My outraged little pals, are you feeling a little put off by the 21st century? Me too, dammit. Well, just now I got nothing to make you feel better, but if you’d like to sharpen the blade of your outrage to a gleaming edge, one of the best whetstones out there is ZNet, the online alt-press clearinghouse of Z Magazine. Great critiques of just about any crucial issue you can think of, with articles, links, reports, and other resources that will make you grind your teeth in righteous frustration at the efftup state of the world.

Aww, Smith, you say, ain’t it more blissful to stay ignernt? Yes. But it feels good, sorta, to be in the know, and pissed off.

So try ZNet. Now is a good time, too. For one thing, they’ve consolidated a number of appriciations by friends and admirers of Edward Said, the activist and all-around intellectual renaissance man who died this past week. For another, they’re in the early stages of developing Z Daily, a service that apparently blitzes subscribers with articles every day and includes a forum for contributing authors. They could use your input in their poll.

One of the best reasons to visit ZNet is that they publish Robert Fisk, the incredibly gutsy journalist from the Independent whose reporting from Iraq and the Middle East is among the best out there.

Let me tell you, two years ago I had one lousy day, a complete fog of unreality from the moment I woke up to NPR with vague early reports to the time I went to bed but did not sleep. They evacuated my office building, which is five blocks from the White House, and when I was finally able to drive home five hours later, I could see the tower of smoke from the Pentagon as I crossed Key Bridge into Virginia. Disbelief and outrage and grief, like everyone else.

Once it had sunk in and I was able to think about the larger picture, I felt even worse. I have a bit of a cynical streak, if you ain’t guessed already, and it burns particularly bright when I think about this administration. On September 10, you had an administration and President with middling approval ratings, with Rumsfeld and Ashcroft particularly unpopular. Within a week of the attack, with flags everywhere, the President polling high, and bricks flying through the windows of Mosques and Muslim (and Sikh, fer chrissake) community centers and businesses – the saber rattling had begun in a White House that considered itself newly sanctioned to wreak holy, military, and corporate vengeance on “terror.” You’re either for us or against us. We’re gonna get you sumbitches. The evildoers hate freedom. Freedom haters? This is the sort of thing you get when you give a dozen monkeys a dozen typewriters.

Bush and his marketing staff began their campaign to appropriate all the grief, death, and destruction as fuel for a patriotic fervor that would serve as a shield for politicians and the military-industrial complex as, for example, they bombed hundreds of innocent Afghans, violated Geneva conventions, passed the execrable Patriot Act, detained innocent Americans because they were Arabs or Muslims (how many still detained and awaiting trial?), branded dissenters as traitors, and created the “War on Terror,” a mission whose methods, aims, and justifications are as vague as its name.

And in the name of fighting terror, this sham war on Iraq. The attacks two years ago were the perfect excuse. See the names at the bottom of this 1998 letter to Clinton? These are the Neocon Chickenhawks who have been gunning for Iraq since Bush I. George H. W. wasn’t compliant enough, Clinton wasn’t going to listen to them, but now there’s Dubya, and oooh look, terrorism. Georgie, wanna go to war? Look around this site, kids. It’s a program for American imperialism, and Dubya is their perfect little tin Caesar.

And yesterday Caesar called for enhanced police powers as part of a push to expand the execrable Patriot Act. This due process business is really getting in the way of the War on Terror, I guess. The ACLU has produced a good high-level analysis of Bush’s requests; while you’re at their site, be sure to read their other Patriot Act materials.

So this is how this administration memorializes the people who died two years ago. Stripping civil liberties, bombing civilians, bolstering arms companies, handing out huge contracts to Halliburton and other corporate titans (wonder where that 87 bil is going?), and of course, praying. Awww, look, the president is praying!

Taken all together, it’s insulting. Tonight I’m going to drink a few to the victims of the attacks and remember them, but damned if I’ll celebrate “Patriots Day.”

Alabam-dammit! I’m a little frustrated with the Yellowhammer State this morning. That’s what they call it, the Yellowhammer State. This is not why I’m frustrated. There’s the whole commandments-shaped-rock-in-the-courthouse issue as well, the most widely reported but least interesting point of crisis for separation of church and state. But that ain’t my boggle.

In yesterday’s statewide vote, Alabamians rejected a $1.2 billion tax increase, with about 67 percent against. This is the Alabama with the lowest funding for education in the U.S. This is the Alabama whose tax code, which requires a constitutional amendment to change, taxes its wealthiest about three percent and its poorest about 12. This is the Alabama that starts taxing family income at $4600 but can’t seem to get much tax dough from wealthy landowners, the sprawling timber industry, and other parties rich enough to sacrifice a bit more for the greater good.

The unlikely champion of Alabama’s tax increase was its gun-supportin’, anti-abortion, anti-gay, conservative Christian soon-to-be-former governor, Bob Riley – whose new nicknames among his republican colleagues might include “traitor” and “deadboy.” His campaign was the most visible manifestation of an odd little eddy in the religious right that sees helping the poor and desperate in society as a Christian duty worth the heresy of higher taxes. The Christian Coalition, with the exception of its Alabama chapter, supported the campaign.

And they tried to reach the African-American community, which seems to have shown some support. And they tried to reach the state’s poor and somehow get across a crucial message: not only are we not raising your taxes, many of you won’t have to pay taxes anymore at all. Didn’t work, though. With that much opposition, most of the people whose families would have benefited most must surely have been at the polls voting no.

Is it because of the state’s crummy, broken old school systems, is it because the poor are easily manipulated by the rich, is it because desperation breeds suspicion of strange ideas and misplaced trust in the sham authority of wealth – is this why the Republicans were able to kill this thing? I reckon.

My heart’s not broken or anything. I lived for a year in Alabama when I was about six but I don’t remember much. And it’s no surprise. It’s sad to say, but I guess it was the ignorance-bred conservatism of the Democratic South that turned it into the Republican South. Tennessee is no better. In Nashville (Smith’s hometown!) a few years ago citizens pelted the Capitol building with bricks while the legislature was debating whether to create – not increase but create – a state income tax.

Git big gubmint off mah back! No, you jackasses! Get poverty off your backs!

So yeah, I’m annoyed.

It’s Monday, so let’s just get this out of the way: I have a job.

Nice weather this weekend, so I got on the bike for a nice spin of, say, seven miles. There’s something about hunching down over the handlebars, pedaling hard, and then coasting down a long, winding hill that makes me feel like a kid again. Sweet. Everything else about riding a bike makes me feel like an old man. I’m getting there, though. Last weekend I had to dismount and walk the machine up a few hills. Not Saturday. Never gave up once. Though I wish I had. My knees are killing me, but I’m sure it’s only the tendons, bones, muscles, and cartilage, nothing serious. I’ll recover, though, and keep at it. After all, would Sam Clemens give up? No! Remember, kids: WWMTD?

Now here’s some news that, in moral discourse, might be called a dilly of a pickle. Yesterday Florida executed minister-turned-avenging-hand-of-God Paul Hill, who in 1994 shotgunned dead an abortion doctor and his driver outside a Pensacola clinic. Now this Hill, let’s clarify, was a twisted sick appalling shite by any valid moral measure. He made it clear during his exit interview that Florida was actually sending him (via lethal injection) directly to his eternal reward in North Bosomofchristville. General ranting frothing outrage about Hill and his crime and the sort of biblical loopholes that make his kind of violent hypocrisy possible – let’s just take that as read. Toodle-oo, deadboy, right?

But dang! No. I oppose the death penalty, and oppose it more the more I learn about it. Much as I find Hill and his kind revolting and little as I think he deserves to live, murder codified, directed, and carried out by the state gives me the creeps just as much – albeit in a more abstract and complicated sort of way. But let’s also take the death penalty debate as read – it’s out there for you furrow-browed internetniks – and suggest that, given that the appalling Hill is a hero to, let’s say, thousands of righteous kooks, it’s a bad idea to make a martyr of this particular scumbag. Many people did in fact make this argument to the governor of Florida, but really, what are the odds of a Bush commuting an execution?

So let’s see, religion-motivated murder plus state-sanctioned murder equals the holy martyrdom of Paul Hill. Light a candle for St. Paul of the Unwanted Embryos, ye faithful snipers for Jesus, before smiting those wicked in your sights!

Yes, ain’t it just a real moral choke-pretzel. But wait, there’s more! For the foundation for the whole sad story is the immensely complicated abortion debate, which has polarized to dangerous and stupid extremes that, at best, ignore the various moral, developmental, civil, and scientific subtleties that deserve serious attention, and at worst, get someone killed, and that person’s killer killed, etc. The whole thing is an American morality play.

Who sanctions the beginning of life? Who sanctions the end of life? What if Paul Hill’s God isn’t there? What if there’s no hell to send Paul Hill to? Yeah, it’s a doozy.

The D1, not the D2. It’s not the D2, it’s the D1. The D1 will put you two blocks from the office. Take the D2 and you’ll have to schlep from Dupont Circle. Rebuff, eschew, and shun the D2. I’m quoting here my friend and trusted guide to MetroBusing from my home to my office. Had to take the bus this morning. Had an early meeting.

What you’ve got to understand about my brain is that the built-in compass that birds, fish, mammals, and many humans enjoy is entirely absent. I never grew one. Whether it’s a quirk of genetics or plain blockheadedness, I have no sense of direction, none. No awareness of my greater spatial environment. Unless the route I’m on is so well traveled as to be automatic, I get lost. Add to this what amounts to a small phobia about being lost, and you have yet more evidence that Smith is a neurotic mess. I lose my way, become agitated, panic a little, and at the rare extreme, I become disoriented and dizzy. To combat these effects, I try to listen closely to directions, try to remain calm when I’m on an unfamiliar path. I get by.

So this morning (raining) I got on the D2. Aha, here comes the D2, my bus, the bus my friend told me to get on, I thought. Did she say the D2? Here’s the D2. I’ll get on the D2.

I got on the D2. I couldn’t see well out of the fogged windows and past the people standing in the aisle. Was it the D2? What is this neighborhood? Where am I? Crap, I’ll bet it was the D1. Where does the D2 go? Dupont Circle. Fine. I’ll schlep it. All this, mind you, as the usual shortness of breath is setting in and my vision is going a little whorled and red. It’s a wet schlep from Dupont. My socks are soaked, and my meeting is in a cold room.

“I have a job.” That just about sums up American Splendor for me, and it pretty well explains why I and probably millions of Americans identify with Harvey Pekar. The quote comes from the scene where Pekar wakes with a start and grumble-barks “I have a job!” Is he reassuring himself? You bet; here’s a man who’s got it bad but knows how much worse it can be, here’s a man who needs the pittance he makes. But it’s also a lament; see the movie or read the comics and you get a good sense of the crap job he has.

It’s worse than my job, I’ll admit that, much worse. But there’s a greater Crap Job, a polyester-clad, pasty-faced god in the modern pantheon — and when Pekar woke up and called its name in American Splendor, I laughed and felt a small, tragic shiver of recognition at the same time. (Hell, that’s the whole movie for you — tragic laughter.) Me, I’ve got a decent job with decent pay, but sometimes I wake up on weekday mornings with a knee on the fluorescent-lit altar of the god of punch clocks, rayon neckties, carpal tunnel syndrome, customer service training videos, and non-dairy coffee lightener, and something in me grunts “I have a job” in that same relieved/despairing tone.

Because then I get up from my comfortable bed and eat organic cereal with soy milk and walk along hardwood floors to my hot shower. I put on decent clothes and drive my decent car to a business neighborhood where I am smack in the middle of a job spectrum that runs from lawyers and lobbyists to raving beggars.

Ratchet down a few spaces toward the purple end of that spectrum and you get Harvey Pekar, file clerk. Famous author of a respected counterculture comic, icon and iconoclast, but a career file clerk and Crap Job acolyte. In Cleveland.

The movie and the comics are about more than “I have a job,” of course. The line one of dozens of really good, really moving moments in the picture. You ought to see it. And read it, I know I want to. Pekar — don’t get me wrong, he’s not exactly a likeable character — but he’s one of the few average-working-schmuck voices with such a wide reach.

And for more on Crap Job and his minions, read Iain Levison’s A Working Stiff’s Manifesto. Levison is also not a likeable character, and his memoir is certainly not as moving, but it’s familiar in the same way.