Canadian Skateboarding Legend Jason Crolly Dead at 36

Crolly was the Canadian personification of gnar

Dallas Hansen for The Ride Channel

For years Jason Crolly skated under the radar with his own local crew, outside the purview of the small and tightly knit skateboard scene in Winnipeg, Canada.

Then he blew up.

Crolly’s 2001 appearance in the first issue of 5 foot 12—a VHS “video magazine” intended to be the Canadian answer to 411VM—blindsided me. I grew up in Winnipeg and had started skating 10 years earlier—how had I never heard of this guy?

Crolly5

At that stage, prominent locals like Mike McDermott, Paul Spencer and Rod Ferens were filming ledge lines, flip tricks, and manuals. The steep 11-stair rail at Kelvin High—Neil Young’s alma mater—had for years been the subject of much what-if talk, but never any action. And suddenly here was this guy I had never heard of nor seen around dropping hammer after hammer: back crook, back 50-50, front tail fakie, front 5-0, switch board, back feeble, front 180 nosegrind. And for good measure, he backside flipped the gap at Winnipeg’s city hall.

As a regular lurker at the Chateau—a Vancouver, Canada, skate house then inhabited by the young-and-ambitious ensemble of McDermott, Travis Stenger, Ryan McGuigan, and Joey Williams—to which Crolly was a regular visitor during trips out west, I soon found myself introduced to the then-20 year-old ripper and found his haggard exterior belied the gentlest of souls.

In an era when rail-chomping heshers had adopted a uniform of carefully coordinated snug-fitting rock-star apparel, Crolly would have none of it. He wore his jeans baggy, dirty, and usually with rips or tears, hole-filled purple briefs exposed. His T-shirts were perpetually stained with dirt and sweat and decorated with the logos of his sponsors—C1RCA, Metric, Black Label, Sk8 Skates—or perhaps just a beer company. His hairstyle cycled between an out-of-control frizz or a close shave, and his front teeth, originally smashed out by the headbutt of a security guard, alternated between various stages of repair and destruction, for he had a knack for re-injuring his grill when it was hammer time—an occasion for which he almost invariably donned his signature motorcycle gloves.

Although my skateboarding abilities never rose above the level of subpar, Crolly often offered generous encouragement. Upon catching a particularly well-snapped kickflip, I was warmed to hear him say, “Sick! I can’t kickflip that high just on flat—only over stuff.” High praise.

Another favorite Crolly memory happened in 2003, when Sk8 Skates, a shop in Winnipeg, held a Game of SKATE with a $200 cash prize.

Against a field of local flatground wizards busting out double flips and nollie inward heels, Crolly managed to keep up by deploying his deep bag and a professional level of consistency. Not every make was aesthetically pleasing, but when he snatched an upset victory it seemed he was the only one unsurprised.

“Yeah, I knew I’d win,” he said matter-of-factly. “I needed the money. Gotta buy a flight to Vancouver.”

After a standout part in the 2005 Green Apple video Modern Love, Crolly found a new shop sponsor in Underworld, a team stacked with such heavy hitters as Grant Patterson, Micky Papa, Geoff Dermer, Ted DeGros, and Chad Dickson. They toured and in 2006 released a full-length video, Yesterday’s Future, which showcased a newfound stylistic maturity in Crolly’s skating.

Unfortunately, it would be his last full part.

In the summer of 2008, members of the Habitat team—including Stefan Janoski, Guru Khalsa, Tim O’Connor, and Fred Gall—toured Canada and stayed with McDermott, who had just received a pro board from Habitat International. That night, when Fred Gall never made it back to McDermott’s place, the room was abuzz with a mixture of concern and speculation as to where he might’ve been.

When Gall showed up the next morning, I asked him pointedly: Where had he disappeared?

“Mister Crolly’s,” he replied, grinning mischievously.

Now based in Los Angeles, I’ve been out of touch with the Winnipeg scene for half a decade, so I can only speculate—based on close sources—as to what sort of turn Crolly’s lifestyle had taken in recent years. He was 36 at the time of his death this past weekend.

As of this writing, the exact circumstances of his passing are unverified, but what’s certain is that he was will be mourned as a lost local legend, the Canadian personification of gnar.

 

 

Mr. Bowman, tear down these walls!

Another year, another round of buzz about the potential removal of the hideous and disgraceful pedestrian barriers adorning the four corners of Winnipeg’s premier intersection, Portage & Main.

This time the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ has brought in Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance and the man instrumental in pedestrianizing a large swath of Broadway in Manhattan, to tell us what we already know: we’re doing it wrong.

Portage & Main barriers

It’s time to say goodbye

City planning has come a long way since the late 1970s, and informed opinion is unanimous that the Portage & Main barriers—emblematic of the longstanding supremacy of cars over people in downtown Winnipeg—have got to go. Mayor Brian Bowman even made getting rid of them part of his campaign platform.

Well Mr. Bowman, you were elected more than a year ago—what are you waiting for?

Were I elected to the Mayor’s Office with a mandate to remove the barriers, there would be no hesitation. Much as the intersection was swarmed upon news of the Jets’ return, at the exact moment victory was confirmed I would invite my supporters to Portage and Main for a celebration rally. With all four corners blockaded and traffic re-routed, I would commence distribution of dozens of sledgehammers and invite the public to usher in a new, pedestrian-friendly era for the City of Winnipeg by smashing concrete like it was 1989 in Berlin. Once the party ended I’d order heavy equipment to finish the job. Pedestrian signals would be set up within the next 48 hours.

Done.

There’s a precedent for this. Winnipeg wants to be the Chicago of the north? Well in 2003, Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley had enough of the federal airport near downtown known as Meigs Field. The idea of low-flying planes so near the skyscrapers of the city’s vertical skyline was unnerving in the post-9/11 era, and considering they were nearly all private flights for the wealthy he decided it was in the public interest to close the airport and turn it into a park.

Naturally the FAA resisted so what did Mayor Daley do? Showed the feds The Chicago Way. Ordered a fleet of heavy equipment to roll through in the middle of the night and tear up the runway. Goodbye Meigs Field. Hello Northerly Island Park.

Surprise!

Surprise!

The Winnipeg Way seems to be years of dithering. Decades of hemming and hawing. Sponsor a meaningless design contest. Pay to fly in outsiders. Years and years of blathering on about the topic.

Look, if Mayor Daley can break a lease with the almighty FAA, surely Mayor Bowman can grow a pair and void the agreement with the Portage & Main property owners that keeps people out of the intersection. It’s set to expire in 2019 anyway.

These barriers are a national embarrassment. What other North American city does this? Not a one.

Don’t tell me Winnipeg is special. Other cities have intersections where two wide thoroughfares meet. Really, the appropriate thing to do here would be to return the intersection to the people, and have a pedestrian scramble—where traffic is stopped in every direction so pedestrians can cross from all sides, and diagonally if they wish.

Portage Avenue and Main Street themselves could use a road diet. Protected bike lanes. A bus lane. Even then you’ve still got room for street parking and a couple of lanes of vehicular traffic.

Winnipeg grew up around an electric streetcar network but for too long has felt the debilitating effects of automobile dependency. Downtown has turned into a massive parking lot, core neighborhoods have thinned out while becoming increasingly littered with unsightly strip malls. I’ve nothing against cars per se—I own three and I change my own oil, thank you very much—but when there’s no other acceptable option for transportation, when the city’s historic primary intersection has been purposely retrofitted to accommodate cars and exclude pedestrians, you don’t have a city that’s inclusive, or vibrant, or ready for the 21st century and beyond.

I’ve advocated in the past for the 1959 subway plan that was once a serious consideration in Winnipeg but nobody in political power seems to want to touch it today. Too bad. It’s now more relevant than ever.

The subway that could've been

The subway that could’ve been

Meanwhile, the one single action the current mayor can take in order to end the era of car dominance in downtown Winnipeg won’t require a large capital expenditure. Or years of study and endless meetings.

Mr. Bowman, it’s high time to call in the heavy equipment. And if you want to do it right, be the first to swing the sledgehammer.

An open letter to new Winnipeg mayor Brian Bowman

Dear Mayor Bowman:

Congratulations! You overcame an underdog status to win a hard-fought race and are now comfortably settled into your new office on Main Street. You are the face of the “new” Winnipeg, and, like Nasheed Nenshi in Calgary or Eric Garcetti in Los Angeles, are being lauded as a “hipster mayor.” Which is exactly what Winnipeg needs right now.

But being a hipster mayor is about more than the width of your lapels and and which organic fair trade coffee you’re seen sipping at the hippest new café. The policies which you introduce and execute will make the city either cooler, or lamer. And while there’s much about Winnipeg that’s already cool—The Exchange District’s architecture, a great culinary scene, a large stock of historical homes, an impressive network of bike trails—there’s still much that is lame: inner-city poverty, gang violence, sub-arctic winters, an emaciated street culture, an underwhelming transit system. Your job will be to accentuate the former while mitigating the latter.

Which is why I’m writing you openly on a matter of imperative importance to the city’s future, a topic more contentious and controversial than any other in this recent election. And while you might well interpret your victory as a mandate to fast-track the implementation of the so-called Bus Rapid Transit scheme, do hear me out as I explain why this idea is 125% lame. And there’s a cool alternative.

The first leg of the BRT scheme has been in operation for thirty-one months now, and let’s face facts—it hasn’t been a game-changer. The promised ToD or transit-oriented development hasn’t appeared, as I predicted ten years ago when I was writing for the Free Press. Even during rush hours, I never observed mobs of passengers streaming in and out of Osborne Station. Nobody’s giving up their cars for this. Let’s be honest with ourselves—it’s a bus stop on steroids, not rapid transit. And no matter how much lipstick you put on the pig, a bus is still a bus, and riding the bus will forever carry the stigma of being ghetto.

The rest of the plan is only looking worse. While Osborne Station is at least relatively adjacent to high population densities, take a look at this map and tell me what you see.

I’ll tell you what I see. The Western Corridor is a passageway to nowhere. Nobody lives south of Wilkes, and hardly anyone lives north of it—and of those few who do occupy those low-density Charleswood neighbourhoods, only a tiny minority will use the route for commuting, never mind as an inducement to car-free living. The Southeastern Corridor isn’t looking much better. None of the neighborhoods it serves has a high density or a large proportion of transit users. The Eastern Corridor services the south periphery of Elmwood but runs too far from most homes to be a practical replacement for the 45 Talbot or 47 Regent buses. The Northwestern Corridor fails to be of practical use to the North End’s largely transit-dependent population base. Billions of dollars will be spent—wasted, I should say—on roadways and infrastructure to run frequent buses to places where people do not want to go, and the majority of passenger trips will remain on regular local and express buses on major arterial routes: Portage, Main, Henderson, Osborne, Salter, Corydon.

That millions of dollars went into studies that resulted in this map is to me a source of major second-hand embarrassment. It should be plain to anyone who knows the city and its transit patterns that this is a complete non-starter, but somehow it got started. It must be stopped.

The billions of dollars spent building these busways to nowhere could be much better appropriated toward upgrading the existing system: replacing the fleet, adding 24-hour Night Owl service, restoring frequency of service to pre-Thompson Administration levels, freezing—or even lowering—fares. But that wouldn’t be game-changing either, nor would it fit within your promised mandate of implementing “bold actionable plans that will deliver this city to where it should be.”

It’s time to take another hard, serious look at the Norman D. Wilson subway plan.

Now here’s a scheme that parallels major arterials and actually goes where people live and work. River & Osborne? Yup. Health Sciences Centre & St. Boniface Hospital? Covered. City Hall and The Exchange District? Right there. The Manitoba Legislature, Polo Park, Portage and Main, and The Forks? All of the above. The North End, the West End, Elmwood, Weston, Norwood and Old St. Vital are all represented. It could be expanded: south, to the U of M; west, to Assiniboine Park. And it’s underground. Truly rapid. Protected from the elements.

Before I go on, let me address all the pat objections. This has been studied more than once (1958 & 1966) and, from an engineering perspective, a subway is totally doable with Winnipeg’s subsoil conditions. So let’s move on to the ostensibly unaffordable price tag. When you consider the ROI [return on investment], it’s the BRT plan that’s looking unaffordable. A bunch of busways to and from peripheral suburbs servicing mostly uninhabited areas aren’t going to do much for the city except perhaps enrich some already wealthy construction contractors. On the other hand, this subway plan would create an entirely new Winnipeg, with high density nodes around every station.

Can’t you see multi-story mixed-use projects at, say, Isabel and William? Main and Mountain? Osborne and Morley? These are urban intersections whose base densities were established during the streetcar era, and this density can be further built upon once served by a transit system that is an actual conduit to car-free living. We need to work within the existing grid rather than pray for prairie to magically turn into vertical homes because a glorified bus route opens nearby. That’s never going to happen, and we shouldn’t want it to happen.

Let’s now address the obvious—in a jobs and labour marketplace that’s increasingly global, Winnipeg is faced with a massive, almost insurmountable, liability: it’s cold. Really cold. On average, 113 days a year the temperature never rises above freezing. Given a choice, talented, educated workers are generally more repelled by than drawn to extreme cold climates. That’s why my brother, a chiropractor, and my best friend from high school, a teacher, are enjoying life in Singapore. It’s why so many of my former classmates have settled in Vancouver. It’s why I’m writing this from Los Angeles. It takes an almost masochistic temperament—or, at the least, vested business interests—to endure such painfully extreme polar vortexes so many days of the year when one is free to leave. There has to be an equalizer. The BRT plan simply ain’t it.

Toronto and, especially, Montreal are both cold (albeit less so) cities that enjoy robust car-free cultures. Surely I needn’t point out why. In the absence of comparative proportions of transit usage, Winnipeg will by comparison always be lame. It will bleed talent and struggle to attract newcomers. The critical mass of density and street culture that Winnipeg needs to compete in the global marketplace as a world-class city capable of attracting top talent—it won’t ever arrive if we continue building busways. It’s going to require building a transit system that, much of the time, is more attractive than driving. That means going where people already go—along existing major arterials. And it means being protected from the elements—underground, with warm, indoor platforms and trains unaffected by the amount of snowfall outside except insofar as the more the streets are covered in snow, the greater the demand for subway services.

Mayor Bowman, are you thinking this vision too bold, too impractical? Duff Roblin too dealt with naysayers, and where would the city be today were it not for the Floodway—which 1997 demonstrated was in fact too timid an ambition and had to be expanded at a cost much greater than if it had been built sufficiently in the first place. Calgary is finding out that its Light Rail system, opened in 1981 after intense naysaying and opposition, was actually too timid a scheme as its station platforms are currently being modified to accommodate larger trains. From the Legislature to the Aquaduct to the Esplanade Riel to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, this city’s greatest gems are the result of grand ambitions.

Where will the money come from? Find it. Squeeze the province for Hydro dollars—the subway would be a showcase for electric-powered transport. Shake down the feds—the impoverished state of the inner city is a national embarrassment. Implement a civic sales tax if necessary. But ultimately a subway would pay for itself, in growth. Naysayers might well say that no one moves to a city for its transit system, and even if that’s untrue people—especially talented, educated people—will move to a city to enjoy the sort of culture that a great transit system will create. The real question is, how can we afford not to do this? In a parallel universe, Winnipeg has already completed this subway system, and we never fell behind Edmonton or Calgary.

Verticality. Walkability. Density. These are the hallmarks of a “world-class” city, and if your campaign rhetoric is to become anything more than empty words we’ll need a world-class transit system to go with our world-class hockey team and world-class National Museum. This BRT plan was conceived while Winnipeg was still stuck in the minor leagues. And, real talk—it was forged so thoughtlessly one can only wonder whether it was proposed by incompetents or, for whatever reason, intentionally introduced to fail.

The proper function of a rapid transit system is to move people to and from various neighbourhoods and points of interest within a city. Need I remind you that in 1972 Winnipeg amalgamated twelve towns, cities, and rural municipalities to create the 464 km² behemoth it is today? The Southwest Corridor excepted, the point of the BRT plan seems to be to feed residents from far-flung suburbs, where almost nobody lives, into the downtown centre, where almost nobody from the suburbs wants to go. And if they do, it’s almost certainly not by bus. The Wilson subway plan would do more than give commuters a way from the suburbs to downtown—although it would do that too. Primarily, it would provide an efficient means of transporting, regardless of weather, people around the city core, the pre-1920 grid. Where the greatest densities remain, and where there exists the greatest potential for added density through vertical infill.

Downtown Los Angeles is in a residential building boom. Hotels, condo hi-rises, and multi-storey mixed-users are popping up where surface parking lots once were. Forty years ago Downtown LA was synonymous with urban decay. Now it’s one of the hottest real estate markets in the country. It’s no coincidence that between 1963 and 1990 there was no rail transit serving DTLA. Now there are the Metro Gold, Blue, Expo, Red, and Purple Lines (the latter of which just broke ground on a westward expansion yesterday) and LA, having run out of lateral space on which to build, is by necessity going vertical. Winnipeg will never run out of lateral space. Inducing wide-scale vertical development is going to require a powerful incentive to keep the city tight. The only possibility is proximity to subway.

I realize being mayor doesn’t make you God. You’re just one man. But you can work on building a consensus for this. You can foster the political will. You strike me as a sincere man who wants what’s best for the city, and you’ve been told that this BRT plan is the best way to go. But now that you’re elected, you can change course. You’re a relatively young man. Young enough to see the ribbon-cutting on Winnipeg’s first subway line well before you reach old age. Demand the impossible. Don’t sell us short. This is your chance to have your name become as synonymous as Duff Roblin’s as this city’s saviour.

Now how cool would that be?

Yours concernedly,

Dallas Hansen

Obama, first urban president since 1881

Along East 53rd’s sidewalks bustling with well-dressed families both black and white, he found a neighborhood perfectly befitting a bi-racial Ivy League man
 

Friday 23 January 2009

Upon leaving office, George W. Bush returned to the seclusion of his 1,600-acre ranch 20 minutes out of tiny Crawford, Tex. — itself two-and-a-half hours from Dallas-Forth Worth. Bill Clinton came to the White House via the Arkansas Governor’s mansion and exited into a modest 11-room Neo-Dutch Colonial in exurban Chappaqua, N.Y. — an hour’s drive from Manhattan. Ronald Regan lived in Bel-Air (the Los Angeles suburb made famous by the Fresh Prince), Jimmy Carter on his peanut farm in Georgia, Gerald Ford in Virginia’s wealthy Alexandria, LBJ in the Houston sticks. Even JFK, who spent two boyhood years in the Bronx and enough time in Boston, made his primary home at the six-acre Kennedy Compound in small-town Hyannis, Mass.

So vast has been the succession of country and suburban gentlemen to the Executive chair that finding an urban president — a man who lived and worked primarily within the core of one of America’s great metropolises — requires looking back to 1881, when, following James Garfield’s assassination, the nation’s highest office fell to vice-president Chester A. Arthur, a lawyer and civil servant who before and after the White House lived and worked in Manhattan.

In 1984, a 23-year-old Barack Obama, freshly graduated from Columbia, vacated his Manhattan apartment to accept directorship of the Developing Communities Project, a non-profit in South Side Chicago. Here, along East 53rd’s sidewalks bustling with well-dressed families both black and white, Obama found a neighbourhood perfectly befitting a bi-racial Ivy League man: Hyde Park.

It’s a salt-and-pepper, middle-class mix, an educated enclave encrusted with architectural gems, bordered by Washington Park to the west, the splendid University of Chicago to the south and to the north, wealthy Kenwood, where Obama’s mansion lies a quarter block north of tree-lined Hyde Park Boulevard.

Hyde Park is the American Dream manifested — a model of integration and an oasis of prosperous civility in a South Side desert that saw much of its housing stock razed in the 1960s and 70s as landlords walked away from their properties. Incredibly, for the first time in 127 years, we have a president whose primary residence sits where he can walk just minutes to shop for groceries, dine at dozens of restaurants, visit a museum or take a dance lesson. Unless he’s leaving the neighbourhood, Obama can leave his Ford Explorer Hybrid parked at home. Or he can get downtown in minutes via the 6 Jackson Park Express or by hopping on the Metra commuter train. At least he could’ve until the mandatory motorcades.

“Our communities will better serve all of their residents if we are able to leave our cars to walk, bicycle and access other transportation alternatives,” said Obama’s Office of the President-Elect Web site, change.gov, before his confirmation. “As president, Barack Obama will re-evaluate the transportation funding process to ensure that smart growth considerations are taken into account ….”

Coming from Obama, these words actually carry weight. Indeed, the Web site included an entire page devoted to Urban Policy with a promise to create a “Director of Urban Policy [who] will report directly to the president and co-ordinate all federal urban programs.” Other big ideas: a $7,000 federal tax credit for new hybrid vehicle purchases, and a goal of one million plug-in hybrid cars on America’s roads by 2015. And knowing that Chicago’s elevated train system is what has kept the city’s centre strong, look for Obama’s planned National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank to invest big-time in mass transit with new lines, extensions to existing lines and brand new light-rail train systems being rolled out.

Even with oil less expensive than it was months ago, the first casualty of many home budgets in any downcycle will be the vehicle — expensive to maintain and largely unnecessary in the presence of good-quality transit. Rather than being catastrophic, a large-scale relinquishing of automobile ownership will add value to neighbourhoods that, like Hyde Park, enjoy 24-hour transit service and a walkable scale.

Hyde Park represents the sort of “regional innovation cluster” Obama’s Urban Policy seeks to promote. If his home neighbourhood has helped shape his vision for city neighbourhoods throughout America, we might indeed be in for an urban renaissance that outdoes even the last decade.

Friedman confirmed free markets work best

Dallas Hansen

November 18, 2006

During the‭ ‬20th century,‭ ‬there was among economists much debate about what role the government should have in shaping economic policy.‭ ‬While interventionists,‭ notably‬ John Maynard Keynes,‭ ‬believed government programs necessary to tackle the problems of unemployment and inflation,‭ ‬Milton Friedman—who died this week at age‭ ‬94‭—‬believed the best thing a government could do to help an economy is get out of the way.

Calling himself a‭ “‬classical liberal,‭” ‬Friedman audaciously dismissed the interventionists,‭ ‬shredding several of Keynes’s theories in the process.‭ ‬Above all,‭ ‬Friedman stood as a champion of not only economic but human freedom,‭ ‬notoriously advocating against compulsory military service,‭ ‬restrictions on foreign trade,‭ ‬and the criminalization of prostitution and drugs.

In‭ ‬1976‭ ‬Friedman was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics—one of several distinguished awards he was to receive throughout his lifetime.‭ ‬Yet his humble beginnings in working-class Brooklyn affirmed the axiom that free markets will reward the patient diligence of individuals with the fruits of prosperity.

While free-market philosophies have come to dominate economic thinking as of late,‭ ‬it was only as recently as the‭ ‬1970s that then-president Richard Nixon declared himself a Keynesian.‭ ‬By that point Keynes himself had been dead for decades,‭ ‬but Friedman was around to blame the decade’s stagflation—high unemployment coupled with high inflation—upon Keynesian economic policies.‭ ‬Friedman’s laissez-faire thinking subsequently became valuable currency during the tax-slashing age of Reaganomics.

It could be argued that Friedman’s influence upon the direction of the world’s largest economy in the‭ ‬1980s led to America’s even better economic performance during the‭ ‬1990s.‭ ‬Low inflation,‭ ‬a raging bull market in securities,‭ ‬the widespread gentrification of formerly blighted urban areas—the century’s end was kind to America,‭ ‬a vindication of once-controversial free trade agreements and the monetarist school of economic thought with which Friedman’s name became synonymous.

Friedman’s ideas owe much to the man known as the first economist,‭ ‬Scottish philosopher Adam Smith,‭ ‬whose seminal‭ ‬1776‭ ‬work‭ ‬An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations‭ ‬famously suggested that an‭ “‬invisible hand‭” ‬would guide people toward their own self-interest.‭ ‬Classical economists such as Smith believed that a natural state for free economies was full employment.‭ ‬The United States today,‭ ‬with a population that has recently passed the‭ ‬300‭ ‬million mark,‭ ‬has an unemployment rate of just‭ ‬4.6‭ ‬per cent.‭ ‬With an increasingly mobile workforce delivering labour to where it’s needed,‭ ‬America has work for nearly all of her willing citizens—and even,‭ ‬as has lately been much-reported,‭ ‬her undocumented immigrants.

Milton Friedman 1912-2006

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the American economy is how new entrepreneurs are being made daily,‭ ‬many of them earning a living in ways most unlikely.‭ ‬Only in America could you,‭ ‬for example,‭ ‬make your fortune as a professional harmonica instructor.‭ ‬Or,‭ ‬for that matter,‭ ‬as a Barry White impersonator.

During Friedman’s long life he got to see laissez-faire economics move from unorthodox to mainstream.‭ ‬He observed the failings and the collapses of centrally planned juggernauts in the communist world.‭ ‬Despite his advanced age,‭ ‬he never plunged into senility,‭ ‬opining in‭ ‬2004‭ ‬that even as Russia and China have become freer with their embrace of market capitalism,‭ ‬many western societies were suffering beneath the yoke of increased regulation.‭ ‬Still,‭ ‬he did,‭ ‬during that interview,‭ ‬declare himself‭ “‬an optimist,‭” ‬and although he had already won many battles,‭ ‬he would still continue to argue for school vouchers and privatizing Social Security.

“Government today controls something like 40 per cent of the resources of the country,” said Friedman in a March, 2006 interview. “A decent government controls like 10 or 15 per cent.” He then joked, “The virtue is that government is so inefficient, it wastes the great bulk of those resources. If it used those resources efficiently, it could do great damage.”

Keynesianism and governmental attempts to tweak economic demand were in vogue during the 1950s, when Friedman came of age as an academic. This was a time of “galloping socialism,” as Friedman described it, which would later slow down to “creeping socialism.” During, however, the Reagan and Clinton administrations, the U.S. federal government even experienced a contraction. But there is no mistaking that Friedman, a lifelong Republican, felt betrayed at the current Bush administration’s runaway budgets when he said, again in March, “I think it’s really disgraceful that the Republican Party, which preaches holding down the size of government, should have been, and the Bush administration should have been, such a big spender.”

If you believe sound monetary policy, rather than happenstance, to be responsible for today’s prosperous times, do remember Milton Friedman. He may have left this world, but his ideas are here to stay.

dallashansen.com

 

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Games of the past

Video arcades were alive with action, sounds… and people

Dallas Hansen

November 4, 2006

Strolling through Winnipeg Square one afternoon this week, I aimed for an oasis of frivolity amid the underground concourse’s sober bustle — RC Amusements, a longstanding video arcade tucked behind the Kernels popcorn stand since before I could remember. So timeless did the place seem that I was stunned when I found it was gone.

Oddly enough, I fell in love with downtown Winnipeg because of video games. Among my early memories is a mid-1980s trip to Long John Silver’s, an arcade on Portage Avenue that seemed, at the time, the most exciting experience of my life. It wasn’t just the games. The sounds, people, voices, lights, and carnival atmosphere provided soothing stimulation to an easily bored, hyperactive child.

By the time I was eight, the Saturday bus ride downtown had for me and my schoolmate, Alan Charbonneau, become a weekly ritual. After a week of waking at six a.m. to deliver newspapers, we rewarded ourselves by leaving our parents behind to wander from Saratoga Amusements to Games on the Avenue — usually stopping at Comic World in-between — battling it out at Karate Champ or Bubble Bobble during the lull in home gaming that existed between the Atari and the Nintendo.

Your correspondent, at the wheel of a Wangan Midnight Maximum Tune 3 machine in 2009

There were other places to play. MagicLand offered unlimited gaming by the hour. KK Amusements in Eaton Place featured the newest and the best games, but the staff were particularly keen that you present a signed parental permission form if you were under age 16. Although barely 10, I had grown to be taller than one of the arcade’s employees, who upon snarkily asking, “Are you 16?” received my annoyed reply, “Are you?”

During weekdays, we had to contend with the local Double Dragon machine at St. Anne’s Food Store — invariably surrounded by what today would be the unthinkably politically incorrect spectacle of chain-smoking sixth-graders in full heavy metal attire. These older fellows were prone to shaking you down for your comic book money and most often smelled as nasty as they appeared.

The corner store arcade game was a cornerstone of the youth community even years later. During high school, the 7-Eleven near Glenlawn Collegiate played host to a seemingly incessant Street Fighter II tournament. Among the boys, social rank and popularity within the school’s halls were actually in large part determined by how well you played that game. By this point, heavy metal kids had become nearly extinct, leaving me jostling for status against the jocks, preppies, skaters, and hip-hoppers of the moment.

Arcade culture probably peaked around 1992, with the opening of Lazer Illusions — a giant, futuristic arcade in the east wing of Polo Park Shopping Centre that had a notorious rule forbidding ball caps worn backward. Lazer Illusions lasted just a couple of years, after which the mall no longer seemed to be made for young people.

Downtown, however, always remained the Saturday destination.

My explorations eventually led me off the Portage Avenue strip. Crystal Palace, a 24-hour billiard hall with a significant arcade, appeared on my radar when I was 12. Located at Ellice and Donald, in the basement of the building now occupied by the Giant Tiger discount chain, Crystal Palace’s menacing ambiance lent me a sense of toughness that seemingly pushed me nearer to manhood.

These days, gamers are more likely to be grown-ups than kids. Indeed, according to an poll in May, 40 per cent of U.S. adults play video games. Few, however, do so in the public atmosphere of a video arcade. Opponents are likelier to be across the world via the Internet, each player sitting solitary at home. Or perhaps at a cyber caf , seated at a terminal, matched against someone across the room. Either way, the social component of video gaming has been lost.

Ordinarily, I would count myself among the majority who do not play video games. Sometime in high school my leisurely interests shifted to things more tangible: Girls, skateboarding, billiards, books. About a year ago, however, my girlfriend and I rediscovered Winnipeg Square’s RC Amusements, and we began consciously visiting at least once a month. Somehow we both knew RC’s days were numbered. A combination of sentiment and nostalgia kept us coming back, perhaps hoping our occasional patronage would itself maintain the place. Possibly we were seeking to squeeze out a few more memories before the opportunity disappeared.

Thankfully, there remains one last video game arcade downtown, and it’s open 24 hours daily: Bourbon Street Billiards, at Vaughan St. and Graham Ave. Not that I’m itching to play, but these games are best enjoyed publicly, with strangers and with friends.