Patients and Prudence

Club med: I just want to commend you on your excellent series on the so-called rent-a-patient fraud ("Hypocritic Oath," Paul Rubin, December 18). I am a financial planner based here in Phoenix and in Hartford, Connecticut. The stories as written were entertaining and extremely informative, and should serve as a road map for law enforcement and the insurance industry to follow in the next months.

Rolf Simpson
West Hartford, Connecticut

Dollars and Sense

Scam I am: Congratulations on an excellent piece of analysis showing that the $1 billion in proposed Civic Center and supporting expenditures is a major waste of money ("Big Scam Theory," Michael Lacey, December 18). Unfortunately, there are many other local examples, including our taxpayer-funded Bank One Ballpark, America West Arena, public school "Taj Mahal" facilities, ASU's research expansion, Sky Harbor's renovations, light rail, the county hospital's renovations, Tempe Town Lake, the Central Arizona Project, and ever-expanding jails and prisons for minor-drug offenders. It turns out that government runs the biggest "con game" of all.

Loyd Eskildson
Via e-mail

Memory lane: Reading Michael Lacey's accounts of downtown brought back 20 years of memories, of a time when everything west of 57th Avenue was cotton fields, of birthday parties at KiddieLand, of ice skating lessons at Metrocenter Ice Rink.

In the midst of this amazing diary, the most important point he makes is one that is critical of the downtown art scene. As he states, the issue to me is critical: Either we get our act together or we will forfeit our opportunity to change Phoenix forever.

I grew up here. Transplanted from New York by my parents, I am a product of public high school arts, and it was my ceramics teacher and arts director who went on to found the very first charter arts school, New School for the Arts.

I complained for 15 years that I lived in a cultureless city, and escaped to Rhode Island School of Design in 1994. I returned five years later and everyone insisted that I go to Scottsdale, because that's where the art was. And if I'd been in the business of ceramic chile peppers, perhaps that might be true, but I was convinced I should be in downtown Phoenix.

And now, as I joke to my friends, there is a downtown scene, I'm just not part of it. But there's good reason, too. The scene is soulless. The power players are mostly young, dyed and angry-looking. I often want to remind people that simply moving downtown does not an artist make. There is no homage downtown, because there is no older generation to pay homage to.

There was a time when I was convinced I would leave Phoenix for a "real city." One with actual skyscrapers, no parking and where they actually understand what a creative director does. And I watch, from the sidelines, as things develop downtown . . . waiting.

Amanda Blum

Acquiring assets: My first office after college was downtown on the mezzanine of the Old Adams Hotel. On the First Street side, we drove our cars into a room that could hold two or three cars. An attendant would then drive the car onto a one-car elevator and take it upstairs to be parked. The process was reversed when we needed to get the car back.

The Adams was soon sold. Our little operation was ordered out, even though we had three years to go on our lease. We said no. There was talk about going outside to settle the issue. We settled with an agreement that allowed us to loot the place in exchange for tearing up our lease -- after all, the plan was to blow the old building up. I will not even mention how many truckloads of furniture it took to move our small three-room office over a period of days. But I still have a carved table from Mexico that once occupied a place of honor in the Old Adams. The building was soon blown up and replaced by today's hotel with its many incarnations over the years.

I have been south of Palm Lane for most of the last 30 years, in the same place for more than 10 years now. Your story brought back memories of great places and great hopes, never realized. Maybe tomorrow.

Tom Irvine

Bland ambition: My wife and I currently reside in Washington, D.C. (I work for the government and do photography on the side; she is a student), a town with vibrant downtown neighborhoods and a solid nightlife. My wife will be graduating with her MBA in May and she was offered a job with Intel in Chandler. We're seriously considering taking the offer, but it's plans like the ones detailed in your piece that make me think twice about making the move. There's nothing worse than a soulless, commercial downtown area à la any of the "citywalks" (Orlando or L.A., take your pick). We like city life and would love to hear of plans for a downtown that included bars, quality restaurants, cafes, art galleries, lofts, row houses, etc. I guess all I have to say here is that I would like to know that there's a ray of hope for Phoenix that would make me more confident of the move, at least with the idea that it could be more than a two-year stop for us on the way to a more exciting city.  

Neil MacLean
Gaithersburg, Maryland

Said Ingest

Barely palatable: Stephen Lemons' opening paragraph cracked me up, but the rest of the restaurant review for Cartwright's was like the torture of a self-indulgent magazine editor who insists on a self-help column in the voice of her pet dog ("Cave Creek Carnivores," December 18). I will loyally stay tuned, despite an apparent new palate for cliché uncle and nephews, to your weekly's standard. Food is refreshment, life's update, and I am hoping that Stephen does not read my awful metaphors.

John Higa

The Sky Is Falling

Promises, promises: I am writing to provide you some background information regarding Mesa Airlines, its hiring practices, and the composition of its pilot group and corporate structure ("Unfriendly Skies," Robert Nelson, December 11). These items might have already been apparent to you had you done some investigation of your own beyond merely interviewing Mr. Frank Nickman. As a former captain for Mesa Airlines, I am happy to provide you with the information that, if included in your story, would have given your piece some semblance of credibility.

While you mention several times in your column that Mesa Airlines "promises [sic] a job" upon graduation, that is in fact not true. You allude to the truth elsewhere in the piece. Mesa Airlines promises an interview to successful graduates. Nowhere does it promise a job. In Mr. Nickman's case, he received three such interviews. You propose this treatment was due in part to company officials looking for a reason not to hire Mr. Nickman. I, however, believe that they were looking for any way possible to hire him. It was only after three unsuccessful personal interviews with different interview groups that the decision was made not to hire Mr. Nickman. I believe that he was given these opportunities because of how good he looked on paper. I know that if I, and others that I know, had a less than adequate first interview, we wouldn't have been offered a second, or even third, chance. The Mesa Pilot Development Program relies on its success rate in providing qualified applicants to Mesa Airlines. They advertise a 98 percent success rate in achieving this objective. Any fifth grader can tell you that 98 percent means not everyone gets hired. Mr. Nickman is neither the first nor the last to not make the cut. The airline receives no benefits from purposely lowering its success rate. The idea that "airline officials don't want an Arab-looking pilot scaring the hell out of their passengers" is also another poor attempt to arouse the fears that passengers felt after 9/11. I flew with several Arab pilots in the post-9/11 climate, and while they sometimes see the strange looks and endure longer screenings at airport security checkpoints, they have never felt that a passenger refused to fly on a flight on which they were crew members.

While Mr. Nickman scored well academically, as a current airline pilot I can assure you that there are many more important facets that compose the "perfect pilot-in-training." A pilot must possess the knowledge, skill and personality traits necessary to ensure the safety of the aircraft, passengers and crew. While earning a 100 percent on the Airline Transport Pilot written exam is worth a pat on the back, it does not guarantee that a pilot candidate will pass muster when it comes to piloting skill or making the right judgment call when under pressure. Likewise, Mr. Nickman's academic scores while attending San Juan College are not an accurate measure of his ability to operate a commercial aircraft. If simply paying $50,000 assured your success in a given field, then by all means, sign me up for the "Bill Gates Microsoft CEO Training Program."

Neither you nor I was present for any of Mr. Nickman's interviews, so to solely base your column on what you have been told by Mr. Nickman is, in my opinion, shoddy journalism. Perhaps the most telling, yet unreported, fact is that while Mr. Nickman was in flight training in Farmington, New Mexico, Mesa Airlines' chief pilot (airline speak for a management pilot to whom all other pilots directly report) was in fact none other than an Afghani. This pilot has since moved into an even higher level management position within the company. I find it hard to substantiate the claim that Mesa Airlines discriminated against an Iranian-born citizen because of his national origin and/or religion, when during the same time frame, it promoted a Middle Eastern pilot to the top pilot position within the company. How do you explain that, Mr. Nelson?  

While I am sorry that Mr. Nickman suffered the hardships associated with putting all of his life savings, his time, and his efforts into something that he loves to do, becoming an airline pilot isn't a job for everyone. I wish him the best of luck in finding a career that better suits him; perhaps something in the legal field?

Bryan K. Sexton
Honolulu, Hawaii

Questions of origin: Here's the obvious question raised by your column about the discrimination faced by Frank Nickman in Mesa Air Group because of his national origin: I happen to be an American-born guy of European descent, so why didn't I face the same kind of harassment when I tried to rent a moving van? Thanks for continuing to notice things the mainstream press didn't.

Robert B. Williams III

Bloody good: Thank you for your column "Unfriendly Skies." This kind of injustice makes my blood boil -- and I would guess yours, too! It is disheartening to see how many people just take the easy way out, lumping people together in categories. Hope your efforts have some effect.

Karen Courtenay
Via e-mail

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