Monday, 4 June 2012

Musicality in dance - Syncopation


Syncopation is what makes swing dance, West Coast swing, Lindy and Balboa swing. There is a lot of confusion about what syncopation and 'swing' dance is. Hopefully this piece will clear some of the confusion up.

Dance teachers often misunderstand what is meant by syncopation and confuse it with splitting the beat. The triple step in the cha-cha-cha and in ballroom jive is not syncopated it is merely a splitting of the beat into three steps. In true musical syncopation one step or note "steals time" from the next. One could go into detail explanation of how syncopation is used in swing music and other forms to drive the rhythm forward, but we are not here for lesson on musical theory, we are talking about dance.

All we need to know about musical syncopation is that in 1930s and 1940s swing music syncopation, usually through syncopated triples and syncopation on the eighth note, was used to create a form of music that pulsed or swung between syncopated anchors.

Swing dancers of the period emulated that swinging or pulsing sensation by syncopating or or swinging their dancing. There is often confusion about the relationship between swing music and swing dance. Although it is possible for a dancer to hit the anchors and syncopations in the music (and it looks very good)  that is not the central aim of swing dancing.

The central aim is to generate a swinging or pulsed dance. This is achieved by dancing slightly off tempo. The dancer starts off slightly behind the beat, catches up by speeding up the next step, possibly getting faster on the third, then slowing down at the anchor at the end of the pattern or slot to get back time with the music. They then swing into the next pattern or figure.

Imagine a swing. The dancer starts off slowly speeds up, swings to the centre of the pattern and then falls away to stop and triple step on the anchor. This is swing dancing.

It sounds much more complicated than it  is. The swing or syncopation is instantly recognisable when it is done properly.

Here are two dancers, one is a highly talented dancer who is new to swing and the other is a very experienced swing dancer.

This is a new dancer trying to do West Coast swing without syncopations and without swing. They are dancing on the beat. Although physically technically challenging the dancing appears flat and I interesting.

Contrast with the second video. Ruth Cnaay is a very experienced swing dancer. You can see her hang at the end slot, syncopating on the triple, that is holding it longer than it should, then swinging forward into the pattern before slowing to a stop at the next triple.

The dance swings or pulses.

MJ and Salsa dancers new to West Coast swing Lindy Hop invariably step off the triple on beat. The result is a flat uninteresting dance. West Coast swing becomes slotted modern jive. Without the syncopation it doesn't swing.

So if you want to make your swing dancing look good and not like a slotted form of MJ land syncopated as you travel through the pattern.

The Second World War, History, Propaganda and Why We Still Haven't Moved on,

Second World War is still a focus of historical and media attention. And so it should be. There is much to be learned from a nightmare struggle that cost the lives of 50 million people.

Unfortunately 70 years later we still haven't learned many of the lessons.

Those who actually took part in the war often had a better appreciation of what it's about the modern writers and readers of popular history. There is a gritty realism about the film and book "The Cruel Sea" and "12 O'clock High" that is not to be found in modern media.

We are given a picture of war that corresponds with our expectations, not the reality. We still believe the propaganda picture not the one recorded and witnessed by the historians and people who took part.

American perceptions of the US role in World War II are clouded by the fact that the US Armed Forces in World War II were very inexperienced and made just about every mistake in the book - and that had to be covered up. The British and the Americans had a strong interest in making sure support the war by the USA was strong. Stories of failure and incompetence doesn't help that.

So the US public is still filled with the  image of a strong and robust United States coming to the aid of the United Kingdom and Europe.

The history is somewhat different, as the official histories written by British and American historians make clear.

The U.S. Army in 1939 comprised some 200,000 men of which approximately 30,000 were in the Army Air Force. Other than a few months action in the First World War the last war it was involved in the American Civil War. The European powers in the 1914 to 1918 war has fought a life-and-death struggle in which the whole of the nationstate was involved. They had learned much about the nature of modern war, very little of which the USA had taken on board.

The four major European nations had learned different things. Germany had learnt concentrated attack on the weakest point the line and rapid exploitation behind strong points would break the enemies will to resist. Mobility and concentration of firepower with a key to success. The French had learned the opposite, that strong fortified positions could not be taken by direct assault. In in Russia they learned the lesson of history that numbers and distance could always defeat stronger and better equipped enemy.

In the UK, they didn't learn one lesson, the learned three. Firstly they learnt to mobilise their production base. War was not about tactics, it was about who could build the most ships, tanks, munitions, and aircraft. It was also about how many adult men could be released into the field. To that end they employed women to an extent that no other nation did in World War I. It was out of desperation. They almost ran out of men (as Germany was to do in 1945). The second lesson they learned was that the traditional doctrine of naval warfare had to be changed because of the arrival of two new weapons. The submarine and the aircraft carrier. Finally they learned that the air weapon was to be used strategically to attack cities. 1500 civilians were killed by German air raids in World War I and the British learned well from that lesson.

USA, its Army, its Air Force and it's Navy had none of this experience, so went to war in 1941 with an oulook that saw war through 19th century goggles.

The huge resource and production base of the USA meant that its role in World War II would be decisive, but it would take time for it to be deployed. In the meantime the UK and the USSR beyond be on their own.

Militarily and in terms of production World War II was won, or at least made unwinnable for the Germans before the end of 1942 and the first deployment of American troops.

The Germans, in spite of their initial massive lead threw it all away in the first two years of World War. We can talk about battles and generals and the specifications of various types of tank and aircraft but the reality is Germany lost the war because they switched to a war economy too late. The figures are very clear. If we know the British were building twice as many fighter aircraft as the Germans in 1940 we know why they won the battle of Britain. This wasn't isolated. Here are the figures for Russia, UK and Germany in 1941. Germany was doomed.

Fighter Aircraft

The entry of the USA and Japan into World War II didn't change that picture. The USA went through the same psychological shock with the Japanese as the French and the Russians experienced when they were attacked by the Germans.

Although there were notable pockets of resistance, the U.S. Army could not offer any serious resistance the Japanese. They were fighting a battle hardened Japanese army navy and air force that had some four years of experience. The USA was very lucky in that the Japanese failed to recognise the importance of Hawaii until far too late. Had it been invaded in the immediate aftermath of Pearl Harbor there  is little doubt they would have captured the islands. It might not have made a difference to the final outcome of the war, but launching the attack on Japan from California would never have  been easy.

To the British the  USA was in 1942 a liability. The failure of the USA to learn the lessons of the First World War and sail ships in convoy was catastrophic. The U.S. Navy was directly responsible for the loss of 25% of all the merchant shipping lost in World War II. 600 ships were sunk in American waters in 1942 by U.S. Navy incompetence. The British ended up having to send ships and aircraft to defend the US East Coast. In 1942 New York harbour itself was defended by a British RAF antisubmarine air Squadron. Something you will have to search for in the history books.  It is also not generally known the British also sent fleet aircraft carrier to the Pacific (disguised as USS Robin) in 1943, when the USA was down to one carrier.

The idea of the USA making an immediate difference the war in 1942 is an illusion. It was the British who were helping the USA,  not the other way around.

Although the war against Japan looms large in American histograpy. It was a minor theatre. One of the first Allied decisions was "Germany first" as Germany was seen as the major threat.

A picture can be gained by comparing British and US naval losses. Overall the British lost twice as many ships as the USA in World War II. Almost as many ships were lost by the British in the battle for the Mediterranean as the USA lost in the whole the Pacific.

Aircraft Carrier
US Total
UK Total

A similar picture appears if we look at bomber aircraft losses

To 1942

Most of the air and sea war  of WW II was fought by the British, which at that time had a population about 3rd that of the USA.

The land war was fought by the Russians. Both the British and the Americans focus on the battle of Normandy as a 'major battle', yet compare to the huge battles that took place on the 2,000 mile Russian front it was minor. Some figures.

Tanks Deployed June 1944
Russia 4470
Normandy 804
British and Americans Normandy

The US Army failed in Europe on 4 different occassions - all of which were covered up or distorted so as to hide what really happened.  If the interest is there I post more - for the moment, just consider that the facts tell a different story to the propaganda.

Three Term Control, Alfred Wegener, Financial Planning. Ecology, Neuroscience and Just about Everything Else

This is  where I do my Alfred Wegener bit and tell the whole world that they are idiots. And no one will believe me.

If you don't already know Alfred Wegener was the man who proposed the idea of plate tectonics. It was obvious to him that the continents fitted together like a jigsaw. It was obvious to me as a kid, even though I had not studied geology.

So Alfred Wegner saw the obvious and no one believed him.

Okay, so this is where I try to explain to you about three term, or PID control.

PID control is a system for controlling the movement of fluid and material through a system. It's been understood by control engineers for over half a century. I won't go into the details, it would take too long, you will need to study at yourself, but the striking feature of a well tuned PID control system is that you end up with a three wave control function.

This control function can be recognised in just about every system. Every system. Whether it is in biology, ecology, neuroscience or the performance of financial markets.

I stumbled on it because after leaving university (my degree was in biology with a specialisation in algology) I was asked to write a computer program (I was good coding it those days to) that taught PID to control engineers. I realised that what I was doing more or less exactly modelled the way nutrients flowed through a lake. It was a much superior model to the Chemostat model.

I tried to explain to my supervisor and experts in algology, but the mathematics of PID baffled them. It was obvious to me but not to them. And it's been that way for the last 30 years.

PID systems occur everywhere. In the financial markets there is a system known as the the Eilliot Wave Principle. Like the Chemiosmotic theory it is a case of someone identifying the 3 wave proces - but not understanding its a PID process.

Most biological systems clearly operate under PID control whether it is the heartbeat or the control of ions across the neural synapses. If we take neuroscience for instance, the PDI components in a neural synapses can be readily identified. The set point is the resting potential, Na+ permiability is the differential factor, K+ is the proprtional factor and the Na+ K+ balance at the resting potenital the intergral factor. It is absolutely stark staring obvious.

If anyone wants a more detailed explanation - I will be happy to elucidate - but you will need to understand the principles of simple alculus (which is where most biologists crash and burn) and get your head round Cohen - Coon's quarter wave theory.

Meanwhile I eagerly await my Nobel prize :-)

Education. It's all about Understanding Things

A few years ago I had the privelege of visiting several hunderd schools in a local authority. I don't think the local authority was any different from any other local authority, but I was struck by the 'sameness' of what they were teaching.

I had the opportunity to look at what people were doing in class projects and themes - - and it was appalling.

I'm not a historical expert on WW2, but I know a lot about it, enough to know that what was being taught in Secondary and Junior schools was absolute garbage.

Every school you went into had the same script, the same projects, the same  totally distorted view. It wasn't the fault of the kids. It was the fault of the teachers who had clearly never read a single serious book on WW2.

It was all about 'class projects' and teaching largely irrelevant facts without actually understanding what it was all about.

This was in EVERY school - not the slighest expression of orginality or thought  from the teachers. They just rigidly followed the script.

There was an originality in how they taught. The projects were presented in different ways, classes were doing different things like role-playing, visting places, talking to old people etc, but the content of what they were teaching was all the same.

The teachers themselves never questioned the material they were given or worked with. If they weren't questioning or attempting to understand what they were doing what hope was there for the children they were teaching?

This isn't a criticism of the teaching profession it's really a statement about society. Most people have no wish or desire to understand what they are doing or why they're doing it.

As a young man I  made the assumption that people were always  trying to understand things. It came as a shock when I went to university and discovered that most people were focused on learning everything by rote. They didn't want to understand.

I was a bit of a weirdo, and used to browse the library looking for interesting books. I would read anything. Books on psychology, the Second World War, the arts and crafts movement and occasionally books on subject area I was studying. I was interested in learning.

That's not the way the majority of people did things  then or now. They're interested in passing the exams and the idea of learning outside of that is seen as redundant.  People go all the way through university and never browse the library for a book outside their subject field. What an absolute waste. What a total defeat of the university system.

It gets worse, in my generation there were books to read. They are still there, but if you go around a modern university library you'll discover that no one is actually reading the books. The students have forgotten how to read them.  They are doing most if not all of there coursework on the Internet. The Internet is a great source of facts but  it's no good at showing the evolution or development of an idea or the linkage or connections between ideas.

The Internet isolates facts from context.

JE Gordon's book, "the New Science of Strong Materials" was a brilliant book, not because it had anything new to say about engineering but because it drew so many different threads - science, engineering, art, and history ltogether. Students are losing that ability, and it's the fault of our education system, which focuses on narrow knowledge not broad. Pass the examination, study for the examination and don't look further than the piece of paper at the end.

This is what children learn in school and it is what teachers teach children and students when they graduate.

Previous generations were different. Francis Crick of Watson and Crick and the DNA double Helix started his career in science as designer of naval munitions.

How many modern  research biochemistry students have a background in say guided weapons or radar techology?

Nowadays if you ask an engineering student what the differences between art deco and art nouveau is you just a blank face. Similarly if you ask an arts student about beam the theory or how concrete is made they will think you have lost your mind. They might begin to understand if you explain to them that Roman classical architecture is  made of concrete. It was the limitations of material that was strong in compression and week in tension that defined the form.

Art is not something seperate from chemistry and engineering. Van Gogh had to know about pigment chemistry in order to mix his paints.

We develop and grow as individuals and as a society when we can string ideas and experiences from many different threads and weave together to form strong rope.

This ability to weave things together is rare and our education system does not encourage it.

If you are  university lecturer or teacher you might is try this - set your students a 'random' or unexpected essay. Biochemistry lectures set and essay with the title 'The Battle of Midway - Why did the Americans Win? History lecturers might try 'C4 Plant Metabolish and How it Effects Society' And the Art History teachers might try 'Roman Engineering - The Structural Properties of Concrete'.

Your talented students - the ones who are not learning by rote - will shine. 

Omaha Beach - A Disaster Made in the USA

It's just a few days from June 6th, so I thought I would post this.

The image of US soldier storming Omaha Beach is a heroic one - but if we turn to the US Army Green  books which describe the battle in detail, the story told is one of heroism being used to cover up incompetence.

There were three major factors in the disaster, none  of which generally make it into the public eye.

The central failure was to not take British advice. The British had much experience in the assault of well prepared enemy positions, both in WWI and in WW II.  The lesson both the British and the Germans learned from WWI was that well prepared enemy positions could not be taken by direct assault, or if the were taken, only with unsustainable casualties. The German 'Blitzkrieg' method of attack was essentially one of finding the weak points in the enemy line, infiltrating between the strong points and taking the strong points from the rear.

The US plan for Omaha beach required a direct assault on fortified the beach exits, which would be rushed and taken by storm. Artillery and tanks would suppress the German fire and combat engineers blow the concrete walls and bunkers

The British had  learned that combat engineers cannot do complex tasks like properly laying demolition charges under fire. No matter how courageous the engineers were it becomes almost impossible to do all but the simplest tasks while being shot at. The hands shake, and the mind cannot think clearly. There is a frantic, desperate rush to get the job done. Most charges fail to fire. It's equally difficult to clear mines under fire.

To overcome this the British would employ 'Armoured Vehicles Royal Engineers' ('Hobart's Funnies) on the British beaches. Tanks specially adapted to blow gaps in the concrete walls, breach minefields and cross anti-tank ditches were designed and proved very effective.

They were offered to the US Army - but refused.

The final factor, which is some ways saved the landing, but in other ways almost doomed it, was the launching of the landing craft and swimming tanks too far from shore.

 We are told by the US Army official history (the Cross Channel Landing)  that the landing craft were launched 11 miles off the beach, the swimming tanks 6,000 yards in weather conditions which were known to be marginal.  Of 32 tanks launched only 5 made it to the beach. All but one of the artillery pieces was lost and at least 10 of the infantry assault landing craft were swamped and sunk. The infantry spent much of the hour long trip to the beach throwing up and were  exhausted by the time they hit the beach. At the point where they were required to the make the maximum physical effort.

The naval component of the landings wanted to launch closer in but were overruled.  A tactical decision should have been made to risk the losses from German fire rather than lose the bulk of fire support. That decision was not made. The result was that the attacking force lost roughly 80% of its armoured and artillery support before it got onto the beach. If it been a land battle the attack would have been cancelled immediately.

The infantry were expected make a direct assault on concrete gun emplacements without engineer or fire support. Had the infantry landed in the right place they would of been wiped out.

Fortunately the stormy weather pushed the landing craft off course and most landed away from concrete bunkers they were meant to attack.

Omaha is story of great heroism and sacrifice - but the terrible losses were caused incompetence rather than the Germans.

Once it was realised that the infantry were without fire support effective action was taken. Destroyers and warships closed right up to the beach, in range of the German guns to take out the German artillery. They fired heavy calibre guns at point-blank range with devastating results in a 'counter battery' artillery battle that had never been envisaged and is almost unique in history of modern warfare.

Unfortunately it took several hours for the situation on the beach to be understood and counter battery fire to be initiated - during that time the US troops on beach took terrible losses.  The infantry eventually got off the beach by infiltrating between the strong points and assaulting them from the rear - a process the exact opposite of that planned.

All this information is to be found in US Army documents.  Notably 'The Cross Channel Landings" which are some of the most fascinating books about WW II. They are fascinating because they tell a story that is different from popular history.

For political and propaganda reason many of the US militaries failings were covered up, The British aircraft and ships defending NY harbour in 1942, The USS Robin in the Pacify in 1943 and the British XXX Corps relieving Bastogne from the West - all were hidden from public knowledge - but not from the Official Histories.

If want to read about the secret history of WW II, you have to go to the source - the Official Histories

Thoughts on Feminism

I'm a great believer in feminism. I think intellectually and in character women are the equal to men. I often quote certain relatively unknown women such as Lydia Litvak, Hanna Reitsch and Wilhemina Fleming as examples of what women can achieve.

Equally though I believe women and are inherently different to men, both physically and emotionally. I believe that in the same way I believe people from different races are physically different.

Women can take higher G forces than men because they are smaller and uterus compressess. The German Air Force discovered this in WW II with the test pilot Hanna Reitsch. She could fly the rocket powered Me 163 when men could not (she won the Iron Cross first class after watching 7 men get killed or maimed in the attempt) .  They put her in centrifuge and discovered that small women (Hanna Reitsch was 5' 2'') have a distinct advantage of men in a high G turn. They are designed to be better fighter pilots - something the American male air force community had some difficulty with (but not apparently the Germans or the Russians). Women usually also have better hand eye coordination than men too and WW II women excellened in the combat role in the Russian armed forces as fighter pilots, snipers and tank gunners.

The doesn't mean they can run as fast and as far as men with an machine gun or be as good at assembling a heavy girder assault bridge. They do not have the physical strength.

If you want to know the reason why women are not as strong as men hold your arm out and compare it with a member of the opposite sex. A womens arm (and her knee and hip joints) are angled. The load is not directly through the joint. A mans runs in a straight line. Its to do with the hip joint being splayed for childbirth.

That's a physiological fact. Just like women have bumps on the front and other bits and pieces men don't have.

Incidentally a female corpse floats on its back and male corpse face down - hence the expression from WW II 'Its all gone tits up'.

So men and women are different - even when they are dead.

It's follows that I don't have much time for feminists who think and act as if they are a different kind of man. That's not a sexist thing - its just that I abhor a denial of the obvious. I'm sure girls don't find men in drag a turn on or sexually interesting, so why do feminists have such a thing about girls looking like, well girls.

Lydia Litvak, the WW II fighter ace who fought in the Battles of Stalingrad and Kursk used to fly into forward airfield, do victory roll after a successful kill then get out the aircraft, pull a bucket out of her cockpit and wash her hair with hot water from the radiator of her aircraft while the men gaped in amazement. Part of it was lack of hot water in the battle zone, but by all accounts she also liked guys to check her out.

If it was the modern day and age I'm  pretty sure she would not have been too embarrased about appearing half naked on FHM. She had the looks, she knew it (as did Klavia Fumicheva, commander of an all female bomber squadron) and she wasn't shy about letting men know,

She didn't have any concerns about her femininity. She knew she was the equal of any man where it mattered most of all - on the battlefield.

It seems to me that women who feel the need to dress like men, or at least 'asexually' to prove their 'equality' do their sisters a diservice.

Being equal to men isn't the same as being a man, or trying to look like a man.  Vive la differance!

Islam and Mohammedism

Most of the people claiming to be Muslims are actually Mohammedans. Worshippers of Mohammed and should be identified as such.

Now there is a politically incorrect statement for you.

Anyone who actually reads the Qur'an will quickly became aware it is anti-Arab treatise, it challenges the basic presumptions of every aspect Arab and tribal culture. Mohammedans hate it and will do everything they can to avoid implementing its teachings.

It specifically states 'The Arabs are the people most unfitted to recieve the word God'

This posed a problem for the Arabs.

How do you follow the teachings of book that systematically attacks every element of your culture. The answer is in the Sunna and the Hadith.

The prophet and the Qur'an specifically prohibted the recording of anything of himself, either his words or his image.

The reason for this is clear. The creator of the Qur'an feared that the Arabs would prefer to worship the messenger, not the message.

She was right.

It's easy to distinquish between Mohammedans and Muslims. A simple yes or no question does it.

'If you read the Qur'an and followed it teachings, without any reference to the Sunna or Hadith would you be a Muslim'  - Yes or No.

Mohammedans will tell you its impossible to be a 'real' Muslim without the example of the prophet (Sunna) and his recorded sayings (Hadith) . The word of God is not good enough - he has to have a partner.  Never mind all the original believers never had a Sunna and the Hadith and were not permitted to be written down untill at least 100 years after the prophets death.

The Hadith, being prohibted by the Qur'an, were a mostly a selection of sayings that confirmed what Arabs wanted to believe. Even if they were the direct quotes of the prophet they would only be valid in the context of medieval Arabia.

The basic difficulty is that the prophet was a man and had the knowlege of man. If you try and run a religion on the basis that is out with the prophets experience you get into all sorts of difficulty.

The start of the holy month of Ramadan (according to Mohammedans) can only be calculated by direct observation of the phase of the moon. This is clearly impossible in area's where there is frequent cloud cover.

The creator of the Qur'an knew this of course, she also created the world and the sun and moon. But hey, 'What God got to do with it'.  For at least 100 years there has been stupid - and fantastic - debate amongst the Mohammedan community about whether the moon was there if you could not actually see it. Finally, a few years ago, its was grudingly accepted by the council of British Muslims that it was Ok to calculate where it was.

The Mohammendans are still working on the problem of fasting and the day lenght in high latitudes. Is it prohibted for Mohammedans to live above the arctic circle - apparently so.

The orignial believers had no record of what the prophet  did to guide them. They had only the Qur'an to lead them. This made Islam a remarkablly flexible and accomdating religion, different cultural groups would interpret the Qur'an in the context of their own culture. And so the various schools of Islamic law evolved.

The idea being that if the Qur'an didn't tell you exactly what you wanted to believe you were entitled to make up a Hadith to fix the problem came later.

Non believers have the idea that funny styles of dress Monhammedans wear  is something do with Islam. There's nothing in the Qur'an about how to dress other than than that men  women should be 'covered' .Its as vague as that.  Every community interpreted this in a different way depending on what there normal style of dress was.

The Qur'anic intention was of course that people in the arctic circle should dress in modest clothing appropriate to those conditions and people living in the Arabia should wear clothing appropriate to the desert.

Why would God want us to do otherwise? Of course that doesn't stop Mohammed worshiper wearing the abaya in Norway

It is explictly stated many times, that the Qur'an had a specific messenger for the Arabs and that message for the Arabs was intrinsically different from the message to other cultures. The Qur'an is a universal truth that adapts to different contexts. It's not a rigid set of rules.

Mohammendans don't see any irony in killing a non believer for drawing a picture or insulting Mohammed. They don't see that they are worshiping  Mohammed. They will deny emphatically that threatening to kill someone because they draw a picture of the prophet is idolatry. In fact its confirmation that they are are in fact idolators of the worst kind. They will kill you if you insult their idol.

The idea was that if you didn't have a picture of Mohammed you can't bow down and pray to the picture. The intention was to stop Muslims worshipping Mohammed. Non believers can draw pictures of Mohammed no worries - they aren't going to worship him.

It didn't work out that way. 

Education - Tests, Examinations, Continuous Assessment and GPA.

The British examination system was, surprisingly, modelled on the Imperial Chinese which used public examination to select its government officials.  The purpose of the Imperial and Civil Service examination system was to determine whether potential candidates had the skills, knowledge and understanding to work as government administrators.

The central, and important, feature of the examinations were that they were public - available to anyone, and secondly completely seperate from the teaching system.

The objective of the system was to make it immune from patronage and nepotism.

Patronage and nepotism is as alive and well today as it was in the time of the Chang Dynasty.

Check out the boards of any large company in the UK. How many the people know each other or know of each other. How many went to the same school? How many related to each other? How many went to the same university course?

The overwhelming dominance of Oxbridge in the boards of many city firms and the civil service isn't because Oxford and Cambridge are reservoir of geniuses but because academics have contacts and friends who they can "talent spot for".

Its a closed shop, if you haven't got the right connections you aren't getting in.

If you had an independent examination on government finance and administration and international banking, with perhaps an option on media management I doubt anyone on the board of a major British corporation or quango would pass.

 With an effective examination system what you discover is that the people with the skills and knowledge and understanding generally do not fit our expectations of what is academically and socially acceptable.

Half a lifetime ago when the 11+ was in operation kids were selected for higher education on the basis of examination. It wasn't about who you  parents were and what primary school you went to. It was about whether you could return in a result.

Teachers will tell you that 11 is far too early, I would go in the opposite direction. The younger you test them the easier it is to identify natural ability. Ability is not the same as knowledge and education. It gets easier, not more difficult to pick out the outstanding students.

Kids do well at school because their parents and society and culture they come from value education. They see it as a chance for financial and social improvement. If kids are encouraged they will do well - even if they are of mediocre ability.

Intellectually gifted kids will still be gifted, whether they are encouraged in educatiion or whether they are not - they just won't have the knowledge or skills to have achieve in mainstream society. They will grow up to the main drugh dealer in your city, or perhaps a succesful loan shark. The ability is there, but our social system has used Education as a weapon to shut them out.

Teachers are rather like racehorse trainers, they are looking for winners that they know will do well. They are  not looking for the 'Eclipse's' of this world, the unpredictable, unmanageble, ugly (Eclipse was almost shot because he was unmanageble)  kid out will leave the others standing. Far to often he or she will come from the wrong social background, with the wrong aspirations.

Examinations give the kids from poor or deprived social background and an even break. If there are intelligent, have the ability, on the pass exam they have the opportunity.

Continuous assessment, or the American GPA system, is very good at getting kids to turn in a regular consistent result. The question you have to ask yourself is what kind of kids turn in regular consistent results.

Education is as much about social modification as is about teaching. A continuous assessment system rewards consistent steady behaviour. The trouble is the academically brilliant in any field are rarely consistent, perhaps worse, they are always going to challenge authority.

So the question for teachers is. Are you looking for talent in unexpected places or are you looking a consistent performance? The two are rarely found in the same place.

Dyslexia, Dyspraxia Amblyopia and Muggles

They don't get it do they? I mean the normals, or should I say muggles.
Of course there can be many causes for dyslexia, dyspraxia and amblyopia (inherited one eye dominance) but many of you who are afflicted already know what I am going to write about.

We think differently.

It's not a gradualist thing. You can't be a little bit dyslexic. There is an absolute difference between the way you think and the way other people think.

Most of you will be struggling through life trying to figure out why you don't fit in, why everybody thinks you're a little bit strange. I couldn't figure it out either. Muggles just can't see things that are obvious.
Astonishingly, it was impossible to find any research on the subject. There is lots of research telling you how to identify dyslexia and dyspraxia, but none on why people are dyslexic or dyspraxic or why the brain rejects the other, perfectly functional eye.

I have a theory.

It's to do with the fact that we have a different cognition. We perceive the world in a different way. DDA's (I don't want to have to keep repeating that phrase) see the world in patterns not straight lines, and the muggles can't get their head around that whether they are teachers, psychologists, or medical people.

Amblyopia is the easiest to explain.

The optometrists will tell you that it's a crippling disability. That is absolute nonsense. Adolf Galland, a World War II fighter ace and general with 104 confirmed kills was amblyopic. I think most people would agree that if you can shoot down 104 aircraft in combat your eyesight is not holding you back, yet optometrists try to convince parents and children that they are functionally disabled if the other eye  doesn't work.

They never ask the fundamental, and very obvious question, why does the brain switch the other eye off.

The answer is  in 3D perception.

I didn't realise I had freaky 3-D perception until I studied geology at University. Geological mapping involves interpreting very complex two-dimensional geological maps in three dimensions. In your first year class at university you spend hours doing cross sections drawing maps and learning to visualise in 3-D. I couldn't figure out what all the fuss was about. Could everyone just see it?

At last a lecturer saw me working, picked up what I was doing, and gave me a map. I was asked to point out where was the best place to drill for oil on an anticline (a complex geological structure). I just pointed with my finger 'there'. It was as simple as that. Everyone else was studying maps, drawing cross sections and doing calculations. I could just visualise the whole thing in my head - no problem at all.

The lecturer then asked me if I was amblyopic and told me that this ability to take a 2-D object and visualise it was common, if not normal in amblyopic's.

I had the clue.

Amblyopic's turn off the other eye because they don't need it for 3-D perception. The brain has learned in childhood to convert 2-D to 3-D.

Stereo vision has its advantages. It enables you to calculate very fine changes in angle and is particularly good at detecting fine changes in angular momentum. What that means is that gives you the ability to calculate the speed of an object travelling towards you. It's not necessary for 3-D interpretation. Stereo vision also makes it difficult to estimate large changes in angle and the estimation of distance.
As a child and teenager I used to play sports and no one could figure out how I could hit the impossible shots in tennis where the ball is crossing from left to right but couldn't hit the ball was coming straight for me.

The difficult was easy and easy was difficult.

Again the optometrists will tell you that it's impossible from amblyopic to play tennis. It was not that couldn't play tennis, but rather I played in a completely different way from everybody else. Fortunately unlike many people I didn't have an optometrist to tell me that I couldn't play tennis.

The 3-D cognition fundamentally affects the way we perceive the world. Dyslexics usually have some fault in their vision, they compensate by a different cognition. A surprisingly large number of talented artists are dyslexic. They see patterns other people don't.

I also suffer from ideational dyspraxia. Again, according to the theory, I should not be able to dance. The reality is am a very good dancer - but I excel at the skill that most dancers find very difficult. I'm a confident, natural and easy improviser.

That's not the way it looked in my first dance class. I was hopeless. In fact I am still hopeless when I'm trying to learn any set routine or steps, which is how dancers are generally taught.

It wasn't that I couldn't dance, it was the people were  trying to teach me to a dance like a muggle.
Improvisation in music and dance is about seeing the patterns in the music and anticipating when they're going to change. It's a rare skill. There is a qualitative difference between people who can play by ear and those who read sheet music. They might be equally skilled in the use of a musical instrument, but there is a huge difference in how they perceive and recognise musical structure.

Of course you can be taught musical theory, but for small group of us "hearing the music" is purely intuitive process. I suspect that most talented improvisational jazz and blues musicians are dyslexic or dyspraxic in the way many visual artists are.

I'd love to hear comments on this from dyslexics and dyspraxic's :-) and from dance teachers who are baffled by those dancers who have very good musical awareness but can't follow steps.
And if you are a psychologist, I would like your input too.