Tuesday, September 26, 2023


I’m in the egg department at King Kullen, and I’m facing an ethical dilemma. Do I buy the cheap eggs and never mind how those chickens are spending their lives? And then there's the package. The cheap eggs come in compostable paperboard boxes, but almost all the supposedly humane eggs now come in plastic foam. I reject the plastic.  Of course, I could solve my dilemma by not eating eggs any more. But I love how they taste, they're nutritious and low calorie and a relatively cheap source of protein; I'm not going to give them up. So I'm looking at all the labels and the boxes and trying to see my way to an ethical choice.



The labels on eggs do tell you how they are getting treated if you know their meaning. If the box says nothing except Grade A and the size, and the eggs cost under $3 for a dozen, you can be sure the chickens who laid them are spending about 2 years crammed into battery cages  with 1 to 1.5 sq. feet of space, so little that they can’t even spread their wings. They eat and sleep in the same space, along with their feces and dust. The only reason they don’t peck each other to death is their beaks have been blunted--the tip cut off. Ouch. So I’m looking for a label that says at least "Cage Free,” or for more certainty, "Certified Humane." This means the birds aren't kept in cages, can perch somewhere and dust bathe, but they're living indoors, a multitude of birds inside some kind of barn. Don’t imagine it means they’re clucking around in anything like a nice outdoor yard somewhere, but presumably they have some freedom of movement. 

On a tiny length of shelf space among all the other brands King Kullen offers,  I spy McMahon's Certified Humane, Cage Free eggs, and they're in a paperboard package. Price: $4.99 a dozen.

That's about 42 cents an egg, compared to 25 cents for the cheap eggs. I can afford it. I buy McMahon's. 

To find eggs from hens that have lived mainly outside, I had to go to another store--Southdown Market--to find Vital Farms, pasture raised eggs, in a paper box. The price for 18 large eggs? $10 or about 55 cents an egg. I buy those too, to see what they are like, and when I break them the yolks are a lovely orange yellow. That's the sign of a fresh egg. Each box of Vital Farm eggs is stamped with the name of the farm they came from, and you can look at video of the farm. Mine says Loblolly Pine Farm and yes, there in the video are chickens wandering outside in a natural area. 


When I do research, I can't help following my trail of curiosity, so I decided to check out claims by Eggland, a major TV egg advertiser. The company claims its eggs are more nutritious, better tasting than--"ordinary eggs." Well, easy for them to say since there's no such category of eggs. No such designation by the USDA or anybody else. It's just advertising puffery. Another label that you shouldn't pay extra for says "Vegetarian Fed." Guess what? Hens are not vegetarians by nature. They eat worms and bugs and grubs if they can get at them. A label that says "organic," however, is supposed to mean no cages and a diet free from animal byproducts, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, and most pesticides.  Yuck. So if you care about what the hens are eating, look for the organic label.


If your budget is tight, cheap eggs in a paper carton are a realistic choice. If you can afford it, the ethical choice at minimum are eggs labeled cage free and Certified Humane. It means you not only care about the hens but also are supporting farmers taking good care of the them.  The good news is that consumers' concerns about hens' living conditions is transforming egg production, and the industry is in the midst of a shift to cage-free. 

Investing in new barns, etc. costs money, and the prediction is that truly cheap eggs are a thing of the past. But whether the additional expenses do justify 42 cents an egg, like McMahons, or 55 cents like Vital's, remains to be seen. When cage-free becomes the rule, it's possible competition will make prices more reasonable. ##






But my ethical dilemma doesn’t end there: consider the packaging. Eggs used to all come in paperboard boxes that easily compost. Now almost all of them come in a foam-type plastic box, including many of the ones with cage free language on them. It’s worth mentioning, by the way, that Eggland’s advertising claims are just puffed up like a souffle. The ads claim they have better nutrition, better taste than…”ordinary eggs” according to the tiny footnote on the bottom of the screen. Of course there is no such thing as an “ordinary” egg, according to the USDA. The only thing that does matter is whether the egg box carries a shield that says “USDA” and the grade double AA or just A https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/ShellEggAAGradeBW.png

The double AA is the freshest and best quality.

So what to buy? I spy a tiny section of shell space with eggs in a paperboard box that also claims cage free status. It’s more than twice the price of the King Kullen eggs. I go for them. There’s a price for being an ethical consumer.

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Republican Suffolk County Legislaors Shrug Off Need to Act Now


What’s the Hurry?

I was there. And I'm angry and frustrated.

No rush necessary. That was the attitude of the Republican members of the Suffolk County Legislature on July 25 as they voted not to approve the resolution that would have started a historic effort to purify the drinking water and the bays that surround our beautiful Long Island.

In a world where the desires of the public in a democracy should have won the day, our representatives chose to ignore the 40 people who testified that they should approve the resolution without delay. Forty people who turned out and sat through not just the testimony but the grandstanding of the legislators who tried to put some kind of rationale on their refusal to listen to both the experts and the people living with results of on-going water pollution.

It didn’t matter when Christopher J. Gobler of Stony Brook’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences startled the audience with the news that the nitrogen in our drinking water might very well be contributing to cancer among Suffolk residents. The levels considered safe by the EPA and the Suffolk County Water Authority might not be safe after all, according to new information.

It didn’t matter that the two new advanced septic systems approved for commercial use in Suffolk County remove at least 80% of the nitrogen that is contaminating our waters.

The opposition legislators listened but chose to delay indefinitely despite testimony that the nitrogen in the Great South Bay has been the death of the once-thriving clam industry there. Or that the luscious little scallops that used to be harvested in great numbers in the Peconic Bay can no longer survive there. No rush necessary to deal with those problems.

It didn’t matter when representatives of labor and the business community testified that the jobs created by replacing hundreds of thousands of polluting septic systems, and installing sewers in places with low groundwater, would create an economic boom in Suffolk County. The septic replacements would support an industry of small businesses, the kinds of businesses that are the heart of a local economy.

It didn’t matter that funding from New York State and the federal government would immediately flow to Suffolk County had the legislature put the proposal on the ballot and had voters approved it. Plenty of time, they said, in the face of being told that the money is being doled out now to other counties, and that enabling legislation passed by the state to allow the referendum might be impossible to get again.

In the face of repeated testimony that all the best science said the mix of improved septics and sewers was the best way to clean our waters, the Republican legislators just shrugged it off.

Instead, the Republicans, including Presiding Officer Kevin McCarthy, kept pushing for support for more sewers, more sewers, prodding speakers to say whether they supported sewers or improved septic systems. Wisely, the speakers declined to take the bait of a false choice. The Republican legislators insisted that the mix of funding from the sales tax increase of 1/8 of one cent--75% for septics and 25% for sewers—should be changed to favor sewers.  This despite the fact that about an equal $2 billion would have gone for each when funding from another source was included.

In the end, no hurry at all won the day in a party-line vote to deny Suffolk residents the chance to decide the issue themselves.

Why? That is the question. Supporters speculated that it was fear of Democrats turning out in big numbers in November to support clean water, resulting perhaps in losses to the Republicans running for re-election. Could it have been ignorance about the necessity of acting? Hard to believe because the experts were there to answer all their questions.

I was a reporter at Newsday in the era of the scandal-plagued Southwest Sewer District. Big public works projects are susceptible to bribery and corruption. Could it be that some individuals are licking their lips at the prospect of all those hundreds of millions of dollars in public contracts? Much harder, if not impossible, to profit off work of the many small businesses installing new septic systems in people’s homes.

And remember, this is the same Legislature that has refused to create an independent Inspector General to try to stop the corruption that has been endemic to Suffolk County for decades. Note that both Republicans and Democrats have opposed that safeguard.

July 25 was a sad day for democracy, and a sad day for the people of Suffolk County. We deserve a legislature that truly represents us. ##



Monday, December 14, 2020

Police Unions’ Campaign Donations Block Police Reform Efforts

Last Spring, Suffolk County Executive Steven Bellone and the county legislators approved a dream of a new contract with the Suffolk PBA.  The 6-year pact guarantees yearly pay of $200,000 for every officer with 15 years of experience. That puts police among the top earners in the country. The head of the PBA told Newsday the pay was justified by comparing it to the earnings of athletes who don’t have to risk their lives.


Bellone denies that the generous contract had anything to do with the campaign donations he received during his re-election in the fall of 2019. But I’m not buying that. No one donates the kind of money the police unions did without an expectation that their investment is worth it.


 Consider that during that last election cycle, police unions gave $40,000 in direct contributions to Bellone, the legal limit. But that was dwarfed by spending on his behalf through a SuperPac, the Long Island Law Enforcement Foundation. It donated whopping $830,000 to support his re-election, and $662,000 to re-elect incumbent county legislators.  Because the SuperPac didn’t coordinate directly with the campaign organizations, the donations are unlimited, thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling.


This matters not only because of the conflict of interest and ethical blindness it demonstrates. It matters because the county is in the midst of a state-mandated examination of policing in Suffolk prompted by the killing of George Floyd. It has been holding virtual hearings at which hundreds of residents have been both critiquing thepolice and suggesting changes that would require shifting funds that have now been locked into place by the contract, like using social and mental health workers instead of police to respond to mental health crisis situations. Critics would also like it to be easier to fire bad cops, and discipline procedures are at least in part dictated by the contracts. 


Legislator Robert Trotta is the only county politician who is trying to correct the situation. A Republican from Fort Salonga, Trotta is also a retired detective, and he told me collecting garbage or tree work is more dangerous than policing in Suffolk County.  He regards the contract and the donations as an ethical conflict of interest that should concern every Suffolk resident. 


So he is sponsoring a resolution that would limit direct campaign contributions to no more than $500 for legislators and $3,000 to county-wide officials from employee unions and contractors doing business with the county. Even though it won’t affect the SuperPac donations, It needs to pass if only to demonstrate that the legislators care about the conflict of interest they face. 


The same situation is true in Nassau.  Nassau locked itself into an 8 1/2-year contract with the Superior Officers Association, and recently signed a new PBA contract against the objections of reform advocates.  In a demonstration of their clout, Nassau police demanded and got a bonus of $3,000 a year just to accept wearing body cameras, sucking more money out of the county’s budget for public safety. 

Despite what seemed like a very favorable contract, the Nassau police officers rejected the contract. That gives Nassau's leaders the chance to consider the kinds of changes reformers have been advocating.  Long Island United to Transform Policing has issued a call for no new contracts in Nassau County without structural police reform. 

In Suffolk, the contract remains an obstacle to change.


Trotta's resolution meanwhile continues to languish as neither Suffolk Republicans orDemocrats have shown any appetite for it. They expect us to swallow the idea that contributions have no influence on their actions. Bellone’s spokesman had the brass to tell Newsday that “ campaign contributions do not influence public policy.” 


Legislators who accept funding from police unions could recuse themselves from voting on their contract. County ethics rules require recusal if a legislator would benefit financially from a vote. But donations go to their campaigns, not directly to individuals, so there is no direct financial benefit. As for recusal, it wouldn’t work anyway because “the unions give to everyone, so there would be no one to vote on the contract,” says Trotta. 


Suffolk residents struggling to make ends meet will feel the impact of the bonanza enjoyed by the police. Especially during a pandemic, if you give police three times the cost of living increase over 6 years, something else has to give. The proposed 2021 Suffolk budget cuts bus routes, raids money from the Clean Water Fund, and shortchanges many other necessary services. The state controller ranks Suffolk County at number 62 among 62 counties in the state with the worst fiscal situation. 


Had Suffolk limited the police raise to just the cost of living, Trotta says $250 million would have been saved. And some of that could have been used to finance a matching fund for public financing of campaigns. The county passed a law creating a public finance fund in 2018, and scheduled it to go into effect next year. 


It won’t.  Because there’s no money for it. 


Long Island legislators live in fear that the unions will withdraw their support. The only remedy, it seems, is for us voters to get smart and hold their feet to the fire when election season comes around again. In an interview with the Washington Post, Daniel Oats, former Chief of the NYPD Intelligence Division and police chief in several jurisdictions, said:  “there cannot be true (police) reform unless Americans elect politicians willing to take on obstructionist labor leaders.”





Saturday, November 7, 2020

Crisis Intervention Teams, Unarmed Traffic Patrols, Would Make Suffolk Policing Safer, More Fair


Thanks to this virtual world we now inhabit, going to the meeting about policing in Suffolk County was so easy that about 90 people showed up Nov. 4, the day after Election Day.  Everyone got an earful of interesting ideas to make people safer, as well as some deeply felt criticism of police culture as still gripped by white supremacy.

This is what a discussion about “defunding the police” actually sounded like.

 It was the second such session held since Oct. 27, with six more to follow before Christmas. Anyone can register to just listen or talk.

Although it was intended to focus on the 2nd police precinct in Huntington, speakers were not limited to only Huntington matters.

Terrell Dozier, of Long Island United To Transform Policing and Community Safety spoke of the entire county when he maintained that there are two traffic systems here: one for whites and another for Blacks and Hispanics. He said training is not the answer, calling instead for structural changes: use of more unmanned traffic control systems like speed cameras, speed bumps, better road design; and replacing armed police with unarmed civilians to enforce traffic laws. An installment payment system for traffic violation fines, and a sliding fee scale would be helpful, he said. 

Of course, a major allegation is that traffic stops are a result of police bias.  Helen Boxwill, co-chair of the Huntington Anti-Bias Tax force, quoted from the 2014 Department of Justice Consent Agreement that Suffolk County signed. It called for an annual analysis of traffic stops to determine racial and ethnic disparities. An analysis of data from 2018 to 2019 by the Finn Institute for Public Safety was released recently—the first since the consent agreement was signed.  

It found that Black drivers were three times as likely to be searched, either the driver or the vehicle, as whites who were stopped. Blacks were more likely to be restrained, ticketed or subject to use of force than whites, the study also found, while it was less likely that police would find contraband in stops of Blacks than in stops of whites. Despite these findings, the report concluded there was "no evidence" of racial or ethnic bias in traffic stops. This was based in part of a "veil of darkness" theory that during the daylight Black drivers would be stopped more often than at night. 

Helen criticized the Finn Institute as lacking objectivity, and called on the county to end its relationship with the organization. She said the time has come "for the DOJ Agreement to be codified” into law by the county legislature. 

Several other speakers focused on how mentally ill, addicted and homeless people can be helped when they are in a crisis without getting involved with the criminal justice system. Jayette Lansbury from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Huntington, argued for non-police teams of independent first responders. These teams would be expert in de-escalation. A representative of Long Island Untied for Police Reform said the group has developed a proposal for creation of such teams and offered to provide it to the county. The Family Service League’s Dash Program was mentioned as a model for such teams. It includes a mobile response unit operating 24/7, a dedicated phone number and specialists.

 Aaron Johnson, a teacher from North Babylon, spoke about a police culture whose underlying ideology, he believes, is white racism. “Police protect white neighborhoods, but they are an occupying force in our neighborhoods,” he said. The slogan “Blue Lives Matter” came as a reaction to “Black Lives Matter,” and that’s racist he said.

 The listening sessions are part of Suffolk County’s response to a state mandate to re-imagine and reform policing, with the goal of presenting a plan to the county legislature by spring next year. The task force for the project is co-facilitated by Vanessa Baird-Street, a Deputy County Executive and Jon Kaiman, also a Deputy County Executive.








Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Yes, Defund the Police


I heard the demonstrators demanding, “Defund the police!” They can't be serious, I thought.  The very notion seems radical and dangerous on its face, and if carried out would surely leave us vulnerable to violence in our homes and streets. And that's the pitch, of course, that Trump is using to try to get re-elected as a law-and-order President, this from a man who regularly bends and breaks the law, and whom I hope to see some day making a perp walk.

But is he right about de-funding the police? The question is as urgent here in my home Suffolk County as it is in Minneapolis where George Floyd died.

New York  Governor Andrew Cuomo has ordered  every municipality in the state to conduct a comprehensive review of the role of the police in public safety. A plan for “reform and reinvention,” says the order, must be completed, presented for public comment and passed by the County Legislature by next April 1, according to the Governor’s order. 

What are we paying for?

For me to weigh the idea of de-funding, it's necessary to ask first what we are exactly funding in the first place. What do our police actually do on a routine basis for all the money we spend on them, an especially relevant question here in Suffolk where police are paid more than any other force in the country.

Fortunately, the FBI keeps statistics that bear on the question. The statistics show that very little of a police officer’s day is directly devoted to the kind of crime fighting dramatized by television and movies. I like such shows from old classics like Hill Street Blues to Major Crimes and CSI to historic ones like Murdoch Mysteries. But according to FBI statistics for 2016, for each of the 701,000 police employed that year, on average, less than two (1.78) violent crimes were reported. Again, that's per year, and includes murder, manslaughter, rape, robbery and aggravated assault. But reports, few as they were/officer, resulted in even fewer arrests--only a little more than half a million arrests, or less than one arrest/year for each officer.

As for property crimes, for each officer, on average, less than one property crime per month (11.3/year) was reported. That includes burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft and arson. And, these reports resulted in less than two arrests/officer through that whole year. 

Now, I'm not minimizing the importance of fighting such crime, but the statistics lead to the question of what exactly police officers are doing every day. That is a complex and layered question, and the answers, of course, include highway and traffic patrol, crowd control, and patrol of neighborhoods. In New York City, neighborhood patrol involved millions of stops-and-frisks until recently that have been found not to reduce crime while oppressing Blacks and other minorities. 

According to Alex Vitale, a sociology professor, author of The End of  Policing and the coordinator of the Policing and Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College, the police are actually spending a lot of their time trying to solve all sorts of community problems like drug addiction, homelessness, and mental health crises that they are ill-equipped to handle. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rBazDnubww

Such problems could be better handled by those trained for the job: social workers, housing specialists, and mental health workers who are now among the lowest-paid of workers.  

It is especially notable that the highest number of arrests each year are for drug abuse violations, a result of our on-going War on Drugs. This so-called war was started by Richard Nixon, according to historians, as a racist and political tactic to continue the discriminatory effects of Jim Crow laws that could no longer be enforced due to public outrage. This suggests that decriminalizing drug use would eliminate the need for all this police intervention, not only eliminating the arrests of drug users and traffickers themselvs, but also cutting the number of thefts and burglaries by drug users desperate for money to support their addiction.

Professor Vitale argues that police have been given too many roles than they can safely fulfill with the limited tools at their disposal. Through training and practice, they turn to coercion, violence and the threat of violence to solve problems.  This is why we have so many tragic outcomes, such as a mentally ill person undergoing an episode of schizophrenia who is confronted by an armed police officer, and the situation gets out of control. Police should be the last resort in such cases, not the first. But when a mentally ill person becomes threatening, there is no one but the police to call.

Reforming the Police

But why not simply reform the police instead of de-funding? Minneapolis tried all the recommended reforms, and yet George Floyd died under the knee of an officer. The city now plans to replace its police with a department of community safety and violence prevention, which will prioritize a "public health-oriented approach" to situations involving the mentally ill and drug abusers. 

Vitale asserts that reforms including de-escalation training, body cameras and anti-bias training cannot solve the fundamental problem: modern policing in the United States is a continuation of what began as slave and border patrols that have been used to control and harm Black people and other minorities for generations. In 2016, Terrence Cunningham, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, apologized at the group’s annual conference for the historical mistreatment of communities of color, calling it a “dark side of our shared history” that must be recognized and overcome. Cunningham noted that police have historically been a face of oppression, enforcing laws that ensured legalized discrimination and denial of basic rights.

In recent years, modern policing has become even more dangerous because of militarization—officers in gear developed to protect soldiers in war zones, tank-like vehicles and weaponry designed to stop enemies—not our own citizens. The 2016 apology by Cunningham appears in Re-imagining Public Safety: Prevent Harm and Lead with the Truth A five-step policy plan for policing in America, https://policingequity.org/images/pdfs-doc/reports/re-imagining_public_safety_final_11.26.19.pd published by The Justice Collaboratory at Yale Law School. This is but one of many blueprints for reinventing our systems for public safety that have been around for years but have been ignored.

 It has become clear to me that there is no substitute for wholesale re-organization of how we keep our communities safe. Addicts and people suffering from mental health problems should be handled by professionsals trained to do so. And, if we de-criminalize drug use and prostitution, we eliminate not only all the arrests for those crimes, but also eliminate the incentive for millions of burglaries and robberies.

Yes, we can de-fund and be safer and have money left over to invest in our communities. The question now is whether, even with continuing demonstrations and new public consciousness, our leaders will be able to make the fundamental changes to policing that will prevent an endless repetition of tragic police killings. ##



Monday, September 23, 2019

Travels to Africa, Part 2--Drought

After more than 24 hours of air travel, I got home last night and indulged myself in something that was unthinkable in Africa: I lingered in the shower for longer than was necessary, luxuriating in the warm water flooding over my skin. In the 3 African countries we visited--Botswana, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, there are signs everywhere urging the conservation of water. "Every drop counts!' proclaim the signs, and in one public toilet the sinks put out only a miserly mist of water when I turned on the faucet. No stream of water at all.

The reason for this intensive conservation effort is that Africa is suffering from a prolonged drought. In the Chobe area of Botswana where we saw so many magnificent animals, the vegetation is mostly gone except right along the Chobe River. The elephants, who need an enormous amount of food and work at feeding themselves for about 18 hours a day, are peeling the bark off the trees to get at the nourishing layer underneath. 

 In the southern region of Madagascar, it is so dry that the people are subsisting on cassava leaves because they can no longer grow rice or other crops. More than 1 million are food insecure. In Northern Kenya, drought since 2016 threatens to leave another 4 million people food insecure.

Let's get real: The term food insecure is a sanitized way of saying that these people are in danger of starving.

Capetown, South Africa, is a favorite destination for tourists like us drawn by its great food and spectacular mountains, and also by the thousands of plants found only in that region. The Kirstenbosch botanical garden shows off this amazing variety of ericas, proteas, birds of paradise and so much more it was dazzling to see. Meanwhile, Capetown nearly ran out of water completely last year. It was so bad that hotel managers put buckets in the showers for people to catch water and then use it to flush the toilet.  Things had eased a bit this year, and we saw no buckets.

In Zimbabwe, out of a population of 16 million, one-third, or more than 5 million people need food assistance because of drought and other problems. And, of course, the famous Victoria Falls are diminished by drought, as I wrote in the first part of this African blog.

Why the droughts? A combination of effects of El Nino, increased irrigation, and--climate change. 

It is so infuriating that Trump, McConnell and the other Republican climate-change deniers continue to behave as if nothing is wrong, and nothing needs to be done. Drought is one of the big contributors to the mass migrations that are taking place.


Monday, September 16, 2019

Adventures in Africa September 2019: Part 1

An overnight flight took us to Johannesberg, South Africa. From there we flew to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe.

Sept. 3, 2019

Victoria Falls—Five years of drought have diminished Victoria Falls but they are still spectacular. The main falls drop more than 300 feet into a deep gorge, and the crashing water throw up spray that filters the sun into rainbows. We walked along a path on the cliff that follows the Zimbabwe side of the falls—the opposite bank is in the neighboring country of Zambia.

Zimbabwe is in trouble. Its currency has crashed, so U.S. dollars are the means of exchange. In fact, street sellers tried over and over to entice us to buy worthless Zimbabwe paper money as souvenirs.

 Harry, and I are staying in the grand, colonial era Victoria Falls Hotel which was designed so that it looks into the mouth of the gorge. Photos show the falls dropping into that notch, but there’s no water dropping there now. Rain is expected now that spring is coming, and we can only hope it arrives soon in this parched country.

Baboons, monkeys, wart hogs and pea hens are common sights here in town. And, we saw our first elephants during a river cruise on the Zambezi River just as the sun was setting! One medium size elephant worked the side of the river bank with his feet and body to create mud for a nice bath. The others, including two very small Dumbos, stuck very close to their Mamas. All came to drink. 

Last night we went to the Boma, a sprawling restaurant with an open-air stage.  Tasted a bit of crocodile and antelope. No, they don’t taste like chicken—just a bit tough, bland and inoffensive. As we entered, we were draped in colorful cloth, tied at the shoulder. During dinner a face-painter came by and within a few minutes had created a desert scene on my cheek, and an elephant on Harry’s. The artist, was very happy to receive a couple of dollars for his artistry.

After most people had finished eating barbecued beef, suckling pig, grilled short ribs, innumerable salads, stews, vegetables, soups, breads and desserts, there was drumming.  We each were given a drum to join in with a drum group, and it was fun to try to keep time until our hands started to hurt. Clearly there is a way to use one’s hands that we have not learned.

Tomorrow we leave for Botswana and safaris. 

Sept. 4-5: Botswana
First in a van on paved roads, then in an open-air, 4-wheel drive on roads of rutted, bumpy sand, we drove to the Chobe Game Lodge. The Lodge is the only game lodge located within Chobe National Park, consisting of 7,300 square miles. Along the way in we saw impala, a couple of giraffes, and greater kudu, a tall gorgeous antelope with spiral horns.

This lodge is anything but roughing it. A resort with gracious dining rooms, bars, health club, etc. Our room is beautifully furnished and has a lovely balcony overlooking a nice swimming pool, but it's too cool this time of year to want to use it. The lodge is all-inclusive, including wine and liquor, with some top-shelf exceptions. Within an hour we were out on a pontoon boat on the Chobe River. We chose this area because even in the drought there is a decent-size river and the animals come to drink: herds of elephants that walked and swam from the river bank to islands where they grazed on grass along with African buffalo. The very young elephants had to swim almost all the way, and used their little trunks like snorkels. The Mama elephants stayed right with them until they get to the other side. Then, nicely cool and wet, they used their trunks to toss sand all over themselves. Elephants can get sun-burn, and the dust is their SPF 50!

In the river itself were hippopotamuses, but all we could see were their piggy ears and their round backs as they surfaced to breathe. Tomorrow we will go out on a smaller boat and hopefully get closer to them.

Up at 5:15, we were out on a game drive at 6 after coffee and a few bites of muffin. Because the sand is so soft, the vehicles lurch from side to side, swaying in a motion not so different from being on a boat. (At the end of the day it felt as if I had been on a boat--I had the sensation known as sea legs.) We were searching for lions and we found them! First some females just sitting in the shade. Then a pride that had been out on the flat close to the river came towards us to get out of the sun for the rest of the day. The females are plenty big, but then a male came loping toward us with a big black mane. As he trotted along he roared—not a full-throated roar, but constant, deep growls. He passed maybe 30 feet from our 4-wheel drive vehicle and I was glad he kept on trekking. I knew that the lions don’t see the vehicles as containing separate people, just as some very large creature they don’t understand or regard as a threat. Nevertheless I felt a thrill of fear until he had gone by. 
We came around a corner and suddenly there was a herd of elephants, and a very big female pulling at the vegetation and then delicately curling its trunk to its mouth. We could not have been more than 15 feet from her. After a couple of minutes, she shook her head and flapped an ear and started towards us. Our driver hit the accelerator away from her. Any of these big elephants could easily turn over our vehicle. Both Chobe Lodge and the next place we went, Camp Moremi, have electrified wire surrounding them at a height of 8 feet or so, not enough to keep out a buffalo or a lion, but effective against the elephants. Only the elephants could literally destroy the buildings.

Camp Moremi
Our next stop, after a short flight in a Cessna that held maybe 10 people, was Camp Moremi. As we turn into the road just outside Camp Moremi, we are confronted with a male elephant whose giant body is blocking the two lanes. Two other vehicles are also blocked by the elephant, and we stand still for a few minutes waiting for him to move. He doesn’t and I’m worried that he might come towards us and turn us over. But the driver revs our engine, making it whine loudly, and this is startling enough to make the elephant move off into the bush.

 The staff greets us as we arrive with dancing and singing. One of the women startled us with an ululation. This is a sound that she produced by moving her tongue from side-to-side at an amazing speed 

Images from our stay there: A leopard bounding up into a tree and then sprawling full length along a big branch, its legs dangling over the sides. A young male lion lying down in the early morning sun opening its mouth and repeatedly issueing short, deep roars. Our guide tells us these roars can be heard far away and are an effort to establish itself in a territory. Later that day, we see two male lions, part of a pride with females, setting out across the open delta at a steady pace. The guide says they are responding to the young lion’s challenge. If they find him, they may kill him unless he retreats from their territory.
Just outside the grounds of the camp, we see a big buffalo that 2 lions killed during the night. The buffalo is in rigor, it’s legs stiff. One male lion—these are also not part of a pride—stands 15 feet away keeping watch over the kill, while the other lies nearby in long grass. The kill will keep them fed for quite a while. The guide tells us that sometimes the lions do enter the camp and all the guests run for their tent/rooms.

Expanses of flat terrain, parched, dead trees killed by past flooding. Now the massive Okavango Delta has shrunk after more than 5 years of drought. An artist we meet who comes from South Africa, Geogia Papageorge, tells us that the weather maps she sees at home show the whole content, except for a narrow band, without rain.

A herd of zebra, each one with a unique set of stripes all over its body. The stripes continue up into the standing bristles of its mane, and over its rump and down its tale. Black, white and tan.

Giraffes. Improbably tall, reaching high into trees with their necks and then up even higher with their long tongues that curl around a leaf and pull it to their mouths.  Or bending over the tops of the only green bushes that for whatever reason are unappetizing to the elephants or other animals and eating those leaves.

Wild dogs, round-eared, coats with large spots. Bouncing on stiff front legs and barking at 2 male lions that are blocking their way to the water. They bark and bounce repeatedly for five minutes or more, and then give it up. The pack runs away.

A family of baboons sitting in a sunny spot in the sand near the path from our tent in the early morning. It is a family tableau: father and mother with a tiny baby clinging to her.

Cold In Africa
A weather front pushed north from the Antarctic surprises us on our first night at Camp Moremi. We fall asleep in warm temperatures and awake shivering. Although these tents have wood floors and thatched roofs, the side are rubberized canvas with big screen openings the size of picture windows. The wind blows through unimpeded, and there is no heat. Yes, hot water and luxurious showers, but no heat source. We pull on all the layers of clothing we’ve brought, for me a long sleeved shirt, cashmere sweater, vest and jeans jacket. It’s not enough when we go out at 7 am for the morning game drive, even with the blankets they provide. I kick myself for not bringing my short down jacket. Never thought about a ski hat or gloves. The second night we huddle in bed under a wool blanket with a duvet on top, and we’re warm. The next morning is not as cold, and as the day goes on the previous warmth returns. After all, it really is still winter in Africa. 

The other guests we meet are from all over. Costa Rica, a dentist and his equestrian wife. A couple from Sao Paolo, Brazil. Many Aussies at Chobe, whom you always hear arriving in the dining room, their voices booming like Texans. Americans from Kansas City, San Francisco, Baltimore. Canadians from Toronto who—such a small world—have a condominium not only on Hutchinson Island like us but in the building just south of ours. All liberals—not a Trump supporter among them. I speculate that to travel to Africa you must be open-minded and adventurous, a believer that you can learn things from people other than Americans.

The food. I’ve had sorghum porridge for breakfast. Tastes like Cream of Wheat. Tasted springbok. Bland and rather tough. Most of the meats, including the chicken seemed over-cooked, but lamb, offered once at Chobe and once at Moremi, was good. Freshly baked breads and rolls. Portions seem small to us Americans where everything has become super-sized.  A starter of smoked salmon consists of a curl of salmon artistically placed on the plate with avocado. Cookies, more like biscuits, that are barely sweet. So in Botswana, the people eat little sugar and it shows in their beautiful teeth. Many have straight, white, movie-star smiles. The dentist from Costa Rica attributes it to the lack of sugar. Our guide who has dazzling white teeth says he has never been to a dentist!

Our hotel, the Queen Victoria, is up the hill from the Victoria & Albert Waterfront, a complex of shopping malls and restaurants and entertainment. Even at this time of the year—which is the slow season, there always seemed to be some group of people there dancing and singing. There’s also a huge wheel that offers a panorama of the city.

Also above us is the famous Table Mountain, a massive stone uplift that is as flat as a table on one side. We had to take this description on faith until our last day in the city, of course, since it is also famously covered a lot of the time with clouds. In the end, we did see it after a night of rain left behind a morning of clear blue sky. In warmer weather, we would have taken a cable car up to see the view, but it is late winter/early spring here, so too cool for our taste up top.

We rode a tour bus out to the spectacular Kirstenbosch botanical gardens. Many of the plants and flowers we have in the U.S. originated here in South Africa, including such common flowers as lilies, marigolds and daisies. Here there are Birds of Paradise in orange, yellow and striped with blue. 

On the way back to our hotel, the bus swung behind Table Mountain to ride along the Atlantic Coast. Multi-million dollar homes crawl up the hillsides above beaches studded with granite boulders. Wealth inequality is on dramatic display here in Capetown. One stop on the bus was below a hillside covered with homes made of shipping containers—thousands of them, crowded together. Somehow, black people eke out a life under these conditions.

At the beginning of apartheid in the 1960’s, black residents of the city were simply removed, en masse, from their homes. We visited the District 6 Museum that tells the story  of one removal. District 6 was the name of a modest neighborhood of some 60,000 black Africans. They were ordered to move out with such little warning that they could take perhaps one suitcase of a few plates and dishes and cooking implements. 

We also visited South Africa’s National Gallery of Art—a revelation, it turned out. Some portrayed messages of liberation, but regardless of the message the works displayed an original, colorful point of view that I have never seen in American museums. Indeed, a display of abstract art pointedly explained that recent exhibits of abstraction at MOMA, among others, had left out African examples. 

Cape Point
Harry braved the left-side driving to take us down the Cape Peninsula to the Cape of Good Hope, topped by a lighthouse. During the drive we saw very little traffic, and so were surprised to find loads of tourists climbing up and down the slopes. We took the funicular to the base of the lighthouse, and were satisfied with views of sheer cliffs and crashing waves.

On the way back, we visited the colony of African penguins that live at a beach on the east coast of the peninsula, which faces False Bay where the water is somewhat warmer than on the Atlantic side. Like all penguins, these waddle comically on their tiny legs when they walk. There were hundreds of the birds. They are about 2-feet tall, their white bodies decorated with a black chevron.

Wine Country--Franschoek
An easy drive from Capetown took us to Franschhoek, a wine center originally settled by French Huguenots in the 17th century. We had booked two nights at a winery, La Petite Ferm, where our cottage looked out over the vineyard and a sweeping view of a valley and mountains. We tasted a half dozen wines. Most interesting was the Chardonnay. Long ago I had decided I disliked Chardonnay. Here I discovered that their oaked Chardonnay was delicious. Oaked or not, it turns out, is a matter of debate. All I can say is I liked theirs. This vineyard also produces a Chardonnay fermented in steel tanks—they call theirs  Baboon Rock—that I didn’t like at all.

More to come in Part 2