Prints of Persia

Video games have been around for about as long as I have, but the first well known game, that forever changed pinball arcades, was called Pong. It was a paddle game, played on a machine the size of a dishwasher, and it was followed by other smash (sorry) hits such as Breakout and Space Invaders. All paddle games, disguised in one form or another.

Contrary to the parent police, I encourage kids to play video games. I don’t think it’s a waste of time; games taught me keyboard skills, got me interested in machine language, which is the last frontier above the computer hardware itself, and helped me learn about the stack, heap, registers, and the difference between an 8-bit and 64-bit operating system. These are things I still know and use today. Whatever else they learn, your kids need to know three things: English, IT, and Economics. Without those, they will be fooled by language, defeated by technology, and fleeced by financiers.

Those early video games taught me the difference between a peek and a poke, which I’m sure you will agree is an important part of any adult’s education. And if you clicked the link, hoping for a salacious site, you’ll have noted that there’s a bit of a learning curve on that one.

Like books and movies, games have genres. Action games include much of what you see today, things like Guitar Hero or Call of Duty (Black Ops). On the other extreme are thought games, or logic games. Chess, whether computerized or not, is the best example here. The one genre which became immensely popular when computers turned mainstream, but has no equivalent in the analog world, is the platform game.

Platform games disguise themselves, but one of the main traits is that the player takes on a role and accumulates points, or gold coins, or whatever, while leaping about trying to destroy things or collect them. Back in the day, Super Mario Bros was the classic, just as Angry Birds is now. My favorite from the dawn of home computing was called Impossible Mission. I finished it a couple of times, killing the evil doctor―it’s not clear why he’s evil, but he definitely is. And revisiting the retro site that describes it, I came across the word Joystick. Then F1 and F2 ports. Scary!

By the time PCs came along, cranking the DOS black screen and the lonesome cursor, another well-known offering was Prince of Persia, where a dashing young man went around saving princesses and blitzing bad guys. Except that somewhere along the winding path of history, PCs turned into tablets, Persia turned into Iran, and thirty years later, there’s a new elephant in the room. And now Persia is the bad guy. Well, let’s be accurate. There’s nothing evil about Iran, but there is considerable evil in Iran.

Oil, computers, and the mutual hatred between Sunni and Shia all have a good deal to do with this, as does the second Iraq war. With Obama’s troop withdrawal comes Iranian supremacy, compounded by the western negotiations with the Taliban, and the clear realization that Pakistan is ungovernable. Mitt Romney is keen on firing people, Obama wants to bring the troops home and cut the armed forces, both of which will add to unemployment, and no one in the US is up for attacking Iran in an election year.

In the Mid-East, the countries that are wearing the brown underpants are Israel and Saudi Arabia, who may well presently be allies of convenience―is there any other kind? To the Iranian fundamentalists, the Saudi royal family is seen as an usurper of holy places, a corrupt den of nepotism, and an exploiter of the poor Shia laborers. Perhaps even worse, as friends of the Americans. Maybe that’s the only thing that Iran and Al Qaeda have in common. No comments are needed with respect to Israel: Ahmadinejad’s stunning views on the holocaust, and on September 11th, are self-explanatory. perhaps the fact that the name contains both the words mad and jihad provides a clue here.

On Thursday 12th of January, a sticky bomb was used to kill an Iranian nuclear scientist. The M.O. is well established: a motorbike pulls up to the victim’s car; the pilliion rider sticks the magnetic bomb on, the biker guns the engine, and the button is pushed. The date was symbolic, about two years since another scientist was killed. Both scientists were connected to Natanz, one of two nuclear power facilities that are reputedly working toward an Iranian atomic bomb. This is the fourth assassination in two years, and I would imagine enrollment in the atomic physics course at Tehran Technical University may be sparser than usual.

The Natanz nuclear facility, about one hundred and sixty miles south of Tehran

In parallel, there was the deployment of the Stuxnet worm, which I discussed some months back, to target Siemens Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC).  The Iranian regime needs computers to do their thing, and the West is doing its utmost to use that against them. Echoes here of the first Iraq war, where viruses went into Baghdad’s missile launch systems disguised as printers―a printer is a good choice because it usually has system-level access permissions for communicating with a computer.

2012 is the ideal year for the Iranian regime to thumb its nose at the U.S., which is exactly what they’re doing. Among western nations, the Portuguese were the first to flag the strategic importance of the Strait Of Hormuz for the trade route between Europe and the Indies. The India Road spy Pêro da Covilhã discusses it with one of King John’s emissaries, and ten years after Vasco da Gama sailed, the Portuguese commander Afonso de Albuquerque secured the gateway to the Persian Gulf. The Strait was in Portuguese hands from 1515 onward, until a joint Persian-British force took Hormuz in 1622, during the Spanish occupation of Portugal.

The Iranian push in 2012 will be to finish what they started, and build their atomic bomb (I had written the first Arab atomic bomb previously, but was kindly corrected on that―Persians are not Arabs. Clearly a common western foible). The Israelis, with all the help the U.S. and Saudi Arabia can covertly put their way, will be trying their utmost to obliterate the Iranian ambition. When the 32 year old nuclear scientist was blown to bits last Thursday, it was a five minute item on Western television, mainly to report the incident, the suspicion of Israeli involvement, and the painstaking U.S. denial. The Iranian Press TV provided live coverage of the Peugeot 405 being hoisted away, and poignant reports from witnesses.

All in all, a superb storyline for a thriller. The thing is, in order to sell the book, the goodies have to win. Right now, it really can go either way. My great grandfather used to say:

Quem aposta ou é parvo ou é ladrão

If you bet you’re either a thief or a fool. For me right now the odds are sixty percent for Iran, even counting the oil embargo. If Iran gets da bomb, we’re in for New World Order 2.0 in the Mid-East, and you won’t hear another squeak about the Eurozone.

All in all, it’s just another platform game.

The India Road QR links for smartphones: point your camera and click.

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