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The Observer, Aug. 19

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The Observer's younger brother (we just mistyped "bother," but to paraphrase and vastly condense Freud, there are no typos) is an IT guy, one of those computer geeks at a company whose job description is to save us from our techno-illiterate selves. From hearing him talk about his job, it occurs to us that he could spare himself a lot of breath by simply having a T-shirt printed that says "Did you restart?" and then point to it every time he enters someone's office. That said, he seems to genuinely enjoy what he does, even though the ones-and-zeroes gene apparently skipped right over Yours Truly.

That is not to say, however, that his job doesn't make him slap his forehead so hard that he nearly blacks out sometimes. Take his recent account of dealing with an end-user over the phone:

BRO: "Okay, go to My Computer."

GUY: "I'm at my computer."

BRO: "No. There's a file marked My Computer."

GUY: "OK, I see it."

BRO: "OK. Now, go to C drive."

GUY: "I see several drives."

It's like "Who's On First" for the new age.


Have you ever wondered where Riverfest buttons come from?

It may not be the deepest question you've ever asked, but the answer is nonetheless a satisfying one. The Observer learned it last week on a visit to the United Cerebral Palsy of Arkansas headquarters, in West Little Rock.

There at the headquarters is CP Buttons. It's a workshop where people with cerebral palsy and other neurological afflictions make all kinds of buttons.

Cerebral palsy inhibits a person's ability to perform ordinary tasks. It can affect communication, cognition and behavioral skills. There is no cure. But though most people with cerebral palsy require assistance in their daily lives, CP Buttons shows they can still be productive.

Pauline Piggee has been the floor supervisor of the workshop for 27 years. She says her workers, who include folks with Down syndrome and other forms of retardation, probably do a better job of making buttons than most people would. The mechanical equipment is simple to use, and they are able to focus on the task in such a way that makes getting ready for Riverfest — when they're contracted to make more than 100,000 buttons — a piece of cake.

They also make buttons for the Miss Arkansas pageant, family reunions, churches — anyone who wants to use buttons as a promotional tool. Because of their intense concentration they can do their job very quickly; turnaround is typically three to five days. They also perform a variety of other odd jobs like putting together notepads and stuffing envelopes.

The public gets its buttons, but there are more profound things at work. While efficiently providing a service, the workers are getting a handle on life skills. "The entire program is set up as a way to enhance their lives," Piggee says.

There's fun time as well. Piggee's workers are given time to surf the web, play video games, watch movies, and interact with one another. In her experience, no two days are the same. "Some days you have to be a psychologist. Some days you have to be a mother. Some days you have to be a doctor. And some days you have to be a peacemaker. That keeps it interesting for me."

Those of us who can are lucky to be able to drive a car, text a message. But there are different kinds of luck, even for those who are usually thought of as unlucky. A Riverfest button reminds us of that.


The Observer, struggling to get through the simple tasks of going to the grocery store and such during those days Little Rock's temperature was like the surface of the sun's — you know, just when the car air conditioner starts to work it's time to stop and get out again — found ourselves thinking, for the first time, about desertification. What if all these shriveling trees in our once greenly-leafed town suddenly just keeled over, like we felt like doing on the asphalt in front of Kroger? What if palms ousted our oaks, and we had nary an ocean to escape to? And what if Canada, to stave off an invasion from the south, started building a wall along its border to keep out the hot, thirsty masses?

For the record, for anyone reading this Observer column in the future, that's how hot it's been.

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