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.

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.

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.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Lonely as a rhinoceros

My virtual love affair with Laurie Penny just doesn't seem to stop. Every piece I read by her seems to drop another scent bomb into the daily bath of opinions I consume. Valentine's Day seemed like a good excuse for some other progressively-inclined friends to post her piece from last year, titled 'Maybe you should just be single'. And yes, why not?

No ifs and buts

It's almost darkly funny how on the Facebook friend's wall, the nay-sayers were all men, even if they agreed with parts of the article or came from a progressive, learned place, while Penny, for her part, describes exactly that happening whenever she opines on this sort of stuff.

So while I have hardly a word of criticism to offer and I'd like to say her mixed perspective of feminism and socialism on the issue of coupling, marriage and relationships makes a huge load of sense, I perhaps wanted to add a few points, coming from the place I'm coming from.

Failing at being a unicorn

I think that between ages 18 and 28, I spent a lot of time being the proverbial "horse with a horn", believing myself to be a unicorn. I don't say this as a guilt-wracked person looking to garner sympathy points. I truly wanted to be a good person to my partners, an understanding boyfriend who could fulfill the whole range of needs: emotional comfort, a sympathetic ear, bloody awesome sex and an overall sense of companionship as equals.

Needless to say, that didn't always go as well as planned and I certainly wouldn't say I'm a unicorn today. But then, who is? You can't be all the things, all the time. Also, someone's unicorn could be someone else's cockroach. There are awful men who are adored by their partners, and great men who are despised by their environments.

Learnings from the heart in a blender

My audience on this blog is mostly, so I imagine, men on the road to being a progressive and trying to get a grip on what that means in theory and practice. Women are very welcome to sniff around as well, of course. But (straight) guys, here's two few things I learned:
  • You can't be everything to someone. This pushes Penny to make a case for breaking the confines of the traditional non-monogamous relationship. That is fine. But there are lighter forms, too. Your partner is a fully realized human being and will always have needs that you cannot fulfill.
  • She can't be everything to you. Perhaps she doesn't give a shit about your taste in music or maybe she's not that good at bandaging your social wounds. Sort out for yourself what is important, but remind yourself that there are other people in your life that take care of different needs, as well.

Different animals

Other than that, since people tend to be a very heterogenous sort even when social power structures aren't involved, just like #notallmen are people who see a relationship as a reward or a mere asset to their life, there are also many women who definitely do not see things the way Penny does, or have arrived at her truths.

In my twenties, I lost count of the women who were looking for a surrogate father or gentle mentor figure and then turned out not to reciprocate any kind of emotional need. Or ostensibly progressive women who had no compunctions about taking advantage of my kindness and generosity. Mind, I'm not talking "oh I paid the restaurant bill" here, but driving them around, letting them smoke up my cigarettes and never getting even so much of an offer of kindness or thanks in return. Needless to say, these affairs never typically survived beyond a month or so.

As common as depression

And that's the thing: it's so depressingly common for men to be abusive, shitty and entitled, and it happens so much that female behaviour gets immediately interpreted in the most malign ways, that the truly bad they can do are swept under the rug. Yes, I realise some women resort to manipulation because assertiveness was heavily discouraged in them. And yes, patriarchy brainwashes women into expecting emotionally mute men who are just sort of there, mutely hanging around, mutely looking tough, mutely earning a salary.

Men who make honest attempts at being better people are necessarily no more wanted than men who don't. You'd think otherwise from the many pieces lamenting how awful men can be and how tough romantic existence can be for ambitious, smart women who don't fit the mold of the little housekeeper or the saucy "one of the boys" girl. But few women are holding out for the "unicorns" Penny describes, and I'm inclined to say a big majority isn't even interested in a person like that.

Ethics as a reward in itself

This isn't to say that "good" men are more entitled to getting what they want. What I am saying is that a lot of (o)pining on romance is ostensibly the public domain of women - men who get brought into the public eye generally talk more about sex, or about 'game', or to sanctimoniously get hoisted into the professorial chair, dispensing dispassionate relationship wisdom while apparently having no emotional lives of their own.

Trying to be a better person is a reward in itself, letting you understand others as well as yourself better, questioning society and questioning tradition, not for selfish gains, but because you're looking out for the betterment of all and irrational roadblocks to disappear. But men must also talk about their emotions. Engage with them and work through them. Feminists being nice enough to include us and admit that we have feelings, too, is not enough. We must do this job ourselves, and claim our joy, our hurt, our insecurities and all the soft bits that make us human, too.

Lonely as a rhinoceros

Yes, it is ironic that I'm writing this as a response to another piece - and by a woman, no less. But the fact of the matter is that these ideas have been swirling around my head for a long time. Let me extend Penny's unicorn metaphor into a Nietzsche metaphor. Friedrich Nietzsche - who was of course a famed misogynist, I might add - wrote that to be different was to choose a path in life that was "lonely like a rhinoceros's".

Luckily, I'm not lonely. I don't feel a dire need for a relationship and society isn't pressing that demand on me. But the playfield can be just as depressing for men, just in different ways. In my experience, many women still aren't looking around for an equal, and some among the more liberated types unfortunately seem to mistake liberation for adopting the shitty attitudes many men have been having about women for centuries. Liberation is not about perpetuating the patriarchal myth that men cannot be victims - why else would gross, objectifying language about men get an ostensible pass so often?

The things to do

So what is now ahead? On the one hand, I wholly subcribe to Penny's thesis that being single is preferrable to clinging to modes of life that hurt you or trap you in situations where you are unable to pursue the things that make you realize your greater human potential. Society no longer depends on couples or nuclear families to survive, what with so many other different modes of companionship at our disposal.

On the other hand, I wish this issue would not be confined to the "women's corner" as it so often is. We men must not only also be ready to have these kind of conversations and talk about intimacy, think about what it is we hope to find in relationships; and, politely turn the tables just a little. Some women are shitty human beings and deserve to be called out as such. This does not excuse misogyny or patriarchal attitudes in any way, but dialog should be a two-way street.

Lastly, we should subvert the world's capitalist order and install a federation of truly egalitarian republics I think we would do well to stop and think about what it is we seem to be chasing so often. To quote esteemed '90s intellectual rap paragon Maxi Jazz: "If you place a thing in the centre of your life that lacks the power to nourish, it will eventually poison you, and destroy everything that you are."

Friday, January 20, 2017

20 people I admire (XI): Dylan Moran

Who: Irish comedian and actor.

Why? Moran has an uncanny way of making observational, everyday comedy funny and original. In contrast to many other comedians, he doesn't rely very heavily on punchlines or politics, which is also a nice palate cleanser, but that doesn't mean his comedy can't be dark or serious. He just always sprinkles it with so much light-hearted perspective that it manages to be both incisive and light-footed.

What resonates with me? Moran was brought to my attention because I have a friend who was reminded of me when watching his character Bernard Black in the show 'Black Books', a chain-smoking, alcoholic and cheerfully misanthropic book shop owner with zero interest in keeping his business afloat. While I am none of these things, it's fair to admit that there is more Bernard Black in me than in most other people I know.

Best bit? There are many stand-out pieces, but I particularly enjoy his takedowns of the English as emotionally repressed people, with a "face where you can't tell whether they've just gotten married or just died."

Next up: Naomi Watts, Australian actress.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

It wasn't the working class

It seems to have become depressingly routine to describe the loss of Hillary Clinton against Donald Trump in the US Presidential election of 2016 as something inevitable, although it was anything but when the votes had not yet been cast. Trump's surprise win elicted a broad range of responses on the left, most of them sadly predictable.

If only if they'd chosen Bernie Sanders. If only we'd have spent more time connecting with the white working class. What if Joe Biden had run?

The truth of the matter is that while Trump carried a white majority, by far the biggest majority he carried was among the upper class, not the working class. And he lost the popular vote by almost three million votes.

Jacobin, a class-struggle stalwart with Marxist roots, panned a widely shared New Yorker cartoon that compared Donald Trump's election to a random passenger on a plane shouting he should be the pilot. The article claims it's emblematic of snooty liberal elitism that fails to factor in so many contextual issues that lead to this happening in the first place.

While the piece does a fair job at disassembling the cosiness of smug, vaguely left-of-centre liberalism, I think it's myopic in not metioning the tide of sheer hatred that carried much of Trump's campaign. Also, for its scoffing at liberal elites, I wonder how many blue-collar people actually read Jacobin.

The plane metaphor is too simplistic to put Trump in perspective, but so is Jacobin's expansion of it. His election is not a repudiation of liberal ideas - rather, he slunk through an incredibly narrow window of opportunity to almost fail into victory.

Democracy is in danger in all of the West, and establishment candidates are not the answer to the rising wave of racism and bigotry. Racism and bigotry that have been enabled by weak media institutions that favour ratings over actual reporting, and have been systematically gaslighted for years by reactionaries into giving them a platform for their fact-free bullshit.

One of the left's glaring errors, for just as many years, has been trying to reason their way into regressive people's hearts, or simply co-opting a softer version of their right-wing ideologies. Now, as Jeb Lund said, we can only hope that Trump and his ilk will fall apart so spectacularly that it shocks the system into provoking people who will work for actual change.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

20 people I admire (X): David Mitchell

(Okay, so when I started this series in 2015, I figured it would take me a year, but now we're early 2017 and I've just reached half of my list. Sorry for that!) 

Who: British novelist.

Why? Mitchell is a broadly ambitious writer who can get under the skin of his characters and portray them as actual human beings rather than props for a plot or an idea, which is always a hallmark of a great writer. He also doesn’t shy away from doing proper background research, and if you inhabit a world as big as the Anglosphere, it’s not evident to immerse yourself in the nuances of say, Japanese and Dutch culture. But Mitchell is keenly aware of these rich tapestries while never losing his very modern wit and sense of style.

What resonates with me? First off, the boldness with which he approaches fantasy elements within his novels that inhabit the same universe. Second, how his style and shift between genre tropes from different genres, and go from folksy to deadly serious to bleakly comical, all without making it seem effortless. Third, while his vision is often dark à la Margaret Atwood, his novels often make a stand for the value of humanity and being humane, no matter how hopeless it might seem in the face of such overwhelming evil.

Best bit? Particularly his closing speech at the end of ‘Cloud Atlas’, which constitutes a wild and sometimes confusing travel through several historical and future eras, but is tied together near the end with a strong sense of closure and a knock-out message as a palate cleanser for all that went before – or is to come – an exercise in ironic drama.

Next up: Dylan Moran, Irish comedian and actor