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Sigh of relief: A look back at the 2023 hurricane season that could have been horrible

Fri, 11/24/2023 - 01:00

It’s almost a wrap: With just a few days left in the 2023 hurricane season, South Florida got away clean — not a single hurricane made direct landfall in the tricounty region.

But by myriad measures, it was a robust hurricane season that ominously broke several climate records.

Hurricane season officially runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, but for many in South Florida, it felt like the season started on April 12, when 26 inches of rain fell in just 10 hours near Fort Lauderdale, closing the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport for two days, flooding the streets, stranding motorists, and prompting President Biden to issue a major disaster declaration to free up federal aid.

That storm was not considered “tropical,” said University of Miami climatologist Brian McNoldy, because it did not derive most of its energy from warm ocean waters and did not form a cyclone motion, but it certainly focused our attention on the pending storm season.

Initially the National Hurricane Center predicted a “near-normal” season, but in August upgraded that forecast to “above normal.”

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“Going into the season, we saw the two giant competing factors, being the record-warm ocean temperatures in the Atlantic and El Niño, and they work against each other,” McNoldy said. “But El Niño didn’t kick in as much as expected, so the very warm ocean temperatures absolutely won the race. So that’s what provided an above-average hurricane season, even though it was an El Niño year.”

The adjustment was on target. “By any measure, this has been an above-average year — the number of storms, the accumulated cyclone energy, how long storms lasted, the number of named-storm days,” McNoldy said.

The accumulated cyclone energy (ACE) that McNoldy mentioned was 120% of a normal year. It’s essentially a wind energy tally that combines named storms’ intensities and durations.

There were so many storms, 19, that we almost ran through the alphabet to name them. Going beyond one round of the alphabet has only happened twice, in 2005 and 2020. This year, only Vince and Whitney are the only names left. The average year sees 14 named storms.

Despite the high number of storms, Hurricane Idalia was the only Atlantic hurricane to make landfall (Lee made landfall in Canada, but it was technically an extratropical low with hurricane-force winds). Idalia came ashore as a Category 3 storm in the Big Bend region, one of the least populated areas of Florida.

The landfall location may have made the storm less costly. According to News Service Florida, early projections put losses from Idalia at between $3 billion and $5 billion, including $500 million related to the National Flood Insurance Program.

By comparison, 2022’s Hurricane Ian, which made landfall in more densely populated Southwest Florida with 150 mph sustained winds and a storm surge reaching 15 feet, has projected overall losses of $112 billion, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Idalia killed four people in Florida. Ian killed 150.

Three crucial factors

There were three major factors this year that combined to both boost the number of storms and diminish their deadliness, said meteorologist and hurricane preparedness expert Craig Setzer: Warm sea-surface temperatures gave us a higher number of storms; the Bermuda High was weak, which steered most storms north before they reached the U.S.; and wind shear from El Niño inhibited systems from developing in the Caribbean.

The Bermuda High is a pressure system that sits over the Atlantic in the summer. It acts as a barrier to hurricanes, and can shift in size and location. Once storms clear the high, they head north.

“Franklin kind of chewed up the Bermuda High, and it never really built back because storm after storm came in and recurved (north) and kept eroding it,” Setzer said.

The weak Bermuda High was a double-edged sword. It kept us safe by steering storms north to peter out over the Atlantic, but a weak high means weaker trade winds, calmer oceans, and therefore hotter sea-surface temperatures and potentially more storms.

McNoldy noted that the weak Bermuda High prompts hot-water temperatures in other ways.

“We also didn’t have Saharan dust blowing off of Africa as much, because the high was weaker. And the winds didn’t kick up sands from Africa as much,” he said. That dust filters sunlight and thus heat, and is carried by dry desert air, which kills hurricanes. Without it there’s more heat and moisture, and thus more fuel for storms.

Though weak trade winds may have helped heat up the oceans, the summer of 2023 was also globally the hottest on record, according to NASA. June, July and August were 0.41 degrees warmer than any summer on record, and 2.1 degrees warmer than the average summer between 1951 and 1980.

A report by the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service showed that average sea-surface temperatures globally were the warmest on record for the month of September, and the second warmest for any month, only behind August 2023.

The hot September fits a larger trend. According to NOAA, the 10 warmest years in the historical record have all occurred since 2010.

That kind of heat both bakes oceans, and carries more moisture in the atmosphere, both of which cause storms to intensify.

Looking to next year

Though the National Weather Service has called for a strong El Niño this winter, which will likely bring more rain and storminess than usual to South Florida, McNoldy said forecast models show it weakening rapidly before next hurricane season.

That means less wind shear to topple tropical systems. “But that’s with all other things being equal, which we know from this past year, they aren’t,” McNoldy said.

The Bermuda High is also a concern. “It’s not real easy to predict,” Setzer said. “In the hurricane community there is some uneasiness,” he said. “We’ve loaded the dice somewhat with the warm water. If we don’t have a weak Bermuda Ridge, all those storms that turned (away from us) out there, they’re coming our way.”

Information from the News Service of Florida was used to supplement this news article.

Political, social stands have no place on campuses | Letters to the editor

Fri, 11/24/2023 - 01:00

I could not disagree more with your editorial position regarding free speech and social activism at Florida universities (“A chilling treat to free speech on Florida campuses,” Nov. 19).

The purpose of our universities is to teach — not take political or social positions. Within a university there will be diverse groups promoting many different positions, but that is not a function of the university. If administrations don’t understand that, legislative action is warranted.

Freedom of speech includes freedom from our public institutions promoting and/or enforcing any political or social position.

Joel Bowie, Boca Raton

Wanting her country back

At a 2012 town hall meeting where Obamacare was hotly debated, a teary-eyed woman named Colleen Shoemaker declared that her father fought in World War II and that “she wanted her country back.” What she clearly meant was that her father did not fight to see a Black man become president, and she wanted to return to a country in which white Christian men dominated all aspects of government in which people of color, LGBT people and women knew their place.

It has taken a while, but it appears that she’s about to have her wish granted. Donald Trump, his MAGA base and far right Republican legislators and judges are conspiring to make sure we return to the America she was missing. Well, my father also  fought in World War II and now I want my country back. I want to see the huge strides made by women, LGBT people and people of color since the end of that war maintained, supported and built upon so that what he fought for was not in vain.

With the exponential rise in antisemitism and homophobia, the reversal of Roe v. Wade and Trump’s enthusiastic embrace of all things totalitarian, I wonder if  I will live long enough to see a return to my America.

Jerry Barkan, Pompano Beach

A justified response

To end a very long, deadly World War II in 1945, Britain and the U.S. killed 25,000 civilians in bombings on Dresden, Germany, followed by America’s bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with deaths of up to 226,000 Japanese civilians.

The war ended soon after. The world cheered and did not protest. On Oct. 7, Hamas attacked Israel and, in Nazi fashion, killed, raped, beheaded, and burned 1,200 adults and children while taking 240 Israeli, French, Italian and American hostages, including a three-year-old whose parents were killed.

The mourning period for this inhumanity lasted 48 hours and then, continuing to today, there have been massive worldwide protests and antisemitism because of deaths caused by Israel’s retaliation, largely due to Hamas’s use of its own people as human shields.

It is internationally accepted for centuries that when attacked by those who seek the annihilation of an entire people, the strong response by the nation whose existence is threatened is justified, and should be cheered not condemned as the world is made safer by its success.

Seymour BrotmanDelray Beach

An artificial Congress

AI (artificial intelligence) is the next big thing, so why don’t we replace all of Congress with AI? To be in Congress, no experience or education is required, so AI should get off to a running start. The benefit to taxpayers would be saving the cost of overpaid salaries to members of Congress. Also, no campaign funds would be needed for TV ads that make questionable promises.

Let’s try it. We have nothing to lose, considering the state of affairs we’re in today.

Dane Hancock, Fort Lauderdale

The GOP and abortion

After the GOP’s recent defeats, it’s obvious that the party must modify its position on abortion, for the GOP is widely viewed as anti-women. Perhaps it should listen more to candidate Nikki Haley.

Republicans have long advocated for the unborn, but it’s time to advocate for women with medical assistance, child tax credits and adoption help. The advocacy of the sanctity of life needs to include women — particularly poor women.

Felipe Fernandez, Cutler Bay

Israel and Hamas begin cease-fire, setting stage for release of some hostages and more aid to Gaza

Thu, 11/23/2023 - 22:02

DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — A four-day cease-fire between Israel and Hamas began Friday, setting the stage for the release of dozens of hostages held by militants and Palestinians imprisoned by Israel as well as allowing sorely needed aid to start flowing into Gaza.

There were no reports of fighting in the hours after the truce began. That promised some relief for Gaza’s 2.3 million people, who have endured weeks of Israeli bombardment and dwindling supplies of basic necessities, as well as families in Israel fearful for the fate of loved ones taken captive during Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, which triggered the war.

The deal raised hopes of eventually winding down the war, which has flattened vast swaths of Gaza, fueled a surge of violence in the occupied West Bank and stirred fears of a wider conflagration across the Middle East. Israel has pushed back on such speculation, saying it was determined to resume its massive offensive once the truce ends.

Not long after the truce took effect, four fuel tankers and four tankers with cooking gas entered the Gaza Strip from Egypt, Israel said.

Israel has agreed to allow the delivery of 130,000 liters (34,340 gallons) of fuel per day during the truce — still only a small portion of Gaza’s estimated daily needs of more than 1 million liters.

For most of the past seven weeks of war, Israel had barred the entry of fuel to Gaza, claiming it could be used by Hamas for military purposes — though it has occasionally allowed small amounts in.

United Nations aid agencies pushed back against the claim, saying fuel deliveries were closely supervised and urgently needed to avert a humanitarian catastrophe since fuel is required to run generators that power water treatment facilities, hospitals and other critical infrastructure.

The Israeli military dropped leaflets over southern Gaza, warning hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians who sought refuge there not to try during the truce to return to their homes in the northern half of the territory, the focus of Israel’s ground offensive.

Even though Israel warned that it would block attempts to return, hundreds of Palestinians could be seen walking north Friday.

“We are returning to check on our homes to get some clothes. We don’t have enough clothes, food and drinks,” said Sofian Abu Amer, who is from Gaza City’s Shejaeia neighborhood. “The situation is disastrous. It’s better for a person to die.”

During the cease-fire, Gaza’s ruling Hamas group pledged to free at least 50 of the about 240 hostages it and other militants took on Oct. 7. Hamas said Israel would free 150 Palestinian prisoners.

Both sides agreed release women and children first, starting Friday afternoon. Israel said the deal calls for the truce to be extended an extra day for every additional 10 hostages freed.

The first hostages to be freed will be Israeli citizens, including some who have a second nationality, according to a Hamas official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the details with the media.

The official would not comment on media reports that Hamas had also agreed to release non-Israelis, including 23 Thai nationals. Thailand’s foreign minister told reporters in Bangkok he had not been able to confirm the reports.

Israel’s Justice Ministry published a list of 300 prisoners eligible for release, mainly teenagers detained over the past year for rock-throwing and other minor offenses. Three Palestinian prisoners are to be released for every freed hostage.

The deal was reached in weeks of intense indirect negotiations, with Qatar, the United States and Egypt serving as mediators.

The hope is that the “momentum” from this deal will lead to an “end to this violence,” Majed al-Ansari, the spokesman of the Qatari foreign ministry, told reporters.

But hours before the deal came into effect, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant was quoted telling troops Thursday that their respite would be short and that the war would resume with intensity for at least two more months.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also vowed to continue the war to destroy Hamas’ military capabilities, end its 16-year rule in Gaza and return all the hostages.

Israel’s northern border with Lebanon was also quiet on Friday, a day after Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group, an ally of Hamas, carried out the highest number of attacks in one day since fighting there began Oct. 8.

Hezbollah is not a party to the cease-fire agreement, but was widely expected to halt its attacks.

The war erupted when several thousand Hamas militants stormed into southern Israel, killing at least 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking scores of hostages, including babies, women and older adults, as well as soldiers.

The soldiers will only be released in exchange for all Palestinians imprisoned by Israel, according to the Islamic Jihad militant group, which is reportedly holding about 40 hostages.

It is not clear how many of the hostages are currently serving in the military or whether the militants also consider reserve soldiers to be “military hostages.”

Close to 7,000 Palestinians are currently imprisoned by Israel on security charges.

The Israeli offensive has killed more than 13,300 Palestinians, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza, which resumed its detailed count of casualties in Gaza after stopping for weeks because of the health system’s collapse in the north.

The ministry says some 6,000 people have been reported missing, feared buried under rubble.

The ministry does not differentiate between civilians and militants in its death tolls. Women and minors have consistently made up around two-thirds of the dead, though the new numbers were not broken down. The figures do not include updated numbers from hospitals in the north.

Israel says it has killed thousands of Hamas fighters, without presenting evidence for its count.

Israel continued to strike targets throughout the night ahead of the truce, and also destroyed stretches of tunnels and a number of tunnel shafts in the area of Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s largest, the military said.

Earlier this week, Israel showed a tunnel and rooms that military officials said were a major Hamas hideout beneath Shifa. Hamas and hospital staff deny Israeli allegations that Shifa was used as a militant command center.

___

Mroue reported from Beirut and Rising reported from Bangkok.

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Full AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war.

Sea turtle nests break records on US beaches, but global warming threatens their survival

Thu, 11/23/2023 - 22:00

INDIAN ROCKS BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Just as they have for millions of years, sea turtles by the thousands made their labored crawl from the ocean to U.S. beaches to lay their eggs over the past several months. This year, record nesting was found in Florida and elsewhere despite growing concern about threats from climate change.

In Florida, preliminary state statistics show more than 133,840 loggerhead turtle nests, breaking a record set in 2016. Same for green turtles, where the estimate of at least 76,500 nests is well above the previous mark set in 2017.

High sea turtle nest numbers also have been reported in South Carolina, Alabama, North Carolina and Georgia, although not all set records like Florida, where Justin Perrault, vice president of research at Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach, said the number of nests is remarkable this year.

“We had more nests than we had ever seen before on our local beaches,” said Perrault, whose organization monitors Palm Beach County and broke a local record by 4,000 nests. “That’s quite a bit of nesting.”

There are seven species of sea turtles: loggerhead, green, leatherback, hawksbill, Kemp’s ridley, olive ridley and flatback. All are considered either endangered or threatened. They come ashore on summer nights, digging pits in the sand and depositing dozens of eggs before covering them up and returning to the sea. Florida beaches are one of the most important hatcheries for loggerheads in the world.

Only about one in 1,000 sea turtle hatchlings live to adulthood. They face myriad natural threats, including predators on land and in the ocean, disruptions to nests and failure to make it to the water after hatching. This year along one stretch of Florida’s Gulf Coast where 75 nests had been counted, most were wiped out by the surge from Hurricane Idalia in August.

“Unfortunately, the nests pre-Idalia were almost all lost due to the high tides and flooding on our barrier islands,” said Carly Oakley, senior turtle conservation biologist at Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

Female turtles generally lay eggs in a three-year cycle, leading to up-and-down years of nests, she said. “The nesting process is very exhausting and, in this break, females regain the energy to do the process again,” Oakley said.

Climate change has added to those challenges, reducing beaches as sea levels rise and causing more powerful tropical storms. Hotter air, water and sand and changes in the ocean currents turtles use to migrate also lower the odds of surviving, according to Oceana, an international conservation group.

Sand temperatures play a major role in determining sea turtle sex. In general, warmer temperatures produce more female turtles, and sand temperatures are projected to increase dramatically around the world by 2100, according to researchers at Florida State University.

“So the warmer the nest is, the more likely that nest is to produce females,” Perrault said. “Additionally, hatchlings that come out of warmer nests are much smaller and often slower.”

A study led by FSU professor Mariana Fuentes that was published recently in the Global Change Biology journal found sea turtles will have to nest much later or much earlier than they currently do to cope with changing environmental conditions.

Even that may not be enough for every species, said Fuentes, who works in FSU’s Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science. Turtles have adapted to altered climates over millions of years, but today’s rapid changes could happen too quickly for them to evolve, she said.

“We have found that even if they do change the timing of their nesting, that’s not going to be sufficient to maintain the temperatures of current nesting grounds,” Fuentes said.

Sea turtle mothers already have to lumber out of the water to find a good spot to nest, which can be difficult in areas where humans have built seawalls. Some female turtles make several attempts, known as false crawls, before finding a suitable location.

Racoons, coyotes and other predators raid the nests and hatchlings, once they dig their way out, have to crawl to the sea before being snatched up by birds and other animals. Electric lights can disorient them, causing turtles to head the wrong way on the beach instead of following light from the moon and stars. And when the lucky ones finally start swimming, hungry fish await.

Michelle Pate, biologist at the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, said tens of thousands of hatchlings don’t make it to the water, even as nest numbers trend higher across much of the Southeast.

“If we can’t get hatchlings to emerge and make it to the ocean, then an increase in nest numbers doesn’t help,” she said.

The increase in turtle nests this year conceals an ominous future for the animals, Perrault said.

“Yes, we’re seeing record numbers, but our hatchling production may not be that great,” he said. “And so in the future, 20 to 30 years from now, and these things come back to nest, we may not be seeing these record numbers that we’re seeing now.”

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AP video journalist Cody Jackson contributed from Juno Beach, Florida.

ASK IRA: Can the Heat get even more of the best of Kyle Lowry?

Thu, 11/23/2023 - 04:05

Q: Ira, all I wanted for Thanksgiving was a fully engaged Kyle Lowry. Why can’t we see that every night? – Anderson.

A: Now we’re talking turkey. First, Kyle Lowry is 37, and the only player who is an every-night player at that age is LeBron James. Kyle also reads the moment, and Wednesday night it was a moment when the Heat were lacking Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro and Kevin Love. So he stepped back in the time machine and stepped up from the 3-point line. The question is when – or even if – the Heat can get all their leading men firing at the same time. Kyle arguably has been too deferential this season, as he was at the start of last season.  The best of Lowry at the same time as the best of Jimmy Butler, best of Bam Adebayo and best of Tyler Herro assuredly would take the Heat to another level.

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Q: Hope this will have Erik Spoelstra thinking more about Orlando Robinson. – Robert.

A: The irony is that at Wednesday morning’s shootaround, Erik Spoelstra was talking about trying to get Orlando Robinson playing time in the G League, as part of a plan to have him playing in Sioux Falls alongside Nikola Jovic. Then the Bam Adebayo injury happened and then Orlando happened. The stint was impressive. But unless Orlando definitively is moved ahead of Thomas Bryant in the Heat hierarchy in the middle, the playing time won’t be there with Adebayo back. With Robinson, the long view means playing time now – somewhere.

Q: Tough break for Dru Smith. – Sam.

A: Perhaps the toughest break of all if it is anything serious with that knee, with Dru Smith’s contract guaranteed for only $425,000. Based on the Heat’s position against the luxury tax, it could open the door for a replacement player. But the way the injury happened, with that ledge at the edge of the Cavaliers’ court, one would hope his injury situation would get the benefit of the doubt.

You’re sick. It’s the holidays. Your doctor is booked, but here is how to get the medication you need

Thu, 11/23/2023 - 01:30

With germs spreading and cold and flu season underway, no one wants to spend days in bed, especially during holiday season. Many of the illnesses spreading can be shortened and symptoms relieved by getting the right medication quickly.

But getting into a doctor’s office can be challenging. A doctor shortage in Florida has led to long wait times for appointments with internal medicine and family practitioners. But there are other options.

Your symptoms and timing should guide your path.

If you have aches, a cough, congestion, or a sore throat and want to feel better, you first will want to determine whether you have COVID, the flu, RSV,  or strep throat.  Getting a rapid test for these illnesses will give you a diagnosis.

A COVID test can be done at home. If the test is positive and you are at risk for severe COVID. If so, you will need to ask your doctor or a pharmacist for a prescription. Paxlovid must be taken within five days after symptoms begin.

If a COVID test is negative, an urgent care or clinic can do a rapid test to provide a diagnosis for the flu, strep and RSV. If you have the flu, a healthcare provider can give you an antiviral like Tamiflu, but it helps only if taken within the first 24 hours. Tamiflu lessens symptoms and shortens recovery to one or two days by stopping the flu virus from growing. If you think you exposed someone in your home or workplace to the flu, they also can take the medication as prevention.

If a rapid test shows you have strep which is a bacterial infection, doctors usually prescribe an antibiotic.

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If a test comes back positive for RSV,  there are treatments, but they can be expensive and usually are given to those younger than five or older than 65..

If you are multiple days into the illness and just need medication to manage the symptoms, telehealth can be the answer, especially during the holidays.

Health systems, insurers and private companies operate telehealth companies that you can access through an app on your cellphone. Some of them are included as benefits in employer health plans.

“There are a lot of conditions we can evaluate over virtual care … upper respiratory infections, sore throats, UTIs,” said Prem Lund, a physicians assistant with Baptist Outpatient Services in Miami.

Baptist Health also offers a virtual care to in-person care option. Lund says a physicians assistant, nurse practitioner or doctor will see a patient virtually and if any tests are needed — flu tests, chest X-rays or a throat swab — the patient is referred to Express Care.

“The scheduling is done by a patient coordinator, and the patient just comes in and doesn’t have to wait,” Lund said. “They skip the line and don’t have to be exposed to others in the waiting room with infections. They just get tested and leave. The follow-up is done by the same provider.”

Lund says if someone has symptoms like a lingering cough or vomiting from stomach flu, there are treatments he can give via telehealth — medication to suppress the cough, or help with nausea. The virtual care is done through Baptist Health’s PineApp for a cost of $59 for a visit.

Gina Halley Wright of Miami says she was suffering for more than five days from a severely stuffed nose. “Dayquil wasn’t working,” she said.  A virtual provider called in a prescription for her and within an hour she was taking stronger medication that relieved the stuffiness.

Some illnesses, though, can’t be handled virtually. If you need X-rays, blood work or IV fluids, you will need to go to an urgent care. Almost every hospital system in South Florida including Baptist Health now operates urgent cares and MD Now has been expanding to add more urgent care locations in South Florida.

Lund said telehealth is a way to get your illness triaged quickly, but if you think you have bronchitis, pneumonia or severe dehydration, you are better off going to urgent care.

“There’s a lot we can do virtually,” he said. “It just depends on your symptoms.”

Sun Sentinel health reporter Cindy Goodman can be reached at cgoodman@sunsentinel.com.

Shop local Saturday (and beyond) and support your local economy | Editorial

Thu, 11/23/2023 - 01:30

If we were still back in 2013, many shoppers would be ready for the longest weekend of frenzied consumerism all year.

The question was where people would line up on Black Friday before dawn after shaking off their turkey-induced comas. Which deals would they grab first? What online web pages did they bookmark for Cyber Monday?

Even pre-COVID, the lines began to blur. Online and in-store shoppers have been seeing Black Friday banners for weeks.

We have a suggestion for those who intend to amp up their holiday shopping this weekend. To maximize our community’s benefit from holiday spending sprees, start your search for the perfect gift close to home. There’s even a name for that search, though it may have dropped off many consumers’ radar during the pandemic.

Local, local, local

Shop Local Saturday is a great chance to explore nearby towns that you rarely visit or to seek out shopping destinations you have heard friends and co-workers rave about. Downtown redevelopment efforts in Hollywood, Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton, Delray Beach and elsewhere translate into plenty of opportunities for browsing, dining and having fun.

And while some consumers have long thought of local shopping districts in terms of tony, expensive boutiques on Las Olas Boulevard and Boca Raton’s Mizner Park, close-to-home options have evolved to fit all price points and personal styles. They’re everywhere. You just have to look a little harder than logging on to your laptop.

There’s Lauderdale By-The-Sea’s eclectic collection of artisan shops, consignment stores and cigar vendors; market-style venues like the bargain-packed Swap Shop on Sunrise Boulevard; the SistrunKollective in Fort Lauderdale; and the Pineapple Grove Arts District in Delray Beach.

Shopping local means finding things you might never see online.

You might find a vintage band T-shirt to evoke memories of when big-name music concerts were at the Hollywood Sportatorium, not the Orange Bowl.

Hand-tinted photographs of Fort Lauderdale beach or Worth Avenue in Palm Beach. A vast variety of cultural flavor in edible gifts from nearly every corner of the world, and from Cuban, Caribbean and Haitian-American shops in neighborhoods throughout the region.

An array of local farmers’ markets offering handmade jewelry, cards, and that universal gift of candles — one of the most underrated holiday gifts in South Florida and the very definition of  “hurricane supplies that also smell really good.”

It’s not just about buying presents that impress, and provoke a wide-eyed “Where did you find that?” from the lucky recipient. Shopping local can also be a positive environmental statemen. Support a hometown business and reduce your carbon footprint at the same time.

The road less traveled

Taking the road less traveled and going off the personal beaten path could open your eyes to nearby treasures you’ve never seen.

There are plenty of opportunities to put your credit card directly into the hands that crafted the gift you’ve chosen, and know that your purchase is making a big difference in the lives of would-be entrepreneurs.

Best of all is knowing you’re having a positive impact on the lives of your friends and neighbors by boosting the local economy.

Multiple studies have documented the vast disparity of impact for community-based consumption: While an online transaction may do almost nothing to boost this area’s economy, any local purchase — even at a chain store — can boost area employment and tax revenue.

For independently owned retailers, the local “multiplier” (a measure of extended economic impact) can be as high as 200%.

That translates to more jobs for everyone. More local merchants to sponsor baseball teams, donate to charity raffles, or offer a high school student a part-time job. More tax revenue to fund area emergency services, pave local streets, put digital resources into neighborhood libraries. And encouragement for those who dream of renting a small storefront and putting their own wares on display.

Shopping local can be a gift not just for people you know and love, but for your community, too. Keep it in mind as holiday shopping kicks into high gear.

The Sun Sentinel Editorial Board consists of Editorial Page Editor Steve Bousquet, Deputy Editorial Page Editor Dan Sweeney, editorial writer Martin Dyckman and Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson. Editorials are the opinion of the Board and written by one of its members or a designee. To contact us, email at letters@sun-sentinel.com.

Oakland Park prefers to stay just as it is | Letters to the editor

Thu, 11/23/2023 - 01:30

I write as mayor of Oakland Park in response to the article, “Oakland Park, the next Fort Lauderdale?”

While we certainly appreciate your attention to our city, I implore you and your readers to dispel any thoughts that Oakland Park has an interest in becoming the next Fort Lauderdale. We appreciate our fine sister city but we are different in kind and character, and we like it that way.

Oaklyn, the Sky Building, and Horizon of Oakland Park are significant projects. Each has undergone careful consideration. Our goal is to enhance the city while preserving our unique charm, not to mimic the high-rises and other developments of Fort Lauderdale. Oakland Park is committed to maintaining our identity as a diverse, small-town, family-friendly city.

Responsible, thoughtful development consistent with the neighborhoods and corridors of our city will help us retain the quality of life that our residents enjoy.

These transformative projects align with our vision of a vibrant, unique, diverse community. We are focused on maintaining this delicate balance between progress and preservation. Oakland Park is a community where residents can take pride in knowing their neighbors, raising their children, and aging in place and we intend to retain that character as the hallmark of our growing community.

Oakland Park is not aspiring to be anything other than who we are. We are proud of our unique history and small-town charm. The projects mentioned are part of a bigger, broader, inclusive effort to revitalize the city while preserving the character that makes our city such a special place to live, work, play and visit.

Mitch Rosenwald, Ph.D., LCSW, Oakland Park

The writer is mayor of Oakland Park.

The historical lessons

Thanks for the history in Steve Bousquet’s column about Oakland Park.

I remember what a laughingstock the city once was, but I also shudder at the thought that the scary Mayor Mary Laveratt and her supporters were not a passing aberration, but a precursor of what has come to pass with the rise of the extreme right in the Republican Party. It makes me realize that we should have taken her warning more seriously.

As Yogi Berra said, “It’s déjà vu all over again,” except on a national scale.

Larry Barszewski, Sun SentinelRetiring Oakland Park City Manager John Stunson and his wife Shelley (right), are greeted by well-wishers at his last meeting as city manager in 2014. Stunson died two years later.

My friend, former Oakland Park City Manager John Stunson, was a tireless promoter of the city who could not resist returning to the place he loved too much, years later, to facilitate its revival.

We met for lunch at By Word Of Mouth, a great restaurant near City Hall, where I listened to his detailed plans and encouraged him to slow down and enjoy his well-earned retirement.

His stock reply was- “You’re right and I will. I just have one more project to do.” There was always one more project, until there was no more time. I still miss him.

John Kelly, Parkland

The writer is a former city manager in Coconut Creek and Tamarac.

Our national nightmare

Republicans are leading the charge in the culture wars because they know better than anyone how people should live and what’s right and wrong.

They know better than women and their doctors about abortion. They know better than teachers and librarians about what books children can read, and how history should be taught. They rail against the terrible influence trans people may have, and private businesses like Disney are targets of retaliation for speaking out. The liberal “agenda” in our schools and universities is brainwashing our students.

Gov. DeSantis scolds children and calls President Biden a name he knows stands for profanity (“Let’s Go Brandon”).

Sen. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., challenges Teamster Union president Sean O’ Brien to a fistfight during a Senate hearing, and Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., uses profanity and tells Rep. Jared Moskowitz of Parkland that he looks “like a Smurf.” All this as the Republican Party inches closer to fascism and authoritarianism (listen to any Trump speech).

I was in college in the Nixon era and was so disillusioned by the lawlessness of Nixon and Spiro Agnew. While they committed their crimes, they criticized the press (“nattering nabobs of negativism”) and college students. Who can forget Nixon’s enemies list?  I remember how relieved I felt when Nixon got on that helicopter and flew away.

I long for relief from our national nightmare now.

Janet Fiber, Delray Beach

AI’s legal challenges: Not so artificial, not enough intelligence | Opinion

Thu, 11/23/2023 - 01:30

A year ago this month, the artificial intelligence (AI) app ChatGPT was launched, emerging as history’s fastest-growing consumer software application, and was swiftly followed by competing products. Generative AI’s rapid adoption resulted from tremendous hype and excitement — searches combining “artificial intelligence” with words like “revolutionary,” “transforming” and of course, “change,” together produce billions of results.

So who’da thunk that AI would also generate a heap of legal and regulatory challenges, especially for businesses? At the root of the problems is that, at this stage, artificial intelligence is often not as “artificial” as it seems, and it may not yet possess enough “intelligence” to steer clear of legal trouble and limitations.

Paul Lopez is an attorney and COO at Tripp Scott law firm.

First of all, AI-generated “synthetic media” is not completely “artificial.” AI “scrapes” from cyberspace the real creative output — and intellectual property — of real people, which is used to “train” the software to replicate patterns or potentially to recombine it into new works or products. The consequence of this is that it has triggered protests and, yes, lawsuits by real artists, authors, owners of photographic images, software coders and others who allege their work product has been misappropriated or mismanaged without proper licenses, permission or attribution.

In response, AI developers explain that in training apps, employment of individual works falls under “fair use” and, in any event, the sheer mass of material employed, from billions of sources, is too great for any owner to show that output is similar to or derives specifically from their work. Still, business owners need to understand that the risk of IP infringement certainly exists when employees use AI products.  Penalties for infringement can run as high as $150,000 per occurrence.

Then there are the many areas where AI is not yet “intelligent” enough to avoid legal pitfalls. Because AI cannot always separate fact from fiction in source information — and can engage in flights of fancy called “hallucinations” — it can just be plain wrong, creating more exposure for users. AI apps have flubbed basic science facts, fabricated financial results and forged false allegations, including charges that a radio show host had committed fraud and embezzlement that resulted in a defamation suit. Even we lawyers are not immune: In New York, two lawyers submitted a legal brief using AI that cited fake, AI-generated legal cases.

AI tools may not be smart enough to avoid invading the privacy of individuals or using their information, including biometric data such as face recognition, without authorization, especially in contexts such as health care or financial services. Moreover, there are examples that such invasion of privacy might be combined with information that is too “artificial.” A recent example involved a case that grabbed headlines due to the use of AI-faked nude images of New Jersey high school girls being “sexted.”

Finally, AI may lack the nuance to avoid bias in assisting and even making decisions in areas like employment, lending and insurance. This concern is so great that the White House emphasized this potential discrimination in a recent executive order on the Safe, Secure, and Trustworthy Development and Use of Artificial Intelligence. In light of these issues, other Washington D.C. agencies are taking note, with the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Department of Justice, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Federal Trade Commission having issued a joint statement on the subject.

Though Florida is somewhat behind the curve on legislation and regulation of AI, numerous other states have either enacted or proposed measures addressing all of these areas as well as notifying consumers or citizens of AI use of their information. The Sunshine State will undoubtedly follow suit shortly.

So what’s a business to do? One noted law firm has so raised the alarm that it has produced a 15-page list of complex questions for companies employing AI, a level of “boiling the ocean” impractical for most companies. But a first step is simple: Consider an outright ban on non-approved business use of any AI platform by employees in any context. Then, ask platforms if they will vouch for appropriate licensing and other IP protection and include privacy safeguards, including indemnification against potential liability.

The bottom line: Until AI tools get more original and smarter, businesses should generally apply the concept of caveat utilitor — user beware, and prepare.

Paul Lopez is an attorney and COO at Tripp Scott law firm where he focuses his practice on workplace and employment law compliance and other complex business litigation issues. He lives in Boca Raton. 

A Christian club was blocked from Wilton Manors Elementary. Here’s why it concerned some parents.

Thu, 11/23/2023 - 01:30

An elementary school in the heart of Broward’s LGBTQ community sent out a notice that shocked some parents: A new after-school club would teach morals and values from “a Biblical framework.”

Parents at Wilton Manors Elementary started researching the club, called First Priority Game Day, and became even more concerned. While it’s open to students of any religious beliefs, adult volunteers must sign a “statement of faith,” which espouses anti-LGBTQ views.

“Rejection of one’s biological sex is a rejection of the image of God within that person,” the club’s statement of faith reads. “We believe that the term ‘marriage’ has only one meaning: the uniting of one man and one woman in a single, exclusive union, as delineated in Scripture. … We believe that God intends sexual intimacy to occur only between a man and a woman who are married to each other.”

After complaints from the school’s PTA, Principal Tauri Eligon scrapped plans for the club, saying he hadn’t properly vetted it, parents told the South Florida Sun Sentinel. This was at least the second time the Game Day club was stopped at a Broward public school after complaints, the other being McNab Elementary in Pompano Beach in 2021.

The club, which serves students in grades 3 to 5, exists in some district-run schools as well as several charter schools, according to the First Priority Game Day website.

District officials have declined to respond to questions by the Sun Sentinel on whether the group is adhering to district policies. In general, religious groups are allowed on campus, but they can’t be sanctioned by the school and must be treated the same as secular groups.

Chris Lane, the founder and executive director of First Priority of South Florida, which organizes the club, said he’s not interested in creating any controversy for Wilton Manors Elementary.

“We don’t want the school to get any backlash,” he said. “There’s no club meeting there, so I don’t think it’s a big deal.

“Anything we do, parental permission must be given,” Lane added. “It’s not like we’re trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes. A [notice] goes out saying this is what the club is about.”

As for criticism that the club is anti-LGBTQ, Lane said, “Our statement of faith is obviously biblical. We never want to hate or dislike anyone.”

The First Priority Game Day elementary club started in 2019 and now has its largest presence in Broward and St. Lucie County district, according to the group’s website.

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First Priority has had Christian clubs in numerous middle and high schools in South Florida for about 25 years. State and federal law generally allows religious clubs to meet during non-instructional hours in secondary schools if they were initiated by students.

It’s unclear whether this restriction also applies to elementary clubs. In emails, the district has given contradictory responses, with a lawyer saying in 2021 the clubs must be student-initiated and a district administrator saying this month they don’t have to be.

Ian Smith, a lawyer with the Washington, D.C.-based Americans United for the Separation of Church & State, said these types of groups are legal under three conditions.

  • The school treats this group the same way it would treat any other group that wanted to meet on school property during non-instructional time.
  • Religious groups don’t get special treatment that nobody else gets.
  • The school “is not otherwise supporting the group or encouraging students to attend religious activities.”
A parent’s concern

Similar concerns about the club arose at McNab Elementary in 2021. Parent Tina Jaramillo sent an email to school administrators alleging the club was “little more than than an evangelical recruitment project whose intent is to proselytize to students.

“I know that students can start a faith-based club, but this does not appear to be student run,” she wrote to school administrators on Nov. 5, 2021. “My concern is that many students and families may believe that the school has sponsored or endorsed this organization especially when the flyer notes that a ‘teacher sponsor’ will be present weekly.”

School Board member Sarah Leonardi, whose district includes McNab, forwarded Jaramillo’s email to then-Superintendent Vickie Cartwright, saying that “several of the points laid out by the parent are worrisome.” Cartwright alerted General Counsel Marylin Batista and administrator Valerie Wanza, according to emails from Nov. 19, 2021.

“Per our conversation,” Cartwright wrote to Batista, “I will be directing Dr. Wanza to reach out to the school to discontinue this program given that this is school-led rather than student-led.”

It’s unclear whether Cartwright, who left the district earlier this year, checked to see if other schools were also offering the club.

Questions about the club resurfaced this month. On Nov. 10, David Martin, assistant principal at Wilton Manors Elementary, emailed parents that “we are excited to share” that the Game Day club was starting.

“FP Game Day is a FREE, fast-paced, sixty-minute, faith-based club that will meet once a week,” Martin wrote. “Our goal is to create a fun, safe, and enriching environment for your child.”

Martin said all third- to fifth-graders are welcome regardless of their religious background.

“Parents can expect students to participate in fun and high-energy games while making new friends and learning important life lessons along the way,” he wrote. “Game Day is designed to share essential monthly character values throughout the year. The values we will focus on include compassion, integrity, courage, kindness, respect, and hard work, all with a Biblical framework.”

Parents with the school’s PTA went to the organization’s website to learn more.

“I don’t harbor any feelings toward kids wanting to have a religious club or a club with very light religious feel to it,’ said parent and PTA member Amber Quiroz. “But when you go to the website, their statement of faith is so out-of-line with the PTA. It’s very anti-LGBTQ and not inclusive. The push at our school is being inclusive, tolerant and open-minded.”

The elementary school’s location is in the heart of Wilton Manors, which has a gay majority on the city commission, one of the largest concentrations of same-sex households in the United States and a popular drive with numerous gay-owned restaurants, nightclubs and shops.

The club “simply doesn’t jibe with our school and community,” PTA president Jane Wolf told the Sun Sentinel.

Parents said they have other concerns about the group’s statement of faith, which discusses salvation, speaks out against abortion and describes Hell as “a real place created for the Devil and his demons. All people who die without Christ will also be condemned to hell for eternity.”

“I really feel it’s not appropriate for elementary schools,” Wolf said.

Lane said these are the Biblical principles he believes in, “and I would be doing a disservice if I didn’t tell people that.” But he said these topics aren’t the focus of the program.

“If you visited the club, you’d see kids playing kickball and memorizing a bible verse,” he said.

Leonardi, whose district also includes Wilton Manors Elementary, inquired again to district administrators about whether the club is allowed in elementary schools if it’s not student-initiated. The response she got this time was different.

Angela Fulton, a regional superintendent, said in a Nov. 14 email to her boss, Howard Hepburn, that Game Day is not student- or school employee-generated but from an outside organization, First Priority.

She said a district policy allows outside organizations to operate on campus “with a teacher or parent sponsor with final decision determined by the principal. Legal has worked with us in the past providing authorization for First Priority to function under the authority of the principal.”

The district’s communication office said in emails Friday and Tuesday that no one would be available to provide clarity until after the Thanksgiving holiday.

How Grandma’s Secret, Broward’s only Uzbekistan restaurant, came to Dania Beach

Thu, 11/23/2023 - 01:30

Broward County’s only Uzbekistan restaurant, Grandma’s Secret, has opened on Dania Beach Boulevard with a tantalizing name and belly-warming cuisine spanning several Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries.

Why several? The answer, if you ask owner Bakhtiyor Ostonov, is rooted in Uzbek history. Its mashup of cuisine — flame-grilled kebabs, spiced shawarma, steamed dumplings, lagman soup — was formed by 70 years of Soviet occupation, forced resettlements and the cross-pollination of Muslim cultures under that rule.  

(Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun Sentinel)Shurpa soup with roasted lamb, carrot, potato, onion and pepper from Grandma’s Secret in Dania Beach. (Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun Sentinel)

Which is why his 1,000-square-foot kitchen, which debuted in late October, marries Uzbek cuisine with dishes from Kazakhstan, Armenia, Turkey and Xinjiang in northwestern China, home to the Uyghur ethnic group.

“We are all one big melting pot,” says Ostonov, who also speaks fluent Russian, Spanish and Uzbek. “We are Muslim and we are Turk, but we understand each other because we’re ex-Soviet Union.”

After his father died of COVID-19 two years ago, Ostonov, who worked in a glass bottling plant in Tashkent, Uzbekistan’s capital, says he applied for and won a green card in a lottery. Eight months ago he moved his wife, Kristina, and two children to Sunny Isles Beach.

He wanted to live close to South Florida’s Russian-speaking community, and when he arrived neighbors shared “alarming” details about American eating habits.

“In my country, we cook all the time. So I spoke to neighbors and asked if they prepare food at home and they go, ‘No! We go to McDonald’s,’ ” Ostonov says. “And my wife says that means I should open a restaurant.”

Even with its significant Russian population, South Florida has a scarcity of Uzbek food. (Chayhana Oasis, in Sunny Isles Beach, is the only other Uzbek eatery in the tri-county area.)  And Russians form the bulk of his customer base, he adds. Two weeks ago, he temporarily closed to replace the storefront’s new glass windows, and took a break from yelling at the window people by resting under a tree in the parking lot.

Of course, his relaxation was short-lived. A Sunny Isles Beach man in a Cadillac slinked by the squat building and asked in Russian why the restaurant was closed. They chatted animatedly.

(Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun Sentinel)Grandma’s Secret in Dania Beach, shot on Wednesday, November 8, 2023. The 14-seat counter serves dishes including skewered meats, shawarma, dry-fried noodles and steamed dumplings. (Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun Sentinel)

“He wanted to tell me how eager he was to come inside,” Ostonov said after the Cadillac drove off. “He can’t find food like this anywhere.”

With its low-slung profile, Grandma’s Secret represents a Dania Beach in transition. The boxy, burgundy-colored storefront fills the bones of an old Philly dive (Pat’s Cheese Steak Hoagies & Pizza operated here for decades), and is dwarfed a pair of luxury apartment towers. (“Lots of Russian speakers live in the high-rises,” he says.)

(Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun Sentinel)Bakhitiyor Ostonov, the owner of Grandma’s Secret, is a transplant from Tashkent, Uzbekistan, who moved to Sunny Isles Beach eight months ago. (Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun Sentinel)

Inside, the 14-seat dining room is filled with piped-in Uzbek music, photos of Uzbekistan’s landscape, displays of decorative dinner plates and a dutar, an Uzbek guitar. The room is perfumed with roasted peppers, fried eggplant and raw garlic.

So what’s the secret in Grandma’s Secret? Ostonov’s late grandmother, Djamilya Ostonova, crafted many of the Uzbek recipes, he says, although the dishes aren’t executed by him but rather a professional chef named Abubakir Javokhir. A meal typically begins with obi non ($2.99 for small, $4.99 for large), discs of Uzbek sourdough flatbread that are thicker than Indian naan and resemble a nautilus shell. There are also samsas ($5.99), empanada-style puff pastries filled with beef or diced pumpkin.

(Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun Sentinel)Samsas, puffed pastries filled with beef or pumpkin, are served at Grandma’s Secret in Dania Beach. (Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun Sentinel)

By far, the restaurant’s signature dish is tashkent pilaf ($17.99), slivers of lamb and beef atop a bed of long-grain rice, grated carrots, onions, nuts and boiled quail eggs. There is also Uyghur lagman ($13.99), a hot soup of housemade noodles, lamb, cracked pepper, roasted tomatoes, green long beans and diced celery.

Other dishes include the Dania Set ($20.99-$39.99), a kind of Turkish breakfast plate stuffed with sunny-side-up quail eggs, crepe-style pancakes, honey, chocolate, cherry jam, apples and apricots. And there are kebabs ($14.99-$24.99) made with lamb chops, shrimp, salmon, branzino, beef or liver; and manti ($14.99), steamed flour dumplings formed by hand and filled with lamb, beef and diced pumpkin.

He says that some customers — OK, non-Russians — can be intimidated by Uzbek food. “I usually say it’s Mediterranean,” Ostonov says. “If I tell them Central Asian, they don’t know. They say, ‘Chinese?’ and I say, ‘No.’ So I let them try our cheeses and they look at our menu pictures and I tell them what’s in everything.”

Grandma’s Secret, at 50 E. Dania Beach Blvd., in Dania Beach, is open 2-10 p.m. Mondays an 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday-Sundays. Call 954-639-7038.

(Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun Sentinel)A variety of dishes from Grandma’s Secret in Dania Beach. (Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun Sentinel)

General Daily Insight for November 23, 2023

Thu, 11/23/2023 - 01:20
General Daily Insight for November 23, 2023

High expectations are at risk of falling flat today. At 4:47 am EST, the optimistic Sagittarius Sun squares gloomy Saturn in Pisces, frustrating our most ambitious plans. Later, the itchy Aries Moon enables touchy Chiron, bringing insecurities close to the surface. She then opposes amiable Venus, so stuffing down any tension to maintain a harmonious appearance might seem tempting. However, as the Moon goes on to harmonize with meticulous Mercury, acknowledging our disappointment should help us find more realistic paths to pleasure.

Aries

March 21 – April 19

You might tend to see the worst in someone else’s comments regarding politics or religion throughout your day. While the glaring Sun in your 9th House of Beliefs provokes wounded Saturn in your private 12th house, the other person may not know about an upsetting personal experience that led you to see the issue in question the way you do. Being vulnerable enough to share your story is optional but not required — solely recognizing their ignorance for what it is could calm you down.

Taurus

April 20 – May 20

You may currently be afraid that the world in general wouldn’t like you if they knew the real you. As the Sun in your controversial 8th house bickers with judgmental Saturn in your social sector, you probably haven’t told very many people whatever secret you’re concerned about. Maybe you shouldn’t broadcast it immediately if you’re already feeling this upset, as you’re likely to interpret others’ responses in the worst light. Still, you can take this opportunity to address the way you pile on yourself.

Gemini

May 21 – June 20

Feeling judged by an authority figure is unfortunately possible. They may have a problem with you doing something that makes you happy because this activity carries a social stigma — and, more importantly, they think that your choices reflect back onto them. Carving out more space in your connection with them to do your own thing would probably be ideal. If that’s not practically possible, consider making an effort to direct their attention toward evidence that society’s views of your controversial pursuit are changing.

Cancer

June 21 – July 22

You may believe it is necessary for you to work really hard. While the motivated Sun in your responsibility sector challenges stern Saturn in your philosophical 9th house, you’re likely to take pride in living according to your understanding of the rules. If you don’t receive the recognition you feel you deserve from others, though, you could be disappointed. Maybe your beliefs aren’t as widely shared as you think. If you see everyone else loafing, contemplate joining them instead of shaming them!

Leo

July 23 – August 22

You’ve probably got a hot personal story burning a hole inside you at the moment. Unfortunately, as the vibrant Sun in your expressive 5th house gets smothered by repressive Saturn in your intimacy zone, your intended audience may not be in the mood to hear it. They potentially want to keep things light for reasons that aren’t really about you. Even so, they might be open to a different form of intellectual stimulation that asks less of them emotionally — are you game?

Virgo

August 23 – September 22

Introducing a partner or close friend to your family may now incite extra challenges. While your clan could probably do more to be welcoming, perhaps your reluctance to give up your privacy is also contributing to the tension. Making an effort to describe what you find appealing about your companion can show your relatives why you chose to be with this person. Their positive qualities that you know quite well aren’t necessarily as obvious to the rest of the world as you’d think!

Libra

September 23 – October 22

Being devoted to duty could give you incredible focus. Unfortunately, as the friendly Sun in your conversation zone irritates serious Saturn in your 6th House of Responsibility, someone else might take it personally if you shut down their attempts to engage you in small talk. Sure, you may believe that all the work you’re doing is in service to others, but keep in mind that the people you’re trying to help potentially just need your presence. Read the room instead of following a rigid plan.

Scorpio

October 23 – November 21

Conserving your money may be a high priority at this time. While the Sun in your finance zone challenges wet blanket Saturn in your 5th House of Joy, you’re probably unwilling to pay for anything that seems frivolous. However, your careful budgeting might wind up making additional work for you. As you deliberate, weigh the frustration and resentment you’re likely to feel when you find yourself spending long hours on tasks you could have more easily outsourced. Remember — time is a valuable resource too!

Sagittarius

November 22 – December 21

The people you count on to have your back may seem indifferent to you today. No matter how much you crave their validation, they’re probably preoccupied with other concerns. Not everything is about you — thankfully, there can be some good to that. Knowing there are limits to the supply of others’ attention could nudge you to clarify what’s truly important to share versus what’s better for you to work out on your own. Cracking the right joke can also potentially cheer your companions up!

Capricorn

December 22 – January 19

Conversation could be a frustrating experience for you. While the energetic Sun in your 12th House of Secrets pokes inhibited Saturn in your communication zone, you may have a lot going on that you aren’t yet ready to tell others about. Perhaps you’re afraid of nurturing as a form of judgment. Does admitting you sometimes struggle seem like it would open the door to the idea that you can’t quite handle your own life? Recognizing this dynamic can help you navigate it thoughtfully.

Aquarius

January 20 – February 18

Meeting your peers’ expectations may presently seem vital, but that probably just isn’t in the budget at the moment. While the image-focused Sun in your 11th House of Community conflicts with limited Saturn in your finance sector, you might not want to admit you can’t afford something that everyone else is doing. Ask yourself — will anyone remember this issue five years from now? Do what you need to do! The less you say about it, the less dramatic it should be.

Pisces

February 19 – March 20

You may take pride in having a position of leadership today. Unfortunately, it might not bring out the best side of you. While the proud Sun in your prominent 10th house aggravates authoritarian Saturn in your sign, a little bit of power could go to your head! Regardless of any valid responsibilities you have that need attention, nothing is important enough to justify treating people in a way that’s not in line with your values. Know when to rein yourself in.

Which smart home devices are actually worth it?

Wed, 11/22/2023 - 20:16
The best smart home devices

Not all smart home devices are created equal. The big question to consider is how much of a difference a device will make in your life. Remember that sometimes, in an attempt to make things more convenient, we accidentally create new potential problems.

Smart devices that make an everyday activity easier and more convenient or improve your overall safety and well-being are probably worth it. Expensive technology with a gimmick is not worth the trouble.

For example, having a smart thermostat that you can more conveniently control and operate is useful and will improve your everyday life. But buying smart outlets that let you turn the power supply from an outlet on and off from afar is sort of a waste. Simply unplug devices after you are finished using them or use power strips with simple on and off switches. It does not take any extra time to just flip the switch on your power supply.

Even if you do not want to spend much on turning your home into a smart home, some products can provide simple time savings that would add up over the years. Using Smart LED light bulbs allows you to turn your lights on and off without touching your light switches again. Are your hands often full when you walk in the door? There is no need to stumble around in the dark when there are solutions available to brighten your day.

Useful smart home devices for security

There are lots of smart home devices designed to improve your home’s security and general safety. Some technology used to be very expensive but is now an excellent smart device option, like home security cameras.

Other pieces of equipment like smart locks are more of a potential security threat than an improved safety measure. It might be convenient to be able to unlock your deadbolt from anywhere at the touch of a button, but that just means anyone who obtains access to the system can just as easily enter your home. There is no replacement for a proper lock with a key that only you have.

Some smart devices are not external security cameras, but monitoring devices meant to be inside your home, letting you watch out for your pets or young children with ease. Turning a nanny cam into a convenient smart device makes your life easier and your children and animals safer.

Wyze Cam v3 ]

What you need to know: This is a great budget buy if you need a smart security camera.

What you’ll love:  It works indoors and outdoors and also has a bunch of upgrade peripherals available. Even without additional parts, it has motion detection, voice control, local video storage and more. It has 14 days of free automatic cloud storage and even allows users to use a built-in two-way audio system so that you can speak with visitors and they can respond.

What you should consider: The camera works with Google Assistant and Alexa, but if you use Alexa, the one-way talk feature is unavailable.

Nanit Pro Smart Baby Monitor ]

What you need to know: This is a high-end baby monitor system that allows parents to measure their child’s growth, breathing and sleep.

What you’ll love: The system is not just a camera that monitors the baby and identifies movement or crying. It has sleep tracking and helps parents to look at statistical patterns to help their baby sleep better. It has a 1080p full HD visual from a bird’s eye view of the baby so you can monitor their health and safety from anywhere in the house.

What you should consider: The baby monitor system is pretty expensive.

Furbo Dog Camera ]

What you need to know: This is a great monitor that is designed for dogs, but would also help you monitor other beloved pets.

What you’ll love: The Furbo has a built-in treat tosser, so you can fill it with your pet’s favorite treats and deliver them at the push of a button or a voice command from the companion app. It has full HD video quality, even when recording in night vision. The two-way audio allows you to talk to your pets from afar and help them be calm even when you are not home.

What you should consider: It will need a stable Wi-Fi connection to have good performance. It is a bit expensive.

Useful smart home devices for convenient living

If you want to listen to music or audiobooks with ease and manage other smart home devices with a central system, there are a couple of families of smart home products to consider. There are the Amazon Echo products that use Alexa, the Google Nest Hub products that use the Google Assistant and other products like Sonos that can adapt to either of the main voice assistants. Whatever your preferred smart home assistant, there are lots of products available to make your home more high-tech and convenient.

Amazon Echo Dot (5th Gen) ]

What you need to know: This is both a smart speaker and a clock that lets you make calls hands-free and use the Alexa assistant to its full potential.

What you’ll love: This is a classic digital alarm clock mixed with a smart speaker so you can play your favorite music and manage your other smart home devices with Alexa. You can use your voice to turn on or off the lights, adjust your thermostats and more.

What you should consider: The device is only compatible with the Alexa voice assistant, not other assistants or systems.

Google Nest Wi-Fi Mesh ]

What you need to know: This Wi-Fi router is a solid supplement to your Google Nest Hub smart speaker system to improve Wi-Fi connectivity in your house.

What you’ll love: It has a built-in smart speaker, but the big benefit of this device is that it expands the Wi-Fi signal throughout your house. Customers specifically like how easy the device is to set up and use right away.

What you should consider: The product is compatible with Google Assistant and the rest of the Google Nest products, but not other voice assistants or systems.

Sonos One (Gen 2) ]

What you need to know: The device comes with Alexa built-in, but it is compatible with both Google Assistant and Alexa.

What you’ll love: It is a particularly powerful smart speaker, despite its compact size that fits pretty much anywhere. If you put two of these high-quality speakers in the same space, you can pair them and enable a detailed stereo sound experience for music or a home theater.

What you should consider: Though it is very adaptable hardware, it is pretty expensive.

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Elliott Rivette writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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Even at sporting venues, fans must play digital defense | Opinion

Wed, 11/22/2023 - 04:30

Sports stadiums and concert arenas are pulling out all the stops to take fan engagement to the next level. Large-scale venues are constantly upgrading their technology to offer connections at every turn for everything from processing payments to ticket transactions, mobile ordering, sensory rooms and other digital advancements that supercharge the fan experience. Whether at an NFL game, soccer match, concert or other mega-event that attracts thousands of people to one venue, fans are increasingly connecting through mobile technologies and digital platforms that boost their experience and engagement.

While metal detectors and surveillance tools are a common sight outside arenas, it’s not just physical attacks that threaten fan safety. All those apps, QR codes, ticketing services, betting sites and social media feeds can also leave fans vulnerable to hackers who prey at the intersection of digital connectivity and human fallibility. Concertgoers and sports fanatics of all stripes have never been more vulnerable to a variety of digital risks at these hyper-public events.

Using tech to address safety threats

More than ever, the lines between cyber and physical security are being crossed with risks to fans, teams, staff, onsite vendors and stadium operators alike. Although security measures such as guards and cameras may address traditional physical security concerns, digital technologies are being widely deployed in the effort to reduce risk in the stands. For example, both text messaging and biometrics are being leveraged to support security operations during events.

Darren Guccione is CEO of Keeper Security.

One egregious case involved a violent riot in March 2022 at Estadio Corregidora stadium in Querétaro City, Mexico, during a soccer match. Querétaro Football Club (F.C.) fans wielded advertisement boards, metal gates and chairs to attack opposing Atlas F.C. supporters, who were badly outnumbered. Hundreds of families ran onto the field to escape the unfolding chaos. The riot shocked the nation as dozens of fans were injured, with social media posts showing videos of the violence and victims of the riot.

Those distressing images stained the reputation of Mexico’s professional soccer league, Liga MX, which took aggressive steps to implement technology that would help mitigate the chance and severity of a future attack. The organization installed a biometric facial recognition system called Fan ID, which embeds facial biometrics directly into tickets, while keeping personal information stored on the user’s device. Elsewhere, stadium managers post bulletins on digital scoreboards asking ticket holders to send texts about disturbances or bad behaviors that they spot. The goal is to digitally identify problematic fans before their actions pose a serious threat to other fans, players or the stadium itself.

Fans must play digital defense

Although the proliferation of digital technologies is being used to both bolster the fan experience and address physical safety concerns, the technologies themselves pose serious cybersecurity risks that cannot be ignored. Cyberattacks can occur anywhere, against anyone, at any time, and in unexpected ways. The large numbers of people in attendance at sporting events creates a wealth of personal data for cybercriminals to target. In 2021, a Minnesota scammer allegedly used stolen consumer login credentials to steal streaming TV services for Major League Baseball games, then resell them illegally on the dark web. In February 2022, the San Francisco 49ers IT network was hobbled by a ransomware extortion attack from the BlackByte ransomware gang.

Beyond the exhilaration of fandom lie digital dangers that all fans should recognize and prepare for. Unfortunately, going on defense has now become a necessary part of the game.

To guard against being phished, fans should avoid clicking on questionable links found in emails or text messages about their favorite teams or events. Passwords to any streaming, shopping, gambling, fan experience or team website should be at least 16 characters long with a combination of upper and lowercase letters, numbers and special characters. These passwords should be different for every website and stored in a secure password manager — not on a notepad or in the user’s phone. Furthermore, multi-factor authentication should be enabled on every account that makes it available.

Cybersecurity is a team effort

The obligation to digitally protect fans doesn’t just fall on the fans themselves. When monitoring threats against large events, IT professionals need to consider the security of their third-party vendors, insider threats from employees or contractors, as well as newly introduced technologies that could present points of access that may not have existed the year before.

Mobile app developers and marketers are also complicit in this digital ecosystem that profits off the fan experience, particularly when it comes to payments. Venues must ensure they’re using trusted and secure cashless payment methods such as PIN-enabled cards or secure app-based payment methods with biometrics.

The cybersecurity teams working with event organizers should have a comprehensive security plan that includes increased network monitoring, training and refreshing employees on both cyber and physical security practices, as well as stress testing for cyber resiliency. Like any security operation, event organizers must remain vigilant to protect against malware, viruses and social engineering attacks.

Big games carry big risks, but they can, and must, be mitigated. The time to act is now — before fans find themselves on the losing side of the cybersecurity scoreboard.

Darren Guccione is CEO of Keeper Security, a cybersecurity firm.

The annual South Florida Locals-Only Gift Guide: Where and when to shop, what to buy

Wed, 11/22/2023 - 04:30

It’s holiday gift-shopping season and, at the risk of offending once-and-future South Floridian Jeff Bezos … Amazon? It’s a last resort, a refuge for the desperate and dull-minded (yes, been there!). Don’t do that. To help, we present the fourth annual South Florida Locals-Only Gift Guide, a list of gift ideas and pre-holiday shopping experiences for items created by your neighbors. At the very least, you can grab a drink while rehabilitating your rep for perfunctory gift-giving.

WHERE TO SHOP

Mini Indie Craft Bazaar: Long-running local makers market Indie Craft Bazaar will take over the upstairs at Backyard in downtown Fort Lauderdale for an emo-themed Mini Indie shopping event on Friday, Nov. 24, from 9 p.m. to midnight. You’ll find a few of ICB’s favorite vendors, DJ Lindersmash and, if you’re feeling it, emo karaoke. Backyard is at 100 SW Third Ave. Visit Facebook.com/indiecraftbazaar.

Small Business Saturday Market: Brought to you by the Oakland Park CRA and the sophisticated tastemakers at The Wander Shop (whimsical fashion) and Rehaus (retro furniture), the market will host more than 40 vendors outside the neighboring shops on Northeast 12th Avenue on Saturday, Nov. 25, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The event will include food and drink vendors, family activities and more. The Wander Shop is at 3548 NE 12th Ave. Visit WanderHaus.party.

Small Business Saturday: Joseph C. Carter Park in Fort Lauderdale will host more than 30 local small businesses on Nov. 25 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. during the annual Small Business Saturday holiday market sponsored by the Delta Education and Life Development Foundation and the Broward County alumni of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. The park is at 1450 W. Sunrise Blvd. Visit BCACDST.org/events.

Small Business Babes: This union of local female business owners will host a vendor market on Saturday, Nov. 25, from 5 to 9 p.m. at Coastal Karma Brewing in Lake Park. The brewery is at 796 10th St., No. 798. Visit SmallBusinessBabes.org/events.

The Flamingo House: The co-working space in downtown Boca Raton will join forces with The Flamingo Flea for a Small Business Saturday gathering on Nov. 25 from noon to 4 p.m. The afternoon will include local vendors, live music (Christopher Luv), food and drinks (BC Tacos, Ahmay’s Cuisine, Ilegal Mezcal, Owl’s Brew) and kids activities (Inner Light School). The Flamingo House is at 33 SE Fourth St., Suite 100. Visit Facebook.com/theflamingohousecoworking.

The Bar-zaar Holiday Pop-Up: The Carousel Club at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach will have an afternoon of fashion, lifestyle and beauty shopping, along with cocktails (half-price mojito pitchers 1-4 p.m.) and trackside entertainment on Saturday, Nov. 25, from 1 to 7 p.m. Gulfstream Park is at 901 S. Federal Highway. Visit Facebook.com/carouselclb.

John McCall/South Florida Sun SentinelThe Carousel Club at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach will host the Bar-zaar Holiday Pop-Up on Saturday, Nov. 25. (John McCall/South Florida Sun Sentinel)

Holiday Pop-Up Shop: The city of Boynton Beach will gather local business and vendors at the Holiday Pop-Up Shop in the Business Incubator space at City Hall on Friday, Dec. 1, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The shop will continue each Friday in December. City Hall is at 100 E. Ocean Blvd. Visit Boynton-Beach.org.

Pine & Palm Holiday Market: The third annual holiday shopping event at the Coral Springs Museum of Art is a two-day affair on Dec. 1-2, with pieces by local artists and makers. Opening night on Dec. 1, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., is a ticketed event ($10 advance, $15 at the door) offering first dibs on shopping, music, complimentary light bites and a cash bar. Admission is free to the market on Dec. 2, from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., with more music, free bites and a cash bar ($5 mimosas). The museum is at 2855 Coral Springs Drive. Visit   Facebook.com/coralspringsmuseumofart.

The Flamingo Flea: The Fort Lauderdale-based curator of cool stuff brings the Biz Networker and Toy Drive edition of its Sip and Shop Series to the Funky Buddha Brewery in Oakland Park on Dec. 6 from 6 to 9 p.m. The evening will include 15 local vendors and artists and the Funky’s every-Wednesday Burger & Beer special: Buy a burger and get a free beer. Guests are asked to bring a new, unwrapped toy for the Jack and Jill Foundation. Registered guests get a free drink ticket. The Funky Buddha Brewery is at 1201 NE 38th St. Visit FlamingoFlea.com.

Small Business Babes: The aforementioned gals will be at Garden District Taproom in West Palm Beach on Dec. 9 from 5 to 9 p.m. for an evening of shopping and gabbing (note: GDT is a self-pour bar). Garden District Taproom is at 410 Evernia St., suite 119. Visit SmallBusinessBabes.org/events.

The Garden District Taproom is a cozy, self-pour lounge that opened in downtown West Palm Beach in March. (Garden District Taproom / Courtesy)

Jingle Mingle Jamboree Market:  At the Margate Sports Complex on Dec. 9, Flynn’s Arcade & More will bring together vendors offering handmade items, toys, retro games and more, along with food, live music, a costume contest and a cookie-making station. The event is from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and is free with advance registration, or $5 at the gate. The Margate Sports Complex is at 1695 Banks Road. Visit JingleMingleJamboree1209.eventbrite.com.

Sunny Side Up Market: The bubbly ladies of Sunny Side celebrate the fourth anniversary of their community-building, shoppy-noshing extravaganzas on Sunday, Dec. 10, from noon to 4 p.m. with a holiday-themed farmers-artisans market in the MASS District in downtown Fort Lauderdale. The event is located at 844 NE Fourth Ave. Visit Facebook.com/sunnysideupmarketBGN.

The Flamingo Flea: The merry band of marketeers and vendors will return to Crazy Uncle Mike’s in Boca Raton for an afternoon of gift grazing, brunch, craft beer and live music on Saturday, Dec. 16, from noon to 4 p.m. Crazy Uncle Mike’s is at 6450 N. Federal Highway. Visit FlamingoFlea.com.

Merry Christmas Market: Hosted by Sunny Side Up Market, the gathering takes place on Saturday, Dec. 16, from noon to 4 p.m. on the terrace at Society Las Olas in downtown Fort Lauderdale. Vendors will be set up from noon to 4 p.m., with yoga and prosecco from noon to 1 p.m. (BYO mat) and live music 1-3 p.m. Bring an unwrapped toy for families at Broward Partnership. Society Las Olas is at 301 SW First Ave. Visit Facebook.com/sunnysideupmarketBGN/events.

GIFT IDEAS

SunFest tickets: The SunFest Black Friday sale offers early-bird prices as low as $100 for a three-day pass to the music festival celebrating its 40th year in downtown West Palm Beach May 3-5. No word yet on artists, but the 2023 edition featured, among many others, The Killers, The Chainsmokers, Jack Johnson, Ziggy Marley and Flo Rida. The sale runs through Nov. 28. Visit SunFest.com.

Riptide Music Festival: The organizers of the weekend rock and pop concerts at Fort Lauderdale Beach Park Dec. 2-3 will have a Black Friday sale on tickets with the passcode: BLACKFRIDAY. The while-supplies-last offers include $40 off two-day passes (full price $109+) and $20 off single-day passes (full price $49+), excluding Sunday general-admission tickets. The lineup at Riptide 2023 will feature The Black Keys, recent Grammy nominee Jelly Roll, Bleachers, Silversun Pickups, Young the Giant, Dirty Heads, Sublime with Rome, AWOLNATION and others. Visit RiptideMusicFestival.com.

Surf District Surf Shop: I like to rep the region when I’m out of town by wearing a local name, usually something picked up at a South Florida brewery. A similar look can be found at this surf and paddleboard shop housed in the restored 1895 train depot in downtown Delray Beach. The shop’s hats, shirts and other apparel boast the kind of clean, thoughtful typography that is pleasing to my eye. You’ll find a variety of discounts for Black Friday and Small Business Saturday — if you want to get crazy with your gift, Surf District also offers surf lessons. Visit Surf-District.com.

Surf District Surf Shop in Delray Beach will offer a variety of discounts for Black Friday and Small Business Saturday. (Surf District Surf Shop / Courtesy)

Seaglass: One of the merriest annual events held on Fort Lauderdale beach, the gathering formally known as Seaglass: A Fort Lauderdale Rosé Experience is an all-inclusive three-day binge of top-shelf pink wines, entertainment and wearing o’ the pink (even by people who would never). Seaglass 2024 takes place Jan. 26-28. Tickets just went on sale for $150 per day, $200 per day for VIP. Visit SeaglassExperience.com.

Inter Miami gear: Speaking of pink, you can get the Lionel Messi look without spending millions with a stop at the Inter Miami team store at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale. The shop is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday. Visit InterMiamiCF.com.

Museum gifts: It’s easy to forget that the museums in your area typically have gift shops with all kinds of interesting possibilities for the hard-to-buy-for. The shop just inside NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale has an Andy Warhol Poppies Tote Bag ($26.99) and a bold pink clutch purse from The Guerrilla Girls that is an art piece itself titled “The Advantages of Being a Woman Artist” ($29.95). Under those words they list 13 benefits, including “Knowing Your Career Might Pick Up After You’re 80” and “Being Reassured That Whatever Kind of Art You Make It Will Be Labeled Feminist.” Visit NSUArtMuseum.org.

The Andy Warhol Poppies Tote Bag can be found in the gift shop at NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale. (NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale / Courtesy)

Munyon’s Paw-Paw: This aperitif is pure South Florida, made with local ingredients including grapefruit, papaya and orange blossom, and cloaked in a colorful, 100-year-old origin story as a cure-all tonic that attracted the hopeful from all over the East Coast to Dr. James Munyon’s island off the coast of North Palm Beach and his “fountain of youth.” Paul Massey, co-owner of the recently launched Munyon Island Spirits Co., describes Munyon’s Paw-Paw as “extremely versatile. It can be enjoyed neat, in an Old Fashioned, margarita, or to enhance your favorite cocktail.” A 750-ml bottle costs $34.99. Visit MunyonsPawPaw.com.

Munyon’s Paw-Paw is an all-natural aperitif steeped in Florida history, with a recipe that pays homage to the original tonic created in 1903 by Dr. James Munyon. (Munyon Island Spirits Co./Courtesy)

Black Friday Record Store Day: As always, record shops across South Florida will take part in the nationwide celebration of vinyl and rare music during the Black Friday edition of Record Store Day. I’ve been in a Gram Parsons mood lately and am looking forward to the new archival release “The Last Roundup: Live From the Bijou Café in Philadelphia March 16th 1973.” The lost-and-found recording of Gram Parsons and the Fallen Angels, featuring then-unknown singer Emmylou Harris, captured one of the Florida-born singer’s last club dates. Six months later he was dead. The Los Angeles Times recently had an excellent interview with Polly Parsons, his only child. “There’s a much larger discussion to be had about Gram Parsons than the one that we’ve been having for the last 40 years,” she says. For a list of South Florida stores participating in RSD, visit RecordStoreDay.com/Stores.

South Florida punks: If you came up going to shows here in the 1980s or want to fact-check people who tell you about the glorious local live music scene back in the day, consider “Punk Under the Sun: ‘80s Punk and New Wave in South Florida” (Hozac Books, $35.99). The authors are Joey Seeman and Chris Potash, writers once based in South Florida who covered the scene from the inside out in the ‘80s and early 1990s. Guitarist Russell Mofsky, once of iconic local band Quit, recommends the “beautifully designed coffee table book that … is artfully laid out and extremely well researched.” You can order the book at HozacRecords.com.

Tortuga Music Festival: Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. Friday, Dec. 1, for the 2024 edition of the wildly popular country-music event returning to the beach in Fort Lauderdale April 5-7. The lineup includes Lainey Wilson, Hardy, Jason Aldean, Old Dominion, Bailey Zimmerman, Ashley McBryde, Koe Wetzel, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Bret Michaels, Boys II Men, TLC and many more. Prices start at $335+ for a three-day general-admission pass, $510+ for a three-day GA+ pass and $1,549+ for VIP. If you’ve been before, an alumni presale begins at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 28. Visit TortugaMusicFestival.com.

Staff writer Ben Crandell can be reached at bcrandell@sunsentinel.com. Follow on Instagram @BenCrandell and Twitter @BenCrandell.

Falling turkey prices are making this year’s Thanksgiving feast a little easier on the wallet

Wed, 11/22/2023 - 04:30

Although Thanksgiving guest lists and grocery bills may ruffle some feathers, one thing to be thankful for this year is a drop in prices — especially turkey.

Even though the average cost of a complete Thanksgiving meal still reflects lingering inflation, prices for turkey have dropped significantly this fall, giving families a modest break just in time for the holiday season.

The average nationwide cost of a Thanksgiving feast for 10 people is $61.17 this year, down 4.5% from last year’s record $64.05, according to an annual survey by the American Farm Bureau Federation. It’s modest, but the bigger the family, the bigger the savings.

“The centerpiece on most Thanksgiving tables – the turkey – helped bring down the overall cost of dinner,” the Farm Bureau said in a press release, though many of the side dishes that come around this time of year — like cranberries and stuffing — also ticked downward.

Turkey production appears to be cheaper on the back-end too. Grocers paid suppliers an average of $19 for each fresh, medium-sized turkey this year, a plunge from last year’s $30, according to a Sun Sentinel analysis of U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

The good news for Floridians is frozen turkeys are cheapest in southeastern states, this week’s turkey retail report from the agriculture department shows.

According to the report, frozen turkeys averaged $1.05 per pound in the nine southeastern states, the lowest in the country this week. When compared with other regions of the U.S., shoppers in Florida can save anywhere from a few pennies to 80 cents per pound on their main course.

But if you prefer fresh over frozen, southeastern states including Florida pay more than other regions for fresh birds — averaging $2.07 per pound.

This year’s savings are largely attributed to the easing of avian flu epidemic, which ravaged poultry farms last year and drove egg prices sky-high nationwide. With Thanksgiving demand for turkeys high as ever, some farmers doubled down to replenish their flocks this year.

But no Thanksgiving spread would be complete without a cornucopia of side dishes — especially mashed potatoes. The price of white potatoes rose last year and now hang at $1.33 per pound, about 30 cents more than pre-pandemic levels.

And for those who save extra room for dessert, the cost to make a homemade pumpkin pie dipped slightly from nearly $19 to $17 this year, mostly due to a drop in the price of eggs. You can use the extra few dollars to buy a pint of whipped cream, which is averaging $1.73 this year according to the Farm Bureau survey.

Reasons to be thankful on a special holiday | Letters to the editor

Wed, 11/22/2023 - 04:30

We face two foreign wars, civil unrest and tragic active shooter incidents, and Congress must act yet again to avoid a partial government shutdown.

If that occurs, military families and those relying on government-funded programs will be adversely affected. As we approach the holiday season, try to support those fleeing from war or recovering from active shooters. As we gather to celebrate Thanksgiving, now is the time we should be grateful for the men and women who make our lives safe and secure: Our military, first responders, medical teams, educators, civil service employees and religious leaders.

Enjoy the holidays. We are truly blessed to be living in this wonderful country. If you need a reminder, look at the large number of migrants who risk their lives to enter America.

Bob Sweeney, Warwick, R.I.

Thankful for good care

With immense gratitude, I am writing to acknowledge the exceptional care my father, Nelson Hershman, received during his recent hospitalization in the TrustBridge unit at Delray Medical Center.

While he was under the care of Dr. Faneece Embry, we witnessed compassion, patience, concern, and a level of humanity that is often missing in healthcare settings today. The entire TrustBridge staff, including the incredible nurses, CNAs, social workers, music therapists, chaplains and other volunteers made my Dad’s hospital stay as positive an experience as possible. Thankfully, under his doctors’ care, he was put on a new medication that helped to stabilize his condition and allowed him to return home under the outstanding care of the TrustBridge Seaside team.

The staff and volunteers of TrustBridge at Delray Medical Center deserve special recognition for their dedication, compassionate care, and support for patients and their family members.

Terri L. Miller, Sonoma, Calif. 

In pursuit of just causes

An essential but sometimes threatened mission in life is what I call “Just Causes.” Hopefully, great teachers and parents will promote good causes so that all kids will be exposed to them, participate in a few, and choose which ones to espouse. Actions speak louder than words.

Public figures should be seen supporting their chosen good causes. Many already do, and brilliantly. Demonstrations of empathy, civility, positive acceptance of diversity, acts of kindness, and belief that knowledge and wisdom must be grounded in verifiable truth are essential to advanced democratic civilizations.

We need to campaign against and drastically reduce evils in what should be our wonderful world. There are so many causes: starvation, homelessness, abject poverty, deprivation of health care, and man’s inhumanity to man, be it bullying to war and genocide, needless mass shootings. We must end shameful intolerance of diversity, pollution of land, sea and air, and so many plant and animal species teetering on the abyss of extinction, exacerbated by global warming.

Christopher Reiss, Dania Beach

A tribute to Rosalynn Carter In this Feb. 8, 2017, photo, former President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn arrive for a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a solar panel project on their farmland in Plains, Ga. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)

First Lady Rosalynn Carter walked her own path, inspiring a nation and the world along the way.

Throughout her incredible life as First Lady of Georgia and First Lady of the United States, Mrs. Carter did so much to address many of society’s greatest needs. She was a champion for equal rights and opportunities for women and girls, an advocate for mental health and wellness for every person, and a supporter of the often unseen and uncompensated caregivers of our children, aging loved ones, and people with disabilities.

Above all, the deep love shared between Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter is the definition of partnership, and their humble leadership is the definition of patriotism.

She lived life by her grateful faith. I send my love to President Carter, the entire Carter family, and the countless people across our nation and the world whose lives are better, fuller, and brighter because of the life and legacy of Rosalynn Carter. May God bless our dear friend.

Paul Bacon, Hallandale Beach 

 

‘Coordinated attack on the neighborhood’: A surge in golf cart thefts leaves Fort Lauderdale residents on edge

Wed, 11/22/2023 - 04:30

FORT LAUDERDALE — On a school morning in the waterfront neighborhood of Lauderdale Harbours, John Calabrese, 51, emerged from his home to drive his son to kindergarten. But when he walked out onto the driveway, the golf cart wasn’t there.

Someone had walked onto the same driveway the night before, hotwired the $12,000 cart, and stolen it, Calabrese told the South Florida Sun Sentinel on Tuesday. Later that August morning, he tracked the cart to the backyard of an apartment only five minutes away, joined forces with a Fort Lauderdale police officer, and took it back home. But the thief would remain at large, part of what he thinks is an organized plot unfolding across upscale streets like his own.

“This is not some random, ‘Oh, teenagers kid around, let’s steal somebody’s golf cart,'” said Calabrese, who is also vice president of the Lauderdale Harbours Improvement Association. “This is like a coordinated, planned attack on the neighborhood.”

The crime is part of a recent surge in golf cart thefts across Fort Lauderdale and elsewhere, police say. The thieves, often teenagers, target wealthy neighborhoods like Lauderdale Harbours and nearby Rio Vista, where they have grown brazen, residents say, stealing golf carts as well as anything from BMWs to pontoon boats in broad daylight — even when their owners are home. Some think the thefts could be part of an organized scheme to sell the golf carts for parts or even export them internationally.

In response, owners are spending thousands of dollars on surveillance cameras, equipping their golf carts with boots, steering wheel locks and “kill” switches, and parking them in between their cars so that no one can drive off in them.

A double-locked golf cart is seen in the Garden Isles neighborhood of Pompano Beach, on Tuesday. The new generation of expensive upgraded carts have become theft targets. (Joe Cavaretta/South Florida Sun Sentinel)

As Calabrese’s wife called the police that morning to file a report, he took his son to school, then returned home to get his golf cart back.

By about 9 a.m., he had used his Apple AirTags to trace the cart to an apartment complex near Broward Health Medical Center on Andrews Avenue, where he drove by and spotted it in the backyard, next to another golf cart. He called the police himself and gave them the address.

An officer showed up about 10 minutes later, apologizing for the wait. The two then went into the backyard, the officer protecting Calabrese, as he walked up to his cart. The screwdriver the thief had used to pry open the dashboard to hotwire the car was still out, Calabrese said. The stereo was stolen.

The officer dusted the screwdriver for fingerprints but declined to knock on doors, Calabrese said, saying that even though the stolen cart was in the backyard, it wasn’t enough evidence; the person who stole it would just deny doing so.

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Calabrese was able to drive his golf cart back home, but isn’t sure what became of the investigation. Still, the ordeal disturbed him. In the months since the theft, he has become heavily involved in efforts to raise awareness about the situation in the neighborhood.

“It’s kind of like champagne problems, right?” Calabrese said. “I’m sure most people are like, ‘oh, I feel so bad.’ … Well, you know, these golf carts, mine was twelve grand, some run as much as twenty-five. I mean, it’s crazy how people trick them out and everything.”

Surge in thefts

The thefts have increased as golf carts have become more expensive and sought after, and as people realize the ease with which they can be stolen relative to their value; many are as expensive as regular cars.

In the last six months, Fort Lauderdale Police have recorded over 40 golf cart thefts, the department said in a Facebook post warning the community, a noticeable increase.

“We would like to remind golf cart owners to be vigilant and take extra precautions when storing their golf carts,” the post read.

The door-less vehicles are often accessed by a key that can be used on many carts, a key that has been around since the 80s, according to Katelyn Turk, the owner of The Cart Collection, a golf cart dealership in Coral Springs.

Golf carts have almost doubled in price in recent years, she said, often over $15,000, though people will try to sell them to other countries for even more than that.

The carts now contain lithium batteries, which might be a reason thieves are stealing them, she added. The batteries alone can cost $3,000.

Turk has seen an uptick in customers arriving with golf carts damaged from theft attempts. Meanwhile, she said, her own business has been the victim of crimes: People have begun calling in, trying to purchase golf carts using stolen credit cards.

The dealers have been able catch some of the attempts, but not all; in a recent case, Turk realized two weeks later that the credit card was stolen.

“At this point it’s probably in another country,” she said.

‘That’s why I paid for a tracking system’

Carl Patregnani, 59, woke up at 3:45 a.m. last month with his phone tracker blaring: his $40,000 side-by-side was on the move. He flung on his clothes, dashed out of his Rio Vista home, and followed the vehicle, an off-roading version of a golf cart that he had equipped with multi-colored LED lights, to a nearby Domino’s pizza store.

Patregnani was careful. In addition to the tracker and his Ring doorbell, he always parked his side-by-side in between the family’s other cars to keep people from driving off in it. But earlier that evening, Patregnani’s son had taken his girlfriend out, and when he returned, he didn’t re-park the other car to box in the side-by-side.

Carl Patregnani’s side-by-side, which he says was stolen from his home in the Rio Vista neighborhood in late October. (Carl Patregnani/Courtesy)

The brief moment of weakness was enough. The thief or thieves must have pushed it out of the driveway, Patregnani said. His son had parked the side-by-side close to the Ring doorbell camera, but he thinks whoever took the vehicle used a Wi-Fi jammer to disable the camera, because he has no surveillance footage of the early morning hours when the vehicle was stolen; he only realized it was gone when the tracker alerted him.

By the time Patregnani arrived at the Domino’s, the side-by-side was gone. He returned home, called 911, and met with police, watching as the tracker moved to the Fort Lauderdale Airport, and then to someone’s house in Miami Gardens. He gave police the address and found pictures of the home on Google Earth; his tracker placed the side-by-side in the garage about 4 a.m.

But they didn’t send units to the home that morning; there wasn’t enough evidence.

“That’s why I paid for a tracking system,” Patregnani said, frustrated but resigned to the outcome.

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He won’t be getting his side-by-side back, but insurance will reimburse him and he intends to buy another one, in addition to overhauling his security system. With the Ring camera susceptible to jamming, he also wants a new camera system and new trackers.

Patregnani estimates it will cost him $3,000 or $4,000 “just to try to secure it.”

‘Large group of individuals’

The golf cart thefts cross cities and counties, extending beyond Fort Lauderdale. In October, Lighthouse Point Police officers arrested a 17-year-old from Miami in connection to seven different golf cart thefts, the police department announced on Facebook.

“After several months of persistent and thorough investigation, Lighthouse Point Detectives have successfully apprehended the suspect responsible for the recent surge in golf cart thefts that have been affecting our community,” the post read. “Thanks to the diligent efforts of our team of dedicated officers and detectives, this individual is now in custody.”

It’s unclear whether the Fort Lauderdale thefts could be connected to the same person. Spokespeople for the police department did not respond to questions Tuesday.

But Commander Christopher Oh, a spokesperson for Lighthouse Point Police, said that the thefts are likely part of a bigger scheme.

“I think we have reason to believe that there’s a large group of individuals,” he said. “It’s not just one person.”

Asked why police sometimes don’t charge the thieves, he said, “I think that it’s difficult to tell if the carts have been stolen or not,” but added, “anything that’s suspicious should obviously be reported to the police.”

Calabrese feels that the issue needs more attention. He worries that the golf cart thefts could escalate into home invasions or turn violent. Many of his neighbors have guns, he said.

“Do you want to have like a gun fight in a nice neighborhood in Fort Lauderdale where someone gets killed?” he asked. “I don’t want it to get to that point where it takes that kind of extreme action to happen for people to really take notice.”

To keep your golf cart safe, police recommend securing the steering wheel with a steering wheel lock; ensuring your surveillance cameras are functioning; consider installing motion lights or an aftermarket GPS; putting the golf cart away or parking it in a lighted area; staying aware and reporting all suspicious activity.

Florida’s COVID cases may be low this Thanksgiving, but a different miserable virus is spreading

Wed, 11/22/2023 - 04:30

As families travel and gather for Thanksgiving, COVID continues to sicken Floridians, but it’s not the menace it once had been. Instead, other viruses like the stomach flu are wreaking havoc.

Florida is at a low risk level for COVID as of Nov. 17, and the state’s health surveillance shows a drop in hospitalizations and deaths from the virus compared to previous years at this time. Going into the holiday weekend, COVID levels for the week of Nov. 10 in Broward and Palm Beach counties are at the lowest levels thus far this year, according to Florida Department of Health data.

COVID can be seasonal, though, and cases tend to rise after holiday gatherings and travel.

“COVID is still out there, and I am sure there will be somewhat of a winter surge,” said Dr. Jason Goldman, an internal medicine specialist in Coral Springs.

However, as family and friends gather for their holiday meal, the stomach flu, also known as norovirus is a big reason to keep a distance and wash your hands well.

“Norovirus has been tearing through schools,” said Dr. Jill Roberts, an associate professor with the USF College of Public Health. “It’s insanely contagious and hard to get rid of.”

Norovirus causes vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain and sometimes fever. It transmits directly from an infected person, or indirectly through contaminated surfaces, objects, foods or drinks.

“The tip of a pin can get a thousand people sick,” Roberts said.

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In the Southeast, which includes Florida, the percentage of laboratory tests for norovirus that came back positive has nearly doubled over the last month. Each year, there are about 2,500 reported norovirus outbreaks in the United States, according to the CDC.

“The norovirus mutates, and every couple of years there’s a new strain,” USF’s Roberts said.

You can get norovirus illness many times in your life, because infection with one type of norovirus may not protect you against other types. Hand-washing is the best way to prevent getting infected.

In the United States, outbreaks of norovirus happen most often during late fall, winter, and early spring. While the symptoms usually last about 48 hours, children under 5 years old and adults over 85 years old are most likely to end up in the emergency department, with severe dehydration as the biggest risk.

With the stomach flu, the symptoms are distinct and easy to diagnose. It’s respiratory illness like influenza and RSV that have symptoms that can be similar. Both are on the rise in Florida.

The most recent weekly summary update from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention designated Florida as having high levels of activity for influenza-like illness.

Traditionally, the winter flu season ramps up in December or January, but it made a November entrance in Florida this year.

“We are seeing a lot of flu and a lot of RSV,” said Goldman, the internal medicine specialist.

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is distinguished mostly by a croupy cough that resembles a bark. Symptoms also include a congested nose, cough, fever and sore throat. Florida’s RSV season is longer than the rest of the nation, with the length varying by region, according to state health data. So far this year, Florida has experienced 28 RSV outbreaks.

“There are treatments for RSV, but they can be expensive,” Roberts said.  “We want to restrict treatments for those at high risk.”

So far this fall, the CDC estimates at least 780,000 flu illnesses, at least 8,000 hospitalizations and at least 490 flu-related deaths — including at least one child. In Florida, no one can say for certain how long this year’s season will last.

Uptake of the flu vaccine has been relatively low this year: about 35% of U.S. adults and 33% of children have been vaccinated. That’s down compared to last year.

Goldman said he expects flu season to last at least through the end of April.

“Last year I had patients as late as June with the flu,” he said.”That’s why prevention is most important.”

Sun Sentinel health reporter Cindy Goodman can be reached at cgoodman@sunsentinel.com.

ASK IRA: Are Heat defenders less defenseless than given credit for?

Wed, 11/22/2023 - 04:05

Q: Duncan Robinson is no longer a bad defender. Watching numerous games this season, players he is defending have a hard time getting around him. He is just better. In fact, he is a much better defender than Tyler Herro. There. I said it. – Andrew, Coral Gables.

A: No need to denigrate Tyler Herro while praising Duncan Robinson. Tyler also has made significant defensive strides this season. I’m not sure that either are optimal during closing time when protecting a lead, but that also is when the Heat can roll out the likes of Bam Adebayo, Caleb Martin, Jimmy Butler, Haywood Highsmith and Josh Richardson. Good luck with that. But whenever there is a trade rumor (such as, say, one for Zach LaVine) that includes the notion of “well he can’t defend either,” there is a difference. Tyler and Duncan know the Heat system, have worked in the Heat system, have proven willing to try to master the Heat system. That matters. And it is not guaranteed that any random bad defender off the street would be as willing.

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Q: So about another month for Tyler Herro? The Heat always are slow, cautious on the return path. Part of the Heat culture. – Steve.

A: And considering how early it is in the season, and with the Heat’s ability to have stayed afloat amid Tyler Herro’s absence, isn’t that perfectly prudent? Yes, Tyler, as he expressed in his rehabilitation video, wants to get back as soon as possible, pick up where he left off. But the last thing a team needs/wants is to have a setback that forces yet another readjustment. The Heat took a practical approach with Caleb Martin’s knee pain, and it likely will be the same with Tyler.

Q: Orlando Robinson is a lot better than Thomas Bryant. — Ivan.

A: This was in response to the story posted about Thomas Bryant being removed from the Heat rotation. And the reality now is that with Kevin Love somewhat entrenched as the backup center, it basically doesn’t matter who else is available. That said, Erik Spoelstra, while coaching in a win-now situation, tends to go with the known quantity. This simply is not the best time for a Heat neophyte such as Orlando Robinson or even Nikola Jovic to be seeking playing time.

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