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.

Monday, February 05, 2018

The siren call of patriarchy

Almost 20 years into the 21st century, we have an utterly mad century behind us. Workers’ rights were vastly expanded and then contracted, women’s rights improved and were then embattled, gay people became seen as people, religion faded but then wouldn’t stay dead, and technology evolutions got faster and faster and more expansive with every step. You can bet that this confused, alienated and rattled a lot of people. And I’m only talking about the West here. I can’t even imagine what it must be like to be an up-and-coming, smart Indian who is technology-savvy but sees people dying in the street every day.

Shilling for patriarchy - why?

When we narrow down our focus to the topic of gender equality, a lot remains to be desired. In most Western nations, women’s right to vote or own property isn’t questioned. Even conservative parties pay lip service to the idea that women can be leaders or intellectuals. But problems remain – the reactionary push against sexual freedom, the persistent idea that women are responsible for being harassed or raped, or the media’s lurid focus on female leaders’ style while they never call into question, say, a male politician’s penchant to wear the same suit every time. That, too, is patriarchy.

Some men – too many men – have taken up patriarchy's battle cry because they feel lost, alienated and relegated to the sideways. They feel confused and wronged by the rise of women. “Why am I not being empowered? What about the idea that men are still expected to make the first move?” Well, first off, many women are just as confused. They are human beings, after all, and human beings tend to hold contradictory notions. Second, it betrays a longing back to full instead of light patriarchy.

What empowers you is your downfall

Many (heterosexual) men might deny it. The idea of a woman as secondary, as a being who just exist to please you and make your life easier, isn’t that grand? The idea that women are available, not for anyone but for you in particular, isn’t that comforting? That despite whatever failures you stack up in life, your masculinity still offers you the respect to claim a woman as your own (or, preferably, multiple women)? Of course that’s an alluring idea. Having power just for being ‘the One’, as so frequently put forth in popular culture.

Thinking of women as second-class people or underlings eases the mind of some heterosexual men. “At least I’m not some weak woman. At least I’m not gay. At least I’m not some transgender freak.” But it’s also their downfall. The West’s current reality is that most heterosexual women know well enough that they get swamped with dumb messages on dating apps, that they know street harassment is depressingly common and not a compliment, and that, simply put, the cat’s out of the bag.

The poison sits deep

Of course, there are many women who are still mired in patriarchal notions themselves. The proverbial women who “want it all”: some athletic mute who fulfills a reverse-Stepford Wives fantasy and enjoys being dominated while doing all the most difficult chores and providing an income. But that’s just an ugly mirror of patriarchy.

And it is patriarchy – a social order created by empowered men thousands of years ago – that has truly poisoned your soul. It is patriarchy that had informed you to be jealous when other men have more sex partners than you do. It is patriarchy that tells you you are weak if you can’t lift a 150kg. It is patriarchy that smirks when you can’t afford to pay a woman a drink. It is patriarchy that says you are a sissy if you cry. Some women are part of this patriarchy. It is them, not feminists you need to avoid. It is patriarchy that will make you smash your ship onto the cliffs.

Misdirected anger

Feminists believe that gender equality can be achieved. Of course they are flawed individuals, just like you. Some wear its cloak while drowning in privilege of money or beauty. Just like some have been hardened by a lifetime of harassment and unsolicited dick pics to be skeptical of men. But that doesn’t excuse clinging to notions of female servility. You, as a man duped by patriarchy, are essentially fighting the same battle to be free. You’ve only been told to direct your anger at the wrong people.

I wasn’t born a feminist and to this day I have trouble calling myself one. Not because I don’t believe in equality, but because I think it’s weird. Like, would it be acceptable if a white person were to spearhead an initiative against racism on black people? I try to be an ally, with ups and downs. But I try to listen. And I realise patriarchy has also poisoned me in a lot of ways. Its Utopia, where men own women and can get all the lovely, nasty sex they want with complete disregard for anyone else, is enticing, but it is not something that can ever be reality. It was thought up by empowered men with lots of money to keep other men from thinking critically.

Letting go

So, let go. Let go of this impossible idea. Avoid pissing contests with guys who are so insecure they need to practically tattoo their sexual conquests on their chests. Avoid women that want a breadwinner but want you to pay for their dinner. Avoid friends who never want to discuss feelings. You don’t want those people in your life. And you are not owed anything by any woman. Patriarchy is your enemy, too. And your help in destroying it is vital. It will not make you a “sissy”. You can still enjoy sports and drinking beer. You can still be dominant in the bedroom. But it will require you to see women as people, as individuals, just like you see yourself. Is that so much to ask?

Monday, October 09, 2017

20 people I admire (XIII): Max Richter

Who? British composer who was born in Germany.

Why? Richter is a ‘modern classical’ composer, which sort of sounds like an oxymoron. He combines very traditional Renaissance and early 20th century musical motifs with subtle electronic components. He remixed Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’ to great acclaim and also staked out a place for himself in the film music landscape. I got to know him through his collaboration with pioneering electronic music duo Future Sound of London.

What resonates with me? Even the shortest of Richter’s compositions are full of emotion, like some fan that opens and reveals its brilliant drawings, or primeval visions like sunrises, rainfall or the simple melancholy of contemplating that everything is transient – what Japanese calls ‘mono no aware’. Richter’s brilliance never turns to bombast, however, and his penchant for minimalism never becomes cold or calculating. He is a master at balancing emotion and technology and uniting the cutting edge of music technology with a deep reverence for tradition.

Best bit? ‘Shadow Journal’ sounds like a big piece of pretentiousness on paper: lonely strings and a subdued, throbbing base, introduced by actress Tilda Swinton reciting Kafka. Yet, it works. This track manages to pull strings of pure emotion by its high-pitched, ambiguous strings and still gives a feeling of depth by its warm bassline. If anything was ever a pure love letter to art, this is it.

Next up: The Onion, an American satire medium

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

20 people I admire (XII): Naomi Watts

Who? Australian actress.

Why? Watts improves every movie she’s in. She has a range that is quietly underestimated, from playing fierce and brave (‘Eastern Promises’) to diva-like (‘King Kong’) to emotionally troubled and out of her depth (‘Mulholland Dr’).

What resonates with me? Watts has a way of adding humanity to her characters in ways that make them, if not sympathetic, at least plausible. Many terrific actors unfortunately have a quality that always makes you aware they are actors, even if they’re very good at what they do (e.g. Tom Cruise or Kevin Spacey), but Watts can disappear into a role and carry an entire character. A class act that many people respect, but not enough, I think.

Best bit? So many to choose from, but if I had to choose, it would be her audition scene in ‘Mulholland Dr’ where she completely turns a scene on its head by playing into the slightly creepy vibe the older actor gives off, and transforms from an easily impressed, somewhat dull debutante into an actress with screen presence and prowess that blows everyone else away. The meta aspect of this performance beggars belief.

Next up: Max Richter, German-born, British composer

Sunday, September 24, 2017

'Game of Thrones': the killer hit list (III)

#10. House Frey (as House Paramount of the Riverlands)

Kills? 2200
Who? The short-lived Great House that usurped control over the Riverlands after they participated in the Red Wedding to unseat House Tully
Do they still matter? No, everyone who mattered in this House is dead

While no great soldiers themselves, the cowardly slaughter that was the Red Wedding did help the Freys break into the top 10. Possibly one of the most hated and despised Houses in Westeros, their time as House Paramount of the Riverlands was short-lived. Without the support of the Lannisters and the Boltons, they were a bunch of cloying amateurs who managed to get themselves killed by one person.

#09. House Arryn

Kills? 4203
Who? The House Paramount of the Vale in Westeros, one of the Seven Kingdoms
Do they still matter? Maybe, even though Robert Arryn is likely a little psycho in the making

These falcons earned their wings in a large part thanks to their timely intervention at the Battle of the Bastards, mowing down the exhausted ranks of the Bolton armies, which looked like they were going to win against a severely outnumbered rag-tag coalition of Northmen and Wildlings. With Littlefinger dead, it remains to be seen how Yohn Royce will try to control the mentally unstable and unhealthy little Robert.

#08. House Bolton (as House Paramount of the North)

Kills? 4549
Who? The short-lived Great House that usurped control over the North after they participated in the Red Wedding to unseat House Stark.
Do they still matter? No

The Boltons got in their share of kills for the Starks in the early phases of the War of the Five Kings, and then turned on their Great House at the Red Wedding. The Boltons further drove out the ironborn from the North in cruelest ways imaginable, and then delivered Stannis’ final defeat at Winterfell. Their fortunes turned after Sansa escaped and Ramsay thought his gleeful sadism was going to let him keep the North forever.

#07. House Stark

Kills? 4719
Who? The House Paramount of the North in Westeros, one of the Seven Kingdoms, later independent during the War of the Five Kings, despite a brief interval of House Bolton taking its place
Do they still matter? More than ever

House Stark once again defeats the Boltons, though not by much (oh, poetic justice). The Stark’s kills are attributed to a great number of loyal Houses connected to them as well as individual battles (under the command of Robb or Jon) or fights they got embroiled into (Arya, Ned). The Starks are not the biggest killing machines in Westeros, but they are by far the most consistent, getting in a few kills almost every episode.

#06. House Greyjoy

Kills? 5272
Who? The House Paramount of the Iron Islands, declared independent during the War of the Five Kings by Balon Fuckface Greyjoy
Do they still matter? Yup, Euron is even worse than Balon

Most of the ironborn’s battles are fought off-screen or only seen in fragments, but they seem mostly adept at killing their own, with Euron’s ‘Red’ Greyjoys delivering a crushing defeat to the ‘Black’ Greyjoys Theon and Yara in the early stages of the War of the Two Queens. Both factions remain, though Euron’s in a much better shape. Will they keep killing each other or will they turn to some non-salted meat once more?

#05. House Tully

Kills? 12020
Who? The House Paramount of the Riverlands, one of the Seven Kingdoms, before House Frey usurped its place
Do they still matter? Not sure, the Freys are all dead and Edmure is alive, but is he ruling the Riverlands? Are the Lannisters responding to this fact at all?

Likely the biggest surprise on the list, and largely due to Edmure – yes, Edmure – who took a chance at personal glory in the off-screen Battle of the Stone Mill, where he defeated a huge Lannister host but took so many casualties that it was, in fact, a Pyrrhic victory. What role will House Tully play now that the Freys are gone? Edmure is still alive and in Riverrun.

#04. House Baratheon
Kills? 13009
Who? The House Paramount of the Stormlands, one of the Seven Kingdoms and Westeros' royal house since Robert's rebellion, then fractured into several factions after Robert died
Do they still matter? Hard to say, but with Robert's bastard Gendry taking on more and more characteristics of the Baratheons, I'm tempted to say yes

Most of House Baratheon’s kills come from the branch of Stannis, whose troops killed their fair share of men in three major battles – the Blackwater, the Siege of Castle Black and the First Battle of Winterfell. Robert and Renly are no match for Stannis’ bloody deeds. There’s a sliver of a chance House Baratheon might be reinstated now that Gendry is back and wields a huge warhammer, just like his father once did.

#03. House Targaryen

Kills? 13172
Who? The ousted royal house of Westeros
Do they still matter? Fuck yes

You all knew they were going to end up in the top 3, didn’t you? While Dany wants to break the wheel, along the way she breaks a great many other things, including bones, carts, skulls and traditions. And if it isn’t her legions and loyal warriors doing the killing, she has dragons to make real the Targaryens’ old House words, ‘Fire and Blood’.

#02. House Lannister

Kills? 15570
Who? The House Paramount of the Westerlands, one of the Seven Kingdoms, then the royal house after the Sept of Baelor exploded
Do they still matter? Oh yes

Embroiled in the War of the Five Kings from the very beginning and one of the few Great Houses left standing in its aftermath, the Lannisters have proven to be a resilient and cunning force more than adept at bloodshed. Though now that even Jaime has deserted his queen, lover and sister, things look dire for Westeros’ latest royal house.

#01. The White Walkers and the Wights
Kills? 70428
Who? An army of ice zombies commanded by supernatural frost-like humanoids
Do they still matter? They are the biggest enemy of every living person

Proving themselves to be the real enemy indeed, the forces of the Night King boast a kill count higher than the next five factions combined. Whether dispatching men of the Night’s Watch, destroying the Wall or overrunning the Free Folk settlement of Hardhome, the Night King is a ruthless and silent maniac bent on advancing into Westeros one cold footstep after the other. Oh, and he’s the only one in the show who’s managed to kill a dragon and then raise it as his mount.

Friday, September 22, 2017

'Game of Thrones': the killer hit list (II)

#20. Sandor Clegane

Kills? 29
Who? The Hound, the myth, the legend
Does he still matter? Fuck yeah

After he says "fuck the king" and before he travels with the Brotherhood Without Banners, the Hound racks up an impressive kill count of 29 all on his own. He has literally carved out a place of (questionable) honour for himself in the list of killers by being able to outdo six groups as a single man.

#19. The Dothraki

Kills? 54
Who? Nomadic warrios from Essos
Do they still matter? Yes

Before joining Dany in her quest to “tear down the stone houses and kill the men in their iron suits”, the Dothraki were already a force to be reckoned with. Then again, killing Lhazareen or fighting each other to the death isn't really that impressive. 54 is a bit of a paltry number, but that’s only because the Dothraki’s kills counted for House Targaryen’s after they joined Dany’s forces.

#18. The Brotherhood Without Banners

Kills? 96
Who? Worshipers of the Red God who claim to fight for the commoners
Do they still matter? Maybe

Though Beric Dondarrion may or may not be dead, the Brotherhood was a thorn in the side of the Lannister forces occupying the Riverlands, and some of their men broke bad when they slaughtered a group of innocent people founding a new village. Lem Lemoncloak will not be missed, but he did rack up the Brotherhood's kill count, even if most of the casualties were defenceless people. At least his cloak now keeps the Hound warm.

#17. The Children of the Forest and the Three-Eyed Raven

Kills? 131
Who? Ancient inhabitants of Westeros and a guy who melds with a tree
Do they still matter? No, unless you count Bran

Here we come to the question whether destroying the undead is actually a kill. In the context of the show, I would say it is – destroying wights and White Walkers disables them as a threat to the living. Leaf and her compatriots have atoned for creating this threat in the first place by protecting the Three-Eyed Raven long enough to let his successor Bran escape, blowing over a hundred zombies (and themselves) to smithereens.

#16. Mountain Clans of the Vale

Kills? 402
Who? Semi-barbaric inhabitants of the Mountains of the Vale in Westeros
Do they still matter? No

After his release from the Eyrie, Tyrion and Bronn pick up the Mountain Clan warriors along the way and have them fight with the Lannister forces. Their kills happen mostly off-screen, but we can infer they were a vital part of the Lannister army. Presumably they’ve returned to the Vale and still regale each other with stories about fighting for the ‘Half-Man’ and cutting off a terrified Pycelle’s beard.

#15. Disease, old age and natural disaster

Kills? 1009
Who? Ye olde death that comes for everyone in the end
Do they still matter? Always

Perhaps it is surprising that even in the ultra-violent world created by George R.R. Martin and the ‘Game of Thrones’ show, natural deaths, disasters and diseases still claim the 15th spot on the list, defeating regular armies, clans and trained killers. Yet, it’s true. To be fair, the largest part of them include the wights who were stupid enough to drown to their final fate when they tried to cross the ice to get at Jon Snow and his Magnificent Seven, though they also include important characters like Hoster Tully and maester Aemon Targaryen.

#14. The Night's Watch

Kills? 1095
Who? The guardians of the Wall up North in Westeros
Do they still matter? Hard to say after the Night King broke the Wall

Clocking in a solid number of almost 1,100, the Night’s Watch kills include a menagerie of Free Folk, giants and their occasional fellow crows. It is hard to say if their watch is truly ended now that the Night King has broken the Wall, letting Eastwatch collapse into icy rubble, rock and semi-frozen water. At any rate, a decent showing for the Brothers in Black.

#13. The Sons of the Harpy and the Ghiscari Alliance

Kills? 1199
Who? Slave masters and former slave masters from the Essosi cities of Meereen, Yunkai and Astapor
Do they still matter? Depends on how well Daario rules Meereen in Dany's absence

It’s not easy to pinpoint a truly exact number when it comes down to this loose coalition of slaver city-states and former masters. What’s certain is that their threat proved to be more resilient and enduring than Dany and her followers had expected, frustrating viewers and characters alike. It remains to be seen whether her show of power with the dragons and leaving Daario in place as her steward put a definitive end to the slave masters’ misgivings (and killings).

#12. Free Folk / Wildlings

Kills? 1201
Who? Human tribes who live beyond the Wall
Do they still matter? Not really, those that haven't been saved now serve the Night King

The Free Folk would have killed more people if the Night’s Watch wouldn’t have been so direly understaffed and if Stannis Baratheon hadn’t shown up to relieve the siege of Castle Black, cutting through the Free Folk like butter, with his horses, armor and longswords. Still, killing 1,200 people is nothing to sneeze at. One wonders if the Free Folk at the Wall and those presumably settled in the North still count as Free Folk, or as bound to House Stark – and if they will matter at all. Most of their fighting men are already dead or are zombies.

#11. House Tyrell

Kills? 1251
Who? The Great House of the Reach in Westeros
Do they still matter? No, their House is now extinct (in the show)

House Tyrell was never one for wanton destruction or great warfare. They waited almost two full seasons to actually join the War of the Five Kings when they joined the Lannister host to decide the Battle of Blackwater. After that, they were often seen doing anything but fighting, and when their best soldier, Randyll Tarly, turned cloak for the Lannisters, their chances to inch up higher in this list were almost as dead as their entire House.

On to the final part!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

'Game of Thrones': the killer hit list (I)

After seven seasons of 'Game of Thrones', perhaps it's time to take stock not of who's left, but of who's good at leaving people behind. In other words, which group, faction, family, clan or Great House is the best at sending people to their untimely deaths?

First, let's define the factions kills are awarded to. Bannermen of Westerosi Great Houses get their kills awarded to their suzerain House, with three exceptions: people killed by the Hound after he said "fuck the king" and before he joined the merry Brotherhood Without Banners are awarded to 'Rogue Clegane'. Fatal casualties in the name of the Houses Frey and Bolton are awarded to these Houses and not the Tullys or the Starks in the period after the Red Wedding until their demise.

The same is true for Houses that switched allegiances. House Karstark and Umber became Bolton loyalists in season 6, and House Mormont is split between ser Jorah, who spent his time serving House Targaryen, and little Lyanna's men, who fought for the cause of the Starks. House Tarly's efforts in putting men and women into an early grave are split between House Tyrell and House Lannister, after their curmudgeonly patriarch turns cloak to House Lannister in season 7. In addition, the Night's Watch erases all previous loyalties: Jeor Mormont's kills are awarded to the Crows.

The deaths that can be attributed to House Baratheon are a combination of kills from forces commanded by Robert, Stannis and Renly, opposed as they may have been in the earlier seasons. The same is true for House Greyjoy, split as it currently is between the ironborn under the rule of Euron and under the rule of Yara and Theon.

Offscreen deaths are only counted if they're mentioned in the show. When taking into account big battles or massacres, I've deferred to either the show's wiki pages at the Game of Thrones Wikia, or when this information was hard to come by, I looked at the source novels by George R.R. Martin himself. If neither was possible, I made a guesstimate. Terribly scientific, I know.

But without further ado, let's go down the list, starting with the group, faction, House or clan with the least attributed kills.

#26. The Lhazareen

Kills? 1
Who? A pastoral people from South-East Essos
Do they still matter? No.

Derisively called the 'Lamb Men' by the Dothraki, they live up to their soft reputation by boasting the lowest kill count of all. Yet, their one kill is a big one: the witch Mirri Maz Duur is saved from being raped and killed by the Dothraki by Daenaerys, and repays the favour by turning a sick Khal Drogo into a bed-ridden, comatose shell of his former self. Even if Dany herself ends up mercy killing Drogo, it's clear who got the ball rolling.

#25. The Sparrows / animals that aren't direwolves or dragons

Kills? 2
Who? An order of religious fanatics and, well, simple animals, respectively
Do they still matter? No. The High Sparrow got what he wished for.

For all their religious fervour, the Sparrows boast very few actual kills. Although we can assume they did murder their fair share of people they deemed corrupt or not having sex the way their holy writ prescribed it, the show only has two people killed by them. This is matched by the animals in 'Game of Thrones': a stag kills a direwolf and a stag also means the end of Robert I Baratheon.

#24. The Faceless Men

Kills? 10
Who? An order of religious assassins operating from the city of Braavos in Essos
Do they still matter? Kind of.

Despite being a heavily talked-up faction and possessing a supernatural prowess at killing and remaining unseen, the show's tally of kills from the Faceless Men remains rather low. But that's what they'd want you to believe, no? Their finest moment is when Jaqen H'gar helps Arya Stark escape Harrenhall and conveniently, sneakily kills a few Lannister soldiers.

#23. Commoners

Kills? 15
Who? The proletariat
Do they still matter? Not really, at least not to most powerful people

Though they mostly remain an anonymous mass of dirt-caked faces, the commoners have shed their fair amount of blood, ranging from the Riot of King's Landing when the unsufferable Joffrey gets hit with shit to the alleyway kills the former slaves make on their masters when liberation from Dany's forces is imminent in Meereen.

#22. House Martell

Kills? 16
Who? The Great House of Dorne, the southernmost of Westeros' Seven Kingdoms
Do they still matter? Hard to say, they're all dead

House Martell appears to be all talk and no action. Even worse, part of their paltry kill score is killing their own, with the Sand Snakes and Ellaria's power grab. They also managed to kill a teenage princess and a captain buried to his neck in the sand. Seven hells, even supreme cool guy Oberyn couldn't fully kill the Mountain and got his head bashed in instead.

#21. The Qartheen

? 21
Who? The city of Qarth is a rich trade city in the south of Essos
Do they still matter? No

Like House Martell, the majority of victims attributed to the Qartheen are their own. Xaro Xhoan Daxos and the Undying conspire to kill the city's Council of the Thirteen and murder a few more random people in a bid to gain control of Dany's dragons and become the city's top dogs. It doesn't work out well for them.

On to part two.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

The key/lock-analogy is one of the dumbest pieces of sexist rhetoric ever

"A key that opens many locks is a master key, yet a lock that is opened by many keys is a shitty lock." This analogy or variations thereof are assumed by sexists and idiots alike to be an elegant way to defend why a double standard exists in (heteronormative) sexual practices. To be sure, it is elegant. It is also spectacularly stupid.

That's because it applies circular logic. It simply restates the double standard that female sexuality is somehow a room, presumably full of valuables or secrets, whose contents are finite and therefore more interesting the fewer keys that can open it. Conversely, the key is as the key does: no content, no hidden layers, nothing of note to be treasured or cherished, only in as far as it is capable of opening rooms. It's like the world's dullest dick joke made to restate the double standard.

There is no inherent value to sexuality other than what cultures construct it to be. The double standard causes grief to both men and women, subjects women to a myriad of hoops to jump through (though they can still be a "slut" even if they've had sex with just one guy if other people think the circumstances were wrong - so you can't win as a woman, really) and depresses men into becoming shallow idiots whose main source of pride is how much women they can bend to their will.

If anything, the key/lock analogy presents a piece of patriarchal yarn in its starkest and bleakest way, and shows us how stupid it really is.