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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  • Two Genuine Heroes

    • Posted on Apr 05, 2015 by Scott Cawelti
    Easter Sunday, 2015--here's today's Courier Column about two heroes, one local, one international.   They seem unrelated, but are in fact connected  by the idea of "hero"--someone who goes above and beyond in sacrificing him/her self for the sake of a larger cause that benefits everyone.  Jesus is the Christians' hero in that sense, of course, but we do have living examples among us.   


    Like “awesome,” and “cool,”  “hero” is a term that gets tossed around like verbal confetti.   

     “Wow, you’re a hero. You stayed up to watch that game!”  “Anyone who gets up before 6:00 to run is heroic!”  We’ve all heard such passing comments, and take them as small talk. 

     More seriously, people who survive horrific accidents and recover also get tagged as heroes.  “She’s a hero—managed to survive six hours in an overturned car underwater.” 

     Yet genuine heroes—self-sacrificing, going above and beyond—are quite rare, and deserve attention and celebration.  On a large scale, Oscar Schindler comes to mind, who risked everything to resist Nazi genocide.  On a smaller scale, peace core volunteers fit the bill, at least the ones I’ve met.   

     Locally, there’s Taylor Morris, who has turned his awful wartime injuries into a challenge to “Improve Your Situation.”   

     I heard him explain his attitude and ongoing life-improvements at a 
    “Ted Talks” event at UNI on March 28.   

     After an IED exploded near him in Afghanistan, he found himself traumatized and helpless—both arms and legs blown away. Few survive such horrendous injuries, but not only has he survived, he’s living a productive and full life, admired and in demand as a speaker and role model, and—get this—an inventor.  

     He’s been busy inventing devices that improve his ability to drive, use prosthetic limbs, and has made “improve your situation” a life motto that applies to all of us.  After receiving support from around the world for his grit and determination, his web site “Situation Improved” invites others to do the same by contributing their own experiences.   

     See for questions that allow you to tell your story.  People who ponder how they can improve whatever situation they find themselves in will benefit. 

     It’s a positive game-changer for those who have faced similar challenges, and not only trauma victims. 

     In another heroes arena, there’s Ayaan Hirsi Ali.  She just published “Heretic,” a book in which she explores and explains the current state of Islam.  Ali was born in 1969 and raised in Somalia as a Muslim, so speaks from direct experience.  

     At 23, she emigrated to Holland, went to graduate school, became a member of the Dutch Parliament, and in 2006 immigrated here, becoming a naturalized American citizen in 2013.  

     That’s unusual and admirable, but nothing truly heroic.   In fact, had she been born and raised a Christian and did what she’s done, few would have noticed.  

     Constant death threats from extremist Muslims make her a hero.   She’s an “apostate,” an “infidel,” a blasphemer, and an atheist. She’s scathing in her books and presentations, in which she roundly questions Islam and its current conflicts.  

     Put bluntly, she won’t shut up, and that puts her life at risk.   

     Thousands of Muslims have been murdered or maimed worldwide for committing the same “crimes,” none of which are criminal in other cultures or religions. 
    As she points out, recently large numbers Muslims have become “radicalized,” meaning they’re returning to the tenets of their original faith, formed in the 7th century.  “Sharia law” governs their approach to justice, and requires beheadings, amputations, and severe lashings for those break those laws.   

     She believes that fundamentalist Muslims need to move beyond their ancient rigid beliefs, which basically insists on one right religion, their own.   They threaten those who disagree with terrible punishments, including death by beheading or stoning.  “Fatwas” –death threats--are issued worldwide almost daily.  Even bloggers get murdered if they criticize Islam.   

     Other world religions have undergone reforms, and so must Islam, she insists.   

     Ali’s book “Heretic” deserves attention for its brave and serious discussion of Islamic reformation.  And Ayaan Hirsi Ali certainly deserves “hero” for writing it.
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  • More on Conservatives' Anti-Science Attitude

    • Posted on Mar 27, 2015 by Scott Cawelti

    Addendum and Clarification to Sunday’s Courier Column, “War on Drugs Has Gone on Long Enough.”  

    In my column last Sunday, I asserted that conservatives, in general, and hard right conservatives in particular, were anti-science, and too often ignore scientific truths in favor of their ideological bent.  

    I wrote:  “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.”  

    On second and third thoughts, that assertion needs clarification.  I will grant that both conservatives and liberals have been known to ignore researched facts when it doesn’t fit their preconceived beliefs.  Johann Hari ruefully points out in Chasing the Scream, cited in the column, even scientists ignore data when it conflicts with what they settled on as the truth of their own data—no matter how badly that data may be flawed.  

    Shame on those scientists, whether liberal or conservative, who of all people should know better.  Current research on drugs and the drug war yields some surprising and shocking truths that point to an entirely different approach to the war on drugs.   (See Chasing the Scream for the whole story.)

    In general, however, I will stand by my point that political conservatives oppose change more than liberals, and that contributes to a willingness to ignore facts.  One of conservatives'  defining traits is their adherence to tradition, a strong belief in keeping things as they are.   

    Anthony Gregory, writing in the September 12, 2012 issue of American Conservative, asserts, “Despite the prominent critics among their ranks, everyday conservatives have consistently revealed themselves in polls as more hostile to decriminalization [of currently illegal drugs] than liberals and moderates . . .Conservatives are still the main ideological barrier to drug liberalization.”

    This is a prominent conservative journal, and Gregory’s point is that conservatives need to understand that, to be true to their conservative ideology, they should start to lead the charge for decriminalization—beginning especially with marijuana.   He even sees signs that they are doing that, but also understands that conservatives abhor drugs and addiction more than they abhor the massive government intrusion that the drug war has become. 

    However, Gregory believes that current scientific evidence points to decriminalization on a large scale, and conservatives need to pay attention to that evidence, in spite of their natural inclination to continue our failed war on drugs.  

    As he puts it, “Perhaps Republican leaders—unafraid of accusations of being soft on crime, emboldened by a conservative movement increasingly skeptical of unlimited police power—are the ones most likely to lead the charge toward liberalization. This prospect leaves much to be desired, but for the first time in many years perhaps there is some hope on the horizon, and from an unexpected direction.”

    (See Anthony Gregory, “The Right and the Drug War,” American Conservative, Sept. 12, 2012)

    As  I said, one can always hope. 

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