Great Moments in False Equivalency

17 Sep

1862: “You like slavery, I think it should be abolished. It’s really a matter of opinion.”

1941: “We’re going to have to agree to disagree about those gas chambers.”

1962: “You’re marching for civil rights, I’m brandishing a ‘No Colored People Allowed’ sign. We have different points of view.”

2016: “They’re both liars.”


Friends who like Trump

18 Aug

I’m not comparing anybody to Hitler, but please hear me out: Before the gas chambers, sometimes secular Jews sitting in cafes in Munich would see their German neighbors walk in wearing brown shirts and armbands. The Jews were filled with a mixture of indignation and sadness. They knew their friends had fallen for a con man promising jobs and a return to greatness – and blaming Germany’s problems on immigrants and foreigners. Indignation and sadness. If you are my friend and you like Donald Trump, please know, that’s how I’m looking at you.

Donald Trump Wants to Close You

22 Jul

Donald Trump will restore law and order. He will make things great. He will make you rich. He will take you to dinner and a movie. He will hold your hand when you are at the dentist’s. He will eliminate homicide, nurse your baby, rotate your tires, change the battery in your smoke detector, spit shine your shoes and give your crazy uncle the rim job he always dreamed of. Donald Trump will darn your socks, dam your rivers, drown your sorrows and dull your fears. He’ll cure cancer, put a man on Jupiter, win two marathons in one day and still have time to help an old LGBTQ lady cross the street.

Important message to any friends I have who support Donald Trump

20 Mar

Friends, I don’t want to talk to you about politics. Today I have come to talk to you about water. And not just any water, my friends. I’m talking clear, cool, running water from my tap. Yes, my friends, I’m talking about a big discovery that Catherine and I made at 8:43 this morning – a discovery so important that it has permanently altered our lives.

Turns out, the water flowing freely from our tap here in the great city of Philadelphia, P.A. cured my gout. Yes, indeed, friends, is there a man, woman, girl or boy among you who doesn’t suffer from an ache or pain? An itch, a scab, a bunion or a floater?

Friends, my tap water will cure what ails you. It’s PROVEN. It works. It’s a miracle. I’m talking about your ailments, your arthritis, bursitis, tendonitis, tonsillitis, sore feet, wrenched back, deflated lungs, pinched nerve. Do you suffer from daytime constipation? Nighttime urination? Dandruff, scabies, ringworm or impetigo? Drink my water, friends! It will cure you. It will make you great again. So great you won’t even believe it. You’ll be like, “This is too great!” And you will be right, my friends.

Dr. Greenstein’s miracle water treats head lice, toenail fungus, stiff neck, tennis elbow and whatever it is that causes cankles.

Friends… Because you are my friends, I am making you this one time offer. For the low, low price of $500 (plus shipping and handling, taxes may apply) I will send you by U.S. Mail a one-month supply of my Miracle Water. Just drink one glass and you’ll be saying, “H2 Oh My I feel better now!”

Send your check or money order! Call before midnight tonight!




Hillary Clinton’s Speaking Fees

3 Mar

If you’re a Democrat who doesn’t know the difference between the lobbying industry, patronage jobs, campaign finance and the professional speakers market, and you’re angry at Hillary Clinton for her big speaking fees, you may have been influenced by rhetoric from the same people who brought us “baby parts,” “death panels,” “welfare queens,” “Obama’s [non existent] apology tour,” “Benghazi,” “Willie Horton,” “IRS” and a host of other fake scandals.

Do yourself a favor: Before deciding that Hillary Clinton would risk her legacy for a $200,000 speaking fee, learn about the difference between patronage jobs, lobbying and speaking. The conflict of interest you think is there is not there.

If this “conflict of interest” keeps you home from the polls in November, or it prompts you to vote for a third party candidate for president, you’ll be voting Republican.

While I plan to vote for Bernie Sanders in the Pennsylvania Primary, I would gladly vote for Hillary in the general election if she’s the Democratic nominee. I like Sanders’s proposals, and Clinton is too hawkish for me. But she’ll make a better president than any Republican.

Democrats: Don’t fall for the right-wing hype!

Bill Cosby is Guilty

20 Jul

In 1979, when I was living in Boulder, Colorado, I met a woman in a bar. She was 26 years old – blond, stylish, gorgeous, smart and interesting. I was 22 – sloppily clad in faded jeans, sneakers and a grungy tee-shirt. I tried to pick her up. She was out of my league, but she must have found me amusing. She made it clear that I had no chance of going home with her that night or any other night in the foreseeable future, but she’d have a drink with me. So we did that. And we talked for a while. After that night we got together once or twice again, for drinks and conversation.

When I told the woman – whose name I have forgotten – that I was from Philadelphia, she had a visceral response: Her shoulders tightened; she frowned and composed herself with a deep breath. Then she told me that Bill Cosby had drugged and molested her in an Atlantic City hotel room.

At the time, I couldn’t process what she told me. After all, he was the Cos. I-Spy. Fat Albert. He was funny; he was accomplished. He was an educator and a role model. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe the woman. I just couldn’t wrap my mind around her story.

Not long after that, I met Catherine, the woman I would eventually marry. A few years later we left Boulder. As I mentioned, I can’t recall the name of the woman in the bar. And I didn’t think about her much for 30 or so years. Until recently, when the reports about Bill Cosby began to surface. The stories I’m reading in the news are exactly the story the woman told to me. Drugged and molested. She did not say he raped her. “Molested” was the word she used. This morning I read that Cosby has said he often did not engage in sexual intercourse, lest the women were to fall in love with him. He molested them while they were unconscious or in a stupor from the drugs he’d given them.

Back in 1979, the woman in the bar in Boulder was the only woman I had ever heard of who accused Bill Cosby of being a sexual predator. Now they’re coming out of the woodwork. It’s inconceivable to me that the woman in the bar was fabricating her story. How could she have? What are the odds?

Bill Cosby has never been arrested or indicted. But I know he is guilty.

Help Me With a Thought Experiment

20 Jun

Dear Friends,

I could use some help. And I mean it. This is not a snarky come-on, and I’m not intending to throw any rhetorical punches. I’m not trying to persuade you of anything. I’m trying to figure something out.

Let’s begin with a thought experiment and end with a challenge to you.

First, the thought experiment: Let’s suppose I decide to relocate to Israel next week. As a freelance writer and editor with clients all over the world, I can work from anywhere, and it would be relatively simple for me to move my home office from Philadelphia to, say, Jerusalem. Piece of cake.

Legally, of course, there would be no barriers. I’m Jewish, so according to Israel’s law of return, I’m entitled to move to Israel – make “Aliya” – any time I want, even though I have never been to Israel. The qualifier is that my mother was Jewish. That’s reasonable, and not without precedent, right? Had I been born in Canada, for example, and my mother were an American citizen, then I’d be an American citizen too. Thing is, my mother never lived in Israel, nor did she ever visit it. My father was never in the Jewish state either. But their mothers – neither of whom ever lived in Israel or visited it – were Jewish. This entitles me, a secular Jew, to be an Israeli citizen with the same civil rights as any other Israeli.

And now, the challenge: How would you go about persuading a Palestinian that my relocation to Israel is fair and just? Let’s say this Palestinian carries in his pocket the key to the house from which his family was expelled in 1948.

Please tell me how to have that conversation. What are a few talking points I should keep in mind? Which historic precedents should I cite? Thanks in advance. Let’s try to keep it civil.


My Actual, Unedited Correspondence with the Westboro Baptist church

30 May

—–Original Message—–
From: Louis Greenstein []
Sent: Saturday, January 09, 2010 1:48 PM
Subject: Request

Hi! If Rev. Phelps publicly pronounces that God hates me, I’ll make a
donation to your church or to any charity of your choosing. I love
you guys. You really bring people together. I think that is brilliant
and wonderful of you. But we both know God hates me. Heck, I’m not
only a Jew, but I’m an atheist, a liberal, and I write plays with
dirty words in them. If I’m not going to hell, who is? So, will Rev.
Phelps publicly state that?

All the best,
Louis Greenstein


From: “Shirley L Phelps-Roper” <>
Date: January 9, 2010 10:59:26 PM EST
To: <>
Subject: RE: Request BP

Dear Prating, Proud Pervert –

First – it is PASTOR Phelps, no human is reverend so get over it. Second –
YOU publically pronounced that God hates you, nuff said.

You are one luck rebellious Son of Jacob. In these last hours of the last
days of all, if God does not kill you in the pouring out of his final
indignation, and you instead wind up in some awful, brutal captivity
somewhere, there is a small possibility that you will be one of the 144,000
– the remnant of the House of Israel that is going to see in SHORT order
just exactly how abhorrent you truly are and you are going to understand
fully just exactly what you did when you murdered your Savior, and you are
going to be so ashamed that you will shut your stupid mouth and you will be
a proper Jew. You will look up HIM whom you murdered and you will mourn for
him like one mourns for his ONLY child!!

You don’t know, but God does, and so we tell you plainly, get the Bible,
crack and read the words and shut your mouth. If God has mercy upon you and
calls you in the midst of horrible affliction, we will NEVER mention these
stupid words you said here in your ears. Truly, and we will help you. You
see foolish Jew, by your words, you demonstrate that God has in fact
provoked you to jealousy by a people (WBC, YAY) who in times past, were NOT
his people!! Now, we are his people, and you are under his curse, and he
has sent us to you to provoke you to jealousy. Our God has said that
jealousy is the rage of a man, therefore, you had to get your ragged butt
over to the computer and rattle around and find a way to send your
goofy-gram trying to put a gloss on your rage! Yikes, it didn’t work, we
see it still!

The time is so very, very short, the Lord is coming, this nations
destruction is IMMINANT and The Beast even now is preparing to call the
nations to battle against Jerusalem and that city WILL be taken and their
houses rifled and their women ravished and worse and more, but then, good
things follow for those blessed few that God will have mercy upon.

Thanks for writing.

Shirley Phelps-Roper


From: Louis Greenstein []
Sent: Saturday, January 09, 2010 11:18 PM
To: Shirley L Phelps-Roper
Subject: Re: Request BP

Dear Shirley,

Thank you for your note. I will think long and hard about your
heartfelt message. You are a great person. You are passionate. I love
you and WBC – YAY! because you really bring people together. Keep up
the good work.


P.S. If Pastor Phelps will publicly pronounce that God hates me, I
will gladly make a donation to any charity of your choice.

P.P.S. I didn’t kill God. I’m only 53 and everyone knows God died
around 2,000 years ago. It could have been an uncle though. Sorry
about that.


Dear Louis Greenstein –

You cannot change history little man – you are bound by your forefathers.

Matthew 27:11 ¶ And Jesus stood before the governor: and the governor asked him, saying, Art thou the King of the Jews? And Jesus said unto him, Thou sayest.
12 And when he was accused of the chief priests and elders, he answered nothing.
13 Then said Pilate unto him, Hearest thou not how many things they witness against thee?
14 And he answered him to never a word; insomuch that the governor marvelled greatly.
15 Now at that feast the governor was wont to release unto the people a prisoner, whom they would.
16 And they had then a notable prisoner, called Barabbas.
17 Therefore when they were gathered together, Pilate said unto them, Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ?
18 For he knew that for envy they had delivered him.
19 When he was set down on the judgment seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him.
20 But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus.
21 The governor answered and said unto them, Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you? They said, Barabbas.
22 Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ? They all say unto him, Let him be crucified.
23 And the governor said, Why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out the more, saying, Let him be crucified.
24 When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it.
25 Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children.

You can’t change these eternal principals. In fact, you walk today under the curse of God for the sins of your fathers, and that is why you are a proud, prating pervert. I’m just sayin . . . There is NO forgiveness without repentance. When God sends you a delusion that making light of your never-dying soul is a good idea – YIKES!! It sucks to be you.


Shirley Phelps-Roper

P. S. Your money can perish with you. We don’t have any interest in it or need of it. The God we serve OWNS IT ALL!! He gives us what we need.


From: Louis Greenstein <>
Date: January 12, 2010 4:30:13 PM EST
To: “Shirley L Phelps-Roper” <>
Bcc: Barry Greenstein <>
Subject: Re: Request BP

Dear Shirley,

I admire your directness, your passion, and your obvious concern for the soul of this prating pervert. But wait: what makes me a pervert? I’m married, monogamous, heterosexual, and totally loyal to my wife. I don’t watch pornography and even before I was married I was virtuous “in that way” if you get my drift. I understand why you believe I am unrepentant, proud, and little (how did you know? I stand around 5’8″) – and I admit to all of that. But what is it that makes me a pervert? I’m curious.

Shirley, is there anything I can do to solicit a pronouncement that God hates me? How about next time you come to the Philly area, I fetch your congregation coffee while you’re working the protest. You do drink coffee, right? If not, I can bring you decaf, tea, juice, milk, pop, etc. But no alcohl. I don’t touch alcohol. and I have a feeling you don’t either.

Besides, if I give you some of my money, it’s not my money anymore – it’s yours (or God’s depending on how you view it). Money is fungible, you know?

Even if I cannot elicit a damnation from Pastor Phelps, I will always be your biggest secular fan. You’re doing good work; you’re proof of the old saying that “God works in mysterious ways.”

All the best,
Louis Greenstein

Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be

23 May

Remember the way nostalgia used to be? How we’d look back to simpler times. We rode our bicycles in the street back then. Who even does that anymore? And we didn’t wear helmets. Remember traumatic brain injury? Back in the day. Before learning disabilities. Back when you could still dare one of those weird kids to eat insects. We played lawn darts. We built incendiary devices and exploded them in the woods. We shot our eye out. With a bow and arrow from a toy archery kit. We played outdoors until it was dark. In plastic bags. While smoking non-filter cigarettes and drinking cheap wine. Purchased by pedophiles. Share if you miss those days.

The Books of My Youth

31 Mar

I’m thinking about the literature that made the biggest impression on me when I was young, between the ages of eight and fifteen, my formative years, when fiction made its big, first impression; when some days the only way to survive was by getting lost in a book.

Here, in no particular order, are the four books with the biggest bang:

  • Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White: I hated elementary school. Chatham Park in Havertown, Pennsylvania offered a perfect storm of mean teachers, foul-smelling bullies and numerous missed opportunities to diagnose a learning disorder that prevented me from being a high achiever. But there was one thing about Chatham Park that I loved: Mrs. Kemp, the librarian, used to read to us. My favorite was Charlotte’s Web. It was common knowledge that when Mrs. Kemp read it aloud, she would always invite a student to read the section where Charlotte dies (sorry for the spoiler). We all knew the reason for the substitute: Mrs. Kemp couldn’t help but cry when she got to that part. She was upfront about it, and about not wanting to blubber in front of a library full of kids. The really cool thing is that no one mocked her for that, not even behind her back. Everyone understood and respected Mrs. Kemp. This very real intersection of two worlds – fictional and social – made a strong impression. Even half a century later, I think of Mrs. Kemp often, and I’m grateful for the doors she opened by reading aloud and being emotionally honest about what moved her.
  • The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster (illustrations by Jules Feiffer): There must have been a few holes in Mrs. Kemp’s inner library because she never read us this children’s literature masterpiece. In fact, The Phantom Tollbooth was off my radar until I was fifteen. One night, in an ecstatic, hallucinatory haze, my friends and I climbed an enormous tree in the woods adjacent to a nearby seminary. The drugs and the trespassing were forbidden, but the conversation was among the greatest of my life. One guy – a friend of a friend, a short haired, corduroy-pants and white button down shirt wearing proto geek – held court, charming the rest of us with the tale of the Phantom Tollbooth. In case you don’t know the book, it’s a gloriously pun-drunk road trip story about a bored boy, Milo and his watchdog, Tock (get it?), and their adventure after Milo receives a surprise gift – a magic tollbooth. The next Monday morning, I bought a copy at my local bookstore and dove in. Milo’s journey swept me away. The humor kept me in stitches and the illustrations made me fall in love with the princesses Rhyme and Reason. From Milo jumping to the Island of Conclusions, to his car in which one must be silent (because it goes without saying), the wordplay delighted my brain, Milo’s adventure inspired my mind and the whimsical illustrations melted my heart. The Phantom Tollbooth reaffirmed that there is magic in our daily lives, even when we’re too self involved, bored, overworked, overwrought, or underwhelmed to notice.
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain: This was one of the first novels I read that was addictive, immersive, hard to put down and impossible to forget. I didn’t just read Tom Sawyer, but I experienced it – falling in love with Becky Thatcher, bonding with Huckleberry Finn, cringing from Injun Joe, marveling at Tom watching his own funeral. But more than that, Tom Sawyer’s moral development showed me that the novel is a delivery system for values. Writing and reading a novel can be a moral act and a transformative experience. From Twain to Dickens to Dostoyevsky to Vonnegut, from Woolf to (more recently) Donna Tartt to George Saunders, literature has always provided good training in ethics.
  • Siddhartha, by Hermann Hesse: Siddhartha is a great, small novel of self-discovery, compassion and spiritual growth. I read it when I was in eighth grade, and I never looked back. If Tom Sawyer opened the door of immersive story telling, Siddhartha blew the door off its jambs. After I read Siddhartha, arguably the greatest road trip of all time, I devoured everything by Hesse that I could get my hands on. From Demian, to Steppenwolf, to Narcissus and Goldmund, his works were remarkably accessible to my adolescent mind, offering a taste of the big ideas and spiritual salvation that great literature can deliver. Soon after that, I became a serial reader, consuming everything that C.S. Lewis, John Steinbeck and other favorite authors ever wrote. But Hermann Hesse was my first.

Since graduating from high school in 1974 I estimate that I have read a book a week. They weren’t all memorable, but each one touched me in some way, taught me something and inspired my own writing. I write because I like telling a good story, I’m curious about life, I believe in the transformative power of literature and I like working at home. I read because it is one of the most satisfying experiences in life – part escape, part adventure and part education. Few activities are as engaging – touching both my head and my heart; few make time fly by so fast and few have such a profound impact on how I see the world and its denizens.