November 4th, 2010
11:08 AM ET

Thursday's intriguing people

Victoria Kolakowski

Victoria Kolakowski, a candidate for Alameda County Superior Court judge in California, is holding a slight lead over opponent John Creighton and will become the first transgender judge in the nation if she wins.

The 49-year-old has been a lawyer since 1989 and has dealt with copyright, business and patent cases. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Kolakowski had sex reassignment surgery in 1991. When the state Supreme Court declared same-sex marriages legal there in 2008, she married her partner, a woman, the Chronicle reported.

On her website, Kolakowski said she wants "to be clear that I am not asking voters to elect me simply because I am transgender."

However, she said that her being transgender would help the community to "see people like me as respectable professionals and even colleagues, and not as 'freaks.'

"Therefore I am passionate about blazing this trail for my community," she wrote. "I have been very fortunate to have a successful career as a public servant, and I feel an obligation to serve my community as a role model as well."


October 20th, 2010
11:51 AM ET

Wednesday's intriguing people

Christine O'Donnell

The Delaware Senate Candidate has proclaimed herself an expert on the U.S. Constitution. She attributes this knowledge to her time in 2002 as a Lincoln Fellow at the Claremont Institute.

The weeklong fellowship includes various topics on constitutional law. Talking Points Memo, which received a Polk award in 2007 for reporting, obtained a copy of the 2002 syllabus earlier this week.

Nine fellows joined O’Donnell that week. The group includes a woman who went on to become the lead attorney for the Republicans on the House Oversight Committee and a man who was legislative director to former Indiana Congressman John Hostettler.

Most notable of the class is Scott Bloch, who went on to run the White House Office of Special Counsel overseeing whistleblower protection. Earlier this year, he pleaded guilty to contempt of Congress charges regarding the scrubbing data from White House computers.


October 18th, 2010
01:33 PM ET

Monday's intriguing people

Keith Richards

The Rolling Stones legend releases a memoir called "Life" on October 26. This weekend, both The Times of London and Rolling Stone magazine released exclusive excerpts and headlines have leaked. (Note: The online excerpts are available only via subscription.)

The Rolling Stone collection includes a photo essay heavy on sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. The best kind of partying, Richards writes, is the kind you can’t remember. “You get these brief vignettes of what you did [while intoxicated]," Richards writes. “Oh, you don’t remember shooting the gun? Pull up the carpet, look at those holes, man.”

ABC News went through The Times excerpts to uncover that Richards and Mick Jagger haven’t been friends for years. Richards even refers to Jagger as “Her Majesty.” “Sometimes I think: 'I miss my friend.’ ” Richards admits in an excerpt. ”I wonder: 'where did he go?' "

The Daily Record of Scotland reports that the original rift between Jagger and Richards goes back to 1968 when the two swapped girlfriends Marianne Faithfull and model Anita Pallenberg, respectively. Pallenberg is the mother of three of Richards’ children. Richards admits that he acted out of retaliation and that his tryst with Faithfull happened only once, according to the report in the Daily Record. "Marianne and I still have this joke,” he recalls. “She sends me messages: 'I still can't find your socks.' "


October 15th, 2010
01:52 PM ET

Friday's intriguing people

Tommie Smith

The Olympic athlete known for symbolizing Black Power on the podium at the 1968 games in Mexico City, Mexico, has placed his gold medal up for auction. Tommie Smith, now a 66-year-old resident of Georgia, has hired M.I.T. Memorabilia to handle the auction, which will close November 4, according to KTLA-Los Angeles. The asking price is $250,000.

Smith, a former San Jose State University sprinter, won the gold for the 200 meters in Mexico City. Teammate John Carlos also placed. During the U.S. national anthem, the two raised black-gloved fists and bowed their heads. Though they were kicked out of the Olympic Village at the time, they eventually earned international acclaim.

KTLA: Olympian in '68 black power salute to sell medal FULL POST

October 14th, 2010
01:09 PM ET

Thursday's intriguing people

Harry Whittington

The trial lawyer whom Dick Cheney shot on a quail-hunting trip in Texas sat down with the Washington Post to talk about the incident. Harry Whittington, 82, has fully recovered from the accident of almost five years ago, he said. More than 200 pellets struck all across his body, just missing vital organs and leading to many invasive surgeries.

For months afterward, however, pieces would still work their way out of his body, he said. About 30 pellets remain, including one near his heart and one in his voice box, causing his voice to “warble.”

Whittington was gracious in recalling Cheney’s involvement, the Post reported. It was he who initially apologized from the hospital, indicating that the accident had inconvenienced the vice president. He still feels responsible for traumatizing Cheney, he said.

At the same time, the accident caused problems for Cheney because it was not made public until the ranch owner’s daughter confirmed it the next day. A media frenzy ensued, with reporters trying to sneak into the hospital to talk to Whittington and others interrogating the White House for the PR gaffe. FULL POST

October 8th, 2010
01:42 PM ET

Friday's intriguing people

Ron Turcotte

The Hall of Fame race horse jockey best known for winning the U.S. Triple Crown in 1973 is enjoying a resurgence with the release of the Disney film “Secretariat.” He returned to Lexington, Kentucky, October 1 for a special screening of the film, reported the Telegraph-Journal, a Canadian newspaper.

Paralyzed in 1978 during a race at Belmont Park, Turcotte was pushed through the crowd of adoring fans in his wheelchair by an old friend named Charlie Davis. Davis is considered an unsung hero as he was the exercise rider of Secretariat, the paper said.

While Secretariat’s life and story are a marvel, Turcotte’s is equally fantastic. He was raised in New Brunwick in Canada, one of 12 children of a lumberjack. In his youth, he struggled as a stable hand, until he found his path as a jockey in Toronto.

While four of his brothers also became jockeys, Turcotte was exceptional. His career spanned 17 years with more than 3000 wins.

Turcotte is like the Muhammad Ali of his sport, the Telegraph-Journal said. Yet the rider always turns the focus back to Secretariat. “He was so easy to ride and wasn’t afraid of nothing,” he told the paper.

“You had to fall in love with that kind of a horse.”


October 7th, 2010
12:26 PM ET

Thursday's intriguing people

Sgt. 1st Class Lance Vogeler

On the ninth anniversary of the start of the U.S. war in Afghanistan, the remains of the 29-year-old Army Ranger received a hero’s welcome Thursday at Hunter Army Airfield near Savannah, Georgia. Vogeler was killed on Friday during a firefight in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, officials told the Washington Post.

Vogeler was a career soldier who once turned down an opportunity to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, choosing to stay with his men, the Post reported. When he was killed, he was serving his 12th tour of duty. The service in Afghanistan was his eighth tour there. He had also served four tours in Iraq.

In a statement, Col. Michael E. Kurilla, the commander of Vogeler's regiment, called him "the quintessential Ranger" and "a hero to our Nation, the Army and his family."

Vogeler was known for the respect he received from other soldiers, his Christian faith, and his devotion to family, his friends and colleagues said. His parents, Tim and Donna Vogeler, are deaf. Vogeler and his brother Chris, 27, served their parents as interpreters. Vogeler obtained a certificate to perform marriage ceremonies for fellow soldiers, after many of his men asked that he officiate at their weddings, his parents’ pastor told the Post.

He was a native of Frederick, Maryland, and the married father of two young children. His widow, Melissa, is pregnant.

"He died doing what he felt called to do," his parents’ pastor, the Rev. Peter C. Myers, told the Post. "Lance did not love war. But he had a job to do, and he took it extremely seriously."

Savannah Morning News: Fallen Ranger remembered for leadership, faith and love of his family


October 6th, 2010
03:13 PM ET

Wednesday's intriguing people

Lenny Dykstra

The Los Angeles Times today offered a tale of recessionary woes featuring former Major League Baseball outfielder Lenny Dykstra. The Southern California native helped the New York Mets win the World Series in the mid-80s and finished his career with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1996. During his MLB years, he earned more than $26 million. He watched his salary reportedly grow from $90,000 in 1986 to $6 million in his final year.

Post-baseball, Dykstra quickly developed himself into a financial "guru," the Times reported. He launched a magazine and formed a community of professional athletes focused on growing their wealth. He even wrote a column for Jim Cramer on He threw phenomenal parties attended by wealthy athletes as well as Donald Trump.

In recent years, however, Dykstra has become what can only be described as a case study in "irrational exuberance." The Times discussed in detail the lavish spending habits, the ex-wives and poor stock choices. Dykstra was hit hard by the real estate bubble as well. An extravagant Southern California estate, purchased from Wayne Gretzky for approximately $17 million went into foreclosure this year.

Still, Dykstra seemed optimistic.

“If you mess with Nails,” he told The Times, using his nickname, “you’re gonna get the Hammer.” Financial author Randall Lane summed it up this way in The Times: "He is a perfect metaphor for what happened to many people, but he did it on a scale that was monumental."


October 5th, 2010
11:58 AM ET

Tuesday's intriguing people

Bernhard Kohl

Bernhard Kohl, the Austrian cyclist stripped of his third-place finish in the 2008 Tour de France, told attendees at the United States Anti-Doping Agency's science conference Monday that under current conditions, no one can win the Tour de France without using performance-enhancing drugs.

"People know in cycling that it's not possible to win the Tour de France without it," Kohl told AOL's sports website FanHouse after the speech. "It's three weeks, 3,000 km and you climb [the equivalent of] Mount Everest four times. That's just not possible."

Kohl confessed to doping many times, yet passed all but one test, which resulted in a two-year-ban from the sport. He said he and other unnamed riders rely on doping to remain competitive. He would not comment on the investigation of current Tour champion Alberto Contador or other riders.

While Kohl is eligible to return, he says his career is over. "I can never come back," he said. "It's not possible if you say the truth."


October 4th, 2010
01:05 PM ET

Monday's intriguing people

Louise Brown

When Louise Brown got married in 2004, a scientist named Dr. Robert Edwards attended the wedding. He was also one of two men present when Brown was conceived in 1977.
Due to the work of Edwards and Dr. Patrick Steptoe, Brown was scientifically conceived in a laboratory - then implanted as an embryo in her mother's womb. She became the world’s first test-tube baby when she was born on July 25, 1978.

On Monday, Edwards, now 85, received the Nobel Prize for medicine for his work on in vitro fertilization, or IVF. Steptoe passed away in 1988. He would have shared part of the $1.5 million prize as well if he were still alive, reports say. 


October 1st, 2010
12:12 PM ET

Friday's intriguing people

Williams Ayers

During the Vietnam War era, William Ayers co-founded a group responsible for bombing U.S. government buildings. By 1987, he was an education professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he went on to work with a young politician named Barack Obama on public school reform.

Thursday night, the Chicago Tribune reported, Ayers was denied emeritus status by the UIC board of directors, an honorific title that is rarely denied to tenured professors. Leading the board’s unanimous decision was Christopher Kennedy, the UIC board chairman and the son of the late Robert F. Kennedy.

In 1974, Ayers co-authored "Prairie Fire," a book he dedicated to numerous "political prisoners," including RFK assassin Sirhan Sirhan. Last week, in an emotional statement before the board, Kennedy said he could not give the title to "a man whose body of work includes a book dedicated in part to the man who murdered my father."


September 30th, 2010
12:05 PM ET

Thursday's intriguing people

Dan Savage

The Seattle-based author and “Savage Love” advice columnist has launched a YouTube channel that allows gays, lesbians and their straight allies to post messages of encouragement to young teens and tweens questioning or struggling with their sexuality. The site, launched September 15, features at least 200 videos and is part of an effort to deter gay youths from committing suicide. There have been about 500,000 views of the channel so far, with more than 6,000 people subscribing to it.

Savage, considered one of few gay relationship columnists in the country, posted his own video September 21. In it, he and a friend named Terry share their own stories of growing up gay. They talk about religious conflicts with family members, keeping secrets and facing unspeakable episodes of harassment in high school. “What I want people to take away from this is that it gets better,” Savage urged his viewers, “But you have to tough this period of your life out, and you have to live your life so that you’re around for it to get amazing — and it can.”

YouTube: It Gets Better project


September 29th, 2010
10:58 AM ET

Wednesday's intriguing people

Mike Rowe

Two years ago, the Discovery Channel's "Dirty Jobs" host launched a private effort to end what he called America's "war on work." He set up a website called MikeRoweWorks, and video-blogged about the way vocational schools were seeing their number of applicants decline, and how trade labor was being marginalized. Additionally, he talked about how there weren't enough welders, pavers, pipefitters and other skilled workers to keep America's bridges and roads from "literally falling apart."

Rowe's mission could reach critical mass Wednesday when he arrives on Capitol Hill with members of the Association of Equipment Manufacturers. They'll lobby Congress to pass a bill requiring that the federal stimulus funds directed toward transportation actually be spent.

Originally, a spokesman for the Association of Equipment Manufacturers told CNN that only three percent of the stimulus funds allocated to transportation infrastructure had actually been spent. That figure is incorrect. Of the $26 billion provided in stimulus spending to repair roads and bridges, not three percent, but 50 percent, has been spent, according to government figures.

It is because of this stimulus funding that the transportation construction industry is not in complete shambles, says Jeff Solsby of the American Road and Transportation Association. “The bottom line is the stimulus has been a lifeline for our industry, as without it many of our jobs would be gone” Solsby says.


September 28th, 2010
11:56 AM ET

Tuesday's intriguing people

Amir Abo-Shaeer

Physics teacher Amir Abo-Shaeer, 38, is one of 23 people who will receive a highly coveted $500,000 MacArthur Fellowship today. Abo-Shaeer created the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy in 2002 to offer public high school students near Santa Barbara, California, a four-year applied-science curriculum focusing on math, physics and engineering. The program has a laboratory and requires students to compete in a national robotics competition. The latest track is for students to launch entrepreneurial pursuits, Abo-Shaeer said.

Abo-Shaeer pursued the project after working with youths as a graduate student while attending nearby U.C. Santa Barbara. He began by recruiting students - girls in particular - at the junior high school level. MacArthur officials call the program a "school within a school." Abo-Shaeer sees it as a personal success. "This has also been exciting for me because to the contrary of what you always hear on the news - 'students don't want to do science, students don't want to do math' - we have had a line of people hanging out the door to get into the program."

MacArthur's Fellow Program


September 27th, 2010
11:05 AM ET

Monday's intriguing people

Valerie Plame Wilson

The former covert CIA agent and her husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson, lost their place in Washington's Republican circles after late columnist Robert Novak outed her as a covert CIA operative. A New York Times profile shows how the two have rebuilt their lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She works as a consultant against nuclear proliferation; he runs the Africa division of a global construction company. Their 10-year-old twins go to public school. A biopic called "Fair Game" about the Wilsons' Bush administration travails, starring Sean Penn and Naomi Watts, opens next month.


September 24th, 2010
01:57 PM ET

Friday's Most Intriguing People

Hossein Derakhshan

The Iranian blogger accused of working with "hostile" governments, propaganda against the Islamic establishment, propaganda in favor of anti-revolutionary groups, and insulting religious sanctities says he has been convicted, his mother says in London's newspaper the Daily Telegraph.

The prosecutor in Iran is seeking the death penalty.

Derakhshan, known as the "blogfather," is credited with creating a blog platform for Persian characters. While living in Canada and Britain, he became known as a defender of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He also has traveled to Israel on a one-man peace mission.

The Telegraph reported that he was arrested within weeks of his voluntary return to Iran in 2008.

Telegraph: Prosecutors seek death penalty for 'blogfather'

Reporters Without Borders: Two bloggers held by Revolutionary Guard


September 23rd, 2010
01:33 PM ET

Thursday's intriguing people


The record-breaking rap artist recently traveled with Forbes magazine to a summit with Warren Buffet, the No. 2 man on Forbes’ list of billionaires. The goal, according to the magazine, was to capture their very different perspectives on success and wealth and to talk about the social obligations that come with each.

Jay-Z, whose real name is Shawn Carter, is listed as one of the magazine’s “billionaires in the making.” He grew up in the projects of Brooklyn, New York, and holds the record for having the most No. 1 albums sold by a solo artist on the Billboard 200 chart. He is an entrepreneur and is part owner of the New Jersey nets.

In 2002, Jay-Z and his mother founded the Shawn Carter Scholarship Fund to help teens pay for college.


September 22nd, 2010
12:47 PM ET

Wednesday's intriguing people

Jim Gorant

With Michael Vick starting for the Philadelphia Eagles this weekend, it appears the controversial quarterback’s NFL career has been rehabilitated. Another tale of rehabilitation appears in a book out this week about the 51 pit bulls recovered from Vick’s Bad Newz Kennels.

“The Lost Dogs: Michael Vick’s Dogs and Their Tale of Recovery and Redemption” is written by Sports Illustrated senior writer Jim Gorant. It chronicles the fate of the 49 remaining dogs. The professional athlete served nearly two years in prison on charges related to the dogfighting ring and mistreatment of the dogs.

Usually animals from illegal dogfighting operations are euthanized, according to Stephen Zawistowski, a psychologist and ASPCA animal behavior specialist who worked on the Vick case. In an interview this week with NPR, he said the $1 million Vick paid in restitution gave the ASPCA a unique opportunity to rehabilitate most of the dogs. In the end, only one was euthanized, while the rest were placed in dog sanctuaries or have been adopted.

Gorant argues that the Vick case may help rehabilitate the reputation of pit bulls as well. "As odd as it may seem, Michael Vick may be the best thing that ever happened to the pit bull,” he told NPR. “He gave the forum to discuss this and make it possible to get the message out there that these dogs are not what they've been made out to be in the headlines, that they really are just sort of dogs." What happened to Vick's dogs?

NPR: The road to recovery for Michael Vick's dogs


September 21st, 2010
02:04 PM ET

Tuesday's intriguing people

Kim Jong Un

North Korea’s Central News Agency has announced that the largest gathering of the country's main political party will take place September 28. The rare gathering is leading intelligence analysts to believe that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il may name his youngest son, Kim Jong Un, as his heir apparent — if not the next leader of North Korea altogether.

While the analysts were expecting such an announcement, what they don’t know is even more telling. Very little is known about Kim Jong Un, and few even know what he looks like.

In a report this month on National Public Radio, North Korea analyst Ken Gause gave an overview of the man known across the Demilitarized Zone as the “Brilliant Comrade.” Gause said that some details were provided by a book written under a pseudonym by — of all people — Kim Jong Il’s sushi chef. The book's title is “I was Kim Jong Il’s Cook.” Here are some details:

* Kim Jong Un is the son of a dancer who is either the “Dear Leader’s” third wife or his consort.
* He is approximately 27 or 28 years of age.
* He may have been educated at an English-speaking Swiss boarding school.
* Classmates say he likes skiing, Jean-Claude Van Damme films and Michael Jordan.
* He graduated from a North Korean military academy named for his grandfather.
* He became the Dear Leader’s No. 1 choice when his older brother, Kim Jong Nam, tried to sneak a trip to Tokyo Disneyland using a forged passport.

CNN: Rare N. Korean meeting set for September 28

NPR: A mystery man to lead North Korea?


September 20th, 2010
12:30 PM ET

Monday's intriguing people

Lady Gaga

A rally Monday afternoon in Portland, Maine, is the latest effort by Lady Gaga to get the Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" policy repealed. The law bars gays from openly serving in the military. The artist has used her Twitter account, which to date has 6.4 million followers, to raise awareness. Here's a look at some of her other efforts:

May 10, 2010 - In her first CNN Interview, Gaga urges viewers to help end sexual discrimination.

September 12, 2010 - Gaga brings four dates to MTV's Video Music Awards. They include three former members of the U.S. military, all discharged under DADT: former Air Force Staff Sgt. David Hall, former Air Force Maj. Mike Almy, and former Army Sgt. 1st Class Stacy Vasquez. She also brings former West Point cadet Katherine Miller, who resigned from the academy after attending for years.

September 14, 2010 – The singer challenges her Twitter followers to contact Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid about calling a vote on the ban to the Senate floor. Reid quickly responded on Twitter that a cloture vote on the bill that includes language about the repeal would happen this week. It is now slated for Tuesday.

September 17, 2010 - Gaga posts a seven-minute plea on YouTube calling for an end to the ban. To date, it's been viewed nearly 1.5 million times. She also urges her followers to post video blogs sharing their thoughts on DADT, which she will share with her online community as well.


« older posts