Let’s say you purchase a defective product. You try to return it but there’s a hitch. There’s a temptation to call the company that made it. And complain. And ask for money back or a replacement. Some folks announce that “I’m going to call the President of the company and give him [or her] a piece of my mind.”  Sometimes it works.  And the decision is justified.  But if the President says “sorry” – you’re fresh out of options. 

When I have an issue with a company (or product or organization or whatever), I try to accomplish at the lowest possible level that which I want accomplished.  So when I have a problem, issue, complaint or rant — and I want something done — I start with the person who answers the phone.  It may be Nancy or John or Elmer or Bambi.  And I explain.  If they can’t help me, I say “may I speak to your supervisor please?”   And I go up the ladder.  Using this procedure, you get perhaps five bites of the apple instead of just one.  Recently an insurance question came up and it was resolved with the person who answered the phone. 

This methodology is called “subsidiarity.”  The premise is that a matter ought to be handled by the lowest authority capable of addressing the matter effectively.  This can serve with any kind of negotiation. It is a concept that has application in government as well.  Alexis de Tocqueville in his classic study Democracy in America spoke of subsidiarity in terms of “decentralization.”  Instead of constructing massive unwieldly federal programs, one allows local municipalities and citizens to deal with issues.  When you have a problem with your local grade school, do you go to the U.S. Department of Education or do you start with your child’s teacher? 

I think there is a lesson here. . . .    

Ken Burns

Donna and I watched Ken Burns’ new six hour series “The U.S. and the Holocaust.” Burns calls it “the most important film [he] will ever make.”

I have previously posted on anti-semitism (see May 22, 2021, and “Night” May 13, 2020). You may want to check them out given this topic. To quote 5/22/2021:

Most of us are aware of anti-Semitism from alt-right jerks.  But there is a smoldering – and growing – anti-Semitism from progressives and those on the left. We see bigotry and hatred of Israel and Jews in American colleges and universities. For the latter, it is pointless to ask why we do not boycott human rights abuses in China, Russia, Syria, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Sudan, Zimbabwe. Oh no. It is Israel that is in the cross hairs of the left.  And because many Israelis are Jewish, it is their faith that take the heat. 

Ken Burns’ documentary explores America’s role in the Holocaust. He begins with American attitudes in the 1920’s and 30’s – which showed a growing antipathy and xenophobia toward immigrants — especially those from Eastern and Southern Europe. And Jews. While America took in 225,000 refugees during in the years leading up to and through World War II, six million Jews died. Burns lays much of the blame on Roosevelt, the Congress, the State Department and – the American people.

This 3 part series aired in September on PBS. Please – watch Judy Woodruff’s news report on this programming – see

One reason for watching this series is we were recently in Amsterdam – and visited the Anne Frank house (see ). The tour was powerful. Nazis murdered more than 100,000 Dutch Jews before and during the War. It really happened. Could it happen again? As is stated in the documentary – “the time to stop genocide is before it happens.

Christmas 2022

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given . . . . and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.   Isaiah 9:6

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem (because he was of the house and lineage of David). To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.   Luke 2:4-7

Here we are again! Christmas 2022.  Mercy – the days are often long but the years go quickly . . . .

Our best wishes to all of you for a Happy and Blessed Christmas, New Year and Holiday Season!!

The Renaissance Team

There is chaos, poverty, violence and hunger in the world. And it gets worse every day. . . . .

The usual response of the United States and other more fortunate countries is to throw money at the issue. And hope for the best. Everyone knows this is not effective but – hey – what more can we do? There are privately-funded and religious charities that offer needed boots on the ground assistance. Often more effective than government. But try as they might, these organizations can only do so much. And time – and chaos – marches on . . . . . Enter “The Renaissance Team.

How about if some of the billionaires (throughout the world) formed “teams” of individuals able to address specific issues of those less fortunate countries. They could help mobilize local units to deal with issues. I could envision a team with specialties in ten areas:

Medical – Doctors, nurses, administrators

Economic – Accounting, economics, business, marketing, management, financial specialists

Law Enforcement — Police, legal, judicial – and security for the “team”

Construction – Administrators, architects and contractors

Education — Teachers and administrators



Political – Those who can assist with stabilization of political structureNOT TRY TO CHANGE IT

Religious – Clergy who are appropriate to the given area to help stabilize offering of the faith tradition

Seems to me that teams like this could provide needed help, guidance and inspiration to the people and a role model for political leaders. One of the cardinal rules of such Teams would be that their presence is not intended for nation-building – but for stabilization. And help. And peace . . . .


[A repeat from May 17, 2018] When I was 16, well into my senior year of high school, I went to see my guidance counselor – Floyd Hillman.  Mr. Hillman told me (the words are etched in my brain) “I think I can get you a job as an assistant plumber.”  I sat.  And wanted to cry.  An honorable profession.  But I didn’t want to be an assistant plumber.  I left his office.  Sad about my impending future.  But some of my friends talked about “college.”  College sounded pretty good. 

My father dropped out of high school and my mother never went to college.  So we never talked much about college at home.  I would finish high school and then go to work.  Even so, I mentioned “college” to my father.  “College?” he said.  “The only guy I know who went to college is Bill Swanson.”  He looked at me.  “You wanna talk to him??”  I nodded.

So we went to see Mr. Swanson.  He said “I went to Augustana College.  Maybe I could get you an interview.”  My dad said “you want that?” and I nodded. . . . not entirely sure what that meant.  My parents and I drove out to Rock Island, Illinois — home of Augustana College — and I had an interview with Mr. Henning, the Director of Admissions.  It was April or May — around the time of high school graduation.  Mr. Henning said that the class had been full for several months.  And my grades were not great (my parents both worked and I rarely studied).  But he liked that I was an Eagle Scout.  He had a couple of discretionary spots.  So he offered to admit me on academic probation.  If I didn’t have a “C” average first semester, I was out.  So I signed on.  A few months later, I was in college.  My first semester – of 6 courses, I had 5 “C’s” and one “B” (in swimming).  I was in.  The second youngest freshman in my class (because I’d skipped 2d grade).

This fall, I will have my 50th reunion.   I owe Augustana College for taking a flyer on a just turned 17 year old kid with mediocre grades.  I was given a chance.   It will be good to be back.  See old friends.  My fraternity brothers.  And visit. . . my college.      

“There is no God”

[In this holy season of Christmas and Hanukkah, a refresher from November 15, 2018] I was disappointed to hear that Dr. Stephen Hawking – in one of his final statements – declared “there is no God.” Too bad he didn’t take a cue from one of his predecessors in science — Albert Einstein.

Einstein, born Jewish and somewhat pantheistic in later life, was once asked by a student if God existed. Einstein responded “What percent of the total knowledge of the universe do you suppose we as humans now possess?” The student thought – and speculated around two percent. To which Einstein replied “Now tell me – what are the possibilities that God exists in the other 98%?”

Parents are normally wiser than their children in making decisions. A child may want to eat only chocolate cupcakes for each meal – yet the parent knows better. What’s to say that we as adults don’t have a grander force that “knows better?” I am reminded of the continuous thread in the Bible that the wisdom of man is folly with God (see e.g. I Corinthians 3:19).

In 1660, Blaise Pascal offered “Pascal’s Wager” on belief. 
If you believe in God and there is no God – no problem
If you don’t believe in God and there is no God – no problem.
If you believe in God and God exists – peace now and eternal
If you don’t believe in God and God exists – big problem. . . . .

Sir Isaac Newton summed it up – “In the absence of any other proof, the thumb alone would convince me of God’s existence.”  For me, I just open my eyes in the morning.  And I think Wow. . . . . 

Solving Cold Cases

On September 24, 2017, I posted on Locard’s Exchange Principle. A crime. No leads. Police and investigators pick through the scene. Ask questions. Examine the scene again.  Look.  Study.  Listen.  Sniff.  Search. And solve. Often thanks to Dr. Edmond Locard (1877-1966) – a pioneer in forensic science.  Dr. Locard (known as the French Sherlock Holmes) developed a basic principle of forensics that “every contact leaves a trace.”  Writer Paul Kirk in 1953 described Locard’s Exchange Principle as: “Wherever he steps [or] whatever he touches, whatever he leaves, will serve as a silent witness against him. . . . .”  In other words, the occasion of every crime – leaves behind traces of the criminal.  And thus a means for solving the case. Well, Mister Locard must have been clairvoyant. Today, DNA testing sites like Ancestry, 23andMe and others – are giving police an immediate narrowing of suspects in decades-old cases to family members who have contributed their DNA for research. And cold cases are being solved . . . .

Locard’s Exchange Principle also applies to life in general.  As we wander through our daily lives, wherever we walk, stand, sit or set foot, we leave behind a part of us.  Even our DNA. Whoever we talk to, cross paths with or acknowledge, we leave a trace.   Of our presence.  The trace can be positive or negative.  A sharing of concern, love or sympathy.  Or it might be anger, distraction or inattention.  But as we move on this journey, whether we like it or not, there is a forensic trail.  That bears witness.   The traces we leave behind as we shuffle from one day to the next may not mean much to us.  But they could mean everything to someone else.   

Mother Teresa once said “Kind words can be short and easy to speak.  But their echoes are truly endless.”  Actions leave echoes too.  And attitudes.  What traces are you leaving behind? Not just DNA I hope. . . . .        

The Rosetta Stone

[Given Egypt’s recent demand for its return, this is a repeat from 6/23/2019] From before the fall of the Roman Empire (408 A.D.) until 1799, no one was able to decipher ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.  On July 15, 1799, that mystery of language changed.  Soldiers in Napoleon’s army while rebuilding a fort near the Egyptian port city of el-Rashid, stumbled across a stone marker made of black granite.  What made this marker unique was that it had writing on it — in 2 languages but in 3 scripts:  ancient Greek, Egyptian Demotic script and ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. 

Viewed as a curiosity by the French, it was promptly acquired by the British in 1801 when the British defeated the French in Egypt.  And the Rosetta Stone has been in the British Museum since 1802 [where it should remain].   Over the course of the next 25 years, the Rosetta Stone was translated – and the secrets of (and “key” to) Egyptian hieroglyphs were revealed. 

The Rosetta Stone was carved around 196 B.C. during the reign of Ptolemy V.  It is called the “Rosetta” Stone because that is the town where it was found — Rosetta (Rashid).  The Rosetta Stone stands as one of the most amazing “finds” in world history.  Today, if someone uses the term, it will most likely refer to a “key” (“The spectrum of hydrogen atoms has proven to be the Rosetta Stone of modern physics. . . “).  Someone ought to write a book about it.  Or at least a blog post. . . . .  

True Confessions

(A longer than usual repeat from 8/16/2011 and 2/9/17 – which still chokes me up)  Shortly after passing the Illinois bar exam, Donna and I flew to Portland, Oregon, to visit my aunt and uncle and their family. One weekend, we rented a car and drove south into the hinterlands of Oregon.

Upon leaving a small town, I saw birds on the road ahead. I announced to Donna in my best John Wayne voice “watch this” and I stomped on the accelerator. The car sped up 80, 90, 100 . . . Donna is shouting at me to slow down but – hey – I’m 25 and macho. As I approached the birds, they looked up and casually flew off. I rocketed over the carrion they’d been chewing on (“Guess I showed them“). About that time, I looked in the rear view mirror and was surprised to see a car behind us. A police car. #&X@*! I pulled over and stopped. And got a ticket. 108 in a 65 zone. #&X@*!

The bad thing was that I was to appear in court at a time I was to appear before the Character & Fitness Committee of the Illinois Bar (“sorry fellows – I have a court date“). Donna was silent.  Stewing.  At the next town, I stopped. The judge’s name was on the ticket.  So I . . . called the local police station from a pay phone:

Scott: Hello? Officer, I’m trying to reach Judge ____ . Can you call him and ask him to please call me?

Officer: It’s Sunday.

Scott: I know but it’s important (I gave him the pay phone number).

Officer: I’ll see (Click).

I waited for 30 minutes. Sitting on the concrete floor of the phone booth. The sun was setting. Quiet. Birds chirping their evening hymns. Then the pay phone rang.

Scott: This is Scott Petersen (I figured that was better than “hullo”).

Judge: This is Judge ___ . You wanted me to call (sounds of splashing and children in the background)

Scott: Your Honor, I’m from Chicago. I (explained how I had) just graduated from law school and passed the bar. I was just pulled over by two officers for speeding – 108 in a 65 zone. I am guilty.  But I am supposed to appear in court and I am also supposed to appear before the Character & Fitness Committee of the Bar at that time. I was wondering. . . .

Judge: Just a minute (long silence). All right, Mister Petersen. Raise your right hand. Repeat after me. “I promise that I will never speed again.”

Scott: I will never speed again.

Judge: I want you to promise. I want you to swear to me. . .

Scott: (I raised my hand in the phone booth) I swear. . . I swear. . . I will never speed again.

Judge: Send me your ticket. Mark it “personal.” Remember Mister Petersen – you promised me. (Click)  It was a not guilty over the phone.  No fine.

The Judge could have said “tough kid – you show up or else.” But he didn’t. The lesson therefore became all the more powerful.  Seriously.  And since then, I have never taken a car much beyond the speed limit. When tempted, I am always tugged back to a fall day in 1972. . . . when I made a promise. . . .