the ground’, even in difficult societies like Turkey or Lebanon, where both being an artist and a woman is a statement in and of itself. 

What resonates with me? Crabapple’s humanity and humanism always shine through. She is unafraid to speak up for the most downtrodden and oppressed, and does so with a graphical eloquence that I could only hope to match with my own weapons (words).

Best bit? There is so much to choose from, but honestly, if you like supporting an artist with a big heart and a huge amount of talent, buy her book

Next up: Jan Decleir, Belgian actor