Author Archives: billmohr

Douglas Kearney — International Griffin Poetry Prize Winner

July 5, 2022

Seven years ago this month, I was fortunate to have the company and inspiration of five other poets for two weeks at CSU Monterey Bay. CSU’s Summer Arts Program offers professors who teach at a CSU campus a chance to organize a class that gives CSU students a chance to work with other artists and writers who are not part of the CSU system. The challenge of being in charge of such a class is that one is required to do an immense amount of recruiting work. One is given a budget, and the job is to find enough students to enroll in the class.

I managed to sign up a truly all-star faculty for that course in 2015 and their presence enabled my course to attract sufficient enrollment. The five poets who taught in the course included Juan Felipe Herrera, Marilyn Nelson, Ellen Bass, Cecilia Woloch, and Douglas Kearney. I felt especially fortunate to have Juan Felipe Herrera agree to teach a couple days of workshops at the course before he was appointed the national poet laureate. Herrera was certainly a well-known and admired poet, but I don’t think anyone in late 2014 was picking him to be the next superstar.

At that time, in a similar manner, those of us in Los Angeles who knew Douglas Kearney’s work were very aware of how good a poet he was, and in being part of the faculty at Cal Arts in Valencia he certainly did have an institutional affiliation that supported that recognition. One of the things I had noticed about Kearney was simply how hard he worked and how generous he was in sharing his artistic energy and knowledge. Early in the past decade, the program of bringing guest poets to the CSU Long Beach campus had fallen into an abyss of non-support. The total budget the creative writing faculty was given for the entire year was $150. Douglas Kearney deserved a minimum of ten time that to read at CSU Long Beach, but he nevertheless drove all the way to Long Beach to give a reading in the evening after a long day of teaching. It was an extraordinary reading. Kearney literally radiated the full-throated dexterity of the vowels and consonants that pulsed within his poems. Along with Nelson, Bass, and Woloch, the class at Monterey Bay was a memorable convocation of poets enfolding each other within the other’s visions.

I have just learned that Douglas Kearney has won a major poetry prize, and I am utterly delighted to share this news, as well as a link to this brief interview.

https://www.mprnews.org/episode/2022/06/23/st-paul-poet-wins-2022-international-griffin-poetry-prize

Minnesota Now
St. Paul poet wins 2022 International Griffin Poetry Prize
Cathy Wurzer and Gretchen Brown

A Gullible Union Never Learns…..

June 3, 2022

Back on February 4th, I posted my commentary on the acquiescence of the California Faculty Union (CFA) with the Chancellor’s Office of the California State University System. After months and months of refusing to negotiate a new contract in anything resembling good faith, the bargaining process had broken down and the CFA had opted to get the opinion of an outside mediator as to which sides’ claims were more fair. Suddenly, the CO made an offer that seemed to be too good to be true. Instead of realizing that now was the time to press one’s advantage after decades of being barely able to budge the need of equitable compensation, the union settled for a promise that the entire raise would only happen if the Legislature alloted funds for it. It was put to a vote, and 95 percent of the membership voted yes.

I voted “NO.” (See my post for how the ballot was marked.) Four months later, guess what? I got an announcement from the CFA the other day that the California State Legislature and the Governor, at the last moment, pulled the funds that would have provided the full agreed upon raise. The CFA’s letter was full of righteous indignation about how the governor and legislature betrayed the union.

Wrong once again, CFA. You got what you deserved for your gullibility. You trusted someone who can’t be trusted, and your whining is just pathetic self-pity. You have no one to blame but yourself.

If the CFA had really wanted to fight for its membership, it would have demanded a non-negotiable four percent raise (which is way below what inflation is right now) with a chance to convince the legislature that a five percent raise was long overdue to make up for years of austerity and stalled compensation. Obviously, the union was in cahoots with the system the whole time. It was just a public dance meant to convince its membership that “we’re all in this together.” That particular flimsy ideological bromide was at the core of an alleged collaboration between the CSU and the CFA years ago in which union membership was told that if we worked to get a supermajority in the Legislature and we had a Democratic governor that an oil tax would finally be imposed and that the CSU’s woeful budget challenges would finally ease up. And, of course, that was all bullshit.

Yesterday, waiting at a red light, I noticed a placard on a bus: “Cancer won’t wait. Take control.” What’s missing from the second sentence? Four words: “(Let us) take control (of you).” This means, let corporate medicine with all of its self-serving excuses for giving as little service as possible take control of your life. Indeed, let us take control of you the way the way the predator devours the prey.

One should never trust HMOs. One should never trust those who control the distribution of social wealth. In point of fact, if the CFA really wanted to help out the taxpayer, it would investigate why the CSU pays so much for the health care of its employees and how its employees get so little for what is paid. Good luck waiting for that to happen.

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From the CFA’s announcement:
“News of the Governor’s decision to trade away, at the last minute, funds that would have guaranteed our full four percent in raises, really is a gut-punch,” said Meghan O’Donnell, CFA Associate Vice President, Lecturers, North. “At a time when people are truly feeling desperate to make ends meet, this money, which is budget dust for the state of California – yet would make all the difference for hard-working folks in the CSU – to trade it away for no reason just feels cruel and unjustifiable.

“It’s not the kind of behavior one expects from a man who claims to be a champion of higher education and of the working class. This feels like someone playing political games with our livelihoods.”

How touchingly self-exculpatory the CFA is! The CFA knows full well how the political game should be fought. It just wants to play the idealistic ingenue instead of playing hard-ball and fighting for the raise without which there can no meaningful social justice.

A tribute to Jay Hopler by one of his many readers (Alison Turner)

Tuesday, June 29, 2022

I received a short piece of commentary on Jay Hopler’s poetry recently and wanted to share it with my readers as a follow-up to the notice I posted last week about his death.

As an introduction to Alison Turner’s piece, however, I would also like to call your attention to POETRY DAILY, which today posted a poem by Jay Hopler, “Obituary.”

https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#inbox/FMfcgzGpGdnzMzPxJhtTHGtxkCVvRNvd

It’s as great a self-portrait as I have ever read in so few words. If only Whitman (or Dickinson or Yeats) had more often let a similar sense of humor into the interstices of their poems!

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On Jay Hopler’s Still Life
by
Alison Turner

At the relatively young age of 46, Jay Hopler discovered he had a cancer that would kill him, likely within two years. As he recounted to Srikanth Reddy in a podcast for Poetry magazine, while the doctor was telling him what he was in for, he looked out the window at a beautiful late afternoon in Utah and began to writing a poem in his head. No time to lose. The result of the effort that began that afternoon is Still Life, a collection in which he confronts the bleak reality of his own imminent extinction with rage and grief and jokes, and the dazzling language his readers have come to expect from his first two books, Green Squall, winner of the Yale Younger Poets Prize, and The Abridged History of Rainfall, a finalist for the National Book Award in Poetry.

Elegy is one of the oldest poetic forms, and mortality one of the oldest concerns of our species. Still Life is a self elegy— weird, Hopler said, to be writing it, having recently written an elegy for his father in The Abridged History of Rainfall. Here is a sampling of his takes on his own death.

In a poem after Cesar Vallejo

i will die in the desert on a sunny day
b/c i was born in the islands
on a rainy one

. . .

it will be a Friday b/c today friday stoned & alone I drove
into the west desert & grieved
my own passing & never so much as today do I feel
in the middle of a 2-lane road
empty for 1,000 years in both
directions
(“poem after poem by cesar vallejo w/ a nod to donald justice”)

In a poem for his wife, the poet Kimberly Johnson
it was she that lit the world just then
& not that ember of a sun
her light like a struck string fretting its zing against the pic
nic tables

may that be the music you hear
when they unplug the ventilator

(“love & the memory of it”)

There is rage in these poems (“fuck bigfoot my every star/on real monsters shines/i haunt
my own /damned house in a body sewn/together by doctors”). There is dark comedy (the poem entitled “student evaluation of instruction: obituary edition”).

The formal problem presented by such harrowing subject matter is how to manifest the vitality of a healthy mind in a dying body, to enact both sides of the contradiction. In The Abridged History of Rainfall, Hopler began to use traditional forms and also invented his own forms, a practice he continues in this collection. One of the poets he has cited as an influence on his art is John Berryman, and in an interview with Viviane Eng in The PEN Ten, he said he’d like to have a conversation with Berryman about syntax. Hopler relishes syntactical play, seeing what syntax can do to freshen the page. He uses rhyme, he uses repetition. Wallace Stevens used repetition in his late poems to convey a sense of stasis, the frozen landscape of impending death; Hopler uses it to sing. From the beginning in Green Squall, Hopler’s poems draw tremendous energy from their sound patterns – rhymes, echoes, rhythms. From their music. In fact, Hopler told Reddy that he sees punctuation as musical notation. Significantly, his collection ends with a piece of music composed for him by Paul Rudy. As he states in his notes, “I asked him what he thought I would be if I were a piece of music. This music was his answer.” And under the music, a line of words: “he has been survived” — with no period.

But don’t read Still Life first. Begin at the beginning with Green Squall, poems coming to life in a Florida garden of unremitting fertility in which the young poet is beset with solitude— worries and questions about the meaning of his life. Exuberance, despair, hope, hilarity—it’s all there. (Listen to the title— Green Squall.) The questioning deepens in The Abridged History of Rainfall as he faces grief and the uncertainty of the world upon the loss of a parent.

From my window, I can see the house
Where Galileo invented the telescope.

I wonder what he was thinking
That night, that night he first searched
Heaven. I wonder what it was

He was trying not to see.

(“O, The Sadness Immaculate”)

A still life in painting is called by the French, nature morte—dead nature. A still life “resides in absolute stillness” says the poet Mark Doty. Not Hopler’s Still Life. Life being led through one’s art, in the expectation of imminent death, is still life. And it will break your heart.

***************************
JAY HOPLER’S BOOKS:
Still Life (McSweeny’s Poetry Series, 2022)
The Abridged History of Rainfall (McSweeny’s Poetry Series, 2016)
Green Squall (Yale University Press, 2006)

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Alison Turner’s debut collection, The Second Split Between, was the winner of the 2021 Catamaran Poetry Prize for West Coast Poets, as judged by Dorianne Laux.

The Paris Review and “I Wanna Be Loved By You”

June 29, 2022

One may have noticed that access to this blog was recently blocked for the second time in six months. This time, the problem was resolved much quicker than the first time, but why there is any problem at all remains a mystery to me. GoDaddy seems unwilling to provide basic information to its clientele, who are always at the mercy of their arbitrary decisions about providing servers.

In any case, the blog is back, but I cannot predict how long it will be available. At some point, no doubt, GoDaddy will decide to shift to another set of servers, and leave its customers wondering why they have to spend their time trying to figure out how to remedy the situation. This is just a note to say that if you try to read the blog and can’t get to it, I understand your frustration.

Today, though, I want to call your attention to a post in the PARIS REVIEW yesterday that focused on Marilyn Monroe. It’s the perfect article to read to get you in the mood to find a copy of one of this year’s best anthologies: I WANNA BE LOVED BY YOU, edited by Margo Taft Stever and Susana H. Case, and published by MILK AND CAKE PRESS.

PARIS REVIEW

https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2022/06/28/marilyn-monroes-poetry/

Marilyn the Poet
By Elisa Gonzalez
June 28, 2022

VENICE LIBRARY PRIDE MONTH presents panel on JOSEPH HANSEN

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

The Venice-Abbot Kinney branch of the Los Angeles Public Library was proud to present a panel on novelist, poet, and renown teacher Joseph Hansen today. As an invited panelist, I was delighted to join novelist Michael Nava and senior librarian John Frank in an hour-long discussion of Hansen’s many novels and poems as well as his influence on other writers. Best known for his ten-volume series featuring out-of-the-closest private insurance investigator David Brandstetter, Hansen also was widely praised for other, non-genre novels, including A SMILE IN HIS LIFETIME.

You can also find an article I wrote about Hansen that was published in the LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS at this link:

https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/emotions-doesnt-change-facts-remembering-joseph-hansen/

A long interview with Hansen, conducted by acclaimed poet Leland Hickman, can be found in issue number 18 of BACHY magazine. It is worth digging into the library stacks to find a copy.

Next year will be the centenary of Hansen’s birth. As Michael Nava suggested at the end of the panel, someone at UCLA should organize a full-scale celebration of Joe Hansen’s work. Given that his papers are at the Huntington Library and that he co-founded the Wednesday night poetry workshop at Beyond Baroque, it would be fitting that those two organizations collaborate in putting this event together.

You can watch the panel discussion at:

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I had the honor of publishing two of Joseph Hansen’s books: THE DOG AND OTHER STORIES; and a collection of poems, ONE FOOT IN THE BOAT.

“Awareness of an interfering darkness is what most of these poems take as their subjects — poems about the shadow self and other worlds …. where the two are present together — where the beast is in the body (“Cargo”) or in the world (“The Shark in the Inlet”), or where the landscape contains and does not only have a loss imposed upon it, Hansen writes a terrifically poignant poem.” — Rudy Kikel, Contact II

OTHER CRITICAL COMMENTARY

ALTERNATE: The International Magazine of Sexual Politics
May/June 1980
Volume Two, Number 13

Page 63: HANSEN’S BRIEFS (Review of THE DOG AND OTHER STORIES)

Most often gay fiction takes place in states of id, locations like the Mineshaft, Polk, Fire Isladn. These place exist for a large number of people quite apart from reality. They are the loci of the gay imagination. But many of us also live in unnamed places like most of the places in this book of short stories by Joseh Hansen. Those who have been complaining that gay literature is too urban or fabricates too much will be delighted with this.
Since no one can agree on what gay life actually is, perhaps we’ll stop waiting for the big gay novel that takes it all in – at least for a while – and enjoy. If so, the short story, of which these are wonderful examples, just might be the gay form of the 80s. In and out, quick and clean, just a glimpse of this world or that. How like gay life, which is still more fragmented than whole, still serendipitous.
In this book we confront imaginative possibilities, and the human solutions are as satisfying as the literary ones. Perhaps this comes from Hansen’s experience with plotting detective novels, but I tend to think it has more to do with the opportunities the story form allows. Nothing much has to happen, just that much. And I suppose this is what makes these stories more “real” than most gay novels are able to be. In s short story, it’s not really necessary to hype the actions.
These stories are swift and ironic, rather startling in their effects, though their aims seem modest. They contain hard facts and enigmas alike – like something you glimpse briefly out the window of a speeding bus, something odd sticking out of the landscape, and a little frightening. Although they take place in South Dakota, California, Wisconsin, in the South, there’s a remarkable consistency in the collection. Hansen captures the middle range of America (again, everyone complains gay writers never do this) and it’s seen very clearly, as if through a viewfinder. It looks very easy but these stories took a lot of hard work. They go by, however, smoothly. The problem is, there are so few of them and everyone will want to read more.

BY GEORGE WHITMORE

Inquiries about these books should be sent to William.BillMohr@gmail.com

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COMMENTARY ON THE BRANDSTETTER SERIES

“One of the peculiarities of Hansen’s career, strangely enough, is that he has only very recently begun to receive any acknowledgement of the development of this character from any gay critics. A middle-class role model must not be worthy in the eyes of our radical literary establishment. Or perhaps we’re all so focused on the long-awaited Messiah in the body of the Great Gay Book that we’ve disdained something as mundane as a detective novel. For whatever reason, only the recent publication of Skinflick has drawn any gay critical attention worthy of note. We’ve abandoned our best-selling novelist and our best character in contemporary American literature to the straight audience.
It will be interesting when someone can finally explain why the London Times lauds a book as the best to come out of America in the detective field since Dashell Hammett, and then gay men in the novel’s home country refuse to buy it. That was the fate of The Man Everybody was Afraid Of. There’s been a reprieve issued by Hansen’s publisher, though; three of Hansen’s detective series which are out of print will be reissued this fall in trade paperback. ..the five novels so far published…for those who want to look, we can also see just how completely a significant novelist can use California.
There is a breadth of character development in the entirety of the series that transcends the individual novels. Subplots that might seem inconsequential in isolation become obvious and extraordinarily rich in the whole. The most significant example of this is David Brandstetter’s love affair with Doug Sawyer. Every single exchange between the two is an insightful look at two men attempting love. But when the whole series is integrated, the reader is given one of the most sincere and painfully honest portraits of a gay male relationship that has existed so far in our literature. …California becomes a character in the novels, reflecting the mood and the temperaments of the two and the other men.

Page 25

Father’s Day

I think I’ve been to Dodger Stadium once in the past decade and a half. Brooks and Lea Ann Roddan had been given some extra tickets to a game, and we sat together in some seats that were level enough with the field that the pitcher on the mound would block out the shortstop. We enjoyed the game, but Linda is even less fond of crowds than I am.

I used to go to games in the 1970s and 1980s, when tickets were much more reasonable. For a while, about forty years ago, a fairly large contingent of poets and artistic friends would attend games together. We called ourselves “Artists Interested in Baseball” (AiB). The photographer Gerald Marshall David was the main organizer.

Once, in the late 1980s, I believe, my brother Jim drove my father up from San Diego, and we met at Dodger Stadium, where we watched a game together. I think it was a Saturday afternoon. My dad was tall, strong, and handsome, and worked hard all his life. I wish he had lived long enough so that he could have seen me have some professional success as an academic. Very few offspring of career enlisted military personnel ever become full professors at a four-year college. In this photograph, one of his hands is extended as if to say “I present you my two oldest sons.”

My father died in September, 1994. His widow lived another quarter=century, and my brother Jim and I made sure that she had the best possible care the last three years of her life. The urns with their ashes are now next to each other at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego. Jim and I will not be buried there with them, but perhaps that is a way that fate marks those who give service to their country, for both parents were veterans. It is an experience separate from what most citizens can possibly imagine. I know that when I sit at the Academic Senate at CSULB, there are few people around me who have ever set foot on the grounds of the Veterans’ Hospital that is next door to the campus.

I will soon be two years older than he was when he died. I hope that I can work as a professor for at least as long as he was in the United States Navy, enduring conditions that few people serving in Congress can possibly comprehend.

Stop the White Supremacy of Junk Mail!

The junk mail doesn’t stop. By “junk” I don’t mean that the causes that are espoused are frivolous or self-serving, or accomplish nothing in assisting oppressed and persecuted people who find themselves in very unfortunate circumstances. I do mean that I don’t see the point of the inundation of my mail box. “Doctors Without Borders” seems like a worthy organization, but a single donation has caused a relentless arrival of letters requesting additional contributions. Various other causes on behalf of social justice and environmental projects more than do their part to fill my mailbox. The image is roughly ten weeks worth of junk mail. There is no “season” for junk mail, however. It’s year-round, so you can multiply this image by at least five to get the annual harvest. It does seem to have let up a bit recently, but not by much.

None of these requests contain detailed budgets or provide specific details on how their organizations are working on their own self-governance to correct the social imbalances of white power. Obviously, the mailing lists are for sale, which is one of the major goals of the fundraisers, who know that some people are very good at ignoring emails from non-profit corporations.

White I recycle this unopened mail, it feels as if it’s a losing proposition, since far more energy was wasted in the production and delivery of this material than can ever be recovered in “recycling.”

Jay Hopler (1970-2022)

Monday, June 20, 2022

I saw a twitter post from Alicia Stallings about the death of Jay Hopler, winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets award in 2005. If you are not familiar with his writing, it might be best to start with the first link, so it is the network of poets and writers whose work he affiliated himself with that would make further reading more rewarding. The contributors include Kimberly Johnson, Molly Peacock, Stephen Burt, Stephen Yenser, Katie Ford, Alicia Ostriker, and Calvin Bedient. It would be an even better collection if Mark Jarman could have contributed an essay, too, I am very grateful to have this available on-line to serve immediately as part of Hopler’s legacy.

And, just for the record, here are four lines of poetry that will last as long as any written by Thomas Nashe (“In the Time of Plague”). in the past century in the United States, the plague is cancer, to which Hopler succumbed this past Thursday.

Over the soccer fields roll
The shadows of clouds.
In the piss-tolled bowl,
A little billow of blood.

If you can’t hear the echo and swell of Hopler’s vowels and consonants, then you need to “put your ears on.” I only wish Hopler could have been a guest on the Century Cable program I had that used that imperative as its title.

According to his faculty page at the University of South Florida, where he taught since 2006, he was “a practitioner of Ashtanga Yoga, an aficionado of the creature feature, a devotee of punk rock (favorite bands include Bad Brains, The Vandals, Black Flag, Fugazi, and Rites of Spring), and a supporter of Arsenal Football Club.” His Ph.D. dissertation at Purdue was on the topic of the hit man as a trope in American literature. Suzanne Lummis and Hopler would no doubt have had a memorable conversation, if only he had lived longer.

https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/bfm%3A978-3-319-55300-9%2F1.pdf

https://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/jay-hopler

https://pen.org/the-pen-ten-an-interview-with-jay-hopler/

Interview with Poet Jay Hopler

https://aprweb.org/poems/gardening5

Happy Birthday, Ron Padgett!

June 18, 2022

Three nights ago I was reading Ron Padgett’s HOW LONG (Coffee House Press, 2011) and finding the poems to be as delightful and full of droll annotations as I remember from my first reading. The second poem in that collection, “The Death Deal,” meditates on the various ways that one might die, and considers how the narrator of the poem might very well find his curiosity requited in the near future. Padgett, with his usual dead-pan joie d’vivre, ends the poem with the line, “Now for lunch,” as if to say that the pleasure awaiting him in preparing and eating the mid-day meal deserves every bit as much of circumspect anticipation.

Well, now it’s 2022, and Ron is still with us: 80 years old!

Happy birthday, Ron! And sorry that I’m a day late.

— Sincerely,
Bill Mohr

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“How to be Perfect”

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/57243/how-to-be-perfect

T.A.Z. versus the Kleefeld Art Museum at CSULB

The author of “T.A.Z.: The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism” died three weeks ago. If only he could lived long enough to see the cultural debacle that’s taking place at California State University, Long Beach, so that he could savor why his book still remains so relevant! Or better still, if only he was still in good enough health so that he could be hired by CSULB to pass out free copies of his book to anyone with enough schadenfreude to visit the exhibit that is currently up at CSULB’s art museum.

Christopher Knight’s commentary in the LA Times pretty well sums it up.

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/story/2022-06-13/kleefeld-art-museum-csulb-commentary

Since Knight cites specific titles of some Kleefeld’s writing, I would like to add this postscript:

I remember all too well encountering Kleefeld’s Climates of the Mind when I worked at a bookstore in the late 1970s, which was founded by several people including two friends, Lenny and Randy. We had various writers and poets read at that store: John Rechy, Patricia Hampl, Dennis Cooper, James Krusoe, Leslie Scalapino, T.C. Boyle, Richard Howard, Kate Braverman, Ted Greenwald. I was in charge of that store’s reading series and I can assure you that Ms. Kleefeld had absolutely no chance (as in ZERO chance) of reading at that store.

I also remember not that long ago reading about the donation of ten million dollars to the CSULB art museum back and feeling utterly helpless. “Clueless,” I thought to myself. “This is going to be like the fate of a certain opera singer in Citizen Kane.”

I’m not sure how CSULB’s art museum can recover its dignity. It would be far better for the campus’s art museum to still be confined to the fifth floor of the campus library, which is where it was located when I visited the campus around 1980 and had the pleasure of taking in an exhibit of Jim Dine’s pencil work. It was the first time I’d ever realized pencil drawing could be as accomplished and meaningful as painting. Does anyone believe that visiting Kleefeld’s exhibit is going to be a memorable encounter?

I suppose CSULB should be grateful that nobody reminded Christopher Knight of a certain exhibition of tape recordings at the campus’s art museum a few years back, an exhibition that seems to have gotten shut down because it made someone at the Chancellor’s Office uncomfortable. Maybe on the other hand if a generous benefactor had given the university ten million dollars, somehow that exhibition would suddenly not have been seen as quite so confrontational. The contrast between these two exhibitions is a rather daunting indictment of wealth’s presumptuousness and institutional gullibility.