Roar Dental

Note: This post is a migrant from Yelp.

Roar Dental logo

Dr. Dipali Jain, the dentist who handles adult patients at Roar Dental, is even more amazing than the tooth fairy. In the treatment room she’s professional and considerate. She explains oral health matters clearly and respects her patients’ concerns when recommending next steps. Outside the treatment room she’s no less thoughtful. When a billing issue arose after my visit, she swooped in to resolve it. The front office had informed me that a basic cleaning would cost $100 when I called to schedule one. Lo, an additional $120 charge materialized ($220 total) for an oral exam I hadn’t scheduled or been informed of. A teeth-grinding, back-and-forth, email-and-phone exchange ensued. Then something magical happened. Dr. Jain called me herself to apologize not only for the misunderstanding but also for the subsequent hassle AND offered to waive the extra charge. This review is an expression of my gratitude.

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the perks of peer pressure

By their mid-teens, Americans have been solicitously schooled in the perils of peer pressure. The perils are real, so the preaching is understandable. But what about the benefits of peer pressure? Not the peer pressure that leads to smoking, unsafe sex, and other foolishness. I mean peer pressure that incites healthy behavior. Sometimes the people we associate with pressure us into doing something good.

Like what? Like living our lives instead of fretting them away. Like spending a night out with friends who energize us instead of spending another night in with Netflix. Yes, movies and other art forms can energize us too, but not in the same way as human interaction. There’s an immediacy and vitality to socializing that art cannot replace. Our peers have a special power to dislodge us from the rut of habit. The expectations of our classmates, coworkers, and friends can throw our own expectations into cutting relief. They trouble our assumptions, make us reconsider the way we live, and occasionally induce the most marvelous of miracles: permanent, meaningful change for the better.

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the persistence of peer pressure

persistence of peer pressure image - DARE shirt

Once upon an adolescence, “peer pressure” was a nebulous threat. School counselors warned against its corrupting influence as though it were Satan Jr. Peer pressure was what induced young people to smoke cigarettes, drive drunk, and have sex when they didn’t really want to. Grades 6 – 8 were rife with awareness-raising classroom visitors, discussions, videos, and pamphlets.

All of that benevolent propagandizing probably kept some teens out of trouble. But what about later in life? What about people who deftly navigated their teenage years only to flounder in adulthood?

Peer pressure doesn’t disappear in adult life; it mutates. Instead of pushing you toward condemned behavior, it often pushes you toward approved behavior. Teens are pressured into breaking the law and flouting propriety, while adults are pressured to follow social custom by settling down with a spouse and a full-time job. The pressure comes mainly from example, not exhortation. It comes from what your adult friends are doing and aspiring to rather than what they’re urging you to do. So what? The pressure is no less crushing for being less direct.

persistence of peer pressure image - wedding ring

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Musical Dramedy, Part 2: Atomic

SJ - AtomicIf Nazism can be drafted into a musical, why not the making of the atomic bomb? Don’t tell mama, but the team behind Atomic has done just that. They don’t shirk their mission, either. The show examines life pre-bomb, post-bomb, during the bomb’s making, and, most bravely, at the moment of detonation.

The results, like those of the bomb itself, are mixed. Among the most forceful is the evocation of the innocent victims. Atomic opens with a young couple seated across from each other, conversing in Japanese. Nothing is illuminated but the screen behind them, so they appear as silhouettes, foreshadowing their obliteration. We can barely see them and may not understand them, but we remember them. Their image haunts the scenes to come, set far away in Europe and the United States.

The rest of the musical has its moments, as when three factory workers making bomb parts go all Andrews Sisters. But no moment approaches the power of the first until, well, guess. The show is loaded with flashing lights, and the bomb’s explosion is their dazzling climax. Their integration with a wordless slow-motion sequence in which the Japanese couple from the beginning are laid low generates such emotional and physical intensity that audience members may have to look away from the stage.

Despite its occasional spectacularity, Atomic lacks the flair of Cabaret. The sentiments of its love songs are numbingly conventional. The moral agony of its lead, physicist Leo Szilard, is expounded at such length and volume that it becomes a different kind of agony for the audience. The musical is most gripping when it holds tight to history, as with the interrogation of J. Robert Oppenheimer by the House of Un-American Activities Committee, or when it is subtle, as in the opening tableau.

Both Atomic and Cabaret are ambitious yet honorable in their efforts to dramatize historical horror. But only Cabaret warrants its own place in history.

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Musical Dramedy, Part 1: Cabaret

SJ - Cabaret photoIf ever musical theater was pure entertainment, the curtain has long since closed on that era. “Long since” means for at least 74 years. From the 1940 premiere of Pal Joey onward, the art form has sanctioned the impure. Thank goodness for badness! If not for musical comedy’s dark turn, Cabaret might have been Fräulein Schneider’s Finishing School.

Instead, it’s a racy representation of Weimar Germany and the rise of Nazism. The current Roundabout production does justice to the injustice. A protean Alan Cumming presides as master of ceremonies. He is both emcee at the Kit Kat Klub, a nightclub in 1930s Berlin, and a transcendent specter who passes in and out of other characters’ scenes. Oh, and he serves as emcee of the musical itself, pulling audience members on stage to dance and greeting those in the balcony with a “Hello, poor people!”

Other vivid performances come from Linda Emond as Fräulein Schneider, a German landlady, and Danny Burstein, the ill-starred Jewish grocer who courts her. But even they are sometimes upstaged by the dancing. A chanteuse at the Kit Kat Klub tosses her cigarette on the floor, and the stomp with which she extinguishes it slides into a choreographed routine. Later, as Nazi influence grows, a kickline of chorus girls snaps into a military march. That the shaper of this movement is Rob Marshall shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s seen his fierce Chicago.

What attracted Marshall to that John Kander and Fred Ebb musical may be what drew him to this one too. Both works are proudly seedy. Both milk style to deliver substance. The big difference is that Cabaret has more substance. Better yet, it has soul, and Marshall, co-directing with Sam Mendes, taps into it.

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Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Guess Who's Coming to DinnerMore like Guess Who Isn’t. Every major character and many secondary ones assemble for a momentous repast at the end of the movie. The occasion is an impending marriage, which would have been an elopement in a less staid script. The biracial couple is Joey (Katharine Houghton) and John (Sydney Poitier); the year is 1967. Both sets of flabbergasted parents are present, as are an approving clergyman (white) and a disapproving servant (black). But the parents are less disconcerted at dinnertime than they were when they found out about the marriage plans in the afternoon, and anyway, doesn’t love conquer all? The conventional happy ending suggests yes, but it’s not a resounding yes. A sexual swerve near the beginning intimates a more complicated reality. About a minute after John enters Joey’s house, he notices Dorothy, a ravishing young woman who works there, and ogles unapologetically. He plays off his interest as a joke, and Joey treats it that way too. But later, when John withdraws to the study for a phone call, Joey shuts the doors “in case Dorothy goes by.” Joey and John are in love, both by their own assessment and that of others. So what’s the deal? Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner insinuates that love isn’t black and white. It isn’t even African American and Caucasian. It’s grayish, clouded with shifting feelings. Loving one person instead of another, like Joey instead of Dorothy, seems to be a choice as much as it is anything else. For John, it may even be the right one.

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Samsung Galaxy S5

What a dumb smartphone. The Samsung Galaxy S5 is tricked out with features: a fingerprint scanner, a heart rate sensor, and water-resistance are among the flashiest. There’s nothing inherently objectionable to any of them, but there’s nothing vital about them either.

The fingerprint scanner is no more protective than a PIN code; according to Samsung, they both provide “medium to high security.” And the scanner is actually less effective than the “high security” of a password. In conclusion? Gratuitous.

The same goes for the heart rate sensor. As a reviewer on Android Central observes, “If you need to keep track of your heart rate for athletic or medical reasons, chances are you’re already doing so with more specialized (and accurate) equipment.”

At least the phone’s water-resistance has a little practical value. You can go swimming with your Galaxy S5 and take photos of fish or pool tiles or the Loch Ness Monster or whatever you find down there. But not too far down—the water-resistance only works in depths of a meter or less. Whee.

Photo 74What makes these otherwise indifferent trappings obnoxious is that they’ve been prioritized by Samsung over the basics. Voicemail on the Galaxy S5 is worse than on the dinky flip phone I had in 2003. That phone at least notified me if I received a voicemail; now I have to check my voicemailbox manually by hitting an archaic symbol on the touchscreen keypad to dial the voicemail number of a robotic lady in Galveston who tells me how many messages I have and starts playing them one by one. Are Samsung executives scrunching their eyes shut and pretending the iPhone’s visual voicemail menu never happened?

Voicemail is one of the phone’s most vexing disappointments, but there’s no shortage of others. The very size and shape of the Galaxy S5 are encumbering. Perhaps the designers went big and unwieldy as a poetic tribute to the model name? Holding the phone one-handed takes getting used to, which might be a nice way of saying resignation. Even then, the awkward feel never completely fades, especially not while texting. Speaking of—the phone breaks incoming texts of more than a couple lines into multiple messages which it then arbitrarily reorders. As in, the third part of the text arrives first, the first part arrives second, and the second part arrives last. I don’t read these messages so much as decrypt them.

Take heed, ye innocents. Avoid my error and yield not unto hype. Galaxy? More like black hole. Don’t get sucked in.

Posted in the material world, undesirables, unnatural phenomena | 3 Comments

“modern improvements”

Henry David Thoreau on “modern improvements”: There is an illusion about them; there is not always a positive advance. . . . Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end, an end which it was already but too easy to arrive at; as railroads lead to Boston or New York. We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate.

You tell ’em, Henry David. Them thar clear-eyed observations apply as much to twenty-first century technology as to railroads and telegraphs. I’m not the first blogger to make this connection, but it bears repeating, if not “sharing”.

When Thoreau wrote that contemporary inventions “are wont to be pretty toys,” he was speaking metaphorically. These days, inventions often are pretty toys. Candy Crush Saga? Angry Birds? Farmville? Okay, you counter, but the primary invention in such instances is the device or digital platform on which the playing happens. True, but when Facebook and smartphones are used like toys, they become toys. Not to denigrate the capacity of such technology to work wonders great and small—I probably wouldn’t have encountered the quotation above if not for the free copy of Walden I downloaded on my Kindle.

Time for the takeaway. Thousands of years of technological development have passed, but humankind is essentially unchanged. People are still killing each other, still having sex, still practicing religion, still making art, and still trying to improve their lives. As Thoreau implies, more time should be spent reflecting on what “improvement” actually entails. Google it if you dare.

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The Seven Year Itch

The Seven Year Itch movie posterNobody’s perfect, not even Billy Wilder. The hand that wrought The Apartment, Double Indemnity, and Some Like It Hot scratches less deftly than usual at the The Seven Year Itch. The primary irritant is Richard Sherman (Tom Ewell), a married, middle-aged publishing professional. He’d be the movie’s comic hero if only he were heroic and funny. But no, he’s a grating caricature of his career and demographic, rubber-stamped for midlife crisis. Wilder and co-screenwriter George Axelrod make him publish his thoughts in declaratory monologues, like the one he blathers after meeting The Girl (Marilyn Monroe) moving into his apartment building. “Maybe I should have asked her in for a drink. Make her feel at home. After all, we’re one big family here. Oh, no, no. I’ve got to get to work on the Brubaker book.” Listening to such lines is like having an itch scratched with a razor instead of a fingernail. Thankfully there is Monroe, a soothing daub of aloe vera. Sexuality and simplicity alike waft from her, nowhere more so than in the iconic sequence of her standing in a white dress above a sidewalk grate to cool off, the underground drafts billowing her skirt. Moments like these—monroements—relieve The Seven Year Itch. Still, they are but moments and do not touch the sustained stimulation of Wilder’s best work.

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Some Like It Hot

Some Like It Hot movie posterThose who like it hot will like this movie. Their glasses are apt to steam up from watching, just like those of Joe (Tony Curtis), a con artist who gets cozy with Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe). Those who prefer it cool and dry will also like this movie. “We won’t breathe a word,” murmurs Joe when he and his buddy Jerry (Jack Lemmon) inadvertently witness a hit job and catch the notice of the trigger-happy gangsters. “You won’t breathe nothin’,” replies the mob boss. But they do, because Some Like It Hot isn’t really a gangster movie. It’s a comedy that spoofs gangster movies, not to mention Cinderella romances. Sugar Kane makes for a passably ingenuous Cinderella, though her wardrobe has more in common with Jasmine and Esmeralda. The problem is that the prince is also wearing a dress. That would be Joe, who, along with Jerry, disguises himself as a woman and joins a traveling female band to elude the mob. The love story that ensues is as absurd as you could wish, complete with a female-on-female impersonator kiss. But then, isn’t every love story absurd?

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