2 weeks ago

Remembering everything: Auburn University staffer’s autobiographical memory ability may help in fight against Alzheimer’s

Markie Pasternak remembers the first day she realized her special ability had a name.

And before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s make it clear. She really remembers the day. All of it.

“I was in college at Marquette, and it was Aug. 26, a Tuesday in 2014,” she says. “I was wearing this white dress with red and blue flowers on it and a little jean pullover thing that day. It was an afternoon class, my second day of not living in the dorms. I think I made some pasta for lunch, because I was getting used to cooking for myself.”

Pasternak, now 25 and working in Student Affairs at Auburn University, could go on and on about that day of her psychology class, and she’d get most, if not all, of the details right. She’s one of a few dozen people known to have highly superior autobiographical memory, or HSAM, the ability to recall almost every day of her life in great detail.

For Pasternak, the memories begin just before her 11th birthday in 2005.

“About a year after that, I would think back and know what I was doing a year ago,” she says. “I remembered things like, ‘We parked here,’ and ‘We walked in this door.’ And then in eighth grade, two years later, I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I can remember what happened three years ago on this day.’”

“When you’re in a small town like Green Bay from a working-class family, and you’re a first-generation college student, you don’t necessarily have the academic resources for someone to tell you, ‘Hey, this is a special ability, and they’re doing research on it,’” she says.

That all changed at Marquette, when Pasternak, a psychology major, walked into that class about learning and memory.

“My teacher started talking about different types of memory and memory abilities that people have, and she suddenly started talking about HSAM,” Pasternak says. “She didn’t know the name of it, and she didn’t know much about it, but she said, ‘There is this ability out there where people have a calendar in their brain, and they can remember what happened on every day of their life.’ And I was like, wait, I can do that.”

She credits her professor, Kristy Nielson, with what happened next.

“I went up to her after class, and I’m like, ‘I think I have that thing,’” Pasternak says. “And what really amazes me about Dr. Nielson in that moment is she started by believing me. She didn’t say, ‘Oh, yeah, a lot of people think they have it’ or anything like that. She said, ‘OK, tell me more. … When I say Dec. 11, what pops in your head?’

“And immediately I could see it in my head, and I was like, ‘Oh, in 2009 that was a Friday, and I volunteered to chaperone a middle school dance as a high school volunteer, and then I went shopping at the mall for Christmas presents. I started telling her things that happened around that time, like how on the ninth there was a huge snowstorm in Green Bay and all the schools were canceled. I tried to give her verifiable events, because anyone can just say that they went shopping on a certain day. But the thing is, I actually know. I’m not making stuff up.”

Spend just a little time with Pasternak, and you know she’s not making it up. Give her specific dates and she’ll tell you all about them. Give her events and she’ll tell you when they happened, as long as it’s after 2005. (HSAM didn’t help Pasternak pass history classes – she has to have lived through a day to remember it.)

Nielson pointed Pasternak in the direction of the University of California, Irvine, where James McGaugh, a research professor in neurobiology and behavior, has been studying HSAM since 2000. He and his team tested Pasternak and then welcomed her to a group that numbers fewer than 100 around the world.

Some people would say Pasternak was diagnosed with HSAM, but she shies away from that word.

“I call it an ability,” she says. “Some people will say I was ‘diagnosed,’ which I think has a negative connotation to it. It’s really stigmatizing, because there are parts of HSAM that are hard to live with in some ways, but those parts are really tied to the fact that I also have diagnosed obsessive compulsive disorder. So I would say the negative parts of my memory are more tied to that disorder, an actual disorder, than it is having this ability.”

The negative part of HSAM? Pasternak can remember the wonderful things that happened in her life, but she remembers everything else, too – the good, the bad and the ugly.

“There were times where I was really confused in high school,” she says. “If I really got into a memory I would dwell on something, and there were times where I’d even write the wrong date on a paper because I was really focused on two years ago or something like that. And I think that disrupted me a little bit.

“There’s an element of forgiveness that goes into being a human being that we all need to practice consciously, but it can be a little hard when you can remember exactly the words that somebody said to you that were so rude,” she adds. “I can lose myself in memories pretty easily, and there are times where I’ll relive really emotionally hard things, and I’ll be stuck in a rut because I’m reliving a breakup or I’m reliving a death or something.”

A new pet, a dog named Brooks that Pasternak adopted in December (Dec. 7, 2018, to be exact) – has helped her snap out of those moments when she gets stuck on a date.

“I think of it as waking out of a dream or something like that,” Pasternak says. “I know I’ve only had Brooks for the past couple of months, so looking at him, I’m like, ‘Wait, it’s not 2015, because I have you here.’ So it’s comforting, because I have this thing that wasn’t here before. So that’s been helpful.”

Others with HSAM have called it “exhausting,” and Pasternak says it can be, but for her the negatives are outweighed by the positives, including researchers using those with HSAM to try to shed some light on Alzheimer’s disease.

“So they’re thinking, if we’ve got these people with almost super-ability for autobiographical remembering, but we also have people who lose that ability at some point, what is the difference in their brains?” she says. “So they’re using a lot of our research, I think, for Alzheimer’s, and for depression, too. That’s a big one.”

Pasternak has become friends with others with HSAM, corresponding with them via social media and, in some cases, meeting them face-to-face. She was not a part of a 2010 “60 Minutes” segment in which actress Marilu Henner acknowledged she has HSAM, but Pasternak has participated in press events with others in her “small family.”

“I met Joey and Nicole, and we did a segment for Scientific American, and the three of us just jived super well, so we have a group chat,” she says.

There’s also Becky in Australia, whom Pasternak joined on “60 Minutes Australia,” and Jessica, who is from Las Vegas and, at age 11 last year, was among the youngest people determined to have HSAM. “I haven’t met her, but I’m friends with her mother on Facebook,” Pasternak says.

Pasternak knows that people are intrigued by her and others who have HSAM, and she embraces it. She happily lets people test her when they find out about it.

“My friends are all over the spectrum,” she says. “I’ve got friends who love to talk about it and love that this is a part of me. I’ve got friends who never bring it up. I’ve got friends who don’t really understand it and maybe have no interest in understanding it. And I’ve got friends who want to talk about it all the time and are like, ‘Hey, can I use your memory for a sec?’

“I love it,” she adds. “It’s fun to talk to people and be like, ‘I remember on this day you did this.’ Because it makes people feel special that you remembered something they did or they said or something good that happened to them.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

11 hours ago

Mobile Bay eastern shore ranked among best performing places in America

A recent report from Milken Institute found the cities of Daphne, Fairhope and Foley to be among the best performing small cities in America for job and wage growth, as well as other aspects.

Among the 18 cities ranked in the Milken Institute’s 2018 Best-Performing Cities Report, Daphne, Fairhope and Foley, Alabama, ranked as a top performer in the one-year job growth category.

Working in the area’s favor is the effort put in by small businesses adding high-skilled technical and engineering jobs.

Excerpt from the report, as follows:

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Daphne-Fairhope-Foley, located on the state’s Gulf Coast, is a top performer in the one-year job growth category. According to city officials, small businesses have been driving growth, adding high-skilled technical and engineering jobs.

The population of the metro has been growing steadily over a decade, but its population still sits at just a little under 200,000. The city has been praised recently for its eco-friendly strategies to keep its beaches clean.

Ranked first on the list is Bend-Richmond, Oregon, followed by St. George, Utah.

Kyle Morris also contributes daily to Breitbart News. You can follow him on Twitter @RealKyleMorris.

12 hours ago

Mary Margaret Carroll is a 2019 Woman of Impact

The world of lobbying can be tough — cutthroat, even. This holds true on Goat Hill just as it does on Capitol Hill.

Yet, in Alabama’s highly scrutinized and uber-competitive world of governmental affairs, Mary Margaret Carroll has not just managed to shine while staying above the fray; she has broken into a field that has historically – and recently – essentially been monopolized by men, using her intellect, character, demeanor and work ethic to become a star at one of the state’s premier lobbying shops: Fine Geddie & Associates.

The 2005-2006 Student Government Association president at the University of Alabama, Carroll has been a leader in whatever room she walked into for a long time. That is apparent from the moment you meet her, as former state senator Joe Fine – the co-founder of Fine Geddie – told Yellowhammer News.

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Fine reminisced on the moment he and the firm’s other cofounder, Bob Geddie, met Carroll.

“We met Mary Margaret over lunch in December 2012 and before our hour-long meeting was over, we asked her to hold any other job offers she received,” he shared. “We did not have an opening at the firm at the time, but Bob and I both liked her immediately. She was polished and reserved but very inquisitive.”

And they sure are glad that she did hold other job offers, beginning her career at Fine Geddie shortly after that meeting in 2013, when she became the first and only female professional in Alabama’s oldest governmental affairs shop.

Fine said, “The first week Mary Margaret was with us we began work on a tort reform measure that proved to be one of the most controversial bills I have ever encountered in my career. Mary Margaret was immediately valuable to our strategy development, our coordination with the Governor’s office, and the lobbying effort. She handled herself well at every turn there and has continued to do so since no matter how big or small the task.”

“Notably, she played a critical role very early in her career on important measures that had failed despite decades of prior proposals,” he continued. “Her second-year lobbying, she handled the effort to institute the Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit program. During her third year she negotiated with over 10 stakeholder groups to develop the prison sentencing reform proposal and managed the successful advocacy effort to generate support for it. This was an extraordinary feat – and she did it her own way. Mary Margaret works hard, thinks outside of the box, and adds tremendous value to our clients’ pursuits.”

Geddie echoed these thoughts, emphasizing that Carroll is “an integral part” of the Fine Geddie juggernaut.

“She joined us without previous government relations experience but has a great future,” Geddie remarked. “She has developed a keen insight to the state government decision-making process, rightfully earning the respect of policy makers and her peers. Hardly a day goes by where we do not receive a compliment on her professionalism, class and work product from a lawmaker or a client.”

“At Fine Geddie, we have tried to maintain a balance among our team with backgrounds in law, public policy and execution. Mary Margaret can do it all and she gets better each year,” he concluded.

From promoting the interests of Fortune 500 companies to some of the Yellowhammer State’s preeminent businesses and trade associations, Carroll has become an unquestioned guru on complex public policy issues, gaining the reputation of a direct, honest broker.

“From handling acute issues to leading sweeping reform efforts, Mary Margaret consistently develops thoughtful and effective strategies to address her clients’ interests. She has proven herself capable of handling anything in our firm’s portfolio with optimal results. We are very proud of her,” Fine stated.

Her integrity has been recognized time and time again, exemplified by her becoming one of the first lobbyists in the history of the state to be named to the Alabama State Bar’s Leadership Forum.

Carroll explained to Yellowhammer News, “I try very hard to lead by example.”

“It is imperative to treat others with respect, and equally important to be honest,” she said. “Credibility is everything in government relations work. You cannot advocate effectively or inform the process if you are not trustworthy or do not have a thorough understanding of your position. It requires a great deal of listening to gain a full understanding of the politics surrounding any issue.”

“I love my job,” Carroll emphasized. “It constantly presents me with opportunities to grow intellectually and professionally. Each project presents its own challenges and I am constantly seeing the world through a new lens.”

Her list of accomplishments in just a five-year period is incredible. A mere snapshot of the projects on which Carroll has made a critical contribution would make most 40-year state house veterans jealous.

For example, Carroll was integral in the successful effort for passage of legislation to authorize transportation network companies (Uber, Lyft, etc.) to expand services statewide. She helped lead negotiations with the various stakeholder groups to overcome opposition and develop the best policy proposal, also coordinating the lobbying and public relations strategy for the effort.

“I love projects where our goal is to pave the way for innovation and the digital economy,” Carroll advised. “In many instances current law reflects public policy concerns that are completely irrelevant to today’s world and may in fact be hindering commerce.”

Whether it was playing a key role in the successful economic development policy effort to incentivize increased use of the state’s port facilities and related capital investment or coordinating the effort to pass criminal sentencing reform designed to reduce prisons overpopulation, she has made a tremendous impact in the lives of thousands and thousands of Alabamians from her role behind the scenes.

“As a lifelong Alabamian, I always appreciate an opportunity to work on economic development projects that yield tangible results. Most memorable for me have been the effort to establish the historic rehabilitation tax credit program and various projects connected to the Port of Mobile, including the recent effort to fund the expansion,” Carroll said.

This type of service-oriented leadership captures Carroll’s motivation, which can be seen in her free time, too. She is involved with the YMCA Youth in Government program and serves on distinguished advisory boards at the University of Alabama.

Carroll frequently speaks to student groups about her experiences and the various ways one can serve the public and the greater good, noting that her time in student government at UA helped her develop as a leader and get to where she is today.

“It made me realize how much I enjoy problem solving through policy and working with others. But most of all, it taught me the importance of productive discourse and the need to be objective when working with others to resolve an issue,” Carroll stated.

She also has a long history of mentoring young women who are interested in politics and public service.

In fact, she shared that mentoring has been the most rewarding part of her career journey. Carroll had mentors who helped her get to where she is today, and mentoring young people is her way of paying it forward.

“I have been so fortunate to learn from visionary people whose stories have inspired me in many ways,” she said. “I believe we all have certain skills and talents we are meant to pursue in life and I am grateful for those who helped me identify and seize mine.”

Carroll continued, “I enjoy sharing my story and working with young people with the hope that I can help them the way so many have supported me over the years.”

For all the young girls out there aspiring to be a leader, Carroll shared some sage advice.

“There is no substitute for listening to others to gain understanding and hard work,” she said. “Focus on maximizing the opportunities you have been given, not minimizing opportunities for others. Never resort to cutting others to get ahead.”

Carroll stressed, “It is possible to be kind, compassionate and a fierce competitor all at once. Find a way.”

She also outlined how leaders need to be honest with themselves.

“Know what you do not know,” Carroll advised. “My grandfather, an attorney, would often say, ‘There is nothing greener than a new lawyer.’ I am not sure what prompted that tidbit of wisdom, but my guess is that it was premised on the notion that the classroom and the real world are two very different places and present very different tests.”

She concluded, “Those words rang in my head the first time I met the Fine Geddie team. During my initial meeting, I told them I knew nothing about government relations work and asked for advice on the best way to enter the industry. I wanted to learn. My guess is, more often than not, people want to work with, for, and hire people who are constantly seeking to improve themselves and their organizations. This starts with knowing what you do not know and being open to seeing or trying things in a new way.”

It is easy to see why Yellowhammer Multimedia twice previously listed her as a rising star in state politics and has referred to her as “a force for years to come.”

Now, Yellowhammer News is proud to name Mary Margaret Carroll a 2019 Woman of Impact.

The 2nd Annual Women of Impact Awards will celebrate the honorees on April 29, 2019, in Birmingham. Event details can be found here.

13 hours ago

Dale Jackson: Let’s get over the lottery hump and move on to more lucrative gambling talk

If you want the lottery and expanded gambling in the state of Alabama you should support the lottery bill proposed by State Senator Greg Albritton (R-Atmore).

Is the bill perfect? Absolutely not. In fact, I would argue it creates some new problems. By not protecting the questionably electronic bingo in pockets of the state, like Greene and Macon counties, this bill gives the Poarch Band of Creek Indians a monopoly on games of chance in the state if Attorney General Steve Marshall continues to pursue shutting down these entities and the courts agree with him.

This is not ideal. However, the alternative is to grant those entities a legal status that they do not deserve. If they are operating illegally, they shouldn’t be handed this gift. If they are operating legally, why do they need the protection of the lottery bill proposed by Sen. Jim McClendon (R-Springville)?

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Does this lottery bill allow the Poarch Band of Creek Indians a monopoly on games of chance in Alabama? It does.

Would McClendon’s bill bring in more revenue in the short-term? The analysis says yes.

But what if the lottery bill passes, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians expanded their gambling options and revenue grows and the citizens of the state of Alabama see that there are more revenue options available to the state?

Would a push for wider gambling ensue? Definitely.

Will legislators face calls to license gambling facilities in Birmingham, Montgomery, Huntsville and Mobile? Hopefully.

The lottery bill is not the end of the gambling conversation in Alabama. It is the elusive first step.

Let’s get beyond this first part and continue the conversation.

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN

14 hours ago

Alabama postal workers to get back pay, benefits

A Florida-based contractor will pay $329,057 in back wages and benefits to 53 postal delivery workers in Montgomery.

AL.com reports the decision comes after an investigation into St. Augustine, Florida-based Postal Fleet Services Inc. by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division.

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The department says the company violated requirements of two federal acts.

Investigators say Postal Fleet Services failed to pay drivers the prevailing rates for contract work performed for the U.S. Postal Service to haul mail in Montgomery and Tupelo, Mississippi.

The company also failed to pay drivers for sorting mail before their scheduled shifts and for time spent driving from one city to another between local routes.

Postal Fleet Services also failed to pay fringe benefits to employees and did not maintain records of hours employees worked.
(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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Hangout Fest combines music & VIP amenities to create an unforgettable experience

ORANGE BEACH, Ala. — Since the inaugural Hangout Festival in 2010, Orange Beach has emerged as an annual must-visit destination for music lovers around the world. Now in its tenth year, the festival — known worldwide as simply Hangout — is taking its VIP experiences to a new level, creating what the festival organizers are describing as a “music vacation” that concertgoers will never forget.

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The glittering white, sandy shores of Alabama’s Gulf Coast have long been a tourist attraction rivaling the best-known coastal communities in America and the Caribbean. But when the nation’s hottest bands, world-class dining experiences and unique amenities converge on the Yellowhammer State’s pristine shores, past attendees say something truly magical happens.

“It’s really unlike any other concert experience I’ve ever seen,” multi-time Hangout Fest attendee and Alabama resident Cliff Sims told Yellowhammer News. “It’s the one weekend a year when there’s no question where I’m going to be. It really is the perfect mix of my favorite people, great music, good food, and a well-run event.”

This year’s Hangout Fest, set to take place over the weekend of May 17th, will continue its now decade-long history of featuring some of the hottest names in music. Criss-crossing genres, the festival will be anchored by internationally known acts including Travis Scott, The Lumineers, Khalid, Cardi B, Kygo, The 1975, Diplo, Jimmy Eat World and dozens more.

On top of the musical performances, 2019 concertgoers will also be able to experience other attractions, including a ferris wheel, roller skating rink, beach bonfire, tropical spa and beach volleyball. The festival is also taking full advantage of technology to ensure a smooth experience for concertgoers. The Hangout Fest app allows attendees to create a personalized schedule, based on bands they select. They’ve also set up lockers inside the festival where concertgoers can charge their phones.

And for individuals looking to have an extra high-end experience, VIP and Super VIP options deliver unlimited access to additional perks like golf shuttles between stages, unlimited drinks, a daily buffet featuring food from world-class chefs, air-conditioned restrooms and a stage-side, VIP-only pool where they can enjoy the music while relaxing in the cool water. Super VIP’s will have all these perks and more, including hot tubs, catered gourmet meals in an air-conditioned dining room and exclusive access to the Super VIP-only Backstage Beach.

As an added bonus, the food exclusive to Super VIP’s will be crafted by some of the nation’s best culinary artists. Award-winning Chefs Annie Pettry, Cory Bar and Jason Goodenough will create memorable, fresh, mouth-watering meals for concertgoers to enjoy in between musical performances.

For the most incredible all-inclusive experience, the Hangout Fest is partnering with Aero Air Charter to offer attendees the Big Kahuna Air Package. This package includes everything Super VIP’s enjoy along with a round-trip private chartered flight straight to Gulf Shores, 24/7 concierge service, door to door transportation and more. Up to six friends can join in on the chartered flight with options for larger groups.

Tickets to what promises to be the music event of the year are now available at HangoutMusicFest.com.