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Do Evil CEOs Sleep at Night?

In other words: Does Kentucky Fried Chicken deserve a blessing from the pope?

By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Here's my favorite recent story in which tepid mealy execs of giant unholy megacorporations do silly insulting things in the name of gluttony and excess and profiteering and yet which they claim are actually done in the name of all that is positive and helpful and good even as they make the world far, far worse and darker and less healthy and yet they still somehow manage to sleep at night without being eaten by giant karmic mealworms or struck dead by lightning, as you think they should be.

Here's the story: In search of the elusive semi-practicing Catholic/obese junk-food addict demographic, Kentucky Fried Chicken apparently sent an official, personal letter to the Vatican, asking Pope Benedict XVI to bless the company's upcoming, happily toxic Fish Snacker sandwich so Catholics could eat it in good grace on Fridays during Lent.

You read that right. In other words, KFC wants the Fish Snacker to be officially sanctioned for those days when Catholics don't eat meat but when they apparently have zero problem shoving a nasty frozen deep-fried chemical-blasted hunk of cholesterol and salt and fat and binding agents and mystery gunk made by one of the skankiest junk-food purveyors in America into their bloodstreams. You know, just the way Jesus intended.

KFC's president is someone named Greg Dedrick. When writing the personal letter to the pope, Greg apparently kept a straight face and didn't even shoot any wine cooler through his nose in hilarious apoplectic shock when he wrote, "[W]e believe this new sandwich could make it easier and more affordable for Catholics to observe the tenets of their faith."

Greg did not feel any sharp stabbing pains deep behind his right cornea, nor a nauseating pinch in the pit of his stomach, nor a debilitating spasm in his colon indicating his body and soul were actually being eaten alive by angry invisible demon moths. I'm just guessing.

What I didn't realize (or perhaps what I simply chose to carefully ignore) is the fact that there are apparently armies of deeply unhealthy practicing Catholics -- I'm assuming KFC did lots of market research for this -- who are right now pining for an extremely awful meat-free food item, Catholics who very much believe in following the awkward rules of their faith but who clearly don't care a whit for the sacredness of their own bodies. Hey, it's America. We don't do spiritual correlation.

It all raises the perennial question, one I've often wondered at as I see CEO after CFO after nasty politician after corrupt misogynist Supreme Court justice march across the face of the planet without so much as a glimmer of a hint as to the pain they so casually, effortlessly inflict.

Here is the question: How can they not know? How can you stomp through life and attain a position where you provide a product or service to the nation that literally poisons its very heart and still go home and play with your kids and smile and not beat your dog or drown yourself in Prozac and cheap whiskey and bloody ritualistic self-flagellation?

In other words, how does someone like Greg Dedrick stumble into his McMansion at the end of the week and slump into his La-Z-Boy and flip on the plasma and think, Yessiree, I sure helped the world today, it's good to be me, good to lead one of the world's foremost makers of toxic foodstuffs that cause obesity and heart disease and diabetes in millions. Fast-food fish sandwiches for Catholics, blessed by the pope himself! I'm a genius!

This is the question: Is there not some sort of karmic threshold of human behavior? Some sort of line beyond which the otherwise normal, healthy, relatively balanced human soul snaps itself in the ass with a giant rubber band of appalled obviousness and says, Oh holy hell, I have simply gone too far and now might be a good time for a spiritual colonic and is it too late for me to reverse this downward free fall toward all that is demeaning and lost and sad? Do you already know the answer?

It is, I realize, not a new question. I realize it is rather obvious, timeless, has plagued psychologists and philosophers for millennia and they all stare at the question and ponder how the human mind can be capable of such massive ongoing self-delusion, and then they invariably shrug and sigh and go back for more laudanum because, well, it's been this way just about exactly forever and if we could parse out why the hell we do such harmful disgusting things to each other while not feeling the slightest bit of remorse or moral acid reflux, we'd all just finally evolve and levitate and dissolve into happy starlight Jesus mist.

What's more, I know it's a question that can be asked of anyone at all in any position of rather insidious power, from tobacco execs to oil barons to violent soccer hooligans, Enron and e-mail spammers and Mel Gibson, all the way up (or rather, down) to someone like Alberto Gonzales, one of the slimiest law-dissing lackeys in American political history, a guy who has done the impossible and has actually managed to make John Ashcroft look like a giant oily sanctimonious teddy bear. How this man sleeps at night is one of the great mysteries of this modern world. Or maybe it's just lots and lots of denial, vodka and a triple dose of Ambien. You think?

For many of us, it's often merely a question of necessity, of what we have to do to get the bills paid and the family fed and keep the porn collection fresh. But in the case of Dedrick and Gonzales and the like, it seems to be much more about conscience, of where we draw our moral lines and how blind we can be to just how blurry they can become. It's a question that's occasionally worthwhile to dip back into now and then, if for no other reason than merely to check our progress, to see if there's been any change in the spiritual barometer. And the bad news is, in most cases, the needle has barely twitched.

As a token of good faith, KFC offered the pope a free Fish Snacker sandwich to try for himself. The pope, himself not exactly known as a hot bastion of fairness and moral-sexual-spiritual balance in the modern world, is sleeping soundly on it.

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