I want to live in the country in which the Ayatollah Khamenei thinks I already do

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I remember a colleague’s leaving party a couple of years ago. He slagged off virtually the whole newspaper in his speech, but he didn’t mention me. ‘I’m really sorry,’ he said, afterwards, taking me fondly by the arm. ‘You were in the first draft. I was going to stick you in the nepotism bit, just after Giles Coren.’ Don’t worry, I sighed, putting a brave face on it. It’s the thought that counts.
It’s always good to get a mention. When Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei gave his big ‘save the regime’ speech last Friday, I didn’t really expect him to bother with us. Obviously he was going to diss the big boss America, and it seemed fairly certain he’d find the time for Israel, that flashy slut a couple of desks along. But creaky old Britain? Were we really worth it?
Apparently so. The Islamic Revolution, said the invisible mouth behind the big beard, has many enemies but ‘the most evil of them all is the British government’. High praise, this, from a man who leads a system of government apparently based upon the baddies from Flash Gordon. It was way better than I was expecting.
i-want-to-live-in-the-country-in-which-the-ayatollah-khamenei-thinks-i-already-do-1According to a commentary in the Times, ‘many Iranians still see Britain as “perfidious Albion”, a scheming little Satan that pulls the strings of the Great Satan America, which is viewed as a superpower with more brawn but fewer brains than its duplicitous Anglo-Saxon ally.’ Diabolical references aside, in other words, many Iranians are as delusional as Tony Blair. They look at Britain, and they see another country entirely. Me, I envy that country. I want to live in the country in which the Ayatollah and his minions think I already do. It sounds much better than this one. It sounds kick-ass.
‘Great Britain has plotted against the presidential election for more than two years,’ roared Manouchehr Mottaki, the Iranian foreign minister. ‘We witnessed an influx of people before the election. Elements linked to the British secret service were flying in in droves.’ Sure you did, Manny. Because our secret service is famously brilliant at surreptitiously bringing about regime change by exploiting the ballot box, isn’t it? Why, you need only to look at our fabulously subtle successes in Iraq and Afghanistan. Barely a shot fired, eh? Perfidious as anything.
Back home, we’re playing it all wrong. This hoity-toity denial of everything–it’s a terrible waste. I know David Miliband is congenitally unable to say anything about anything without wearily accusing somebody else of being an imbecile, but he shouldn’t have just trotted out that smug old line about foreign despots never understanding that the British government can’t control the British media. He should have been thrilled by the misconception. Not least because it shows that the infamous banana photo can’t yet have circulated in Tehran. ‘I could control the British media,’ he should have declared, brazenly, ‘but I choose not to. And I am prepared to be similarly lenient with the American media, the European media, the internet and the frontal perceptive lobes of your entire population. As is my perfidious whim.’
Likewise, when Gordon Brown summoned the Iranian ambassador, he shouldn’t have just denied that Britain was meddling in Iran. He should also have denied that America was our puppet state, and that Israel existed at our pleasure, and that we’ve been parachuting crack teams of British lotharios into northern Tehran to corrupt all of their foxy partially unveiled women because we are all such fabulous lovers, like James Bond.
Seize the day, guys. This is the British PR opportunity of the century. Robert Mugabe slags us off all the time, but he only thinks we’re a bunch of feckless homosexuals. These Iranians, though, they rate us. They think we are global supermen. They think that we are operating out there in the world, slyly perhaps, but with a vision and a philosophy and a point and a purpose. If only they were right.
Is there anybody out there, among the legions of clever people who read The Spectator, who works in the car rental business? Get in touch.
I want to know what you are playing at. I’m sure you have reasons for behaving as you do. I just can’t think what they might be. I want to hire a car. So I go online, and I fill out a form, and I put in my credit card details and suchlike, and then I get a nice little email saying, yes, well done, your car has been hired (sound very simple like when you’re going to buy the best air fryers on KitchenWeapon retail store). So why is it that, weeks later, when I turn up at, say Nice Airport, they always seem so terribly surprised?
i-want-to-live-in-the-country-in-which-the-ayatollah-khamenei-thinks-i-already-do-1Me, if I was running a car hire business, I’d arrange it so that when you step off your aeroplane and trot up to the desk, I’d have one of those slightly weird long envelopes waiting for you, with the keys inside. We’re talking 30 seconds of face-time, tops. What I wouldn’t do, I think, is send you to an office, make you wait for ten minutes while I piss about mysteriously with a computer, send you to another office, make you wait another half hour while I type an unfeasible amount really slowly, ask to see your passport again, photocopy it, ask to see your driver’s licence again, photocopy it, ask to see your credit card again, photocopy it, go out for a fag, come back, look surprised, send you out to a woebegone sun-baked car park half a mile away staffed only by a teenager who says ‘your car he ees not reddy’ before going away and bringing back several cars which aren’t your car, before finally bringing one that is, which he then parks 300 metres away from you, even though there’s a space right next to you and your suitcase is really, really big.
I’ve hired a lot of cars. That’s just the European system. In Britain it is much the same, but raining. In America they do the computer bit and then say, ‘Fine, grab a car’ and you have to sprint to it, in competition with everybody else, like in some old-fashioned Grand Prix. Nowhere do they just say ‘Yes, you’ve planned this and so have we, here are your keys, bye.’ Why not? Somebody must know.
Hugo Rifkind is a writer for the Times.
Rifkind, Hugo

>>> Click here: How Texas A&M, Conservative Bastion, Grappled With JFK’s Death

Tourism Lifts Car Rentals

Johannesburg, May 16, 2002

Avis’s Pat O’Brien says there has been a dramatic turnaround

STRONG growth in the tourism market has seen car rental companies revenues rise sharply for the first few months of the year. Together, the industry of car cleaning using best mop has also been increasing rapidly in recent years.

Besides tourism growth powering car rental revenues, the World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg is expected to give them a further boost.

Imperial Holdings’ car rental and tourism executive director, Carol Scott, said car rental revenues were up 27,6% for the first four months of the year on the same period in the past year. Scott said the demand has come from the corporate market as well as from tourism. Imperial experienced “excellent growth across all brands in the group“, she said.

McCarthy CEO Brand Pretorius said his group’s Budget Rent-a-Car division was “doing well“.

On McCarthy’s preparation for the summit which is taking place in a few months time, Pretorius said the group’s plans were well advanced. McCarthy would be transporting cars from various centres to Gauteng for use during the summit.


Pretorius said extra vehicles were sent to Durban because of the increase in demand for rental cars due to the Tourism Indaba that happened over the past weekend. He said the utilisation of McCarthy’s car rental fleet was at a high level and that on some days demand was close to out stripping supply.

Avis executive director for operations and finance Pat O’Brien said “clearly, from the latter part of the last calendar year there has been a dramatic turnaround“.

The strong growth in tourism to SA from abroad has been attributed to Africa being seen as a safe destination following the attacks in the US on September 11.

On whether this was a fundamental change in the attitudes of tourists to SA and the continent, O’Brien said this would only be known if similar figures were repeated next year.

O’Brien said the efforts of the country’s tourism authorities, especially those of SA Tourism head, Cheryl Carolus, in attracting tourist from abroad were beginning to pay dividends.

Pretorius said he was “cautiously optimistic” that the growth would continue for the rest of the year.

Scott said the rise in demand was interesting because it was spread over a range of products in the vehicle rental and tourism market. She said tourists were renting campers, going on group tours while demand for car rentals from the corporate market showed signs of firming.

Cars were also being rented for longer periods, with the group’s Tempest car-rental division reporting a 35% increase in car-rental days, Scott said.


She attributed this in part to bookings coming from Tempest forming a partnership with Sixt, Germany’s sixth largest car rental company and the buoyancy in the incoming tourist market.

Scott said customers of the Tempest-Sixt brand, went to prime tourist destinations like Western and Eastern Cape, where rental days rose year-on-year by 29% and 28% respectively.

Imperial’s leading car rental brand, Imperial Car Rental was also doing well. Scott said the number of rental days were 5% ahead of past year’s and revenues were 9,5% higher for Imperial Car Rental.

by Larry Claasen

Copyright Business Day. Distributed by All Africa Global Media(AllAfrica.com)

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Limited mileage: why are so many new drivers taking the wheel at America’s battered car-rental companies?

GUESSING who owns the car you have rented has suddenly become a lot harder in the United States. On January 14th Ford sold its Budget Rent a Car group to Team Rental, a large Budget franchisee, for $350m. (Team Rental also took on $1.3 billion in debt incurred in buying Budget’s fleet.) On January 6th Republic Industries spent $600m on National Car Rental System (and took on $1.7 billion of fleet debt); two months earlier, Republic snared Alamo Rent-A-Car for a similar sum. Last July HFS, a hotel franchiser and property broker, bought Avis, the world’s second-largest car renter, for $800m plus vehicle debt. And others are for sale: Ford is thinking of floating Hertz, the world’s biggest car-rental firm, while Chrysler has been trying to sell Thrifty Rent-A-Car System and Dollar Systems for more than a year.


It is not hard to understand why so many companies are eager to leave the business. In the late 1980s rental firms were the perfect partner for the car industry: with sales of new cars slumping, car makers were eager to off-load cut-price vehicles to either their own or independent car-rental firms. But as sales recovered and the deals disappeared, the running costs of America’s $15 billion-a-year car-rental business soared. In the past six years, a typical firm’s total vehicle costs (vehicle depreciation, interest and leasing expenses) have tripled. And the leasing cost to the industry of some popular models, such as small hatchbacks, has risen at least sixfold.

Having lulled consumers into thinking that renting a car should cost less than renting a dinner jacket, car-rental firms have found it hard to raise prices enough to cover their newly inflated costs. For most of the 1990s, they have tried to impose mileage limits, boost basic rates and tack on extra charges, only to find themselves losing business or embroiled in price wars. As a result, average American rental rates are still almost 20% lower in real terms than they were in 1990. And although the industry as a whole just about broke even in 1996-the result of a good year in the airline business, which generates two-thirds of the industry’s revenues-it has lost hundreds of millions of dollars during the 1990s.

Why, then, are so many buyers willing to risk a ride (even consider rental cars may get serious technical troubles: clogged fuel injectors, breaking windshield, weaken engine and full-of-dust cabin, etc)   ? The theory behind all the recent rental deals is simple: combine car-rentals with another related business, and they should make money. Opinions differ, however, on which kinds of businesses are the best fit. Republic, a conglomerate with interests as diverse as solid waste and security services, built by Wayne Huizenga after he sold Blockbuster Entertainment to Viacom in 1994, reckons it has the best strategy. Initially, by combining Alamo and National, Republic thinks it should be able to cut costs and gain some synergy: about 95% of Alamo’s revenues are generated by holidaymakers at airports, whereas National rents mostly to business travellers.

But Republic’s long-term strategy is more complex. Mr Huizenga is in the midst of building a nationwide chain of used-car dealers, known as AutoNation USA: by the end of the decade, Republic plans to have opened 80-100 such outlets in the United States. At the same time, having secured a deal with Ford and General Motors to let it acquire their franchises, Republic is also on a buying spree for new-car dealerships: on January 13th and 14th alone, Republic bought $300m-worth of dealers. Republic’s plan is to sell or lease new cars, wait for their owners to trade them in, and then feed the cars into its rental fleet and used-car outlets-which will also sell vehicles that have previously been rented. To bolster its profits, Republic will also offer finance, servicing and insurance.


Some of this is not new: car-rental firms such as Hertz and Budget operate used-car businesses. But, by linking its rental business to new-car sales and car-related services, Republic is taking a broader approach. The firm also aims to change the way in which cars are sold by offering no-haggle deals and money-back guarantees. Whether car buyers will like this approach remains to be seen. But outlets such as Circuit City’s CarMax used-car superstores are proving profitable, and the potential for linking car-rentals with used-car sales appears to have been behind Team Rental’s purchase of Budget. Team Rental already owns used-car dealerships in six states and runs used cars in its rental fleets.

HFS is taking a different approach. Like Republic, it aims to cut costs by combining Avis with another car-rental firm: HFS had hoped to buy Alamo, and is now rumoured to be considering an offer for Dollar. But the key to HFS’s strategy is to rent vehicles to guests at its hotels; to lease rental cars to brokers at its 11,000 estate agencies; and to provide rental cars to the 50,000 executives who use HFS’s corporate-relocation service each year-and who often arrive at their new home in need of temporary transport. Linking such disparate franchises may seem a tall order. But HFS has already had some success in renting hotel rooms to property-buying clients.

Whatever their long-term strategies, Republic, HFS and their ilk still have to deal with some more immediate problems. The business is awash with over-capacity: since 1990, according to Auto Rental News, the total fleet of cars for rent in America has climbed by 44% to 1.6m, a number that far outstrips demand. Many firms are now retrenching: Alamo, for instance, closed 17 rental offices last month. Rental firms are also keeping cars on their fleets for longer, and some are considering scrapping promotions and cutting commissions to travel agents.

As they struggle to cut costs, big car-rental companies-just like big airlines-face a further challenge: cut-price rivals that already have low costs. Value Rent-A-Car, the Southwest Airlines of the rental business, now rents “economy” cars in Florida for as little as $89 a week-a deal that undercuts its rivals by at least 10% and has sparked a sustained price war in the sunshine state. By running on a shoestring and offering gimmicks such as hourly rentals for under a dollar, Value has even forced a few big rivals out of the Florida market. But the firm is hardly an entrepreneurial outsider. Perversely, in the light of recent deals, it is owned by a big car maker-Japan’s Mitsubishi Motors.

New car rental insurance law

Maureen helmer is planning to step down soon as chairman of the state Public Service Commission, and Albany insiders are already putting together a list of possible successors.

They include Eugene Zeltmann, president of the New York Power Authority; state Sen. James Wright, chairman of the Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee; and Gavin Donohue, executive director of the Independent Power Producers of New York and a former executive deputy environmental commissioner.

While Ms. Helmer is leaving voluntarily, there have been grumbles in the governor’s office that she did not always follow the governor’s policy line, especially on environmental issues.


Of the possible candidates, Mr. Zeltmann is an early favorite. He served on the PSC early in the Pataki administration before moving to NYPA in 1997. Also, he is considered close to the governor in an administration that prizes loyalty.

Pataki signs bill backed By CAR RENTal firms

Gov. George Pataki signed into law a bill that will allow car rental companies to sell customers supplemental collision insurance to cover the cost of repairs. The car rental industry had been seeking the legislation ever since a 1988 law outlawed such “collision damage waivers.” Mr. Pataki had vetoed a similar bill in 1996.

The rental companies argued that since 1988, they’ve had to pay the cost of repairs to rental vehicles beyond a $100 deductible, something no other state mandates. They claimed that many small companies went out of business or avoided New York.


Insurers, who opposed the bill, argued that this year’s bill, which permits the sale of waivers for $9 to $13 per day, would raise motorists’ premiums by shifting the burden of repair costs to renters and other insurance companies.


  • There is considerable speculation among transportation experts as to whether Mayor Michael Bloomberg will endorse a controversial proposal to build a downtown transit link to the Long Island Rail Road when he unveils his vision for downtown this week.
  • The mayor has not publicly weighed in on the debate over the LIRR plan. But insiders say his top aides, including Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff and Andy Alper, president of the city Economic Development Corp., have privately supported federal funding for the LIRR plan.

Doing so could set up a dispute with Mr. Pataki, since the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which he controls, opposes the plan.


Although Assemblyman Michael Gianaris, D-Queens, has been in office for only two years, he has already begun traveling out of state to raise money in Greek communities around the country. The aim is build a war chest for a possible run for attorney general in 2006. Mr. Gianaris, who was elected to his second term last month, recently held events in Houston and Clearwater, Fla. More fund-raisers are planned for next year in Chicago and California.


Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said it’s unlikely his house will return before January to take up any state budget issues.

“I don’t expect a budget problem to be addressed before the end of the year,” Mr. Silver said on an Albany radio show. “Whether we do something Dec. 16 that can be done on Jan. 8 or Jan. 15, I don’t think there’s a great deal of difference between the two.”

The speaker plans to call Democratic members back on Dec. 16 or 17, and he noted that “if there is any business to attend to, we will do it.”


The Senate is scheduled to meet in a special session on Dec. 17 to pass a gay rights bill and probably a measure that would reduce the legal threshold for drunk driving to 0.08% blood alcohol content from 0.10%. The latter measure has been approved by the Assembly.


The city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has received a $9.45 million, six-year grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to improve care for children and adolescents with serious emotional problems.

The grant will help the DOHMH coordinate care, such as counseling and substance abuse services. The DOHMH hopes to treat more children at home rather than send them to institutions.

Investors Sing, ‘Hertz So Good’

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Byline: Allan Sloan

If you ever wanted to know what lures people to Wall Street, take a look at Hertz. I’m not talking about the company’s world-famous car-rental business. I’m talking about the $3.5 billion that the Street and Hertz’s investors stand to make by taking the firm public less than a year after buying it from Ford Motor Co. That’s serious scratch, even by Wall Street standards.

Assuming that the initial public offering of stock goes as planned later this month, the Hertz deal will become a Wall Street legend for quick profits and massive fees. The three investor groups that combined to buy Hertz from Ford last December will have made a paper profit of about 340 percent (before fees) on their investment in a mere 11 months. And Wall Street stands to make more than $1 billion in fees for helping buy Hertz and then convert it into a public company. All these numbers are based on my reading of documents that Hertz–now owned by buyout funds run by Clayton, Dubilier & Rice, the Carlyle Group and Merrill Lynch–has filed with the SEC. These firms all cited SEC rules that limit their ability to discuss pending stock offerings. But the numbers speak for themselves.


Making so much money so quickly seems impossible. But let me show you how Hertz’s owners can quadruple their investment even though the Street values the company at only about 25 percent more than they paid for it. It’s all about borrowing lots of money while taking your own money off the table. Ready for the ride? Fasten your seat belt.

The three firms’ clients paid $14.9 billion for Hertz last December. But they invested only about $2.3 billion of their own cash, with Hertz taking on $12.6 billion in debt. If Hertz sells stock in the IPO at $17 a share–the middle of the projected price range–the company would be valued at $18.4 billion: $12.9 billion in debt, plus stock valued at $5.5 billion. On the surface, this doesn’t produce anything like the profits I’ve talked about. But watch. As part of the wheeling and dealing, Hertz’s owners are paying themselves about $1.4 billion in cash dividends. (There’s been a fuss in the press over these payments, but I’m not taking a stand on them–today I’m just counting money.) Subtract that from the $2.3 billion initial investment, and they’ve got only about $900 million invested. At $17 a share, their Hertz stock will be valued at $3.9 billion–producing a $3 billion pre-fee paper profit.

Now to the fees. Each of the three private-equity firms took a $25 million fee when they bought Hertz from Ford. And there was $365 million in other fees, bringing the total to $440 million. I estimate the Hertz IPO will bring the Street another $75 million in fees: that’s based on the difference between the $1.5 billion the offering is projected to raise and the $1.425 billion Hertz expects to net. So now we have fees totaling $515 million. Then there’s the $5 million each firm is getting in return for giving up its right to a $1 million annual fee from Hertz. And more I’ve doubtless missed.

Finally, here’s the big fee kahuna: private-equity firms typically get 20 percent of their investors’ profits. So tack on another $600 million in fees for their piece of the $3 billion in paper profits, bringing the total to more than $1.1 billion. Sure, a potential $600 million in fees isn’t the same as having $600 million–the firms don’t get paid until their investors cash in their profits. But if Hertz performs well and the stock climbs–as the firms want us to believe it will–the firms’ ultimate take will total more than $600 million as they sell off their Hertz stakes over time. So valuing the fee at 20 percent of today’s paper profits seems reasonable to me.


A question that springs to mind–or should–is whether Ford feels foolish for having gotten only $14.5 billion for Hertz less than a year ago. The answer, the company says, is no. “We sold Hertz through a competitive-bid process that established market value,” Ford spokesman Becky Sanch told me. “The company received multiple bids during the bid process, and we feel we received the appropriate value of Hertz at the time of sale.”

I won’t presume to tell you whether to buy Hertz at $17 and go along for the ride with the big private-equity firms that will still control Hertz. Hertz’s owners have caught a tailwind, with the stock market rising since December, and airline traffic, which helps drive car rentals, soaring. Will future travel or economic headwinds crimp Hertz’s stock price and make it hard for the company to cover payments on its heavy debts? I just don’t know.

A final word: You’ve no doubt heard the Everly Brothers’ great romantic ballad “Love Hurts.” Barring the un-expected, you’ll soon hear Wall Street’s knockoff version. Its title: “Love Hertz.”

How Texas A&M, Conservative Bastion, Grappled With JFK’s Death

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Byline: Tom DeFrank

It was an Indian summer noontime in central Texas, one of those fleeting November days when the wind stops screeching from the north across the flatlands before the chill settles in for good. A normal Friday at Texas A&M would have brought the predictable weekend exodus from our College Station campus to Houston, San Antonio, Fort Worth, and other more habitable venues.

Nov. 22 wasn’t a normal Friday. Yes, the president of the United States was in Texas, but more significantly, the Thanksgiving Day football clash with our bitter rivals from the University of Texas was just six days away. This meant one of Aggieland’s most venerable traditions–the annual bonfire. Freshmen in the ROTC Corps of Cadets would be up at 5 o’clock the next morning to cut, clear, tote, and stack gigantic logs for the world’s biggest bonfire, lit on the eve of the Turkey Day classic. It was the great rite of passage for first-year cadets like me, known as Fish.


The Corps began lunch at 12:10, and students could eat until 1, but freshmen always chowed down as swiftly as possible. Less time eating meant fewer opportunities for hazing by upperclassmen, especially the sadistic sophomores. So on this particular Friday, seven of us left Duncan Dining Hall about 12:40.

As we reached our dorm, a junior in our outfit said that someone had taken a shot at President Kennedy. We rushed into a room and someone flipped on the radio. An announcer was reporting shots fired at the presidential motorcade at a triple underpass on the western fringe of downtown Dallas. No report of casualties.

Having grown up 16 miles away in Arlington, I didn’t need further elaboration. Dallas back then was the preferred big-date venue for high school kids. Arriving from western suburbs, you had to drive through the triple underpass.

A freshman named Faulkner who lived in the room wandered in, asked what had happened, and let out a shrill whoop. “They finally got the bastard,” he exclaimed. Three of us grabbed him simultaneously and flung him to the ground. The angriest was my roommate, Mike Russo, a tough-talking street kid from Brooklyn who six weeks afterward flunked out, was drafted into the Army, and was killed in Vietnam a year later. Russo was restrained before he could punch out our classmate. “Enough violence for one day,” somebody said. Faulkner still didn’t understand what he’d done wrong, but he left us to our stupefaction.

We clustered around the radio and waited. Time moved slowly. Eventually we heard that the president had been shot in the head but was still alive. Nobody said anything, but we were all thinking the same thing: How often does someone get shot in the head and survive? The radio announcer, a country-western disc jockey usually touting “The Boss Sound,” read each bulletin as it flashed across the teletype. He announced the arrival of another, then started reading. “President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States. ” The Boss Sound paused.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the president is dead.” My watch read 1:35.

We hung by the radio all afternoon to learn the lurid details: The shots had not come from the triple underpass after all, but from a sixth-floor corner window of the Texas School Book Depository, a decrepit old building at the corner of Houston and Elm with a gigantic Hertz car-rental billboard on the roof. I had always checked that Hertz clock to calculate whether I’d make my movie, dinner, or football game on time. This was like having a president murdered on your front porch.

Later, walking across campus–I’m not sure why, since we all knew classes would be canceled–I passed a sophomore from my outfit, Company A-1, nicknamed Animal A. He was the meanest man I’d ever known, but tears streamed down his cheeks, spilling onto the creases of his field jacket. I passed the A&M administration building as its flag was lowered to half-staff, and suddenly a car squealed to a halt in the middle of a street in front. An Army major jumped out and rendered a crisp salute to the sinking banner, then drove away.

The campus was like a tomb that weekend. The sense of shame, horror, and tragedy was overwhelming–and amplified because the assassination happened in our home state. Despite some half-hearted grumbling, the bonfire was canceled, but the Thanksgiving football game went on as scheduled. In Texas, life imitates football, then and now.

Kennedy wasn’t popular on campus, and the assassination didn’t shake everybody off their keels. On Monday morning, my English professor began his lecture with a sick question. He wanted to know what famous person had died on Friday, and he wasn’t asking about Kennedy; he was referring to Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World.


Texas A&M is no longer all-male and all-military, but it’s still a conservative bastion that dislikes Barack Obama, gave Mitt Romney a comfortable margin in 2012, and will deliver for the GOP presidential candidate in 2016. Still, only the hard-core loathers reveled in the death of a president that Friday. For the most part the campus, like the rest of the nation, was seized with shock and disbelief.

Dallas didn’t kill JFK, but the local purveyors of intolerance who spat on Lyndon Johnson and accosted Adlai Stevenson were unindicted coconspirators. Sadly, some of their ilk endure, and they often seem to flourish in the nation’s capital. As a nation grieves for what might have been–at least for those of us old enough to remember the hope and innocence snuffed out along with a vibrant, youthful life–this 50th anniversary should at the very least remind us that the haters are still around. And, alas, they aren’t all jihadists.

Tom DeFrank

>>> Click here: Winning By Losing

Winning By Losing

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Byline: John Walters

His team had just lost by 83 points to San Diego State University, ranked No. 20 in the nation at the time. Scott Mitchell, the basketball coach at St. Katherine College, which is little more than a rumor of an educational institution, strode down the sideline to shake hands with the Aztecs coach, Steve Fisher.

“So,” asked Mitchell, clasping Fisher’s hand, “when do you want to play next year?”

As usual, college basketball’s first two months have been a silly season, with cupcakes getting smashed several times a week. By my unofficial count, 52 games between Division I schools and non-Division I schools have been decided by 50 points or more. You might have heard about Champions Baptist College, which fell behind 44-0 (an NCAA record for points allowed before scoring) en route to a 116-12 loss to Southern University. The Tigers belong to the Association of Christian College Athletics (ACCA) and have an enrollment of 205 students versus Southern’s enrollment of about 6,600.


You may not have heard about the University of Utah’s 128-44 defeat of Evergreen State, an NAIA school. The Geoducks shot 1 for 27 from behind the three-point line in their 84-point defeat.

And then there’s St. Katherine. In just two weeks, starting on December 7, the Firebirds lost by scores that resemble seasonal high temperatures in their sublime Encinitas, Calif., home: 52 (89-37 at Utah Valley), 71 (107-36 at Weber State), 73 (124-51 at Utah) and 83, the aforementioned 118-35 thrashing at San Diego State.

Ask Mitchell whether St. Katherine is in the NCAA or the NAIA, the two primary governing bodies for college sports, and he replies, “We’re part of the CIA: No one knows for sure if we even exist.”

They do. Sort of. With an enrollment of 98 students, St. Katherine, which has been in existence for four years (this is its first season of intercollegiate basketball), holds classes at an office park in this coastal haven about 25 minutes north of San Diego. The Firebirds practice at a local boys and girls club, starting at 10 p.m., after the children have gone to bed. The few home games they have are played at Ramona High School, 36 miles inland. And their tallest player, six-foot-eight Dale Austin, is 34 years old and was discovered by Mitchell and his son, Travis, last summer at a 24-Hour-Fitness.

And the six-foot-six Mitchell, who says he once inveigled some supermodels (you’ve heard of Iman? Christie Brinkley?) to watch him and a few buddies play hoops on the streets of New York City – heaven, indeed, is a playground – is the ideal man to lead them. Yes, there is a commentary to be written about why the NCAA permits Division I teams to schedule mercenary mismatches -”Harrumph! Harrumph! Harrumph!” – that border on the profane. However, that is space and time that, trust me, would be more enjoyably spent listening to the ballad of Scott Mitchell.

Mitchell, 57, is not unlike the unnamed hero in that Journey tune: “Born and raised in south Detroit / He took the midnight train going anywhere…” From a football scholarship at the University of Michigan (“Bo Schembechler visited my home to recruit me!”) in 1973 that ended during his freshman season after he broke his leg, to a basketball scholarship at South Dakota (“One year in South Dakota was all I could take”) to a job as an apprentice lineman cleaning the power lines that extend across San Francisco Bay (“The most dangerous job you can imagine”). If even only half of his stories are true, he has still led a remarkably entertaining life.

While living in San Francisco, Mitchell says a buddy suggested they enter a local three-on-three tournament, the prize being a game against three Golden State Warrior rookies. “So, yeah, we won the tournament and then we beat the Warriors,” says Mitchell, who only moonlights as St. Katherine’s coach – he is an advertising account manager at AT&T. “The Warriors invited me to their rookie camp, but I wasn’t about to leave my job unless there was guaranteed money.”

An agent intervened, and suddenly Mitchell was on a plane to Europe for what would be an 11-year, three-continent odyssey of professional basketball. “Italy, Spain, Portugal, Holland, France, Argentina, Chile, the Philippines and Australia,” he says.

Did he ever play with anyone famous?

“Bob McAdoo [1975 NBA Most Valuable Player] was a teammate of mine in Italy.”

Which leads us back to the supermodels. In the summer of 1986, Mitchell found himself in Manhattan, at a party hosted by hair-product mogul Paul Mitchell (no relation), whose guests included eye-candy icons Iman, Brinkley, Cheryl Tiegs and actress Jennifer O’Neill (Summer of ’42).

“I was with two friends of mine, Ray Schnitzer, who had been the captain at Georgia Tech, and John Barranco, who had tried out for the Pittsburgh Steelers,” says Mitchell, “and as you know, models and athletes have a way of gravitating toward one another.”

The group decided to head downtown to nightspot, and so Mitchell squeezed his 78-inch frame into the back of a taxi next to some of the world’s most well-known and striking faces. The cabbie took one, two glances in his rear-view mirror, and reacted as if a phantom had entered his cab.

“You!” he cried. “You’re Scott Mitchell!”

“You know me?”

The cabbie, who was from Argentina, said, “You are a basketball legend in my country. I named my son after you.”

Mitchell says the taxi driver refused their fare, opting for photos instead, and the following day, according to Mitchell, they all went to play pick-up hoops in what was then the gritty Alphabet City neighborhood of Manhattan (the models watched).

Last summer, Mitchell says he had just called on a client in the Hillcrest section of San Diego when he spotted San Diego State coach Steve Fisher. He approached Fisher, told him about his school with no campus and his team that had never played a game, and asked if he would put St. Katherine on the schedule. Fisher politely took his card.

One month later, an official from San Diego State phoned Mitchell. “You still want to play that game?”


“Sure,” said Mitchell. “How much do I have to pay you?”

Of course, it was SDSU that paid St. Katherine, reportedly about $50,000. Still, the 24 hours that tipped off with the tip-off against the Aztecs on December 27 are unlike anything that has transpired anywhere else in college basketball this season.

First, the Firebirds, who only five days earlier had drained 23 three-pointers in a loss at Division II Hawaii-Pacific University in Honolulu, got their clocks cleaned, smashed and ground into a fine powder. Then Mitchell, who is married and lives about 45 miles east of San Diego, drove home and laundered all of his players’ road uniforms.

The December 28 game for St. Katherine against the University of Utah – back-to-back road games on consecutive days are extremely rare in college hoops – was scheduled for 1 p.m. in Salt Lake City. Mitchell awoke at 3:30 a.m., drove to Encinitas to pick up some of his players and then headed to the airport for a 6 a.m. flight. A stopover in Las Vegas led to a delay. The Firebirds arrived in Salt Lake City, 90 minutes before tip-off and in zero-degree temps, to find that the car rental agency had no vehicles for them.

“We begged another agency, Hertz, to give us three cars,” says Mitchell. “We didn’t even need them cleaned or gassed up. We got to the arena half an hour before tip-off.”

This is not how University of Kentucky coach John Calipari rolls.

Out of their league? Certainly. Since that defeat, however, the Firebirds have descended to their proper altitude and guess what? They’ve won three in a row. And their coach thinks they’re about to go on a run, that they might not lose again this season.

“A year ago in January I had no players, no uniforms, no schedule and I didn’t even know who our mascot was,” says Mitchell, who received no stipend his first nine months on the job. “Now I have 16 players who are having the time of their lives.

“And we really would love to play San Diego State again next year.”