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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  • Another False Urban Legend Exposed

    • Posted on Jan 12, 2014 by Scott Cawelti
    Last night (Saturday 1-10-14) I received an e-mail from one that passed on an urban legend about Barack Obama.  It was actually based on a satirical bit written by a columnist.  Here it is, followed by the full refutation on  


    Yes, he told us in advance what he planned to do. Few were listening.

    The following is a narrative taken from a 2008 Sunday morning televised "Meet The Press'.

    From Sunday's 07 Sept. 2008 11 : 48 : 04 EST, Televised "Meet the Press" THE THEN Senator Obama was asked about his stance on the American Flag.

    General Bill Gann' USAF (ret.) asked Obama to explain WHY he doesn't follow protocol when the National Anthem is played.

    The General stated to Obama that according to the United States Code, Title 36, Chapter 10, Sec. 171...

    During rendition of the national anthem, when the flag is displayed, all present (except those in uniform) are expected to stand at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart. Or, at the very least, "Stand and Face It".

    Senator Obama replied :

    "As I've said about the flag pin, I don't want to be perceived as taking sides." "There are a lot of people in the world to whom the American flag is a symbol of oppression..." "The anthem itself conveys a war-like message. You know, the bombs bursting in air and all that sort of thing."

    Obama continued : "The National Anthem should be 'swapped' for something less parochial and less bellicose. I like the song 'I'd Like To Teach the World To Sing'. If that were our anthem, then, I might salute it. In my opinion, we should consider reinventing our National Anthem as well as 'redesign' our Flag to better offer our enemies hope and love. It's my intention, if elected, to disarm America to the level of acceptance to our Middle East Brethren. If we, as a Nation of warring people, conduct ourselves like the nations of Islam, where peace prevails - - - perhaps a state or period of mutual accord could exist between our governments ...."

    When I Become President, I will seek a pact of agreement to end hostilities between those who have been at war or in a state of enmity, and a freedom from disquieting oppressive thoughts. We as a Nation, have placed upon the nations ofIslam, an unfair injustice which is WHY my wife disrespects the Flag and she and I have attended several flag burning ceremonies in the past".

    Here is the refutation from  See the full URL at the end.  

    Back in October 2007, one of the hottest e-mail forwards was a picture capturing Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama standing in front of a U.S. flag (at an Iowa political event) with his hands clasped in front of him during the playing of the U.S. national anthem (while other persons on the platform with him stood with their hands placed over their hearts). This photographic brouhaha soon

    We should consider to reinvent our National Anthem as well as to redesign our Flag to better offer our enemies hope and love. My wife disrespects the Flag for many personal reasons. Together she and I have attended several flag burning ceremonies in the past, many years ago. She has her views and I have mine.
    mutated into a (false) claim that Barack Obama "refused to put his hand over his heart during the Pledge of Allegiance" and then into the (even more false) claim that "he refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance" at all (rumors which the Obama campaign soon provided evidence to negate).

    While this controversy was all the rage on the Internet, political columnist John Semmens included a bit at the end of one of his satirical "Semi-News" columns (found on the web site of The Arizona Conservative) offering a mock explanation from Senator Obama about his non-hand-over-heart stance, poking fun at the candidate by having him voice the opinion that "the American flag is a symbol of oppression" and that the U.S. national anthem is too "bellicose" and should be replaced by something gentler like "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing."

    This bit of satire evidently came off as too believable to some readers, as it was excerpted from Semmens' column and forwarded via e-mail (without attribution) as a genuine statement from Senator Obama. However topical it might have been, it was just a bit of political commentary-cum-humor, not Barack Obama's own words.

    In September 2008, this same piece began arriving in our inbox headed by the claim that it was derived from the 7 September 2008 airing of Meet the Press and naming the interviewer as "General Bill Ginn, USAF (ret.)" It goes without saying that Senator Obama wasn't among the guests on that day's show (those were Senator Joe Biden and author Tom Friedman). Later versions also attributed authorship of the message to Dale Lindsborg of the Washington Post.

    The following (also fabricated) statement about flag burning purportedly made by Barack Obama was appended to later versions of the e-mail:  

    We should consider to reinvent our National Anthem as well as to redesign our Flag to better offer our enemies hope and love. My wife disrespects the Flag for many personal reasons. Together she and I have attended several flag burning ceremonies in the past, many years ago. She has her views and I have mine. 

    Last updated:   15 November 2013 

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  • Seven Fresh Thoughts on Christmas

    • Posted on Dec 22, 2013 by Scott Cawelti

    Published this morning (Dec. 22) in the Waterloo Sunday Courier--an attempt to find a few new things to say about Christmas.   At least it was fun trying.  

    Christmas for older folks becomes much like Groundhog Day.  Not the early February day, but the 1993 Bill Murray film, which creates a fantasy where the hero gets trapped living the same day over and over.  

    Everyone except the hero repeats themselves all day, both actions and words.  Life becomes a day-long treadmill until the hero figures it out.

    It’s a comedy, but a dark comedy that sticks.  Murray’s character, in despair at not getting anywhere no matter what he does, murmurs in a bar,   “What would you do if you were stuck in one place, and everything you did was the same, and nothing mattered?”   And a guy next to him mutters, “That about sums it up for me.”

    And that about sums up the Christmas season for many people after a few dozen repetitions. The darkness and cold descends, the sun begins its slow return, familiar melodies and yard lights fill the air and eyes, the same Fox News puppets decry the “war” on Christmas.

    With minor variations, it does seem predictable. 

    What if someone came up with a few different Christmas thoughts, something fresh outside the gift-wrapped green and red boxes?

    I’m here to try.    

    Seven Fresh Thoughts about Christmas

    1. The best character to ponder for the meaning of Christmas?  Not the baby Jesus nor his blessed parents, nor Santa in all his whiteness, nor Tiny Tim with his “God bless us everyone.”  No.   It’s that ever-unpopular codger Scrooge. After a grueling night, he finally gets it.   All the other characters already know what Scrooge has to learn:  Good will toward men really means something.  We all learn from Scrooge. 
    2. Joseph and Mary, remember, were homeless, consigned to a stable. What can that mean?  Clearly, it’s the uncomfortable idea that the poorest among us may be the richest in spirit.  The well off seldom see beyond their riches, which makes them the poorest among us.
    3. The best Christmas song is “The Little Drummer Boy.”  It’s told from the point of view of another poor boy who can’t afford even a tiny gift.  All he can do is play his drum.  But that’s enough.
    4. If you need cheering up, take a minute and think back to the single best gift anyone ever gave you.  I’d bet a gold ornament that (1) it was a complete surprise; (2) it made you choke up or yelp when you opened it, and (3) it made you feel deeply grateful for the giver.  And you still are.
    5. What’s the true meaning of the Santa Claus story?  It’s simple:  there’s a character generous enough to freely give gifts to the world’s children once a year. It’s a story of global, unfathomable generosity.  We’re all too scroogy; we can learn from Santa.
    6. At its best, Christmas promotes both gratitude and humility.   Who can ponder the “true meaning” of Christmas without feeling part of a larger whole, dwarfing the pettiness and meanness in which we’re too often mired?   This comes with the spirit of giving on all levels, and has little to do with any cult, sect, or religion.
    7. Finally, once a year we feel encouraged to find our larger selves, beyond hypocrisy and the pettiness of politics, family squabbles, religion, ancient grudges, the gripes and whines that keep us small and miserable.   A hearty thanks to a holiday that reminds us we can be better.          

    A refreshed Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, everyone.   

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    • Cedar Valley Chronicles
    • Christmas
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