Thursday, 27 August 2009

Rocking Across the Generation Gap

It has been a good summer for live popular music in Jersey, and I have been keenly enjoying many of the events.

It has struck me though, as I look around all the grey heads, that the idea of rock as a youth activity is somewhat past its expiry. Indeed, teenagers do tend to have more time available for listening to and playing music than those whose lives have moved on into fuller phases, but there has been a remarkable change subtly happening, since I myself was a teen.

In the 60's and 70's rock music really was very much a youth interest, and it was rather eccentric of the tiny proportion of older fans to show enthusiasm. The music press of the day liked to reinforce the generation divide. As a reader, I used to wonder if they envied their predecessors covering the original rock'n'roll phenomenon and wanted to bestow the same historic significance on their own times.

However, a taste for classic rock and blues seems to be a one way ticket rather than a passing fad for most people. Moreover the appeal of the musical genres seems to be intrinsic, and not about generational rebellion: These days, I sometimes find myself playing the sounds of my own youth with men young enough to have been my grandkids, had I started a family sooner. To these lads, the music is not a barrier to exclude my generation, but a bridge and a shared heritage. We are just fellow rockers and grey hair counts for no more or less than blonde or red.

The point I am working toward is that rock is no longer a “youth” activity but a “people” one, and although it attracts plenty of young people the operative word is “people”, not “young”. Jersey should continue to provide maximum opportunity for its extensive resources of talent to entertain the abundant audiences of all ages, not merely as a token amusement to patronise youth with, but as general public entertainment. Let us take pride in our burgeoning music scene as one of the upsides of 21st Century Jersey: it is fun, and, moreover, a force for positive social bonding.

Spin Doctor Gibaut's Dodgy Statistics

This week has seen widespread outrage over the new Jersey pay statistics, particularly the £620 average weekly wage. Caller after caller complained on the radio that they were getting nothing like that.

This comes of using the wrong type of average for the sake of spin.

There are different ways to calculate averages to give the most meaningful value in different contexts, but they can also be misused to give a misleading value in a context where the truth could be inconvenient.

The commonest type of average, the first one most people learn about at primary school, is a “mean”. Where figures cluster around a single central value, a good approximation of that value can be made by adding the values of every datum up, and then dividing the total by their count. The trouble with processing wage statistics in this way is that earnings do not follow the “bell-curve” distribution around a medium value that means are designed for. Instead, they have a “power-law” distribution in which relatively low figures are commonplace and ever higher figures become ever rarer. The meaningful average for a power law distribution is the “median” in which just as many data have a higher value as a lower one.

Now if you were a cynically dishonest government wishing to tell the world how prosperous your policies were making your people, you could instead calculate the mean wage and pass that off as the average. But it would not be: The tiny number of very large figures would distort and inflate the mean to well above any sensible concept of the average. Wouldn't it make the government look good? See how rich even the ordinary workers are, with the economy in their safe hands!

However, there is a serious downside to the puffing up of the statistics: By making all the people who are actually doing all right think that they are a lot further behind than they really are, the misapplied average spreads discontentment and unhappiness. Worse still, from an economic management viewpoint, it creates an aspiration amongst genuine medium earners to seek hefty pay increases to restore their apparent position, an inflationary pressure that we could well have done without, in these troubled times.
Worse still, the politicians who commission these inflated figures may use them to justify regressive taxation measures, and to excuse failures to remedy the excessive costs of certain things in Jersey, such as housing and public transport.

The Statistics Unit appear to see themselves as spin-doctors to the Council of Ministers, rather than information providers to the island as a whole. They are letting us all down by this approach. I for one would like to see a change of heart, and the provision of useful and helpful information to become their new objective.