Zen poetry – sort of – 1

Running down the forested trail

I look up to admire the path ahead

Stepping on acorns

I look down again.

Insanity makes it case

by Terry Plotkin

I read an article by John Bolton, a former Bush adviser who seems to believe that war is the answer to many of our foreign problems. He says that Secretary of State John Kerry is wildly wrong for making an agreement. This from a man who did everything he could to get us into an unnecessary war with Iraq to protect us from weapons of mass destruction that didn’t exist, and thought we would be greeted as liberators. How is that strategy working out? Similarly, Norman Podhertz writes in the WSJ his premise that war with Iran has to be fought now or fought later with nuclear weapons. Why should we listen to them? The neo-cons are up to their old tricks again with the relentless beating of the war drums. Fear. Fear. Fear all the time. What an excellent way to control the population.


Podhertz disagrees, as do I, with the critics of the deal who say you can negotiate a better one.  Given who our negotiating partners are – Russia and China – it is a miracle they even got this far without the sanctions crumbling. If no deal is reached and more sanctions are imposed, then, without question, Iran will try to make a nuclear bomb. The critics act as if they were in the room during the negotiations and know what is possible. Or that at some point Europe, Russia, and China won’t walk away from the sanctions and trade with Iran. Or that Iran will realize that the United States has no intention of making an agreement they can live with and will restart their weapons program regardless of what we do.

The neo-cons are saying what few people who criticize the nuclear deal with Iran believe but are unwilling to say, which is we need to go to war with Iran now and overthrow the regime. What they don’t mention will be the aftermath of occupying the country indefinitely. Iran is 5 times the size of Iraq, so take a moment to imagine how this would play out. And that is just one of the important issues to be faced.


A war with Iran at this point in time has the potential to have incredibly disastrous outcomes for many reasons.  I will mention just a few. The American people would not support another war, our economy could not handle it, the military doesn’t want it, untold innocent people would be killed by our guns, paid for by our tax dollars, thus triggering more hatred and more terrorism against us. Another war now in that part of the world would trigger even greater conflict than what we already see. Iraq, which is supported by Iran, could fall to ISIL, or at the very least turn against the U.S. The oil supply would not be able to move through the Persian Gulf, likely triggering a world-wide recession or depression. There is also the distinct possibility that the war will not go well and Iran will hold its own for a while. If Iran was being invaded or bombed they would go all out to build a nuclear weapon as fast as possible, Israel being the immediate target, thus triggering a nuclear war. This is not a far fetched outcome and it could happen in just a few months.


At the very least, this deal gives the world 15 years to figure a way out and a lot will happen in that time, possibly including a change in the government of Iran.

War is not the only alternative, as has been the case in most every war the U.S. has engaged, often with disastrous results. It is insane to start another one against Iran now out of fear that it might be necessary someday.  It is a lot easier to make a mess than to clean it up. And there is nothing messier in the entire world than war.




By Terry Plotkin



Monumental, life-changing decisions and events occur often with barely any thought going into it.


When I was 5 years old, my parents chose to enroll me in the first grade ahead of schedule, making me the youngest kid in the school. In their haste to get me started, they skipped kindergarten altogether. They did not make this decision because I was precocious or emotionally or physically mature. They made it because my brother, who is 11 months younger than me, would end up in the same grade as me and that would somehow be bad for us. I never have figured out why that would necessarily be true. Regardless, their decision did not work for me although they never knew it. I was the third out of four boys that my mother had in five years. There was not much of a possibility that they had the time to pay attention to the ramifications of their choice.  The results? I was put in the bottom reading group, had no friends, and was scared every day.  In short, I wasn’t ready.


Fast forward to 7th grade. I knew myself to be a fairly smart kid, but somehow the school missed the memo and sent me, still the youngest kid in the class, to a division that was tracked not to go to college. In my town that meant you were destined to work in one of the local factories. My parents seemed unfazed by this. They did not check in with me or the school about what might be best for me. I am sure they, like the school administrators, had a lot going on. For my part, I knew I wanted to go to college, not because I was desirous of an education, but was looking for a ticket out of town. The low division placed me with students who seemed to like to bully, which led to me to hate school, again with no social life. Nonetheless, I managed to get steadily improving grades despite my unhappiness and gradually, over four years, moved up to the top division and went to college. I even made some friends. Hallelujah.


I had no control over the decisions that were made. In my estimation, the elders’ – my parents’ and school administrators’ – judgments failed me. I would not choose this path for myself if I had it to do over again. It was not a good way to go through school. It definitely changed my life.  Yet overcoming adversity made me the person I am, and that perhaps pivoted me in a good direction. Yahhhh maybe.


On to college, a place I loved, at least the social part, but from an academic point of view I had no idea why I was there. I reached my junior year and still didn’t have a major. My brother encouraged me to try some courses and find a major before it was too late. I took an economics class at his suggestion. It turned out that the professor was one of the very few Marxist economists in the country. He was brilliant. I loved his class. He explained the assumptions behind the capitalist system and for the first time in my life someone addressed the question as to why things are the way they are.  It turns out why is a fairly radical notion that was taboo for most of my so-called education. I learned to critically think about how the world functions, who I was in relationship to it, and what my options were. That professor changed the direction of my life. Strange that happened because, given the big size of the class, he had no idea of my existence.


I never chose a career. I did work various jobs that never

touched my identity. I was well into my forties before a suggestion from a few friends changed my fortune.  The school where my children went started an after-school program and the parents were desperate to find someone who had the time and inclination to help run it. A friend asked me, and since it fit into my schedule and gave me a chance to be a part of my kids’ school, I said yes. I never had much interest in working with children until then. It was fine enough.

Two years later another friend told me in passing that a new small private school was opening up in my town in a few weeks and they might need someone to teach physical education. I had never heard of this school, but on a whim, went in there and talked to the administrators about a sports program. They were so busy setting up the school that they hadn’t given sports a thought, thanked me for coming, and said good-bye. The day before the school was to open they called me and asked me if I could take on the physical education and sports program. I asked them if they had a field? “No.” they replied. Equipment? “No.” A gym? “No.” A concept of how to run it? “No.”  A soccer schedule? “No.” OK, I said, I’ll take it. That school failed after two years because of money problems. The same people opened a charter school soon thereafter, and I have run the sports program there for 15 years.

Voila, an off-hand suggestion from a friend pursued on a whim somehow was parlayed into a career.


So there you have it: Little decisions, without much forethought, having enormous consequences. The timeline of history is really no line at all. Life can pivot suddenly in a new direction without a plan attached to it.  If there is any lesson in this I would say: Pay good attention to the moment at hand.









By Terry Plotkin

Some years back I was in a laundry mat and I was talking about karma with a woman who was folding her clothes. When I finished my theory about how it comes to teach us lessons she told me that her niece had been abused at the age of 13. She said if anyone tells her that it is “just her karma” she was going to slug them. Sometimes I know when to shut up. Besides, I couldn’t see any thread, justification, or life lesson that unfortunate girl might have gleaned from such a traumatizing moment in her life.


The same is true for many other things that happen. A child living within a civil war for example, or elderly people who watch their mental faculties disappear before they blessedly pass from this world.  I don’t know why they suffer, I don’t see any good that comes from it, and I don’t wish it on anyone.


So is there no justice in the world? Does karma operate? Are the world’s religions all wrong? Who am I to say?


Yet sometimes, some events, the thread of karma, of lessons, of cause and effect can be clearly seen. The distance of time has showed me that things have come at me that were necessary for my own growth and needs. I didn’t want to go through it then, now, or ever, but nonetheless it needed to happen. For instance, I was bullied for three years in middle school. Was it my fault that my parents at age five pushed me ahead a year and into the first grade to make me the youngest kid in the class? Did I choose to be the only Jewish kid in a class of 145 white Christians? Did I want to grow up in a working class, narrow-minded place that was prone to anti-Semitism, or have my family name on many of the businesses in the small downtown? However, if anyone tells me that “it was just my karma” I would not slug them; I would agree with them.


After 3 years of verbal and physical torment, one fateful day before physics class started, I finally punched the kid who was the worst of the bunch. Actually, I didn’t really throw the punch. I remember the moment well, as it was a pivotal event in my young life. I had the normal desire I always got during the abuse, of just wanting it to go away while trying to ignore it. But this time, as if pushed from behind by some invisible force, my left arm, with fist attached, swung out and struck the abuser in the stomach. He hit me back. I didn’t feel it. I probably threw 10 punches in 10 seconds and he did the same to me. When the teacher came in, we stopped.  I felt nothing: No pain, no fear, no relief. The good news was, after that I never had any bullying problems again. After three years of torment, one moment of abandoning fear and standing up for myself, and it was over. I guess it took that long for me to get fed up enough, to gather the inner strength, to drop my timidity in order to act. I can almost say that it was my SOUL that punched him.


My life changed directions that day. I was never the same person again. I have been growing ever since. It has informed my life. I have never had to resort to violence though; I just became psychically strong enough that no one can go there with me.  If it were not for that incident and the years leading up to it, I don’t know if I would be able to say that. Thus, from a deep place, I needed it. Was it coincidence? I don’t believe that.


I do not assert that ALL of history is the playing out of karma, of lessons, and cause and effect, but some of it might be. During WWI the countries of Europe pulverized each other for 6 years. After that some had had enough, but others were not satisfied with the outcome and so they did it again, and went on another 5-year slaughter campaign called WWII. These 2 wars were the culmination of centuries of conquest, imperialism, colonialism, and war. Until finally the continent seemed to have had enough and from sheer exhaustion made peace. It is almost inconceivable now that France and Germany and England would choose to go at it again. Now the entire Middle East seems locked in a death spiral that it cannot disentangle itself from, even if they wanted to. Perhaps, there are forces at play here that necessitate this, and it will eventually lead to a better, more evolved region. Perhaps suffering is a great teacher, at a deep level.


But don’t try to slug me for saying that. I will defend myself.