Sharpen Up!

Read this and be the smartest person in the room--or the Zoom--for the month of August.

By J.C. Bruce

Oh, Baby, It's

Hot Outside

June, July, and August are typically the hottest months of the year, even without the impact of global warming, but this year is on track to be record shattering.

Last year, the contiguous 48 states experienced their hottest summer on record with average temperatures 2.6 degrees above normal.

Expect more of the same in the month ahead. And while you're staying hydrated and avoiding wildfires and solar radiation, here are some interesting weather facts you can use to impress you friends:

Since the 1980s, each decade has been warmer than the previous one, a trend that is expected to continue.

Weather disasters cost billions of dollars and thousands of lives around the world every year. In the U.S. alone, hurricanes loses total about $28 billion annually.

You can guess the approximate temperature by counting cricket chirps. Count the number of chirps in 14 seconds, then add 49 to get the temperature.

About 40 million lightning strikes hit the ground every year in the United States. Which is scary, of course. But the odds of getting struck by lightning is less than one in a million.

Lightning is hotter than the Sun's surface. For the brief instant that lightning strikes, its temperature is about 54,000 degrees -- five times the temperature of the outer layer of the Sun.

Lightning does, indeed, strike twice. In fact, it is common for bolts of lightning to follow similar paths. The top of the Empire State Building, for instance, is hit by lightning about 23 times a year.

The hottest place on Earth is Death Valley, which holds the record with a high of 134 degrees. Conversely, the record low was recorded in Antarctica at -128 degrees.

Arrr-gust is International Pirate Month

Avast ye landlubbers, August is the month in which we celebrate pirates -- the pirates of old, real and legendary, ala Captain Jack Sparrow and the like. This celebration is not to be confused with Talk Like a Pirate Day, which is on September 19. Some tidbits of pirate lore while you're waiting your turn to walk the plank:

The British might have won the War of 1812 were it not for the pirate Jean Lafitte, who warned the Americans of the Redcoats' plan to invade, and joined Gen. Andrew Jackson in the Battle of New Orleans.

The pirate Black Bart's pirating career came to an end in 1722 when he was killed by the British Royal Navy off the coast of West Central Africa because his crew was too drunk to defend the ship. 

But not all pirates were men. Ching Shih, known at the height of her career as the "Pirate Queen," controlled a fleet of 1,200 ships and 70,000 pirates. She may have actually sailed from China to the Caribbean if reports in the book Strange Currents are to be believed.

Sir Francis Drake was knighted by Queen Elizabeth for all the riches he returned to England from his raids on Spanish treasure ships. The Spanish nicknamed him "El Draque," and to them he was a pirate. A gentleman and a pirate. Sounds a bit like Jack Sparrow, no?

Other August highlights...

August is also Admit You're Happy Month, Family Fun Month, National Catfish Month, National Golf Month, Peach Month, and Romance Awareness Month.

International Clown Week is August 1-7. and the final week of the month is Be Kind to Humankind Week. Someone tell Vladimir Putin, please.

August 1 is Girlfriends Day, a time for women to take their besties to lunch, the movies, shopping, etc. It also marks the beginning of World Breastfeeding Week.

Christopher Columbus set sail for the New World on Aug. 3, 1492, the first of many voyages where he encountered cheerful native people and enslaved them.

Barack Obama celebrates his birthday on Aug. 4. He is the last American president to have peacefully -- and graciously -- presided over the transfer of power after an election.

The annual Sturgis, SD,  motorcycle rally and superspreader event begins on Aug. 5 and lasts through Aug. 14.

August is Wear Your Mother's Jewelry Day. Don't ask me why.

The Perseid meteor shower puts on its annual light show Aug. 11-13, although the falling stars may be harder to spot this year since there will be a full moon. Best viewing time may be in the early morning hours.

If you're near Britt, Iowa Aug. 11-14, stop by the National Hobo Convention, an annual event held since the year 1900. Not sure, but something tells me this may be considered by some to be politically incorrect, but it's so hard to keep up.

August 28 marks the 100th anniversary of the first radio commercial, where broadcasters figured out how to make money on the airways. This achievement ultimately translated to television. So those annoying My Pillow ads? Yeah, this is how it all started.

The U.S. Open tennis tournament kicks off Aug. 29 at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, N.Y.

You can see a comprehensive list of commemorations for August here.

Elvis in History--August Report

August is a sad month for Elvis fans.  On Aug. 16, 1977, he died in Memphis at the age of 42. But there were happier milestones during his career in this month, including his concert on Aug. 1, 1955, at the Tupelo Fairgrounds. It was the first time he appeared professionally in his hometown. And in 1965, on Aug. 27, The Beatles visited Elvis at his Perugia Way home in California.

What I'm Reading

and Watching 

Marvel launches two new series on the Disney + channel this month, and I am not too highbrow to confess I can't wait.

On Aug. 10, a series of shorts featuring tree superhero Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy will premier, entitled I am Groot. Best I can tell from watching the trailers, that's the only dialogue in the films. Talk about writer's block.

Then on Aug. 17, mark your calendar for the limited series She Hulk: Attorney at Law. The trailers are hilarious. Tatiana Maslany stars as Jennifer Walters, a lawyer assigned to deal with superhumans and their legal issues, while she, herself, becomes a 6-foot-7-inch female version of the Hulk after receiving a blood transfusion from her cousin Bruce Banner. Mark Ruffalo is there as her coach and mentor. Hulk out!

The January 6 Hearings have been must see TV, and they will resume in September. But before their August break, they left us with the hilarious (and disgusting) images of Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley first encouraging the rioters to storm the Capitol, then running for his life when he got what he wanted. He's been mercilessly attacked on social media memes, late night shows, and newspapers ever since. As the satirist Andy Borowitz noted: "Senator Josh Hawley is 'deeply concerned' that his newfound reputation for cowardice is overshadowing his commitment to end Democracy."

Spending time getting into my To Be Read stack and am very pleased that the next book up will be my friend Jess Montgomery's The Stills, the third in her series of books set in 1920s Ohio shortly after women won the right to vote. The protagonist in these beautifully written tales is Lily Ross, the Buckeye State's first sheriff. Highly recommend all of her books.

They Said It

"Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much."

-- Oscar Wilde

"You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life."

-- Winston Churchill

"In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."

-- Martin Luther King, Jr.

News of the Strange

Honorary Florida Man Award Goes To...

A 53-year-old Oklahoma man was arrested after police said he killed his friend for summoning Bigfoot to murder him.

Larry Doll Sanders was fishing with Jimmy Knighten, also 53, when he realized Knighten "intended to feed him to Sasquatch/Bigfoot," according to police reports.

The incident took place on the Canadian River about 85 miles southeast of Oklahoma City. Police said the men were "noodling" -- that is, catching catfish bare-handed -- and that Sanders "appeared to be under the influence of something."

About that robot attack...

A robot in Moscow violated Isaac Asimov's First Law of Robots when it broke the finger of a 7-year-old boy.

The kid was playing the robot during a chess tournament and apparently reached for a piece out of turn. The robotic arm grabbed his finger and crushed it.

In case it's been a while since you read Asimov's I Robot, the First Law of Robotics states: "A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm."

Not sure if Asimov specified what sort of penalty a robot would face for violation of the law. And could it get a fair trial? What would constitute a jury of its peers? Perhaps this calls for the creation of a new organization to represent the rights of robots. I propose PETA -- People for the Ethical Treatment of Androids.

Cats Are Alien Invasive Species

A Polish scientific institute has added house cats to a list of "invasive alien species."

Not that they are otherwordly, but because cats damage biodiversity by hunting and killing birds and mammals.

Biologists at the Polish Academy of Sciences, which maintains the list, were stunned by the reaction of cat lovers, who are furious.

Maybe a certain group of Polish biologists needs to be added to another list: Endangered Species.

Florida Man Warns of War Between Aliens and Dragons

In other news involving "aliens," a Florida man was arrested shortly before this newsletter went to press outside the gates of  Patrick Space Force Base on the state's east coast.

Carey Johnson, 28, of Ocala, driving a stolen pickup truck, tried to enter the base, home to the Cape Canaveral rocket launching facilities, to warn government officials that space aliens and Chinese dragons were engaged in a war right here in America, police said.

Johnson told police he received notice of the aliens-versus-dragons dustup from President Joe Biden, who communicated with him in his head.

No word on who won the war. And the White House has been suspiciously silent about Biden's powers of mental telepathy.

More strange news at The Strange Files on the Tropic Press website.

Strange Science

What Does a Plant Do When it Has a Headache?

Well, plants don't have heads, but they do know how to make their own painkiller, scientists have learned.

A new study shows that when plants are stressed they are capable of generating salicylic acid -- aspirin -- to sooth their wounds.

"It's like plants use a painkiller for aches and pains, just like we do," said Wilhelmina van de Ven, a plant biologist at the University of California, Riverside.

Terrifying Fungus Turns Houseflies into Zombies

The world's not scary enough, and now we have to worry about Zombie Fungus.

Scientists already knew that a certain type of fungus could infect ants, turning them into zombies. Now they have learned that the fungus Entomophthora muscae can kill female houseflies and force them to give off an irresistible smell to males, which in turn, forces the male flies to have sex with the dead females.

What's this housefly necrophilia about? It's how the fungus propagates itself.

Ants and flies today. Humans tomorrow?

Viruses turn humans into mosquito bait

The viruses responsible for dengue fever and Zika have a couple of things in common: They need mosquitos to spread themselves to new hosts, and they both cause their hosts to give off an odor that attracts mosquitos.

In an article in the journal Science, microbiologist Laura Duvall of Columbia University said the viruses make it "more likely to be bitten."

This isn't the first time scientists have figured out that certain diseases cause people to become mosquito bait. Malaria, caused by parasites, does the same thing.

So, if you notice a sudden increase in mosquito activity buzzing about, maybe a trip to the doctor would be in order.

And You Thought COVID Was All You Had to Worry about

The United States has reported its first case of polio in more than a decade. The victim who tested positive for the disease lives about 30 miles north of Manhattan in Rockland County.

Medical experts say the case is "indicative of a transmission chain from an individual who received the oral polio vaccine."

In the U.S., polio vaccines are administered with an injection using a dead virus as the ingredient to trigger an immune response to protect against the disease. Elsewhere in the world, however, the oral vaccine may be used and it contains small amounts of live virus, which the recipient can shed to others shortly after being administered the vaccine.

This may be how the Rockland County patient contracted the disease, and it is consistent with studies that show the oral vaccine could be responsible for an increase in polio cases worldwide.

From Our Mailbag

Dear J.C.

Was that you I saw on TikTok, and is it true that you've pitched Ryan Reynolds on playing Alexander Strange, the hero in your books?

Chris P.

Yes! I'm offering the opportunity to several actors who I feel have the right chops to play Alex in a proposed (by me) Strange Files streaming series. You can see the Ryan Reynolds pitch here. 

Dear J.C.

That bit earlier about calculating the temperature by counting cricket chirps? How do they know?

J. Cantore

As temperatures rise, chemical reactions in the crickets are increasingly activated, thus resulting in more chirping. They really can't help themselves. Which does make you wonder: Are crickets as upset with global warming as we are?

Dear J.C.

That pirate lady earlier in the newsletter -- she looks familiar.

Jack S.

She should. That's Mona, a recurring character in The Strange Files series. She's one of Alexander Strange's shipmates aboard his fishing trawler, the Miss Demeanor. And, yes, she's a mannequin.

Dear J.C.

Is it true that you just won a big award from a publisher's association recently?

Lee C.

Thanks for asking. Yes. My latest novel, Mister Manners, after winning the Silver Medal in the annual Royal Palm Literary Awards (Strange Currents won Gold), has racked up another honor from the Florida Authors and Publishers Association. 

Dear J.C.

Question for the newsletter. When we buy your books, via what process will you benefit (i,e, make) the most financially? I like it when my money goes to the author.

Melissa S.

Great question, Melissa. All the books are priced based on the cost of production and distribution. Ebooks are the cheapest to make, hard-covers the most expensive. My publisher, Tropic Press, pays approximately the same royalty to me no matter which kind of format you prefer. And I've asked that prices be kept at rock bottom to help grow the number of readers. And speaking of book buying...

The Strange Files series, chronicling the adventures of Alexander Strange, is available in multiple formats: hard-cover, trade paperback, e-book, and Mister Manners is also available as an audiobook. Here are some helpful Amazon links. You can also order from Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, and other online retailers.

The Strange Files, Florida Man, Get StrangeStrange Currentsand Mister Manners.

You can read more about these books on my website at

Let's Talk It Up...

Join me and my colleague Ron Rollins as we pontificate about the vital issues of the day on our SHARPEN UP podcast. Can zombies climb stairs? Is the Skunk Ape real? Who makes the best cheeseburger? All this and more.

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Parting Shot