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Outside the crate 

“There is clearly a need to think beyond tomatoes.” — David Acheson, assistant commissioner for foods of the Federal Drug Administration.

And we suspect he was looking right at Arkansas when he said it. In Arkansas, in the summer, it is hard to think about anything other than tomatoes. Stop thinking about the tomatoes, with a July sun overhead, and you may start thinking “Why go on?”

But as the assistant commissioner reminds us, we must go on, with or without tomatoes and tomato thoughts. There's work to be done, a world to be saved.

Lu Hardin, president of the University of Central Arkansas, was all wrapped up in tomatoes when he told inquiring reporters that he hadn't received a secret raise from the UCA Board of Trustees. It was only later, when he gave his full attention to the subject, and when reporters all but showed him the canceled check, that he realized the extra $300,000 in “accelerated payment” he'd accepted might be viewed as a “raise,” or close to it. Undistracted by tomatoes, he would have explained all this in the beginning.

It was while focused on tomatoes that Little Rock City Director Stacy Hurst carelessly used $1,770 of the taxpayers' money to buy a magazine advertisement for herself. We can just hear her on the phone after her mistake was pointed out to her (by reporters, again): “Your honor, you won't believe what I've done.” Stamped her feet in frustration, most likely. “Those darn tomatoes!”

The minds of the members of the state Pollution Control and Ecology Commission were crowded with tomatoes when they voted not to name carbon dioxide as an air contaminant. Questioned, one commissioner said later, “Oh, you mean the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, the one that's melting the polar ice caps?! Gosh, I was so busy thinking about Better Boys I couldn't follow the discussion.”

This is the way great mistakes have been made throughout Arkansas history: Orval Faubus sending the National Guard to keep black children out of Central High. Frank Broyles' pooch kick. Mike Huckabee turning Wayne Dumond loose. All were spending too much time thinking about tomatoes; else, they would never have acted as they did.

The Arkansas tomato is a blessing not given other states, and Arkansans are right to be grateful. But we have to remember that the tomato alone cannot prevent secrecy in higher education, or the misuse of public funds, or the predations of sex offenders. Tomato-friendly? Yes. Tomato-dependent? No. We get your point, Mr. Acheson.         

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