Thursday, May 25, 2006

Gathering Evidence

Somebody recently mentioned that John Thullen should get the coveted Koufax for Best Commenter. I have nominated all three members of what I call the cranky uncle brigade--John Thullen, Bob McManus, and John Emerson--for a couple of years running, but I suspect that Koufax voters have not been sufficiently exposed to the dadaist violence represented by a John Thullen comment.

Evidence is needed! And this is the place to collect it. So, to start matters off, My current favorite John Thullen comment, which appeared in comments to this thread, is below the jump. ***
On the story about Republican Hill Aides being whiny about the annual softball game:

I'll suggest the following re the stupid softball game (no balls and strikes; what's with that?, though I see that the Republicans might view the hiring of umpires as some sort of governmental regulatory scheme designed to thwart their bohunkedness):

We let the lesser teams in the playoffs, because we are nice people. But the night before the tournament, we fly in from all over the country. as subs on the lesser teams, competitive ringer softball players who also happen to believe Medicare is a fine program and have hugged a tree at least once. I'll bat leadoff, play centerfield, and start the trash talk. We kick ass during the game. Further, we bring the Hanson Brothers from the movie "Slap Shot" (I love it when I go to a softball game and a hockey game breaks out) and we physically hurt three or four of the Ayn Randian testosterone-drinkers on the other side, who will switch sports after they get out of the hospital. Further, we continue the loud capitalist man talk and Bush gunslinger walk into the parking lot afterwards and we see what happens before the Capital Hill police get there.

Maybe we can even work some concealed carry in there, strictly in defense mind you.

Tactical nukes? I'm willing to strap one to my leg for that suicidal slide into second in the 7th inning. Is the second baseman Grover Norquist? Then I'm the Mohammed Atta of softball players.

Was that an unfortunate metaphor? O.K. Then I'm John Wayne in "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence" They are Liberty Valence, resplendent in their full Lee Marvin slack-jawed, horsewhip wielding, strutting, bullying, dumbassedness, later face down in the dust. I throw the carbine to Poppy, and head back to the ranch to be left alone.

Because winning isn't everything, we find Tom Delay and insert our big useless, plastic fake-gold first-place trophy up his fundament.

Game over.

Then you, Jimmy Stewart, win an election or two and pass universal heathcare. See: two tracks.

As an aside; two observations. As a long-time competitive softball player (now baseball, too, after the knee heals), you will find that there is more yelling and fighting and ejections in coed softball games than in top-level men's leagues. For some reason, because we are idiots, men think they like an audience of women when they act like jerks. Yeah, I don't get it either.

Also, some years ago I played in a men's softball tournament and a gay men's softball team entered. They weren't very good, recreational at best, but they entered for fun and maybe to make a point. Their uniforms were very short shorts and pastel. Some ran the bases; others minced.

It was very cool and instructive to see the reaction among the other teams (manly men deep into manliness) and the spectators (wives and girlfriends of said manly men). Mixed. Curiosity, shock, and more admiration than you might think from this crowd.

And, of course, ridicule, from some of the blockhead manly athletes, who probably play on Republican teams on Capital Hill now. When all was said and done, I knew who the real cocksuckers were.

The amazing thing was, this team attracted perhaps hundreds of spectators, whereas the rest of us had a beleagured wife or girlfriend yawning in the bleachers. I suggested to my team that we ought to change our uniforms to something a little more -- chic and revealing? That didn't go over too well.
I mean, that's an 11 on the wonderful lunacy scale.

Here's the thread in which the ObWi regulars collectively came to understand what they were facing.

This comment is also Pure Thullen. I still can't make out what on earth it's about, but it certainly inspires me with fear towards the Burger King of the Forest!

Oh, I know this is only the smallest of samplings. John Thullen is difficult to index, let alone summarize. Since he doesn't have any copyright on his comments on others' sites, though, you can copy the ones you think particularly brilliant and dump them here! Please do contribute: I'm guessing that a concentration of Thullen will be ... just great.

(Erm, Thullen, if you really object, send me an email.)


Low-Tech Childhood Games

I'm starting to wonder whether people even remember how to play outdoor games that involve sticks and rocks. As I remember my childhood, the sticks and rocks games were a lot more fun than the computer games I played back then. Then again, I had the impression that the old Eliza program was supposed to be a game.

Anyway. My all-time favorite childhood game was "Kick the Can." You know, where everyone hides and the "it" has to spot the people as they creep in to base to try to kick the can and free all the people who've already been caught? Strict integrity on the part of the "it" is required, I realize, looking back.

"Capture the flag" is another good game, but it requires rugged terrain (to maximize the opportunities for sneaking through poison oak) and a good number of people.

I also frequently played a perverse variant of "Cowboys and Indians," in which the Cowboys spent most of the time in the Indians' jail and had to try to break out. The older kids were always the Indians and seemed to enjoy offering us Cowboys regular meals of mashed-up leaves. The jailbreaks were always futile, by the way. "Cowboys and Indians" flat-out sucked for the Cowboys.

Another great game I played as a kid we called "Duck on Rock," although, according to this source and this one, it's more usually called "Duck on a Rock" or somesuch. We played it roughly according to the "medieval version" described in the first link, but we usually built up a cairn of rocks instead of using a tree-stump.

What fun, ultra-low-tech games do you remember?


Thursday, May 18, 2006

I Wanna Be...D.E.A.!

Is there an anarchistic case for keeping drugs illegal? Crispin Sartwell explains:
For one thing, as many have argued, the unenforceable prohibition on drugs brings the law into contempt. When average citizens of your country know they are criminals, they lose respect for law and for the agents of the law.

But contempt for the law is the sure -- indeed really the only -- sign of a free people. People who respect the law simply on the grounds that it is law deserve every nasty little thing that happens to them after that. They ought to spend some time cultivating moral and intellectual autonomy.
This is also a good pair of lines:
If you think we've got a wasteful bureaucracy now, just wait until the American state is the cocaine kingpin. The government can't even deliver hurricane aid, much less heroin to all the Americans who need it.
The whole thing makes me realize how much time I've been spending with Kantians lately.

[via Radley Balko.]


FLDS: Polygamy in Practice

Jill at Feministe has an interesting post up about the Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints, a splinter faction of the LDS which still practices polygamy. As described in the articles Jill excerpts, the FLDS seems to be a pernicious cult. They certainly deviate from LDS, and if they claim membership in the Mormon church, they should be excommunicated. The Mormon leadership has publicly distanced itself from FLDS, but it could and should do more--and more loudly.

What's unnerving in the reports, however, is the degree to which the FLDS has insinuated itself into local governments. Here's one section of an LA Times story:
Charged with protecting and serving their community, Colorado City police have long had a reputation for protecting and serving church interests instead.

The force, which covers Hildale as well, is reportedly handpicked by FLDS leaders. Call 911 here, say state investigators, and it is the same as calling the FLDS.

Former police employees and state investigators say officers either ignore molestation allegations or send them to the church rather than to outside prosecutors.

Paul Musser, a former dispatcher for the Colorado City police, was eyewitness to the daily activity of the station.

“Sex crimes were handled very delicately, very discreetly,” he said. “They were taken to the prophet.”

Sam Roundy, a polygamist and former Colorado City police chief, moonlighted as a church security officer. He told investigators from the police standards boards of Arizona and Utah who were evaluating his training that between 20 and 25 times he failed to report child sex abuse cases as required by law.

As a result, state child welfare agencies were often unaware of molestation allegations and unable to help or intervene on behalf of possible victims. Another result was the reluctance of victims to call police in the first place.
That's terrible, and the state needs to step in--aggressively. Unfortunately, another excerpt from the LA Times article gives quotes from people like Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and former Arizona governor Fife Symington--where they're pandering to or defending these communities for their votes.

Monitoring and prosecuting polygamists might alienate a lot of Utahn voters...but the kind of sexual exploitation, forced marriage, child abuse, spouse abuse these articles describe should be sufficient to get moderate Mormons onboard with serious state intervention. I usually describe myself as being ambivalent about the practice of polygamy in theory, as it were, and I have to suspect that I don't really want to think too hard about it. The stories tricking out of the FLDS show that this isn't the vague-on-details-but-vaguely-benevolent polygamy we prefer imagining our great-great grandfathers and mothers practicing, and it's important not to let our sentimental version of the past (which, whatever else, is past) blind us to present evils.

What else could the states do? Isn't there any way to shift the police officers to a new post in a different town? Can that judge who gave a man who sexually abused five of his daughters 130 days (13 served) be moved to a different time zone? Maybe voters in these states should also hold politicians' feet to the fire; anyone praising, as Symington did, this group's "family-oriented lifestyles" should become a political pariah, and you could go from there.


Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Unfogged Reading Group

Just before the server pooped out on comments, the Unfoggedariat, as summarized by I don't pay, had narrowed the options for primary texts to:

Paradise Lost


Kirkegard's Repetition
Somehow, my suggestion for The Prince--backed rather enthusiastically by some, I'll note!--got left off that list.

I think it's quite possible that, as Armsmasher suggested, Montaigne might not present as much intellectual meat as some people might expect from an Unfogged reading group. I don't actually see that as a downside, not if we read his essays as, to be crass, very smart personal blog posts from the past.

Paradise Lost could be a good option. It's fucking beautiful, presents all kinds of aesthetic and theological problems, and is handily divided into manageable segments. Personally, I can't really advocate this choice because Milton is too fraught in both my academic and personal life; I won't come to a reading group on PL without longstanding stakes, that much is for sure.

Burke. Well. I'd be very interested to see the Mineshaft debate Burke, but I'd want them to weigh the Reflections against the Enquiry and then to take the Hastings trial into account... Seriously, though, Burke is a fascinating and problematic character, much richer than the caricature that the third-generation NRO readers and writers make him out to be, but I might be humorless and emotionally involved in an Unfogged discussion of him.

Kirkegaard, I should read more of. Repetition in the abstract I'm not against--as long as it doesn't involve sacrificing Isaac over and over again. My fifteen year-old doubting believer self is still shuddering at the memory of reading Fear and Trembling, but maybe my adult self could approach a different text with a more open mind.

A reading project is worth trying--and it will work better if someone with mainpage authority feels able to crack ye olde whippe.


Where is It?

Every so often when I look through my bookmarks, I get this nagging feeling that there was this awesome blog I once read, which had short, wise observations on all sorts of topics. It had a really clean layout--no ads, no icons, no pictures, no expandable posts--and it loaded quickly because it just a straight-ahead kind of site, which didn't bother with all those tracking services. That blog dealt sometimes with politics, but its positions and observations weren't predictable, and it sometimes dealt with art and science, always in informed, layperson's terms. I keep mentally kicking myself that I didn't bookmark that blog, back in the day.


Tuesday, May 16, 2006


Gregory Djerejian, a foreign policy professional whose recent trajectory could perhaps be described as moderate neoconservative turned realist, summarizes his arguments in favor of talking to Iran.

Related: the BBC offers an interactive guide for understanding the power structures within the Iranian government.

Deborah Brown gives a horticulturalist's overview to the practical care of houseplants: pdf version, awkwardly formatted html.

Some important rethinking of libertarianism in the wake of the Republican Party is going on over at Jim Henley's blog. (It's an evolving conversation, but I'd pull out these posts, in order: One, Two, and Three. Keep reading him to see how the argument progresses.)


Monday, May 15, 2006

Kurdistan Resurgent

A couple of weeks a scrap of news, basically a third-hand report, gave me that adrenaline rush that suggests some tipping-point might be underway. Here's one version of the story.

Basically, early this month, Iranian forces began to shell Kurdish targets within the border of Iraq. The central Iraqi government has made some noise about the attacks, but the government is weak enough, the PKK dubious enough, and Iran otherwise diplomatically occupied that the story hasn't really gone anywhere.

Also contributing to ignorance about the story: that area of Kurdish Iraq and Kurdish Iran does not seem to be particularly inviting to independant reporters. All versions of this story I've read rely on duelling third or fourth-hand accounts. The Iraqi regional minister declares ... The Iranian spokesman denies ... and we readers are left to worry.

And now Turkey enters the picture, massing significant numbers of troops along the border (but some might just slip over, here and there) to combat the PKK.

This very decent DKos diary provides the maps: Kurdish ethnic nationalism is no respecter of borders. We're going to hear more stories about the northern Iraq frontier regions, and I don't think they're going to be happy ones.

Update: And here's a worrying analysis from Damascus-based Sami Moubayed: it sounds like Tehran and Ankara might be talking about their problem in common... [via nadezhda.]


Template A-Changing

I've been tinkering with colors and layout, as you may already have noticed. This nifty color-scheme generator enabled and encouraged the amateur designer in me. It's dangerous! Don't click the link!

Also wanted: advice or good resources on fonts. I'll take strong, vituperative opinions on fonts, if that's what on offer.


Thursday, May 11, 2006

Living Apocalyptically

"The Spirit of God"
(Text: William W. Phelps, 1792-1872.)

The Spirit of God like a fire is burning!
The latter-day glory begins to come forth;
The visions and blessings of old are returning;
And angels are coming to visit the earth.

We'll sing and we'll shout with the armies of heaven,
Hosanna, hosanna to God and the Lamb!
Let glory to them in the highest be given
Henceforth and forever, Amen and amen!

The Lord is extending the Saints' understanding,
Restoring their judges and all as at first.
The knowledge and power of God are expanding;
The veil o'er the earth is beginning to burst.

We'll sing and we'll shout with the armies (etc.)

We'll call in our solemn assemblies in spirit,
To spread forth the kingdom of heaven abroad,
That we through our faith may begin to inherit
The visions and blessings and glories of God.

We'll sing and we'll shout with the armies (etc.)

How blessed the day when the lamb and the lion
Shall lie down together without any ire,
And Ephraim be crowned with his blessing in Zion,
As Jesus descends with his chariot of fire!

We'll sing and we'll shout with the armies (etc.)

Now imagine this beloved and often sung Mormon hymn translated into Persian--and then retranslated into English for our consumption. As anthropological evidence of the kind of beliefs that those people we're very worried about hold.

Don't want to imagine it? Okay, click through and read me imagining it.


The first thing that any responsible analyst would notice is that the general narrative here requires armies first, then peace. Of course we also note that Jesus descends in a chariot of fire, which doesn't sound all that pacifistic, but that's perhaps a secondary characteristic since we over here don't acknowledge their Messianic figure.

We could also notice these people's naked ambition to control all formally secular organizations of human society. Judges, assemblies, and kingdoms: if we gloss that latter as "executive," we've comfortably covered all three branches of American government, but, as the "kingdom of heaven" will be "spread forth" "abroad," it's clear that their spiritual ambitions will not be contained to their country's borders...

Notice the game of tenses. The first two verses suggest that this process is underway at the present time: "is burning, "begins," "are returning," "is extending," and so forth. The third verse admits that what is being discussed is simply the plan for the future, not what is happening in reality, while the fourth verse retreats to a general, wishful, unconjugated exclamation ("how blessed"). This pussyfooting around with temporal categories means that the plan is always ready to be enacted, the deluded always ready this day with That Day--and, of course, always ready to start up that singing and shouting.

But since this is, in fact, a nicely bouncy march of a song, believers already are singing and shouting in the moment they recite these words; they need only to start marching to finish the transformation of the Sunday choirs into the "armies of Heaven." It should go without saying that those armies would represent the lion rather than the lamb in the final peace. The lambs of the world might not enjoy the terms the lions offer.

Of course people who hold these beliefs are delusional whackjobs, but the threat they pose is very real. Unless the lambs of the world take this threat much more seriously, those "armies of heaven" will begin to claim that world "inheritance"--and reduce all of civilization to their primitive, ideological vision.


I sang this hymn with great gusto probably once a month for years. The chorus section's music is written in the exuberant mode: four-part chords, syncopation, and it's usually sung fast. "We'll sing and we'll shout" = "Hey, I'm shouting in church!" If you run through the full four verses at full voice and the proper fast pace, you're slightly giddy by the end. (Oh, no! Apocalypic songs are mood-altering!) Why did I sing this hymn once a month, when there are some 300 hymns to choose from in the standard Mormon hymnbook? Because everyone knows and likes to sing this one, that's why.

Without my hymnbook open, however, and despite having just typed out and pseudo-analyzed the song, I can pretty much remember the first verse and the chorus, and I'd lay money that most current Mormons couldn't promise much more. Someone looking at this from the outside will perceive the quasi-argument that what's-his-face part into the four-verse structure, but if singing that quasi-argument regularly has had any deep influence on my worldview, it's certainly not accessible to me.

I mean, now that I look at it as an outsider, there's some pretty weird stuff in there. That stuff about Ephraim being crowned in Zion I don't even want to joke about. According to some of the more obscurantist Mormon doctrine holds that your average white North American belongs, in some spiritual sense, to the tribe of Ephraim; I supposedly do, for one. That went straight over my head for years, meaning I didn't even notice the mention of Ephraim in this hymn until I typed it out for this exercise. And I think I last sang it only a couple of months ago.

So, yes, there's an apocalyptic strain to Mormon faith. But what does it mean to real people's lives and motivations?

I always return, when thinking about this, to one episode in my life. A recent President of the church--an office also known, omniously enough, as the Prophet--directed the faithful, who were able, to stock a year's supply of food in their homes. I've forgotten how the Mormon end-times scenario was supposed to play out since it didn't get much airtime at my church or in my home, but I think it involved some shortish period of tribulation, so that directive dovetailed with that eschatology. When my mother casually mentioned to me shortly afterwards that she'd stocked maybe 4-6 months of very basic supplies, I wondered whether she was obedient (mostly), or whether she really believed the world was about to end. She reminded me that our house was located across the street from a major faultline scheduled to slip any time now. Effectively, she'd come up with a pragmatic justification for not entirely ignoring a direct suggestion from the guy who's supposed to speak in God's voice for the faithful.

But from the outside: my mother stores six months of food because her Prophet told her that Jesus is coming really soon and there'll be shortages!!

So, to summarize, I agree with Jim Henley.


Existential Eavesdropping

During 2000-2003, I spent a lot of time on the phone to my boyfriend in France: about an hour a day. It was expensive no matter what international plan I used, but I was in love. We talked about politics a lot, in between our cooing, spats, and faltering attempts at sexchats. He was absolutely livid about what we both saw as a mendacious run-up to a US invasion of Iraq, and, you know what? I wasn't so thrilled about it myself, even though I had a very different understanding of it than he did. Because we had somewhat different views, we talked a great deal about terrorism, Bush, war, and other keywords that would get us tagged by your average NSA filtering program.

I remember one conversation rather specifically. He was telling me about a dream he'd had about killing Bush to spare the world the Iraq invasion. It was just a dream, and he was just telling me, his girlfriend, about his anxieties and how the dream was working them out, and I was worrying about who might be listening in on the line.

He was venting, thinking, confessing, and my reply was "Please be careful what you say."

I already knew then that cross-national communications were often tapped--particularly when "problematic" ideas or keywords came up. I tried to convince the most important person then in my life to circumlocute about drugs (in particular) and foreign policy (in the vituperative).

Living that way made me feel much more paranoid. Which is not to say that it wasn't necessary.

So. If you're comfortable that people with overseas friends, family, or lovers should feel that way, I invite you to check out this article; what do you think when the same rules apply inside the US?


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Public vs. Private vs. Public

Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Luttig, once the favorite of conservative Washington insiders for a Supreme Court tap, has resigned his position to become a Boeing executive. Mark Kleiman reacts to the news that with some resignation and some concern.

Kleiman is right on both counts, I think.

It's something of a truism for the under-thirty population that going into the public sector will mean that you'll be a pauper for a damned long time. That's not exactly an incentive for people facing students loans. Just to give you a sense of how matters stand: a tenure-track associate professor makes about rather less than a paralegal does, in New York. (A graduate student-instructor, who has probably an equivalent education as a paralegal does, if he or she hasn't actually already been a paralegal, receives about a fifth of the income.)

To get a charitable waiver of your $100,000+ law school bill (appreciating rapidly), you have to pledge to something like ten years of public defender duty, during which you'll earn less than, what, $40,000 a year? All but the most highminded or independantly wealthy go corporate.

Those are stresses that could do with some relieving. The way student loans are managed should be a national outrage. The craptacular incentives for joining the civil sector could, um, be improved.

That said, the salaries and stock options offered to the highest echelons of the private sector are absolutely out of control. Kevin Drum has been following the disparity of CEO "compensation" for a long time. At this level of income and assets, my sympathy for upper-middle-class anxiety about student loans is obliterated by the numbers; your average CEO is regularly making over $5 million a year, not counting options and whatnot. And there are surely ways to address that problem short of capping salaries. Legislation (and enforcement) targeting institutional investors would be one method: the managers of the institutional fund could be required to cast their corporate votes in the interest of the individual shareholders.

I'm not a little worried what might really follow from a revaluation of the stock market from "share value" to "earnings value"; however, subsidizing the top %.02 to avoid finding out is stupid.


How Do You Spell....?

More things that are funny!

I was doing a crossword puzzle from 1996--a gift from my reliably cheapskate family, and that's cool--and I was having a hell of a time figuring out a clue.

The clue was "People's advocate."

I had "N _ _ ER."

I was stumped. Just stumped.

Eventually, in a cheatin' mood, I peeked at the answers in the back of the book--and I laughed.

Can you guess what the answer was?


Sunday, May 07, 2006



Thursday, May 04, 2006

First, New York! Then...Nada.

This is pretty funny.

Mark Schmitt over at TPMCafe writes up an analysis of various Republican presidential contenders and finds a reason to discard most of them, preferring dark horse Newt Gingrinch (!). Kevin Drum over at Washington Monthly reproduces the data, and in the comments, everyone tut-tuts that Schmitt left Giuliani off the list.

George Pataki's name never surfaces, not in Schmitt's analysis, not in Drum's, and not in 95 comments by political junkies.

Pataki, give it up! People aren't even making fun of your aspirations; they're ignoring them.


Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Really Tangible Assets.

This isn't a good sign. Gold at a 25-year high, with the price for an ounce floating somewhere above $650? Investors talking as though $700 was a reachable price in the near future? Only a year or so ago, I remember gold hitting $400 and $450 and thinking that it had to be an aberration: some investment fad or short-term hysteria that was driving up prices. I hadn't paid much attention since then, but $650 an ounce?!? Uh-oh.

My grandad claimed that rose quartz was a good indicator for gold when prospecting, if that helps anyone.

Updates below the fold.
Was it rose quartz in particular or just quartz in general? Anyway, it's problematic advice because there's a whole bunch more quartz out there than there is gold.

What's been interesting to me is a number of markets in which rich people park cash seem to have cooled recently. Edward_ has been detecting signs of cooling off in the art market. The real estate market is cooling. A couple of companies like Microsoft have actually started issuing dividend checks, for lack of better investment options for their profits. These are all signs that wealthy people with excellent financial analysts at their disposal are very nervous about the future.

The astronomical rise in gold prices is terrible news in that regard, because gold used to be considered an investment of last resort.

Sure, there are speculators; you can buy into gold-indices that give you a fraction of a gold bar owned by some bank somewhere, and if prices continue to rise the way they have been, that option might make sense for piggybackers.

But, still. The reason people buy gold, usually, is because they want a fail-safe currency against a financial situation they see as unstable. In other words, if $650 is a quantity that might not mean very much in a month or so, you'll always have an ounce of gold, which historically has been wealth to reckon with.

Maybe this is price-driven speculation. God, I hope so.

[Update 2: Do look at this post from The Cunning Realist, a Wall Street guy. An excerpt:
This is excess liquidity coming home to roost. While the Federal Reserve continues to raise interest rates to mollify foreign central banks, it’s made it clear that any weakness in either the stock market or the economy will be met with massive infusions of liquidity, and dollar-denominated debt will be inflated away. The world is waking up to this, which is why oil and gold march inexorably higher and the long bond is tanking. This is inflation, and the rest of the world is acting accordingly.


Monday, May 01, 2006

Water in Iran: Fragmentary Thoughts on Qanat

"By [World War I]'s end, Iran had become a battleground, with Ottoman Turkish, Russian, British, and indigenous military forces crisscrossing its territory at various times. [...] The result was an economic catastrophe. Northern Iran was the country's breadbasket, and much farmland there had been ruined by the invading armies. Peasants had been taken from thier fields and forced to serve in the armies. Irrigation works that required careful upkeep had been destroyed. Cultivated areas and livestock had been pillaged and left to rot. In addition, the presence of large numbers of foreign troops meant that there were many more mouths to feed with less food. The result was a famine that may have killed as many as 2 million Iranians out of a total population of a little more than 10 million." --Kenneth Pollack, The Persian Puzzle (2004), 25.

Irrigated land in Iran, according to the CIA: 75,620 sq km (1998 est.) For comparison, irrigated land in the entire European Union in 1998 from the same source: 115,807 sq km.

Much of Iran is basically a desert plateau. The mountain areas get precipitation, but without intervention, that precipitation translates into flashfloods with little water table, a geological reality which makes sustained agricultural development rather difficult. So, for the past couple of thousand years, Iranians have built and maintained a crazy-cool system of what they call Qanat.

As this site explains, a Qanat is essentially a manmade underground river running from an aquifer in the mountains to a lower-altitude farm or population center: "The trick is to make the angle of the qanat not too steep, because in that case, the water will grind itself down into the bottom and create pools that will make the qanat collapse; on the other hand, if the angle is not steep enough, the water will be tainted. Everything depends, therefore, on the correct angle." The longest Qanat in Iran, according to that source, is supposedly 70 kilometers.Here's another explanatory diagram. The underground part is necessary to minimize evaporation under the Iranian sun, but someone needs to crawl down the regular shafts every spring to clear out the debris that accumulates naturally.

Qanat systems are an effective--albeit fragile--solution for moving water from upland wettish areas to lowland arid areas. According to this proposal, Iran is discovering the hard way that drilling wells simply increases desertification. Favorite quote from that source: "In the past few years, due to lowering of water table levels and increasing salinity, the Ministry of Agricultural Jihad has started to revive the Qanat systems. Although these efforts have been so organised, but they have proven to be relatively effective." According to this source, some 30,000 Qanats are active in Iran today.

Besides being totally cool on its own merit and thus worth knowing about, the Qanat system would probably go to hell immediately upon any bombing campaign, even one that aimed for military targets.

[Edited for clarity.]