The Truth Revealed

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Daniel Paul Tammet: Boy with the Incredible Brain

Daniel Tammet

A remarkable young man, exhibiting stunning mental abilities. Daniel Paul Tammet born 31 Jan 1979 claims to see colours and sparks, which he can somehow relate to words and numbers. Scientists consider him a gold mine to further investigation into the understanding of brain activity and potential.

>Daniel claims that since the age of four, he has been able to do huge mathematical calculations in his head. So the makers of this documentary put him to the test, asking him to calculate 37 raised to the power of 4. He completed this in less than a minute, giving the correct answer of 1,874,161. While considering the question, it was observed that, he appeared to be drawing shapes on the table with his finger. When asked about this, he explained that he could see the numbers as shapes and colours in his mind. This breakdown or confusion of the senses is known as synethsesia.

Next he was asked to divide 13 by 97. This time the researchers had the answer to 32 decimal places, Daniel gave the answer and continued beyond 32. He claims he can do the calculations to 100 decimal places.

He appears to be doing the mathematical calculations without actually thinking about it, which seems preposterous, but if true, blows away scientific theory.

Daniel's talents do not stop at numbers. He is very gifted with words and speaks nine languages and claims to be able to learn a new one in just seven days. To put this to the test, the documentary team shipped Daniel off to Iceland for a week. His Icelandic tutor described their language as immensely complex and considered it an impossibility for anyone to learn in only one week. Daniel Tammet was to appear on an Icelandic talk show at the end of his week to discuss his experience in their native tongue. Although he appeared to struggle to begin with, in the last few days his tutor said "He was like a sponge, absorbing all words and grammar at a phenomenal rate". He made his television appearance with great success.

In March of 2004 Daniel had his own surprise, in Oxford, England, he would recite the number Pi to 22,500 decimal places, in public in front of a team of invigilators to verify his accuracy. After just over five hours he had completed this extraordinary memory feat.

His childhood holds a clue to his unbelievable brain. As a small child he suffered a number of severe seizures which were later diagnosed as epilepsy. Ever since this time he has been able to see the patterns in numbers. While this is rare, there are other cases where individuals have suffered injury to the brain only to emerge with a similar startling talent. Orlando Serrill was just 10 years old when he was hit, hard, on the side of the head by a baseball. Since when, he has been able to recall the day, date and weather of every day since the accident.

The scientific community refer to people with these extraordinary memory skills as savants of which there are only a handful in the world. The condition is often associated with autism. Professor Simon Baron-Cohen a Cambridge University neuroscientist describes autism as a mix of ability and disability. However, Daniel displays the ability with no obvious sign of disability. Daniel, as a baby, cried constantly up until the age of two. He could only be soothed by being rocked in a blanket forming a hammock. Soothing by repetitious movement is, according to Prof. Baron-Cohen, indicative of autism. By most measures, Daniel is autistic but he has managed to develop the social skills to blend in.

Dane Buttino, another savant, displays phenomenal artistic skills, but his language and social skills remain child like. Unlike Dane, Daniel can describe what he is experiencing, making him very valuable to science.
Next in Daniel's travels is a trip to Salt Lake City to meet Kim Peek, probably the world's best known savant and the original Rain Man. Kim has a double photographic memory and can recall everything he has ever read. He speed reads by scanning opposing pages at the same time, one page with each eye.

We finish by visiting San Diego Center for Brain Studies where two very sceptical scientists, Shai Azoulai and Professor V.S. Ramachandran are going to put Daniel through his paces. As expected, his numeracy skills were flawless but the scientists are still not convinced. They don't believe he can relate coloured shapes to complex numbers so challenge him to make putty models of the shapes he sees for a given set of numbers. The following day, they ask the same to test the consistency of his shapes. Not surprisingly, Daniels excels and the scientists have to concede that they are amazed at what they have seen.

46 Year Pregnancy: Zahra Aboutalib and her Sleeping Baby

Extraordinary People

In 1955 in a small village just outside Casablanca, 26 year old Zahra Aboutalib is pregnant with her first child. She was looking forward to giving birth, but after 48 hours of painful labour, she was rushed to the local hospital. Doctors informed her that she would need a caesarean section. On the ward Zahra saw a woman in terrible pain die in child-birth. She fled the hospital fearing she would meet the same fate if she remained.

In the days that followed, Zahra continued to suffer excruciating labour pains but the baby remained resolutely in her womb. After a few more days the pains ceased and the baby stopped moving.

In Moroccan culture, it is believed that a baby can sleep inside the mother to protect her honour. Zahra believed this myth and put the pregnancy out of her mind. She adopted three children and in due course they made her a grandmother.

Many years later when Zahra was 75 years old, the pains suddenly returned. Her son being concerned for his mother's well-being wanted her to see a specialist. For this they had to travel to Rabat where they saw Professor Taibi Ouazzani. He suspected the protruding belly was being caused by an ovarian tumour and arranged for her to have an ultra-sound scan. This revealed a large mass that he could not identify.

He referred Zahra to a specialist radiographer for a second opinion. He could see it was a calcified structure of some sort, but it took a detailed MRI scan to reveal that it was the baby Zahra had conceived 46 years earlier.

Zahra had an ectopic pregnancy where the egg had implanted in the fallopian tube. The foetus that developed, burst out of the fallopian tube and continued to develop in the abdominal cavity. It survived by attaching it's placenta to vital organs around her stomach.

Professor Ouazzania was faced with a difficult decision when deciding if it would be safe to try and remove the foetus. The foetus weighed 7lb and measured 42cm in length.

Stone Baby

When they operated they discovered that the foetus had calcified and was a hard, solid lump. It was, essentially, a stone-baby. More concerning was the fact that it had fused with her abdominal wall and vital organs.

After nearly 4 hours the surgeons manage to remove the calcified foetus from Zahra and the operation is hailed a success.

Dissected foetus showing internal organs

In an ectopic pregnancy, if the dead foetus is too large to be re-absorbed by the mother's body it becomes a foreign body to the mother's immune system. To protect itself from possible infection the mother's body will encase the foetus in a calciferous substance as the tissues die and dehydrate.

As the calciferous wall builds up, the foetus is gradually mummified becoming a lithopedion or stone babay.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Whatever Happened to Altantuya Shaariibuu?

Asia Sentinel, 15 October 2007
by Mat Salleh

Timid prosecution, long delays and avoiding a powerful witness in a sensational murder case raise questions about Malaysia’s judicial system

The trial of Abdul Razak Baginda and two of Deputy Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s bodyguards for the October 2006 murder of Altantuya Shaariibuu has been underway for 150 days with neither the prosecutors nor defense showing much appetite for an aggressive proceeding.

The brutal demise of Abdul Razak’s jilted girlfriend, a freelance Mongolian translator, has been lost in a haze of procedural motions and delays. Critics of Malaysia’s judicial and political systems frequently point to the closeness of Abdul Razak and the two bodyguards, Chief Inspector Azilah Hadri, 31, and Corporal Sirul Azhar Umar, 36, to Najib. The latter were part of the Special Action Squad, an elite team of bodyguards directly under Najib’s control, until they were arrested last November.

Fewer than 50 days have been spent in court over the course of the five months since the trial began. As the trial resumed Oct. 10 after yet another lengthy delay, the prosecution said it had another 15 witnesses left to go with the 38 that have already appeared, leading one lawyer connected with the case to tell Asia Sentinel, “that is a huge number of prosecution witnesses to call, which I think is totally unnecessary.”

What began as gripping drama has devolved into grinding routine, and the Malaysian public has become increasingly bored with the trial. But it still remains one of the most spectacular trials in Malaysian history because of the gruesome execution of the beautiful 27-year-old woman, who was shot twice in the head and then had her body blown up with plastic explosives in a jungle clearing.

The foot-dragging and numbing technical proceedings have led to suspicions on the part of many that it is being deliberately delayed by the prosecution and the judiciary to lessen the eventual impact of an expected not-guilty verdict, although legal sources point out that Malaysia has no pre-trial discovery process, which means that in other jurisdictions time-consuming activities like the identification of evidence are concluded before the trial begins. But in the case at hand, suspicions have been heightened because of the politically well-connected defendant in a judicial system saddled with scandal, inefficiency and suspected collusion with government for nearly 20 years. The concerns emanate from a landmark event in 1988, when then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad sacked Tun Salleh Abbas, the highly respected Lord President of the Supreme Court, when the court refused to buckle under on government decisions.

Certainly, there are questions about the delays, including a one-week break in mid September for a judges’ conference and another while Abdul Razak Baginda went for treatment of an eye problem. In August, there was a three-week break to give lawyers on both sides time to handle other cases. There have been lengthy trials-within-trials while prosecutors and defense attorneys squabbled over the admissibility of evidence. Most of last week was taken up with a debate on DNA evidence.

“In civil cases this is the usual thing,” the lawyer said. “But I am surprised that it has gone on this long. I don’t think we have had this kind of factual circumstance in a criminal trial in Malaysia’s legal history.”

The bodyguards accused of pulling the trigger, Azilah and Sirul, are alleged to have killed Altantuya at the behest of Abdul Razak, who had broken off his affair with her. She was demanding as much as US$500,000 in support money for a child he supposedly had fathered. In a statement to police, he acknowledged that he had given Altantuya US$10,000 on three separate occasions.

As Asia Sentinel previously reported, there is abundant reason to suspect that Najib also knew Altantuya, despite his protestations, although his name has been mentioned only once in the Shah Alam high court where the trial is being held. Malaysia’s government-influenced newspapers have mentioned Najib only reluctantly in connection with the case, merely printing that he had sworn before Allah that he had never met the woman.

Najib and Abdul Razak, probably accompanied by the translator, were in France together at the same time in 2005, perhaps because of a military procurement deal that netted Abdul Razak a fortune. In a letter left behind after her death, Altantuya said she regretted blackmailing Abdul Razak, although she didn’t say what the blackmail entailed.

At the time she accompanied Abdul Razak to Paris, Malaysia’s defense ministry, headed by Najib, was negotiating without bids through a Kuala Lumpur-based company, Perimekar Sdn Bhd, which at the time was owned by yet another company called Ombak Laut, wholly owned by Abdul Razak Baginda, to buy two Scorpene submarines and a used Agosta submarine produced by the French government under a French-Spanish joint venture, Amaris.

Scorpene Submarines under construction in France

The Malaysian ministry of defense paid one billion euros (RM4.5 billion) to Amaris for the three submarines, for which Perimekar received an 11 percent commission, 114 million euros (RM510 million) from Amaris. Deputy Defense Minister Zainal Abdidin Zin told the Dewan Rakyat, Malaysia’s parliament, that the whopping commission was not a bribe, but was a fee for “coordination and support services.”