COLUMN: The Collage Of Thought

Written by Jess Jones on . Posted in Politics

We here at Rhombus would like to take this opportunity to welcome our newest contributor, Jess Jones. Serving as our resident conservative political columnist, I believe Jess will bring the same fair, thoughtful tone to his columns that he does to his life. Though he and I may not agree on everything, I respect his ability to state what he believes and why he believes it. That quality is rare in our political discussion, and I hope you will appreciate and enjoy his candor and sincerity as I have.  — Steve Pierce, Editor

For those of you who have been frequenting this website and reading the posts of many of my colleagues, this will hopefully be the first of many articles that I contribute to Rhombus Magazine. I, like many people, am not an expert at writing, nor am I completely omniscient and logical. My articles will be written from my point of view with an effort to provoke thoughts and ideas for the reader to consider.

As I interact more and more with those around me and discuss the current issues in our society, it’s apparent that there are a wide variety of opinions and ideas for solving the distresses in which we currently find ourselves. My hope is not to plague my column with indoctrination of a conservative with the illusion of converting you to “The Right Wing Conspiracy”; rather, my hope is that you, as I have, begin to consider the issues for yourself and make educated opinions which you can defend and share with others. (I would be delighted if your ideas were posted to my articles.)

I myself, despite my current affiliation with the Republican Party, feel that America’s greatness resides outside of it’s dual-party system. If you take a closer look there is a myriad of differing factions within both parties: Flaming liberals, right-wing nut jobs, and more moderates than you could count. The important matter isn’t which side of the aisle you stand on, it’s how you make your decisions (be they right or wrong); but it’s that you make them for yourselves.

You may think of me as a moderate. Just know that I believe in a strong national defense, powerful states, and personal accountability and responsibility. I love America because it represents a nation where men and women have forged their greatness by their own devices. Our Legacy has been one of united discord, allowing free thought to achieve a common purpose, “A more perfect union.”

I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you and hope that we can consider these topics rationally and create a better awareness of the times in which we live.

Jess Jones is a conservative political columnist for Rhombus. This is his first post.

TECH REVIEW: Mozilla Firefox 3.5 Release Candidate

Written by Ben Wagner on . Posted in Tech

I began using Mozilla’s open source web browser Firefox in 2005 — and I haven’t looked back since.

With every new iteration of the browser, I’ve seen Mozilla upgrade the speed and compatibility of Firefox. With Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 8 showing significant speed upgrades, Apple’s Safari 4 boasting impressive Java benchmark results, and Google’s Chrome gaining ground, the pressure was on for the development team at Mozilla. They finally unveiled the release candidate for Firefox 3.5 this week and, after a few days of using it, I have my first impressions.

(Now, we must keep in mind that this is only a release candidate and in all likelihood there will be changes made before the final version is released.)

Firefox 3.5 adds some new features not found in previous versions. Some of the new aesthetic additions include improved private browsing (sometimes referred to as “porn mode”), which allows the user to view internet pages while the browser conveniently leaves the site out of the browsing history and doesn’t store any cookies the site would have placed on your computer. Mozilla also added a “forget this site” feature, which allows users to enter their history and remove any references to or from a particular site. There is also a “delete recent browsing history” option, which allows users to delete all information about what pages they have visited within a particular time frame (i.e. in the past hour, etc.) All these new features come in handy when your wife checks your browsing history to, uh, “see what gift you were going to get her for her birthday…” Mozilla also made improvements to the tabs on Firefox, allowing you to pull a tab off the browser and create a new browser window instantaneously. Other new features include more advanced color profiles and location based browsing.

The team has also been hard at work on the internals of the browser, features which aren’t necessarily obvious to the average user. One of the features the team seems most excited about is the way Firefox handles video in version 3.5. If a page is written in HTML 5 with a video in an open source format, the video is treated just as part of the page, not as a separate flash video. This helps push the web towards a more seamless integration of text and video.

Another internal upgrade with version 3.5 is the creation of a new JavaScript engine called Tracemonkey. Mozilla claims that Tracemonkey is 20-40 times faster then the Spidermonkey engine used in previous versions of Firefox. Early benchmark tests done by the team at LifeHacker don’t seem to reflect this, and show that Safari 4 and Chrome are still ahead of the game in the speed department, although Firefox is still the lightest on your system and far ahead of Internet Explorer.

After using the new browser for a few days, I feel there is a reason Firefox has gained such a large market share over the last few years (up to 22% by some reports). While it may still lag behind Chrome and Safari when it comes to speed, Firefox is much more compatible than Chrome and much more secure then Safari — not to mention that running Safari on Windows is a joke. Firefox is also available on Mac, Linux and Windows, unifying your browsing experience no matter what operating system you use. With all the available add-ons for Firefox, it is still the most customizable of all the browsers and allows you to add functionality for whatever you need to do. Firefox is still my browser of choice and should be yours too.

Download the Firefox 3.5 RC for Windows, Linux or Mac here, or check out the Mozilla Foundation for more info about other Mozilla Projects.

Ben Wagner is a technology contributor for Rhombus. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ben_wagner.

NEWS: Modest Mouse To Visit SLC In September

Written by Steve Pierce on . Posted in Music

Isaac Brock and Company, known to the world as popular indie band Modest Mouse, are coming to Utah. Take a minute to catch your breath.

The band announced the details of their upcoming North American tour on Tuesday and — surprise! — will make a stop at Salt Lake City’s In The Venue on September 1st. Considering the state of Utah’s general concert depression for the last x number of years, this is a boon — and one I really don’t understand.

For years it has seemed that good artists avoided Salt Lake City like the plague. No one would come near it and, if they did, it was only once every five years. Sure, we got the Gwen Stefanis of the world, but very few acts that didn’t completely suck.

Then (miraculously) the heavens opened and 2009 became the year of great concerts in Utah: the Twilight Summer Concert Series stocked up in a big way (Bon Iver, Jenny Lewis, the Black Keys, Sonic Youth, M. Ward, Iron & Wine, Okkerville River — all for free!) and the shows, big and small, have been pouring in ever since. Conor Oberst is playing a benefit at Library Square. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart will be rocking the tight confines of Kilby Court. The Killers will grace the E Center (but, to be fair, they do come every year.)

In years past, the aforementioned shows would constitute the all-time greatest summer concert line-up ever. Yet, in 2009, they serve only as an introduction, with so many great show slated for the coming months that I can’t even begin to name them all.

I’m not completely sure how to handle this, so I will simply fall to the earth and praise the Music Gods for blessing northern Utah in ways that we have not even begun to fully realize — but soon will.

CONCERT REVIEW: Mudbison (6/15)

Written by Steve Pierce on . Posted in Music

Indie-eclectic outfit Mudbison rocked Velour Live Music Gallery in Provo on Monday evening, ultimately bringing home the title in night one of the venue’s summer “Battle of the Bands” competition.

Led by frontman Spencer Russell, the new-look Mudbison tore through their five song set with a ferocity not generally associated with Russell’s solo material. The band recently downgraded to four regular players from its original six, and while the band was certainly smaller than in previous incarnations, their sound was definitely not.

The band opened the set with a slow-burning rendition of “Beastmaster,” beginning with Russell plunking out a lonely and simple keyboard riff before growing into a full-band explosion and climaxing in an extended instrumental bridge. Slots two and three of the five song set were occupied by up-tempo stomper “Momma Nix” and the thoughtful, Christian-tinged introspection of “Resurrect.”

The noncommittal crowd oozed apathy throughout the set’s first three songs — an attitude that completely changed beginning with the hard-driving rock of “Suburbia,” featuring a normally acoustic-clad Russell wailing on a hollowbody electric guitar and the gorgeous backing vocals of keyboardist Caitlin Duncan. The more dance-friendly beat of “Suburbia” segued effortlessly into the marching band-style drum cadence that began the band’s final song and the set’s biggest highlight.

With a lone drum solo (prominently featuring the wonders of a woodblock) eventually giving way to a catchy piano riff, Mudbison launched into “Tyranny,” the newest song in the band’s catalogue. Russell’s poignant lyrical pondering of the allures of “Satan’s plan” ultimately surrendered to the set’s best moment: an extended jam session that featured the frontman turning out not only classic rock-style guitar solos, but also a good measure of spirited cowbell banging and tambourine shaking as he barked out the shout-along chorus. Russell’s energy was infectious and the Velour crowd couldn’t help but clap along and smile — presumably in distant memory of Will Ferrell’s SNL Blu Oyster Cult character — when he finally blessed them with “more cowbell.”

Mudbison’s 30 minute set — like many of their songs — was a slow-build: the crowd was only casually interested for the slightly more delicate and nuanced beginning before getting all riled up by Russell and his mates’ contagious melodies and danceable riffs. The payoff was certainly worth the patience on both ends, as the band left victorious and the crowd smiling.

To learn more about Mudbison, visit their official web site. Also, listen to “Suburbia” (included below) and visit their MySpace page to hear more.

NEWS: Provo's Pennyroyal Cafe Closing

Written by Steve Pierce on . Posted in Food

R.I.P. Pennyroyal, our dear friend.

Today is a sad day for all that enjoy great food and a good place to hang out in Provo. The fledgling Pennyroyal Cafe, located on University Ave. in the heart of downtown, will be closing its doors after just a few short months of awesomeness. Tonight, June 24th, will be the bistro’s last night in business.

While many restaurants are currently suffering through the economic recession, many were hopeful that Pennyroyal would somehow pull through. Indeed, college students are some of the least afflicted by economic troubles and, as they represent the bulk of the Pennyroyal’s customers, should have been able to divert some of their food budget to this great cultural center. Alas, it was not to be.

Whether it be due to the stormy winds of a bad economy or the neglect of a culture-deprived Provo populace, the closure of the Pennyroyal Cafe will leave many with fond memories of its short life: the wonderful sandwiches, soups and salads, the revolutionary all-you-can-eat cereal bar, the many great musical performances and numerous charity events. The folks at Pennyroyal were always willing to open their doors to anyone and everyone and completely exemplified the true spirit of community. It’s a shame the same feeling wasn’t returned in full.

For those of you who feel like you’re losing a friend in Pennyroyal — or even if you’ve never heard of the place before — come down to to University Ave. tonight and pay your respects to great food and even better people.

Rhombus will be there. We hope to see you too.

NEWS: Obama Procrastinating "The Gay Issue(s)"

Written by Steve Pierce on . Posted in Politics

When Barack Obama was elected as the country’s 44th president, there was great hope amongst the LGBT community and their supporters that things would change. Gone were the days of Bush, Cheney (who, weirdly enough, turned out to be a pretty big pro-gay guy recently) and the like. In was the shining savior of the gay community, ready to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” overturn the Defense of Marriage Act and advance the cause of equality. Six months and a number of disgruntled LGBT supporters later, we get this:

President Barack Obama signed an executive order granting some benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees Wednesday, calling it “a historic step” but promising more action to come.

“We’ve got more work to do to ensure that government treats all its citizens equally, to fight injustice and intolerance in all its forms and to bring about that more perfect union,” Obama said.

The signing followed sharp criticism of the president over a Justice Department motion filed last week in support of the Defense of Marriage Act — which effectively bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex unions.

Obama said he still wants to repeal the act.

“I believe it’s discriminatory. I think it interferes with state’s rights, and we will work with Congress to overturn it,” he said.

Then do it. With many gay activists growing impatient with the president’s seemingly blind eye toward “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (even as valuable Arabic-speaking linguists were discharged from the military) and his Justice Department’s newfound knack for churning out pro-DOMA memos, the Obama administration had to throw them a bone – and this was the best they could do. In case you missed the horribly significant reforms made by the president in the aforementioned memo, let’s break it down:

The memorandum he signed Wednesday means same-sex partners of civil service employees can be added to the long-term care program, employees can use their sick leave to take care of domestic partners and children and same-sex partners of Foreign Service employees will be included in medical evacuations and housing allocations, according to the White House.

But it does not cover full health-care coverage, which would require an act of Congress, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

Then do it. Look, I’m all for equality under the law (yay, 14th Amendment!) and I realize that every little bit helps, but I need to see the White House throwing a little more skin in the game before I will be convinced that there really is “more action to come.” The worst part is that this isn’t just a matter of gays getting married anymore: there are bigger fish in the fryer now too. National security — how can we possibly operate an effective counterinsurgency strategy if we’re kicking out all the guys that speak said insurgents’ language? And that doesn’t even begin to breach the constitutional ramifications — 14th Amendment, equal protection, states’ rights, etc. The whole issue is a mess — one that we hired Obama to clean up.

Now I realize the man has a lot on his plate right now and that gay rights wasn’t a central plank of his campaign. I also understand the political side of the coin: Obama is currently very popular and possesses a great deal of political capital, but his supply is by no means infinite. He’s loading up his guns for a bitter and divisive health care battle this summer and expending capital on equally divisive social issues is probably not his top priority. He can’t do everything at once, but he can do more: He’s got 60 seats (with Franken) in the Senate.

Don’t play softball. Don’t back down at the mere threat of a filibuster from a minority party on political life support. Keep them honest: make the old duffers stand and read the phone book for 14 hours. Test their mettle. But don’t run away scared of Mitch McConnell and his ever-shrinking Gang of 40. Obama has the power here — elections have consequences.

The economy has been Priority #1, and rightfully so. Health care cannot wait and I understand that. But Obama has often been quoted as saying that presidents should be able to juggle multiple initiatives at the same time — and now is the time to juggle. He will never have more power and influence than he has right now, and he should use it to benefit an oft-ignored group that represents a key part of his winning electoral coalition.

They know he understands and believes in the changes that need to be made; now they just want to see him do it.

NEWS: "Family Values" At Work

Written by Steve Pierce on . Posted in Politics

The Republican Party’s formerly unbeatable battle cry of “Family Values!” (loose translation: “the gays are coming!”) is taking a beating from within this week as Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., admitted to doing a rather dirty deed:

Republican Sen. John Ensign of Nevada Tuesday admitted an extramarital affair with a woman who had worked for him.

Ensign would not identify the woman, but said both she and her husband had been “close friends.” Her husband, he said, also worked for him.

“Last year I had an affair,” the senator told reporters outside his office in Las Vegas. “I violated the vows of marriage. It’s absolutely the worse thing I’ve done in my life.”

It’s always nice to know that our guardians of moral certitude in this vile, vile world are actually engaging in the same debauchery they openly disavow everyday on television. But hey, let’s be fair: he is from Las Vegas.

Maybe good, ol’ fashioned “family values” take on a new meaning in Sin City — or maybe they just call it hypocrisy.