Battery Yates

Battery Yates
Battery Yates, Sausalito, CA

Monday, October 6, 2014

Thoughts on Marriage

I woke up this morning next to my partner, Leigh, to whom I've been married since December 10, 2011. I didn't feel like a second-class citizen. My family, friends, and community have been very supportive of our union, with some minor (if now obsolete) exceptions. The businesses, banks, insurance companies, and institutions of Manhattan, Kansas, have rarely pointed out with discrimination the fact that my adoptive state had any other opinion on our marriage than full support. I can state with full awareness that I have been privileged enough to not suffer in ways that many LGBT Americans have and do.

And yet, on this evening, as I sit next to my husband--only now according to the State of Kansas by way of the Supreme Court of the United States--I feel a quite bearable, a very welcome lightness of being. It's only now, in the wake of the Court's non-decision decision, that I get what it means to not feel the threat of institutionalized discrimination, as opposed to such discrimination itself. These are two very different things--things that I have long known intellectually, but now only understand holistically.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Glamour On A Pig

A Review of The Wolf Among Us

Snow White: "So...starting now...we do everything cut and dried, by the book, straight as an arrow."
Colin: "Pure as driven snow..."
-From Episode IV: "In Sheep's Clothing"

I often think that life is an expectations game--or, at least, it is for me. Before I read a book, watch a film, play a game--or even do something more mundane, like head into a staff meeting or stop by Dillon's for the week's groceries--I instinctively develop a mental narrative of how that experience will unfold. My guess is that most people do this to some extent. How something plays out, then, inevitably stands in contrast with my expectation of that event; my resulting evaluation colors my memory, my attitudes shaping the very facts of the experience.

With The Wolf Among Us, I had very high expectations. A production of Telltale Games, one of my favorite game publishers (and based in my spiritual home of Marin County, California), the game uses a similar engine and format as The Walking Dead, Season One, one of the best games of recent years. It has a noir setting; draws on the smart comic series, Fables; features similarly breathtaking visuals as The Walking Dead; and stars many of the same excellent voice actors. My mental narrative was an exciting one. It foresaw The Wolf Among Us as a brilliant riff on Western fairy tales and urban legends, holding the Magic Mirror up to these classics and showing us their dark undercurrents.

Expectations can be fatal, however, to the success of a game. The writers behind The Wolf Among Us failed to pull together a coherent story, let alone one as smart and caustically insightful as The Walking Dead.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Unipolar Moment

A Review of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season One (1987-1988)

Captain Jean-Luc Picard: "The only person you're truly competing against, Wesley, is yourself."
Wesley Crusher: "Then you're not disappointed?"
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: "Wesley - you have to measure your successes and your failures within, not by anything that I or anyone else might think. But, erm... if it helps you to know this... *I* failed the first time, and you may not tell anyone!"

-Picard and Crusher discussing his Starfleet Academy test, from the episode "Coming of Age"

 Q in "Encounter at Farpoint"My long-term study of Star Trek continues apace. I completed Star Trek: The Original Series, Star Trek: The Animated Series (too short and uninteresting to review, sadly, other than providing a quick rating of 5 out of 10 right now), and the Star Trek films through Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Last month, I began watching an episode of TNG while riding the exercise bike each weekday morning. (Ok, just Monday through Thursday. Friday's my day off.) And although Season One is considered among the worst of this celebrated series' offerings--other than the dreaded Season Two, of course--I have to admit that my reaction here is surprisingly positive.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

An Unambiguous Utopia

A Review of Ursula K. Le Guin's The Dispossessed (1974)

"True journey is return..." - Shevek

Even though I never seem to remember its author's name, William G. Perry's scheme for cognitive development comes to mind nearly every day. It shares common traits with Milton Bennett's developmental model of intercultural sensitivity, as well as Carol Gilligan's stages of the ethic of care and Lawrence Kohlberg's model of moral development, both of which Jean Piaget's constructivist work deeply influenced. (Geek snort.) As a humanist, I find much social science inherently problematic, reliant upon assumptions that elide contextual differences. These criticisms equally apply to Perry, Gilligan, Kohlberg, and Piaget, of course, as the extensive literatures on educational psychology illustrate. But these theories, and particularly Perry's, continue to undergird my philosophical metanarrative of life in powerful ways.

Written at roughly the same time as Perry's model, science fiction master Ursula K. Le Guin's The Dispossessed reads like a fictionalization of one individual's pursuit of full cognitive development. The book's (mass market paperback) cover strikingly describes it as "an astonishing tale of one man's search for utopia." It's misleading in a very clever way. This book is not about "utopia" as the elusive, perfect place, that "no place" of Thomas More. Le Guin's vision of utopia is a state of mind, of cognitive enlightenment, of the realization that the perfect place--the state of true freedom--is nowhere but in ourselves, an epistemological nirvana. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Is There In Trek No Truth?

A Review of Star Trek (The Original Series) (1966-1969)

Dr. Miranda Jones: "The glory of creation is in its infinite diversity."
Mr. Spock: "And the ways our differences combine, to create meaning and beauty."
From "Is There In Truth No Beauty?"

I first experienced Star Trek through the original films: Star Trek: The Wrath of KhanStar Trek: The Voyage Home, and Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country. My brother Mike was a huge fan. As a child, I quietly observed him sharpen his considerable drawing skills on a Crayola marker portrait of Klingon phaser fire and photon torpedoes blasting through the U.S.S. Enterprise A. But at that time Star Trek was an unknown quantity to me, something violent and loud, and even slightly scary, to my seven-year-old mind.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

A Study of Possession

A Review of Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958)

"One final thing I have to do, and then I'll be free of the past." - Scottie Ferguson

The sharp chill of the icy wind whipped about me as I stood motionless on the CTA Red Line platform at Addison. Christmas shoppers, commuters, bundled teenagers crowded in groups for warmth. Everything about me had a grey sheen, sapped of vitality. But I didn't care, and am surprised to even remember such details. I was in love--not just in love, but impassioned, a heightened state of focus inward and numbness to the world outside. I don't doubt that, had I not been on my way somewhere (as it happened, to the Chicago Historical Museum to research my dissertation), I could have frozen in joy.

This state of being, this stage of love in which no one else--nothing else--matters but the object of one's emotional and physical desire, is one I'd felt before, but not with such depth and severity. Perhaps you've felt it, too. It's that stage in which passion reigns unchecked by reason, before you are clearheaded enough to think whether the person whom you love is right for you. This passion is selfish, obsessive, dangerous. It possesses you. It permits you to dream an illusory world and then sustains that world to the exclusion of all else. It's the passion that John Scottie Ferguson felt for Madeleine Elster, a figment of his own heart, in Alfred Hitchcock's most celebrated work, Vertigo. For all its problems--its justly maligned sexism and patriarchy, its vile study of the male gaze and the female as object--Vertigo deserves the attention it has so belatedly received. As a paced meditation on obsessive passion, and the treacherous illusion by which that passion may consume us, it is one of the best films ever made.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A Note on Ratings

So this won't be the most exciting post of all time, but I feel that it's a necessary one. As I settle into different database and review websites, I've come across the issue of consistency across different ratings metrics. I'm ultimately of the opinion that opinions can't (and shouldn't) be standardized, but when they're only my opinions, I'm less troubled by the idea.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014


A Review of David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas (2004)

"Belief is both prize & battlefield, within the mind & in the mind's mirror, the world." - Adam Ewing, Cloud Atlas, 508.

Sociologists like my partner like to deploy the Thomas theorem as shorthand for the idea that "what you believe is what you get." In other words, what we interpret to be reality is, in fact, reality, insofar as we act on our beliefs and therefore shape reality in the process. The phrase "self-fulfilling prophecy" comes close to the point, if missing some of the meaning. I guess you could adapt the WYSIWYG acronym appropriately, to result in WYBIWYG. Or how about the cuter "wibby-wig"?

Cloud Atlas is such a massive tome of ideas that it needs a shorthand adjective, and "wibby-wig" is it for me. To avoid such extreme reductionism, a simple legend of themes (a tapestry metaphor came to mind, but let me stick with maps) is helpful in the effort to decode David Mitchell's complex atlas: themes like belief, but also the human condition, narrative, truth versus Truth, the unity of time and space, the number six, comets, clouds (of course), and--as Mitchell divulged in an interview, "predacity." What I take away most from Cloud Atlas, though, was a wibby-wig view of life that, not to my surprise, reflects my own perspective. What we believe shapes who we are and what we do. This is the case to a large, if certainly not total, extent, because what we believe is not always a choice we make ourselves. Rather, society and its many elements--our parents, peers, children, friends, co-workers, politicians, media overlords, et cetera--often make them for and with us.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Just Dump The Abstergo Mess Already

A Review of Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag (PC)

My relationship with the Assassin's Creed series is a classic love/hate one. As a trained historian who loves narrative-based action games, I sit at what is likely the exact middle of the Venn diagram that comprises Ubisoft's several market demographics. But the series has suffered from some terrible storytelling and gameplay issues, and Black Flag is no exception. I agree with what appears to be the consensus that Black Flag is the best game of the series, save for Assassin's Creed II. (Ever since college, I've loved Renaissance Italian history, so I'm biased on that score, as well.) But that doesn't mean it's a great game.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Walton; or, The Early Modern Humanist

A Review of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818)

"You throw a torch into a pile of buildings; and when they are consumed you sit among the ruins and lament the fall. Hypocritical fiend!" - Captain Robert Walton, to Frankenstein's Monster, Volume III, Chapter VII

The conflict within young Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin's mind is readily apparent throughout her masterpiece, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. Here at once was a highly educated and privileged eighteen-year-old woman; a passionate Romantic; a British conservative; a liberal feminist; a lover of Percy Bysshe Shelley; a daughter of two famous (or infamous, to many) public intellectuals; and a mother who suffered the death of a child. All of these identities intertwined to produce a very human writer and her equally human novel, about the very human Victor Frankenstein and his equally human Monster, in what most observers rightfully identify as a classic Gothic novel and founding text of modern imaginative fiction. It's odd to feel this way, but I really don't think Mary intended a clear, cogent message with her "ghost story." If there is an ultimate theme, it's the assertion of humanity amid the ambiguity of modern (here, early industrial) life. But I see this message in pretty much everything, so like all good art, maybe Frankenstein simply reflects back a thoughtfully distorted image of our own current selves. At any rate, it deserves a place among the best of fiction--literary, genre, or otherwise.

Friday, July 25, 2014


Welcome to Arcturus Stream, my humble new blog! 

As this is the nth iteration of a personal blog since college, I can't say what I will end up sharing here, if anything at all. I can only say what I plan to post. And that totals to my thoughts on everything--life, people, society, philosophy, and anything else that comes to mind. I hope it allows me to keep in touch with friends and family; work out any philosophical or spiritual thoughts I may have; and comment on politics, culture, and current events.

One regular feature I'd like to pursue would be reviews of film, games (board and video), literature, (fiction and non), music, and television. I'm currently a member of, or starting to register with, several online databases for these media to share my thoughts and ratings. One of my favorite passions, as you will come to see, is reflecting on cultural texts and narratives. It's sort of my hobby, I guess--other than engaging with those texts in the first place.

When I wrote "share," by the way, I really mean to share thoughts with my future selves, rather than anyone else. I don't pretend that my thoughts on any of this stuff is worthwhile to others. If it turns out to be, great! If not, then whatever. I'll certainly find it fun to go back through all of these posts in due time.

So enjoy, reader, whether you be future Matt or anyone else.