Communities, groups, and corporations all have their own jargon, terms, catch-phrases and other language variants. This is fine. But sometimes this lingual flexibility goes too far. Today, I give you 5 terms whose use should be brought to an end in conference rooms and board rooms across the country.

5.) Action item (n.) – Something you have to do because your boss told you to do it.

Boss: I’ve given Fred an action item to shine my shoes and make 83 photocopies of my daughter’s country club membership card.

Fred: Hmm, I’ll have to delay my usual sycophant chores today so I can complete these important Action Items.

“Action item” sounds like something you need for a quest in a nerdy role-playing game. It’s not even sexy sounding. You have a damn job or task or chore to do. Calling it an “action item” doesn’t make it (or you) more important.

*See also: Action Item…Professional Superhero

4.) Bleeding edge (n.) or Bleeding-edge (adj.) – 1. (n.) The forefront, at a point ahead of the competition; 2. (adj.) Used to describe an advanced technology or unique product.

A few years ago, the place to be was the cutting edge, or companies wanted to design and sell cutting-edge products. Now companies aren’t satisfied with simply cutting; now they want to bleed. This metaphor makes no sense. Edges don’t bleed unless they’ve been over-saturated with some liquid—like ink or blood. If you’re on the bleeding edge, it sounds like your Research & Development team is over-spending its budget and/or working outside the scope of its project plan.

3.) Guesstimate (n.) or (v.) – 1. (n.) A guess or an estimate. They’re the same damn thing; 2. (v.) The act of making a guess or an estimate.

If you consult a thesaurus, you’ll find that the words “guess” and “estimate” are, in fact, synonyms. There is no good reason to conflate these words into one. You’re not showing that you’re simultaneously using two techniques to reach your conjecture. You’re just proving that you’re a slave to office slang and made-up words. It’s cutesy and should not be used by any self-respecting adult (with the possible exception of 1st grade teachers).

2.) Impact on (v.) or Impactful (adj.) – 1. (v.) Used as a synonym for “affect”; e.g., How will Ted’s untimely death impact on the project team? 2. (adj.) To indicate something that has had a profound effect on something else; e.g., Ted’s untimely death was an impactful moment for our team.

Unless Ted died by falling from a great height onto his project team, it’s safe to say his death had no “impact on” them at all. Furthermore, his death was not “impactful” because “impactful” is not a word. Period. End of discussion. No matter how effective a particular speech, earnings report, or sermon may have been—maybe it was moving, powerful, awesome, or brilliant—it was never “impactful.”

1.) Utilize (v.) – To use.

Yeah, ok, so it’s a word. And if you want to be a pretentious jerk, utilize it to your heart’s content as you wax philosophical about your company’s bleeding-edge product that is, like, sooo impactful that you can’t even begin to guesstimate how many action items it will complete for you. “Use” is perfectly fine; and if you find “use” too pedestrian and lacking in gravitas, chances are that most people don’t listen to you anyway.

Last week, Sean Penn posted another shrill diatribe lambasting the Bush administration, denouncing the war in Iraq, and raging against the idea of military confrontation with Iran. In the most general of terms, I agree with Mr. Penn on all of these points (Bush & Co. = awful leaders; war in Iraq = wrong decision; war with Iran = compounding an already awful situation). Unfortunately, Mr. Penn seems to have the same cognitive deficiencies as the President. (And judging by his gross misuse of commas and semicolons, Mr. Penn’s screeds aren’t edited before they’re posted).

To wit:

Sean Penn: And if we give that corrupt leadership, (by attacking Iran militarily) the opportunity to unify that great country in hatred against us, we’ll have been giving up [sic] one of our most promising future allies in decades. If you really know anything about Iran, you know exactly what I’m referring to.

GWB: The best way to protect this country is to defeat the enemy overseas so we don’t have to face them here at home.

Both of the above statements lack the substance and/or reason to justify either the Iraq war or a non-military approach to the Iran situation. Unfortunately, these superficial assessments of complex matters of geopolitics are always the loudest voices on either side of the debate. I could write a small book on what currently passes for debate on the US policy in the Middle East. Instead, I’ll focus on the two statements above, because I think the essence of each shows exactly why reasonable people (on both sides) continue to get shut out of this discussion.

[I’m trying to remain neutral here, but in the interest of full disclosure, I am no fan of the Bush administration]

Bush’s and Penn’s fundamental error is that neither of them is capable of seeing the situation in anything more than episodic bits. First we invaded Iraq because they were developing WMDs and had links to terrorists, then, to capture Saddam, and now to keep the terrorists from being transported from our TVs into our neighborhoods. Considering that the terrorists in Iraq (or whatever you want to call the people attacking US forces) are using rather simplistic means to attack Iraqis and westerners (e.g., IEDs, car bombs, and assorted booby traps), and considering that the administration has gotten a fair number of Americans paranoid of brown-skinned people, how likely is this scenario? Really? You’re telling me that dozens or hundreds or thousands of so-called terrorists are going to get passports, get money, fly to the US, and start militant jihad on our soil? We’re so paranoid that we’re arresting people who don’t even have the means to scout–let alone attack–their alleged target. The collective hand-wringing and scaremongering isn’t a good technique to persuade terrorists to try a negotiation method short of their literal self-destruction. Addressing Bush’s elementary argument, at what point are our enemies “defeated?” There will always be someone somewhere roaming freely hating America, or taking up arms in the name of a radical practice of some religion.

On the other hand, Penn talks about his trips to Baghdad and Iran as though simply being in a country qualifies him to advise on international policy. The gibe, “If you really know anything about Iran, you know exactly what I’m referring to,” is just as inane as “Either you’re with us, or you’re against us.” Though I’ve never been to Iran, I think I know more than the average person on the street, and I have no clue “exactly what” Sean Penn refers to. I know in 1953 we successfully ignited a revolution that brought a relatively stable secular regime into power for 25 years; I know that puppet regime was toppled, the US embassy was stormed, and 70 Americans were held hostage for over a year; I know we funneled weapons to Iran in the 1980s; and I know that while the current Iranian leader has a knack for saying inflammatory things, he’s really not the one calling the shots. Given any or all of these facts, one could draw several different conclusions about what Sean Penn is trying to get us to understand. As long as Ahmadinejad or Bush is in power, I don’t see much hope for the great future alliance to which Penn alludes. I’ll be happy if the two leaders can keep from escalating the current situation beyond the status quo.

If Mr. Penn were to explicitly tell us “exactly what” he’s talking about re: Iran, and then go so far as to embellish on the “exactly what,” maybe he’d fade into the masses, where most reasonable people sit, and the neo-conservative militants would be exposed as raving mad. But as long as he’s more theatric than substantive in his arguments, he’s hindering the cause he’s trying to champion.

Game shows are microcosms of the American psyche: average person is faced with challenges, may need to compete against others, has potential to reap huge reward—all conveniently condensed into 30- or 60-minute blocks for consumption by the masses. For decades, this format has produced some successful, long-running shows . Some of these shows require actual brain power and knowledge, in others one only needs to make some lucky guesses.

Right around the dawn of the 21st century, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? came along and started the game show genre’s downward spiral. Fomenting what would eventually become the attractive element of so-called “reality” shows, Millionaire introduced a level of theater and drama typically reserved for CSI interrogations. The show became less about the individual player and more about the suspense. The other new annoyance feature of the nouveau game show is the contestant’s external internal monologue. For example:

REGIS: Ok, Mildred, for $3000, what color are oranges? Is it A) Blue, B) Green, C) Orange, or D) Purple?

MILDRED: Oh, geez, I know this one, I just had orange juice this morning with breakfast, but you know, OJ is kinda yellow and I don’t see yellow on there, so , oh man, I dunno, maybe, uh, ummm–

REGIS: Remember, you still have two lifelines; you can ask the audience or use the <Corporate Sponsor> Phone-a-Friend™. [Author’s note: Amazingly, Regis can verbalize the “™” symbol, it’s guttural, but distinct]

MILDRED: Hahaha, yeah, oh man, I know I should know this, I love orange juice, but I haven’t had an orange, like, you know, just an actual orange in a while…hmmm, lemme see, well, I don’t think it’s orange because that seems too obvious–[audience claps supportively]–maybe it’s green? Things that grow out of the ground are green, right? Are oranges the entire plant or are they like a berry on a bush? Oh, wow, this is such a stumper so early on…

[And so on]

I have to speculate–based on the difficulty of the questions–that the producers of Millionaire probably aren’t looking for the Ken Jenningses of the world. This lowest-common-denominator contestant casting is also apparent on shows like Deal or No Deal, and (not surprisingly) Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? A math whiz, or anyone with a background in probability and statistics could maximize his earnings on Deal or No Deal. The mouth-breathers on this show also get to bring along three friends who stand off to the side and shout conflicting information about which case to pick next or whether or not to take the deal offered (c’mon, we all know who the banker really is). Basically it amounts to an hour of rednecks-gone-wild hollering at attractive briefcase-wielding models who dramatically reveal numbers printed on posterboard. How is this entertaining? What does the viewer gain from watching this tripe?

Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? takes the loyal Deal or No Deal viewer and actually makes him/her think. Of course, there are some 10- and 11-year olds on hand to help. This show makes me weep for humanity. It’s basically the same schtick as Millionaire, except Fox is unabashedly acknowledging the expertise of both the contestants and their “help.” Like Deal, this show also wastes takes up an hour of primetime that could be filled with more entertaining programming (like a sitcom about a group of white people living in an urban setting offering comedic commentary on the mundane things in life…what? that’s been done? oh). But no. Instead, Large Corporations™ pay for advertising time knowing that the people watching these shows can’t be any smarter than the shows’ contestants, and thus are probably not very discerning consumers. Ergo, bad beer, erectile dysfunction drugs, unnecessary hair products, bubble gum, soda pop, and fast food continue to intoxicate the masses and retard society’s progress.

We need to return to a simpler time, where game shows were truly American and focused on the cash money prizes! Where people won things for answering a question, or solving a puzzle, or wearing odd clothes. We’re individualistic and don’t care about the contestant’s thought process! Prizes now! Talk later!

The last six years of neo-conservative dominance in American politics have moved this country closer to becoming an Orwellian fantasy and ever further from the ideals espoused by the Founding Fathers. In today’s GOP, there is no room for rational thought, open dialog, or compromise. This is the harmful legacy of Bush, Cheney, Rove, Rumsfeld, Feith, Wolfowitz, Rice, Gonzales, and their legion of toadies in the House and Senate who are more concerned with the power of their party than with the well-being of the country. The GOP has taken the tragedy of the 9/11 attacks and simultaneously used them as justification for dozens of legislative decisions and as a stick with which to beat anyone who would dare question their actions and motives.

Sadly, it seems that even in the wake of the 2006 midterm elections, much of the mainstream media is unable to critique or see through the GOP’s unimaginative rhetoric and tactics. Although Democrats control both houses of Congress, they are still struggling to control the tone and topic of the dialog between the American people and the officials steering our destiny. The GOP has advanced its agenda by appealing to the most basic of human impulses: fear. If every situation, every debate, every situation is boiled down to a good/evil, us/them mentality–”you’re either with us or you’re against us,” “axis of evil,” “aid and comfort to the enemy,” ” [Our enemies] wonder about America’s commitment to [the GWOT]“–we are doomed to make unenlightened and harmful decisions. There are alternatives to fight and flight.

Fear and loathing in America

The half-truths, rumors, and lies used to instigate the war of choice in Iraq are well-documented in other tubes of the Internet, so I won’t go into detail here. Now we are told, “failure in Iraq is failure of the United States” (oh, and that’s Dick Cheney quoting Osama bin Laden). Apparently the GOP defines our own success and failure as it’s determined by our enemies (who were our “friends” 25 years ago, but nevermind that). If someone has a critique of the Iraq conflict, it’s shouted down and dismissed by a reflexive retort like “are you saying Saddam wasn’t evil?,” or the unsubstantiated and purely speculative, “but if we leave, they’ll attack us here!”

We’ve supposedly seen at least three differentturning points” in Iraq since this misadventure began. One more would complete the circuit, right? What exactly does “success” mean in terms of this conflict? What does “failure” mean? Rather than give honest thought to these tough questions, GOP leaders would rather let our enemies set those parameters. And if our enemies are the ones controlling the terms of the dialog, it’s an easy logical jump for the GOP to say, “obviously, we can’t let this happen, because that’s what our enemy believes.” We’re right back at the lazy, binary, good/evil choice that got us in this situation in the first place. Once we’re at that decision point, roll out the memories of 9/11, remind people that there are people in the world who don’t like America, sip Kool-aid, lather, rinse, repeat.

Pushing the (wrong) limits of foreign policy

The GOP’s lack of foresight and general inability to discern facts from desired facts has resulted in unnecessary diplomatic brinksmanship with North Korea and Iran. Following a pattern all too similar to the faulty intelligence and bellicose assumptions that led us into Iraq, the administration and its cronies successfully made a bad situation worse (DPRK) and gave the Iranian government the means to justify its legitimacy to a population that might otherwise question its handling of domestic and economic issues.

W and Co. further isolated Kim Jong-il back in 2002, claiming that the DPRK was trying to enrich uranium to develop “noo-kyoo-lur” weapons. Then, in 2006, the DPRK goes and tests plutonium warheads. Oops. The GOP thinking on this seems to be along the lines of, “Well, it’s a Clinton policy, so it must be flawed. Let’s simplify it: North Korea is bad; we don’t wanna talk to bad people. There, that was easy.” The policy started by Clinton in 1994 wasn’t ideal, to be sure, but it was a workable and better alternative to the neo-con approach.

Now we’re faced with a situation where the administration is publicly accusing top Iranian of supplying IEDs/EFPs to insurgents in Iraq. (Maybe we recognize them?) Sure, these weapons are being used in Iraq, but if an anonymous, off-the-record briefing is how the hawks want to break this flimsy accusation, forgive me for being skeptical. In the context of the botched Iraq and North Korean intelligence, I would hope that there would be more calls for solid evidence and more steps taken to prevent another “preventative war.” Given the record of this country’s leadership over the last six years, is it any wonder that the Iranians are refusing to increase the transparency of their nuclear program?

The GOP policy is to browbeat its opponents (domestic and foreign) into seeing the world from its lazy and misguided black-and-white perspective. It’s on the level of the cave-dwellers who, we’re told, “hate freedom.” If the opponent can’t make that logical leap, he’s either attacked as an enemy, or lambasted as weak and foolish. There’s no room in the GOP psyche for nuance, consideration of equally valid viewpoints, or tact balanced with decisive action. This way of thinking and acting is beneath us as a country, and it’s despicable that we’ve allowed these “leaders” to behave this way on our behalf with such impunity.