CONCERT REVIEW: Stadium Of Fire

Written by Steve Pierce on . Posted in Music

Something I would never have envisioned myself saying: I paid money to spend my 4th of July with the Jonas Brothers and Glenn Beck.

Unfortunately, this travesty has now come to pass — and it wasn’t all that bad.

The annual Stadium of Fire celebration at BYU is the very definition of harmless, Mormon-approved and, by extension, bland popular music, mixed with a extra-heavy dose of flag-waving, jet-flying, externally displayed patriotism. The show always leans hard on big dramatic gestures and the same 10 “America” songs they’ve undoubtedly been using since at least the mid-1980s. (Big props to the SOF crew for resisting the temptation of Neil Diamond’s awfully cliched “America” during the fireworks montage. Nice show of restraint.) With these criteria in mind, I dare you to find me a more perfect match for the event than the offense-free pop of the Jonas Brothers and the waterworks and political melodrama of borderline psycho Glenn Beck. Throw in a Mormon country group, lots of American flags of varying sizes, a couple F-16 flyovers and a huge fireworks show that probably ripped its own hole in the ozone layer and you’ve got one rip-roaring 4th of July bash — or at least as ripping and/or roaring as such an event can get when hosted by a conservative pundit, played by prepubescent teenagers and attended by middle-aged Mormons and their preteen daughters.

Before we launch into the meat of the evening, just remember that I braved all this for you, dear readers. All to be your eyes and ears in that strange cultural event. And also because I was bored. But mostly for you.

ANYWAY, the evening began with the usual business of presenting the colors, singing the national anthem multiple times, watching young girls in surprisingly revealing (by BYU standards) uniforms dance around a football field in complex formations with colorful flags. You know, the usual. Nothing super spectacular. That was until the Music Man showed up.

Glenn Beck’s first appearance on-stage came in characteristically excruciating fashion: with full choir in tow, Beck ambled up to the mic sporting a red bowtie and a straw hat, then proceeded to do some poorly received Music Man-related shtick with the choir and really accomplished little except making me want to punch him in the face more than usual. Let’s be honest: I loathe the man more than is probably necessary for an individual to loathe a television personality — and that’s when he’s wearing regular clothes. His ridiculous outfit and accompanying smarm only served to aggravate my hate for the person he chooses to be. Fortunately for all involved, Beck’s words were scripted and relatively brief, a smart move on BYU’s part because you never know what asinine things will escape that man’s mouth when given a microphone. Even more fortunately, Beck was dressed as a regular person when he reappeared for his second monologue, not like Bozo the Clown. Small victories, people. Small victories.

To be honest, the whole ramp-up of the evening was fairly blase. Utah-based country group SHeDAISY played a six-song set and no one really cared. Sure, no one’s really cared about SHeDAISY for 10 years or so, but the sentiment was incredibly apparent in the apathetic silence of the crowd. They were all there for one reason and everyone knew it. They’d painted it on their homemade t-shirts, on their posterboard marriage proposals, on their acne-riddled faces and who knows where else. (There is undoubtedly some kind of Jonas Brothers graffiti, freshly fashioned with a glitter gel pen, in a Dairy Queen bathroom somewhere in Provo at this very moment.) Some might have thought this was Stadium of Fire, but let’s be honest: it was, first and foremost, a Jonas Brothers concert with fireworks.

I think I became 50% deaf when the teenage girl next to me got her first glimpse of Joe Jonas stepping onto the stage, her shrieks of delight completely melting my right eardrum. (To be fair, she did warn me of this possibility before the show.) Unfortunately for me, that was only the beginning of the screamfest that is a Jonas Brothers concert. As Nick and Kevin (though it appears the latter is significantly less popular for some reason) subsequently appeared and the boys launched into the up-tempo “Paranoid,” the noise level grew to the point where I lost my other eardrum and my face began to melt like the Nazi at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The 1o-year-old girl two rows behind me must be the world record holder for greatest lung capacity in the preteen girl division. I was betting that she would lose her voice after a few songs, but I was sorely mistaken. She screamed every single lyric for the full 55-minute set. It was both impressive and ear-splitting.

You might wonder why I am taking such pains to describe the nature of JoBros fans, and I promise you there is a point. The entire conflict over the brothers — Are they good? Do they suck? Is Joe’s voice too whiny? Is everyone too cynical to appreciate solid pop music? — should, in theory, be able to reach some kind of resolution in their live show. There is no greater measure of musicianship than live performance. Anyone can make something sound decent with enough takes in the studio, but the replication of that sound on-stage is the true test of a band’s mettle.

I wish I could say whether or not the JoBros passed that test, but I can’t. For me to say that the group delivered on Saturday night would require me to also be able to say that I actually heard a significant portion of the performance. In all reality, I maybe heard 40% JoBros, 60% screaming girls. Perhaps this is why there has been no definitive answer to the Jonas debate by fair-minded individuals: no one knows what they actually sound like live.

To analyze the situation as best as possible given the circumstances, the following seems to be true: a) the JoBros are very good at what they do, b) that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s much intrinsic value to what they do, c) Joe Jonas’ nasal croon is an aphrodisiac to young girls, d) no one knows what’s going through Kevin Jonas’ mind 98% of the time, and e) Nick Jonas’ prepubescent yelp sounds like a dying chihuahua. To be honest, there are worse things in the world than the Jonas Brothers. If my hypothetical daughters wanted to listen to the JoBros, I would prefer that to most of the other crap on Top 40 radio these days. No, they’re not Radiohead — and they’re not supposed to be. They’re teenage heartthrobs who actually (semi-)play their own instruments and write their own deceptively catchy and melodic pop songs. And that’s okay: America doesn’t need the Jonas Brothers to be anything more or less than the “It” boys of the moment.

The one thing that is most refreshing about the brothers is how unassuming they come off. You know they don’t believe they’re making “important” music; you know they realize all their records are bought exclusively by ravenous 10-year-old girls; you know they’re just a couple kids who wrote some catchy melodies, lucked into a sweet gig and fully intend to enjoy the ride. These things are okay. In a strange way, they actually represent the American dream. Sure, the Jonases aren’t timeless bulwarks of originality or ingenuity (they’re actually quite formulaic), but they represent a highly-stylized version of the familiar “regular guy(s) make good” narrative that this country lives for. If American popular culture needs a teen idol for every generation, I’m fine with the Jonas Brothers winning this round. At least they’re not Aaron Carter.

Steve Pierce is co-founder and editor of Rhombus. He cheered loudly for Kevin Jonas, mostly because he feels the oldest Jonas gets the raw end of the deal from those heartless 10-year-old girls.

A Little Rhombus Tomfoolery

Written by Steve Pierce on . Posted in Uncategorized

It all started with one brilliant idea.

Cheap marketing ($5 of styrofoam cups, to be exact) over the 4th of July weekend, thousands of eyes, more exposure for our little site here. Seemed like a great idea — and it was.

We succeeded for about two hours — and then everything ended in one epic fail.

I realize that none of you understand a single word I have typed, so let me briefly explain: styrofoam cups were shoved (by some anonymous individuals…) into the chain-link fence on the bridge overhanging University Parkway in Provo, spelling out RHOMBUSMAG.COM. In theory, the makeshift banner would have stayed up over the holiday weekend and would undoubtedly have been seen by the thousands sitting in traffic tomorrow night as they attempt to exit Stadium of Fire. Alas, it was not to be.

This precious little sign’s life was violently ripped from its hands only two hours after its joyful birth. We do not know the identity of the assailants, but I assure you we will not rest until they have been brought to justice. I swear on the grave of my great-aunt Ethel. Those savages took that poor little sign before its potential could be fully realized; snuffed it out before it could fully blossom. Now all we have to remember it by are a few pictures depicting it in all its glory:

FENCE 1

As we mourn the loss of our young friend, we realize we only have one place left to turn: our readers. In hopes of fulfilling the potential of the dearly departed, we now ask you to do what he could not: spread the word. Tell your friends, tell your neighbors, tell your grandmother: read Rhombus. Even better — and I do realize this is totally shameless, but I lost my sense of shame a long time ago — throw up a Facebook status or Twitter post. Maybe something like “Check out Rhombus Magazine at www.rhombusmag.com and become a fan on Facebook!” You know, something like that. (We’re not picky.)

ANYWAY, we love our readers. Thank you so much for always visiting our site and telling your friends about it. The great amount of success we’ve had in these few short weeks has been completely driven by you, and we thank you sincerely. So please keep reading, commenting and spreading the word: Don’t be a square. Read Rhombus.

Thanks again,
Steve Pierce, Editor

POLITICS: Hooray For Common Sense Health Care Reform!

Written by Steve Pierce on . Posted in Politics

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee released a revised health care reform bill today that includes both a public option and a significantly lower price tag:

WASHINGTON — Democrats on a key Senate Committee outlined a revised and far less costly health care plan Wednesday night that includes a government-run insurance option and an annual fee on employers who do not offer coverage to their workers.

The plan carries a 10-year price tag of slightly over $600 billion, and would lead toward an estimated 97 percent of all Americans having coverage, according to the Congressional Budget Office, Sens. Edward M. Kennedy and Chris Dodd said in a letter to other members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. The AP obtained a copy.

By contrast, an earlier, incomplete proposal carried a price tag of roughly $1 trillion and would have left millions uninsured, CBO analysts said in mid-June.

All right! $600 billion and a public option? This we can do! Just think: a few weeks ago we were trying to find ways to get a bill without a public option at less than $1 trillion. Not only does the public option not cost nearly as much as its opponents have stated recently, but it turns out it actually saves money:

The letter indicated the cost and coverage improvements resulted from two changes. The first calls for a government-run health insurance option to compete with private coverage plans, an option that has drawn intense opposition from Republicans.

“We must not settle for legislation that merely gestures at reform,” the two Democrats wrote. “We must deliver on the promise of true change.”

Additionally, the revised proposal calls for a $750 annual fee on employers for each full-time worker not offered coverage through their job. The fee would be set at $375 for part-time workers. Companies with fewer than 25 employees would be exempt. The fee was forecast to generate $52 billion over 10 years, money the government would use to help provide subsidies to those who cannot afford insurance.

The same provision is also estimated to greatly reduce the number of workers whose employers would drop coverage, thus addressing a major concern noted by CBO when it reviewed the earlier proposals.

And there it is. All this screaming over health care, about how it couldn’t be done, about how any type of mandate would kill small businesses, about how the publci option would be the death toll of capitalism, etc. etc. — and this is all it takes? Ted Kennedy and Chris Dodd sit down and hash it out? I’m okay with this.

Of course, Republicans will still whine, but it’s not clear what there really is to whine about. Increased coverage: check. Decreased cost: check. Decreased taxpayer burden: check. What is there left to holler about? The folks at Daily Kos put it perfectly:

Politically, this puts Republicans and Democratic opponents of the public option in a terrible position. They can’t argue that the public option is too expensive. And they can’t argue that it won’t lower costs and expand coverage.

The only argument they have left is that private insurers won’t be happy with the public option. To the extent that argument sways opinion, it will sway opinion in our direction.

Amen. This bill could be the one that finally passes, that finally gives America the health insurance system it deserves. I hope it does and I hope Harry Reid has the stones to railroad it through, if necessary. It’s the right bill with the right coverage at the right price. The president wants it and, more importantly, the American people want it.

Let’s get it done, shall we?

MUNCHMOBILE: Hecho En Mexico

Written by Ben Wagner on . Posted in Food

In an effort to expand the gastronomic vision of the inhabitants of Provo beyond that of Cafe Rio and Chili’s, Rhombus has enlisted the help of three of the most overqualified food critics from across the country. These infamous connoisseurs concocted a plan to explore a variety of local restaurants in the Valley and dissect their cuisine. Each week the Munchmobile Crew will report their findings so you can eat with confidence, broaden your horizons and tip the scales with delight. Please enjoy a unique take on our unique Provo food scene as tasted through the buds of Jake Welch, Ben Wagner and Jamie Wood. Let the munching begin.

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WEEK 1 — HECHO EN MEXICO GRILL

Located on the corner of 300 South and 300 East in Provo, owner Alfredo Torres has opened his doors and his fine recipes to the public through this little hole in the wall establishment well off the beaten path south of BYU campus. As you walk through the doors, you’re not overwhelmed with sombreros hanging from every corner, “It’s always Cinco de Mayo in here’ Corona posters or neon cacti with drunken neon amigos slouched over next to them. Instead you are greeted by a true Mexican touch of empty glass Coke bottles and a collage of Telemundo soap opera flyers on the wall.The menu is limited at Hecho En Mexico (Spanish for “Made in Mexico”), keeping things simple and sticking to what they do best. When we asked Alfredo for his advised dish, he quickly suggested the Tacos al Pastor: delicious, specially marinated spicy pork tacos topped with cilantro and fresh pineapple. He informed us that this menu item alone accounts for 65% of the restaurant’s sales, evidence of its mass appeal.

Next, he suggested we sample the homemade “horchata,” a traditional rice and milk drink that seems to elude the desire of the gringo pallet. He quickly pointed out that Hecho En Mexico’s horchata was made with coconut, not rice, and is therefore one of their specialties. Alfredo turned and quickly brought each of us a small plastic cup with a sampling of the drink. Each was immediately downed with significant satisfaction and subsequently ordered for a whopping $2.50 per glass. (A little steep, but incredibly worth it.) “As someone who was forced to drink Horchata almost everyday for two years and never liked it, this is the best horchata I’ve ever had,” Ben Wagner commented. Orders were made, chips and salsa (which rocked) were delivered, horchata was sipped,and our experience had officially begun. Here is the skinny on a few thick meals:

Jamie Wood — Torta de Carne Asada
As an established connoisseur in the realm of Latin foods and, more specifically, of the Mexican sandwich that is “the torta,” I feel completely justified in saying that this was hands down a technically sound sandwich. Bursting with marinated steak, avocados, onions, jalapenos and basted with seasoned refried beans, this torta packed a punch and hit the spot. This scrumptious sandwich from south of the border was surprisingly easy to manage as compared to other tortas. All the ingredients were comfortably situated within the classic Mexican bread, making it easy to enjoy without the mess. For those gringos out there, like myself, who want to ease into the spicy and often overwhelming sector of authentic Mexican food, the torta is your best bet for a smooth entry. It talks like a hamburger, but it’s swagger is puro mexicano. Be sure to ask for everything on it to get the full experience. 4.5 out of 5 tacos.

Ben Wagner – Tacos al Pastor
Mexico City is renowned for its tacos al pastor and, having lived there for two years, I consider myself an expert on the subject. I have tried just about every Mexican joint in town in an attempt to find that authentic al pastor taste. Perhaps it’s been the lack of dogs roaming the street or the contaminated air of Mexico City, but I have yet to find any taco that matches the ones sold in the streets of the D.F. However, the Tacos at Hecho En Mexico are as close as it gets. The meat on each taco almost overran the small flour tortilla used to contain it.  The marinades used on the meat were excellent and each piece of meat was cooked to perfection. The pineapple used was real, fresh (well, as fresh as it can get in Provo), and didn’t come out of the canned fruit aisle at Smith’s. Again, the flavor was as close to authentic Mexican tacos al pastor as I’ve seen;  Hecho En Mexico is indeed an appropriate name. If you’re never going to make it south of the border, at least make it south of campus and try out the most authentic tacos al pastor in town. 5 out of 5 sombreros.

Jake Welch – Tacos de Asada
You know you’re going into a legit Mexican restaurant when you don’t see burritos on the menu. Contrary to popular belief, burritos are seldom found in authentic eateries south of the border. I was pleased to find a very simple menu upon entering Hecho En Mexico. They have the basics: tacos, tortas, rice and beans. If you’re looking for a large elaborate menu of average dishes, this is not for you. This is a legit taco shop. Because I joined the crew a little late, I decided to go easy and just get two tacos. The taco de asada (or steak taco) hit the spot. They didn’t skimp on the meat and the salsa had the perfect amount of kick. I am not one for weak salsa and they follow the same philosophy at Hecho En Mexico. I also ordered one taco al pastor and it was everything a taco should be and more. The only downer about the restaurant is that it is only open in the evenings. The owner, Alfredo, said that should change once business picks up. He also said they might have certain days of the week where they will have Mole, God’s gift to Mexican food. Even without the dish, this taco shop gets my seal of approval. 4 out of 5 Horchata glasses.

There you have it: one full-blooded gringo and two honorary Mexicanos agree that Hecho En Mexico Grill is worth the drive down south and the small dent in your pocketbook. The full price for the torta and horchata came out to be a little over $8 — chump change for the seasoned veteran of Latin cuisine and well worth it for the fiesta that will ensue inside your mouth. Break out the pinatas and mariachi band, because Hecho En Mexico is “livin’ la vida loca” on the Provo food scene. Overall: 4.5 out of 5 churros

For suggestions on where you’d like to see the Munchmobile head next week, send an e-mail to rhombusmag@gmail.com or send a message on Twitter to @rhombusmag.

Jamie Wood, Jake Welch and Ben Wagner are correspondents for Rhombus Magazine. For more of their thoughts on Mexican cuisine and imaginary rock bands, check them out on Twitter at @jamie_wood, @jraywelch and @ben_wagner, respectively.

SPORTS: The People v. Major League Baseball

Written by Jake Welch on . Posted in Sports

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I stand before you this day with much grief in my heart. The mere fact that I have to defend the relevance of baseball in this day and age brings me to tears. I grew up reverencing the sport the way middle school girls worship the Jonas Brothers. Now, baseball is a hiss in a byword.  How could a game that was once called America’s National Pastime be labeled as a second-rate sport?  Why do I believe baseball is still great? Let us explore.

Argument #1: It’s pure (kind of) — What? Steroids? I don’t know what you’re talking about. As far as I am concerned Mark McGuire got big on whey protein and Barry Bonds’ head doubled in mass because of some new face muscle exercise he learned on P90X. Even if those beloved long-ballers did shoot the juice, those days are over. Small ball, the art of bunting, stealing and sacrificing, is making a strong comeback, unless you play at the new Yankee Stadium where even Ichiro Suzuki can hit 40+ home runs. That aside, baseball is still considered an art form. Turning a double play, painting the outside corner of the strike zone and laying down a squeeze bunt are things of beauty.

Argument #2: It’s a team sport — Most people think that baseball is composed of one-on-one battles between a pitcher and hitter while the players in the field pick daises. I hold firm that baseball is in fact a team sport because of one thing and one thing only: bench-clearing brawls. It’s a thing of beauty to see two teams completely clear their benches and start an all out war in defense of one player. Sometimes even the the coaches get involved. (See Don Zimmer v.  Pedro Martinez.) This never happens in basketball, because a) drunken fans will get involved and Ron Artest will go ape on someone, or b) everyone sits back in their chairs because, if they even set foot on the floor during a fight, they get suspended and fined. Only on the baseball field is there this kind of camaraderie.

Argument #3: It’s Multicultural — This is the only professional sport in the United States that has succeeded in consistently drawing players from a wide variety of nations. The MLS is not professional, but good thinking. The NFL will once in a blue moon get a player from Canada, but that’s about as international as it gets. The NBA might have a legit case here but, regardless of how successful some of the international players become, they will always be hated. Case in point: Manu Ginobili. (See also Hedo Turkoglu, Tony Parker, Pau Gasol and soon-to-be loathed Ricky Rubio.) Baseball on the other hand has successfully integrated likable players such as Hideo Nomo of Japan (if you were a kid playing baseball in his prime, you know you tried his whirlwind pitching windup) and Jose Contreras of Cuba (that’s right, the power of baseball can even soften Fidel’s heart).

Argument#4: Beer Bellies = A-OK — The American people can relate to baseball players because some players resemble the man in IHOP that, no matter what, makes you feel skinny. Just look at Yankees pitcher C.C. Sabathia. Tipping the scales at around 300 lbs didn’t stop him from getting one of fattest deals in game. I can only imagine that does wonders for the game in the minor league levels. While there are many fine physical specimens in the game of baseball, it is a known fact that being in shape is not a necessity to play the game. Anyone (and yes, that means you, Dmitri Young) can play baseball.

After hearing my sound arguments, there should be no denying the greatness of baseball in American culture. Sure, it might not keep pace with our instant twitterfication society, but baseball can and will endure the test of time. I rest my case.

Jake Welch is a sports writer for Rhombus. He is one of 12 people on the planet who actually care about Major League Baseball.

WEEKEND UPDATE: Special 4th Of July Edition

Written by Steve Pierce on . Posted in Music

Welcome back to the second edition of Rhombus’ Weekend Update. (Much thanks to Lorne Michaels and the folks at SNL for not suing me for copyright infringement yet.) This week we’ll tell you all the do’s and don’ts for your holiday festivities. We’ll tell you the events going down in Utah Valley and you get to figure the rest out on your own — just try not to set anything too large on fire.

WEEKEND UPDATE: Special 4th of July Edition

The Good:

America’s Freedom Festival: Balloon Fest | Saturday, 6:30 a.m., Provo High School (1125 N. University Ave., Provo)
There’s a lot of weird crap that people do on the Fourth that you don’t get to see very often otherwise. A massive launching of hot air balloons at 6:30 a.m. would be one of those things. I don’t think I’ve seen a hot air balloon since I was 10-years-old and, to be honest, I don’t even know where I’d begin to look. Fortunately, they happen to be bringing them into our backyard. So if you like big colorful, floating spheres and can stomach the early wake-up call, here’s a way to start your holiday off right.

America’s Freedom Festival: Grand Parade | Saturday, 9:00 a.m., University Avenue (Provo)
I’ve never been one for parades. I don’t really understand the people who must watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade every single year and if, for some unfortunate reason, they are busy at the time of its airing, they TiVo it. I don’t get that. (Maybe it’s the floats: they have no power over me.) Provo’s annual parade will have significantly less glitz than its big city counterpart, but it always receives rave reviews. People literally started camping out for spots along the parade route a few days ago. I don’t understand this, but I believe this must say something about the parade. Who knows — I could end up horribly disappointed. But at least I’ll know I satisfied my curiosity. I pray I do not lead you astray.

The Vibrant Sound | Saturday, 5:30 p.m., Tabernacle Stage (University Ave. and Center St., Provo), Free
I know, I know: we stumped for the Vibrant Sound last week as well. And while I promise that Rhombus is not becoming the band’s personal propaganda arm, I will say this: if you haven’t read our review for last weekend’s release party, do so. Then, come to the show. It’s for your own good really. If you missed out on Saturday’s awesome performance, you now have a second chance and — even better news — it’s free! The band’s blend of hip-hop, soul, R&B and funk defines what summer music should be. I can’t think of any better way to enjoy your early evening.

The In-Between:

Stadium of Fire: The Jonas Brothers | Saturday, 8 p.m., LaVell Edwards Stadium (Provo)
I’m very ambivalent about this event’s status. Positive: huge fireworks display. Intriguing: the cultural phenomenon of the Jonas Brothers. Less intriguing: the music of the Jonas Brothers. Equivalent to the black plague: Glenn Beck. Between these conflicting factors, it is difficult to make a cut-and-dried judgment of the intrinsic or extrinsic worth of this event. In the end, it probably comes down to price. Tons of tickets are still available for this year’s show (unlike when music goddess Miley Cyrus came last year), which means scalpers are going to be getting real antsy just before showtime. If you can get a cheap ticket, it might (might!) be worth checking out. If not, just sit outside and watch the fireworks. Hopefully you won’t be able to hear the bellowing of the great Beck — it would probably be wise to retain as many brain cells as possible.

The Bad:

Truman | Saturday, 2:00 p.m., Tabernacle Stage (University Ave. and Center St., Provo), Free
There’s a fine line between the highly original and clever music made by the Vibrant Sound and the — I’ll say this nicely — distasteful, Maroon 5-cover-band-esque sound of Truman. If you really have nothing to do at 2:00 p.m., go listen to Songs About Jane a couple more times. I promise that it will sound the same — only better and with less smugness. The problem with the Truman brothers (sons of Diamond Rio keyboardist, Dan Truman) is not that they make Provo’s worst music (they don’t — I saw a guy literally playing a saw last week), but that they seem so impressed with their own mediocrity. Having the right connections is a great blessing in the music industry and I have no doubt that Truman could some day end up being “big stars,” due to said connections. But great record sales and a famous last name do not good music make — just ask the Jonas Brothers.

“Disco Night” | Saturday, 9:00 p.m., Classic Fun Center (250 S. State, Orem), $6
Let’s just be honest: disco was never cool. Even when disco was “cool,” it wasn’t cool. I realize college students have a penchant for doing otherwise stupid, ghastly things in the name of “humor” and “ironicism,” but please — my dear friends — please abstain from trying to resurrect disco. It wasn’t cool in the 70s and it won’t be cool now. A benevolent God won’t allow it.

Happy 4th of July from everyone at Rhombus!

FAITH: A Call For Compassion

Written by Steve Pierce on . Posted in Uncategorized

We don’t normally touch on issues of faith and religion here in the virtual pages of Rhombus. We generally try to keep you in the know for six days a week and leave Sundays to you. However, one recent article about a timely and important topic inspired me to wade into religious waters, if only for a brief moment. I don’t like to preach, but I feel that all of us can benefit in hearing the following message.

Too often in the LDS Church do we vilify and condemn those who deal with homosexual tendencies. I cringe every time I hear one of my peers call another a “fag” or “queer” with such obvious disdain. I am bewildered by the frequent, vitriolic tirades against the many evils of “those gays.” We have become, in a word, homophobic. Now, before I get millions of angry e-mails, let me say this: the policies of the Church itself do not support such hatred and intolerance in the least. Unfortunately, however, it seems that our culture has not followed that lead and the aforementioned expressions have become far too common. This is not what the Gospel of Jesus Christ is all about

The following article, penned by Austin Smith, first ran in the Daily Universe on July 2nd. Austin beautifully outlines the need for compassion and understanding toward our brothers and sisters using the words of ancient and modern prophets, as well as powerful examples from his own encounters. I can only hope that, by republishing this wonderful piece, our readers will heed the author’s admonition for compassion — not just for the sake of our friends and loved ones, but also for the salvation of our own imperfect souls. — Steve Pierce, Editor

My freshman year home-teaching companion, a mission buddy, my cousin — these are a few of the wonderful people in my life who, through no choice of their own, are attracted to members of the same gender.  I fear that in Utah Valley, talking about homosexuality has for too long been taboo.  Same-gender attraction (SGA) is not something we can just ignore, wishing it would go away, because it won’t.  It deserves and demands a mature, respectful, faithful and open discussion.  We cannot allow our silence, ignorance, or intolerance to push precious people out of the Church.  The recent publication for Mormons who have homosexual attractions, “God Loveth His Children,” says, “Some people with same-gender attraction have felt rejected because members of the Church did not always show love. No member of the Church should ever be intolerant.”  Tolerance does not require one to embrace homosexual behavior, but my prayer is that we, as a community, can be more understanding, loving and accepting of our friends and loved ones who find themselves in this position.

One misconception many members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have about those who experience SGA is that they simply don’t have enough faith to change.  In my experience, nothing could be further from the truth.  These are people who spend countless hours in earnest prayer, serve selflessly in the temple, magnify their callings as full-time missionary, visiting teacher, or Elder’s Quorum President, and meet consistently with both priesthood leaders and professional counselors.  These are people who show me what it is like to go forward with faith despite not having answers to all their questions.  Though most experience no change in their orientation, some eventually feel comfortable entering into heterosexual marriages, but all demonstrate great faith and trust in God.

The men and women in our lives with SGA have their own challenges to bear which we cannot afford to exacerbate with our scorn or disdain.  However, no one wants or needs pity.  Our friends and loved ones who experience SGA need to be befriended, loved, and accepted.  They need, just as we all do, support in trying to live the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We need to be able to say, as President Hinckley did, that “Our hearts reach out to those who struggle with feelings of affinity for the same gender. We remember you before the Lord, we sympathize with you, we regard you as our brothers and sisters.”  Put a face on the issue: if a close friend of yours were to tell you that he is gay, would you turn him away, or embrace him?

To those of you reading this who struggle with same-gender attraction, let me express my unconditional love and support for you.  Know that you are not alone; there are many active Latter-day Saints who experience SGA or who have unanswered questions about this issue. One of my friends at BYU who struggles with SGA told me that for a long time, he thought he was literally the only one in the whole university who had these kinds of feelings.  That is a very depressing and unhealthy way to live, and it definitely is not true.  It would be an easy thing to let depression and despair overwhelm you, especially if you have been unsuccessful in trying to change your orientation, but I plead with you to hang on.  Remember the words of Nephi, who acknowledged that he did not know the meaning of all things, but nevertheless testified “I know that [God] loveth his children.”  You do not need to bear this burden alone, there are many resources where you can find help and support.  Seek out close friends and family members with whom you can confide and discuss your trials, missteps, successes, and goals.  Speak with your bishop, chances are he has counseled with others in your situation.  If you attend BYU, you have access to free counseling where you can confidentially work through your feelings with an empathetic professional.  The website NorthStarLDS.org is a wonderful resource and community for Mormons who experience SGA, with the aim of helping them stay active in the church.  Above all, search out the best in life and enjoy the abundant blessings of the church and the fellowship of the saints.

As a community, it is my fervent hope that our attitudes on the issue of same-gender attraction can be open and tolerant.  That does not mean we need to compromise our beliefs or condone sexual activity outside of marriage, but we should always strive to love (and stick up for) our brothers and sisters as God loves each and every one of us: unconditionally, no matter our struggles.

Austin Smith is a senior majoring in Computer Science at BYU who finds himself spending more time reading about his hobby of politics than he probably should.

COLUMN: Where Have All The Good Men Gone?

Written by Jess Jones on . Posted in Politics

Jess Jones

Jess Jones

Good grief, Charlie Brown! It seems like the GOP can’t get a break. As you’ve most likely heard, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford has confessed his extramarital affair to the world, thus ruining both his public image and his hopes for the 2012 presidential race. On top of that, Republicans are still recovering from Nevada Senator John Ensign’s recent revelation of his adulterous rendezvous with a close family friend and employee. What is the deal?

In my original writing of this column, I had included a large portion of witty remarks that made light of both Ensign and Sanford’s predicaments. After a late night attack of conscience, I decided to rewrite my remarks to be more suited to the gravity of the situation. The truth is this: two families are broken (hopefully temporarily) and the GOP has lost two front runners for their cause to promote family values. Writing scathing comments to merely spice up my column would not only be low, but extremely callous and rude on my part.

In all seriousness, my heart goes out to these men and their families. I hope that episodes such as these are few and far between. It goes to show that any party is susceptible to flaws and indiscretion. Perhaps the answer lies in ensuring that we as citizens and potential leaders in society check ourselves to see if our values and actions reflect those we use to promote our political agendas (assuming that we have such an agenda).

At the same time, we can see that these men perhaps were not always as philandering as they have been of late. Sanford’s letters reflect recognition that he and his Argentine mistress both realized the impossibility of their romance, but slowly gave in to their emotions.  Nobody is perfect; this much is clear. Perhaps both Sanford and Ensign could have avoided such a media feeding frenzy by either resisting or resigning before they were publicly flogged for their actions.

However, is it me, or is there more hype on these scandals than others in the recent past? Maybe I’m getting caught up in the moment, but I don’t remember former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich getting such a bad rap and he was being accused of selling a Senate seat! I know that Ensign and Sanford are Republicans that have publicly clung to family values, but I hope that they are also given the same leniency.  Ensign’s affair happened over a year ago and Sanford is really trying to make amends to his family and his constituents as best he can.

With Sanford’s political fall from grace, the Republicans lose another potential presidential nominee for the 2012 race. Although this is minuscule in comparison to the impact on his family, it definitely raises the question as to whether the GOP will have a viable, electable nominee for the next “Big Dance.”

Nevertheless, we can see through sad experiences that men (and women), regardless of rank and title, are subject to temptation and folly. I wish the best for these men and their families. My hope is that we drop the stereotypes of both parties and accept that it’s not the party that makes the leaders who they are; rather, it’s the leaders and their values that make the party what it really is.

Jess Jones is a conservative political columnist for Rhombus.

COLUMN: "Bravo, Mr. Obama"

Written by Jess Jones on . Posted in Politics

Jess Jones

Jess Jones

Before you look to see if I have abdicated my column to a more liberal author, hold on. It’s still me, Jess Jones, that conservative nut job. During the years of President George W. Bush’s presidency, Republicans whined, wailed and gnashed their teeth over all the negative press that he received from the “left wing conspiracy” of mainstream media. They sneered, saying that no one ever publicized the good things Bush did (and yes, for all you “W”-haters out there, he did do some good — even if it was only providing incentive for people to tune into Will Ferrell’s impression of him on SNL).

In an attempt to avoid being a part of a similar conservative bias against President Obama, it’s time for me to cross the aisle and shake the president’s hand for the stance he has taken against Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

For those of you, like myself, that have been somewhat unaware about the debates and rivalry between the United States and the Iranian government, let me get you up to speed. You most likely know two things: Iran is flirting with nuclear technology and the United States is a little nervous about it. What you may not know is that Iran held a Presidential election on June 12th between the incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Prime Minister Mir-Hossein Moussavi. The country’s Interior Ministry proclaimed Ahmadinejad the winner of the election with 63 percent of the vote, while Moussavi  supposedly garnered a mere 34 percent. Moussavi cried foul and deemed the results as fraudulent. He and his supporters have taken to the streets of Iran’s capital city of Tehran in protest. But unlike the American tea party protesters of April, these Iranians weren’t just ignored by major media networks. No, sir. They were met head on by riot control and many were beaten, arrested or killed.

In what some Republicans would call a less-than-timely response, President Obama extolled the protesters for showing “bravery in the face of brutality.” He further slammed Ahmadinejad’s reaction as “outrageous.” The Iranian president demanded an apology, but Obama just waved off the comment. How about that? Someone isn’t happy with Barack Obama. I guess you can’t win ‘em all. I do have to give the president kudos for his stance against Ahmadinejad. It may have been a little delayed but still, it’s nice to see the U.S. sticking up for others again. After his attempts to kiss up to the Muslim world a few months ago, it’s comforting to see Obama take a stand against unacceptable behavior.

I guess this goes to show that strength and resolve can come from both sides of the aisle. There just may be a common cause and purpose that exists in both Republicans and Democrats: the protection of liberty and democracy. Perhaps you will find reasons to criticize or second-guess the president’s motives — but for the time being, I say, “Bravo, Mr. Obama. Bravo.”

Jess Jones is a conservative political columnist for Rhombus. He makes a concerted effort to say one nice thing about a Democrat each year, whether he wants to or not.

POLITICS: The Only Option

Written by Daniel Anderson on . Posted in Politics

There is an argument you’ve probably heard over and over again if you’ve ever discussed politics in the state of Utah: “The government should not get involved with ________. Markets will naturally fix things better than the inefficient government will be able to.” Conservatives frequently employ the same argument as a major reason why the Feds should stay as far away from health care as possible. And they’re wrong. Economically speaking, the health care market is the victim of circumstances that prevent it from acting like other markets.

If you’ve ever seen the bill after a routine check-up, it won’t surprise you that Americans pay more for health care than any other nation on the planet, including a whopping 53% more per capita than Switzerland, the next closest country on the list. Costs are so high precisely because the aforementioned ideal, competition-friendly circumstances simply do not exist in the health care market. Let me explain: In a standard market for a regular good, price is kept in check by the idea that, if the price escalates too high, consumers will either stop buying the product or they will seek it from a different source. In the case of health care provided by private insurers, both key checks on price escalation are absent. Consider for a moment this exaggerated, but telling example:

Let’s pretend that you have health insurance, and you develop an ingrown toenail. As such, you head on over to the family doctor to take care of it. After the quick visit, you go to pay the bill and are taken aback when you see the balance: $4 million. Although startled by the price, you eventually settle down once you remember that your insurance is taking care of it. You pay the $25 co-pay and are on your way. Your insurance gets the bill, and they’re excited because they’re not really paying for it either. They’re a corporation and they cover the cost (and bring in profit) by ramping up your monthly premiums, as well as those of your fellow insurees. At this point, neither you nor your insurance company have directly borne the burden of the $4 million bill, and the hospital is raking in the dough.  In this type of situation, no consumer will stop purchasing insurance (especially with the high cost of medical care) and there’s nowhere else to turn besides insurance companies who are trying to make a buck (the bigger the bill, the bigger the premium, the greater the revenue). Is it any wonder that U.S. health care premiums have risen at five times the pace of wages in recent years?

Here’s the even bigger problem: Uninsured people develop ingrown toenails, too — except the results are much worse.  A recent Harvard study found that 62 percent of declared bankruptcies occurred as a result of unforeseen medical expenses. But don’t think purchasing private health insurance exempts you from such financial hardships: the same study also reported that “78 percent of bankruptcy filers burdened by health care expenses were insured.” (Emphasis added.)

This is really happening every day in our country: average Americans with average incomes become ill and are bled dry by the enormous costs of health care. Don’t these people deserve to receive care without ruining the livelihood of their entire family? Aren’t the health problems bad fortune enough?

The latest proposal from the White House seeks to balance these injustices, in the form of a public option — an affordable, government-run health insurance plan for those who want it. Economically, it provides the competition necessary to reign in the price of health care and is not being imposed on anyone. Those who enjoy the runaround and hassle of a private insurance company are more than free to keep paying overpriced premiums for insufficient coverage.  With a public option, those who cannot afford the “joys” of private insurance will at least have some means to get the treatment they need. Let us be clear: from the perspective of the American citizen who already struggles with outrageous premiums, outlandish insurance company shenanigans and insufficient coverage and care, this needs to happen — quickly.

In addition, and perhaps most importantly, whether you agree with the economic thought or not, a staggering 72 percent of the American public would favor the implementation of such a plan, according to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll. 72 percent. Hardly a slim majority. This makes the outrage currently bellowing from the right side of the aisle seem more than a little misguided. In my estimation, it would be a terrible shame to see our representatives, elected to serve the will and interest of their constituents, ultimately reject a policy that clearly holds the favor of the American people. If helping the millions of Americans constantly affected by the exorbitant costs of health insurance does not provide enough incentive for members of Congress to act quickly and boldly, hopefully the notion of upholding our most basic constitutional principles and ideals will.

Daniel Anderson currently serves as Rhombus’ resident armchair economist. We’re not quite sure what that means, but he seems to have a vague idea of what he’s talking about — and that’s good enough for us.