Maybe you saw the story the other day about how exports to the Islamic Republic of Iran have increased tenfold during the time our president has been calling Iran a member of the "axis of evil."
Terrorist supporters, nuclear wanna-bes, Holocaust deniers. Iran is all those things, according to our government, and therefore undeserving of our weapons and other gadgetry. The rhetoric gets more bellicose by the day, but it is not so unbending that it would prevent a nation of 65-million people the right to enjoy the best of American products.
And bull semen.
The first two items are no surprise as they fall squarely within the agricultural/medical exemption to the trade sanctions.
The bull semen — nearly $13-million worth of it since 2001, according to the Associated Press — seems harder to explain. Very easy to laugh about, sure, especially if you have some experience as a 13-year-old boy.
"You put bull semen in your title and people are going to read your damn story," says Mike Rakes, vice president of Worldwide Sires, a California company that is one of the largest U.S. exporters of animal genetics.
But it turns out that once you get a reputable purveyor like Rakes on the phone — and get past the sixth-grade jokes — you can see how two countries that won't talk diplomatically can nevertheless benefit from the exchange of some bovine fluids.
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It all starts with a 3,000-pound Holstein bull with a ring in his nose and a lascivious eye trained on the posterior of a young neutered bull — the teaser, in the parlance of artificial insemination. This may not sound like a family values tableau of reproductive propriety, but in the heartland of America when it comes to harvesting the world's best genetic material, best practices do not include the clumsy and potentially dangerous congress of male and female.
That's a job for a professional. A fielder, if you will, who steps between the bull and the object of his desire, sheathes the penis with a water-warmed hose, captures the biologic material in a test tube and gets out of the way before the now-satisfied bull crashes to the floor.
Rakes is a farm-raised veteran of the business. In sales, mostly. "I have not grabbed a bull's penis, no," he says.
What he's selling in that test tube is worth as much as $50,000. And Iranian farmers want it bad, Rakes says.
(A note of warning: If you go to the Internet to figure out why Iranians crave high-quality bull semen, you can get the wrong idea. Plug in the terms Iran and bull semen and you may get a link to a hair salon in London. Trained hair professionals at Hari's Salon combine the ejaculate of an Angus bull with extract from the katera root — a plant that grows in Iran — and then smear it, There's Something About Mary-style, into the frizzy, protein-starved hair of customers willing to pay $110 to achieve "a lubricating tangle-free effect.")
The reason Iranians buy American, Rakes says, is that they're looking for "a high-producing cow, trouble-free and functional. That means really good feet and legs, a strong udder system and good rump structure to give birth easy."
When those are the genetic traits you want and you're willing to pay top dollar, Rakes says, you go to Wisconsin or Ohio.
You do what farmers since before the shah have done: You buy a shipment of Holstein Plus, stored in little straws at 320 degrees below zero, and if you have to wait a few months for the order to clear the bureaucracy in Washington, it's worth it.
Rakes has traveled to Iran more than once. The people he met were "kind, gracious and respectful," he says. "The farmers are all very pro-American. They would be so happy if the political challenges between the U.S. and Iran would go away. Farmers, whether they're from Iran or California, they're nice people."
Someday they ought to make a movie about this heartwarming tale from the land of milk and money. They can call it There's Something About Dairy.
Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report.