Mr Peabody & Sherman

Mr Peabody & ShermanWhen Mr Peabody & Sherman came out last year, I was torn. On the one hand, I am still a huge Jay Ward fan. And when I was a kid, The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show was my favorite thing on television, and “Peabody’s Improbable History” was my favorite part of it. But on the other hand, I now find “Peabody” the most annoying part of the show. What’s more, there was 2000’s The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle — a film I can’t criticize too much because the first half hour was so bad that I stopped watching it.

Mr Peabody & Sherman is not a bad film. But why do people claim that it “stayed true” to the original cartoon? It did not. For one thing, the film is sentimental and the shorts were most definitely not. The ending where Peabody finally says he loves Sherman made me want to vomit. Peabody himself comes off more like Snoopy as “Joe Cool” than the original Nobel Prize winning dog. But most of all, there were the puns. I can hardly blame the writers for coming up with really good puns as opposed to the horrible puns in the show. But Sherman doesn’t get the puns in the movie, whereas Sherman getting the puns is absolutely critical to the show.

There is a fundamental problem with turning something like “Peabody’s Improbable History” into a feature length film. The episodes are meant to be at least somewhat annoying. This is why Sherman’s understanding of the puns is so important. He acts as a surrogate for the audience. The puns are coming. The puns are bad. And we need an ally — someone who shares the groan with us. And remember: many “Peabody” episodes are nothing but setups for Peabody’s final pun. He didn’t build the WABAC machine to entertain Sherman, but just as an outlet for his nasty pun habit.

Another problem is that these films almost always get too involved with being action films. That’s fine. But why use such pure characters as Peabody and Sherman? Well, we know the reason. Hollywood wanted to use the brand and then apply its usual boring storytelling approach to it. In this case, the film would have been better off doing something along the lines Time Bandits, because at least it doesn’t take itself seriously enough to force a prolonged third act action sequence.

Ultimately, Mr Peabody & Sherman works on its own terms. But it manages to destroy everything that the original was. It was most definitely not “true” to the original. I’m not sure that a feature length film could be true to the original. But strangely, the live-action films Dudley Do-Right and George of the Jungle work surprisingly well. Maybe it is because they are by definition different. They don’t try to compete with the originals on their own terms. Because frankly, that’s impossible.


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The Myth of Objective Journalism

Glenn GreenwaldThe worst aspect of these journalists’ demands for “neutrality” is the conceit that they are actually neutral, that they are themselves not activists. To be lectured about the need for journalistic neutrality by Politico of all places — the ultimate and most loyal servant of the DC political and corporate class — by itself illustrates what a rotten sham this claim is. I set out my argument about this at length in my 2013 exchange with Bill Keller and won’t repeat it all here; suffice to say, all journalism is deeply subjective and serves some group’s interests. All journalists constantly express opinions and present the world in accordance with their deeply subjective biases — and thus constantly serve one agenda or another — whether they honestly admit doing so or dishonestly pretend they don’t.

Ultimately, demands for “neutrality” and “objectivity” are little more than rules designed to shield those with the greatest power from meaningful challenge. As BuzzFeed’s Adam Serwer insightfully put it this morning, “‘Objective’ reporters were openly mocking Trump not that long ago, but Ramos has not reacted to Trump’s poll numbers with appropriate deference… Just a reminder that what is considered objective reporting is intimately tied to power or the perception of power.” Expressing opinions that are in accord with, and which serve the interests of, those who wield the greatest political and economic power is always acceptable for the journalists who most tightly embrace the pretense of “neutrality”; it’s only when an opinion constitutes dissent or when it’s expressed with too little reverence for the most powerful does it cross the line into “activism” and “bias.”

—Glenn Greenwald
Jorge Ramos Commits Journalism, Gets Immediately Attacked by Journalists

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Draft Biden?! Give Me a Break!

Joe BidenI hate writing about the game aspect of politics. I don’t really care who is winning in the polls — at least not at this point. I don’t even much care who is running for office. The truth of the matter is that if the Democrats win the presidency next year, it will be a good thing — no matter who it is. And if the Republicans win, I think it will be a catastrophe. But at this point there really is nothing to talk about. And the fact that the mainstream press is obsessed with the “horse race” is just an indication that it can’t be bothered to care about actual policy.

But over the past week, I’ve been hearing a lot about Joe Biden. And it seems to have reached a peak. According to many, Joe Biden is going to jump in the race and beat Hillary Clinton. Or something. Yesterday, Bloomberg published, Biden More Competitive Than Clinton Against Leading Republicans: Poll. One poll means nothing. One poll at this point in the race shouldn’t even be reported. And one poll that compares one actual candidate with someone who is not running should send the reporter to a very central level of hell.

Has everyone forgotten how great Hillary Clinton’s approval ratings were when she wasn’t running for president? The mechanism here is so simple that even Washington reporters should be able to understand it. While someone is not a candidate, no one goes around bashing them. Reporters aren’t following them around and looking for any possible scandal. I assure if Hillary Clinton were having an affair with her videographer, we would know about it. But Joe Biden could be doing the same thing and we wouldn’t know, because no one is looking.

None of this is to say that Joe Biden isn’t secretly running for president. But I think the odds of him running without Clinton dropping out are between zero and a number slightly higher than zero. Even the Bloomberg article was subtitled, “A solid majority of Democrats still want Clinton to be their nominee.” So what is this all about? Well, I can tell you this: my father came to me today and told me he thought that Joe Biden was going to be the Democratic nominee. I knew where that was coming from, Krauthammer: A Biden-Warren Ticket Would Be Perfect For Democrats, Ensure 12 Years Of Liberal Rule. Because if there is one thing that Charles Krauthammer cares about, it is what is best for the Democratic Party.

And that’s what I think this is all about. This is the Republican Party machine pushing articles to lazy Washington reporters (a redundant phrase, I know) about how Clinton is going down. And it is possible if the Republicans got to choose the Democratic presidential nominee, Clinton would go down. Just the same, if the Democrats got to choose the Republican presidential nominee, Trump would win big. And what does any of this mean for the presidential primaries? Nothing.

There are a number of liberals who I read who seem to like the idea of Biden being the nominee. I like Biden. I like Clinton. I really like Sanders. And I’d vote for any of them running against any of the possible Republican nominees. But what exactly does Biden bring to the general election that Clinton does not? All I can think is that he isn’t plagued by fake scandals. But of course, if he did become the nominee, he too would be plagued by fake scandals. The draft-Biden campaign is really more like the draft-anyone-but-Clinton campaign. And we saw this with Romney in 2012. In that case it was Republicans doing it, but this time it is — Oh, wait! — Republicans doing it again.

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Fed May Raise Rates Because They’re Cowards

Janet YellenI don’t understand the Federal Reserve. For at least the last year, economists everywhere have been wondering if the Fed is going to raise interest rates. You see, there are many people who are concerned about inflation. And they think that the Fed’s “easy money” policy is going to cause inflation. Now, most of these people are the kind who have been hiding double eagle gold coins under their floorboards ever since Obama was elected president. But the people at the Fed — who seem to be smart and reasonable people — go along with this kind of thing. And it makes no sense.

Let’s assume that inflation in the United States really got out of control and shot up to 5%. There are a couple of things about that. First, a 5% inflation rate for a year or two might actually be good for the economy. But if the people at the Fed didn’t accept this, they could bring that inflation down quite fast by raising interest rates. The only reason there is so much concern about inflation is that it might take a few months to get back down, and that money that the rich would be losing! Can’t have that. What we can, however, have is millions of extra people out of work, because they just don’t matter.

The Federal Reserve’s inflation target is 2%. That means that it should be around 2% — sometimes above and sometimes below. Wanna know what it has been for the first six months of this year: -0.1%, 0.0%, -0.1%, -0.2%, 0.0%, 0.1%, and 0.2%. So the inflation rate for the first half of 2015 is -0.02%. That is far below the Fed’s target. People should be screaming about the inflation rate being too low because it discourages purchases and keeps the dollar too strong against other currencies, thus making our exports less competitive. Some people are concerned about that. But mostly, the concern is that the we are going to turn into Zimbabwe with hyperinflation!

Mark Thoma — a great economist who is not prone to hyperbole — has an idea as to why the Fed might raise interest rates even though it is clearly the wrong thing to do, As Stocks Lurch, Fed Ponders Twist of the Dial. As I’ve said, I’d be very happy if inflation went up — even as high as 5%, although 3% to 4% would be better. But if inflation does go up — even to the supposed proper rate of 2% — the power elite of this country will scream and blame the Federal Reserve. On the other hand, if the Fed raises rates and millions of people lose their jobs, well, that isn’t necessarily the Fed’s fault. There are a lot of reasons that the economy fluctuates.

Do you get that? We may see the Federal Reserve raise interest rates. This will have the effect of putting many people out of work and lowering the wages of many more. And this will all be done because the people on the Federal Reserve are cowards. Of course, the Very Serious people — people like William Saletan — will applaud them and claim that they are being “brave.” That’s because there is nothing more brave to the power elite and their apologists than to make the weak suffer.

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Morning Music: Dan Tyminski

Man of Constant SorrowAt this point it seemed that anyone you think might have been tempted to cover “Man of Constant Sorrow” has. Of course, you knew that after Judy Collins did it everyone would have to. What I think is strange is that it really wasn’t picked up by punk bands. (But just wait until tomorrow before correcting me!) The truth is that musically, punk and folk aren’t that far apart.

Which brings us to the version in O Brother, Where Art Thou? It was recorded by Dan Tyminski, Harley Allen, and Pat Enright, with Tyminski on lead vocals. But here Tyminski is with Alison Krauss and Union Station doing the song live:

In a sense, I think this version kind of destroys the song in the same way that Jean-François Paillard’s version destroyed Pachelbel’s Canon. It is so powerful that everyone will agree that it is the way that the song ought to be performed and people will stop trying to innovate. Of course, there will always be the iconoclasts who insist that Emry Arthur or Sarah Ogan Gunning had it right all along and the song will be plopped on the end of a disc. But to really please an audience, it’s going to have to have that three-part harmony and the prominent banjo. It will be just like that damned pizzicato counterpoint in “Pachelbel’s Canon.”


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Anniversary Post: Slavery Abolition Act 1833

The Black Man's LamentOn this date the British Empire abolished slavery with the Slavery Abolition Act 1833. It was a long time in coming. In fact, slavery was illegal in Britain itself from 1772 onward. I’m mostly interested in it because of the effect of the abolitionist movement in Britain on the Revolutionary war.

I find it constantly amazing to look at the lies I was told growing up. I’m a good example of the “whistleblower mentality.” Studies show that whistleblowers tend to be the true believers who find that they’ve been lied to. Growing up, I believed all that garbage about the United States standing up for democracy and all the myths about people founding America for freedom and how we had to break with Britain because of a lack of representation. (That last one is a hoot!)

None of this is to say that there wasn’t a lot of noble idealism that built the United States. But there was a lot of vileness that built it too. I’m fine with that. I just don’t like to be lied to. And I think it makes the nation worse. It is what allows Chris Christie to run his television commercials claiming that the nuclear deal will give Iran nuclear weapons and to generally dehumanize other countries.

As Dylan Matthews wrote last month, the American slave population was not in favor of independence. They understood that they would be better off under British rule. He also quoted Simon Schama as saying that the Revolutionary War was “first and foremost, mobilized to protect slavery.” And the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 is a good symbol of that. It doesn’t mean that the Brits were great and we were horrible. But it does mean that slavery was far more important to our economy than it was to theirs. And so they stopped doing what everyone must have known was wrong.


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Our Weak Recovery in One Graph

Government Spending During RecessionsThis graph comes via Kevin Drum, Here’s Why the Recovery Has Been So Weak. As he points out, it isn’t new. I have written about this many times myself. But it is really really annoying.

Part of this is Obama’s fault. I remember in 2010, he was spouting the same conservative nonsense as the Republicans, “Families across the country are tightening their belts and making tough decisions. The federal government should do the same.” No! No! No! That’s not how macroeconomics works. The entire economy is not like a household. In the entire economy, one person’s reduced spending is another person’s reduced revenue. It was not the right time to tighten the federal budget when the unemployment rate was 9.8% and the inflation rate was 2.6% and heading down.

But the bigger issue is that Republicans always decide that we just can’t spend any money when a Democrat is in the White House. They have been determined to harm the country until a Republican is elected president. And you can count on them racking up huge deficits the moment that happens. And then the economy will quickly improve and everyone will say, “The Republicans saved the economy!” This is all so predictable that it makes me want to do physical harm to myself — like bang my head against a stone wall.

What the graph above shows is that even since World War II, we have all agreed that the government must spend more money during a recession. That’s certainly what we did under George W Bush during the 2001 recession. But we don’t do it now. And it makes me angry. I don’t really blame the Republicans. They are traitors, but I understand that they are just looking out for themselves and they’ve never claimed to be anything else. They are really awful — but honest.

What makes me angry is that the American people keep voting for them. How low does the Republican Party have to sink before the American people will say, “Enough!” Sadly, I think the answer is that there is no level. If the Republicans created a debt crisis by refusing to raise the debt ceiling, it would throw the global economy into recession. But as long as it was done more than six months before an election, the American people would not punish them.

In fact, we’ve already seen this. The world economy is still struggling because of the economic policies forced on us by the Republicans over the last six years. Of course, there are two sides to this. First, there is the ignorant, hateful conservative base that comes out to vote because the only thing that they have to stop them is the fact that they might miss one of their favorite Fox News shows. Second, there are the liberals like Carey Wedler who can’t manage to show up to vote when it isn’t a presidential election.

I wonder if the American people realize just how close we are to fascism? Or even if they care? The Nazis didn’t come to power in Germany because a majority of the people wanted them. If the people of a country can’t be bothered to care for their democracy, they will see it go away very quickly. And if you don’t have a job right now or if you haven’t received a raise in 8 years, all you need to know is in that graph above. And it is mostly thanks to a political party that cares only about getting power and doesn’t care if it has to destroy the nation and its people to get it.

Vote, damn it!


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Guns Don’t Kill People, But Cars Do

Brian BeutlerFor years, in response to political pressure, the Centers for Disease Control have been effectively prohibited from researching gun violence as a public health and safety issue unto itself. Two months ago, in the immediate aftermath of the Emanuel AME church massacre in Charleston, South Carolina, when a powerful House panel torpedoed a piece of legislation that would’ve permitted the Centers for Disease Control to study the root causes of gun violence, House Speaker John Boehner defended this sort of interference.

“The CDC is there to look at diseases that need to be dealt with to protect public health,” Boehner told Todd Zwillich, The Takeaway’s Washington correspondent, at a Capitol press briefing. “I’m sorry, but a gun is not a disease. Guns don’t kill people — people do. And when people use weapons in a horrible way, we should condemn the actions of the individual and not blame the action on some weapon.”

Guns are not microbes, but neither are automobiles, unhealthy foods, slothfulness, or any number of other unhealthy things that the CDC researches, unencumbered. When a bullet pierces human flesh, that body becomes extremely ill right away, no less than when a body flies through a windshield or experiences a severe electric shock. But where government actively regulates cars and construction sites — indeed is applauded for doing so — it simultaneously takes steps to abstract guns from the harm they cause, and silence public officials who refuse to play along.

—Brian Beutler
More People Should See Vester Flanagan Kill His Coworkers on Live TV

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Using Statistics for Bigotry

Stupid Terrorism Stat

I found this table on a vile but (unsurprisingly) popular blog called The Religion of Peace. Get it?! The Muslims killed 2,996 Americans on 9/11, but only 1 Muslim-American was killed in response. I don’t know about these statistics. There have been other terrorist attacks, so I suspect we could up that number of Americans killed (some of which were Muslims). (Actually, they do increase the number: 3,106 currently.) And it seems to me that there were more Muslim-Americans killed in response. But the numbers don’t matter. I’ll grant them. The point is that this is an incredibly skewed way of looking at the results of 9/11.

George W Bush would never have had the political support to invade Iraq without the 9/11 attacks. As we know from Richard Clarke, in the first 24 hours after the attack — and for months afterwards — senior administration officials wanted to use the attacks as a pretense to invade Iraq. The Iraq War is a direct result of the 9/11 attacks, even though Iraq had nothing to do with those attacks. So we can’t even say that the Iraq War was a response to the 9/11 attacks. It was just an excuse. So if we want to look at Muslim vs anti-Muslim violence, we’ve got to look at the Iraq War.

The Iraq Body Count project found that between 112,000 and 123,000 Iraqi civilians were killed during the Iraq War. So that’s at least 36 times as many Muslims killed as Americans. When you put it that way, it doesn’t look so good for the Americans. But I get it: there are lots of ways to do the accounting. But I’m pretty sure that the United States — with just slightly less in military spending than the rest of the world combined — will turn out to look pretty bad regardless of how you look at it. Or at least it will unless you decide to present data in an absurdly skewed way as The Religion of Peace has.

If you read the “About Us” page on their website, you will find out that it “is a pluralistic, non-partisan site concerned with Islam’s true political and religious teachings according to its own texts.” This goes back to the article I wrote the other day, Religions Reflect Not Define. Anti-Muslims just love to pick through the Quran and find whatever passages they can to make their case that Islam is a horrendous religion. The same thing can be done to pretty much any religion, and I’ll admit, that Quran has lots of great blood thirsty garbage in it. But just as very few Christians believe that homosexuals should be stoned to death, very few Muslims believe similar passages in the Quran.

None of this means much of anything except that there are a lot of bigots out there. It works the same way regardless of who is doing it or who it is being done to. The violence that we perpetrate is excused as defensive and thus justified; the violence that they perpetrate is unacceptable because it is aggressive. A handful of impotent guerrilla fighters is justification for a hundred thousand uniformed troops to kill thousands of civilians.

So the narrative that our friends at The Religion of Peace are offering is that the US was just minding its own business and we were attacked on 9/11. That’s a simplistic but acceptable claim. But then, we start two wars as a result — killing many tens of thousands of civilians. But we are the good guys! The people we killed were not in response to 9/11. They were just unfortunate casualties of war. The score is 2,996 Muslim murders and just one American murder. When people can’t take responsibility for their actions, they don’t grow. When countries can’t take responsibility for their actions, they die. It isn’t hard to see America dying.

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The Basis of Trump’s Appeal: Authoritarianism

Donald TrumpAt The New York Times, Frank Bruni was scratching his head, Trump-ward, Christian Soldiers? He wants to know how it is that such an un-Christian man as Donald Trump can be doing so well with evangelical voters. After all, “He just about runs the table on the seven deadly sins. He personifies greed, embodies pride, radiates lust. Wrath is covered by his anti-immigrant, anti-‘losers’ rants, and if we interpret gluttony to include big buildings and not just Big Macs, he’s a glutton through and through. That leaves envy and sloth. I’m betting that he harbors plenty of the former, though I’ll concede that he exhibits none of the latter.” By Christian dogma, you really only need one of the deadly sins and Trump gets at least six. (I’m not as inclined as Bruni to give him a pass on sloth.)

Bruni isn’t just talking about Trump. He also discussed Ted Cruz who spoke publicly about the “misery, stagnation, and malaise” of the Carter presidency the day Carter’s health problems were made public. Before discussing this, remember that what Cruz said is factually wrong. The economy did better under Carter than it did under Reagan’s first term. But thinking that everything was terrible under Carter is just something that all Republicans “know.” Regardless, Bruni contrasted Cruz’s and Trump’s public un-Christian behavior with Carter’s humble Christianity, “His own Christianity is not a bludgeon but a bridge.”

But is it the case that evangelicals support Trump (and to a lesser extent Cruz and Huckabee) because he makes a big public deal about his supposed faith? Certainly Paul Krugman doesn’t think so. He wrote a great, short blog post, The Reactionary Soul. He noted, “Conservative religiosity… [was] never about living a godly life.” He also talks about the conservatives who believe in the “free market” supporting a mercantilist like Trump. Conservatives don’t support these things that they claim to. Krugman quoted Corey Robin:

[Conservatism is] a reactionary movement, a defense of power and privilege against democratic challenges from below, particularly in the private spheres of the family and the workplace.

Although this is certainly true, what really defines conservatives is their authoritarianism. And Krugman even gets at this. “Trump is admired for putting women and workers in their place, and it doesn’t matter if he covets his neighbor’s wife or demands trade wars.” Conservatives like Trump and their other heroes because they are “strong.” I talk a lot about the Republican Party being proto-fascist. But the truth is that the Republican voters are full out fascists. They are looking for exactly what the German, Italian, and Spanish fascists offered.

Let us not forget the love affair that conservative had with Vladimir Putin. Last year, Ishaan Tharoor posted a number of comments from conservatives as to why they liked Putin and it is illuminating. This was following the Syrian crisis. It’s all the same: Putin is “strong” and a “leader.” And what that mean is that Putin is an authoritarian. It reminds me of an episode of This American Life, Swing Set. It was during the 2004 election, and Ira Glass had a series of conversations with a conservative doctor James Hackett. Hackett hated everything that Bush had done. But he kept coming back to the same idea: he hated what Bush did, but at least Bush did what he thought was right. (This is a ridiculous contention — Bush was one of the most fake politicians ever — but let’s go with it.) So it was worse to vote for a politician who panders to the wishes of the people than to vote for a man who went against them. So “strength” is more important than being right — or even democracy itself.

Trump is the ultimate conservative politician. It doesn’t matter what his policies are. It doesn’t matter what his character is. Whether the conservative is a Christian evangelical or a libertarian “free” marketeer, Trump is what really matters to these voters: he’s an authoritarian leader. The conservative base is made up of authoritarian followers. And there are enough of them to elect just about anyone under the right conditions. And if that makes you think of Germany in the early 1930s, it should. It’s terrifying.


As I’ve discussed elsewhere, the reason that the Republican establishment is against Trump is not because of his policies. And it certainly isn’t because he’s an authoritarian. It is because they think he can’t win the general election. So don’t be fooled by the fact that Charles Krauthammer is against Trump. It’s purely tactical.


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Morning Music: Waylon Jennings

Folk-Country - Waylon JenningsMoving on with our week of “Man of Constant Sorrow,” I thought we would visit Waylon Jennings. Yesterday, I wrote that he turned the song into “an easy listening monstrosity.” And that’s true. But I listened to it again, and I was right to add that it “is good in its way.” Part of the problem we have is that as time went on, the people singing became more removed from the subject of the song. Jennings was not a man of constant sorrow.

This song is off Jennings’ second solo album, Folk-Country. The album isn’t bad. It’s got that late-60s sound that I associate with people like Bobby Goldsboro. But it has nothing of what I love this song for:


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Anniversary Post: Rebecca Clarke

Rebecca ClarkeOn this day in 1886, the great violist and composer Rebecca Clarke was born. Sadly, she didn’t write all the much — her longest piece is the twenty odd minute Rhapsody. But because of this, it is all the more notable just how complex her tonal pallet is. The Rhapsody is especially intriguing given the way it supplements her traditionally impressionist style with atonal elements. But unlike Schoenberg, these elements come and go — adding to the dramatic structure of the piece. It’s quite an amazing work:

Clarke faced what can only be described as comical sexism. In 1918, she performed a recital with a number of new pieces by her. One of the pieces, Morpheus was credited not to her, but to “Anthony Trent.” The critics all praised it and ignored the ones she had put her own name to. Now, it is true that Morpheus is a heartbreakingly beautiful piece, but undoubtedly it would have been criticized for that very fact had it been presented under Clarke’s own name. Here it is; it is a wonderful piece:

The following year, she entered her Viola Sonata into a composition competition. She ended up tying with the great composer Ernest Bloch. There was much speculation at the time that “Rebecca Clarke” might be a pseudonym used by Bloch. According to Wikipedia “or at least that it could not have been Clarke who wrote these pieces, as the idea that a woman could write such a work was socially inconceivable.” Of course, even at that time there were great female composers, most notably (for me), Germaine Tailleferre. But facts never stand in the way of prejudice.

Here is a performance of the Viola Sonata with Molly Carr on the viola and Yi-Fang Huang on piano:

Happy birthday Rebecca Clarke!

This is a reposting from last year.


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