THE NEW YORK TIMES SPREADS FEAR AND DESPAIR with this wonderful oddity of an article about “iconic crimes” in today’s metro section. I don’t know whether they publish this sort of thing to give publicity to the writer’s new book or to drive down housing prices, but it’s still fun to read this doozy of a closing thought over tea on a lazy Sunday afternoon:

The crimes that become iconic etch themselves into the collective consciousness because they suggest a frightening truth: that the universe does not rely on cause and effect. If that is true, there’s no possibility of control, and that thought opens an abyss of despair. People speak of “senseless” killings, but every crime makes sense to the criminal who commits it. Iconic crimes are those that are senseless to the victims, and to the public. They are a reminder that there is no way to guarantee safety. If a police officer mistakes you for someone else, you can be shot 19 times. If you go for a jog, you can be raped, beaten and left for dead. If you send your child to school, he may never come back.

And if you linger over a drink after closing time, your battered, empty body can turn up in a desolate place, under a lone streetlight, far away.

Just the thing to get you fired up for another Monday morning.

IN A PERFECT WORLD, we’d still be boring and intolerable, because we’d all be running around obnoxiously content and at peace with everything, rubbing it in each other’s faces, as if there was absolutely nothing wrong in the world, which would be true, which would make it all that more annoying. On the bright side, the world isn’t perfect, and even better, whenever we foolishly begin to think things can’t get worse, George Saunders is there to remind us, “Why not?”. Exhibit A, an excerpt from his story, “CommComm”:

Dad worked thirty years at Gallup Chain, with his dad. Then they discontinued Automotive. Only Bike remained. A week after his layoff, Grandpa died. Day of the wake, Dad got laid off too. Month later, we found out Jean was sick. Jean was my sister, who died at eight. Her last wish was Disneyland. But money was tight. Toward the end, Dad borrowed money from Leo, the brother he hated. But Jean was too sick to travel. So Dad had an Army friend from Barstow film all of Disney on a Super-8. The guy walked the whole place. Jean watched it and watched it. Dad was one of these auto-optimists. To hear him tell it, we’d won an incredible last-minute victory. Hadn’t we? Wasn’t it something, that we could give Jeanie such a wonderful opportunity?

But Jean had been distilled down to like pure honesty.

“I do wish I could have gone, though,” she said.

“Well, we practically did,” Dad said, looking panicked.

“No, but I wish we really did,” she said.

After Jean died, we kept her room intact, did a birthday thing for her every year, started constantly expecting the worst.

Believe it or not, there’s a happy ending. But even better, maybe there’s such a thing as redemption in real life, too.

POKER FACE OR EGG FACE? Either way, with wily Bush sitting at the table, the results seem likely to be the same – bombs, death, and mayhem. But maybe, just maybe, he’s smarter than we think. Maybe these last few months have been part of a brilliant and daring tactical strategy (“It’s dangerous, sir — but, by golly, it just might work!”) that only makes him appear like a war-mongering nutbag. Massive military build-up, ignoring public outcry, constant evil eyes – all part of a plan to bluff Saddam into thinking, “This crazy bastard just might do it. Holy crap.” He’s got everyone fooled. (After all, aren’t you pretty much convinced that Bush wants nothing but war?)

What if war is somehow averted and Saddam miraculously gives up? Or what if he simply makes wider concessions to the inspection team than he would have otherwise (an inspection team that, by the way, wouldn’t even be there if it hadn’t been for Bush’s rabidity for Saddam)? At the end of the day, Bush might miraculously emerge as the gutsy, get-the-job-done American hero who we celebrate in our myths and movies. But even so, is it worth compromising the U.N., not to mention the overall loss of value in Brand America? Or, perhaps, the U.N. is simply playing the role of the admonishing police chief who has to protect the interests and appearance of the department, but who ultimately relies on his renegade cowboy cop to get the job done. Good U.N., bad Bush. You need both parts to be well-played for the drama to be believable.

Alternatively, Saddam may think the same thing of Bush as we do — nothing will stop this man from pressing on with war — so I might as well give him war. (Saddam, after all, no matter what, is still clearly the crazier of the two. But then again, who’s to say who’s the crazier one here? The man who doesn’t turn away during a game of chicken, or the man who starts a game of chicken with a known lunatic in the first place?) The worst of these scenarios, however, is that after all the blustering, Bush simply can’t stand down, regardless of what progress the inspectors make or what concessions are given, and he turns out to be the crazy mofo we all thought he was to begin with, bringing the world to war for no good reason except for wounded pride or to fulfill a personal agenda.