The last part of August puts me in a particular frame of mind and occasions a review of the summer past.
I used to remember hearing cicadas in the trees at twilight marking this time of year, but I suppose they have all died from natural gas fumes or fracking water. In any case, I know it's that time of year when it's dark again when I get up in the morning. So what about the summer of 2012?
The London Olympics were an unqualified "glorious" from my point of view. The "USA!" chants were a little embarrassing in their raw nationalism, but the performance of our country's athletes and the games' hosts, the British, were outstanding. We were told by one stuffy, politically correct observer that it is inappropriate to refer to Gabrielle Douglas as "The Flying Squirrel" but she was nonetheless my favorite Olympian by far, for her acrobatics and for her incandescent grin.
The Romneys' part-owned horse, a 15-year-old mare named Rafalca, didn't do well enough to reach the Grand Prix Freestyle, although, according to her rider, Rafalca's "piaffes" -- high-stepping trotting in place -- made her rider happy and presumably will continue to justify the Romneys' $77,000 tax deduction for her. What is truly astonishing is that a candidate for the U.S. presidency in 2012 would be seen taking an expensive dancing horse to London with his country in economic recession.
Another joy of this summer in Pittsburgh is that the Pirates, consistently pathetic in recent years, are still in the running for a division pennant long after the All-Star Game. Usually Pittsburgh sports fans by this time have been reduced to going to a few Pirates' games because they like the beer and the Cracker Jack but have given up on the team, looking forward sullenly to the sacred Steelers' season.
There were some bad spots, too. Composer, conductor, pianist and all-around wonderful person Marvin Hamlisch, died at a young 68. My wife and I were once privileged to have dinner with him in New York. We will never forget his story of how, as a not-spring chicken, he met, courted and married his wife, Terre Blair. The story underlined the man's charm and humanity. I believe there is a special place in heaven for entertainers. Marvin's there now, playing for us sinners.
The Penn State Jerry Sandusky thing continues to play out in an uneven way. I favored a one- or two-year suspension of the school's football program. What the NCAA imposed instead might have been tolerable except that, first, Penn State is showing itself able to find its way around a lot of it. The $60 million fine is nothing to a sports program that big. Second, some of the university's trustees clearly don't understand or don't care about what occurred. They do not appear to realize that their effort to have the school reject the NCAA's punishment makes a statement that what Mr. Sandusky did to those children was not important, or at least not as important as the university's precious football program.
Another negative part of this summer is the voter ID issue. The whole election campaign is replete with candidates of both parties wallowing in vast pools of money, using it to torment us with television ads that would be hilarious if one could be sure that nobody would believe them, and with robocalls that find one at the dinner table, asleep or on the potty.
The Republicans' purpose in passing voter ID laws was stated clearly in June by Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, quoted by a website as telling a meeting of the Republican State Committee: "Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done." That means that, according to Mr. Turzai, voter ID will serve to disenfranchise a substantial number of potential Democratic voters. How delightfully antebellum of him! "Carry me back to ole Virginny."
Back to the plus side of the summer, who could not have been delighted by the completion of the 354-million-mile mission of the rover "Curiosity" to Mars? We have been told tediously for some time now that America's days in the forefront of space exploration are over. It has put me to mind of the Beach Boys' song that had a line about how we'll have fun " 'til Daddy takes the T-bird away."
America is flat broke with two unfunded wars, the big Bush tax cuts for the rich, persistent $1 trillion-plus budget deficits and the $16-trillion national debt, much of it owed to China (even though we got more medals than they did at the Olympics). At the same time, just as Pittsburgh builds sports venues and puts up big Downtown buildings even though our schools are bust and we are laying off teachers, it is still important to look ahead, and to look up into the skies. Elton John tells us in "Rocket Man" that Mars is "as cold as hell," but how do we know if we don't look around up there?
Then there's the Jordan Miles affair. Three big policemen beat the 150-pound, 5-foot-7-inch schoolboy to within an inch of his life one night in January 2010. The feds and the county declined to prosecute. In a civil case ended last week, Mr. Miles lost on one count and no decision was reached on two others. So what do we conclude?
Our system of justice functioned. A jury heard the evidence presented by both sides and then ruled. There is no reason to believe that a retrial would produce a different result, except that the lawyers would get more money. A divided and passive community has not reacted forcefully to the result and is unlikely to. Jordan Miles is not Rodney King. Pittsburgh is not Los Angeles.
All in all, I don't know what the balance is for the summer. Let's just move on to the fall.
Dan Simpson, a former U.S. ambassador, is a Post-Gazette associate editor (email@example.com, 412 263-1976).