Nobility, a Thought

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A particular TV show has been recommended to me quite often of late, several of the recommendations coming from Christians I respect.  I don’t have cable, satellite or Netflix, though, so my only way to watch would be through the purchase of DVDs.  Before plunking down that kind of money, I thought I ought to do a little research to see what the show was like.

Adventure, swords … “A lot like ‘Lord of the Rings’” one good friend told me.  That did sound intriguing.  Based on what I had read, though, I asked him, “But doesn’t it have a lot of nudity and graphic sex?”  He replied, “I don’t pay attention to those parts.”

Based on the fact that he is a male, with a wife an children of his own, I immediately concluded that he was lying.  More on that (maybe) in a minute.

Another person who I talked to about this show assured me that “I don’t let my kids see those parts.”  He didn’t deny seeing them himself.  And secondly, notice that neither of these people denied that the show contains copious amounts of nudity and sex (not to mention graphic violence—something I don’t have as much trouble with but maybe I should).

Before I go any further, let me be clear (as a politician with a particularly opaque behavioral pattern is fond of saying), I am in no way advocating for censorship of this show (or any other) or even a boycott of it.  I realize that freedom of speech is easily abused, but I have a great fear that if it is infringed upon (in the case of a TV show like this, for instance) the next infringement will be on my freedom to preach the gospel or write things like this.

Still, I can’t help but think of the Apostle Paul’s words when he wrote (or said, I happen to think he dictated his letters), “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”  (Philippians 4:8, for those of you keeping score at home.)

Is this a command?  Even if it’s not, even if it’s just a suggestion on Paul’s behalf, I think two questions are worth asking in light of the current discussion: 1] what benefit is gained by following it; and 2] what are the consequences of ignoring it?

The benefit of following is a mind (and heart and life) filled with light.  The danger of ignoring, is that we let darkness—even if it’s just one hour’s worth of darkness a week—into our lives.  The same thing could be said of much of the TV, movies, music and books we let into our lives.  Does every word we read need to be Scripture or written by Max Lucado or CS Lewis?  No, but I think it’s worth asking what this “entertainment” I am choosing puts into my head [it stays there, I can’t pretend it doesn’t when I hear a song—even a worship song—I haven’t heard since high school and still can sing along with every word] and how it is influencing further thoughts.

Comic book from Samuel Ben White now available on Kindle!

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The first issue of my adventure/humor comic book, “Burt & the I.L.S.” is now available on Kindle and Kindle Fire!  Read more about it here!

In the vein of “Terry & the Pirates”, with a healthy dose of “Cottage & CO” humor thrown in, “Burt & the I.L.S.” is the most fun you’ll have with your Kindle today!  And it looks just as good on a standard (black and white) Kindle as it does on the Kindle Fire!

Click on the pic to the left there to get a peek at the first page.

“Do Not Let Your Heart Be Troubled”

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There I was, reading my Bible in a mostly daily fashion when I hit this like a tree thrown in front of a stagecoach in an old western:

“Jesus said, ‘Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust in me.’”  (John 14:1)

Why did that verse catch me so?  I know I’ve read it before.  May times, in fact.  I’ve heard it quoted many times, too.

And that was the thought that came to mind when I first came to a stop on this verse.  I wasn’t thinking about past readings of it, but of a past quote.  “Most of a quote” I should clarify.  For, in the movie adaptation of “Fellowship of the Ring,” it is Galadriel who says to Frodo, “Do not let your heart be troubled.”  (I looked it up—by reading the whole novel—and yes, she says it in the book, too.)

Galadriel is promising a rest from weariness to Frodo—and the rest of the fellowship—if they will but tarry a while in Lothlorian.  Thanks to the skill of the elves, they can keep the bad guys out for a while.

It’s a great line from a great movie (and even better novel), but it’s also just that: a line from a movie.  And, even within the context of the movie, it’s not a blanket statement.  Galadriel knows that what she is offering is only a temporary respite.  Eventually, Frodo and company will either have to get back out on the road/river, or evil will break down the defenses of the forest.  Like other stops along their path (most notably: Elrond’s house), Lothlorian can only shelter them for a time.

Jesus’s promise has no such temporal qualifier.  He goes on—in the next few verses—to promise his followers a room in the very house of God which won’t wear out.  No evil will ever encroach on it, let along get inside to spoil it.

Yet, there is something he asks of us—a key to the door, you might say: trust in God and trust in him.

How hard is that?  Incredibly simple, isn’t it?

Until we try it.  Then, it turns out to be one of the hardest things we’ve ever done.  Especially in the good times.  When laying in a hospital bed, or sitting next to one and watching a loved one slowly slip away, it’s pretty easy to trust in God if for no other reason than, “What else can I do right now?!?”

Often, it’s harder to trust in God when things are going great.  Bills are paid, no one in the family is sick, and there’s a good show on television.  It’s hard to trust in God at those times because we don’t feel an overwhelming need to do so.

As I write this, the wind is whipping by outside the window with such ferocity I keep looking up expecting to see pieces of the roof flying by.  It occurs to me to trust in God to keep the roof (and steeple) on because I sure can’t do anything about it.  But if I lose all or part of the roof, so what?  It’d be a pain and inconvenience, but not much more.  It might even do me physical harm or, if I’m lucky, kill me, but big deal.

That’s nothing compared to trusting God and Jesus with … everything.  Not just life or death moments, but those simple little moments that might turn into heaven or hell moments—for me or someone I’m called on to minister to.  I think that kind of trust comes only with practice and complete surrender.

Do I trust enough to surrender?  Can I surrender enough to trust?

Sick of Nostalgia

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As my laptop cratered earlier this evening, I thought about getting mad, but then I thought: why bother?  It’s what computers do.  They wear out on us.

Some people, whose intelligence I will try my best not to disparage, say at a time like this, “Oh, for a good old typewriter!  Am I right?”  And then they begin to list all the advantages of a typewriter: instant hardcopy.  No problem when the power goes out.

And then they’re pretty much stumped.

See, I “grew up” on a typewriter.  I remember the typewriter we had in our house growing up in Abilene, Texas (official motto: “We’ll think of one eventually”).  It sat on a bureau in the kitchen, right under the wall phone, where a quick label or even a short letter could be banged out by anyone in the family at a moment’s notice.  Mostly, it provided people with something to do while listening to a boring phone “conversation” (i.e. monologue) from someone whose feelings you didn’t want to hurt by hanging up on them though you wouldn’t have minded hitting them with a hammer.

As I grew older and became enamored with the power of words and a fascination with producing them on a typewriter, I began to lug said typewriter to my room, where I would type on stories until the wee hours—much to the chagrin of my sisters who were in the next room.  And did I say “lug”?  That may be too mild of a word.  Our family actually had a typewriter that was (probably) advertised when new (sometime during the Harding administration) as “portable”.  I can just see the ads in “Life” and “Colliers” that probably showed some smart, trim-looking woman wearing the height of fashion, stepping happily down the street, carrying our typewriter as if it weighed no more than a bagel—and it was conveniently shaped like a purse, too!

In reality, it weighed something more than a beagle and had all the aesthetic charm of an anchor.  The keys were all made out of metal that had only partially been melted down after the Merrimac was decommissioned and were guaranteed to stick every time you tried to type too quickly a word with a “th” in it … or a vowel.

The ribbon!  Who can forget the joys of typewriter ribbon?  How many people in nursing homes today landed there because of the alcohol they drank to try and forget the typewriter ribbon?  For those of you young enough to not have any idea what I am talking about, as you typed on the keyboard of a typewriter (whose keys were arranged in the same non-alphabetical order as what you see on your modern keyboard), tiny little metal “things” would strike a black “ribbon” and print “letters” (and even quotation marks) on the paper you had—hopefully—remembered to insert in the typewriter.

For a while.  Eventually, the ribbon would run out of “black” (or even red, remember those?  The typewriter with the duel-colored ribbon which, in theory, allowed you to type the New Testament but usually just produced writing where the top two thirds of the letters were black and the bottom third was either red or non-existant?).  When the ribbon ran out of black, you were supposed to replace it.  Except that only the people in the State Mental Home for the Chronically Overprepared had spare ribbons on hand (or knew where they kept them—we sometimes owned several new ribbons, but they hid in the backs of closets until unneeded).

This is where typewriters became really fun, kids!  All typists believed that, somewhere on the ribbon that had been in their typewriter for several senatorial campaigns, there was a “sweet spot”, a place on the ribbon where there was enough black to finish out the letter to Aunt Rose you were typing.  So you would hand-wind the ribbon back and forth, looking for that spot, only to find that—yes, there was SOME black left but, unfortunately, by that time it was all on your fingers.

And have I mentioned those erasers that were supposed to be capable of erasing typed print but were actually little bits of sandpaper shaped like an eraser and designed to, with two quick strokes, rub a hole all the way through your paper?  I haven’t?  Well, don’t get me started.

Yes, I want to boot my laptop (not as in “reboot”, but as in “kick it like a football”), but I have just enough brain cells left to know I don’t want to go back to a typewriter.  Maybe I’ll just write all these things out in pencil and tie them to the feet of birds—any bird will do, I’m sure—with express instructions to take the message to the High Plains Observer.

Hole-y Cow!

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In one of the more alarming news stories you probably missed from the great state of Indiana (official motto: “We have a motto!”), holes are forming and disappearing at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

Now, officials are quick to tell us these are not like the sinkholes we’ve been seeing on the news that have swallowed houses and—in one of the most tragic events of our young century—several classic Corvettes.  No, these are little holes that are only about a foot to eighteen inches wide—barely big enough in which to lose a small, cherished, family pet—which appear for a day or two and then DISAPPEAR.

Yes, you read that right.  The holes appear in the sand dunes seemingly out of nowhere, and then they fill back in.  If you’re like me, the first thing that comes to mind is a thought like, “What’s for lunch?”  The second thought is a more thoughtful one like, “Sounds like a problem that solves itself.”

Researchers at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, which is near the wonderfully-named Indiana town of Michigan City, however, are extremely worried about this phenomenon.  One of the main researchers, Geologist Erin Argyilan, is said to break into tears at the mere thought of these mysterious holes.

She is also said to be seven months pregnant in the article I read.  Now, pardon me for being an insensitive and misogynistic chauvinistic pig for thinking this, but could some of the tears have been caused by the hormones of pregnancy?  I remember when my wife was expecting our first child and—I’m not kidding—once broke down crying because the self-serve line at the grocery store wasn’t open.

Having holes that randomly appear and disappear in one’s landscape, I can see where that might cause some alarm, but tears?  Then again, maybe she’s worried about losing something in one of those holes, something she really cares about, like her car keys or something.  I shouldn’t be so quick to judge.

There is much speculation about what is causing the holes.  These sand dunes apparently cover an area that once had trees, so some people are speculating that, as the trees underneath the sand decay, they eventually collapse and a hole is formed, which then fills up with the blowing and drifting sand.  Living in the Texas panhandle, I can understand the concept of blowing and drifting sand.  I can’t really picture it filling in holes, though.  All the sand that has blown into my back yard these last few days, none of it has filled in the holes the dog dug.  (“Dog dug” is a fun phrase, say it to yourself a few times.  See what I mean?)  No, the sand that blows into my back yard will very carefully cover the one section of the yard that actually has grass.  This way, I have to go out there and rake the sand away from the grass like I’m in some kind of weird golf course, in hopes the grass doesn’t follow the rest of my yard into the great beyond.

But I’m not sure about this concept of trees.  I’ve heard of them, but what are they?  I would call Geologist Erin Argyilan, but I don’t know how long ago the article I read was written and she might be in labor by now and I hate to interrupt her at a time like that.

A Jacket, But Not for Cold

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I venture to guess that most of us, if we have ever thought about dust jackets, have not thought much about them.  In fact, up until my having mentioned it, the vast majority of both my readers have probably never given them much thought at all.

What exactly is the purpose of a dust jacket and why is it called that?  Without going to the extraordinarily tiresome work of looking things up, I’m going to guess that someone, at one time, got the idea of wrapping a book in an extra layer of paper (as if there weren’t already a lot of paper in the book!) so as to keep the dust off.

The problem, someone quickly pointed out (there are always people ready to point out problems), was that with the book wrapped up in paper like that it made it awfully hard to get at the readin’.  It was then that someone else hit on the idea of only wrapping up the cover.  This solved the one problem but still left most of the book—especially that part full of reading matter—exposed to the dust.

At this point, the publisher probably just gave up and started drinking.

Now-a-days, the purpose of a dust jacket is to a] look attractive; 2] provide a few details about the contents of the book; and c] snag on things so that the cellophane tape people can stay in business.  (Oh, and, it also serves a fourth purpose as we use it to mark our page, unless it’s a book that is so thick that the dust jacket flap can’t reach as far as we’ve read but that’s OK because we probably weren’t ever going to finish that book, anyway.)

If a book were to lose it’s jacket, it’s not like it’s in danger of catching cold like some inattentive second grader who may have left her jacket in either the art room, the science class, or Aunt Nell’s.  If a book loses its jacket, about 99.9% of what made the book worth having to begin with is just as good as it ever was.

However, as a voracious reader [note to self: try to find a dictionary and see if that’s the word I meant], if I am reading a book that came with a dust jacket, I generally set the jacket aside until I have finished the book.  This is partly because I want it to stay pristine.  Why I care, I’m not sure.  If I have any friends who are likely to walk into my house and mumble under their breath about the ragged shape of my books, they have kept their voices so low I never knew what they were saying.  But maybe they aren’t saying anything because I’m one of those OCD people who, when it comes to books, can read all the way through a paperback without leaving any noticeable creases or breaks on the spine.  The pages turn yellow and fall out before I break the spine!

Anyway, the other reason I take the dust jacket off while reading a book is because if I don’t, another one of my personality quirks kicks in and my reading constantly gets interrupted by having to reposition the jacket as it has somehow slid up or down on the book.  “This book is really interesting but, oh my!  The jacket is poking a full eighth of an inch above the hard cover!  Zoot alores, or whatever it is the French exclaim!”

I say all this, though, because there is one other thing I like about dust jackets.  Sometimes, when you take one off, you find that the publisher has placed some attractive embossing on the hard cover.  Maybe it’s a symbol from within the book or maybe it’s just the title or the author’s name, but I always feel like I have uncovered a tiny little treasure.  Here’s this neat little picture, evocative of the whole book, and most people will never see it because they don’t look past the dust jacket.  Kind of my own little secret message from a publisher I’ll never meet, saying, “Hey, this is for you, a token of my esteem for someone who likes a good book.”


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I have always been on the frugal side.  OK, let’s just get it out in the open and say “cheap”.  I realized yesterday I have become even more so than I used to be and, being a true “Generation X’er”, I look outside myself to place blame.

Yesterday’s revelation was brought to me—and, by extension, to those of you who are reading this—by a desire for a softdrink.  It was about eleven o’clock and I suddenly had a craving for a soft drink (Dr Pepper was my preferred drink, though I wouldn’t have turned down a Sprite).  I didn’t get one, though.

Do I have incredible will-power?  No.  In case you forgot: I’m cheap.  The problem was not the calorie count but the time of day.  See, if I had had the craving just one hour and one minute earlier, I could have slaked my thirst—or craving—at Sonic, where all large drinks are cheap before 10 a.m.  If I had had my craving just three hours later, I could have gone to “Happy Hour” at any one of a number of establishments and gotten a drink large enough to do bladder damage with a single serving for as little as 79 cents.

Speaking of “Happy Hour”, back when I was in high school in Abilene, Texas, they opened up a new Mall (called, wittily enough, “The Mall of Abilene”).  One of the businesses that opened up in the brand new mall was a semi-upscale restaurant—for Abilene, anyway—which had applied for a liquor license.  There was much debate about whether a business located in a mall, where children might walk by, should be allowed to sell the Devil’s brew.  Eventually, the business got the license because it had a door with which, used judiciously, they could keep children out.  The unforeseen consequence, though, was that it left the local liquor board unable to turn down license requests from other merchants in the mall, which led to daily “happy” hours at Famous Amos’s Hot Dog Stand.  Up until that time, “happy” hours had been held behind closed doors so, if you didn’t go out of your way to participate, you never knew what they were really like.  Now, just walking through the mall like any innocent kid, I was brought face to face with the fact that people who drink alcohol at three o’clock in the afternoon—at a hot dog stand, anyway—look anything but happy.  I guess “Famous Amos’s Morose Hour” just didn’t have the right ring to it.

So anyway, for those of you still following me who haven’t recently attended a happy hour and can remember clear back to two paragraphs ago, I was able to quell my desire for a Dr Pepper not with will-power but with parsimony because the drinks weren’t on for cheap anywhere.  By the time two o’clock rolled around, the craving had gone.  Personally, I count that day as a victory in my personal diet wars.

Still, I can’t take the credit.  I give the credit for my lack of sugary drink yesterday—credit or blame, either word works—to those fast food places who host happy hours.  If not for them, I would have sucked down a large Dr Pepper (or Sprite!) between the hours of 11 and twelve yesterday.  It’s not my fault.

(Almost) Panic Time

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It’s almost that time of year that the men of America’s churches fear the most: that day of reckoning when we have to decide what to do about Mother’s Day.

This doesn’t seem to be a problem for women.  Women are just natural gift-givers.  I think it’s biological.  See, women have this ability to get sick, cramp up, get bigger, and then produce a baby.  If a man gets sick and cramps up and gets bigger, no good is going to come of that.

So when Father’s Day comes around, the women of the church get together and, in ten seconds, have at least eight great ideas about what to do for the men.  It’ll be clever and thoughtful and perfectly express the idea of fatherhood and Christian service and it will cost, for a church with one hundred men in it, about seven dollars.

The men, sometime in April, will be dragged together against their will and someone (in this case, me) will ask an innocuous question like, “What do we want to do for the women for Mother’s Day this year?”  Based on the looks on everyone’s faces, you’d think this group of men had just been told they’d all been scheduled for invasive probes from their urologist.

Eventually, someone will ask, “What about bookmarks?  Maybe with a verse about motherhood on it.”

I hate to be a wet blanket, but we did that last year.  And three years ago.  And then someone has the temerity to point out that the women of the church are now carrying Bibles that weigh in excess of ten pounds apiece, each volume now containing more bookmarks than sheets of paper.  (In the men’s defense, this is not just because of Mother’s Day.  Sunday School classes have been making bookmarks and giving them out for Christmas, Resurrection Sunday, Yom Kippur (even if they’re not Jewish), St. Smithens Day and Columbus Day (Italian congregations only).

It used to be easier.  Back before we had so many shopping choices, churches just presented the mothers with flowers.  A red flower if the woman’s mother was still living, white if she wasn’t.  Or, possibly, the opposite of that.

And then, someone got the bright idea of giving out “special recognition” gifts.  For instance, the woman with the most children present might receive a potted plant or the woman with the oldest child present would receive (this is where it started) a bookmark.  But then someone realized that the same woman was getting the special prizes every year, so the churches had to start coming up with some new categories.  “Mother with child who is farthest away” or “Mother with most generations of her family present” or “Poorest excuse for a mother.”

From there, it snowballed and it becomes my sad and unfortunate duty to call the men of my church together soon—I’ll put if off as long as I can—and ask, “What are we doing this year?”  Maybe as a gift to the women we COULD all go to the urologist and get vasectomies.

Look Who’s In the BIG Town!

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You don’t have to go far to find someone lamenting that Americans have a weight problem.  Turn on the TV and there will either be a “paid advertisement” for a weight-loss or exercise system (“use our machine and in just six weeks you’ll look as good as Chuck Norris or Christie Brinkley!”) or a news story about the “obesity epidemic”:

“Officials at Southwest Airlines have announced that the ‘flight’ from Oklahoma City to Dallas will now just be a bus ride down I-35 because the planes can no longer lift off with all that weight.”

There is plenty of finger pointing.  Some people think it’s because not enough healthy food is available.  “If only the people in poor neighborhoods would have more access to kale and chard,” says one prominent person who we often see on TV touting the healthy, back-to-basics lifestyle while she and her two daughters embark on their third multi-million dollar vacation of the month, “Then they would be better off!”

Many scientists who have studied these claims take accep … excep … acc … DISAGREE with the assertion on the grounds that, well, no one, no matter how much money they make, likes kale or chard.  In fact, many theologians argue whether chard is either a] a direct example of the curse all mankind received when kicked out of the Garden of Eden or 2] not even an actual food.

The next step in the blame game is to blame the restaurants.  It’s because the restaurants serve fatty foods that Americans are getting, well, fatty.  This is obviously true in the same way that it’s always the gun’s fault that murder is committed and has nothing to do with the person who pulled the trigger.

This leads to the inevitable “journalistic endeavor” of the guy who eats nothing but fast-food hamburgers for a month, washing them down with milkshakes, and then announces, “Surprise: I’m now fat!”  This, of course, leads to another person who eats at the same restaurant for a whole year and then reveals, “I didn’t gain any weight at all!”  This is followed by another person who eats at that restaurant for every meal for five years, except that he died of a coronary sometime in the middle of year three but the restaurant never noticed because he had slipped under table 4 and no one at that restaurant has EVER swept under table 4.  Finally, another man comes forward with receipts saying he has been eating at that same restaurant for eighty years and even has the receipts to prove it which just goes to show that OCD has been around for at least eighty years.

Maybe it’s because of the hormones injected in the cows we get our milk from.  Maybe it’s from the GMO corn we eat.  Maybe it’s because people a hundred years ago worked manual labor whereas now we get winded doing the Sudoku puzzle on our Kindle Fire.  Maybe it’s the restaurant’s fault and maybe it’s the consumer.

Maybe it’s all of the above.  All I know is this: I’m hungry.

Weird Thoughts

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Have you seen the commercial for the cable television company that features a panda getting all excited because the cable guy has hooked him up with a channel of bear porn?  Shouldn’t this trouble us on a lot of levels, not the least of which is that pandas are marsupials?  A panda should be no more turned on by bear porn than, well, you or I.

I saw, this past week, the perfect fill-out of an NCAA basketball bracket.  In large letters, across the whole thing, someone had written with a Sharpie, “Baseball starts in two weeks.”

Victoria’s Secret has come out with a line of Major League Baseball-themed apparel.  Or, MLB has come out with a line ofVictoria’s Secret-themed apparel.  Either way, I don’t see how this could possibly be good for society in general.  Is there really a need for a form-fitting, see-through jersey?  I’m guessing it’s for women who are convinced that the only reason their man watches so much baseball is because of the uniforms.  Uh-huh, that’s it.

Many people are lamenting that the ratings are way down for shows like “American Idol” and “Dancing with the Stars”, not to mention that “X Factor” is already gone and, it turns out, America May Not Have Had As Much Talent As We Thought.  The conventional wisdom is that these shows (and other “reality” shows, like “Survivor”, “The Amazing Race” and “CBS Evening News with Scott Pelly”) have just run their course.  It sounds like a reasonable hypothesis, except that how come the NFL, MLB and the NBA haven’t run their course?  People are still tuning in to them each week even though—on a surface level—the show is the same every time.

There was an article this week in one of the “major magazines” warning the Catholic Church that, if they don’t change some of their practices (i.e. “doctrines”) they were going to shrink and become irrelevant in this “enlightened age”.  As a matter of full disclosure, I am not Catholic, but don’t you just love it when someone who is clearly hostile to an ancient and venerated organization tries to tell that organization what they’re doing wrong?  What if the Catholic church would rather do what they believe is right than pander to someone they believe is misguided?

Is it better to shrink because you’re standing on principle or grow because you’ve succumbed to pressure?

I realize that some of the warnings that they broadcast at the end of a commercial for medications are unlikely to happen.  They tested the drug on 1000 people and it made one of them incontinent, so they have to warn us that taking the drug might lead to incontinence.  Still, how many times have I been almost interested in a product—because hey, who doesn’t want better-looking toenails—only to learn that taking the product might lead to my demise?  I’ll take the ugly toenail.  And doesn’t a pill for dealing with erectile dysfunction that has the potential of leading to impotency seem like it’s made the original problem a whole lot worse?!?

And, if that pill works so well, why are the man and woman in sep