Some years ago

Sidney Zion

, our friend and sometime contributor but mostly critic (usually about matters related to Israel), who died on August 2 at age 75, wrote for The Nation an obituary of the country’s leading obituarist,

Alden Whitman

of the New York Times. In it Sidney quoted

Ben Hecht

(whom, along with

A.J. Liebling


Ring Lardner


Damon Runyon


Walter Winchell

and First Amendment absolutists

William O. Douglas


Hugo Black

, among others, he once identified as his alma mater) eulogizing a departed colleague at the Chicago Journal in 1920:

We know each other’s daydreams
And the hopes that come to grief
For we write each other’s obits
And they’re Godalmighty brief.

Sidney wrote for The Nation about the First Amendment and sports, but for everybody else (including the New York Post; the Times; the Soho Weekly; Harper’s; Scanlan’s, a magazine he founded with Warren Hinckle in the early 1970s; the New York Observer; and the New York Daily News) he wrote about everything else. In recent years he wrote mostly about hospital negligence (which he believed to be responsible for his daughter’s tragic death–and brought a historic lawsuit to prove it), those he called “the smoke fascists,” Israel’s friends and foes, and his favorite Jewish gangsters (especially

Meyer Lansky


Israel Schawartzberg


Of course, it’s as impossible to sum up Sidney in 300 words as it would be in 3,000 or 300,000, for that matter. As Sid would have said, “Fuggeddaboudit.”

So fuggeddaboudit, but not about Sid. As

Chris Calhoun

, who once sold ads for The Nation and is now a literary agent, wrote in the course of his review of one of Sidney’s five books, Trust Your Mother but Cut the Cards, apropos of Sidney’s comment “The next time I hear that phrase [political correctness], I reach for my revolver”: “Somewhere, Justice Douglas is smiling.”

In its obit of Sidney, the Times (with whom he had a love-hate relationship) called him Runyonesque. But as Sid himself once wrote, “Anybody who knows the way to Gallagher’s bar and has the phone number of a bookmaker qualifies as ‘Runyonesque.'” Yes, he was a guy who entranced more than his share of dolls, but he was also, for better or worse, an intrepid uncoverer of plots against everyone from Lansky, to

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg


Roy Cohn


Alger Hiss

and himself–scourge of the establishment, celebrator of the football Giants, the baseball Yanks, old-time music and probably too much else. In the words of his favorite crooner, he did it his way.VICTOR NAVASKY


Barack Obama

‘s former physician entered the healthcare reform debate on the eve of the August Congressional recess.

Dr. David Scheiner

did not endorse the public-private hybrids favored by his patient of twenty-two years or various Congressional committees; nor did he join the insurance industry-inspired mobs ranting against “socialized medicine.” Rather, Scheiner and 3,500 physicians and medical students urged the president to embrace a national single-payer healthcare system. “There are multiple problems with the present Congressional health reform proposals, but allowing private insurance to continue being involved is the most egregious,” said Scheiner. “The insurance companies actually like many of the proposed reforms, including the requirement that every American purchase insurance or suffer a tax penalty, which would be a windfall to the insurance industry. That alone should be a warning.”

Despite that warning, proposals for a genuinely public “Medicare for all” fix has gotten such short shrift that Scheiner asks, “Is the single-payer message so dangerous that it cannot even be discussed by Congress and the administration?”

As it happens, “Medicare for all” may be discussed this fall. To secure progressive votes for the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s compromise plan, chair

Henry Waxman


Nancy Pelosi

to allow a full House vote on a single-payer plan. And

Dennis Kucinich

got the House Education and Labor Committee to amend its plan to allow states to experiment with universal public plans. Don’t expect Congress to produce a single-payer system in the near term. But keeping single-payer in the mix tips the balance in the right direction, increasing the prospect that reforms that are adopted have a robust public option. Savvy groups–

Physicians for a National Health Program


Progressive Democrats of America



(which lost national coordinator

Marilyn Clement

on August 3 when she succumbed to cancer)–recognize this reality and are organizing to keep single-payer in the discussion. They’re rallying to draw 10,000 “Medicare for all” advocates to hear the Senate’s single-payer champion,

Bernie Sanders

, on September 12 at Wisconsin’s Fighting Bob Fest, the largest annual gathering of progressives in the Midwest.   JOHN NICHOLS



Henry Louis Gates Jr.

took the podium under the big white tent at the

Martha’s Vineyard Book Festival

on August 2, a woman turned to her companion and at an elevated decibel level announced, “I don’t care for the way he brought race into it.” Thirty minutes later, “it”–“the incident,” “the arrest”–was utterly pardoned, everyone in the audience was smitten and nobody kvetched. At one point, Gates pointed to

Alan Dershowitz

and joked, “Stick around, Alan. Don’t go running off to defend O.J. I’m the flavor of the month.” The crowd went wild. About Officer

James Crowley

, his “newest friend,” Gates quipped, “I offered to get his kids into Harvard…if he doesn’t arrest me ever again.” Again, to much applause. After chronicling his family’s Caucasian heritage–he is descended from an Irish king–Gates declared, “Affirmative action cannot be race-based. It must be class-based. Poverty in this country is colorblind.” His book In Search of Our Roots sold out within minutes.   BESS KALB


Neighborhood co-ops, community gardens, farmers’ markets, a streetside produce stand or a rickety crab shack–what’s your most beloved food institution? Vegan, freegan, locavore, carnivore… Write us a flavorful e-mail at [email protected] and share your source of culinary inspiration, what you think embodies the best of our food culture. We’ll publish our favorite letters in our upcoming food issue. Bon appétit!