[A summer repeat from 7/5/13] For those Americans who know a foreign language like French, being able to speak with the accent of a Frenchman is probably a crowning glory.  To sound more French than you do American.  As an American visiting Paris, to speak French with a Parisian accent would likely raise a less arrogant eyebrow and invite a less rude response than might be normally expected from a Frenchman.  When I am in Mexico, I try to conform my Spanish to the local accent.  I can clumsily mimic an Argentine accent with the “shha shha” sounds.   Or the faster clip of a Puerto Rican accent.  I try not to “speak American” (Bway-nohss deee-ahss seen-yor).

So it crossed my mind that when one visits London or Scotland or Ireland, why is it that Americans don’t adopt a British accent in London (“howw dooo yoooo dooooo?”) or an Irish lilt in Ireland or a Scottish brogue in Scotland?  I mean it would seem natural for a linguist to try and “fit in” but it also seems a little quirky that an American would “put on” an Irish or English accent and adopt the jargon (“That tosser’s a bit wonky.  Probably a scouser“).  As you might imagine, I’ve tried it.  While in a London taxi — with Donna.  We were chummy with the cabbie.  So I asked him if I could try talking with an English accent — and have his opinion.  “Bee’s knees, Governor” he said.  Well, I put on my best Prince Charles accent, yabbered on for a minute or so and then asked the driver what he thought.  “You sound like a bloody snoot.”    Maybe it was the Prince Charles impersonation . . . . .         

So This Guy. . . .

[A smile from October 16, 2014] So this guy sticks his head into a barbershop and asks “how long before I can get a haircut?”

The barber looked around the shop full of customers and says “about two hours.”  The guy left.

A few days later, the same guy stuck his head in the door and asked “how long before I can get a haircut?”   The barber looked around the shop and said “about three hours.”   The guy left.

A week later, the same guy stuck his head in the shop and asked “how long before I can get a haircut?” The barber looked around the shop and said “about an hour and a half.”  The guy left.

The barber turned to his friend and said “hey, Bob, do me a favor, follow that guy and see where he goes.    He keeps asking how long he has to wait for a haircut but he never comes back.”

A little while later, Bob returned to the shop laughing hysterically.   The barber asked “so, where does he go when he leaves?”

Bob looked up and wiped tears from his eyes and said . . . .

Your house!”


[A very timely repeat from May 6, 2018] I get up in the morning.  Exercise.  Go to work.  I pay my mortgage.  Pay my bills.  Donate to charities.  I take care of the house. Take the dog out.  Put dirty laundry down the chute and put the garbage on the curb. I drive carefully and obey the law.  I pay my taxes and I (usually) don’t grouse. I love my wife and family. I go to Church on Sunday.  I try to eat right.  And I try to be nice to and respectful of all people – those I know and those I don’t.

So – big question – why on earth do I do this?  Why do you?  The answer – to me – is the single most important word in the English language. INCENTIVE.  I have incentive to do all of these things.  To earn a few bucks.  Keep a nice house.  Eat right.  Be respectful to everybody.  To drive carefully.  Yadda yadda. . . .

I’m concerned that we are losing that sense of motivation.  It is being replaced with a sense of entitlement.  A sense of expectation.  Something for. . . nothing.  Incentive is waning.  Maybe it’s a bit old-fashioned.  On January 20, 1961, President John F. Kennedy admonished “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you.  Ask what you can do for your country.”   There was loud applause.   Nods of approval.  Media approbation.  Today though, more and more people are asking what their country can do for them.  Gimme gimme gimme.  With no strings attached.   Some politicians encourage it.  According to the Tax Policy Center, in 2013 40.4% of all Americans paid no income tax.  In 2017, that number rose to 43.9%.  A continued rise in that number could reach a tipping point.  And become unsustainable.   

What’s your take?  More importantly – what’s the answer?   

My Brother was Killed in the Civil War

[An interesting repeat from August 9, 2013] Let’s say you meet a chap (his name is “Frank”) who tells you that his brother was killed in the Civil War.  Possible??  The quick answer is sure.  This was a question I recall hearing in grade school or high school though at that time, the brother was killed in the Revolutionary War. 

Frank is 90 years old (born in 1923).  When Frank was born, his father was 90 years old (born in 1833).  Frank’s father first married in 1850 and promptly had a son who became a drummer boy during the Civil War (1861-1865).  In 1863 at the terrible Battle of Gettysburg, the young man – age 12 – was killed in an explosion.  Frank’s father had a few more children, his wife died in 1915 and he remarried to a young woman and in 1923, Frank was born.  Thus if you meet Frank and he says “My brother was killed during the Civil War,” you’d best believe it.   🙂    


In 1957, when I was 10 years old, I began writing letters to famous people — asking for their autographs.  Since I used to watch the “Today” Show on NBC, I decided to write to the anchor – Dave Garroway.  Instead of just writing to ask for an autograph, I explained that I collected stamps (which I did).  Since he probably got a lot of letters from foreign countries, I suggested that instead of throwing out the envelopes (with the stamps) – he should send them to me.   His response is below.  Since I had signed my letter with my middle name – “Scott William Petersen” – the envelope was correctly posted.  But the letter – irritatingly – was addressed to “Dear Mr. Williams.”  

The “Today” show debuted in 1952 with Dave Garroway at the helm with Frank Blair and Jack Lescoulie handling news and sports.  What drew me to watch the “Today” show was the occasional appearance of J. Fred Muggs – a chimpanzee – and his girlfriend Phoebe B. Beebee.  J. Fred Muggs was considered the mascot of the “Today” Show.  As of March 2018, J. Fred Muggs was alive and well.  Apparently so is his main squeeze – Phoebe.  Chimps are known to live for 70 years with 50 years being the norm.  I wonder if they’ve had their Covid vaccinations. . . . .  

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

The one movie that probably best describes the state of the world today is the title of this post. But what a movie! I saw “Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” in 1964 – shortly after it was released – at the old Michael Todd Theater on Dearborn Street in Chicago. I’ve watched it a couple of times since then even though the running time is more than three hours. What a production!

Stanley Kramer produced and directed this amazing comedy based on the screenplay by William and Tania Rose. The film features – are you ready? – scores of famous actors and actresses. In the credits we see Spencer Tracy, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney, Dick Shawn, Edie Adams, Phil Silvers, Dorothy Provine, Terry-Thomas, Jonathan Winters, Jim Backus, Joe E. Brown, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, Peter Falk, Buster Keaton, Don Knotts, the Three Stooges – and so many others. What’s interesting is that another score or two of noted performers appeared without credits! These include Jack Benny, Jerry Lewis, Harry Lauter, James Flavin, and on and on. . . . .

Stanley Kramer originally wanted to add a fifth “Mad” to the title but decided against it. He later regretted it. In 1964, the film was nominated for six Academy Awards. It won just one — “Best Sound Effects.” While Kramer had previously avoided comedies, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World inspired him to direct and produce “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” which starred Spencer Tracy. Kramer’s success with the movie made him consider bringing back the former cast members for a sequel — “The Sheiks of Araby.” But it never happened.

If you’ve not seen it, you will enjoy it! Check out the trailer –

Robert Johnson

[A summer repeat from May 19, 2013] What do Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Robert Plant (Led Zeppelin) and Scott Petersen have in common?   We have all been inspired by Robert Johnson — the godfather of the Blues. 

In my post of April 20, 2012 (“Martin O-18”), I talked about how I enjoy playing the guitar; how I played years ago in a group; and how I still play nearly every day.  And I enjoy playing the Blues.  The  grand master of the Blues and inspiration to so many of the greats was Robert LeRoy Johnson.  Robert Johnson was born in Hazelhurst, MS in 1911.  At an early age, Robert began playing the harmonica, the “jaw harp” and the guitar.  Soon, he settled into life as an itinerant musician — playing in bars, juke joints and dance halls in the Mississippi Delta.   He would often arrive in a new town and stand in front of a barber shop or restaurant where he would serenade the town folk with Blues, pop standards, jazz or country music.  He was versatile and proficient. 

There are only two known recording sessions of the works of Robert Johnson:  in 1936 in the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, TX; and in 1937 at the Vitagraph Building in Dallas.  The songs are grainy and yet iconic.   At the 3 day San Antonio session, Johnson recorded 16 selections, a few with alternate “takes.”  In Dallas, 11 recordings were made.  It is believed he did the sessions playing a Gibson L-1.  The complete collection of Johnson’s “discography” can be had for a few dollars (see ).    

Robert Johnson enjoyed the company of ladies and he is known to have fathered several children.  And his dalliance got him into trouble.  On August 16, 1938, at the age of 27, Robert Johnson while playing in a dance hall in Greenwood, MS was poisoned by a jealous husband.  Johnson died and was buried in an unmarked grave nearby.

Robert Johnson is known for a series of wonderful songs but his most famous are Cross Road Blues, Hellhound on my Trail and – Sweet Home Chicago.  I would still like to get my old group back together but Donna has advised “Don’t quit the day job, Elvis.”   [Now that I’m retired, my “day job” has changed]

How High Can You Jump?

(A summer repeat from August 11, 2011)
I have the aerodynamics of a sofa. “How high can you jump?” never resonated with me since the answer was never one I wished to share (“I can barely get off the ground“).

In the 1900 Olympics, no high jumper could hope to succeed unless he did the scissors kick to launch himself over the high bar. It was thought no one would ever jump higher – that is until 1920 when the track and field world was stunned by a high jumper who dove over the bar. This added nearly two feet to the world’s record. It was thought that no one would ever jump higher – that is until 1968 when a young man from Oregon revolutionized high jumping at the Mexico City Olympics by going over the bar backwards! Today, as a high jumper if you cannot master the “Fosbury flop,” you may as well take your gym bag and go home.

So how high can you jump? What do you do to challenge yourself? Improve yourself? Motivate yourself – and others? What goals do you set? And reach? I like to think that the sky is the limit. W.N. Murray who was on the Scottish Himalayan Expedition said “Whatever you can do or dream you can. . . begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” So go. See how high you can jump.

Star Hikes

For four summers, I was on Staff at Camp Napowan – a Boy Scout camp in Wild Rose, Wisconsin. An amazing place and time – with amazing young men. Many remain good friends today. For three of those summers I taught Astronomy . . . . merit badge (see 7/25/11).

I worked in the Nature Area with Bish (who was Best Man at my wedding) and Harkins. The three of us lived in a wood frame tent from the end of May ’til the end of August. And collaborated on teaching Nature merit badges. For Bird Study, I was up at 5:00 a.m. to awaken campers who put a towel on their tent (“wake me up“). I’d wander around the forest and farmland with a gaggle of Scouts – looking for birds in the gray fingers of dawn.

At night, I would lead the “Star Hikes” — a gathering of Scouts and leaders who were interested in Astronomy. There was no light pollution. So on clear nights we could see the vast fringes of the Milky Way Galaxy. And stars beyond measure. Between 5,000 and 8,000 on a clear night. And planets – Venus and occasionally Mercury at night (or morning). Jupiter. Mars. The furthest astronomical miracle seen with the naked eye – The Andromeda Nebula (Messier 31) – 750,000 light years away. The nearest – Alpha Centauri (4.4 light years). Mizar and Alcor in the Big Dipper. I explained that a line from Polaris to the ground is true north – 24 hours a day – anywhere North of the Equator. Identifying every constellation (which I can still do. . . almost).

And then I spoke of life – “out there.” There are trillions of stars. If you assume that 1% of them have planetary systems, there would be billions of planets. And 1% of those are capable of sustaining life – we’re talking still hundreds of millions of possibilities. And if 1% of those have life like ours – within a chronological spectrum of evolution like ours – we’re still talking millions. Today – planets in other solar systems are called “exoplanets.” As of June 2021, there are 4,768 confirmed exoplanets in 3,527 planetary systems, with 783 systems having more than one planet. Perhaps the newly-released UFO report (“Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon”) presents the just tip of the iceberg. Or universe. . . .

The New Testament

[A logical segue – a summer repeat from November 11, 2013]

In my post of June 11, 2012, I talked about reading the Old Testament.  I referenced some favorite verses therein (especially a quote from my father of the bride speech at Lauren’s wedding).  I just finished reading the New Testament.  Again.  Quite a trip.  The Gospels are interesting and inspiring as they have been forever.  The essence of Christianity. The Resurrection. Salvation. But there are some verses which I just had to write down.  Because sometimes one needs “special” inspiration.   

I Timothy 5:23 gives sage counsel:  “Drink no longer water but a little wine for thy stomach’s sake. . . .”    So who doesn’t feel obliged to have a nice cab now and then? 

I Timothy 4:8 admonishes that “. . . bodily training is of some value.”  So I (sigh) feel the push to go to the fitness center a few times a week.

Which leads to the whole reason for a personal trainer.  I mean it’s right there in Hebrews 12:12 “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees. . . .” 

But seriously, there is one chapter I discovered on a gray day in 1969.  I Corinthians 3.  For me, much of Christianity seems to distill in these 23 verses.  The words are old friends.  I find peace.  Calm.  And faith.