July 29, 2018

Not "liberal", not even close


(Someone on Quora asked, "Why did Europe become so leftist and liberal?" I copied my answer into this post.)

Europe is neither moving left nor liberal. Over the past fifteen or twenty years, Europe has been drifting into a form of collectivism that has deep fascist overtones but they keep calling it “liberal”. They call it “freedom”, but what I see developing is intense tribalism with multiple deeply loyal groups demanding conformity from their members while condemning anyone outside their group. Some groups call themselves “liberal” and some groups call themselves “conservative”, but from where I sit they all look very similar in their organization and goals. Each group is seeking complete control over all the others while using fear and shame to maintain loyalty within their own ranks. In politics, in sport, in economics, and even in neighborhood leisure clubs this phenomenon is gaining momentum throughout European society. “Tolerance” only applies to the members of the group, and even then, only to the extent they conform to the ideology of the group.

This is one of the factors driving Brexit and giving new recruiting power to traditional fascist and nationalist groups throughout the continent. The demand for social conformity to the ideals of an aristocratic elite that regards itself as more enlightened than everyone else is creating deep discontent among those groups outside the elite circles. I don’t know what this collectivist impulse should be labeled, but it most certainly is neither “liberal” nor “leftist”.

Beginning with the 2008 presidential election season, this same collectivist drive has begun to sweep through the United States. Granted, early glimpses of it could be seen in the “Moral Majority” movement. However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union the “Moral Majority” movement lost all momentum and vanished into the wild, chaotic near anarchy that is normal for American society. The election of Barack Obama to the presidency changed American society very deeply. Barack Obama and his inner circle shared much more philosophical common ground with the elite European collectivists than they did with the individualist and fiercely independent American working class. The drive by the Obama administration to centralization of thought and forced conformity to an ideology of “diversity” with tolerance for everyone except the political opposition created such deep divisions in American society that tribalism gained more prominence as people split into two camps: those that supported the president and those hated by the president’s supporters. Millions of Americans suddenly found themselves being shamed and bullied into accepting an ideology of conformity and compliance with the president. Their response to this was a revival of “Moral Majority” style politics with an emphasis on Constitutionalism and strict nationalism. This is the movement that put Donald Trump into the White House. In Europe, this is the movement driving Brexit, Frexit, and so on.

There is nothing “liberal” about those in both America and Europe who are calling themselves “liberal”. They are fiercely intolerant of anyone not in their group and equally fierce in creating conformity within their ranks. This is why Hillary Clinton felt comfortable labeling everyone who did not support her, “deplorable” and “racist”, and even now, in her few public appearances since the election she still refers to those who voted for Trump as “sexist”. Trump supporters are being attacked in the streets of American cities, members of his administration are being bullied and humiliated at restaurants and convenience stores. Senators and House representatives feel no shame in both complimenting their followers for this behavior and encouraging more of it. This political bullying and shaming is neither liberal nor tolerant. The fact that so much of American society has now coalesced around “resist”, and the fact that this resistance relies heavily on shame and bullying to “debate”, does not bode well for the future of either American society or European.

In both America and Europe, liberalism had begun to look an awful lot like fascism. Drifting “left”? Drifting “right”? I don’t think these labels have any meaning anymore. Western civilization is rapidly descending into a bizarre form of collectivist tribalism.


Brian K. Miller's books:
https://amzn.to/2wFYtJ2

Greyhawk Manor shirts:
https://amzn.to/2rETWSg

Art Prints and other Products:
https://bkmiller428.deviantart.com/prints/


July 19, 2018

The 1875 Remington, a masterpiece of both function and form


I have been designing shirts since September 2017. As of today, I now have 76 products for sale at Amazon.com, 19 designs on 4 styles of shirt (these numbers do not include those shirts featuring cover art from my books). The graphic above is the 19th design. I call it, "1875 Remingtons" and I just uploaded it today. As more and more people encounter my shirts, they provide me with ample feedback, some of it stated quite unkindly! Others try to be helpful, but it is clear they understand neither my vision, my limited skills, nor the limited options Amazon makes available to me. There are also those who fail to realize that having products in the market does not mean I am actually selling them! From the time I uploaded my first book to the Kindle until today, I have only earned $253.08 in royalties between both the books and the shirts (and nothing from my Deviant Arts store). Clearly I am not a threat to Crazy Shirts, at least not yet, and perhaps never.

The two 1875 Remingtons in the photo above are mine. They were made by Uberti Firearms, then tuned and sold by Taylor's Firearms. I ordered them through a local gun shop that closed earlier this year. I am sorry to see it go, but time changes everything.

In 1873 Colt firearms stunned the world for the second time in less than three decades by offering for sale a reliable, powerful, easy to operate centerfire pistol that held six cartridges. They called it the "Peacemaker" and it has become the iconic firearm of the Hollywood cowboy. But movies are not history, not even "historical" ones. After the Civil War ended, tens of thousands of people fled both the crowded, polluted cities of the east and the ruined cities of the south. New railroads and wagon trains carried them into the wide open vistas of the west where they built countless farms, ranches, and small towns. Gold and cattle became the two most lucrative industries in the American economy. The west was poorly managed, poorly regulated, and there was very little law enforcement. Despite this, and despite the Indian Wars, in truth it was a fairly peaceful place. There was very little conflict because everyone was armed. The downside, of course, is that when conflict did erupt it was violent and bloody (and mostly short-lived). A readily available and reliable firearm like the Colt Peacemaker was a great help to farmers, ranchers, merchants, and cowboys.

Although the Peacemaker quickly became the most popular sidearm of the west, it was not the only one. Remington Firearms strengthened their existing New Army Model and re-engineered it to fire centerfire cartridges. They kept the underbarrel strap that was necessary to strengthen the ramrod on the cap and ball New Model Army even though they did not need it. This gave their revolver a very unique, easily recognizable profile. In the opinion of many people both then and now, the understrap gives the Remington a graceful, artistic appearance unmatched by any weapon before or since. The Colt Peacemaker was functional and handsome, but the Remington Model 1875 was a work of both visual and engineering magnificence.

Both the Colt Peacemaker and the Remington Model 1875 are extremely accurate for their era. The two of them are possibly the most accurate handguns of the 19th century. Myself, I find the Remington to be more consistent, but that might be more related to my own shooting style than any mechanical difference in the two weapons. My father gets very consistent results from his Uberti Peacemaker clones, but they feel too lightweight in my hands. His guns have 5-inch barrels, while my Remington clones have 7-inch barrels. The additional sight plane benefits me very greatly, even though this is not true for him. In fact, I get far more consistent results from my pair of 1875 Remingtons than I do from any other weapon in my personal arsenal, including my rifles. Granted, the rifles are better beyond 50 yards, but at 50 yards or less my Remingtons are the most consistent firearms I own. If I could find a way to both conceal them and access them quickly, I would probably use them as my daily carry. Modern semi-automatics might have a greater capacity, but all those extra bullets don't mean much if a shooter cannot hit where they aim, and most people are pretty terrible with a handgun.


Brian K. Miller's books:
https://amzn.to/2wFYtJ2

Greyhawk Manor shirts:
https://amzn.to/2rETWSg

Art Prints and other Products:
https://bkmiller428.deviantart.com/prints/


July 12, 2018

Creating Facebook Ad Campaigns


As I mentioned back in April, I recently fell into designing graphic shirts (Leahi, a.k.a., "Diamond Head"). I have a huge archive of digital photos and a huge stash of half-finished, unpublished writing. Putting the two together has already generated seventeen different designs. Applying those designs to four different shirt styles (along with some earlier cover art shirts) has allowed me to produce 73 different shirts (Greyhawk Manor Designs) and a whole host of gift items (Deviant Art Store). Naturally, sales have been disappointing. It is very difficult for someone who would enjoy these items to just accidentally stumble across them. Cyberspace has become a vast territory with countless retail outlets scattered among propaganda sites, opinion sites, news sites, entertainment sites, collectibles sites, and so on. It is impossible for any one person to see everything floating around in this virtual world we have created. I am certain there are many people around the world who would enjoy the items I've created, but the problem is finding them.

After puzzling over this conundrum for awhile, I decided the best place to start would be Facebook. There are around two billion people using Facebook, maybe more. Even one-tenth of one percent of those would be a vast market, provided a person could accurately locate that niche. Facebook ads turned out to be somewhat more complicated to produce than I anticipated, and somewhat less effective; despite this, experimenting with Facebook advertising has been an interesting experience.

A Facebook ad begins with a graphic. The recommended size for graphics is 1080x1080, a fixed 1:1 ratio. However, the ads that actually appear on Facebook are almost never perfect squares. For my ads, I created a series of images that were 2000 pixels wide, 2140 pixels long, and 300 pixels per inch. This exceeds the minimum requirements by a good margin and allows use of the same images in both PC and mobile platforms. The PC ad tends to use the top one-third of this image size, so make sure the most important elements of the image appear in the top third. Mobile ads use the full image, even when those ads appear on tablet computers.

This is one of the graphics I created for my Facebook ad campaign:

I created seven different graphics featuring seven of my most recent color designs. With my graphics prepared, I clicked on a convenient "Advertise with us" link and dived headfirst into the world of Facebook ads. The first thing the process required me to do was create a Facebook page for my shirt designs. This caught me completely by surprise. I had not planned on using Facebook as the central reference site. Naively, I had hoped to make the Amazon search page featuring the entire shirt line as the centerpoint of the advertising campaign (Greyhawk Manor Designs). Before I ever created an ad, I had to spend about two hours setting up the Greyhawk Manor Designs Facebook page. Since I don't have a physical store location, this proved a bit challenging because Facebook pages assume they are used as the virtual front for a physical store. Nonetheless, I came up with a decent avatar image along with a slideshow of five shirt designs to use as a page header. I then added a post with a link to my April blog write-up (Leahi, a.k.a., "Diamond Head") along with a post containing the critical links for my books and shirts:

After I set the page up and had enough content that I would not be ashamed to have my friends and family check it out, the very first ad campaign I ran was designed to promote the page itself. The first step in this process involves choosing an objective for the campaign. There are many reasons to advertise something. Every advertiser has different goals. Facebook sets up the ads slightly differently for different goals, offers them to slightly different audiences, and charges slightly different conversion rates for the various goals. I had no idea what my goal was, so I chose, "Traffic".

The objective box changes to reflect your choice. At the very bottom of the new objective box is a dialogue box that allows you to give your ad campaign a custom name. If you are on a small screen, or if your browser zoom setting is quite high, you will have to scroll down to find the dialogue box. The default name is simply the type of campaign objective you just chose. If you leave it like this, eventually you will have dozens (or perhaps hundreds) of campaigns with the same name. Many people prefer to use a seasonal name such as "Spring 2018". For my first campaign I chose the unwieldy and clumsy moniker, "Greyhawk Manor Awareness".

The most important feature of your ad campaign is your audience. Facebook ads offer many ways to tailor your audience as broadly or as narrowly as you like. This is where all of that data Facebook collects becomes important. This is how Facebook uses your personal data. Notice that it is impossible to filter out one person and learn something such as their name, address, phone number, etc. The personal data Facebook collects is stripped of individual qualities and clumped into broad demographic categories such as "Poetry", "Skateboarding", "Outdoor Recreation Enthusiast", "Photography", and so on. Opting out of having your personal data collected may or may not improve your personal privacy, but it will definitely make it impossible for Facebook to determine what does and does not interest you. Opting out of personal data collection will not reduce the number of ads you see when you use Facebook, but it will make those ads completely random, which means you will probably never see ads for products you actually need and use in your daily life. More importantly for this article, when setting up a Facebook ad campaign, selecting countries and personal interests that are appropriate to your products will improve the number of responses. The higher your response rate, the lower the cost per response falls. My first campaign cost me almost $2 per response. My most recent campaigns cost only $0.02 per response. The difference is I have learned which audiences respond better to my ads for shirts, which audiences are more interested in my design style, and which audiences are more willing to respond to polls about the shirts and designs I am offering.

After setting up your audience (remember to save it for use in later campaigns!) Facebook allows you to either give their AI control over where your ad is placed or to eliminate some platforms. For example, if your product is an Android app designed for mobile phones then it makes no sense for it to appear to PC users, Mac users, or iPhone users (most tablet users would probably have trouble running it, as well). "Edit Placement" allows you to remove those platforms from your ad campaign so you won't waste money offering your app to people who cannot use it. Below this is the box where you set the budget and schedule for your ad. Most of my ads run for seven days and I normally set the "Lifetime Budget" at $100. The first campaign reached about 5000 people. As I have gotten better at defining my audience that has improved. My most recent campaign reached almost 10,000 people. Currently I have spent about $700 on six campaigns and reached almost 200,000 people. Since July 2nd, when I began this experiment and created, "Greyhawk Manor Designs", I have gained about one hundred followers. Not bad at all for only ten days of advertising. No sales yet, but I am hopeful that will change any day now.

Beyond this are simply more details. Add the url for your website (I used the Amazon page listing the entire shirt line: https://amzn.to/2zxqd43), add the graphic you created ahead of time, choose whether or not to place ads on Instagram, and so on. There are more naming boxes, but for most of these you'll want to use the name of the campaign which will already be in the dialogue box by default. After your ad is all set, Facebook will review it for content.

Now, I have a couple of warnings that are intrinsic to the political views of Facebook as an organization, so you will want to keep them in mind.

First off, anything the least bit political (including political themes on shirt designs) will require a special approval process which will put your page into a special category. This category will cause your page to be labeled "political advocacy", and subject it to the new rules regarding "fake news" and so on. If that is your intent, then by all means, go for it, endure the process, and get your views out there.

Secondly, under "Interests", avoid any sort of cultural labeling. For some reason, Facebook assumes, "culture" means Mexican culture as practiced and experienced by people from Spanish speaking nations who live in the United States. As a result, if your products are imports from Asia or Africa, if your products are artwork based on Asian or African motifs, and so on, you will have to go through a separate approval process to insure they are not offensive. If the cultural value is important to you, then by all means, endure the process and get your products into the market. However, be aware that Facebook has a very narrow definition of "culture", and if your definition is different from theirs, it will complicate your ad campaign approval immeasurably.

Thirdly, one thing I did not know beforehand, but ending up learning the hard way through unfortunate word choice in my first ad campaign, is that Facebook will flag absolutely anything that sounds like a bank, a financial offering, a credit company, and so on. I did not dig into it deeply, but apparently Facebook does not like to feature such advertising and as a result, they monitor it very closely. So if you are offering financial products, Facebook should probably not be your first choice for an advertising forum. Again, I did not dig into it deeply, and such ads do occasionally appear in my newsfeed, so it must be possible, but the one thing I do know is that words such as "credit" (even "give credit where credit is due") or "interest" (even, "show an interest in") will cause the system to flag your ad for manual approval, a process which can take several days to resolve and involve multiple layers of appeal. This is true whether the words appear in the ad itself or in a post the ad is designed to promote.

On July 3rd I uploaded a new shirt design and created a post to advertise it. This post included a photo of myself during my time in the Army along with the preamble to the Declaration of Independence. When I tried to promote this post, it was flagged both for words and content. The review system could not decide if the post and the ad were political, financial, or both! At first, this confused me hopelessly. I had no idea what I had done wrong. I went back through the policies and the rejection email in detail, changed a couple of words, and tried again. This time it was flagged as political advocacy and possibly "fake news". I filed an appeal, which was rejected, and then a higher appeal, which resulted in a flurry of email between myself and one of the support people. After considerable correspondence over a three or four hour period I was finally able to demonstrate that the ad was not intended to advocate for any particular political platform or political party and most certainly was not related to financing or credit services.

Setting up and running a Facebook ad campaign is not impossible, but it is challenging. Create your graphics and set up your page ahead of time. Be prepared to run up against filters and censorship designed to protect Facebook users, especially younger users. At some point, you will be forced to go through a complicated and obtuse rejection and appeal process, but if you keep in mind that Facebook has multiple social and financial interests which they must honor in order to preserve their own market position then you will find some way to either redesign your ad or demonstrate that your ad is unlikely to be offensive or exploitative.

Good luck! You're going to need it.


Brian K. Miller's books:
https://amzn.to/2wFYtJ2

Greyhawk Manor shirts:
https://amzn.to/2rETWSg

Art Prints and other Products:
https://bkmiller428.deviantart.com/prints/