Is the brutal smash-up of Georgia just a sideshow for the Russians? Or is it a show of force, remarkable in its both literal daring and symbolic meaning?

Are the Chinese Olympics just another psychodrama of muscle and speed? Or do they mark a moment, handed to Beijing by the West, of Chinese power reinforced by Chinese cool?

In the Times this morning, Bill Keller has written what I think is literally a brilliant small essay on where we find ourselves in what is still a competition between America and our allies against the two antagonists which, without ideology to inspire and reassure themselves, are still as brutal as they were and as brutal as they can be.

If Keller is right, maybe also the Times editorial board will reflect not just the gravity of the moment but the gravity of the age.