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
  • Attention All Drinkalotics

    • Posted on Jan 19, 2014 by Scott Cawelti
    This appeared in the Sunday Courier today (Jan. 18) and grew out of personal experience--namely, a terrible New Year's Day.   Radical moderation works for me.  
    Certain acts are illegal and/or harmful, yet vast numbers of us do them anyway.  Speeding.  Littering.  Appropriating employers’ property for personal use. 

    Most of all, drinking.  Alcohol, that is.  Good ol’ Al, my friend and yours.  He’s invited to every party, dinner, celebration, and sports event on the planet.   And he attends them all.  

    No news there.  Except that last week, the Head of the Centers for Disease Control issued a report that flat-out asserts we drink too much.  We’re not alcoholics so much as drinkalotics. 

    We stop long before passing out, but not before feeling really, really happy.  And thinking we’re very, very witty. 

    Until the next morning, when we feel like dog pucky.     

    Here’s the problem, according to the CDC: Few doctors ask patients about their drinking habits.  As long as they’re not passing out nightly, they’re doing fine.  Yet “social” or “moderate” drinkers are often heavy imbibers, don’t admit it, and happy their doctors don’t ask.

    At least 38 million Americans down too much alcohol, according to this new CDC report.

    How much is too much?  Drinkers, listen up:  more than one drink in 24 hours for women, and more than two for men.   If you’re drinking more, you’re a heavy drinker, says the CDC and other studies on alcohol consumption. In the long haul, that’s big trouble for heart and liver problems, cancer, relationships, jobs, lost potential.  

    A dear departed doctor friend of mine enjoyed a glass of wine or three now and then.  As a doctor he used to joke, “an alcoholic is anyone who drinks more than their doctor.”  We both found his definition amusing, since that meant none of his patients were alcoholics.

    He enjoyed his wine—and his life—immensely.   But he did understand moderation, and kept it under control.  We seldom binged, meaning five or more drinks within two hours.  Many drinkers consider that the start of a good night.  

    I have my issues with Al, though.   On a particularly bad morning last year—after a long hearty party, I noticed that everything about me was impaired.   Memory, energy, mood, outlook, all gone dark and negative.  It felt like a nasty case of flu, both physically and mentally.

    Not pleasant.  I made a list of all those impairments and created this acronym:  MEMHOC, to rhyme with “hemlock.”   Memory, energy, mood, health, outlook, clarity.  All seriously impaired or distorted. 

    So why not quit?   If Al makes us sick, why keep him around?  Good question, and easily answered:  He’s fun.  Really fun, and in small doses, even behaves like a health tonic.

    Up to two drinks, that is.  After that, Al’s poison.

    That’s the dilemma with alcohol.   When we drink two wonderful glasses of wine with dinner, a huge desire arises for a third.  And a fourth.  Then pass the fifth.   Then pass out.

    Vast numbers of drinkers actually drink heavily, bingeing several times monthly.  

    For them, in all its ugliness, addiction looms.

    Radical moderation is in order, and oxymoronic though that phrase may be, it’s the only sensible approach to keeping ol’ Al around without major health issues.  

    For all drinkers who think they’re drinking moderately, here’s a two-step idea:  First, quit for seven days.   Cold turkey, and immediately. 

    This will tell you how much you crave Al’s company.  If you feel lost and upset, or just can’t do it, you have a poisonous relationship. 
    Second, if you only miss him slightly around dinnertime, invite him back for short visits. Once, maybe twice occasionally.  Never more.  I guarantee better memory, energy, mood, health, outlook, and clarity.  A better life, overall. 

    Ol’ Al makes a fine friend--but a terrible roommate.    



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    • alcohol
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