Scott Cawelti

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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  • Recreational Marijuana Wanted But Not Needed?

    • Posted on Aug 27, 2014 by Scott Cawelti
    This appeared in today's (8-3) Waterloo Courier.  It expresses my ambivalence toward all consciousness-altering drugs.  We do want them but don't need them--and if you're tried using them to make you happy, you know what I mean.  They can be a break, an escape, a short good time, but will betray you if you let them take over.   

    So legalization is a mixed bag, though overall it makes sense.   


    “What’s the rush?” PBS Anchor Judy Woodruff asked last Sunday during a “Meet the Press” discussion on legalizing marijuana.  

    Then she realized her pun, guffawing along with panelists.  What she meant:  “Why are we in such a hurry to legalize a potentially addictive and dangerous substance?”

    The other meaning of “rush” caused the laugh, since it refers to the effect of mood-altering substances, along with “high,” and “buzzed."

    Many drugs have this effect, some more immediate and intense than others:  caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, and, arguably, sugar among the legal, and marijuana, methamphetamines, cocaine, and heroin among the banned.

    However, marijuana also works as a serious medicinal drug for a host of ailments, high or no high.  Few question its genuine benefits for cancer patients, people in chronic pain, glaucoma sufferers, among others.    In fact, 23 states including Iowa have legalized its active ingredient for medical use.  This should have happened years ago. 

    The marijuana rush, however, creates other issues.  

    Both Washington and Colorado have legalized recreational marijuana, and other states are watching, as are the feds.  As last Sunday’s NY Times editorial put it,  “It has been more than 40 years since Congress passed the current ban on marijuana, inflicting great harm on society just to prohibit a substance far less dangerous than alcohol.  The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana.”

    So we’re moving toward a whole new attitude toward casual use of marijuana.   

    Is this a good thing? Smart people disagree about this because there’s potential for harm in any drug that alters consciousness. 

    Most of us seek to feel good, and drugs work as a shortcut, since feeling joy (as opposed to a rush) comes from a complex of causes:  Mood, genes, family, friends, engaging work, meanings you seek and values in which you believe.  All chancy and subject to intrusions of bad luck. 

    Drugs bring feel good-ness without discipline and commitment, and actually can provide a higher high than anything “normal” life provides. Pills, potions, and powders are the fool’s gold of happiness, and a certain percentage fall into addiction.

     Addicts tend toward depression long-term, since they don’t grow beyond their need for more highs.  

    So anyone who believes in hard work to reach long-sought goals that bring satisfaction and joy beyond a buzz  is better off without constantly seeking artificial highs.

    The high gets old; joy doesn’t.          

    However, if you want a drug that ruins lives, kills people by the thousands, where overdoses are common in every emergency room, we already have alcohol. 

    Along with tobacco, we struggle with these drugs’ effects constantly. They’re  a scourge, ruining lives with disease and depression.    

    On a scale of harm, marijuana probably ranks down there with sugar, whichcontributes to diabetes, obesity and tooth decay, but it’s only mildly addictive.  We give it by the pound to children, after all. 

    Given how we treat alcohol and tobacco, legalizing recreational marijuana nationally only makes sense, and will certainly lift a burden from courts and prisons.    Granted, not for kids under 21, and not to be treated as completely harmless.   Like alcohol and tobacco, it must be controlled and regulated. 

     Still, I have one reservation:  why waste time with rushes and buzzes when real joy is there for free, with no health issues?   My personal challenge concerns finding a life balance, and consciousness-altering drugs make finding balance between escape and work, joy and rushes, ever more elusive.  Highs are tempting, at times irresistible. 

    Substances that offer highs will be sought after and used, as any trip through a bar Saturday night will reveal.  Yet do we need yet another temptation to get buzzed? 

    Probably not, especially one as “cool” as legal marijuana will become.  Stoner parties will become the rage for awhile.   

    We don’t need it, really. But we sure seem to want it.  





    Posted in
    • Cedar Valley Chronicles
    • alcohol
    • Hot Button Issues
  • Huge Charleston Mural Appears in a Month

    • Posted on Jul 08, 2014 by Scott Cawelti
    July 8, 2014 

    Was walking Charleston on Monday, June 2 when I came up Queen Street, just a few feet off Meeting Street, and couldn't help but gape at this sketch on the wall of the Mira Winery building:  

    Hard to not gape, right?  The artist, David Boatwright, was sketching a painting-to-be of 14 figures, and was just beginning, either that day or possibly the week before.  I didn't actually measure it, but it's probably 15 by 15 feet and fills most of the wall.  Hard to miss, and right across a small parking lot from the well-known Poogan's Porch restaurant.  Everyone stops and stares.  

    So I began taking photos, this one just three days later: 

    That's Thursday of the first week.  Not bad for two guys working four days, I thought.  
    I did ask one of them how long it would take, and he said "weeks."  

    So I made it a point to walk by the wall every few days, and took these photos, in order: 

    Took this on Saturday, June 7, shocked at how much Boatwright had completed: 

    Then this, on Friday June 13:  

    Again, these guys work fast, I thought.  

    Then this, taken on June 19, just 17 days after that first sketch above:  

    And on June 23, a week before completion:  

    And here is the completed mural without scaffolding, taken Monday,  June 30:  

    So David Boatwright and his assistant completed that mural, sketch to full figures in living color, in one month to the day.  

    Here's a detail, just to show what you could see with good light walking up to it: 

    Now:  in case the mural looks familiar, you're right:  it's more or less a copy of Renoir's famous 1881 painting, "Luncheon of the Boating Party"--here: 

    The Mira Winery hired Boatwright to paint an homage to Renoir's painting, only with a difference:  each of the figures, instead of being Renoir's friends--that's who Renoir painted, after all, would be the faces of fourteen of Charleston's well-known restaurant owners or chefs.  

    Of course, foodies around Charleston will certainly recognize at least a few of the faces, just as Renoir's friends must have recognized themselves in his painting.  One difference would be size--Renoir's painting measured just 51 by 68 inches, whereas Boatwright's as mentioned, covers a large outdoor wall.  

    A few thoughts on this whole process: 
    ---an "homage" if done by a writer might be called "plagiarism." 
    --Renoir's is a work of art, worth hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars. Boatwright's is worth whatever the Mira winery paid him.  But it certainly adds 
    a dimension of interest to the Charleston food scene, not to mention making that wall a thousand times more interesting and attractive. 
    --how well will it hold up to the weather?  --high heat, sun, humidity, rains, hurricanes? Will be curious to photograph it again in a year and see if it has faded. 
    --was great fun watching it emerge, and a pleasant surprise that it took only a month. 

    A note of congratulations to the muralist, David Boatwright, his assistant, and the Mira winery for having the imagination and vision to create an engaging image that flatters and reveals some of the people that make Charleston's restaurant and food scene such a memorable part of contemporary Charleston.  
    Go comment!
    Posted in
    • Travel
    • Cedar Valley Chronicles
    • Arts
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