01 September 2014

I Believe...

I Believe…

Many people ask me the question of “what do you believe in?” It’s a question worth pondering, and I find that it is essential to the proper functioning of our democracy and the jealous safeguarding of our liberty. Most importantly, I feel that ultimately at its base, our answers should transcend pettiness and differences in political or religious ideology. Our national motto has long been “E Pluribus Unum” and it is time we make good on that.

Without further ado, here’s I believe:

  • that every human being has the inherent rights to life, liberty, education, equal justice, and dignity—and that these rights cannot be deprived from somebody without due process of law—meaning that such rights can only be taken away from somebody when the have been duly convicted of a crime by an impartial and honest jury of his (or her) peers
  • that the idea of rights should have no clarifier attached to it; either we are all free or we are not—and if we are not, then it is imperative that we work tirelessly to ensure we all are free and thence to be eternally vigilant in safeguarding
  • strongly that our system of governance is rife with corruption and other abuses of power, and that it is up to us all to work to fix it
  • in strong civil liberties that are guarded jealously
  • that freedom of religion is crucial, and that such a freedom necessarily requires the freedom to choose not to participate in any religious activity at all
  • in a society that maintains a tall and impregnable wall between the church and the state
  • in the inherent necessity of a free and independent press to the functioning of our democracy; that also means that the mainstream media’s current practice of tying themselves into corporate conglomerates and then pushing political slant runs counter to that goal
  • that “free speech zones” are odious and represent naked attempts by leaders to shield their cowardice from public scrutiny while also attempting to rescind the essential rights of freedom of assembly and to petition the government to address grievances
  • that everyone has their own beliefs and conscience that should never be crossed without extraordinary reason
  • that justice is blind and open for everyone
  • in a foreign policy that rejects warfare except as an absolute last resort when every possible effort 
  • that the presence of peace does not simply mean the absence of conflict, but also mandates the presence of liberty and justice for all
  • in a society and culture that gives bigotry no sanction and firmly rejects discrimination of any kind; racism, sexism, classism, etc. are unfit and unbecoming for a free people
  • that politicians need to return to the idea of civil service and away from trying to use their positions to enrich themselves like pigs at the trough
  • in the concept that government should serve the people instead of trying to act as a cruel master—instead of people fearing the government; the government must fear the people
  • in a government of the people, by the people, and for the people instead of “government of the special interests, by the corporations, and for personal profit”  
  • in strong sunshine laws, and that anything that the government withholds from public scrutiny must necessarily have an extraordinary reason for doing so—and that such reasons cannot be used to cover up wrongdoing or illegal activity
  • that the people have the inherent right to know just what is being done in their name
  • that the concept of mass government surveillance is antithetical to liberty, and that America’s programs of spying on its citizens without regard for open and fair legal process must be ended immediately
  • that we need to establish firm term limits for politicians, ban all forms of lobbying, and put strict controls on campaigning for office
  • that neither the Republicans nor the Democrats have the interests of the people in mind; both parties are equally guilty of being bought-and-paid-for by special interests
  • in a culture that affirms the dignity and self-worth of each and every person, and will work such that no man or woman will be left behind in the metaphorical dust
  • that our culture is rife with a politic of division in an age when we need a politic of unity
  • in controls over law enforcement, and that those who protect and serve (and are entrusted with the sacred duty of keeping us all safe) must necessarily respect human and civil rights
  • that the militarization of the police must be put to an abrupt and permanent end
  • that every citizen has an important voice and has a duty to educate themselves on the issues facing us on all levels (local, state/provincial, national, and global)
  • in the absolute necessities of being well-rounded, educated, and civic-minded
  • in holding all of our leaders accountable for our actions—be they in politics, entertainment, business, religion, or the military
  • in the concept that there exists not one person who is above the law
  • that everyone has the responsibility to obey the just law and to not aggress on his (or her) neighbors 
  • in personal responsibility, and that it is something we can never afford to abdicate
  • that we have lost our way, and that the American Dream is quickly becoming but a mere mirage—and that it is up to us to restore that dream into a reality
  • in equality of opportunity, but also that this does not necessarily mean equality of outcome
  • that there should be a strong right to privacy, and that any violation of this right should only be within the confines of due process and only when it is absolutely necessary
  • that life is not all about oneself; 
  • in the idea that if you need to know who needs help, one only ask
  • in doing unto others as you would have them do unto you
  • that in the end, we truly are all in this together

I know this has gone a bit verbose, but in this age, it is clear that these need to be said—and regardless of one’s politics or religion, these are all things I feel we as Americans can come to an agreement on. 

Civility and Ethics -- Our Brief .02 on the recent Celebrity Leak

As many of you are aware, many popular celebrities have had personal pictures leaked over the Labour Day weekend. Allegedly, these pictures purport to show these celebrities in various states of undress, including in a fully-nude state.

We here at Random Plebeians are aghast about it, even though we're not the type that generally cares about the antics of being a celebrity. Why do we care? A breach against anyone (be they an entertainer or an "average Joe or Jane" is not something we condone. After all, it is not that difficult for anybody to target any of us if these crackers and other miscreants are so inclined. And with the tangled web of information, it is clear that anyone and everyone is a potential target.

So, in that regard, we note two things:

First, we would like to refer you to the indispensable Naked Security blog (put out by the good folks at Sophos) for the basics. Our advice regarding naughty pictures largely mirrors what Lee Munson has said here: refrain from taking them in the first place. However, we do plan to run some more guidance on this and other digital security topics in the next couple of weeks.

That being said, if you're still going to take them anyway knowing the risks, we also believe that you should take active measures to protect them, such as: watching the recipients of such pictures (remember that once they have those pics of you, it is extremely difficult to control what they do with them), not keeping them on your phone or tablet any longer than necessary, and using multiple technical means of encryption (such as encrypted disks and PGP) to transmit them.

And while it is exceedingly rare for us to agree wholeheartedly with the likes of Jessica Valenti, we do this time; in fact, we recommend you read the first couple paragraphs of  her article that is running in The Atlantic in terms of "why you should not bother to look up those pictures." That snippet more-or-less sums up what we would say--it's ethically and morally wrong precisely because as a member of the public, you probably do not have permission from these people to be perusing their personal images. As such, one can reasonably advance the argument that you're indirectly causing harm.

Think of it this way: put yourself in the shoes of any one of these people who've been victimised by such disclosures. Would you want the entire world to furiously search out naked pictures of you that you never intended for public release? We highly doubt it, and therefore we say that for that precise reason, there exists moral and ethical obligations to refrain from doing so. It's simply going back to what most all of us were supposedly taught while growing up: "do unto others as you would have them done unto you."

Finally, we should also note that to each of these victims, there is something that they need to be aware of in terms of trying to control the damage done by these disclosures. There is a phenomenon colloquially known as the Streisand Effect; and that if the measures aren't done carefully, the entire attempt to control the damage could backfire dramatically. It is sad that we as a culture have come to this, but alas it is reality. That being said, what's the proper way to handle it? Unfortunately, we do not know. What we do know is that we will not be drawing any more attention to it; and this concludes what we have to say in regards to the ethics of this matter.

27 May 2014

Our .02 Concerning The Tragedy This Weekend

Chewie and I are still stunned over the tragic loss of life in Isla Vista, California over the recent Memorial Day weekend. We are further horrified by the apparent motives of the now-deceased gunman, identified as Elliot Rodger. As a couple of guys who are quite familiar with the ‘Sphere, with American culture, and with what we’ve said vis-a-vis dating and relationships, all of this hits quite close to home for both of us. What we have is both our thoughts on the subjects and a few personal notes [enclosed in brackets like this] to elucidate these thoughts with greater clarity.  Thus, we believe the need to articulate our .02 concerning it, which shall also be all that we say of it.

First and foremost, the issues here go far beyond the usual “liberal versus conservative” divides and the related squabbles over policy (e.g. gun control). They even transcend the petty gender-politic battles that crop up in our society. Let us repeat: THIS IS NOT A PARTISAN, POLICY, OR GENDER DEBATE. This tragedy exposes deeper things that rigidly fall into the fundamental cores of our society, and directly questions some key aspects of the unwritten social contract. It is time for ALL of us as a society to throw away the partisan and gender-studies labels and ask ourselves things like:

a.) Why do we as a society allow angry people of any stripe to unleash violence?
b.) Why do we as a society allow mass media and the prevailing culture itself to seemingly glorify violence (be it to oneself or to others) as an acceptable solution to personal problems?
c.) Why do we promote an aura of pervasive selfishness among our people?
d.) Why have we decided to leave our systems of support for the mentally ill to be hopelessly broken?

These are serious questions that, as a collective entity, all of us need to be asking ourselves. I do not know the answers myself; nor does anyone else. Rather, those would have to be found as a collective entity. It requires changes to our culture and what we value in society. No one person can do that single-handedly. Nor will enacting reams of laws or attempting to blame other entities (e.g. liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, feminists, men’s rights activists, the SPLC, etc. ad infinitum) ultimately help matters or prevent further acts like what has happened. This is not a time for division, but one for unity and of reaching out across the aisles. 

In this spirit, we take somber note that already the politicising and “spinning” of Mr Rodger’s heinous crime has begun. We’re not simply referring to the popularity of the hashtag #YesAllWomen on Twitter, but also to be found in reports on Fox News and the Washington Post, and even with RooshV’s post on the popular Manosphere site ReturnOfKings (which we find to be a particularly repulsive and contemptible attempt to self-aggrandise and profit from this tragedy). Clearly it is never out of the realm of possibility for copycat crimes to occur, and it certainly is both possible and plausible for these copycats to have female perpetrators against male victims. Consider the insane ramblings of a woman who went by the alias “Femitheist Divine” and her calls to murder and/or mutilate most every man on the planet, of the now-infamous "SCUM Manifesto," or of Catherine Kieu Becker, who drugged her husband and painfully sliced off his penis only to throw it down the garbage disposal in the kitchen.

Would many of these same people who are spinning Rodger's rampage make excuses for such a woman committing violent acts against men and women, or would they harshly condemn it in no uncertain terms? We suspect many would do the former, even though it is fundamentally the same sexist attitude that drove Mr Rodger to commit his. Certainly, nobody seriously condemned Kieu Becker’s husband’s mutilation; in fact Sharon Osborne was giggling and cracking jokes about it on national television. Yet, this disgustingly cavalier attitude of certain people being disposable and deserving of harm due to one’s personal failures or insecurities is a common thread between all of these incidents. This attitude and our society accepting it at all against anybody is something we should examine and rectify.

In short, what we mean is that if we as a society find that if we want to banish this particular ill, we must be willing to shine the light on toxic sexism of all stripes—we all must remember that neither gender, nor any particular political movement, has cornered the metaphorical market on deranged craziness. And until we are willing to expose and resolve this pervasive undercurrent of sexism (misogyny AND misandry alike), we sadly will see more extremists cropping up with their twisted desires to inflict their vile designs—and that some of them will be successful in causing violent harm to innocent people in our society. This insanity, be it misogynistic or misandric, must be put to a quick and permanent end.

That being said, there is one more aspect to all of this that disturbs us so, and that is the motive behind Mr Rodger’s massacre. It is plainly evident that he felt he was justified in causing harm or death to people because he himself wasn’t being successful romantically or sexually; it is not a stretch to say that his warped view was one of "If I can't have them, nobody will." He placed the blame on his personal failures upon women as a gender for not running to him and offering their sex to him on demand.

Worse, other men are actually praising both his actions and the incredibly misanthropic whining behind him. It is beyond sickening to even consider offering anything but harsh condemnation for a deadly rampage that took six innocent lives.

[Cato's Personal note #1: I know much of the pain that Elliot Rodger felt all too well; when I was 22 I too was a kissless virgin and sexually frustrated. Yes, it is a veritable abyss. And yes, it is extremely painful to observe and suffer through. Despite the immense torment I felt, not once did I ever consider it appropriate to even think about "taking matters into my own hands" and violently cause harm or mayhem to other people--much less actually doing so. Violence is never an acceptable solution to dealing with your own personal troubles--much less against innocents.]

Both Chewie and I can attest firsthand and say that it seriously sucks to be adrift in a culture that seems to glorify having sex to the point of making it seem like everyone but you is involved in this mass orgy. To make matters worse, yes, the contemporary notions of dating are rather twisted and unyoked; ergo the rise of self-styled “pickup artists” and the colloquially-called “Manosphere” in popular culture. Yes, many men do get the proverbial “short end of the stick” when it comes to dating; that is undeniable, and yes, they do feel an immense pain and hurt that shakes them to their very cores. It also doesn’t help that our contemporary culture tends to heavily lean towards nadirs that are superficial and narcissistic.

It is our opinion that as a society we can and should recognise this phenomenon for what it is (a horrible system premised far too often on assumptions and shallow cultural messages), and that we should strive to rectify it to the best of our abilities. We should seek to construct a more just system of interaction between people, and also remember that the simple Golden Rule handed to us by Christ works quite well in both of these objectives: “And as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.” (Luke 6:31, RSV).

There is one overarching element that Mr Rodger, as well as those who laud his actions, continue to brazenly overlook. This element is the role that the social systems of dating and sex are to play in society. Specifically, these people fail to see that dating (and by extension, sex) is neither everything in life nor the singular defining characteristic of self-worth. After all, there is far more to life than simply getting the proverbial notches on the bedpost or being seen in public with a stunningly-attractive woman.

Indeed, this axiom is true to the point where virtually no man is truly hopeless if he is honest with himself and works to improve himself (both outwardly and in character) regardless of whether he’s successful in the bedroom as the improvements to himself—be they physical, mental, intellectual, or to his personality and spirit carries over to other aspects of his life (i.e. the boardroom). The self-styled “PUA” community would of course refer to this as “game” but the principle itself goes back to time immemorial.

There is an appropriate way of dealing with these pains though; there is in fact a ‘right’ way to render oneself a victim no more. It requires a lot of work, help from friends, reaching out, getting professional help, and being honest with yourself to make improvements; all of which I note that Mr Rodger could have done much more easily than I could because he had access to much more and better-quality resources. Nobody said life was going to be fair or easy.

[Cato's Personal note #2: Did “game” help things? Yes and no. A lot of what I found simply didn’t fit my personality; what did are the foundations of building healthy levels of self-respect, self-pride, and self-confidence. These foundations aren’t just found on the “gurus” websites; they’re in practically every reputable leadership or management book out there—including Dale Carnegie’s seminal book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” (which was first published in 1936). They’re in mastering skills related to hobbies or passions that one has (and frankly, very few people don’t have SOMETHING to that end which they can use). And they're in developing social connections of all stages; indeed as a golf instructor I knew years ago put it: "get the shot straight first, then the distance will come."]

To do all of that though, we must note that one really cannot be an egotistical narcissist like Mr Rodger. One cannot be myopic or blind to their faults; they cannot arrogantly believe that their “poop does not stink.” And we believe that until one’s willing to put ego and such inflated self-notions aside, one shouldn’t expect to make a lot of forward progress. Call it unfair/unjust/criminal, whatever. It is what it is; and one only has exactly two options: deal with it and adjust accordingly, or continue with the status quo and accept what follows.

[Cato's Personal note #3: For what it is worth, I chose the former (while Mr Rodger chose the latter and let it fester until he threw his deadly tantrum). I reached out, built my social circle, built up confidence in social situations with women (which I give some credit to the strip clubs), sought to improve myself in technology (both on personal and professional levels) and finally asked girls out on dates. Sure, I got rejected, but I also had success; like baseball, you don’t need to get a base hit at every at bat; the best players end up out seven-tenths of the time.]

But, even if his goal was to “get laid,” he had multiple avenues for doing just that. Yet the evidence released thus far doesn’t suggest that he actually made efforts to improve his demeanor or reach out to women—he didn’t, for example, set up online dating profiles. He didn’t patronise prostitutes or strip clubs (and really, given that he lived in SoCal and had the money for it, he could have driven to Nevada and legally visit a brothel). He apparently made no effort to conceal his tendencies as a stalker, and indeed most people could see that he was the type of person who is desperate, clingy, and mercurial—not surprisingly, most people didn’t really want anything to do with him. Did he seriously calm down and ask himself “what do they have that I apparently don’t?” The evidence rather strongly suggests no.

In any case, both of us want to make clear that the pains of romantic and sexual frustration do not amount to any excuse for taking innocent lives or inflicting violence; jt never was, is not, and never will be. Such a fanatical and deranged recourse is not only an inappropriate, but in our minds the most heinous and cruel way of dealing with the personal pain. Such a course of action is not only unjustifiable and indefensible by any rational measure, but self-evidently so.

Make no mistake, what this deranged man did was an inherently uncivilised act of extreme cowardice that snuffed out innocent lives full of promise, and if the multitudes of bloggers and commenters in this Manosphere have any shred of self-respect or decency they will promptly and forcefully condemn the actions of Mr Rodger. Further, they will seek to dissuade other men from following that same destructive path. And, if the Manosphere as a collective entity wants to be taken seriously as a force to help society (and in particular to actually provide useful advice to men as an aid toward genuinely improving themselves), it will not only put Mr Rodger’s words and deeds into contempt, but shun those who laud or praise this unspeakable crime. We condemn his actions and words, and we invite other men of goodwill to do the same. After all,


30 January 2014

Entering 2014

Both of us here at RP have been rather busy as of late, so again, we apologise for not having any fresh content. However, we do have plans to put up in the near future. Some of these upcoming posts and series will touch on:

  • Beauty and the media (planned SeriesByCato)
  • Data privacy
  • Political and social quirks that may arise
  • General rants and raves as either (or both) of us see a need to post
  • Tech "how-tos" (though the specifics of these are TBD). 

28 November 2013

On Thanksgiving...

It's long been said that Thanksgiving ought to be a time to spend with family and to be grateful for what we do have in life. But in the modern day, this meaning has been watered down to the point where many, if not most, of us simply pay it "lip service." Instead, we focus on:

-Football games involving people getting paid gobs of money just for wearing tights and throwing a ball
-Shopping for cheap baubles made by wage slaves in the Third World just so we can supposedly impress relatives and "keep up with the Joneses"
-Eat obscene amounts of food when people in other parts of the globe (including many children) are dropping dead of starvation, and the United States is grappling with widespread obesity.

Then there is the controversy of major U.S. retailers remaining open throughout the holiday, thus forcing many people who don't make a lot of money to have to work and miss out on a holiday lest they lose their jobs. And for what? So that some corporate executive can profit and some other bloke can beat other people to a pulp just to get his hands on the latest video-game console, must-have toy, or some other "bargain" that the medias and Madison Avenue bleat that we should have?

Ironically, our obsessions with football, "Black Friday" shopping, and absurdly-large meals don't promote or show gratitude--rather, it exposes just how ungrateful and narcissistic our society has become.

We here at RP think that America has lost sight of the true meaning of Thanksgiving. It is time we did something about it, and that "something" starts with each of us. 

14 August 2013

Around The Pyramids -- Fin

Our Final Notes and Conclusion:

Both Chewie and I have heard of several different "opportunities" over the last several months that either of us or someone we know were solicited by. Some of these include:
  • Avon 
  • WakeUpNow 
  • NuSkin
  • Mary Kay
  • Passion Parties
  • Cutco 

For what it is worth, Chewie sold Cutco knives for a bit back in college (and still raves over their knives). I was involved in retail sales for commission at a couple of points in high school and college--and I still have the Zig Ziglar tapes I used to listen to floating around somewhere.

Of these, the only ones that in our eyes appear to even be remotely reputable are Cutco and the "passion parties." Why? Both of those have tangible products that are in clear demand (one sells decent-quality-but-somewhat-pricey knives and the other sells sex toys for women) and the emphasis is quite obviously on the product and not trying to enlist others into distributorship.

As for the others? After reading through some of the materials and watching various videos online, it appears to us that these all seem either too pushy/desperate, too much like an illegal pyramid scheme (read: shady), and/or offer inferior products compared to what is available on the market. Thus, we remain sceptical about the legality, ethics, and practicality of someone getting involved with these plans.

Go back to Ethics In Brief

Around the Pyramids -- Ethics In Brief

Then, there's the ethics angle. In today's world, ethics plays a far more important role in maintaining normal human relations in the faces of advances The ethics of a given individual determine more fundamental aspects of living in the contemporary West, such as social standing and reputation. On a business level, ethics determines a company's reputation and thus plays a direct role in determining profitability and growth (such as attractiveness to consumers and the ability to recruit and maintain "the best and brightest" in the job market).

On a business-wide level, there are needs for supervision and accountability; without these, a company has no way of ensuring the people who work for it are following ethical standards, obeying the relevant laws, doing the work safely, producing a quality work product, and honestly marketing the product to the general public. Even if the company puts an ethical code in its bylaws and bundles it with any sort of incorporation documentation, what good is it if there's no assurance that even the lowest man on the company totem-pole is going to adhere to it on pain of losing his job?

And on a personal level, there are even more issues that surface. For example, it's well-known that multi-level marketing schemes play on materialism, greed, and "ditching your boss" as enticements--after all, who wouldn't want to be making money hand-over-fist, going on several expensive vacations each year, and not having to submit to some cranky boss for performance reviews? Watch many of these videos and notice how the emphasis as to why you or I should "get in now while it's hot" with this "next big thing" revolves around making money and having a 'swanky' lifestyle and not on the merits of the goods and/or services that are to be sold to the public.

There is pressure to succeed--from the company itself, from people higher up in the plan, and even the unbridled greed that got the participant involved in the first place. So, someone might have initial success and manage to rise a bit. But in the process, they inevitably run into people who are going to be hard sells. As the compensation usually depends on bringing in not only a consistent amount of revenue, but often actual sales growth, the pressure to render sales and replicate that early growth only intensifies--and when it doesn't, there's always frustration lurking.

Naturally, the overwhelming vast majority of people want to avoid being branded as a failure or a reject, so each participant is ultimately faced with the dilemma of compromising whatever personal code of ethics they may have in a bid to succeed and "get rich" versus admitting that they made a poor decision and must "throw in the towel" before things get worse. Indeed, both options have personal, professional, and ethical consequences that inextricably attach to them, and the resolution to the dilemma lies within that person's conscience.

Some decide that their declining participation is a lost cause and chalk it up to an exercise in bad judgement.

Others will cling to that "dream" of an expensive lifestyle and will stop at nothing to get it, including badgering friends, family, and neighbors even after being rebuffed previously. Some will "mark up" the provided marketing materials and "trump up" things in a bid to make the plan seem even more irresistible. Still more will attempt to slander perceived competition and other "nay-sayers," similar to what some Amway reps had done about 20 years ago in claiming that Procter & Gamble (the makers of cleaning products and thus a direct competitor to Amway) was affiliated with the Church of Satan. Invariably, some will ditch old friends, neighbors, and relatives in favor of individuals who are involved with the program--and in the process seem to bring an almost cult-like aura to the whole affair.

Indeed one could argue that to such individuals, getting that vacation or having rolls of money in their pockets means more to them than the friendships, family, personal codes of morality and ethics, and other interpersonal support that they'd previously took years to cultivate--in other words, it appears that many such individuals would seemingly sell out the things that previously mattered to them the most in order to "make a buck."  

In this age of social-media and individual "brand marketing" the risks are even more stark. The minute one involves their family and/or friends is the minute that they have to fully accept the risks of participation, both positive and negative.

And what I mean by that is this: suppose the "opportunity" goes south, or worse is found to be an illegal activity and the police/sheriff/FBI are aggressively pursuing everyone who was remotely involved. Are you going to be willing to seriously shoulder the responsibility of getting those you love and care about the most involved? Are you willing to accept the risks that you might have to concede that you put them in a scenario where they've lost what little money they had--or worse, were sent to jail? Might they feel that they've been lied to, if not outrightly betrayed by someone that they had trusted? Might they seek to ensure that you pay dearly for your decisions?

Go to the Finale

Go Back to Fundamental Problems

Around the Pyramids -- Fundamental Problems

Fundamental problems of the Pyramid Scheme

There are a myriad of fundamental problems related to the pyramid scheme. However, I will choose to focus on a few that are quite easy to spot and understand, as well as a look from an ethical point.

The first, and oft-cited problem is purely mathematical. In a pyramid, the monies rise from the bottom to the top, part of which is to pay off people on the next lower tiers. For each tier to be paid off, new "investors" have to be continually recruited (who in turn have to recruit more people into the "plan"). The plan eventually collapses mathematically, either because everybody on the planet will have been entered into the plan, or when plan participants simply can no longer find new "investors." Either way, those in the bottom (and often the middle) tiers end up at net losses.

This method in turn leads to a second problem, which is that there is no real mechanism to control the rate of saturation into a market and thus enable all of the plan's participants to (potentially) profit. Nor is there a way to determine if and when a given geographical area is saturated. Most other models DO have a way to control this (e.g. franchise agreements, limited placement of public-facing outlets such as retail stores, branch offices, and dealerships) and strictly maintain geographical limits. Unlike those other models though, both the legal multi-level marketing plans and the illegal pyramid schemes eventually and inevitably have to face the fact that there is no control to moderate saturation.

In other words, the plan's owners (be it an individual or a company) is openly and always "hiring" sales associates, and they almost always over-hire for any given area precisely because of the lack of saturation control.

Third, there always exists a pressure to sell and up-sell products and services. A result of this pressure is that often friends and family are repeatedly hearing sales pitches even though they may have told the plan participant that they aren't interested. At varying points, people tend to view individuals making such aggressive attempts at sales as being rude and/or pushy. Friction develops, which can strain or destroy familial relations and/or friendships and result in the participant's relative alienation from his or her "usual" social circle.

Fourth is that there often is little or no oversight to ensure that participants are following the plan company's policies and ethical guidelines. If participants are having difficulty selling, they may decide to resort to unethical or illegal practices in a desperate effort to be successful and make money.

Fifth is the issue of the plan itself. Anyone who's sat through a middle-school business or economics class can tell you that for a business to be successful and grow it needs to have a product (be it a tangible good or a service) that is in demand by at least a segment of the public, and that such a product needs to be priced and made available in a way that will draw in the most potential customers. As we've noted above, there are plenty of business plans used by various industries and companies around the world that are at least tolerated (if not respected) by most of the general public such as franchises, dealerships, partnerships with larger and respective companies, and the old-fashioned "grow it one store at a time."

Simply put, if having to resort to multi-level marketing methods is seen as the most viable means of putting a given good or service out to market, what does that really say about the product idea itself?

Go back to the Background Section

Go to the Ethics In Brief

Around the Pyramids -- Background Section

I write this Note upon two collections of separate, but also substantially-related events:

  1. Chewie and I have both received solicitations from several people now over various "home business" or "make money fast" proposals
  2. After talking to several people who have also raised concerns, it became clear to us that some effort in terms of research and discourse is needed, even though neither of us are lawyers, financial advisors, or business gurus 

We know the economy is bad and a lot of people are either out of work or struggling to make ends meet. It seems with each passing day that each dollar buys less and less. Consequently, many people turn to multi-level marketing in hopes of earning money.

Multi-level programs have been around for a while; some of the most common ones include Tupperware, Pampered Chef, Amway, Amsoil, Herbalife, and some that sell (ahem) marital-aids. But there have also been some larger schemes that have also made the news and/or popular-culture--two examples include Charles Ponzi's investment schemes in the 1920s and later, questionable investments made by Bernie Madoff.

Thus in the common mind, there is apprehension that results from such activities. This in mind, let us start with a couple of definitions:

To start, consider Black's Law Dictionary (9th Edition) and their definition of a "pyramid scheme" as
a property-distribution scheme in which a participant pays for the chance to receive compensation for introducing new persons to the scheme, as well as for when those new persons themselves introduce participants. Pyramid schemes are illegal in most states. Also termed endless-chain scheme; chain-referral scheme; multilevel-distribution program; pyramid distribution plan. Cf. Ponzi Scheme.  

As these types of things are regulated more locally, the precise public definitions tend to vary by state. As an example, let's consider what Wisconsin has to say on the matter:

"Chain distributor scheme" is a sales device whereby a person, upon a condition that the person make an investment, is granted a license or right to recruit for profit one or more additional persons who also are granted such license or right upon condition of making an investment and may further perpetuate the chain of persons who are granted such license or right upon such condition. A limitation as to the number of persons who may participate, or the presence of additional conditions affecting eligibility for the above license or right to recruit or the receipt of profits therefrom, does not change the identity of the scheme as a chain distributor scheme. 
(Wis. Adm. Code, ATCP 122.02 (1)) 

A few states specifically define multi-level marketing, an example is Georgia, which states:

(6) "Multilevel distribution company" means any person, firm, corporation, or other business entity which sells, distributes, or supplies for a valuable consideration goods or services through independent agents, contractors, or distributors at different levels wherein such participants may recruit other participants and wherein commissions, cross-commissions, bonuses, refunds, discounts, dividends, or other considerations in the program are or may be paid as a result of the sale of such goods or services or the recruitment, actions, or performances of additional participants. The term shall not include licensed insurance agents, insurance agencies, licensed real estate brokers, licensed real estate agents, licensed real estate agencies, licensed securities dealers, licensed limited securities dealers, licensed securities salesmen, or licensed limited securities salesmen. Any multilevel distribution company which operates in any of the forms precluded by paragraphs (1) through (4) of subsection (a) of Code Section 10-1-411 shall be considered an unlawful pyramid club under Code Section 16-12-38." (OCGA 10-1-410)

Between these definitions, it is also worth noting that not all multi-level plans are inherently illegal. Many do so by selling legitimate goods and thus derive most of their profits through legal sales of these goods to end-user consumers, with recruitment as down-side distributors being a side-track. Others are regulated elsewhere by the government as financial institutions (such as banks, securities brokerage, S&L associations), public utilities, or as insurers.

Thus, as the site MLMLaw put it:
"Essentially, if a marketing plan compensates participants for sales by their ""enrollees," "recruits," and/or their downline enrollees and recruits, that plan is multilevel. If a program compensates participants, directly or indirectly, merely for the introduction or enrollment of other participants into the program, it is a pyramid."

The FTC has even said:
"More importantly, MLM's actually sell their product to members of the general public, without requiring these consumers to pay anything extra or to join the MLM system. MLM's may pay commissions to a long string of distributors, but these commission are paid for real retail sales, not for new recruits." 

Even the Courts have tended to agree, as noted in United States v. Gold Unlimited, Inc., 177 F.3d 472 (6th Circuit, 1999), in which the jury instructions at the trial were:
"A pyramid scheme is any plan, program, device, scheme, or other process characterized by the payment by participants of money to the company in return for which they receive the right to sell a product and the right to receive in return for recruiting other participants into the program rewards which are unrelated to the sale of the product to ultimate users." 

Thus, it appears that two of the keys lies in these constructions:

  • the plan's actual purpose: is it to sell tangible products to non-participating members of the public (end-users), or is the selling merely a sideshow or camouflage to adding paying participants/enrollees/distributors into the scheme? 
  • for what reason is compensation (e.g. commissions) paid out--are they strictly on the basis of selling products to end-users or for recruiting people into the program? 

To us, these seem to be fair and reasonable criteria by which to judge a plan in terms of minimising the risks of potential problems.

Go to Fundamental Problems

01 August 2013

Legacy of the Cold War -- Nike Missile Sites in the Metro Milwaukee Area

[Editor's note: updated 5/2015 with more information]

As many of you who've known me for a while know, I've been doing on/off research into the area's Cold War legacy, and particularly the ring of Nike sites that surrounded Milwaukee in the 1950s and 1960s.

In a nutshell, the Nike system was deployed by the U.S. Army for point defence of major metropolitan areas and strategic sites against the threat of Soviet bombers such as the Tupolev Tu-95 (NATO codename "Bear") by using radar-guided missiles to knock down any bombers that slip through, literally as a "Last Line of Defence."

Milwaukee was deemed critical because of its factories (such as Allis-Chalmers, Allen-Bradley, Cutler-Hammer, Harnischfeger, and A.O. Smith) and the fact that it sat along the northern approaches to Chicago. From the 1930s all the way through the late 1970s, Milwaukee was known as the "machine shop of the world," a fact not lost on the Soviet Union. The capabilities of Milwaukee area factories to quickly re-tool for defense production, and its ability to ship heavy machinery out via its port or on rail lines connected to the rail hubs at Chicago underscored its perceived vitality to American defense.

Therefore, the area received eight Nike sites that became operational between 1956 and 1957. In the process of developing each site, the Army bought tracts of land that had strategic value and erected the necessary structures under the auspices of the Corps of Engineers.

Generally, each site consisted of two parcels, usually separated by anywhere from a third of a mile to about two miles. One parcel typically had the administration (such as barracks, mess halls, a small PX and barber shop, the battery motor pool, and recreational areas) and radar facilities--this was often referred to as an integrated fire control (IFC) site.  The other held the missiles themselves in underground magazines or "pits" as well as supplies needed to maintain and launch each missile, such as fuel, assembly tools and space, and the warheads.

The sites around Milwaukee were designated as follows:

  • M was the letter representing that the site lay in the Milwaukee Defense Area
  • Two digits representing the relative direction of the site from Milwaukee City Hall with 00 at the north, 25 at east, 50 at south, and 75 at west. 
  • C, R, or L designated whether the parcel was a control or launch site (Lannon's site had three parcels due to Lannon Road running across the planned site parcel, so R was used to designate the parcel holding the radars) 

An example designation would have looked like this: M-02C, and would have signified that particular parcel as being the control (radar/barracks) site in the north of the Milwaukee defense.

When the sites opened, they were armed with the Nike Ajax, which carried three small high-explosive warheads and had a range of about 30 miles. Eight sites in a ring were thus deemed sufficient to provide the Milwaukee metro area with complete protection from all possible approaches. Three of these sites (at River Hills, Milwaukee's Lakefront, and Waukesha) were upgraded to a more powerful, longer-ranging, and nuclear-capable Nike Hercules missile in 1959; the remaining five sites not upgraded were closed between 1961 and 1963.

To this day, the government's official policy is that it will neither confirm nor deny as to whether a specific Nike Hercules site did in fact carry missiles armed with the W-31 warhead or if a site's armament was limited to a conventional high-explosive payload. Indeed, there are still certain aspects of Nike deployments in the continental U.S. that remain classified to this day.

Historical evidence that has been made available through veterans' websites, declassified documents in the federal archives, historians' papers, and even the National Security Archive at the George Washington University show that every Nike site that was upgraded to the Nike Hercules had missiles armed with nuclear warheads. Further, contemporary news accounts typically suggested that most or all such sites either carried nuclear arms or could obtain them if the need arose*.

By 1970, it became apparent that the primary Soviet threat came in the form of long-range missiles (e.g. ICBMs) instead of bombers flying over the North Pole. The remaining Milwaukee sites were closed by 30 June 1971, and the remaining sites in the continental U.S. followed soon thereafter as the Nike Hercules was considered an anti-ballistic missile under the terms of the SALT I treaty. Meanwhile, portability issues and further advances in technology lent themselves toward the development of SAM-D, which later became the Patriot system still in use today.

After the Nike sites closed and their sensitive equipment removed, their disposal often varied. If the lands they were built on were on federal lands, or a federal agency stepped forward, the sites were often transferred over to that agency. If the Feds passed, many of the sites (such as M-74 in Waukesha) were offered to state, county, and/or municipal governments free of charge on the condition that they be perpetually used for the public good. Often, this meant that the sites became parks or other publicly-open lands. If not, then the lands could be bought by individuals, school districts, and local governments at public surplus auctions and then used however the owners saw fit.

Only one Nike site in the nation was turned over intact for preservation at closure (site SF-88 just north of San Francisco), and a few others have been preserved and/or are undergoing restoration. Most of the rest have been destroyed or are slowly decaying as time passes, and as these sites decay, so do the obvious reminders of a critical point in our (currently) recent history. Indeed in 2013 it's still somewhat difficult to imagine the military throwing up missiles in our backyards; we tend to think they do it "out west" where few people live.

So, for a quick little reference, I've created some rough sketches in Google maps showing where some of the major features for each site were, which is helpful as most of the sites have been either radically modified or destroyed. These "drawings" aren't meant to be authoritative or mark exactly where the structures were, but rather to give the casual viewer a rough idea of what stood where in relation to how the sites would look today. The maps work best when the 45 degree view is turned off (hover over the "Map" icon in the upper right and in the menu that appears, ensure that 45 degree is unticked), but the shapes still kind of shift a slight bit thanks to how Google maps operates.

I got the data from HistoricAerials, using largely the 1963 (and for Waukesha County, 1970) aerial photographs of the Milwaukee area. In addition, a couple of the sites showed up on county Geographic Information System (GIS) websites. What follows are the map links and a brief note on each site:

M-02 (River Hills / Brown Deer)

  • In operation from 1957 to June 1971
  • Manned by A Battery, 852nd Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion (Nike) (Continental), which was re-designated A Battery, 3rd Missile Battalion, 59th Artillery on 1 September 1958
  • Upgraded to Nike Hercules as of 10 July 1959
  • The Milwaukee Tenants Union (with backing from both Milwaukee County and Governor Lucey) wanted to use the closed sites for a subsidised-housing project, while Milwaukee Area Technical College wanted to erect a new TV tower for their public-broadcasting (PBS) channels
  • However, the Village of River Hills was successful in bidding for the sites at a cost of $59,000; the sites were then redeveloped over the years into residential lots
  • Control/IFC Map, obliterated and is now the site of Congregation Emanu-El on Brown Deer Road
  • Launch Map, obliterated and now a subdivision north of Brown Deer Road and just west of Interstate 43

M-20 (Milwaukee's lakefront)

  • In operation from 1957 to September 1969
  • Manned by B Battery, 852nd Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion, which was re-designated B Battery, 3rd Missile Battalion, 59th Artillery on 1 September 1958
  • Upgraded to Nike Hercules as of 24 April 1959
  • The launch area was previously a low-use airport known as Maitland Field (and later, the Milwaukee Seadrome), and was eyed by some in the city government as potential for expanding the Port of Milwaukee to go along with the opening of the St Lawrence Seaway
  • Radars were located in Lake Park, and due to this location, the rest of the administration was collocated with the launch area
  • There remained controversy between the Army and the City of Milwaukee regarding the site's location; this controversy remained until the Army left in 1969
    • At one point, it was suggested that the Army re-activate a site in Franklin and move this battery there, but this didn't take off
  • Unlike many of the other sites, the land reverted back to the City of Milwaukee upon closure, because the City had owned the lands before it became a missile site
  • Under Mayor Henry Maier, the former launch/administration area became home to Summerfest; the site has thus changed drastically over the years
  • Radar Map, located in Lake Park on a small bluff just southeast of the golf course and ravine, and near the "Eight Lions." This site has been obliterated save for the ready building (now being used as a shed)
  • Launch Area and Barracks Map, mostly obliterated to develop what is now the Henry Maier Festival Park (Summerfest Grounds) as well as part of I-794

M-42 (Cudahy)

  • In operation from 1956 to August 1961
  • Manned by C Battery, 852nd Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion, which was initially redesignated as C Battery, 3rd Missile Battalion (Ajax), 59th Artillery on 1 September 1958
    • This battery is not to be confused with the Waukesha site (below), which was re-aligned after the Hercules sites became operational as Waukesha's site became C/3/59 late in 1959
  • After the site closed, the Control/IFC area was used by the Wisconsin Air National Guard for training (this training moved back to the Air Guard's facilities at Mitchell Field in 1972), and then was remodeled by Milwaukee County for use as a senior citizen centre in 1974
  • The launch site was obliterated for an expansion to the Warnimont Park golf course after 1965 by using a $50,000 grant from the federal government
  • Control/IFC Map, partially intact and now the site of a county-operated senior centre on Lake Drive just north of College Avenue
  • Launch Map, obliterated and is now the south half of the county golf course in Warnimont Park

M-54 (Franklin / Paynesville)

  • In operation from 1956 to August 1961
  • Had Battalion HQ facilities for the 401st Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion, re-designated Headquarters & Headquarters Battery, 3rd Missile Battalion, 67th Artillery on 1 September 1958
  • Firing Battery was manned by A Battery, 401st Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion, which was re-designated as A Battery, 3rd Missile Battalion, 67th Artillery on 1 September 1958
  • After it closed in 1961, there was talk about reactivating the site and moving the Lakefront battery to it, however, this never came into fruition in no small part because of nearby development
  • The sites were sold to the City of Franklin in 1965 for $22,500; the city decided to reuse the magazines as water reservoirs and develop the land around it
  • Control/IFC & Bn HQ Map, obliterated and now an empty plot of land just south of the Milwaukee County House of Correction and apparently used by Milwaukee County
  • Launch Map, mostly obliterated, the area is now a City of Franklin industrial park just south of Ryan Road, and the city's Sewer & Water Office sits on the southernmost magazine area.  

M-64 (Muskego / Prospect)

  • In operation from 1956 to December 1963
  • Originally manned by C Battery, 401st Antiaircraft Battalion, re-designated C Battery, 3rd Missile Battalion, 67th Artillery on 1 September 1958
  • Turned over to the Wisconsin National Guard as B Battery, 1st Missile Battalion, 126th Artillery in 1960
  • This battery would be trained to take over the Waukesha site, they did this as they closed up shop in Muskego
  • The lands were sold in 1965 to a private developer for $49,500 although the City of Muskego had shown interest in buying the sites
  • Control/IFC Map, partially intact and now in reuse as Reynolds Machine Co. on Martin Road
  • Launch Map, partially intact and now on private property and hidden in a subdivision off of Adrian Drive

M-74 (Waukesha)

  • In operation from 1956 to June 1971
  • Manned by D Battery, 401st Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion, re-designated D Battery, 3rd Missile Battalion, 67th Artillery as of 1 September 1958
  • Upgraded to Nike Hercules as of 2 December 1959
  • The Hercules upgrade also resulted in a re-designation to C Battery, 3rd Missile Battalion, 59th Artillery
  • Received HIPAR set as part of the Improved Nike Hercules package in 1963, and fallout shelters in 1964
  • Site was turned over to the Wisconsin National Guard on 19 June 1964 and designated B Battery, 2nd Battalion, 126th Artillery
  • The City of Waukesha received the deeds for the site as part of President Nixon's Legacy of Parks programme in 1972
  • The former IFC/Radar site became Hillcrest Park, and the city put an underground water reservoir on the west end of the property
    • In 1982, the City approved the use of the former mess hall for use as an indoor air-gun and .22 rifle range (for which it is still used to this day) by a local rifle and pistol club
    • The HIPAR and Target-Track Radar (TTR) towers, blast-proof shelter, and a couple of the original radar pads still remain
    • Much of the road within the site was repaved and a parking area put in over the past few years (as a result of its use as a city park)
  • City of Waukesha officials returned the launch site (Missile Park) to the GSA in 1987, particularly over safety and cleanup concerns--however it is also worth noting:
    • The City of Waukesha had also been using it as an unsanctioned dumping ground; Mayor Paul Keenan ordered it closed in September 1983 upon learning that city crews dumped and buried two truckloads of asbestos (and allegedly, raw garbage and sewer sludge) on the property
    • Site remediation and demolition has taken place; the magazines and most of the remaining structures were razed or buried under the auspices of the Army Corps of Engineers in 1999; concrete pads and parts of the berms still remain though
    • The city and the Federal Government executed a quitclaim deed in 2012, with the city effectively getting the property interest in the site and is responsible for maintaining it for public use as well as maintaining state-mandated barriers against possible contamination 
    • There is new development that abuts the west end of the property
  • There have been ideas floating around about hosting a chapter of the Cold War Museum at Hillcrest Park
  • Control/IFC Map, the site is partially intact as a park
  • Launch Map, mostly obliterated due to safety concerns technically under federal ownership

M-86 (Lannon)

  • In operation from 1956 to August 1961
  • Manned by B Battery, 401st Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion, re-designated B Battery, 3rd Missile Battalion, 67th Artillery on 1 September 1958
  • All three parcels were excessed in 1962, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
  • Waukesha County received the barracks portion in 1963 for public use (on the condition that they pay for 50% of the value for 20 years) and integrated it into Menomonee County Park
    • Interestingly enough, the former mess hall served as a recreation building and was sometimes used by local Boy Scout troops for winter camping 
    • Most of the Nike structures were demolished in late 2013 and early 2014 as part of Capital Project #201106. This was justified on the grounds that the buildings were deteriorating to the point where new maintenance buildings had to be built. Presumably, repairing or restoring the buildings would have been more expensive to county taxpayers than just erecting new and safe structures elsewhere in the park
    • The site's well and sewerage systems were deemed unsafe and properly abandoned or removed
    • Google Satellite imagery on 4 April 2014 shows that the sentry hut, barracks, and mess hall were demolished and the land graded over
  • The remainder was bought by Milwaukee County in 1963 for $17,500 and was considered as an option for setting up a continuity-of-government bunker (but fell through).
  • Milwaukee County sold off its lands starting in 1967 to private developers
  • Administration Map, mostly obliterated 
  • Radar Map, mostly obliterated and now sitting on private property directly across Lannon Road from the administration site
  • Launch Map, largely intact and now also on private property and a homestead

M-96 (Milwaukee / Silver Spring)
  • Held the Milwaukee Defence Area HQ until the Milwaukee Defence was merged into that of Chicago-Gary in 1968, originally this was known as the 61st Artillery Group and later consolidated as 3rd Missile Battalion, 59th Artillery
  • Held the Battalion HQ for the 852nd Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion; on 1 September 1958, this was re-designated as Headquarters and HQ Battery, 3rd Missile Battalion, 59th Artillery
  • On the turnover of sites to the Wisconsin National Guard, this site also hosted the 1st Missile Battalion, 126th Artillery (which was re-designated in 1963 as the 2nd Missile Battalion)
  • Firing Battery was D Battery, 852nd Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion, which was re-designated D Battery, 3rd Missile Battalion, 59th Artillery on 1 September 1958
  • Firing Battery was taken over by the Wisconsin National Guard as A Battery, 1st Missile Battalion, 126th Artillery in 1959 and later closed in December 1963
  • Launch Area was adjacent to the former Milwaukee County House of Correction, which was later used by the Army as a branch of the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks; this was turned over to the City of Milwaukee and the Interior Department--both sold it to the State of Wisconsin by 1980 to become Havenwoods State Forest. 
  • Control/IFC, Bn HQ, & Defence HQ Map, was retained by the Army and continues to be used as part of the Army Reserve Centre on Silver Spring Dr; most of the buildings have been repurposed
  • Launch Map, obliterated and now a part of Havenwoods State Forest

*However, I've also read various accounts by Nike veterans (and even the docents/guides at the Fort Barry museum) suggesting that there were still ways to determine whether or not a missile was nuclear or not; this often involved a coloured stripe just above the "U.S. ARMY" lettering on the upper half of the missile. No stripes generally indicated a conventional warhead; green, yellow, or red stripes indicated a nuclear payload with the colour indicating the yield in kilotons (green 2, yellow 20, and red 40). In addition, the nuclear-tipped Hercules missiles needed a barometric probe as part of the safety mechanism; these usually had a red cover (often called a "doghouse") that fit over the missile's nose.

End note -- Did the Milwaukee sites really have nuclear missiles?

As for whether or not the three (later, two) Nike sites in operation in the 1960s carried nuclear missiles, the answer appears to be that they did. Each site could carry up to 18 Nike Hercules missiles, but to this day, the Pentagon will not disclose how many at each site were armed with each yield.

A brief summary by site:

M-02 (River Hills): There are pictures on the Internet that indicate that this site carried nuclear payloads; two of them show Hercules missiles in the magazine bearing yellow markings for 20kt.

M-20 (Milwaukee/Lakefront): While I have not seen photographic or specific site documents as of this writing, I have read reports from the National Security Archive during the Cuban Missile Crisis, as well as a historical dissertation published on the Nike system, and they all appear to indicate that virtually all of the sites armed with the Nike Hercules had missiles containing nuclear warheads. Further, the optional "high-explosive" warheads were in the vast minority when it came to deployment, but were still available at the depot level.

M-74 (Waukesha): In addition to the note regarding M-20, the Milwaukee Sentinel ran an article on 19 June 1958 noting that the site was to receive facilities for guard dog kennels because the site was slated to receive atomic warheads. Also, Ed Thelen's excellent website shows links for people who served at the Waukesha site and were part of the warhead custodial team after 1964, meaning that M-74 also carried nuclear payloads. This is significant because of the fact that a warhead custodial team consisted of Regular Army personnel whose purpose were to supervise and hold custody over the nuclear warheads--at the time, National Guard technicians were considered employes of the States. Or, to put simply: when the site was turned over to the Wisconsin National Guard, any nuclear munitions had to still unambiguously remain in federal control.

Given the declassified NSArchive reports, it would not be unreasonable to figure that most (if not all) of the missiles at River Hills, the Lakefront, and Waukesha carried nuclear arms.

Finally, it's worth noting that each of these sites are safe to visit because there has been no evidence of radiological contamination or leaks; all of the environmental problems have to do with petroleum and other chemicals instead.

This image was taken during the Tightrope test on 4 November 1962 at Johnston Island. Tightrope was used to test the atomic power of the Nike Hercules carrying a W-31 warhead. The missile was set up like it would be at a "regular" Nike site, and fired as if it were needed in air defence. If the Nike missiles defending Milwaukee had to be fired against incoming Soviet bombers, this would have been seen over the skies of Wisconsin, although at a presumably-high altitude.