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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  • 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.     

     

    CHORUS

    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. 

    CHORUS 

    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.  

    CHORUS

    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!
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  • Edward Snowden: Traitor or Hero?

    • Posted on Jul 07, 2013 by Scott Cawelti

    Google “traitor” and you come up with names that live in infamy:  Judas Iscariot, Brutus, Benedict Arnold, Tokyo Rose, Mata Hari, Vidkun Quisling, Kim Philby were convicted and either executed or punished with exile or infamy.

    Their crime?  Large-scale betrayal.  Let’s call it betrayal that damaged or destroyed more than friends and family.   After all, small-time betrayers—Russ Wasendorf and Mark Louviere locally, aren’t really traitors.  Their betrayals hurt themselves and those who trusted them, but no one calls them traitors. 

    Same with addicts who betray their vows to stay clean, and husbands and wives who betrayal their marital promises, captains of industry who betray their employees by sending all the work overseas, teachers who betray students’ trust, and so on.  Betrayal in fact seems quite like an ordinary human failing.

    Traitors, however, are more egregious and specialized betrayers.  Their actions 
    Google “traitor” and you come up with names that live in infamy:  Judas Iscariot, Brutus, Benedict Arnold, Tokyo Rose, Mata Hari, Vidkun Quisling, Kim Philby were convicted and either executed or punished with exile or infamy.

    Their crime?  Large-scale betrayal.  Let’s call it betrayal that damaged or destroyed more than friends and family.   After all, small-time betrayers—Russ Wasendorf and Mark Louviere locally, aren’t really traitors.  Their betrayals hurt themselves and those who trusted them, but no one calls them traitors. 

    Same with addicts who betray their vows to stay clean, and husbands and wives who betrayal their marital promises, captains of industry who betray their employees by sending all the work overseas, teachers who betray students’ trust, and so on.  Betrayal in fact seems quite like an ordinary human failing.

    Traitors, however, are more egregious and specialized betrayers.  Their actions damage a whole culture, hurting millions of innocents.  Spies. propagandists, saboteurs, and turncoats make wartime efforts difficult, causing death and suffering for their own side.  When caught, they suffer execution or permanent exile.   

    They’re widely despised for betraying causes that their country holds dear—though they might be treated as heroes by their country’s enemies.  In fact, if a traitor can find permanent asylum in those countries, they can live out their days in peace and comfort.  

    One country’s traitor is another’s friend, even hero.   All of our founding fathers were considered traitors by Britain, disloyal to the king.  So too with Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee, heroes in the South, traitors in the North.  

    So traitorhood is a complex business.  

    Which brings me to Edward Snowden.  Traitor?  Hero, a.k.a. whistleblower? Large numbers of angry U.S. officials and citizens denounce him as a traitor.  Almost as many, depending on their location and politics, believe he’s a hero/whistleblower who at least started a national conversation about abuses of government surveillance.

    Pro-hero forces insist that Snowden exposed the National Security Agency’s vast and unexamined invasion of both personal and official privacy.   One of my favorite self-evident truths helps untie this knot:  Meaning is co-created.  

    That is, one single meaning or truth doesn’t reside anywhere without someone bringing their own meanings to it and making it their own. 

    Therefore, anti-government conservatives and pro-libertarians, not to mention non-U.S. citizens, find Snowden a hero. 

    So who is right?   Or rather, is either position more right than wrong without also examining preconceptions about the role and power of government? 

    This is an age-old question and itself gets answered differently depending on what you bring to it.   Absolutists will insist there’s a single right, where relativists will insist it depends. 

    Here’s an answer:  It depends on who’s right according to the emerging evidence.

    That is, Snowden betrayed his employment agreement with the government—his security clearance—and therefore must be punished. That’s a given.  

    Yet if he did it for the larger good, he might deserve hero status.  Call it justified betrayal.  In other words, let him off easily and begin examining what his exposure reveals about the NSA.  This might transform the NSA into a more effective operation, ultimately.   

    That’s what happened to Daniel Ellsburg, who exposed the government’s corrupt prosecution of the Vietnam war, and in fact who is now seen as a hero of the Vietnam era.  Look up “The Pentagon Papers” for the full story. 

    But suppose the NSA’s information did prevent terrorist attacks, and that ability is now severely compromised, thanks to Snowden.  Our government has said just that.

    This makes Snowden a traitor who has damaged national security, putting us at risk for more terrorist attacks.  

    At this point, we don’t yet know enough to judge Snowden.

    If you’re positive that Snowden is a traitor or a hero, you’re letting your preconceptions rule.

    One of these days, a reasonable person will be able to judge Snowden accurately, meaning either a Benedict Arnold who betrayed and damaged his own country.  Or a Daniel Ellsburg who performed brave and heroic service at considerable risk to himself.

    But not yet. 

               

     

    Go comment!
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    • Cedar Valley Chronicles
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