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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  • 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.   

    Go comment!
    Posted in
    • Humor
    • Cedar Valley Chronicles
    • Christmas
  • A Rousing Political Song

    • Posted on Aug 04, 2013 by Scott Cawelti

    This appeared in today's (8-4-13) Courier.  Everyone knows the tune, but the words are new.  Try it. 


    One of the catchiest and most popular songs ever written was penned as a political statement:  “John Brown’s Body.”  It was first sung in 1861, just after the beginning of the Civil War, and stirred Northern Soldiers to action as they sang it to celebrate the anti-slavery cause.     

    When Julia Ward Howe heard it she was struck by the memorable melody and its abolitionist sentiment, but realized it needed more verses and nobler sentiments.   She based her words partly on the Biblical story of the end times, and wrote the unforgettable first line: 

     Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord . . .

    Thus arose “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” which served as a rallying cry for wielding the terrible bold swift swords of the Northern cause. 

     Because the tune is unforgettable, it has been parodied and sung by millions worldwide for over 150 years. 

    In fact, it’s so well known that Courier readers will instantly be able to sing this rousing version, hot off my brain last week.   It might serve to rally GOP loyalists to resolve their current civil conflict, which seems to grow worse by the week.

    If ever there was a time and need for GOP remake, it’s now.

    I call it  “Battle Hymn of the Republi-can Party” and it should begin with a reminder of the John Brown version.  Here it is with commentary.

    To be sung loud and free: 


    John Boehner’s Party lies a-mouldrin’ in the grave

    John Boehner’s Party lies a-mouldrin’ in the grave

    John Boehner’s Party lies a-mouldrin’ in the grave

    And its soul is up for grabs. 




    First Verse: 

    ‘Twas the party of Abe Lincoln and he kept the Union whole

    He freed the slaves and helped to heal the country’s wounded soul,

    And through the years they compromised and helped the country grow

    The Grand Old Party ruled!


    All factually true:  Republicans’ origins hark back to our greatest President, who

    kept the Union together after our traumatic brother-against-brother war.  No one but Lincoln and his new Republican party could have done that.  

    Honest Abe was a profound political statesman and healer, which makes the current party’s rescue all the more urgent.     



    Grand Old Party full of bleaters,

    Once was ruled by real leaders,

    Now it’s led by bottom feeders,

    The truth has passed them by.


    Verse 2: Eisenhower warned about the corporate war machine

    Nixon formed the EPA to help the country green

    Reagan helped tear down the wall and never acted mean,

    The Grand Old Party ruled! 


    Even though I couldn’t vote in the 1950s, I liked Ike, and so did the country.  He presided over eight years of stable growth and prosperity, and left office with a prescient warning about the “military- industrial complex.”  Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency by executive order in 1970, and Reagan helped end the Cold War in the 1980s.   Real leaders. 


    Verse 3:

    The rich are getting richer and the poor are staying poor

    Republicans are making sure by slamming all the doors,

    Gridlock rules in congress thanks to idiotic bores,

    The Grand Old Party rules! 


                The continuing shocking disparity between the very rich and the rest of us gnaws at the very heart of what America is all about.  The GOP still seems to put its faith in the long-discredited “trickle-down” theory, dubbed “Voodoo economics” by one of their own, George H.W. Bush.  


    Last verse:

    With Bachman, Palin, Steven King and Cantor in the stew,

    The right wing nuts all help support a crazy, silly crew,

    They hate Obama with a passion known to but a few,

    They don’t know what to do.  


    CHORUS and end with:


    John Boehner’s Party lies a-mouldrin’ in the grave

    John Boehner’s Party lies a-mouldrin’ in the grave

    John Boehner’s Party lies a-mouldrin’ in the grave

    And its soul is up for grabs. 


    A memorable marching/protest song might help do what common sense and logicseems unable to accomplish, namely help a formerly important political party get back to its leadership roots. 

    Sing away, everyone.  

    Go comment!
    Posted in
    • Politics
    • Cedar Valley Chronicles
    • Humor
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