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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  • Looking for our Next President: A Prediction

    • Posted on Oct 06, 2012 by Scott Cawelti
    NOTE on Sat. Oct 6, 2012.  The Courier published this piece on Sunday, January 28, 2007.  Dem and GOP candidates were just beginning to campaign.  Somehow, I predicted that Obama would win over Hillary for the Democratic nomination, and McCain would beat out Romney for the GOP nomination.  And that Obama would beat McCain for the election!  Have to say, ahem, this was pretty accurate.  Of course, Sarah Palin was an obscure governor at the time, so the prediction is even more remarkable, if not downright bizarre.   

    Have to say, I do predict here and now that Obama will win the election over Romney, simply because Romney is the weaker candidate on all fronts.   

    Here's that 5 3/4-year-old column:  

    Howard Dean did it.  So did Ed Muskie.  Michael Dukakis did too, and just a few days ago, Hillary.  
    I mean, they all looked terribly un-presidential for a camera.   The President of the United States needs to project dignity, gravitas, a seriousness of purpose that help his or her fellow citizens believe they’re competent, if not always inspiring.  

    So when Howard Dean screamed like a goosed cheerleader, and Senator Muskie broke down over a newspaper story questioning his wife’s sobriety and propriety, and Governor Dukakis peeped his helmeted head out of a tank he was driving, looking like a whack-em doll, their political fortunes were spent. 

    Hillary, however, gained by getting publicly verklempft because she seemed real at last.  Normally a policy wonk, in New Hampshire after her loss in Iowa she seemed genuinely movable, more human than politician.  I guess a future president needs to look human occasionally, especially when they usually seem robotically controlled. 
    Still, in our age of instant imagery, a general rule remains: Look like a president, act like a president, and someday you might become a president.  However, not necessarily a good president.  

    Warren G. Harding remains the model president-image.  He looked perfect for the part: Tall, handsome to a fault, a commanding physical presence.
    Yet he made a terrible president.  He did virtually nothing for just over two years, then died of a heart attack.  Even he believed he deserved oblivion, saying “I am not fit for this office and never should have been there.”  Actually, that level of honesty almost redeems him.  

    Which brings me to our current crop of candidates.  Some in fact do look and act more presidential than others.  In order of looking the part, from most to least:  

    McCain first: his long and hard experience shows in every line and knowing look. 

    Romney, with the hint of gray and good looks that make him almost shockingly photogenic.  

    Edwards, who manages to look permanently concerned.  

    Giuliani, whose impish smile comes a bit too readily, but seems at least potentially wise.  

    Huckabee, who looks for all the world like Richard Nixon’s brother, right down to the shifty eyes.  If he weren’t beating the Bible so robustly, he probably wouldn’t have made a ripple.  

    Last and least:  Hillary and Barack.  

    We’ve never had a woman or a Black president, so both have to run our national image of a president being a tall white male.  So they’re both breaking ground in the presidential image department, and more power to them.  
    Now I’m going to go out on a limb and predict not only the candidates, but also the outcome.  Save this column, and I’ll send a genuine quarter --$.25-- to anyone who sends it to me after the conventions or the election if I’m wrong on either. (Only one quarter per family, please.)  

    The GOP will collectively decide that they have confidence in McCain’s presidential appearance and nominate him, despite his advanced age and moderate stance on a number of social issues. 

    The Democrats will opt for making history, damn the imagery baggage and nominate Obama.  Hillary will go down fighting, but she will definitely go down. 

    So come next November, we will be choosing between the old candidate who looks presidential, John McCain, and the young candidate who looks like no other candidate in our history.  

    And we will choose Obama.  President Barack Obama.  Why?  

    Three reasons: 
    1. George W. Bush the man.   He did look presidential at times, though he never did speak or think much like a real president.  And look what a complete mess he’s made.  Anybody and anything associated with him will get short shrift from voters.  McCain strike one. 

    2. George W. Bush and Iraq. Unless we’re making undeniable progress there, we’re going to want to quit and spend our foreign policy billions where they might actually do some good. Guess which candidate supports Bush’s policies most.   
    McCain strike two. 

    3.  George W. Bush and issues: The economy, health care, immigration, and social security.  All problematic and getting worse. All unsolved.  All crying for solutions that the old guard hasn’t been able to find.  McCain strike three. 

    And he’s out.  

    And that’s my two-bits worth.  


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  • Cheap Electricity from Coal will be Short-Lived

    • Posted on Jan 28, 2007 by Scott Cawelti


    Coal as a fuel has one thing going for it:  Cost.  In fact, it’s cheap because it’s relatively plentiful.  That’s why some 150 new coal-fired electrical plants are now being proposed around the country, and many more around the world.  It’s probably the cheapest way to make electricity for the short term.

    In the long run, however, it’s the most expensive.  That’s the killer problem with coal.  Yes, it will be a cheap source of electrical generation for a decade or so, maybe. After that, if we continue putting the major byproduct of burning coal, carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere, there’s a good chance that current predictions will hold true:  Mother earth will began having hot flashes. And that means big trouble for humans.

    We’re talking about major climate changes the likes of which no humans, and likely no living things in the past have ever experienced:  Superstorms on a scale of Katrina or worse; killer hot spells in warmer climates that will last for weeks and even months; inundation of coastal cities and low-lying countries; and all manner of other changes which none of us will live to see. But our grandkids will. 

     And they will wonder:  What in the world were we thinking?  Why didn’t we stop it when we had a chance?  By “it” they will mean our profligate use of fossil fuels, with little regard for the effect they were having on the planet.

    Now I realize that some of what I just wrote remains in dispute.  Yet a definite consensus is emerging.  There’s little disagreement our global climate is warming. That’s taken now as a fact, given the glacial and ice melts, plus the records for warmest temperatures keeps getting broken nearly every year.   What remains in dispute is the degree that human activity is entirely to blame for it—some say it’s a small percentage, others a larger one.  And of course, what to do about it. 

    Even if our climate change is only partly human-caused, the probable consequences are so catastrophic that we really must start now.  Which brings me to the proposed coal-fired plant in Elk Run Heights in our own backyard. 

    I realize that life amounts to trade-offs.  We drive our cars, drink our alcohol, smoke our cigarettes in spite of the risks and expenses, and knowing full well the damage they can cause.  The same with a power plant.  We all take electricity for granted, but someone has to generate it somewhere, and the pollutants surely can’t be any worse that what we put up with in a smoky bar or on a traffic-choked street.  We put up with it because of the benefits. 

    Yet, and it’s a big yet, new legislation looms everywhere that will begin to clamp down on carbon emissions.  Standards for cars will change relatively soon.  Calls for conservation, long overdue, are surely on the horizon, with Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth being the first shot in that battle. 

    And any reasonable person can see that coal-fired plants will likely become an endangered species, sooner rather than later. In other words, the long run will be here sooner than we think.  Then the government will either demand massive new technologies for cleaning up those plants or just shut them down.

    From what I understand, LS Power is not currently planning to make our backyard coal plant of model of pure-air release.  It’s going to be a standard, relatively low-cost plant—they’re not in business to serve communities first, after all. They’re not a charity or a municipal utility, after all.  They’re in business to make money off selling electricity.  So we can count on them doing what’s required to get the plant online, no problem. But nothing more.

    Now, here’s an idea.  Because there’s a chance, and a good one, given the current changing political as well as global climate, that the LS Plant will barely be up and running before it has to be modified or shut down (to put it bluntly) why not be the first community in the nation to look toward the future with alternate possibilities for energy creation and conversation?

    Why not openly set out to make the Cedar Valley a model of conservation, where each of the cities and industries steadily reduces its electrical and overall energy use?  A region wide effort in this direction would garner national attention, especially if done in conjunction with refusing to accommodate an outmoded technology. 

    And why not begin to encourage research efforts as a region to support other technologies that won’t contribute to global warming?  I’m talking about geothermal, a promising technology that’s barely funded in this country but popular elsewhere, and of course solar panels for houses and businesses, wind-generators that are getting ever more efficient, as well as bike paths everywhere to encourage breaking our addiction to oil.

    Once we start down that path, we will discover new ways of thinking that we can hardly imagine, as happened with air travel and the computer. 

    And of course we might feel proud that our little Cedar Valley led the way instead of followed, a point that won’t be lost on our grandchildren.



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