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Call me Trimtab

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The Observer went over to the Statehouse Convention Center on Monday for an appearance by Jeff Bridges, AKA Jeffrey "The Dude" Lebowski, AKA Rooster Cogburn 2.0, AKA Otis "Bad" Blake from "Crazy Heart," the role for which he won an Oscar. Bridges was in town, sharing the stage with the governor and the CEO of Share Our Strength and an elementary school principal, to promote Share Our Strength's No Kid Hungry campaign, which seeks to give school kids a nutritious breakfast first thing in the morning before class. Hard as it might be to believe, there's a certain incredibly wealthy industrialized nation in this world in which there are millions of kids whose parents either won't or can't afford to pour up a bowl of Cheerios with a side of O.J. and toast for their children in the morning before school. Go figure.

Bridges had a lot to say, in his familiar, surfer dude voice. He talked about kids going to school hungry. He talked about ketchup as a vegetable. He talked about "True Grit," and gave an obligatory Charles Portis shout-out. He talked about what he had for breakfast and his exercise routine (he's hoping for a "fit part" right now so he'll have a reason to get buff) and how childhood obesity often comes from kids not being able to get healthy food. Then he talked about his friend, the late futurist and deep-thinker Buckminster Fuller, who came up with, among other nifty stuff, the geodesic dome.

Bucky, as Bridges called him, had an idea that was so simple and profound to him that Fuller had it carved on his tombstone: the idea that individuals can be a trimtab. "Call me Trimtab," Fuller's headstone says. No, seriously. You can look it up.

What's a trimtab, you might ask? Well, when it comes to vast, oceangoing ships — think oil tankers, cargo ships, the Queen Mary II and the like — the amount of force required to turn the barn door-sized rudder at full steam is monumental. Somewhere back in history, however, engineers realized that they could put a much, much smaller rudder — a trimtab — at the tail end of a big ol' rudder. It takes a lot less effort to turn a trimtab. When the trimtab turns, it creates a low-pressure spot in the water. That low-pressure spot helps pull the larger rudder around, and that, in turn, turns the ship.

Fuller saw this as an idea that could be applied to people getting things done. Think you're too small and powerless to change the world? Turn in the direction you want to go. Move in the direction you wish to see the world move. Reach out to those who have more influence than you do and pull them in that direction. Thereby you can turn the ship of society. Or so the theory goes. A little wacky, yes. But so was Bucky Fuller.

That's what Bridges was doing in Arkansas on Monday, he said: Call him trimtab. Years ago, somebody with much less fame and money and Academy Awards than he has today bent his ear on the issue of childhood hunger. They trimtabbed him into caring. Thirty years later, he's still turned in that direction. On Monday, for example, he was trimtabbing the good ol' governor of the Great State of Arkansas, a man of power and political influence, who surely wanted an autographed "Tron" poster for Ginger. And thus, somebody you never heard of — who talked to somebody, who talked to somebody, who talked to an actor named Jeff Bridges around 1985 — has incrementally moved the world.

The Observer, come to think of it, is trimtabbing you right now, come to think of it. Here goes: For more information about Share Our Strength's No Kid Hungry campaign, visit its website at nokidhungry.org.

SIDE NOTE: After the comments from the panel assembled at the Statehouse Convention Center, the moderator opened the floor for questions. Hands shot up, and microphones circulated. Deep and meaningful questions about childhood hunger and the impact of breakfast on test scores were asked. The Observer, meanwhile, had to put his hand in a pocket to keep it down, lest we embarrass our self by asking the question that has haunted Yours Truly since 1998: In "The Big Lebowski," is Sam Elliott supposed to be God? That's one query we'd like to trimtab to a definitive answer.

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