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Thoughts for the ages

Butch Mazzuca
Butch Mazzuca |

Botanists tell us a tomato is a fruit because if falls into the genus of fruits, i.e., it’s the matured ovary of a flower, containing the seed whereas a vegetable is a root, stem, leaf, bulb, tuber or other bits of a plant we might eat. In other words, a fruit is the ovary of a plant, which means that it may contain seeds, while a vegetable is a plant part, which does not contain seeds. Therefore, from a botanical/scientific point of view, a tomato is a fruit.

But the grocery industry has clouded the difference between the two as a result of “convenience labeling” where fruits and vegetables are differentiated on the basis of taste (fruits are sweet—vegetables are savory) rather than by using any scientific botanical criteria. And today, we usually find tomatoes in the ‘vegetable section’ of grocery stores.

So, which is the correct classification? Well, the Supreme Court in a politically motivated decision answered this question in 1883 when Congress instituted a 10% tariff on vegetable imports. Naturally produce merchants were angered. And one particular merchant in New York sued on the basis a tomato was really a fruit and therefore not subject to the tariff. The case eventually made its way to the Supreme Court, where the merchant’s attorneys argued the case on the basis of botanical definitions.



But the government countered, that in matters of commerce and trade, tomatoes really were vegetables. And in his decision, Justice Horace Gray wrote, “while tomatoes were technically fruits, they were inevitably served at dinner in, with or after the soup, fish or meats, which constitute the principal part of the repast, unlike fruits, which were generally served as a desert.” Therefore, in the United States, science be damned, a tomato is legally a vegetable, especially when importing them adds to the government’s coffers.



Technology Accelerates

It’s been said that if the auto industry had kept up with technology like the computer industry has, we would be driving $250 cars that got 1,000 miles to the gallon. Perhaps, but conversely, if the auto industry had developed technology in the same way the computer industry has, we also might be driving cars that for no reason whatsoever would crash twice a day.

And what about all those warning lights, i.e., water & oil temperature, tire pressure, alternators, etc.—would they be replaced by a “This Car Has Performed An Illegal Operation”? And before deploying, the airbag system would the car ask, “Are you sure?”



But perhaps the greatest concern about the auto industry pattering itself on the computer industry would be that whenever our car broke down we would be forced to call customer service in Bangalore India to be instructed in broken English on how affect the repairs.

I’m not the handiest of guys; in fact, if I can’t fix it with a hammer or duct tape, then I call a repairman. What you say? Duct tape is not the correct name; rather the proper term is “duck tape!” Well, let’s give this some more thought because before we can say that conclusively we should know the whole story.

Duck or Duct?

Johnson & Johnson first developed the product for the army during World War II so GIs could waterproof their ammunition cans. The soldiers nicked named the durable cloth backed tape (it was a drab olive green back then) “duck tape” because water flowed off of it just like a duck’s back—and as it turned out, our GIs found countless other applications for this multi-purpose product.

After the war, people began to realize, just as the GIs did, that the tape had many other uses including taping and sealing heating ducts. As a result, J&J began offering a silver version of the tape specifically for that purpose, hence the name “Duct tape.”

So, which is correct? Going by the book one would have to side with “Duck Tape,” since that’s what the product was called when it first appeared. But, if we define the product by its use today, then duct tape is the more accurate description. However, the question may be academic because the leading manufacturer advertises the product as Duck Brand duct tape. In essence, much like “Scotch” tape, i.e. Scotch brand adhesive tape, the term “duck tape” has now become generic.

Quote of the day: “Vegetarian is an old Indian word meaning “lousy hunter.” — Andy Rooney.


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