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“I’m dismantling the Death Star to build solar ovens for the Ewoks.”
July 1, 2013 12:02 PM   Subscribe

The Merry Pranksters Who Hacked the Afghan War

Synergy Strike Force (scroll down for directory, some of it is 403'd) has some posts documenting their efforts at http://www.reachback.org. It's not updated frequently.

Louisa Bukiet and Peretz Partensky each spent time with the Synergy Strike Force in Jalalabad. Partensky's photos were included in an article at Business Insider last year.
posted by zarq (14 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
It turns out that Burning Man actually *is* less desirable than going to a war zone? I knew it!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:37 PM on July 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


That's a really great story and there are some very interesting characters in it. What a shame that someone got killed as a result of trying to apply Burner principles in the middle of Afghanistan.
posted by ianso at 1:00 PM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


“I’m dismantling the Death Star to build solar ovens for the Ewoks.”

So... the Afghans are Ewoks? It's tempting to get into how Lucas's casual sampling of golden-age-of-cinema racist tropes gets them recycled back into popular culture but... if we're stuck discussing the longest US military deployment ever in terms of a sci-fi movie from the 70's... for kids (it's possible to sympathize with Lucas: imagine to have your whole life defined by something you consider on the level with Captain Kangaroo; I'd want to piss all over it too..), then what does it say about Dr. Dave's view of himself that he's on the payroll of the emperor, dependent on the stormtroopers to hustle him off Endor when things get too hot, and now back on Coruscant trying to gain imperial largess for his "research" projects and yet he still imagines he's dismantling the deathstar?

What kind of delusion is that? I feel like it's become part of the national character. Even the stormtroopers imagine they are heroic freedom fighters in the rebel alliance.
posted by ennui.bz at 1:38 PM on July 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


I’m dismantling the Death Star to build solar ovens for the Ewoks.

Yeah, there's totally no cultural imperiallism inherent in that statement at all or his Synergy Strike Force. What would those poor widdle Ewok Afghans do without Luke Fucking Skywalker here and his light saber?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 1:51 PM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


ennui.bz: "then what does it say about Dr. Dave's view of himself that he's on the payroll of the emperor, dependent on the stormtroopers to hustle him off Endor when things get too hot, and now back on Coruscant trying to gain imperial largess for his "research" projects and yet he still imagines he's dismantling the deathstar?"

My guess is he probably hasn't thought too deeply (or deeply enough) about his metaphor.
posted by zarq at 1:52 PM on July 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


He sounds like Hal Emmerich or something to me.

I'm about halfway through the article but the whole setup sounds interesting in a weird way.
posted by gucci mane at 2:11 PM on July 1, 2013


My guess is he probably hasn't thought too deeply (or deeply enough) about his metaphor.

But Dr. Dave's "Burner" Bar in Jalalabad is like some bizzaro commentary on the situation with social media/Google and the NSA: you get "free" beer in exchange for giving information (what would ESR think?) with the military occupation sitting behind the scenes looking at that information in terms of counter insurgency. meanwhile the merry hackers think they are changing the world.

(and that's not even getting into computer labs for kids as information strategic hamlets)

For a genius who deserves a Nobel Peace prize, Dr. Dave hasn't thought about a lot of things...
posted by ennui.bz at 2:12 PM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I’m dismantling the Death Star to build solar ovens for the Ewoks.

Are those for the Ewoks to cook with, or for the Ewoks to be cooked in?
posted by Thorzdad at 2:13 PM on July 1, 2013 [5 favorites]



That's a really great story and there are some very interesting characters in it. What a shame that someone got killed as a result of trying to apply Burner principles in the middle of Afghanistan.
posted by ianso at 15:00


Yeah. That left me a little conflicted too. On the one hand, trying something new. On the other hand, invoking your first world privs and leaving your local associates behind is the very definition of cavalier (adj).

Maybe reading this on the heels of listening to the latest TAL over lunch is clouding my perception, but I doubt it.
posted by Fezboy! at 3:10 PM on July 1, 2013


What kind of delusion is that? I feel like it's become part of the national character.

Do you think it can really be avoided though, if you are going to do that kind of work? I think it is possible that some concrete good came out of his work, and if that necessitates a delusional self image, well then so be it? A lot of bad things come out of this sort of cultural imperialism, no argument, but if all we do is sit inside all day checking our privilege and realizing how impossible it would be to have any kind of communication and understanding on equal terms with other people then all the communication and understanding that actually happens between actual people is going to be done by the delusionally charismatic extroverted who happily hoist the White Man's Burden on their White Savior backs. I'd wager he knows a hell of a lot more about the actual conditions of daily life in Afghanistan than I do, that he's generated a lot more actual dialogue with Afghans, regardless of his ability to discuss his self-image in ways that satisfy our language palates. At this point, conditions on the ground being what they are, what is our alternative? We can't possibly understand each other, so we're going to build more drones so that we don't have to try? I'm all for giving the order to simply pack everything that we brought there that is a weapon up and just leaving, but that doesn't seem to be on the table for some reason, so this seems better than nothing.

Do you think the work he did and the facilities he tried to build were inherently bad and just shouldn't be there at all? Because I think, (knowing only what was said in the article, which was admitted painting him in a good light), barring more information I'd have to disagree. I'd rather we never entered Afghanistan, but removing this one guy's work and leaving everything else the same seems like it would only make things worse.

Like that article mentioned, the reason he was getting funded is because he moved the ball down the field, sometimes he turned up good information, he built accurate maps, he built some computer labs for Afghan students. When that stopped being true, he stopped being funded. For all the delusional self-images that might get one into Afghanistan, I narrowly prefer this one over the Warrior for Christ delusion.

Heck, even to do normal everyday work a lot of people seem to adopt delusional self images about the good they do in the world. I don't think you can stop it, and I don't really even personally believe the world would be better off if you were able to.
posted by SomeOneElse at 3:30 PM on July 1, 2013 [9 favorites]


Also, Sarah Vowell's book "The Wordy Shipmates" has chasing down the origin of that delusion in American life as one of its main themes. She walks back to Acts 16:9

"And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us"


which was adopted as part of the original seal of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, a "nude American Indian with a bush covering his groin. Like the current seal, he held in his hand an arrow pointed down. A scroll came out over his mouth with the words "Come over and help us,"

It is a really good book for talking about that subject.
posted by SomeOneElse at 3:38 PM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thanks. This was a really interesting article, and I've just spent the last hour reading Peretz's blog.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:41 PM on July 1, 2013


Very cool, thanks for posting this.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:22 AM on July 3, 2013


OpenStreetMap rocks btw, especially for NGOs, disaster relief, etc.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:59 AM on July 3, 2013


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