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.

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

Saturday, March 10, 2018

20 people I admire (XV): Mike Dierickx

Who? Mike Dierickx, also known as Mike Push or M.I.K.E. or a myriad of other pseudonyms, is a supremely talented electronic music producer from Belgium who has finally been getting his due in national media.

Why? Even during the period when lazy anthemic trance was big, Mike kept pushing the envelope and released track after track that demonstrated both his technical craftsmanship as well as his fine-tuned ear for what might work on a dance floor. 

What resonates with me? Even though Dierickx claims his initial influences mostly came from new wave music, there’s little of that bleakness in his productions. Even middling efforts from him always sound full and sumptuous, with a full understanding of what makes people want to dance in a club.

Best bit? Obviously his only chart hit ‘Universal Nation’ has become embraced by a generation by now, but I would personally choose his club mix of ‘Tranzy State of Mind’. TSoM is beautiful to listen to, filled with so many delicate touches and samples, building up so exquisitely and so hypnotizing in the total bliss it gives its listeners.

Next up: Molly Crabapple, an American illustrator

Thursday, March 08, 2018

20 people I admire (XIV): The Onion

Who? An American news satire site.

Why? The Onion manages to nail so many issues with such a fine feeling for tragedy, cynicism and ultimately, the heart in the right place.

What resonates with me? Well, it was probably the Onion that inspired me to take up writing news satire for some time as well (go look here), but like how comedy in this bleak age of rising fascism, Trump, growing inequality and environmental disasters has become a more reliable source of information than the regular media and its blowhard pundits, the Onion still manages to rise to the challenge and be both funny and incisive.

Best bit? After Obama got elected in 2008, the Onion headlined ‘Black Man Gets Worst Job in the World’. Another very good one, often reposted after a shooting in America, was ‘There Is No Way to Prevent This, Says Only Nation Where This Happens.’

Next up: Mike Dierickx, Belgian trance producer.

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