Cedar Valley Chronicles

About Scott Cawelti -

Scott Cawelti was born and raised in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He taught writing, film, and literature at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) from 1968-2008, and has written regular opinion columns and reviews for the Waterloo / Cedar Falls Courier since the late 1970s.  He played for years in a folk duo with Robert James Waller and still regularly performs as a singer/guitarist/songwriter. Scott continues to teach as an adjunct instructor at UNI.

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“Even before the advent of the Internet, Cawelti’s columns went 'viral' in the Cedar Valley… the role of a columnist is to be thought provoking, to take tacks that shed a different light on an issue or possibly cause a reader to reevaluate a position. At the very least, it should bring clarity to a particular perspective, whether you buy into the commentator’s worldview or not.

Scott's work does just that.  Enjoy this collection of his writing.”

-Saul Shapiro, Former Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier Editor
Read Shapiro's entire introduction.

  • Conservatives' Anti-Science Attitude

    • Posted on Mar 22, 2015 by Scott Cawelti
    Here's this morning's (Sun. 3-22) Courier column. It's a bit more of a polemic than I usually write, but I'm getting weary of fantasy-based beliefs that seem pervasive.

    By "conservative," I don't necessarily mean Republicans, but anyone who decides that their beliefs are absolute and certain, and defends them vociferously against the facts.   
    They "conserve" their beliefs, based on certainty.  

    Even scientists fall victim to this temptation, as Johann Hari points out in his "Chasing the Scream" book on our failed "war" on drugs.  


    ++++++++++++
    Conservatives’ rampant anti-science attitude began, I think, when curious and smart souls (aka scientists) began gathering data that shook long-established beliefs.  

    It’s certainly not new.  

     Galileo and Darwin, in 1610 and 1859 respectively, shifted the very ground upon which most people’s beliefs were anchored.  The earth moves around the sun?  Species appear and disappear depending on whether they adapt?  All of nature constantly changes, including humans?  Say it ain’t so, people said, and still say, though thankfully not a majority worldwide any more.  

     Except hard-right conservatives, who seem intent on maintaining their own ignorances. In spite of mountains of data, conservatives refuse to believe what science plainly reveals.   What they do instead: Ignore, deny, or re-interpret data to fit their delusional beliefs, roughly in that order. 

    Scientists search for facts grounded in research using a method which yields 
    truths that can be replicated and therefore used worldwide for all manner of applications and theories.   This “scientific method” deserves respect partly because it works, and partly because anyone with tools and knowledge can use it to make further discoveries, and have now for centuries.  

     Though hardly perfect, it’s the best means we have of finding reliable and valid facts.  We ignore and deny it at our peril.  

     That’s the malady of all true believers:  Certainty.  Scientists, if they stay true to their calling, admit new facts that change their world view.  

     A case in point:  the drug “war” that has ruined millions of lives world-wide.  Two recent books make a powerful case against current anti-drug policies.  “Chasing the Scream,” by Johann Hari, and “High Price,” by Carl Hart, reveal that hysteria rules this country’s attitude toward addictive substances, not science. 

     America’s Prohibition (1920-1933) was the first result, which developed into a full-blown national disaster.  Gangsters, bootlegging, mob killings, turf wars, and an enormous uptick in prison populations ruled that era.   

     As Mark Thornton (Professor of Economics at Auburn University) notes: 
    “Although consumption of alcohol fell at the beginning of Prohibition, it subsequently increased. Alcohol became more dangerous to consume; crime increased and became "organized"; the court and prison systems were stretched to the breaking point; and corruption of public officials was rampant.”

     If that sounds familiar it should.  Our current drug policies have become a full-blown national disaster as well. Drug lords, smuggling, gang killings, turf wars, and an enormous uptick in prison populations rule our era. 
    Prohibition is not working, and never has.  

     The most compelling account comes from Hari’s “Chasing the Scream” book, a highly readable account of how we’ve failed to either eradicate or control addictive drugs.  Hari reveals how politicians have ignored or dismissed solid research that points toward an entirely different approach. 

    The source of addiction is only partially chemical “hooks.” In fact, addictions exist with no chemical hooks at all—take gambling, for one example.  Feeling alone, outcast, berated, and punished does more to create addictive behavior than actual drug chemistry.   
     
    So what do we do to addicts?  We abuse, punish, imprison, and berate them. 

    We need a national awakening on drug policy, and it won’t come from conservatives.   

     A solution that has already worked once in this country needs to be brought back:  End prohibition.  When alcohol prohibition ended, so did the crimes committed because of prohibition. 

     The same would happen, both Hari and Hart insist, if we ended prohibition of banned substances. This doesn’t necessarily mean legalization, but it could mean de-criminalization.  It has begun with both Colorado and Oregon’s easing of marijuana restrictions.   That should continue nationwide.   

     It won’t come easily or quickly, but it has to come.   Science will help show the way, and a few enlightened conservatives might step up to help.  

     One can always hope.   

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  • Uber Coming to Town?

    • Posted on Mar 15, 2015 by Scott Cawelti
    Here's this morning's (3-15) Courier column.  Was so impressed with the new 
    "Uber" people-moving service in San Diego last week that I had to write about it.  
    Cities like CF/Wloo especially can use such a service, since taxicab service is so limited.  

    ****************************

    Until last week, I had never heard of “Uber,” except in WWII documentaries,where Nazis would sing Germany’s  national anthem, “Deutschland Uber Alles.” Germany above all.   Not exactly a happy connotation.

    However, the term “Uber” has made a comeback, especially for people living in larger cities where it’s available. That’s where I happened to be last week—San Diego, visiting my daughter and her family.   

    “Have you ever heard of ‘Uber,’ dad?” she asked, first thing.   “Not really, except as part of a patriotic slogan.  Is there something I don’t know?” 

    “We use it all the time, and you will love it.”

    She was absolutely right.  I used it three times in four days in San Diego.  

    “Uber” is a five-year old startup, and upstart, which uses private drivers in their private cars using smart phones to pick up and deliver people—all by way of the Uber app.       

    It’s simple, it costs about half (usually) of a normal cab fare, and it’s much faster in terms of pickup—at least in San Diego, where Uber drivers seem everywhere. 

    Here’s how it works.   You install the “Uber” app with a password and credit card number, and using the phone’s GPS, your location appears instantly on the app.  You tell it your destination, and within fifteen seconds, (a company requirement) an “Uber” driver answers your request.

    Then you watch the Uber car come your way on your phone’s GPS map.  Oh yes, and you choose between “Uber X” which means a regular car, or “Uber Black,” meaning a larger limo or van, depending on your needs.

    I have receipts in my e-mail that show I was picked up by ‘Nikola,” in a Honda Insight,  “Christa,” in a Toyota Prius, and Beth, in a Subaru. The cars were immaculate, by the way.  

    All three drivers were polite, cheerful, knew exactly where I wanted to go, and took me there in short order.   Cost for a 1.7 mile trip one way?  Five bucks.  And for a seven mile trip to the airport?  $11.52.

    A cab ride with a standard taxi would have been $25, the hotel lobby clerk told me—without the tip.  

    Travis Galanick and Garrett Camp, two California entrepreneurs, came up with the idea in San Francisco five years ago, and now it’s worth 41 billion dollars, give or take.  It’s expanding like a tsunami, available in 53 countries, with more adding rapidly.  Of course plenty of regulatory hurdles stand in Uber’s way.  As do traditional cab companies.    

    Even so, they’re succeeding, mostly, and in some cities, they include cab drivers as part of the team.  

    Yes, there are glitches—my daughter told me not to tip the drivers, but I should have.   Supposedly a tip is figured into the cost, but I read later it’s not. So next time I would tip them all, just to say job well done.  Also fares can skyrocket during times of heavy demand, thanks to what Uber calls “surge pricing.”  However, the fare is displayed before you’re picked up, so you can turn down a ride if you wish.  

    Would-be drivers must undergo background checks, a car inspection, their cars must be 2006 or newer, and they need a safe driving record.  To their benefit, they can work virtually anytime they want, for as long as they want, making up to $20 an hour.

    Incidentally, you can’t get a new Uber ride until you rate the previous driver and ride.   So there’s constant feedback, which keeps drivers on their toes.

    Uber’s goal is to make Uber rides cheaper than owning a car, and I can see that happening in cities everywhere, even around here.   

    Speaking of which, when is Uber coming to the Cedar Valley? 

    Not soon enough. 

                


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