Monday, June 9, 2014

Aspen Dental or Teeth into Debt

Remember that saying, "If it is too good to be true it probably is", ? Well, it is still holding true. Some scams like the Nigerian emails are easy to spot and ideally, there would be better economics and finance education along with fair lending standards to render title loan businesses unnecessary and non-existent. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

When I saw the Coming Soon sign for Aspen Dental in my area, I thought it odd because of the high concentration of dental offices in the area. Instinctively, I thought, something is awry here, but I surrendered that thought to hope. I hoped that this would be for people of low incomes seeking dental care, what retail clinics are bringing to the basic medical care of those with low incomes--options and access. My hope was heightened after the building was complete and I began to see advertisements indicating Aspen provides affordable dental care for the uninsured and under-insured. This is fantastic, I thought. The free market at work. The needs of the people being meeting wealth generation sans predatory practice. Retail clinics have proved profitability is possible offering a needed service without fleecing the poor. Although research shows that most retail clinics are in areas of higher socio-economic status and fewer are in areas with health professional shortages, there has been little indication that the clinics have been used as fish farms for up-selling or incorrect diagnoses to generate additional income. There has been some concern related to unnecessary prescriptions being written and filled at the owning pharmacy. However, there have not been extensive studies to track and analyze the data. Thus, it was fair for me to have hopeful expectations of Aspen Dental and the other corporate dental facilities cropping up around the country. Silly me.

What I had compartmentalized, was what the dental industry had become in recent decades. The industry in and of itself had become an amalgam (pun intended) of upselling of cosmetic procedures and over-treatment. There is nothing inherently wrong with offering additional cosmetic services so long as the procedures are truly billed as such. Yet, in some cases, that wasn't what was happening. Healthy teeth are being drilled and filled. Teeth could be saved with basic dental procedures, yet the dental industry was promoting more expensive procedures that in extreme situations wouldn't be cosmetic, but in situations where there are options for saving a tooth versus extraction and replacement with an implant, an implant would be the "cosmetic" and or more expensive and thus more profitable for the practitioner option. Just take a look at some of the reports here. It is a real tragedy. The professionals with the knowledge and skills you should be able to trust are taking advantage of their patients.

Would Aspen Dental be the same? So far, it appears that the answer to that question is yes. While being marketed as affordable dental care, a Frontline investigation found several occurrences of low-income patients walking into offices for fillings or extractions and walking out with debt in the thousands for dentures that they didn't need. The investigation also found high pressure tactics being taught to office managers and care providers to be used on patients to meet billing quotas and revenue targets. What is really horrific is that along with treatment descriptions, patients are too frequently given credit applications to cover the cost of the expensive and unnecessary treatments. In effect, Aspen Dental is the pawn shop or title loan store for dental care. Patients who could be treated with inexpensive procedures are upsold expensive procedures and debt. Aspen Dental and its in house creditors win. Patients lose more than their teeth. They lose much needed money for years to come.

In situations like this, we can't and shouldn't rely upon government regulations to save our poor from this debt trap and tooth demon. We must educate all of our citizens on the dangers of predatory lending even in medical and dental care. We must also seek ethical practitioners and seek more information on their ethical and affordable payment plans for necessary treatment. What is happening in the dental industry, shouldn't be happening.

If you or someone you know as been a victim of Aspen Dental or any other corporate dental practice's unnecessary and unscrupulous treatment, contact your local Better Business Bureau at so at the very least we can improve awareness of this issue. Your state consumer protection agency may also be able to help. The best help in these cases is prevention. Take care of your teeth and when problems arise, don't be misled by unethical practices. Search for reviews and recommendations from people you know and trust.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Stripping, the Sex Trafficking Gateway

Jada Pinkett Smith is in Atlanta shooting her CNN documentary on sex trafficking. During shooting, she had an epiphany that she shared on a CNN vlog. In her video, she shares what she has learned from interviewing women who are part of the sex trafficking industry. One of the women reveals that her entry into the industry started with her choosing to become a stripper. She began selling sexual favors intermittently and it has now become her life.
The woman began stripping with excitement, as a means of being one of those women who is aggrandized in hip hop culture, music, and now apparently contemporary culture. Hearing this, Jada and now I, realize the generational disparity. Like Jada, I was always told and my generational culture reinforced that stripping was for women from the bottom (Yes, this is the language/word used in my household). Stripping or so called erotic dancing was degrading and for women of lower or no class. That's it and that's all. There was nothing praiseworthy or respectable about this profession regardless of the amount of money earned or celebrity bedded.
What changed? When? Looking back, I now see the genesis of the cultural shift. Movies like The Players Club, which was released in 1998, ushered a more sympathetic view of stripping and became a cult classic in the process. In that movie, the main character, Diana, played by LisaRaye, is lured into stripping as a means of making more money she was making in retail to care for her child. Diana meets and begins dating a disc jokey (played by Jamie Foxx) and later leaves stripping becoming a reporter. Henceforth, stripping was idealized--becoming the contemporary fairytale, a stepping stone to a better life. I loathed the movie from the beginning and have yet to understand its appeal. The Players Club was not the only movie to depict stripping as a means to an end during that period. There was Striptease starring Demi Moore and Showgirls which was released in 1995.  These kinds of movies combined with the seemingly innocuous films like Pretty Woman change the perspective of stripping and prostitution to near fairytale status. Film was not the only industry to exalt stripping. The music industry has been the most significant influence of making stripping an appealing profession to young women who would have otherwise viewed it as a degrading profession. Insert almost any contemporary hip hop or rap song and any of several R & B songs and you'll hear at least one reference to the wonderful world of stripping. Women themselves have also joined the stripper glorification game with songs like Rihanna's Pour It Up
So what is the issue with stripping? Well, you take this pervasive cultural sanitation of a previously ignored and stigmatized profession and combine it with an industry that feeds upon these kinds of lax attitudes towards selling the simulation of sex (because truth be told, that is what stripping is) and selling sex and you have cornucopia of targets for the sex trafficking industry. Young women now view stripping as a job no different than being a hairstylist. I recently spoke with a stripper who told me she was "actually a real trained dancer." Stripping is a means to an end and not just any end nowadays. It is an avenue to become a video vixen who later becomes a reality television star and then an entrepreneur. It is a means to hundreds of thousands of YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook followers. In many a young girl's minds, it ends in fame and fortune, only that is far from how it ends for the majority of young women in the industry. Too often it ends in prostitution or sex trafficking.
It is a gateway profession which brings me back to Jada's epiphany. She says that it is her age that has distorted her understanding of this. Hearing this, I realize that I was on the cusp of this generational gap. I came of age or into womanhood during the period when entertainment first began to aggrandize stripping and had friends who didn't really think stripping was bad by any means. While others of us saw it as just an avenue to drug abuse and/or prostitution. Fast forward 15 years and more and more young girls and women see stripping as a means to meet and procreate with or marry a celebrity or to become a celebrity in their own right.
We must do better.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Trust & Betrayal

An acquaintance and I recently had a conversation about trust in relationships. He has always been of the mindset that once trust is broken or betrayal is established, the relationship is irreparable. I disagree.

We both have arrived at our views from our individual experiences. He grew up in a household where there was not trust and betrayal was constant. The people who were supposed to care for him, did so intermittently and when care was present, it was only moderately so. I grew up in a different kind of household  in which care was constant and trust was rarely breached; it it was it was not intentional. Thus, his life experiences tell him that if someone fails you once at any level whether intentionally or unintentionally, they can't be trusted. My life experiences tell me something entirely different--that people who love you are fallible, but mostly trustworthy. When they fail, because the mutual love, respect, and overall history of having proven to be trustworthy, they can earn forgiveness and regain trust.

I think this is especially true in intimate relationships. There have been two experiences in particular that have most influenced my beliefs on trust and betrayal. The first and earliest came from my grandparents divorce. As a young child I had not known that they had divorced because today they are buried together and when my grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer's it was my grandmother who cared for him until his death. Many years later, when I was a young adult, my mother told me that they had in fact divorced when she was a young child. My grandfather filed and my grandmother felt deeply betrayed at the time telling him that if he did it that was it; she would be done with him. In time, they mended their relationship and when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, she did not hesitate to take him in and care for him although she had previously declared that she would have nothing to do with him after the divorce.

The second experience is that of a very close friend. She and her husband were unfaithful to each other. Upon the discovery of each others infidelity, they were headed for divorce. Instead, they attended therapy for many months and remain married. I've known both of them since the beginning of their courtship and their marriage is much more solid than before the betrayal.

I will say that it takes mutual respect and understanding and most important a mutual desire to rebuild trust and work for it.

I think the difference between my acquaintance and me is that I view trust as a living component of all relationships that varies in strength at different times. He views it as an all or nothing. I choose the belief with more optimism.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

This Ain't Steve Jobs' iPhone 5

I'll be the first to admit that I was not an early adopter of the iPhone. I didn't adopt a device until 2009 when I bought a second hand 3G handset. After a couple of weeks of a learning curve (I'd been using a Samsung Blackjack which had buttons--as I'm typing, I'm thinking how old that reads.), I really began to like my device. Okay, I'll admit it, I loved it. It was everything I wanted and needed in a smart phone, but didn't know. Since then, I've obtained and still have a 3GS and an iPad 2. I'm fond of my Mac devices, but am no fangirl.
The release of the iPhone 5 has left me not only underwhelmed, but dismayed by Apple's departure from the legacy of its late leader, Steve Jobs. This brings me back to the genesis of this entry. There is an adage, "You can't miss what you never had", well some where, some how, Steve Jobs discovered the weakness in this adage and exploited it in every iteration of the iPhone he oversaw. He proved to the world, particularly late adopters like me, that you can miss what you never had. Now we have the latest version of the iPhone--the first to be released postmortem and it is as clear as the touchscreen glass of the device and yet so simple a concept that its subtlety is indeed too complex for everyone other than the most attuned visionary to grasp--the iPhone became the iPhone, because it delivered what we needed, not what we wanted. It has been intuitive by capitalizing on the best jailbreak features and integrating those into an interface that reacts like involuntary muscles.  The iPhone 5 still does all of this, but nothing more; and that's the problem. Without the notoriously harsh leadership of Jobs, Apple didn't push the limits, didn't reset the boundaries. Instead, Apple did what HTC has done, given consumers what they wanted--a larger screen and a faster processor. Meh. With Tom Tom, Apple has rid its devices of Google Maps, and that's good, but it isn't great.

Perhaps my expectations were too high, but if that is so, Apple set them there. I just wanted, after two years, to be wowed. I hoped for that new thing that I had a feeling I needed in a smartphone, but couldn't articulate. The ability to lock particular folders or applications (a jailbreak feature I love), the ability to text without entering the application, perhaps the ability to take a quicker photo from a locked device. I don't know--something I hadn't thought of because my mind isn't yet that free. I'll keep jailbreaking because this ain't Steve Jobs' iPhone.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Bobby Tillman

Today, the friends and family of 18 year old Bobby Tillman are grieving over his senseless and tragic death. I too share in the grief and can't imagine what his mother must be enduring. The AJC reports that Bobby Tillman, who had just graduated from high school, coached youth basketball and planned a career in sports management. He reminds me a great deal of my brother and his photographs and physical similarities suggest we could have most certainly shared kinship. Fair skin, small frame, gray eyes. This young man was simply engaging in an activity common among those his age. He was not at a club, he went to a house party and there in the drive-way of the home, he lost his life to a bunch of hoodlums who don't deserve to share oxygen with the rest of us.
What possessed these punks to beat another human being? What justification is there for such brutality? Why did none of the nearly 60 onlookers intervene? What kind of parents must the other boys have for their children to be so disconnected from the value of life?

I am deeply troubled by this incident. I like to think that most people would act with integrity and stare evil in the eyes with courage and the vow to defeat it. Those boys are evil and yet it seems no one intervened. In PSYCH 310, we learned about a similar case, the case of Kitty Genovese which resulted in much research and reporting of The Bystander Effect. Of three dozen witnesses to her murder, no one intervened. In psychology, this occurs due to a transference of responsibility--the idea that someone else will intervene, someone else will act with courage and integrity. What if Malcolm, Frederick Douglas, Thomas Jefferson, and others waited or depended upon someone else to do what was necessary to defeat evil?

In the words of Edmund Burke, "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing." Sunday morning, evil triumphed and a mother is burying her son.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Taking Offense...

I find it really ironic, no actually, I find it a marvelous demonstration of hypocrisy for those who proclaim love of the Constitution and decry excessive government involvement to take such grave offense to the construction of an Islamic Cultural Center and Mosque near Ground Zero. Mike Luckovich, editorial cartoonist for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, has provided wonderful perspective on this issue in both his 8/18 illustration and his 8/13 one. This pseudo hysteria is both sad and alarming. It demonstrates the lack of integrity and rational thinking that is now pervasive within American culture. Of course a minority group within the opponents of the structure continues to say this is not about the center’s legal right to be there, but rather is about the offense of it. Yet, we all know their goal is to have their offense reign supreme and result in construction plans being canceled. In the US, we enjoy significant freedoms because we perpetually pay a tremendous personal price of respecting the freedom of others even when we find their exercise of said right an egregious offense.

In his 8/19/10 Forbes editorial, Warren Meyer writes a wonderfully objective article about the issue. I concur with him and admire his integrity. This is less about offense and more about those offended respecting both their freedom and the freedom of those by whom they allege to be offended. I am deeply offended by the sagging pants that adorn the male youth of today. I am even more offended by poor grammar, particularly by the incorrect use of reflexive pronouns, an error President Obama has committed. Yet, I would not protest outside of the White House that he should no longer be allowed to speak or that he be levied a fine. Nor would I petition state legislatures to bring forth legislation making such an offense a misdemeanor. First, it is an assault on the very freedom that I am exercising by declaring my offense. Second, it is an enormous waste of time and energy when we certainly have bigger fish to fry. The irony in it all is that the very people who want the offense to their sensibilities addressed are some of the very people who say blacks are too easily offended by matters of race. Pot is that you? It is I, Kettle!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Apple Fanboys

Apple Fanboys are the most annoying group of droids (pun intended) since Jonestown. They take any and every criticism of Apple and their dear leader, Kim Jong-il—eh em, Steve Jobs. Apple fanboys are rabid in their response to any and all criticisms of Apple products. It is utterly impossible for one of them to accept any fault in the business practices, much less the products marketed and designed by Apple (I won’t even get into the suicides at the manufacturing factory where the products are made).

First, Apple designs some great products that are visually appealing and enable the creatively inclined to bring wonders to life much more easily than a MS operating system ever has. With that said, everyone makes mistakes, just as Toyota. I have an IPhone 3G and it works well. I experience dropped calls in two areas on the same street each and every time I drive through there, but I know this is an issue with AT&T. I do not own an IPhone 4, but I’ve followed the issues with the antenna design. From the anecdotal responses by fanboys to these stories, one would believe these incidents are only isolated to four or five people even though Apple acknowledges otherwise.

I do not begrudge those who have chosen to purchase the IPhone 4 in spite of the apparent flaws with the antennae. It is a great product otherwise. I find it really sad and disappointing that Apple and its fanboys are unwilling to accept criticism and instead act like ungrateful adolescents. The truth is, it was insulting to tell customers they are holding the phone wrong; it was juvenile to later acknowledge problems only to point the finger at other smartphone makers; it is absolutely inane for fanboys to support Apple’s tacit stance of return the product for “more deserving” consumers—as one fanboy so eloquently commented on Forbes. This is an issue of operating a business with integrity which involves apologies when something—albeit beyond the control of the company—goes wrong. Apple has essentially said some people are too stupid and gullible to own or use its products. The company is right; its fanboys are too gullible to be critical and walk away if necessary from a product while perhaps not inferior by market standards, is inferior by the standards the company itself has set.

If I visit my favorite five star restaurant and during this visit receive sea bass that is less than perfection and even worse, over-cooked, I would be appalled if the owner responds to my concern with “I ate the fish wrong.” Further, such a response would make me wonder if the five star reputation is well earned. For fanboys to defend such uncouth behavior is disconcerting to say the least. It is setting the stage for Apple to become the next Microsoft—heaping inferior products onto the market simply because idiot consumers don’t know they hold the power in a capitalist economy.

Apple demonstrates American arrogance and hypocrisy--unwilling to be criticized because of prior triumphs in excellence and unfortunately taking on the persona of those whom they previously criticized and defeated for acts of tyranny. When Toyota was the center of media attention for alleged sticking accelerators, the company president was contrite and pledged to resolve the issue the issue following an investigation. It is apparently a cultural thing, and this is one culture that has no shame.

A smartphone that doesn’t work well as a phone isn’t very smart.