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Intriguing people for December 29, 2009

By Jay Kernis, CNN
Rep. Mark Kirk has represented Illinois in Congress since 2001.
Rep. Mark Kirk has represented Illinois in Congress since 2001.
  • Congressman's sexuality target of attack ad
  • Sister of Iranian activist detained by authorities
  • Mother and newborn son revived after dying during labor

Editor's note: Every weekday, CNN focuses on a handful of people in the news. This is a chance to find out more about what they've done -- good or bad -- what they've said or what they believe, and why we think they're intriguing.

(CNN) -- Mark Kirk
The Illinois congressman, now the front-runner in the Republican primary election for U.S. Senate, is facing an attack ad that questions his sexual orientation. The Chicago Sun-Times reports that opponent Andy Martin, already controversial for previous remarks about Barack Obama, has run for offices in Illinois, Florida and Connecticut but has never won. He taped a commercial questioning whether Kirk is gay -- and radio stations have told the Sun-Times that federal communications rules don't permit them to edit the ads. Spokesman Erik Elk said that Kirk, a U.S. Naval Intelligence officer, was unavailable for comment because he is on active duty over the holidays. Elk issued this statement: "The ad is not true and is degrading to the political process. The people of Illinois deserve better." Kirk, whose candidacy was endorsed by his ex-wife, faces five opponents in the Republican primary on February 2.

Chicago Sun-Times: Opponent claims Kirk is gay in attack ad

Nushin Ebadi
A woman and three men arrived at Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi's Tehran home Monday, and after searching the house seized her sister, Nushin Ebadi, and her computer. Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian lawyer and human-rights activist honored with the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003, said the Iranian intelligence officials "detained her so I stop my work," even though Nushin is "not involved in human-rights work, and she's never participated in any of the protests," she told CNN.

Nushin and her husband are professors of dentistry at Azad University in Tehran and own a private dental practice. The detainment occurred in the middle of a deadly crackdown on anti-government protests that has left several dead.

CNN: Iran detains Nobel laureate's sister

Mike Leach
The Texas Tech football coach has been suspended as the university investigates charges by wide receiver Adam James and his family about how the player was treated after suffering a concussion. USA Today posted a family statement that said, "Mr. and Mrs. James took the step with great regret and after consideration and prayer to convey to the Texas Tech Administration that their son had been subjected to actions and treatment not consistent with common sense rules for safety and health." The statement also said, "The James family believes this is a matter important to protect all the fine young men involved in Tech football and the University's reputation for developing and educating young men and women." Leach was the Big 12 coach of the year last season and has a five-year, $12.7 million contract.

USA Today: Leach suspended, won't coach bowl game

Joshua Smith
The Oakland, Tennessee, police officer was shot at point-blank range by a driver he had pulled over on Christmas Eve. "It felt like someone hit me in the chest with a baseball bat," Smith told WMC-TV. "I couldn't breathe, I couldn't catch my breath. At that point I was worried about finding a wound and stopping the bleeding," Smith said. But the bullet hit his steel badge. Smith says doctors told him that without his badge, the shot in his chest could have killed him. The company that makes the badges is sending him a replacement.

WMC-TV: Badge saves officer's life

Tracey and Coltyn Hermanstorfer
The mom and her baby both were pronounced dead during labor. But KKTV reports that doctors were able to bring them both back to life. On Christmas Eve, Tracey and her husband Mike went to Memorial Hospital in Colorado Springs, Colorado. "I guess I went into cardiac arrest and I really don't remember anything after that," said Tracey. "She was dead, she had no heartbeat, no breathing," said Stephanie Martin, the hospital's director of maternal fetal medicine. Martin then performed an emergency Caesarean section in the delivery room. But when baby Coltyn was delivered, he wasn't breathing. "Immediately after delivering him, her pulse came back," Martin told KKTV. She said when pregnant women have complications, they sometimes recover once the baby is delivered. Coltyn's motionless body was handed to his father, Mike, as doctors kept working to revive the baby. "They actually got him started right in my hands, that is an amazing feeling," said Mike.

KKTV: Mom and baby die during labor, both revived

What makes a person intriguing?

There are people who enter the news cycle every day because their actions or decisions are new, important or different. Others are in the news because they are the ones those decisions affect. And there are a number of people who are so famous or controversial that anything they say or do becomes news.

Some of these people do what we expect of them: They run for office, pass legislation, start a business, get hired or fired, commit a crime, make an arrest, get in accidents, hit a home run, overthrow a government, fight wars, sue an opponent, put out fires, prepare for hurricanes and cavort with people other than their spouses. They do make news, but the action is usually more important than who is involved in the story.

But every day, there are a number of people who become fascinating to us -- by virtue of their character, how they reached their decision, how they behaved under pressure or because of the remarkable circumstances surrounding the event they are involved in.

They arouse our curiosity. We hear about them and want to know more. What they have done or said stimulates conversations across the country. At times, there is even a mystery about them. What they have done may be unique, heroic, cowardly or ghastly, but they capture our imaginations. We want to know what makes them tick, why they believe what they do, and why they did what they did. They intrigue us.