From the e-mails and voice mails.
FROM ACROSS THE POND — In its Jan. 23 edition, the British publication "The Economist" details the plight of the Central Valley in an article calling it "The Appalachia of the West."
In smaller type: "California's agricultural heartland threatens to become a wasteland."
The story depicts the valley's woes, with southern San Joaquin Valley farmers bemoaning the demise of agriculture because of the lack of water. Former Modesto Mayor Carol Whiteside, founder of the "Great Valley Centre" (note the British spelling of "center") is quoted saying the valley's lack of education is a big cause of the region's economic problems.
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The story concludes that water, demographics and low education levels in an area so tied to one industry, agriculture, "has led to the comparisons with Appalachia, which has also relied on a declining extractive industry (coal mining) and has suffered from high unemployment, poverty and a relatively unskilled work force."
The article is typical of one written by an outsider: Drop in, get out and then depict an entire way of life in 16 inches or less.
At least the unnamed writer didn't use the "dusty little farm town" tag so often applied to Modesto and other valley towns.
A GLITCH — Modesto's Evan Jost spent five-plus years in the Marines as a network administrator building computer networks that allow units to communicate in Iraq.
While he was in the service, he signed up for a couple of online classes through Modesto Junior College. The Marines routinely pay for college classes taken while in the service.
He completed the courses in spring 2009 and submitted his grades to the Marines' Joint Education Center at Camp Pendleton near San Diego, so that the Marines could pay the $160 in fees.
Just before his hitch ended in January, he learned the bill hadn't been paid.
"I'm getting ready to get out, and I received a phone call from a collection agency," said Jost, 23. "My bill from MJC hadn't been paid."
So he went back to the Marines' education office to find out why it hadn't been paid. They told him they had never received a bill from the school.
It comes down to this: The Marines won't pay unless MJC bills them.
They gave him a voucher explaining the process, telling him to present it to MJC.
The college, meanwhile, won't bill the Marines. It bills the student. It's a student's responsibility, not MJC's, to make sure the bill gets paid.
He can either pay upfront and ask the Marines to reimburse him, or get a credit card authorization, meaning, in essence, he gets the Marines to pay on their Visa or MasterCard.
"It's not about the money," he said. He can afford the $160. It's that he can get units in remote outposts in Iraq to communicate, yet something is lost in the translation back home.
MARISSA'S CLOSET — More than 300 people donated prom dresses to Marissa's Closet during last weekend's Ripon Almond Blossom Festival.
A year ago, Ripon High senior Marissa McLeod began collecting the dresses to give to girls who otherwise couldn't afford them.
McLeod took her own life in Dec. 2009, but her mother, Melinda Shaw, decided to perpetuate the dress collecting and giveaway as a tribute to her daughter.
She and others, including 11-year-old niece Alexis Garcia, have collected more than 1,000 dresses with more donations coming. I wrote about their project in my Feb. 4 column.
They will distribute the dresses March 13-14 and again March 20-21 at the old Ripon Drugs building, 410 Main Street in Ripon.
Visit www.marissascloset. org for more information, including how to donate dresses.
HELPING HAITIANS — Bee subscribers who read Sunday's Parade Magazine story on people helping in Haiti might have recognized a familiar name and face.
Dr. Tina Edraki, who once had an obstetrics/ gynecology practice in Modesto, had been doing volunteer work in Haiti even before the earthquake devastated the country Jan. 12.
After it hit, she returned to Port-au-Prince and delivered a baby for a woman who had lost three children in the disaster.
The mom named the baby Tina Rose, after Edraki and Rose Cabot, a nurse from New Jersey who also responded to the need for help.
It wasn't Edraki's first time in the national spotlight. She was Laci Peterson's physician and testified for the prosecution during Scott Peterson's murder trial in 2004.
Edraki moved to the Bay Area a few years ago and practices in San Ramon. She'll return to Haiti on Wednesday.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at 578-2383 or email@example.com.