Money: The Root of All Evil?

Some ideas and sayings die hard, even when they are demonstrably wrong. In this case, the saying "money is the root of all evil".

To understand what the saying means, we first need to ask, what is money? Essentially, money is nothing more than a medium of exchange. It is a tool or means of allowing people to engage in indirect exchange instead of direct barter. It is usually considered the most commonly exchanged commodity in a society.

As such, money was developed spontaneously in society by people who were having difficulties engaging in direct barter--money solved a difficult exchange problem and made it easier for people to trade with other people in a more convenient form. Commodities like gold and silver were eventually adopted because they were considered most suitable for use as money, given their particular attributes.

Note that money arose spontaneously out of human need--it was not created by governments. Governments only later appropriated the money-making process, which was originally a private function. Only by government appropriation could we have reached our current situation, where debt-backed paper (Federal Reserve Notes) is considered to be "money". Switching back to a commodity-based money supply would currently be difficult and illegal; government would not allow it if they can help it.

So money is a tool that enables the convenient exchange of goods and services between people. To say that money is the root of all evil is to say that voluntary, indirect exchange between people is evil. To a libertarian, and I hope to most other people, this seems like an absurd thing to say. How can it be evil for me to give someone money in exchange for groceries, clothes, books, or other things that I want and need to live my life? Or for people to give me money in exchange for my labor, goods, or services?

Quite simply, voluntary indirect exchange is about as opposite evil as you can get--nothing has improved people's lives as much as the division of labor made possible by indirect exchange through money. It's true that through theft, fraud, or counterfeiting, some people can get money without producing any beneficial good or service in exchange, but that's a small subset of all economic transactions, and doesn't outweigh the benefits of money or change the moral equation.

It's also true that there are serious problems with our current Federal Reserve system and fractional reserve banking, so much so that some consider the Fed itself to be issuing "counterfeit" money. However, this is not fundamental or inevitable to money, but is simply a problem caused by the politics of government taking over the production of money instead of leaving it in the private sector.

In this light, it should be obvious that money is not the root of all evil, coercive power is. The next time someone brings up this old quote to you, perhaps you should ask them what they mean by "money", and maybe they, too, will see the light.


The Plucked Psaltery, Unusual Musical Instruments, part 3

The plucked psaltery is a simple musical instrument with a basic but pleasing sound. It's basically just a piece of wood with strings running across it, fretted at one end, with tuning pins to tune the strings.

While the origins of the psaltery are unknown, it must go back to at least the medievel period, and possibly as far back as Biblical times. Medieval engravings show a 'hog-nosed' version of the psaltery.

It also goes by other names: lap harp, Music Maker, Melody Maker, Melody harp, etc., but "plucked psaltery" seems to me to be the most basic categorical term for it. It belongs to the more generic category of "zither".

The most common version of it is the Melody Maker, a child's musical instrument often made in Russia or other parts of Eastern Europe. It comes in a trapezoidal shape, like a triangle with one tip cut short, and has 15 strings tuned in the key of G for two octaves, and thus is diatonic, not chromatic.
It's fun and easy to play: just pluck the strings with your fingers or with a guitar pick to make a louder sound. You can play familiar melodies, or with trial and error come up with more interesting sounds. Like most things musical, more practice and more understanding of music helps to make better music.

It's not very loud, so if you want to perform or record with it, you'll need to look into pickups or microphones to do so. One simple reason that it sounds so good is that after plucking a string, you just let it ring out until the vibration stops, or until you want to play the same note again. Thus, you get a warm, reverberating, echo-y type sound as you strike new notes while the older notes are still ringing. You can get a nice, swelling sound by playing several notes rapidly in succession.

It's even possible to dampen unwanted strings and play full chords, autoharp-style, although this is a bit difficult to do manually. Or use both hands to play more than one note at the same time.

The children's versions are pretty cheap, for about $40 or less. In fact, I saw that Wal-Mart now carries a version for under $20. However, some folk music instrument makers (like Craggy Mountain Music) make and sell higher quality instruments for more money. You can also occasionally find a decent one on E-Bay.

I'd recommend getting a cheap one to try out, and if you really like it, then go for a more expensive, quality instrument. It's a good instrument for musical beginners (children and adults) and fun even for more advanced musicians.


The Golden Age of Online Comics

This is the golden age of online comics, or comics on the internet. So now that you know, you too can walk around and say, "Gee, I'm living in the Golden Age of online comics!" Heh.

But seriously, there are tons of online comics, with more being created every day, and they're almost all free! Of course, they vary considerably in their quality and style, from very crude to animation-style to cgi. Some strips are even made from photos or recycled, public domain art.

A lot of them are humor strips, and many combine humor with science fiction, fantasy, or some other genre. Curiously, I find very few super hero strips--maybe I'm just looking in the wrong places?

Many of the traditional syndicated strips are available online, as well. Check out comics.com, for example. However, newspaper syndication has always been difficult to break into, and is probably harder now that newspaper circulation is dwindling. Most online comics will never be seen on newsprint, although one revenue source for online comics artists is to sell collections of their strips.

Some online comics aren't done in the "comic strip" format of a few panels, but are done as full pages, like an online comic book, one page at a time. Girl Genius is like this, for example, but then it originally started as a real comic book before going online. And creator Phil Foglio has done quite of bit of comic book work in the past, too.

One thing that bothers me, though, is the creative limits most online comics artists place on themselves. Scott McCloud has already done two books and several online stories and articles of his own that explore the limits of comics on the web.

For one thing, why have panels or borders at all? Why not just a set of borderless pictures loosely separated by space (or in some cases, overlapping pictures for compression of time or action sequences)? Why should they even be in a straight line? Or another possibility is simply that each picture is a separate web page, and you click on the picture to go to the next picture.

There's always the possibility of animation, as in animated gif's, but I think if you do that too much, you really have an animated film, and not a comic, or sequential art.

And there are no practical limits on story content. Sci fi, mystery, romance, suspense, historical, humor, etc. As an online comic artist, you are free to tell the story or stories that you want to tell, without editorial constraint. Even adult material, although one still needs to be a bit more careful with putting it online.

So, just remember, we're living in the Golden Age of Online Comics. Enjoy!

There's only a few online comics I keep up with every day (I do have to get some work done for my employer!), although there are many that I check up on every now and then:

Diesel Sweeties
Sluggy Freelance
Girl Genius
Starslip Crisis
Chainsaw Suit
F Chords
Station V3

Other comics I occasionally check on:

Lost and Found
Fish Tank
Mansion of E
Penguins with Baseball Bats
I Can't Draw Feet
Marooned: A Space Opera in the Wrong Key
Rocket Llama
Ebb's Children
Silence in the Darkness on Q16
Two Lumps: The Adventures of Ebenezer and Snooch
The Bunny System
General Protection Fault
Anarchy in Your Head

And I come across other new ones every now and then to check out.