Tuesday, June 19, 2012

800 Words: The Many, Many Times I've Been Wrong

“And then there’s the still more amazing Glagolitic Mass - described by Milan Kundera as 'more an orgy than a mass.' It’s just the plain Church Mass which so many Christian denominations use to this day, but it’s in Old Church Slavonic rather than Latin or Greek or Russian. Oddly, the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) section is missing, with its invocation ‘Dona Nobis Pacem’ (Give us peace). It’s fruitless to speculate, but my guess is that Janacek did this deliberately, and substituted in its place a war cry. Specifically a war cry played by the Organ, to sound a note of defiance for the Czech people who had been under Austro-German subjugation for so many centuries (and would soon be again).”

(The Agnus Dei of Janacek’s Glagolitic Mass.)

The evidence on this blog keeps piling up that I’m either a fraud or going senile. I’d hope that anyone who knows me well enough would think it more likely to be the latter. The Glagolitic Mass is a piece I could probably write out in full score with reasonably impressive accuracy (both in original and revised versions – just don’t expect me to remember the text…). And yet I’d written that there’s no Agnus Dei section. No doubt, any number of experts would read that statement and conclude that I know absolutely nothing about Janacek…perhaps I don’t if I make a mistake that obvious. But if that’s the case with a composer I love as much as Janacek, then there’s probably no hope for me to opine reliably on any other subject either. Perhaps my memory for facts and figures is going the way of my memory for everything else, aka arguably non-existent. As my brother Ethan reminded me last night, I seem to remember any fact I’ve been told once over my lifetime, yet I seem to be locked out of my apartment once every three days.

I’d like to think that this is the single worst transgression against easily confirmable facts which I’ve ever committed on this blog. But I know myself too well to ever believe that. During the last couple weeks I referred to Walther Rathenau as Walter von Rathenau, I claimed that life under British Imperialism was easily the most tolerable of all imperial rules because I’d forgotten about the French ‘mission civilisatrice’ which allowed imperial subjects to become French citizens and even stand for Parliament; I entitled a post ‘Culture of Offense’  after I’d devoted an entire jeremiad on this blog to the misuse of the term ‘culture’ as a way to describe anything people dislike about other people. But the single worst mistake was when I wrote an entire post about Istanbul, or 'Istambul' as I spelled it...for the entirety of the post. I'd even visited Istanbul (for a day) when I was 17. I genuinely didn’t realize the mistake I’d made until Der Koosh pointed it out to me, at which point I truly didn’t believe him until I googled the city, and then realized that I’d been spelling it wrong my whole life.

This particular mistake only occurred to me yesterday as I was biking, alone with my thoughts and the good weather. In a fit of dread, I nearly doubled back to my apartment correct the error the moment I realized it. And then I thought… why bother? The damage is done; just another in my series of easily correctable mistakes, most of which I probably haven’t yet noticed.

Fortunately, very few people regularly read this blog. If they did, I’d have long since been discredited as a credible source for just about anything – and that’s precisely why it stings so badly when I’ve been blamed for things I know I’d done correctly. During the extremely brief period I was a fourth-string music critic for the Washington Post, I apparently got the facts wrong on the price of a ticket – and the ticket price was the crux of my entire review. But there remains another fact that I’d found three separate websites which listed the ticket price I listed (one of which changed the listed ticket price for the group’s concert a mere hour after I called to inquire, thereby sabotaging my claim to the Post editors). Meanwhile, my old editor at our college webzine is a rising star at the Washington Post. He recently did a profile about the likely next Senator from Maine, Angus King. He referred to King as a thoroughly independent-minded politician in the tradition of such other iconoclastic Maine politicians as Olympia Snowe, Margaret Chase Smith, and George Mitchell…George Mitchell was a Senate Democratic Majority Leader. When George HW Bush tried to paint Bill Clinton as another ‘tax-and-spend liberal’, it was George Mitchell (along with Ted Kennedy) to whom he most liked to compare Clinton.

I’m a family business factotum; he’s a star at the Washington Post. Life isn’t fair, and people who are far worse off than I could complain with much more authenticity than I can.

So what can I possibly say in my defense except that like any writer entertaining enough to be worth reading, I’m wrong at least as often as I’m right? Like any blogger, the onanistic pleasure of bloviating to the wind is but a click of a mouse away. Who needs facts when you have opinions? I don’t claim to be smarter than everyone else, just that I try to be J


  1. I'm just glad that you didn't take my spelling correction as an excuse to pull a Jed Bartlett and crash into a tree.

  2. Are we mixing two different West Wing plots?