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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  • Santa Barbara Shootings: We Were There

    • Posted on Jun 08, 2014 by Scott Cawelti

    This column appeared in the Waterloo Courier today, Sunday, June 8.  My family was  eating a few miles from where Elliott Rodger began killing students and his roommates in Isla Vista, a small section of Santa Barbara.   We didn't know about it until the next morning, and then realized it could have been us.



    Friday night, May 23, I stayed in a Santa Barbara motel in a room next to my son and grandchildren.  

    We enjoyed several afternoon hours at the zoo and the motel pool, taking in the glorious California coastal weather. Walking two blocks around suppertime to an Outback steakhouse, we stayed blissfully unaware of the mass shootings four miles away.

    The next morning when we heard the news, we were shaken.  Horrific.  Senseless. Insane.  Within walking distance.

    Elliott Rodger could have driven by and shot us to pieces, making us part of his “Day of Retribution.”  

    Well, not quite.  Turns out Rodger wouldn’t have bothered with a strolling middle-aged family. He targeted women, specifically pretty blond women, the kind he desired but couldn’t attract.

    Because he thought they avoided him, he grew to hate them, madly and deeply.  He made plans to capture and torture a few, including their boyfriends.  Rodger created a 140-page manifesto, which he called “My Twisted World.” He emailed it just hours before his killing spree.  

    It’s a hard read, filled with angry rants against not just women, but also men who succeed in dating women—‘brutes,” he calls them.  In fact, Elliot Rodger hated the whole world, calling mankind “disgusting, depraved, and evil.”  

     He ends with, “All I ever wanted was to love women, and in turn to be loved by them back. Their behavior towards me has only earned my hatred, and rightfully so! I am the true victim in all of this.  I am the good guy.”  

    Deeply twisted. 

    Yet how many thousand teenage boys feel rejected, neglected, avoided, made fun of, by the women they desire most? How many of them long for long-term relationships but fail?  How many struggle with acceptance, unable to make friends?  

    In fact, that’s teenage life at times: Lonely, frustrating, self-pitying, lost.

    It’s the school of hard knocks, and most of us eventually grow up and find some of what we want—enough to feel happy most days.  

     That’s what reasonably healthy people do as they become adults.  But Rodgers suffered from serious mental illness. His reality was upside down and inside out; his roommates wanted him to move out.  He stabbed them all to death.     

    At what point do we intervene, putting such lost souls not just under surveillance but in hospitals?  Clearly, that’s where he belonged, and clearly, he should never have gotten anywhere near weapons, including knives.

    Given the warning signs, including threatening videos and that manifesto, he should have been picked up and kept for observation.  Yet police did interview him a few days before his rampage, and found him polite and “normal.”  Unfortunately, they didn’t read his rage-filled online rants or his video postings. 

    Even if they had, they couldn’t arrest him under current laws.  Freedom of speech protects all kinds of crazy talk, as it must.    

    In other words, nothing could be done until he broke the law. He was privileged, leisured, and behaved within legal boundaries.   That’s the most disturbing aspect of Rodger’s killing.  We’re helpless under current laws.  

    A new bill allowing police to impose a “Gun Violence Restraining Order” is now being put before the California legislature, and that might have worked if his parents and police had intervened and a judge had agreed.  

    Yet there are hundreds of Elliott Rodgers out there, and few do anything but rant.  How many can we lock up?  How many more police and investigators will it take? 

    Given the easy availability of guns and the pervasive desensitization of killing provided by “shooter” video games and blockbuster movies, we’ve created a culture where sick minds become dangerous.  

    It could have been me and my family.   It could be you and yours.  

    We keep repeating “Not One More!” at rallies.  

    Until next time.     


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  • 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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