Are Americans Stupid, Or Do We Just Not Care?

There was a strange story on CNN that analyzed President Obama’s speech to the nation on Tuesday night. However, this analysis was different than the norm. Instead of looking at the content or determining if it was effective or not, instead it concentrated on whether it was too “professorial” for most people to understand.

Once again, it’s the “dumbing down of America” conversation, and in truth there seems to be a lot of proof that it’s true in some fashion. Many of us have seen Jay Leno asking people on the street questions to things that should be obvious and heard the stupid answers that come from them. One time he interviewed recent college graduates and it was shocking to hear some of the answers they were giving.

You want to know how entrenched the idea is? Many of you know I’m a health care finance consultant. Well, one of the directives from Medicare is that any information we give to Medicare patients must be written at a 3rd grade level. That’s right, we have to try to find a way to write complicated stuff so an 8-year old can understand it. Trust me, that’s not easy to do, and hospitals get called on it all the time.

So, are we Americans dumb? Is our educational system failing us? The popular answer is “yes”. However, when you think about it, you’d have to say it’s not even close. What has happened is that people, including children, have locked onto what they believe is important to them, and on that specific thing they’re geniuses. Think back to your youth for a moment. How much do you remember from your history lessons? Then how many song lyrics do you remember from music you loved at the time?

Think about spelling. Man, do I see a lot of spelling mistakes everywhere. Even words people use all the time get spelled incorrectly. As a former employer, it used to amaze me that I’d get resumes where people would misspell the name of the school they went to; those immediately went into the trash.

Still, are we dumb? I’ll use myself as an example. I like to think I’m pretty smart. I know a lot about a lot of things. Yet, I have no concept of geography, which was highlighted again a couple of nights ago when our friend Ching Ya mentioned she lived in Malaysia, and I had absolutely no idea where it was. Then I looked it up on Google and I still wasn’t sure where it was; that’s a shame.

I also know nothing about cars except how to drive them and put gas in. I had a car years ago that I kept putting oil in, thinking it was leaking oil, only to learn that I’d been looking at something other than oil; I can’t even think of what it was at this juncture.

Why don’t I know these things? Because I don’t care. I can pay someone else to fix my car. I don’t see myself leaving the country any time soon (well, maybe a trip to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls again some day), so I have no interest in knowing where most countries are specifically, since I do have a general idea of where places are. Does this make me dumb or just uninterested? And if this is how I am, could most people be the same way?

I really don’t know; I’m just putting it out there. However, there’s a program called WebCEO that will analyze your website and give you a lot of information about it, and one time when I ran it against my main business website it said it was written at a high school level and that maybe I should change some of the language of the site. Frankly, I think telling someone that their content is too intelligent is an insult to others, and I’m not doing it.

Then again, I once wrote a song with the word “recalcitrant” in it, and my friend Scott said he wanted to hit me. I wonder if he remembers that. 🙂 Anyway, what are your thoughts on the intellect of either Americans, or the people in whatever country you live in? I’m betting we’re not alone in believing that our populations are less intelligent than in the past.

Trivial Pursuit Digital Choice

Price – $34.80


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Jeanni, R.I.P.

When I met the woman on the right, I also met the woman on the left. Only the woman on the left was 12 years old, and now… well, I speculate she’s got to be close to 40, if not so. That’s how long I’ve known Jeanni and Amy. For years, you didn’t see one without seeing the other. Then Jeanni married, had other kids, and Amy grew up and moved on with her own life.

This is my brief story about Jeanni. She wasn’t like almost anyone else I knew. She was loud, boisterous, and very ballsy. She was a bowler, and a very good one as well. She came across sometimes as direct and in your face, but it was a mask for the good person she really was. I could tell that in her daughter, who was the most adult kid I’ve ever met, and whom I finally got to tell that to about two weeks ago.

Jeanni, as it turns out, was very well known around town. A few years ago, she developed diabetes. In the past year, we all learned she had cancer. On Sunday, there was a fundraiser for her and her family to try to help with both bills and possible further cancer treatments. Yes, she smoked for most of her life, but she did quit about 6 or 7 years ago; sometimes, it’s just too late at a certain point. She ended up getting cervical cancer.

However, at this fundraiser, which was held at a local bowling alley, I don’t believe I’m exaggerating if I said that almost 400 people, if not more, came out. We all paid $20 to come in and enjoy the festivities, and then there were many other things we could do in contributing more money to the cause. They had raffles for gifts that were donated from a variety of sources, including a 32″ flat screen HD television; I mean, how many people are liked enough to have someone donate a gift like that? For that matter, how many of us believe nearly 400 or 500 people would come out for us if something like this were held for us?

I was amazed, not necessarily at the number of people but at some of the people who showed up. Turns out she knew a lot more people that I knew, and none of us knew that we all knew her. Turns out she bowled with a lot of both men and women all over the city, helped run adult and children’s league, and bowled in many tournaments. Turns out she volunteered a lot of her time to others; who knew? And on Sunday, all those people came together, along with 3 bands, lots of food, free drinks of sorts (no free diet soda, which is what I drink; what’s up with that?), and lots of bowling and laughter.

Her kids were there; she wasn’t. She had taken a turn for the worse. On Monday, she lost her battle. I thought about it because I believed if she had been well enough to attend that she would have been emotionally overwhelmed by the outpouring of love to her and her legacy. I think most of us would be astonished to have that kind of showing for anything we did.

So, once again, I have to hope that another friend rest in peace. Man, I hate getting older.

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Customize Your Google Page; There’s A Caveat Though…

Last week I heard the news that Google was going to allow people the opportunity to customize their main page. What they were going to do was to have certain images already set, but if you wanted to you could use your own image for the page.

I have to admit that I was excited. Though I have my Google page already altered thusly, there to the left (right click to see it bigger), via Stylish and Firefox, and I have that stupid sidebar shut down through a script on Greasemonkey, the idea of adding my own image was kind of appealing. And all we had to do was wait until, one day, the link to the bottom left of the Google screen popped up.

Mine popped up Sunday evening, and I thought that was pretty cool. I went to look to see what I had to do, and saw some choices already there. I saw that you also had to log in to your Google account, and for the first time I was sort of hesitant, and I wasn’t sure why. Then I realized why. The thing is if you want to use your own image, you must set up a Picasa account, which is their photo sharing site. Then you can upload your image and attach it to your page, and go on with your business. If you didn’t want to do that, you could upload one of their pictures, but you still have to have a Google account to use it, so that when you sign in it knows it’s you. Otherwise, you can stick with your white background, or do something like what I’ve done.

Here’s the thing about a Picasa account. If you have one, it pretty much means other people can go through your images. That’s what the user agreement says. I don’t have an account, so if there’s a way to make it private I don’t know about it. Still, the idea of someone being able to go through my personal pictures and use them for whatever reason they wish to bothers me somewhat. Yeah, I have some pictures on Facebook, but I knew that I’d be sharing those pictures with people I allow into my Facebook life, since that’s the kind of privacy I put on my account there. Anything beyond that, I’m not sure I want to deal with.

For me, I can do without it. Truthfully, if I wanted to tinker with it, I think, because I use Firefox, I could figure out a way to alter one of the scripts to use my own picture if I wanted to badly enough. However, overall, unless you really know what you’re doing, it’s not a great thing to go messing around with these scripts. That’s why my background is black instead of my favorite color, which is red.

Anyway, if you’re not quite as skittish as I am about sharing some of your images with the world, and you want to customize your Google page, go for it. It’s not a bad deal overall, and gets rid of the boring white. Lucky for me, I’ve already taken care of that on my favorite browser.

Sounds True, Inc.

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Thunderbird 3; I’m Not Impressed

Suffice it to say I’ve always loved Thunderbird by Mozilla. I loved it from the first time I saw it, probably mainly because it wasn’t Outlook. I know other folks loved Eudora, but it just wasn’t for me. I found Thunderbird gave me everything I wanted and more, and was happy.

Then came this latest version, and I find myself less than impressed. Thunderbird 3, which is now 3.0.4, has made some significant changes, which they say make it easier for new users, and offers some features they’ve never had before. But they’ve also messed up some interfaces, and if you ask me, there’s only been one good consequence from it.

First, they set up the default so it looks like Outlook; what’s that about? The idea behind Mozilla was that it was the anti-Outlook; if I’d wanted Outlook I would be using it. Maybe that’s the “easy” part for new users, using something they’re familiar with.

Second, they changed how you could save email addresses. Instead of opening up one of those Properties menus so you could add information and put it in any special mail category you’d created, now when you click to save the email address and you get the edit form you can add information, but you can’t place it anywhere special. Everything goes into a personal address book, and you have to open your contacts and move it to where you want it after the fact.

Third, let’s talk about the Contacts for a bit. That wasn’t even included as a default in the toolbar, and now that I’m calling it Contacts, let me back up for a minute. When I added it to the general program toolbar it was called Address Book. When you’re in an email you’re writing it’s called Contacts. And I had to add both; that was irritating. Sure, it will remember email addresses you already have if you just start typing it in, but if you’re doing multiple emails, and you want to BCC them, then typing each address individually can take up a lot of time.

Something they changed, which is why they didn’t put it on the toolbar automatically, was putting those tabs onto the email you happen to be reading. That’s not so bad if you want to keep all your email at the normal size it defaults to. I’m one of those people who likes opening emails to the full size of my browser so that I not only can read it easier by making it larger, but that way I only see one email at a time so that I’ll focus on that one email. Thing is, when you open an email all the way, those tabs aren’t always there. Oh, some are, but not all of them all the time. I find myself every time having to open it up, close it back, then open it again to get all those tabs back. If they’d just left it alone in the toolbar I wouldn’t have had to deal with it.

What did they add that they consider something good? They added a search bar which will search through your email to find something. When you do it a new tab opens in the program, something like if you click on some links in Firefox, and it will give you lists of where that word appears throughout the program. To the right it’ll give you 10 choices in a particular folder, then More will be there so you can click it to get 10 more. It’s actually kind of freaky; I like to have a better way of doing it.

And that leads to my one very good thing. It works much better with Google Desktop, which y’all know I love. Now when I download new email, it instantly indexes it, so that I can immediately find that email. Yeah, I know you’re saying who’d have a need to find something that fast. Well, I have 9 different inboxes set up in Thunderbird, so sometimes I’m not sure where an email actually went.

Now, the Mozilla folks are smart, so I figure in the next update, whenever it comes, they’ll have addressed at least a couple of my issues. When that happens, I know I’ll be a happy camper once more. For now, though, I’d have to say that I’m less than impressed with Thunderbird 3, yet it still beats Outlook by a mile.

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An Interview With Marelisa Fàbrega

To say that I admire Marelisa Fàbrega’s blog and her writing style would be an underestimation of the esteem I hold for her. I don’t know when I discovered her blog Daring To Live Fully, which she started in April 2008, but I know I love the way she blogs and share her posts whenever I can. If you’re not reading this blog regularly, you’re doing a disservice to yourself, especially if you want to learn how to be positive. I’m so proud that she has accepted my request for an interview, and, if you’ve seen other interviews on this blog, you’ll notice that she has totally different questions to answer. She’s unique; we deserved to learn something different.

1. What was it that led you into blogging?

About five years ago I worked as a labor attorney for the agency that runs the Panama Canal. One day I was talking to one of the canal pilots, and he mentioned that he was reading a book called Rich Dad, Poor Dad, written by Robert Kiyosaki. The book sounded really interesting, so I ordered a copy through Amazon. I read the book, and I really liked Kiyosaki’s definition of wealth, which is being able to pay all of your expenses from passive sources of income.

At the time, all of my income came from the salary I was making as an attorney. I started thinking of different ways in which I could earn passive income, and I decided to start a web site. On the web site I offered several personal development products for which I’m an affiliate (products which I use and love). I started the blog as a way to draw traffic to my web site. As I wrote more and more blog posts, and started getting good amounts of traffic and comments from readers, I really started to enjoy blogging. Now I blog for several different reasons: because it’s a source of passive income; because it’s a creative outlet for me (I love writing); because I learn and grow with each post that I write; and because I feel that I’m helping others to get more out of life.

2. You have an interesting background, especially the law degree. But you seem to do many other things. Tell us about yourself and what led you in another direction?

I’m from the Republic of Panama, which is where I currently live, and I’ve also lived in Nicaragua, Costa Rica, the US, Egypt, England, and Italy. I hold a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., as well as a Juris Doctor from the Georgetown University Law Center.

I think that you need to be constantly looking out for any opportunities lying on the horizon, and then choose among those opportunities based on what you think you’ll most enjoy doing, and what will give you the most satisfaction. The Internet is a fantastic opportunity: you can be a one-man or a one-woman operation anywhere on earth, and you can have access to the world and make yourself look huge. I’m still doing some law work, but I’m looking for ways to spend more time and energy building a strong online presence.

3. Your posts are quite deep and thought-provoking; how long does it take you to research your posts before you start writing?

When I start reading about a topic which I find interesting, I always want to know more. I do research until I feel like I have a good grasp of the subject matter, and that I have two or three very useful “takeaways” for my readers. That is, I’m not looking to just add to my readers’ knowledge-base. Instead, I want to offer them concrete action-steps that they can take to improve their lives. Sometimes I get there after an hour of research. Other times I do research for three or four hours. As an attorney, doing research is second nature to me.

4. You’ve gone against the grain in writing long, yet beautiful posts. What led you to write in that manner, and how would you compare it to the so-called experts who say posts shouldn’t be more than 400 words?

I’ve read in several different places that you should write one or two short posts a day. However, I tend to write two or three long posts a week. I think that the key to blogging well, and the key to life in general, is to be yourself and to do what feels right for you. One of the things that differentiates my blog is precisely that I try to cover topics in depth.

In addition, I pay a lot of attention to the quality of my writing, even though I’ve read that people just skim blogs looking for ideas and don’t pay much attention to the writing. I want to give my readers a rich, positive, quality experience each time that they read one of my blog posts. I guess, in a way, I want “Abundance Blog” to be to blogs, what Rolex is to watches (without the hefty price tag).

5. Do you generate any significant income through your blog and other websites, or is most of your income generated offline?

There’s a steep learning curve to making money online; it’s certainly not easy. One of the objectives for my blog and my other online activities is to earn passive income, as I said earlier in this interview. I’m already doing that. Now I just plan to gradually keep setting higher goals for myself in terms of how much passive income I make online. In the meantime, I do generate income offline.

6. I follow you on Twitter and it seems like you pretty much write from anywhere; is my perception correct?

I write mainly from my home office. I also write from a club I belong to that has a pool overlooking the ocean. I can sit there all day and write. Then, when I want to take a break, I can watch the fishermen in their tiny boats, and the cruise ships and container ships waiting in line to transit through the Panama Canal.

7. How many books have you written, and where do you find the time to write so much?

I’ve written one eBook so far, How to Be More Creative, A Handbook for Alchemists. It’s a guide to living a more creative life, and I’m happy to say that it’s gotten a lot of very positive reviews. I’m also in the process of writing another eBook which should be ready soon: “How to Live Your Best Life –The Essential Guide for Creating and Achieving Your Life List.” The second eBook is going to help people create a bucket list—a list of all the things they want to do before they die–, as well as give them tips, tools, and resources so that they can get out there and achieve their life goals.

How do I find the time to write so much? One of the topics I write about on my blog is productivity, and I try to follow my own advice. 🙂

8. You use Disqus on your blog, and as you know, I’m an opponent of that and other services like it. How do you find it works for you overall?

I like Disqus because I feel that it makes my blog more interactive. For example, people can share their comments on Twitter and other social networking sites. In addition, once you create a Disqus account it’s really easy to leave a comment on any other blog that uses Disqus.

9. Your blog is well respected in the blogging community; you’re always showing up on some list I come across, and I even included your blog on one of my top lists. How do you feel about the accolades?

I love it when my blog is mentioned by others, whether it’s by linking to one of my posts or by including me in a list of “top” blogs. I get people leaving comments on my blog all the time letting me know that they just recommended “Abundance Blog” to their readers, or that they linked to something I wrote, and I just get a huge smile on my face every time I read that. It makes me feel like people enjoy and appreciate what I write, and that’s a great feeling.

10. What three short recommendations could you give to people who feel like they’re struggling with both their blogs and their life?

I would tell people to make happiness their number one goal in life, and that happiness is a choice. In addition, happiness is a state of mind, so it’s something that you can have access to at any moment, regardless of what might be going on around you at any given moment. Also, you need to persevere. The people who get what they want in life are those who know what they want, who keep their eye on the ball, and who keep taking the necessary steps to get there, no matter what.

Once again, I thank Marelisa for this interview, which I hope all of you read, then follow back to her blog. You’ll be a better person for it.

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