eu carries out airstrikes on mainland somali pirate bases

eu is now allowing airstrikes on on-land targets, a move about which the somali government was aware. however, no eu boots are ashore in these operations.

By bringing its fighting strategy more in line with that of the US, Europe is playing “a very dangerous game,” says Bronwyn Burton,  deputy director of the Michael S. Ansari Center at TheAtlantic Council and an expert on Somalia. “Both sides would probably agree that the solution to both piracy and terrorism is state building in Somalia,” she said. “But despite a lot of lip service being paid to that kind of policy, what we have now instead is first the US and now the EU pursuing a policy of diplomacy by airstrike.”


Bile Hussein, a pirate commander, said the attack along Somalia’s central coastline destroyed speed boats, fuel depots and an arms store.

“They destroyed our equipment to ashes. It was a key supplies center for us,” Hussein said. “The fuel contributed to the flames and destruction. Nothing was spared.”


The EU is the main donor to the Somali transitional government. It also trains Somali army troops, and is reinforcing the navies of five neighboring countries to enable them to counter piracy themselves… Rear Adm. Duncan Potts, Operation Commander of the EU Naval Force, said the attack will increase the pressure and disrupt pirates’ efforts to get out to sea to attack merchant shipping and dhows.

The EU Naval Force is responsible for the protection of World Food Program ships carrying humanitarian aid for Somalia, and the logistic support vessels of the African Union troops conducting operations there. It also monitors fishing activity off the coast of Somalia, which has been without a functioning government since 1991, when dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was overthrown.

The EU’s more robust mandate for its naval force allows it for the first time to mount strikes against pirate targets on Somalia’s “coastal territory and internal waters.” When the policy was announced, officials said the new tactics could include using warships or their helicopters to target pirate boats moored along the shoreline, as well as land vehicles or fuel tanks used by the pirates.


fun tidbits from grading (medicare and expensive treatments)

every year i am re-astounded by the things we discuss about medicare in norm daniels’s ethics class. among them:

1. it is not permissible for medicare to consider cost, cost-effectiveness, cost-benefit, or opportunity cost when deciding to cover a new medicine or treatment. only effectiveness (‘reasonable and necessary’) (see D Brock 2010). this is true despite the establishment of the patient centered outcomes research institute under the ACA

2. there are no cancer drugs in the pipeline that cost less than USD 300,000/QALY (again, see Brock 2010)

3. medicare is not allowed to negotiate drug prices (as a large purchaser) with pharma companies.

how is a raven like a writing desk? (smartphones as sanitation metaphor)

i have raised my eyebrows once or twice here about some of the discussions on the ipad or smartphone of toilets and sanitation. now i have gotten through the @gatesfoundation challenge paper and have a few more things to say. i briefly summarize the three key topics of the paper in  terms of approaches to improving sanitation and then consider the extent to which a smartphone is a reasonable guide to a reinvented, universally appealing and affordable toilet.

first off all, the premise of the paper, in part, is that we have managed to meet the world drinking water MDG early, though i cannot find a clear explanation of how we did that. but, if we did, we have somehow found a way to bring water in without having it flow back out to carry away waste. are there any cool lessons we are supposed to have learned from successes in the provision of drinking water (despite the fact that gains are uneven, that they may not be sustained, etc) that can  be applied to sanitation or development efforts more broadly?

but the authors want to suggest that not having water to carry away waste is not a bad thing: not only is it the reality with which we have to deal for the foreseeable future (governments are not adequately setting up sewer systems, leaving TMNT homeless) and waste processing — but using large amounts of water to move waste to an energy-intensive plant may not be the soundest idea in general. the authors lay out three  main approaches to improving sanitation. first is the unfortunately acronym-ed* Community Led Total Sanitation (could we not have gone with CoLTS instead of CLTS?), which is about altering social norms around sanitation – open defecation in particular. communities strive to become open-defecation free communities (welcome to pleasantville! open-defecation free since 2008!). of course, behavior change depends on the maintenance of a viable alternative to open defecation – i.e. functional and pleasant toilet facilities. also, it is worth noting, as the authors do, that ‘open defecation’ can occur even when people use latrines; emptying the septic tank out in the open is the equivalent of just having gone in the open in the first place — meaning that open-defecation remains both an urban and a rural problem.

the second idea, which is linked to the third, is that toilets should be able to create useful products out of the waste, namely fertilizer and/or energy. linked to this idea of profit- or product-generation is the need to come up with better services for emptying latrines and processing ‘fecal sludge.’

the third idea also has to do with reconceptualizing the toilet – this is where the smartphone metaphor comes in. the idea (with prototyping currently funded by gates) is to come up with a cool toilet that not only will it be a reasonable technology for those currently without access to safe sanitation but it will become the new gold standard everywhere. because of it’s high water and energy use, the authors suggest, the water closet’s reign is – or should be – nearing an end.

i understand that the ‘smartphone of sanitation’ is nice because it is alliterative and rings of the birth-of-social-marketing-catchphrase, ‘why can’t we sell brotherhood like soap?’ it lets you talk about poop in the same way you discuss technology. the main point of the metaphor seems to be about toilets being designed and marketed as an aspirational item that, again, will become the new gold standard for everyone, as the authors say, “from sitters to squatters and washers to wipers” the world over.

it seems worth pausing to consider how toilets could be like smartphones. spoiler alert: i have not yet come up with a better metaphor, just starting the conversation.

first, what is currently the height of toilet technology? japanese toilets (further reading here.). these are presently the aspirational toilet, with a wide array of features and services — and it is probably aspirational in ways that a reinvented toilet would not be (since the new toilet designs are supposed to use less water and energy, assorted spraying and heating would seem to run counter to this).

how could a new toilet be like a smartphone? what works about this metaphor?

  • like the move away from landlines, the new toilets will be off-the-grid
  • it will be hard to remember how you ever lived without one & everyone will need/want one
  • the user scale will be at the individual or household level, rather than the community
  • the user interface and experience is emphasized — finally moving us to a conversation that we need to not only provide safe sanitation but pleasant sanitation that people will want to use (moving beyond it just being free of flies and unpleasant odors as criteria for satisfaction with sanitation)
  • an industry has grown up around the maintenance, transport, decoration, and so on, of smartphones
  • it may (?)  be able to overcome “issues of high cost, slow adoption, and limited benefits” that previous technologies have faced (suggesting that our present flush toilet model is the equivalent of fax machines and desktop computers and that we will leapfrog over it?)

but, part of why we buy smartphones are features that will likely never be captured in a toilet (perhaps my imagination is not sufficiently active) — and which we may not want to emulate.

  • part of the aspirational aspect of smartphones is that everyone is pulling theirs out all the time, so you get to see and be seen. they are a profoundly public and social technology.
  • there is an ever-proliferating pool of new apps and functions that smartphones can take on, making the phone constantly novel in some way.
  • smartphones can be tailored and customized in various ways
  • people can be bewildered by their phones (not me, of course) but the reinvented toilet is explicitly supposed to be “fool-proof” (echoes of birth control in the 1970s, anyone?)
  • if you run out of money or time to do maintenance (let’s say, topping up your phone with credit), it doesn’t become totally unusable — you can still receive calls & texts. but, if you forget to charge it, it doesn’t work
  • there is a constant desire to upgrade
  • they are constantly getting smaller

so, smartphones as the model for toilets work in some ways but not in all. even if we chat about the novelty of the japenese toilet on the first few trips to a fancy restaurant, in the end, toilets are fairly private and socially disconnected. and it is not clear that they need to be high-tech to be pleasant, safe, and useful. the ways in which we will make people want to invest in a new toilet will be quite different from the ways that smartphones have become desirable. though we may be able to harness nutrients and energy from waste in these reinvented toilets, there probably won’t be a constantly flow of new things that a toilet can do for us.

the comparison with smartphones may help us start the conversation about sanitation but it can’t completely guide us toward the toilet of the future. toilets may remain more like dishwashers and washing machines and vacuum cleaners, in which case, they may well need to be marketed towards moms – either to make their life easier or to help them care for their family better (whether or not you think that is an appropriate or fair marketing strategy for household appliances, it is certainly the strategy).  (happy belated mother’s day mom! i’ll get you a new toilet when they come out.)

remaining questions:

  • thoughts on must-have features for a new toilet, which may or may not have a smartphone parallel? 
  • also, if these are going to be the hip new toilet for everyone, how long do you think it will be before we BOGO toilet schemes pop up?
  • absent flushing toilets, how will dead goldfish get back to the sea?

*there really needs to be a business that checks acronyms and baby names/initials before anyone  makes final decisions on such things.


economics of piracy

economic cost: piracy’s global financial damage is in the range of USD 7 – 12 billion

  • “in somalia, the economic model for piracy is working well. in 2010, the US, EU and the UK gave the country a combined $298m in aid – less than half the sum pocketed by the pirates when light aircraft dropped waterproof containers full of cash into the waters near their beach settlements.” (here.)

economic strategy, should you be kidnapped:

  • first, this is likely (should you be off the cost of the horn of africa), as piracy now, like piracy in antiquity but less like the early modern period, is largely about kidnapping
  • negotiators should seem willing to walk away
  • do not reveal that you have kidnapper’s insurance (or other info about capacity to pay)
  • the going ransom rate is not relevant to your bargaining situation
  • “when the hostage’s party is negotiating a ransom with pirates both the pirates and hostages may be behaving in ways that are ultimately consistent with a game of chicken under conditions of bounded rationality and bayesian inference about asymmetric information, but in the immediate subjective sense they may simply be feeling that the recent run of ransoms sets an expectation of what it is fair to pay for this particular hostage”
  • (among other things, “maybe Mogadishu University needs a better econ department”)

new pirate prison set up in somaliland

more here.

unclear how much it will do to deter piracy but will help relieve pressure in neighboring (prosecuting) countries — though very few will ever be prosecuted (and many released).

“the pirates know what the odds are when they get into the business – four out of 10 pirates that go out on the water die. with that mindset, prosecution is not going to be a deterrent,” said Bronwyn Bruton, deputy director of the Michael S. Ansari Africa Center at the Washington-based Atlantic Council.

sunglasses (googles) in bombay

this is from the summer i spent in bombay (2009), when I was living in dharavi and part of a research project on an unregistered slum near reay road station (i’ll call this community RR).

as many of you may know, i am pretty attached to my sunglasses.  not attached in the sense that i have a favorite pair – because a single pair of sunglasses rarely lasts me long enough to form that kind of connection with them.  but, for the most part, they live on my head or in my face and, India being a sunny place, seem a perfectly reasonable part of my attire here. to be honest, i think they are appropriate attire in just about any weather or degree of darkness (along with corey hart, though for different reasons).

imagine my consternation, then, when we arrived in RR and kiran, one of my research partners, suggested that i not wear my sunglasses.  he explained that people would take it as a mark of celebrity and they would be less likely to talk with me.  so, now when kiran and i ride into RR, i obliging take off my sunglasses just before we turn into the community and slip them out of my bag – and put them back on the second we turn out of the community at the end of the work.

indeed, sunglasses do seem to carry a considerable amount of status – for something that i am pretty sure you can buy cheaply on the street here.  they are a major point of ‘conversation’ at breakfast at the home where i am staying.  a good chunk of breakfast time is spent with different people trying on the sunglasses (generally referred to as ‘googles’), me taking pictures of assorted people wearing the sunglasses, then passing around the camera so everyone can see said pictures and have a good laugh over the precise thing that they had just witnessed.  this, at least so far, seems to provide endless amusement.