Personal and academic blog. Explores the borderlands between rhetoric, politics and intelligence.


Let the students pull the cart

During my time as a graduate student at both King's College London and the University of Copenhagen, I always was a bit puzzled why established academians wouldn't utilise the vast resource of student brainpower and work-eagerness that was tappable, right at their feet.

Usually, when you are a student, you choose courses on what you think is either a)interesting or b) can be beneficial to your future. This in turn means that in institutions with a high number of focused and bright students (KCL fitting the description best of the institutions I frequented), you will have a mass of devoted brains gathering around a subject that the professor is often himself deeply interested in.

Why not, more often, solicit papers to some or all of the students, to further your own research? Why not put a class of eager students in front of your own cart and let them pull you a bit, while showing them that their work is used for something other than just grading, and then - degrading in your basement till you have to move house at some point.

The Strauss Center at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs has done just that. Putting a number of MA students in a class and letting them research for an excellent report on the Hormuz Strait and it's strategic implications for oil flows out of the Gulf.

As a general introduction, with spats of in-depth analysis - it is a perfect example of open source collaboration. If I ever get a fat university position, I'd like to work with students in this way.

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The fear of a Terror Gang Planet

The Small Wars Journal presents an article by Robert Killebrew on the merging of gang warfare and terrorism. He points out that this is a latent risk, which is not publicly acknowledged at the moment, but poses a great danger to national security.

I have had the same musings regarding the illegal firework networks in Copenhagen. But the concern that Copenhagen's criminals might aid terrorists is so much more underscored by the recent wave of shootings taking place between immigrant gangs and bikers. I, for one, just need to turn the corner and look at the bullet holes in the nearby net café that was sprayed the other day.

It is remarkable that we fear terroristic attacks on Danish soil every day and only have had a few aborted plots to show for it - but that with a few days of provocations, suddenly the streets are awash with weapons and shots are being fired at random.

Imagine if you were able to energise this criminal activity in way of terrorist activity. That would be a nice solution for someone wishing to conduct a low cost, low signature terrorist attack. The glaring unprofessionalism of the Danish immigrant gangs is probably both an advantage and a disadvantage in this case. Stupid people make stupid decisions.

However, it isn't so likely. Criminals and terrorists are two different species. One is fueled by economic incentives, the other by a more intangible altruistic/ideological drive. Thus the real danger is not a convergence of the two categories, but of the practical utility. If criminals are to gain from terrorists or their sponsoring networks, why not use some of that energy on something else rather than the bikers?

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Sale is on in the shadow economy

New Year in Copenhagen started this Monday. Or at least, the shooting did. It is a yearly event, when the first fireworks start flooding the streets and flashes and cracks ring out through the streets, increasing to a crescendo in the days around New Years eve. The debacle is not so much due to the usual kind bought in a store, that will light up or fizz along or shoot colourful balls of light, rather what's making the noise is the illegal stuff that will make big explosions, the magnitude of handgrenades or bigger.

I was rolling along with the first-born Monday night when in a matter of minutes I heard two large bangs, the first of the year.

It kind of indicates that the market has opened for illegal fireworks. And it is quite a large one indeed. Every year several confiscations are made in Denmark and most years also have an instance of illegal fireworks factories exploding, killing the owners. It seems that the demand for explosives (probably mainly among males 12-42) is so great that there is an incentive for a risky business, building or importing chrysantemum bombs and firecrackers.

Now, just imagine an entire illegal infrastructure in place for providing explosives for one month every year. Then couple it with a demand for explosives of other kinds. Then you have a network that will support all kinds of criminal activity. And that constellation might not be too far off. At least I remember when I thought illegal firecrackers was the best, hearing on the fringes that this guy or that would be able to get you mortar shells or hand-grenades. Never tried it out, so I don't know whether the network would actually be able to fetch.

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