Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling play frustrated artists who are chasing their dreams in Los Angeles. Emma Stone works at a coffee bar but dreams of being an actress. Ryan Gosling plays Christmas songs on a piano in a crowded restaurant but wants to open his own jazz bar and play Real Jazz. Both characters make compromises that both bring them together but later drive them apart. If you like singing and dancing, LA LA Land provides plenty of that. But, my only quibble is that I wish the music in the movie was more memorable. It’s pleasant music, but very forgettable once you walk out the theater. Hopefully, the success of LA LA Land at the box office and at the Golden Globes will cause more good, original musicals to be produced. GRADE: A-


“The purpose of this book is to present the case against sugar…as the principal cause of the chronic diseases that are most likely to kill us, or at least accelerate our demise, in the 21st Century.” These are author Gary Taubes first words in The Case Against Sugar and he goes on to blame sugar for the fact that a third of all adults are obese, two-thirds of adults are overweight, almost one in seven adults are diabetic, and one in four adults will die of cancer. Taubes believes, and shows through voluminous research studies, that sugar is the culprit behind all these diseases. “If sugar didn’t exist, diabetes would be a rare disease,” Taubes maintains. Taubes shows how the Food Industry has masked sugar’s dangers and toxicity while blaming “fat” for many of these health conditions. Taubes puts the blame squarely on the aggressive use of sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup for most of our health problems. I confess, I was shaken by the end of this book. Am I going to eat less sugar? You better believe it. The Case Against Sugar is a powerful indictment of our diets. I highly recommend you all read this powerful book! And, eat less sugar! GRADE: A
Author’s Note
Chapter 1: Drug or Food?
Chapter 2: The First Ten Thousand Years
Chapter 3: The Marriage of Tobacco and Sugar
Chapter 4: A Peculiar Evil
Chapter 5: The Early (Bad) Science
Chapter 6: The Gift That Keeps On Giving
Chapter 7: Big Sugar
Chapter 8: Defending Sugar
Chapter 9: What They Don’t Know
Chapter 10: The If/Then Problem: I
Chapter 11: The If/Then Problme: II
EPILOGUE: How Little Is Still Too Much?

2017 NFL PLAYOFFS DIVISIONAL ROUND: Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs (8:05 P. M. NBC) and Green Bay Packers at Dallas Cowboys (4:40 P.M. FOX)

Today’s games look like the pick of the litter! The Kansas City Chiefs are just 1 1/2-point favorites over the surging Pittsburgh Steelers. Obviously, this could be a really close game. Because of the Ice Storm, this game was rescheduled from 1 P.M. to this evening time slot. The game Bill Crider has been waiting for, Green Bay Packers vs. Dallas Cowboys, has the Cowboys favored by 5 points. That seems like a lot. This game could go to Overtime! Who do you think will win today?

2017 NFL PLAYOFF DIVISIONAL ROUND: Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons (4:35 P.M. FOX) and Houston Texans at New England Patriots (8:15 P.M. CBS)

After last weekend’s snoozers, this weekend’s games look a lot more exciting. The Seattle Seahawks are 5-point underdogs to the high-flying Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons put up a lot of points so Seattle will have to play really good defense or try to keep up with Atlanta in the scoring department (good luck with that!). In the night game, The Huston Texans are 16-point underdogs to the well-rested New England Patriots. This game has blow-out written all over it. Who do you think will win these games?


The Knife Slipped was supposed to be the second book in the Donald Lam/Bertha Cool series that Erle Stanley Gardner wrote under his A. A. Fair pseudonym. Gardner wrote to his editor, Hobson at William Morrow, with this description of The Knife Slipped:

“In any event, this Donald Lam-Bertha Cool yarn won’t sell to the movies and won’t sell to magazines. It’s going to run around 75,000 words. It deals with a highly sexed girl from the country who cuts loose all at once and comes to the conclusion she is a nymphomaniac. Bertha Cool sails majestically through its pages, delightfully hard boiled. When she and Donald call on the wife of a city official, who puts on the high-hat act when Donald tires to talk with her, Berta Cool says, “Just a moment Donald, let me handle this bitch.” The wife stiffens into frigid indignation and demands of Bertha Cool, “What was that word you used?” and Bertha Cool says, “Bitch, dearie, b-i-t-c-h, bitch. It means slut.”

But when Hobson read the manuscript, he fired back a rejection of The Knife Slipped:

“I think it is cheap–crude, without being effective. All Bertha Cool does is talk tough, swear, smoke cigarettes, and try to gyp people. And I don’t think much of the story itself. If that manuscript had come to me in the ordinary way, having no idea who the author was, I would have stopped reading about page 70 and the the book would have been rejected without even any hope on my part that the author would ever write a really good story.” (Quotes can be found in Secrets of the Worlds best-Selling Wirter: The Storytelling Techniques of Erle Stanley Gardner by Francis L. and Roberta B. Fugate, Morrow, 1980; p. 203).

What Hobson objected to back in 1939–Bertha Cool’s swearing and hard-boiled demeanor–seems normal now. And, Hobson misses the fact that Bertha Cool solves the mystery in The Knife Slipped. The Knife Slipped is a lot more like a Nero Wolfe mystery: Donald Lam gathers the clues and Bertha Cool solves the case. I enjoyed The Knife Slipped. I’m glad HARD CASE CRIME finally published it.


Robert D. Kaplan is a quirky writer, but his books contain plenty of insights into the political dimensions of today’s world. Kaplan believes we are in The Second Cold War. He believes the Russians are busy subverting our political system and attacking the European Union from within. “When a country is being subverted, it is not being outfought; it is being out-administered. Subversion is literally administration with a minus sign in front.” Kaplan shows how Russian moves in Eastern Europe are just a prelude to what’s going to develop in the years ahead. Undermining our Election with “fake News” and rumors is just the beginning. Our intelligence agencies seem ineffectual in controlling Russian incursions into hacking and cyber-theft. If you want a heads-up on the political mess we’re going to have to deal with, In Europe’s Shadow gives a pretty good blueprint of Russian hostile intentions. GRADE: A-
Prologue: Nabokov’s Room
1. Bucharest 1981
2. Bucharest 2013
3. Latin Byzantium
4. The Baragan Steppe
5. The great cemetery of the Jews
6. The Pontic breach
7. Crossing the Carpathians
8. Fisherman’s bastion.
Select Bibliography
Illustration Credits


December 2016 was a hellish month. My mother’s life was ending. My 40-year teaching career was ending. And the usual crush of correcting FINAL EXAMS and handing in FINAL GRADES amid completing piles of Retirement paperwork was a nightmare.

As you might suspect, I had little time to process any of the books that showed up at my door (AMAZON delivers something nearly every day). Friends like Jeff Meyerson sent me books. And, cleaning out my College office with its decades of accumulated books brought dozens of boxes into my basement.

Some people tell me I have too many books. That’s like saying I have too much happiness.

So, my Retirement focus turns to organizing the chaos of books in my basement. I’ll report on my progress every few months. Do you have a book problem, too?


Octavia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson, and Janelle Monae star in this account of African-American women working for NASA during the beginning of the Space Race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. It’s hard to believe that back in the early 1960s there were still segregated bathrooms even in an “advanced” Government agency like NASA. Hidden Figures is based on the book with the same title by Margot Lee Shetterly which tells the story of the impact African-American women had on the Space Program. I also liked Glen Powell’s portrayal of astronaut John Glenn who comes off as open-minded for that era. If you’re in the mood for an uplifting, inspiring film with humor and wit then I recommend Hidden Figures. GRADE: A


Throughout the chaos of 2016, your comments provided an island of sanity and reason in a sea of turmoil. Anyone who’s gone through the End-of-Life process knows what I’m talking about. The months leading up to my Retirement were No Fun, either. Wrangling with Retirement health insurance companies and changes in coverage, Social Security, and 403(b) sharks added to the disruption. The intelligence and wit of Patti, Jeff, Deb, Rick, Beth, Todd, Art, Bill, Maggie, Bob, Prashant, Sergio, Carl, Lauren, Steve, Jerry, Wolf, Stan, Dan, Trishankupune, Scott, Jim, John, Randy, James, Kent, and Mathew as well as all of you who make this blog a part of your day raised my flagging spirits during some very Dismal Times. So I want to say thank you.

Thank you very much.

2017 WILD CARD ROUND: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Miami Dolphins, 1:05 p.m.; Green Bay Packers vs. New York Giants, 4:40 p.m., FOX

The Pittsburgh Steelers look to be peaking at just the right time. The Miami Dolphins, on the other hand, seem to be running out of gas. The Steelers are favored by 10 points which is a lot of points for a Playoff game. In the later game, the Green Bay Packers face the most dangerous team in the NFC Playoffs: the NY Giants. I’ve seen the Giants go to Green Bay and beat the Packers in past years (2007 and 2011). Aaron Rodgers needs to bring his “A” game if the Packers hope to move on in the Playoffs. But, don’t be surprised if the NY Giants pull off the upset on the Frozen Tundra. The Packers are only favored by 4 points. Who do you think will win today?