May 30, 2005
The Master's Program
The Point of View - A Weekly Commentary by Bob Shank

Dear Marketplace Friend, 

    It's been a messy few days, if you ask me.

      This has been a busy year - so far - for the Bob-man. I'll hit 100,000 miles by the middle of June, and my long-suffering love interest has been whispering the "when are we going to get a few days for just us?" question while I unpack and repack. Those frequent-flyer miles, on account with my friends at American (my biggest single investment category, by some measures) are yearning for redemption. Could I spare a few days to take a tolerant wife on a romantic interlude?

      I was thinkin' about Paris ... knowing that we wouldn't run into anyone we knew. I mean, come on: it's a great time for Americans to hide from other Americans, in France. Often, we like to "swim against the tide" in our travels, thinking that we would miss the crowds. Seems like that would be a sure thing over there this summer ...

      Just for fun, I Googled "Paris" and "Hilton," just to see if I could find an American-friendly base of operations along the Seine. Great idea ... but lousy search. Instead of finding a hotel sanctuary, I clicked-into a restaurant firestorm.

      Boy, oh Boy. I remember the "old days," when the best burger in Southern California (before In-and-Out stole the show) was at Carl Karcher's place. Carl's Jr. was the fast-food option that put McDonalds in the runner-up column. The food was consistently above average ... and Carl Karcher was a highly respected community leader in/around my hometown county.

      Remember, I said "old days." Mr. Karcher lost control of his burger empire some years ago when they fell on hard times and he had to sell the operations. For decades, the ethical reputation of Carls Jr. and of Carl Karcher had been one-and-the-same. His character had cast a high-wattage positive light over their business activities, and everyone knew it. "Responsible corporate citizens" was the way folks talked about Carl Karcher Enterprises ... when Carl was in charge.

      This just in: CKE (the "official" name of the current enterprise, sans Mr. Karcher) will do anything to sell fast food. Proof? Their much-talked-about television commercial starring (you guessed it): Paris Hilton.

      You could get a bad feeling about inherited wealth, just reading her bio. She's just 22 ... and she's the great-granddaughter of Conrad Hilton, the hotelier who put the family in the black. Raised at the Waldorf-Astoria, in Beverly Hills and the Hamptons, she finished high school and then decided to become "famous." Fashion model, socialite, internet "woman of ill repute," "reality" television star ... and now a hand-car-wash professional with a taste for messy cheeseburgers.

      If you haven't seen it, do anything you can to avoid it. Nowadays, the prime-time commercials are even more tawdry than the network programs between them. What's happening?

      For a long time, I think we Americans looked at "the French" (and many of the other Europeans) and considered ourselves less compromised - ethically - than they. If that was true in the past, we're dropping back to their place in the race.

      In any society, the "law" establishes the absolute boundaries of behavior ... but "morals" and "ethics" scribe a line inside the legal limits, where propriety would allow people to relate to one another with positive expectations. Today, in America ... the "rights" established by law are the only remaining barrier; the moral and ethical fences are in disrepair or fully abandoned.

      Here's an amazing fact: if the moral and ethical constructs are intact, the law becomes functionally irrelevant. People who have their personal standards intact don't crash the legal barriers.

      I wonder if anyone is praying for Paris Hilton to have an encounter with the Lord Jesus? I just did ... for the first time, ever. Same time that I decided to scratch Carls Jr. off my fast-food destination list ...

Bob Shank

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