In praise of the “PR stunt”


Retirement means I’ve been able to visit places with the family I never thought I would see. Earlier this year, we journeyed to Paris and Amsterdam, experiencing The Louvre, Napoleon’s Tomb, the Anne Frank House and much more.

In Amsterdam, we stayed in a hotel with a link to Beatles history.


The Amsterdam Hilton opened in 1962, but its greatest fame came seven years later when the presidential suite, room #702, became the honeymoon suite for newlyweds John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

From March 25-31, 1969, Lennon and Ono hosted media members from around the world at their “Bed-in for peace.” The idea was to use their highly publicized marriage to bring attention to the importance of ending the Vietnam war.

With their nonconformist artistic expressions (cf. Bari: 33),[3] such as the nude cover of the Two Virgins album, the press were expecting them to be having sex, but instead the couple were just sitting in bed, wearing pyjamas—in John’s words “like angels”—talking about peace with signs over their bed reading “Hair Peace” and “Bed Peace”. After seven days, they flew to Vienna, Austria, where they held a Bagism press conference.

The Bed-in was a PR stun intended to draw attention to the couple’s pro-peace message. As such, it was quite successful. The Bed-in for Peace received a huge amount of news coverage worldwide. The North American leg of the Bed-in (Montreal, June, 1969) was the site for the recording of Lennon’s peace anthem which was an international hit.

Whether one considered it silly or serious, the Bed-in drew attention. It irritated President Nixon whose infamous “enemies list” included Lennon, an outspoken and extremely famous anti-war activist.

This morning, I watched a news report on the anniversary of the “Bed-in.” The report noted “the PR stunt didn’t end the war.”

Well, no. The war didn’t end, this week, 49 years ago.

Neither did the mass anti-war demonstrations that took place throughout the 60s end the war. At least, not during the 1960s. Those also could have been described as “PR stunts.”

A stunt is an event designed to draw attention. An anti-war PR stunt is intended to get the attention of people who don’t usually consider the cost of war. It raises the question, “Is it worth it?”

Small demonstrations, like the Bed-in, and large, like the December 1969 March on Washington, helped shorten the war. Over time, those on the fence examined their attitudes and decided the war wasn’t worth the cost. Moving people to the “it’s not worth it” position ended the war.

Saturday’s demonstrations against gun violence haven’t ended end gun violence.


But, there was palpable energy and commitment emanating from the huge crowds of young people participating in the March for Our Lives events throughout the country on Saturday, including those in Washington D.C.Springfield, Chicago, and its surrounding areas. That’s what a movement looks like.

If you show up in large numbers to promote a powerful message and, if you’re in for the long haul, you will eventually win. That’s what we learned from the anti-war movement and from the civil rights movement.



It’s not hard to imagine John Lennon would have been marching against gun violence in New York on Sunday. Others of his generation marched in his place.


Battles aren’t won by PR stunts, but when stunts are part of a strategy and supported by highly motivated people dedicated to a cause, they can help achieve goals worth fighting for.

Photo hanging in the lobby of the Amsterdam Hilton

McBarronBlog Bonus

The Amsterdam Hilton is name checked on this Beatles single which features Lennon on guitar and McCartney on all the other instruments. Ballad of John and Yoko

Guns · Privilege

Privilege? You be the judge


The facts:

A 67-year old man fired a pistol in his apartment. The bullet passed through the wall he shared with his neighbor.

The shooter failed to report the accident. In addition, when asked by his neighbor and the property management company AND the police about the hole in the wall, he provided various explanations, none of which mentioned a firearm.

Police reports say O’Shea gave property managers and police at least three excuses for the hole, including he accidentally put a screwdriver through the wall while hanging a mirror, and his son accidentally caused the hole while using a pneumatic nail gun.

Nine days after the shooting, the neighbor ran across a spent bullet in his apartment. Only then did the shooter admit what had happened. He was charged with reckless conduct.

Now, you might think this an “open and shut” case. If you’re familiar with the legal system, you might be surprised there was a trial. Most lawyers would tell someone stupid enough to fire a gun in his house, and foolish enough to lie to police about it, to avoid court.

But the shooter knew plenty about the legal system.

DuPage County Judge Patrick O’Shea was negligent when he accidentally fired a revolver through his wall and into a neighbor’s apartment, but a Kane County judge ruled Friday those actions did not meet reckless conduct requirements.

Judge Keith Johnson found O’Shea not guilty, ruling prosecutors failed to prove key components of the charge.

The state did not prove anyone’s life was in danger because prosecutors were unable to prove anyone was home in the unit where the shot was fired or anywhere else in the vicinity, Johnson said.

The phrase “white privilege” rubs many people, particularly white people, the wrong way. This is understandable. After all, life is hard for everyone. Few are spared hardship and disappointment.

On the other hand, who believes the court would have been so understanding about the shooting and lying had it been, for example, a young black man who fired a gun into another person’s DuPage County apartment?



The not guilty verdict  wasn’t the end of the good news Judge Johnson gave Judge O’Shea:

He also signed an order allowing to O’Shea to retrieve two pistols and 49 other guns from the Wheaton Police Department, once his FOID card is reinstated by the Illinois State Police.

Oh good. I was afraid a dope wouldn’t have access to 51 guns.

O’Shea declined to comment. His attorney, Terry Ekl, said they expected and were pleased with the ruling.

Yes, despite the evidence, the confession and the lying,  the ruling was “expected.”

I have no reason to believe, after the verdict was issued, that Judge O’Shea told Judge Johnson “It’s been a privilege.”

But he should have.

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Teachers, students, parents wasted their time talking to President Trump

Cw_k5phVIAACeeNFor a moment on Wednesday I thought President Trump gave a damn about the danger posed to all Americans, including school children and teachers, by the easy access to guns in the United States.

I thought he might have actually been paying attention during Wednesday’s “listening session” at the White House, where the parents and classmates of the Florida school shooting victims poured their hearts out to him. They spoke eloquently, angrily and tearfully about their pain and their passionate belief there are too many guns, too easily obtained, especially weapons capable of killing dozens of people within seconds.

The President said the right things Wednesday, showing, for maybe the first time as president, a little bit of empathy.

Trump told the group he would “do something about this horrible situation that’s going on” in America, and that he hoped to “figure it out together” with those students, teachers and parents gathered at the White House.

“We don’t want others to go through the kind of pain that you’ve gone through,” Trump said.

It was a different story Thursday, when the President voiced support for countering the problem of guns in schools by having teachers bring more guns into schools.

President Donald Trump on Thursday expanded on his idea to train and arm some teachers with guns, suggesting that firearm-adept school staff be given “a little bit of a bonus” for carrying weapons, and promising federal funds to train them.

At a White House discussion on school safety solutions with state and local officials, Trump said “highly adept people … who understand weaponry” could carry guns in schools, estimating that 10 to 40 percent of teachers could be qualified for such a task. Those who are would undergo “rigorous training,” he said, later adding that he’d consider offering federal money for that effort.

Though on Wednesday, he said he wanted to “figure it out” with teachers and students, by Thursday it was clear the only voice he hears is that of the National Rifle Association (NRA).

The NRA answer to every problem is “more guns,” which makes sense because the NRA is the marketing and lobbying arm of the gun manufacturers. Anything that reduces the number of guns sold is bad for business.

Arming teachers could mean 720,000 more guns in schools., so you can see why the NRA told Trump to float the idea, which was immediately rejected by the nation’s largest education employees union. NEA President Lily Eskelsen-Garcia, said more guns into schools does nothing to protect students and educators from gun violence.

“Our students need more books, art and music programs, nurses and school counselors; they do not need more guns in their classrooms. Parents and educators overwhelmingly reject the idea of arming school staff. Educators need to be focused on teaching our students. We need solutions that will keep guns out of the hands of those who want to use them to massacre innocent children and educators. Arming teachers does nothing to prevent that.

A post on the issue on the IEA Facebook Page generated more than 500 comments in less than 24 hours, virtually all of them in opposition.

A sampling:

  • If teachers become armed I am leaving the profession.
  • #ArmMeWith enough school psychologists, social workers, & teaching assistants to ensure my students are getting all of the help they need before it becomes too much for them.
  • NOPE. Stop leaving problems created by society as a whole at the feet of teachers and expecting us to fix them on our own. Society created this issue. Society needs to fix it. People can’t budge on their guns but expect teachers and kids to fight off attackers? Insane. And teachers would probably be required to fund it on their own.
  • Not surprised by his ignorance. I will not be forced to carry a gun at school! Just as lawmakers are unwilling to amend the 2nd Amendment, I will not allow it to infringe on my rights as a teacher!
  • I grew up in a gun collector’s home and was taught from a young age just how serious they are by my father who worked in Chicago emergency rooms. As a middle-school teacher and union president, I do not want them introduced into my school unless they are in the hands of trained law enforcement, not those of my coworkers, and especially not in my hands.
  • The people best prepared to deal with this issue–our enforcement officers in this nation–believe this is not a good solution. I just heard the Sheriff of Broward County where the Florida school shooting took place said this idea of arming teachers is not a good idea.

Offering to bribe teachers to carry guns is classic Trump. He knows teachers will never go for a plan to give them weapons. That’s not why they became teachers.

But the thing is He doesn’t care.

Now he’ll say, “I offered a solution, teachers didn’t like it, we’re done.” As far as he’s concerned, that gets him off the hook.

Status quo, the position always favored by the NRA, remains in place.

Let’s hope everyone outraged by last week’s violence in Florida will remain angry in November.

The president won’t be on the ballot. However, many of his enablers will.

McBarronBlog Bonus

This president can’t relate to people whose focus is not on “making money.” This explains the meeting Trump had with the national Teachers of the Year at the White House last year, which the Washington Post described as “weird.”


Growing up

St. Jerome’s all-time hit leader


(A previous published version of this post contained an error. As I was fixing that, I recalled information from more than a half-century ago that changed some of the details. This is an updated version of the original post)

With baseball season coming up, my thoughts drift back more than 50 years to the one time in my life I regret going to Wrigley Field.

At the center of the story is Sister Mary St. Delphine.

Everyone who attended Catholic schools taught by nuns has “nun stories.” Sometimes, survivors from different schools compare stories.

In the competition for the worst/craziest/most violent nun, I always win because my eighth grade nun was Sister Delphine.

In the photo above, taken around the time she was my teacher, Sister Delphine was approximately 180 years old. She presided over Room 301 at St. Jerome’s School in Chicago’s Rogers Park.

Every day of eighth grade started with torture disguised as “music appreciation.”

There was an upright piano in the front of the room with a mirror positioned strategically above the sheet music. This allowed Delphine to monitor the students as she pounded out the hits using her gnarled, arthritic hands.

The songs we had to learn in 1966 included World War II era classics Buckle Down Winsocki and Coming in on a Wing and Prayer, along with one contemporary hit, The Ballad of the Green Berets.

This was torture, not because the songs were bad (though most of them were extremely old-fashioned and corny), but because Sister Delphine insisted on singing them.

Delphine’s singing voice was…unusual.

I strain to find comparisons, though this Taser demonstration video comes close.

Sister Delphine demanded a roomful of eighth grade boys remain calm and unsmiling as the most horrible sounds we had ever heard filled the room. This was impossible.

When we laughed (and we all laughed), Sister, who had been watching us via the mirror, would get up from her bench, grab a yardstick (she bought them by the gross) and offer her response to our review of her warbling.

We had mixed feelings when the yardstick was headed our way.

On the one hand, we knew it was going to hurt. On the other, there was usually no singing during beatings.

You could tell who Sister Delphine liked. They were the ones with the faint bruises.

Then there were others. I was one of those.

There probably was never a good time to have met Sister Delphine, but this was definitely a bad time.

I arrived in her class frustrated, hurt by my parents recent divorce, and overly emotional. Delphine picked up on that and, like any nurturing teacher would, gave me a nickname in front of the class.


Surprisingly, this did not result in improved behavior.

Warning: The following story ends with a “sad trombone” sound effect.

As the end of the eighth grad year neared I hated school. On the school day in question, in May 1967, I realized I really needed to see a Cubs game.

I don’t remember what my plan was for explaining my absence. Maybe the story was that I was sick and had to go to the doctor. Or, I had to stay home in bed. Or I had a sick relative I had to care for.

Whatever the story was, it did not involve sunshine.

So maybe sitting in the bleachers was not the best idea.

When I saw my sunburned face I knew I was in for a bad time. The next day, I made a half-hearted attempt at a lie, but Delphine wasn’t having it. She quickly got me to confess.

The rest is a blur, but I’m pretty sure I got more hits than the Cubs did the previous afternoon.

The kicker: While I was sunning myself at the ballpark, Sister Delphine, who wasn’t much interested in teaching anyway, decided to give herself and the class a treat and tuned the classroom TV to the ballgame.

I’ve only scratched the surface (something Sister Delphine did often) on my eighth grade year.

There will be more.



Oh say, did you see that Anthem performance?

Had it been a fight, Fergie’s performance of the National Anthem at Sunday’s NBA All-Star Game would have been stopped by “the dawn’s early light.”

Twitter was not kind.

It seems foolish to get too exercised over this latest Anthem insult. After all, the song itself is, at the least, controversial.

The lyrics to The Star-Spangled Banner were written by Francis Scott Key, a slaveowner. He was celebrating the failure of the British to conquer Baltimore in the War of 1812.


The words were set To Anacreon in Heaven, an awkward tune appropriate for inebriation, which is how it was usually sung.

Though I’ve always thought it silly to perform it before every sporting event, I remain an Anthem fan. It’s how I was raised. There’s nothing wrong with putting your own spin on the song, if your talent and your heart are in the right places.

Any list of great Anthem performances must include the lengthy but incredibly soulful version by Marvin Gaye at the 1983 NBA All-Star Game.

Fifteen years earlier, Jose’ Feliciano was a little too soulful for the time. His expressive performance at the 1968 World Series resulted in death threats and calls for the Puerto Rican-American singer to be “deported.”

My favorite Anthem performance took place in Portland on April 25, 2003, prior to a NBA Playoff game between the hometown Trailblazers and the Dallas Mavericks.

The scheduled singer that night was 13-year-old Natalie Gilbert who, in true, “the show must go on” fashion, decided to take the mic despite having spent the day in bed with the flu.

In retrospect, that was a mistake. Yet, something wonderful happened.

That Anthem performance shows how things ought to be in America. When we see someone struggling, we should accept the risk that we could look silly and we lend a hand.

It doesn’t matter that Trailblazers coach Mo Cheeks couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. He saw a young girl who needed help and stepped in.

That clip gets me, every time. And I’ve watched it a lot.

That’s leadership.

Sadly, Mo Cheeks wasn’t nearby when a man who pontificates about patriotism drew a blank on the words to the anthem of the country he’s supposed to be leading.

At least Fergie knows the words.

When performed with sincerity, the Anthem can be quite moving.

When things go awry, the Anthem can either give us a window into the heart of those who talk a good game about patriotism but don’t feel it, or it can show us something great about America.

Thank you, Mo Cheeks.

Happy President’s Day.

# # #

McBarronBlog Bonus

One of the most “unorthodox”performances of the Anthem took place at the 1969 Woodstock Festival. Former US Airman Jimi Hendrix said he just wanted to share something “beautiful.”

It might be hard to believe, but the Anthem was not always played before every sporting event

In his stand-up days, Albert Brooks ruminated about the possible rewriting of the National Anthem


Resolve to ignore fake news in 2018

Happy-New-year-2018-Images-1-1024x538 2

It wasn’t merely that the news itself was bad in 2017 though, mostly, it was.

But it was also a bad year for the news media. Here in Illinois, citizens, once again and in increasing quantities, were fed a daily ration of BS by the “Illinois Policy Institute,” an organization dedicated to the eradication of unions, the privatization of public education and to the enrichment of the state’s wealthiest people at the expense of those on lower rungs of the economic ladder.

This organization (its leaders prefer IPI be called “The Institute” – we won’t be doing that) officially refuses to divulge who funds it, though we’re certain the Koch Brothers are involved and we know an early funder was a guy who made a fortune off the teacher pensions he wants to eliminate.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner has donated more than $500,000 to the Illinois Policy Institute over the last five years. The institute, which bills itself as a free-market, liberty-based organization, promotes a range of policies and has writers in an offshoot called the Illinois News Network, which provides stories free of charge to newspapers.

After the legislature approved a new state budget for the first time in more than two years, former state legislator James Nowlan analyzed the work of IPI’s “analysts” and their “conclusion-driven” reports.

By that, I mean the IPI first establishes its ideological conclusion, to wit: Illinois could have enacted its recent budget without a tax increase. Then, the so-called analysts go out in search of narrative to buck up the conclusion.


The IPI “budget solution” is not to save or cut huge amounts but simply to shift, massively, state responsibilities onto the backs of its local governments. Their proposal would, for example, shift at least $2.5 billion in teacher and professor pension responsibilities off the state ledger books and onto local school districts and universities.

The IPI tools for BS distribution include social media and spokespeople claiming to be experts. Their pronouncements are, too often, presented to the public as “news” by people who, as journalists, should protect their consumers from unfettered nonsense.
For example, the Editorial Page of the Chicago Tribune regularly features editorials from IPI sources. Similarly, the TV show Chicago Tonight allows IPI spokespeople, long on ideology but short on credentials, to appear as “experts” on taxation, economics and government.
More recently, the IPI has spread its tentacles into broadcasting by purchasing the Illinois Radio Network. As is the IPI M-O, “news stories” are offered at no charge to radio stations statewide.
Among the stations now airing IPI propaganda is one of Springfield’s top news and information outlets, WMAY Radio. (full disclosure: I was a WMAY news reporter from 1982-85)
In an interview with columnist Bernie Schoenberg, WMAY general manager Harvey Wells defended the IRN association, apparently believing an organization that exists solely to advocate for its anti-tax, anti-union agenda, purchased an unprofitable statewide radio network in order to deliver fair, balanced, journalistically sound information.
He said it was made clear to the station the policy institute and INN/IRN are separate entities. He also said the station isn’t using some weekly programming from IRN — just news that can be chosen, story by story, by the station.
There certainly is a financial advantage to the arrangement. “Nothing” is always a good price and that is what WMAY and other IRN stations are paying to air, as news, IPI propaganda. It allows the station to sound “bigger” at no cost.
The price paid for the acceptance of free “news” is that true journalists can suddenly seem prohibitively, or at least unnecessarily, expensive.
Why buy news when you can get “news” for free?
In 1987, 44 journalists representing 27 news organizations were Illinois Statehouse reporters. In the most recent edition of the state government “Blue Book,” 14 journalists representing 13 independent news organization are listed as members of the Illinois Legislative Correspondents Association.
Not every news operation airing IPI propaganda is in cahoots with the dark money group.
For example, despite the IPI BS regularly printed on the Tribune editorial/opinion page, the paper continues to publish journalists delivering accurate and fair reports.
At the Tribune, there exists a metaphorical “wall” between the newsroom and the editorial board room. It is safe to assume that much that appears in the Tribune’s news section irritates the folks in the board room. That’s how it’s supposed to work.
WMAY continues to employ independent and outspoken hosts who “call them as they see them,” but to claim a wall exists between the IPI and its in-house news operations would be laughable if it wasn’t so dangerous to the public good.
So, in in the interests of keeping journalism alive, the following resolution for 2018 is offered:
Whereas, a misinformed public cannot be expected to make decisions protecting  democracy and our Constitution,
Whereas, the Koch Brothers, Bruce Rauner and the Illinois Policy Institute have made the eradication of public employee unions, the privatization of public education, the reduction or elimination of services for the poor, sick , elderly and children their primary goals, 
Be it resolved that I, as a news consumer in 2018, will strive to remember that  reports from the Illinois Radio Network and the Illinois News Network are propaganda intended to further the agenda of the Illinois Policy Institute, Gov. Rauner and the Koch Brothers,
Be it further resolved that, when I receive BS, via newspaper or broadcast, I will contact the newspaper or station and let then know that I expect journalism from  the news and, if I don’t get it, I will will stop supporting advertisers who support attacks on our democracy,
Be it also resolved that, as a free and independent news media is crucial in a democracy, in 2018 I will support journalism by purchasing subscriptions and supporting the advertisers of stations, papers and e-publications that continue to deliver high quality, fair and accurate journalism.
If we pay attention, the truth, the facts, will prevail.
Happy NEWS year!
# # #

McBarronBlog Bonus

pop culture

The Skipper, Mary Ann and Del Shannon

In the summer of 1989, my brother John and I went on a road trip to watch the Cubs. But the most memorable moments had nothing to do with baseball..

The Cubs package tour took us to the West Coast in July, 1989. We saw games in San Diego and Los Angeles with a group of senior citizens but the best part of the trip occurred as we prepared to fly home to Chicago.

In the LAX waiting area, we saw Alan Hale Jr., aka “The Skipper” from Gilligan’s Island. We knew it was him because he was wearing his trademark captain’s hat and carrying a small suitcase on which “Alan Hale Jr.” was written in large letters. He and his former Gilligan’s Island co-star Dawn Wells (aka “Mary Ann”) were flying to Chicago for a “three hour cruise” radio station promotion.

Jonas GrumbyMary Ann Gilligans Island 02

I will go to my grave with some regrets, and while failing to ask The Skipper to hit me with his hat is not in the top 100, it’s on the list.

After that initial excitement, I was casually reading the newspaper when my brother nudged me and remarked, “Hey, that guy looks like Del Shannon.”

Having seen Shannon perform recently in an oldies show, I immediately realized THAT REALLY IS DEL SHANNON!

This was a big deal, as we’d been fans of the singer-songwriter since became famous in the early 1960s with hits like Runaway, Keep Searchin and Handy Man.

Being fans, we rushed at him, which seemed to freak him out. After all, it had been decades since Del Shannon was a hit-making pop star.

He relaxed a little when I showed him my cassette of his most recent album.


Shannon, who was also flying to Chicago, briefly chatted with us. I recall asking about a rumor he might replace the recently deceased Roy Orbison in the Traveling Wilburys. He said no one had talked to him about it, but it seemed as though he’d like to be asked.

After a few minutes we wished him well and assumed our Del Shannon story was over.


I had forgotten to ask for an autograph. In the air, I summoned up the nerve and the most amazing thing happened: Del asked if I wanted to hear what he was working on!

He handed me a cassette and I rushed back to the seat so John and I could listen.

On the tape were tracks from the album he was recording with producer Jeff Lynne (ELO, Tom Petty, Traveling Wilburys). Some tracks were finished and fully produced while others were works in progress. These had only guitar and voice. Other instruments would later be added.

We thought the finished tracks somewhat over-produced. But the unfinished tracks, with Del’s still-amazing voice as the sole focus, were thrilling.

When we returned the tape, we told him we loved the unproduced tracks and suggested  he release them as they were.

This was before it became a thing for singers to issue stripped-down “unplugged” recordings and Del was incredulous. “There are no drums,” he said.

“Your voice is what people want to hear,” we insisted.

After his initial success in the early 60s, Del found hits hard to come by. Though he only had one top 40 in the last decade of his life (Sea of Love hit #33 in 1981) he never stopped performing. He was always appreciated by his contemporaries and rockers who care about musical roots.

He influenced people like Tom Petty,  who name-checks Del on Runnin’ Down a Dream and who produced Drop Down and Get Me, the last Shannon album released in Del’s lifetime.

Del thanked us for the feedback, but clearly didn’t agree. He wanted hits and believed Lynne, the hottest producer in pop music, was his ticket back to prominence.

It was not to be.

On February 8, 1990, Del Shannon, who’d been fighting depression and other issues for decades, took his life.

Lynne finished the album and Rock On was released in 1991. Despite decent reviews, it was not a big hit.


Del Shannon was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999. He’s cited as a link between Elvis and the Beatles.

It’s not always wise to meet your idols, but we were thrilled for the chance to tell Del Shannon, born December 30, 1934, how much he meant to us and how much we loved his music.

Happy birthday, Del. Rock On!