Monday, June 18, 2007

Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal by Eric Schlosser

This was a good read, but not entirely what I expected. I’d heard of the book, and then I saw Schlosser interviewed by Morgan Spurlock as part of the bonus features on Super Size Me, so I thought I had a pretty good idea what the book was about—an indictment of the fast food industry. And it is that. But it is also more than that. For example, it included the kind of stats that just horrify me:

Every month about 90 percent of American children between the ages of three and nine visit a McDonald’s.

Americans already drink soda at an annual rate of about fifty-six gallons per person—that’s nearly six hundred twelve-ounce cans of soda per person.

A person’s food preferences, like his or her personality, are formed during the first few years of life, through a process of socialization. Toddlers can learn to enjoy hot and spicy food, bland health food, or fast food, depending upon what the people around them eat.

Those are fun to read, self-affirming in a way that is comforting and pleasant, but the book goes far beyond that, far beyond the idea that you shouldn’t eat fast food because it ain’t good for you. The majority of the book, in fact, is dedicated to the argument that you shouldn’t eat fast food because it is evil and responsible for crimes against humanity.

The idea that the McDonald brothers had to serve hamburgers fast and cheap (The Speedee Service System) has reshaped entire industries as those that supply the fast food restaurants with their raw materials (French fries and hamburger patties) adopted the same kind of practices to meet the ever increasing demands of the fast food outlets and their billions of customers. And they have all—fast food restaurants, agriculture conglomerates, food processors and meat packers—devalued humans in the process, pursuing the holy grail of the training-less employee, the employee who needs no training because the process that they are there to facilitate is automatic and idiot proof. The meat packers, especially, have seen their employees transform from the highly-specialized, skilled tradesman with good wages and benefits to the illiterate, untrained and illegal immigrant, working for a fraction of the salary and for no benefits.

Kenny Dobbins was a Monfort employee for almost sixteen years. He was born in Keokuk, Iowa, had a tough childhood and an abusive stepfather, left home at the age of thirteen, went in and out of various schools, never learned to read, did various odd jobs, and wound up at the Monfort slaughterhouse in Grand Island, Nebraska. He started working there in 1979, right after the company bought it from Swift. He was twenty-three. He worked in the shipping department at first, hauling boxes that weighed as much as 120 pounds. Kenny could handle it, though. He was a big man, muscular and six-foot-five, and nothing in his life had ever been easy.

One day Kenny heard someone yell, “Watch out!” then turned around and saw a ninety-pound box falling from an upper level of the shipping department. Kenny caught the box with one arm, but the momentum threw him against a conveyer belt, and the metal teeth on the rim of the belt pierced his lower back. The company doctor bandaged Kenny’s back and said the pain was just a pulled muscle. Kenny never filed for worker’s comp, stayed home for a few days, then returned to work. He had a wife and three children to support. For the next few months, he was in terrible pain. “It hurt so fucking bad you wouldn’t believe it,” he told me. He saw another doctor, got a second opinion. The new doctor said Kenny had a pair of severely herniated disks. Kenny had back surgery, spent a month in the hospital, got sent to a pain clinic when the operation didn’t work. His marriage broke up amid the stress and financial difficulty. Fourteen months after the injury, Kenny returned to the slaughterhouse. “GIVE UP AFTER BACK SURGERY? NOT KENNY DOBBINS!!” a Monfort newsletter proclaimed. “Ken has learned how to handle the rigors of working in a packing plant and is trying to help others do the same. Thanks, Ken and keep up the good work.”

Kenny felt strong loyalty to Monfort. He could not read, possessed few skills other than his strength, and the company had still given him a job. When Monfort decided to reopen its Greeley plant with a non-union workforce, Kenny volunteered to go there and help. He did not think highly of labor unions. His supervisors told him that unions had been responsible for shutting down meatpacking plants all over the country. When the UFCW tried to organize the Greeley slaughterhouse, Kenny became an active and outspoken member of an anti-union group.

At the Grand Island facility, Kenny had been restricted to light duty after his injury. But his supervisor in Greeley said that old restrictions didn’t apply in this new job. Soon Kenny was doing tough, physical labor once again, wielding a knife and grabbing forty- to fifty-pound pieces of beef off a table. When the pain became unbearable, he was transferred to ground beef, then to rendering. According to a former manager at the Greeley plant, Monfort was trying to get rid of Kenny, trying to make his work so unpleasant that he’d quit. Kenny didn’t realize it. “He still believes in his heart that people are honest and good,” the former manager said about Kenny. “And he’s wrong.”

As part of the job in rendering, Kenny sometimes had to climb into gigantic blood tanks and gut bins, reach to the bottom of them with his long arms, and unclog the drains. One day he was unexpectedly called to work over the weekend. There had been a problem with Salmonella contamination. The plant needed to be disinfected, and some of the maintenance workers had refused to do it. In his street clothes, Kenny began cleaning the place, climbing into tanks and spraying a liquid chlorine mix. Chlorine is a hazardous chemical that can be inhaled or absorbed through the skin, causing a litany of health problems. Workers who spray it need to wear protective gloves, safety goggles, a self-contained respirator, and full coveralls. Kenny’s supervisor gave him a paper dust mask to wear, but it quickly dissolved. After eight hours of working with the chlorine in unventilated areas, Kenny went home and fell ill. He was rushed to the hospital and placed in an oxygen tent. His lungs had been burned by the chemicals. His body was covered in blisters. Kenny spent a month in the hospital.

Kenny eventually recovered from the overexposure to chlorine, but it left his chest feeling raw, made him susceptible to colds and sensitive to chemical aromas. He went back to work at the Greeley plant. He had remarried, didn’t know what other kind of work to do, still felt loyal to the company. He was assigned to an early morning shift. He had to drive an old truck from one part of the slaughterhouse complex to another. The truck was filled with leftover scraps of meat. The headlights and the wipers didn’t work. The windshield was filthy and cracked. One cold, dark morning in the middle of winter, Kenny became disoriented while driving. He stopped the truck, opened the door, got out to see where he was—and was struck by a train. It knocked his glasses off, threw him up in the air, and knocked both of his work boots off. The train was moving slowly, or he would’ve been killed. Kenny somehow made it back to the plant, barefoot and bleeding from deep gashes in his back and his face. He spent two weeks at the hospital, then went back to work.

One day, Kenny was in rendering and saw a worker about to stick his head into a pre-breaker machine, a device that uses hundreds of small hammers to pulverize gristle and bone into fine powder. The worker had just turned the machine off, but Kenny knew the hammers inside were still spinning. It takes fifteen minutes for the machine to shut down completely. Kenny yelled, “Stop!” but the worker didn’t hear him. And so Kenny ran across the room, grabbed the man by the seat of his pants, and pulled him away from the machine an instant before it would have pulverized him. To honor this act of bravery, Monfort gave Kenny an award for “Outstanding Achievement in CONCERN FOR FELLOW WORKERS.” The award was a paper certificate, signed by his supervisor and the plant safety manager.

Kenny later broke his leg stepping into a hole in the slaughterhouse’s concrete floor. On another occasion he shattered an ankle, an injury that required surgery and the insertion of five steel pins. Now Kenny had to wear a metal brace on one leg in order to walk, an elaborate, spring-loaded brace that cost $2,000. Standing for long periods caused him great pain. He was given a job recycling old knives at the plant. Despite his many injuries, the job required him to climb up and down three flights of narrow stairs carrying garbage bags filled with knives. In December of 1995 Kenny felt a sharp pain in his chest while lifting some boxes. He thought it was a heart attack. His union steward took him to see the nurse, who said it was just a pulled muscle and sent Kenny home. He was indeed having a massive heart attack. A friend rushed Kenny to a nearby hospital. A stent was inserted in his heart, and the doctors told Kenny that he was lucky to be alive.

Not long afterward, Monfort fired Kenny Dobbins. Despite the fact that Kenny had been with the company for almost sixteen years, despite the fact that he was first in seniority at the Greeley plant, that he’d cleaned blood tanks with his bare hands, fought the union, done whatever the company had asked him to do, suffered injuries that would’ve killed weaker men, nobody from Monfort called him with the news. Nobody even bothered to write him. Kenny learned that he’s been fired when his payments to the company health insurance plan kept being returned by the post office. He called Monfort repeatedly to find out what was going on, and a sympathetic clerk in the claims office finally told Kenny that the checks were being returned because he was no longer a Monfort employee. When I asked company spokesmen to comment on the accuracy of Kenny’s story, they would neither confirm nor deny any of the details.

Today Kenny is in poor health. His heart is permanently damaged. His immune systems seems shot. His back hurts, his ankle hurts, and every so often he coughs up blood. He is unable to work at any job. His wife, Clara—who’s half-Latina and half-Cheyenne, and looks like a younger sister of Cher’s—was working as a nursing home attendant when Kenny had the heart attack. Amid the stress of his illness, she developed a serious kidney ailment. She is unemployed and recuperating from a kidney transplant.

As I sat in the living room of their Greeley home, its walls decorated with paintings of wolves, Denver Broncos memorabilia, and an American flag, Kenny and Clara told me about their financial condition. After almost sixteen years on the job, Kenny did not get any pension from Monfort. The company challenged his workers’ comp claim and finally agreed—three years after the initial filing—to pay him a settlement of $35,000. Fifteen percent of that money went to Kenny’s lawyer, and the rest is long gone. Some months Kenny has to hock things to get money for Clara’s medicine. They have two teenage children and live on Social Security payments. Kenny’s health insurance, which costs more than $600 a month, is about to run out. His anger at Monfort, his feelings of betrayal, are of truly biblical proportions.

“They used me to the point where I had no body parts left to give,” Kenny said, struggling to maintain his composure. “Then they just tossed me into the trash can.” Once strong and powerfully built, he now walks with difficulty, tires easily, and feels useless, as though his life were over. He is forty-five years old.

Why did I bother typing that all out? Because there’s a novel in that story, and someday when I’m looking for my next challenging project I’ll stumble across this entry and there it will be, the outline of my new novel. Did it really happen? It’s purported to have, but it doesn’t really matter. Factual or not, there’s human truth in that story and it’s waiting for the right author to bring it out. Before embarking on that journey, I should probably read The Jungle. For all I know, Upton Sinclair may already be that author.

Children under the age of five, the elderly, and people with impaired immune systems are the most likely to suffer from illnesses caused by E. coli 0157:H7. The pathogen is now the leading cause of kidney failure among children in the United States. Nancy Donley, the president of Safe Tables Our Priority (STOP), an organization devoted to food safety, says it is hard to convey the suffering that E. coli 0157:H7 causes children. Her six-year-old son, Alex, was infected with the bug in July of 1993 after eating a tainted hamburger. His illness began with abdominal cramps that seemed as severe as labor pains. It progressed to diarrhea that filled a hospital toilet with blood. Doctors frantically tried to save Alex’s life, drilling holes in his skull to relieve pressure, inserting tubes in his chest to keep him breathing, as the Shiga toxins destroyed internal organs. “I would have done anything to save my son’s life,” Donley says. “I would have run in front of a bus to save Alex.” Instead, she stood and watched helplessly as he called out for her, terrified and in pain. He became ill on a Tuesday night, the night after his mother’s birthday, and was dead by Sunday afternoon. Toward the end, Alex suffered hallucinations and dementia, no longer recognizing his mother or father. Portions of his brain had been liquefied. “The sheer brutality of his death was horrifying,” Donley says.

Hard to convey the suffering? I don’t know, ask a parent to spend a few hours mulling over this paragraph and I think you’d do a pretty good job conveying the suffering. It makes you cry. You have to physically walk away from the paragraph and block it out of your mind to keep it from overwhelming you. And that’s just the paragraph. What would it be like if Alex was your son? Or your daughter? How could you live with that?

The war on foodborne pathogens deserves the sort of national attention and resources that has been devoted to the war on drugs. Far more Americans are severly harmed every year by food poisoning than by illegal drug use. And the harms caused by food poisoning are usually inadvertent and unanticipated. People who smoke crack know the potential dangers; most people who eat hamburgers don’t. Eating in the United States should no longer be a form of high-risk behavior.

This is from Schlosser’s epilogue, where he addresses what to do and how to do it in response to the evils he has spent the previous 260 pages detailing. It’s a good takeaway to illustrate what I was talking about before. Fast food is not just unhealthy in Fast Food Nation, it’s dangerous and deadly in ways most of us don’t even realize.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Leading Quietly: An Unorthodox Guide to Doing the Right Thing by Joseph L. Badaracco, Jr.

I don’t remember if I mentioned that I’m alternating a book I want to read with a book I think I should read to help develop my management skills. This was one of the latter, and one I did not enjoy very much. Its premise is that leadership is not always holding firm to principles in the face of opposition like it is so often portrayed in the movies and in fiction. More often, leadership is working quietly and ceaselessly to turnover the apple cart without upsetting it. It’s eight simple lessons are:

1. Don’t kid yourself. The world is a complex place and most problems don’t have simple solutions.

2. Trust mixed motives. Everyone has them—even you—and they are in part what gives you the ability to tackle multiple sides of the same issue.

3. Buy a little time. Stalling can work in your favor, especially if you use the time you buy to investigate the problem a little more closely and/or wait for other opportunities to present themselves.

4. Invest wisely. Don’t spend your political capital foolishly, but spend as much as you need to when it will do you the most good.

5. Drill down. Really examine the problem you’re facing. Just don’t think about it, obsess over it until you understand it from every side.

6. Bend the rules. Look for creative ways to eliminate the problem by redefining its parameters or by pulling in previously unrelated matters or people.

7. Nudge, test and escalate gradually. Never overcommit to any one path. Take baby steps, and be ready to retreat, but always keep pushing.

8. Craft a compromise. Cut a deal. Get half of what you want for half of what the other side wants, as long as your half is the most important one.

If you ask me, this stuff is pretty unremarkable. Uh, yeah. Like, that’s what I do every freakin' day, Dudley. Despite the core message being lost on me, there were a few interesting tidbits.

The rest of us have basic instincts that are less noble and more complex. Like Rebecca Olson, many people care, sometimes very strongly, what happens to other people and to their organizations. But, like her, they also care about themselves. Self-interest and altruism run together in their veins. Hillel the Elder, the great Jewish scholar and teacher, suggested the complexity of their motives when he asked, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I?”

+ + + + +

An old story describes two snakes that live in a barn. One has ten heads, the other just one. If a fire breaks out in the barn, which snake is more likely to survive? The conventional answer is the one-headed snake. It will make a quick decision and follow through on it, while the ten-headed snake will have a hard time making up its minds and will move too slowly.
The thinking behind this story is common and plausible. A house divided against itself, we are told, cannot stand. Napoleon said that one bad general does better than two good ones. And, when we think about great leaders, the standard picture is that their hearts and minds are one, unified by a single purpose.

+ + + + +

Look at Your Fish

This odd-sounding guideline is perhaps the most important thing that quiet leaders do when they face complicated problems. But what does looking at fish have to do with addressing these problems responsibly?

The answer lies in a story told about Louis Agassiz, one of the most important American scientists of the nineteenth century. He was an expert on glaciers, fossil fish, and living fish. He became famous because his work influenced many other fields, as well as debates about the origin and purpose of life. Agassiz was also known as an unorthodox but powerful teacher, and the phrase “look at your fish” became the hallmark of his method.

When graduate students first joined Agassiz’s lab, they were given a tray containing a small, ordinary fish. Agassiz would tell them to study the specimen—without damaging it, reading about it, or discussing it with anyone. In other words, all they could do was look at the fish. Initially, graduate students thought this was merely a peculiar but minor assignment. After an hour or two, they would search out Agassiz to report what they had learned, but he showed no interest in listening and sent them back to their task. They eventually realized that Agassiz expected them to look at their fish for several weeks.

In the end, one student recalled, “I had results which astonished me and satisfied him.” Each student ended up learning a great deal about the fish—the patterns of its scales, the precise arrangement of its teeth, the coloring of the eyes—and they had learned even more about learning. In particular, they grasped the importance of exacting attention to detail and what one called “hard, continuous work.”

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

I really enjoyed this book. I didn’t think I would after the first 50 pages, but it just goes to show you that you can’t judge a 945-page book by its first 50 pages. In the first 50 pages the characters seemed flat and hollow, caricatures of archetypal characters used in a hundred other stories. Most of all, Lorena, the whore with a heart of gold. But McMurtry throws these characters into real tough situations, doesn’t pull any punches, and they grow and mature and you begin to care about them like people. It was amazing. Some excerpts:

Deets liked his work, liked being part of the outfit and having his name on the sign; yet he often felt sad. His main happiness consisted of sitting with his back against the water tank at night, watching the sky and the changing moon.

He had known several men who blew their heads off, and he had pondered it much. It seemed to him it was probably because they could not take enough happiness just from the sky and the moon to carry them over the low feelings that came to all men.

Deets is an interesting character, a black man who is treated as nearly an equal by the cowboys in the Hat Creek Outfit, and respected for his capabilities and dependability by Call and McCrae. His death affects the men severely and, for Newt, it’s practically the last straw.

When they left, he went off dutifully to make his rounds. Augustus hitched the new mules to the new wagon. The streets of San Antonio were silent and empty as they left. The moon was high and a couple of stray goats nosed around the walls of the old Alamo, hoping to find a blade of grass. When they had first come to Texas in the Forties people had talked of nothing but Travis and his gallant losing battle, but the battle had mostly been forgotten and the building neglected.

“Well, Call, I guess they forgot us, like they forgot the Alamo,” Augustus said.

“Why wouldn’t they?” Call asked. “We ain’t been around.”

“That ain’t the reason—the reason is we didn’t die,” Augustus said. “Now Travis lost his fight, and he’ll get in the history books when someone writes up this place. If a thousand Comanches had cornered us in some gully and wiped us out, like the Sioux just done to Custer, they’d write songs about us for a hundred years.”

It struck Call as a foolish remark. “I doubt there was ever a thousand Comanches in one bunch,” he said. “If there had been they would have taken Washington, D.C.”

But the more Augustus thought about the insults they had been offered in the bar—a bar where once they had been hailed as heroes—the more it bothered him.

“I ought to have given that young pup from Mobile a rap or two,” he said.

“He was just scared,” Call said. “I’m sure Tobe will lecture him next time he sees him.”

“It ain’t the pint, Woodrow,” Augustus said. “You never do get the pint.”

“Well, what is it, dern it?” Call asked.

“We’ll be the Indians, if we last another twenty years,” Augustus said. “The way this place is settling up it’ll be nothing but churches and dry-goods stores before you know it. Next thing you know they’ll have to round up us old rowdies and stick us on a reservation to keep us from scaring the ladies.”

“I’d say that’s unlikely,” Call said.

“It’s dern likely,” Augustus said. “If I can find a squaw I like, I’m apt to marry her. The things is, if I’m going to be treated like an Indian, I might as well act like one. I think we spent out best years fighting on the wrong side.”

This is a nice summation of the relationship between Call and McCrae, their opposing philosophies, and a poignant commentary on what happens to the pioneers after civilization doesn’t need them any more. A lot of Lonesome Dove feels like this passage, especially the section at the end when Call is taking McCrae’s body back to Texas to be buried in accordance with McCrae’s wishes. No one understands why Call is doing it. The Hat Creek boys think he’s doing it as an excuse to abandon them, Clara thinks it’s to avoid revealing to Newt that Call is really his father, and the Indians he meets along the way think it must be because McCrae was some kind of holy man and that his remains have magical powers. But the right answer is that Call is doing it because he gave his word that he would, and Call is a man to keep his word, especially when it is given to a man like McCrae.

Blue Duck hobbled the horses, then came and looked down at her. “I got a treatment for women that try to run away,” he said casually. “I cut a little hole in their stomachs and pull out a gut and wrap it around a limb. Then I drag them thirty or forty feet and tie them down. That way they can watch the coyotes come and eat their guts.”

He went back and lay down under a tree, adjusted his saddlebags for a pillow, and was soon asleep.

Blue Duck is another interesting character. Admittedly, he’s a villain in the shallow kind of way of most fictional villains. We never get to know why Blue Duck is evil. He just is, and he is to such a degree that people fear him even after he is dead and refuse to move his body from the stone street where he flung himself to his death rather than be hung. But having said that, Blue Duck also very well represents the divide between the Indian and White cultures, and is a testament to the view that they can never be reconciled, will always be at odds with one another. This passage struck me because of how vivid it is, but also how diabolical. Torturing people in this way, this unimaginable way to a White culture, shocks us, but also gives Blue Duck a ring of authenticity most fictional Indians don’t have. In that way, he is like the Indians in the Leatherstocking Tales, or the Africans in Henderson the Rain King.

While he was thinking about it he nodded for a few minutes—it seemed like a few minutes—asleep with his gun cocked. He had a little dream about the wild pigs, not too frightening. The pigs were not as wild as they had been in real life. They were just rooting around a cabin and not trying to harm him, yet he woke in a terrible fright and saw something incomprehensible. Janey was standing a few feet in front of him, with a big rock raised over her head. She was holding it with both hands—why would she do such a thing at that time of night? She wasn’t making a sound; she just stood in front of him holding the rock. It was not until she flung it that he realized someone else was there. But someone was: someone big. In his surprise, Roscoe forgot he had a pistol. He quickly stood up. He didn’t see where the rock went, but Janey suddenly dropped to her knees. She looked around at him. “Shoot at him,” she said. Roscoe remembered the pistol, which was cocked, but before he could raise it, the big shadow that Janey had thrown the rock at slid close to him and shoved him—not a hard shove, but it made him drop the pistol. He knew he was awake and not dreaming, but he didn’t have any more strength than he would have had in a dream in terms of moving quick. He saw the big shadow standing by him but he had felt no fear, and the shadow didn’t shove him again. Roscoe felt warm and sleepy and sat back down. It was like he was in a warm bath. He hadn’t had too many warm baths in his life, but he felt like he was in one and was ready for a long snooze. Janey was crawling, though—crawling right over his legs. “Now what are you doing?” he said, before he saw that her eyes were fixed on the pistol he had dropped. She wanted to pistol, and for some reason crawled right over his legs to get to it. But before she got to it the shadow came back. “Why, you’re a fighter, ain’t you?” the shadow man said. “If I wasn’t in such a hurry I’d show you a trick or two.” Then he raised his arms and struck down at her; Roscoe couldn’t see if it was with an ax or what, but the sound was like an ax striking wood, and Janey stopped moving and lay across his legs. “Joe?” Roscoe said; he had just remembered that he had made Joe stop cocking and uncocking his rifle so he could get to sleep.

“Was that his name?” the shadow man said. Roscoe knew it must be a man, for he had a heavy voice. But he couldn’t see the man’s face. He just seemed to be a big shadow, and anyway Roscoe couldn’t get his mind fixed on it, or on where Joe was or when July would be back, or on anything much, he felt so warm and tired. The big shadow stood astraddle of him and reached down for his belt but Roscoe had let go all concern, he felt so tired. He felt everything would have to stop for a while; it was as if the darkness itself was pushing his eyelids down. Then the warm sleep took him.

This is the scene where Blue Duck kills Roscoe and Joe and Janey, and leaves their bodies for July and Gus to find. I like the way it’s told, not just because the point of view dies in the middle of it and we see the event through his dying eyes, but because it’s a nice way of showing how ill-suited Roscoe was for the challenges that confronted him on his trip, the trip to find July, the trip forced on him by others. Roscoe was only ever happy when he was sitting inside the warm jail in Arkansas, and he was clearly no match for someone the likes of Blue Duck. In a way it’s nice to see that Roscoe doesn’t even know he’s dying, that he goes to his death not understanding what’s happening around him and thinking that he is simply drifting off to sleep.

Chapter 75

I’m not going to type the whole chapter. That would take too long. But if you ever get around to reading this, do yourself a favor and go read Chapter 75 of Lonesome Dove. That’s the kind of fiction I want to write. Stark, real, and teetering on the edge of unfathomable sadness. Have I ever succeeded?

“Did you catch the horsethieves?” he asked.

“We did, but not before they murdered Wilbarger and four other people,” Augustus said.

“Hang ‘em?”

“Yes, hung them all, including Jake Spoon.”

“Well, I’ll swear,” Dish said, shocked. “I didn’t like the man but I never figured him for a killer.”

“He wasn’t a killer,” Augustus said. “Jake liked a joke and didn’t like to work. I’ve got exactly the same failings. It’s lucky I ain’t been hung.”

The hanging of Jake Spoon is perhaps the oddest episode in the book. I’m still not sure if McMurtry pulled it off. If my Dad hadn’t spilled the beans on me, I think I might have believed up to very end that Call and McCrae were not going to go through with it, that they were going to string him up with all the others, but dispatch them first and then let Jake go when there was no one left but the old gang. But they did it. They hung him. I guess because they couldn’t take them all into the authorities and their code of justice said either hang them all or let them all go. Of course, in the end it was Jake who hung himself, spurring the horse before the others could break out the whip. But it was Call and McCrae and the others who strung him up with every intent to do it. I guess this is the one piece that doesn’t feel real to me. I don’t think they would have hung him. The men that McMurty’s characters were, I don’t think they would have hung him. If they had been actors reading a script, they would have said, hey, wait a minute, I don’t think my character would do this. It doesn’t ring true. But if they are going to hang Jake Spoon, then spend more time feeling guilty about it afterwards. They hung Jake with no more emotion than they would have shown shooting a prize horse that had gone lame. Less, in fact.