caylee anthony

That Casey Anthony trial was one unsatisfying TV show.

Millions of Americans are walking around stunned today, still wondering why the music didn't swell and the camera didn't close in on the judge's face and the shot didn't go to freeze-frame right after the word "guilty."

It was so obvious to everyone that Anthony had killed her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee - obvious to everyone but the jury, who took less than 11 hours to rule that the prosecutors hadn't proved it.

Former prosecutor and current TV commentator Nancy Grace, who spent almost three years chewing over the case, was outraged at the verdict. Although she seems like the type of person who, if the cameras are on, could get outraged over oatmeal.

But this is not about Nancy Grace, or the convergence of TV and reality, or even the guilt or innocence of Casey Anthony - a woman who was convicted of lying to police, and acted pretty much the opposite of a grieving mom.

What this is about is the hunger to close a case.

Why are cop and court dramas so popular? Because we know that by the end of the hour, the brilliant detective or the skilled prosecutor will solve the mystery, and somebody will be led away in handcuffs.

Peter Falk, the star of "Columbo," died the other day. The genius of his show was that you saw the killer commit the murder right at the beginning. You had the pleasure of watching the bad guy sweat and tremble as Columbo revealed every imperfection in the perfect crime.

In life we don't get that luxury.

Life so rarely comes to a satisfying conclusion. Old family issues never get resolved. Middle-school slights still bang around in our dreams. Most of us don't get to check the scoreboard and see if we're winning or losing. (This is one of the reasons so many people love sports. In sports, you know where you stand.)

On top of that is the unsettling feeling that the system is broken - greed pays, deception wins elections, murderers get away with it.

So when a 2-year-old girl is killed, and the case lingers in public for almost three years, and in the end there's still not a conviction ... what was supposed to be solid is hollow.

We're in the midst of a similar case here. The remains of Zahra Baker, 10 years old, were found last November. Her stepmother is charged with second-degree murder. But there has been no trial. It's hard to be sure how it will come out.

It's hard to be sure about anything.

If we back up a few steps, things look better. Our system, flawed as it is, is better than anyone else's. Our times, screwed up as they are, are better than anytime in history.

But none of that brings much comfort when a little girl dies and there's no period at the end of the sentence, but just three dots drifting into the gray ...

The jury did its job. The standard is "beyond a reasonable doubt," and there was plenty of reasonable doubt.

Our world is full of reasonable doubt.

That's not satisfying.

That's life.