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Intriguing people for December 30, 2009

By Jay Kernis, CNN
Erroll Southers was nominated in September to head the Transportation Security Administration.
Erroll Southers was nominated in September to head the Transportation Security Administration.
  • Nominee for TSA chief held up by South Carolina senator
  • Lawyer for terror suspect familiar with terrorism cases
  • 10th-grader is youngest player to win national table tennis championship

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) -- Erroll Southers
In the aftermath of the attempted bombing of Northwest Flight 253, it is likely the Senate will move to confirm the embattled nomination of Southers as head of the Transportation Security Administration when it returns from its winter recess. Objections to Southers' confirmation were first made by Republican Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina over the potential unionization of TSA employees. Southers is the Los Angeles International Airport's assistant chief for homeland security and intelligence. The airport's police department, which Southers has helped manage since early 2007, is the largest such operation in the country, with approximately 1,200 employees. Southers is also associate director at the Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events at the University of Southern California. The former FBI special agent served as a deputy director of homeland security for California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

CNN Political Ticker: DeMint defends blocking appointment

Miriam Siefer
The attorney who will defend the 23-year-old Nigerian man accused of trying to blow up Northwest Flight 253 is no stranger to terrorism cases, according to The Detroit News. Miriam Siefer, chief federal defender with the Federal Defender Office in Detroit, Michigan, represented James Nichols when he was a suspect in the Oklahoma City bombing. His brother Terry Nichols was convicted for that act of domestic terrorism. Siefer is now the lead attorney for Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab, who is accused of hiding explosive materials sewn into his underwear that could have brought down the airplane. "She's one of a handful of people who is universally respected and admired by people in the U.S. Attorney's Office," said Alan Gershel, the former head of criminal prosecutions in Detroit who now is a law professor at Cooley Law School in Auburn Hills, Michigan.

Detroit News: Suspect's lawyer old hand at terror cases

Micah Fialka-Feldman
A U.S. district judge has ruled that Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan, violated a federal law by refusing to allow Fialka-Feldman, a disabled student, to live in a campus dorm and now must make a room available for him. The Detroit News and NPR report that Fialka-Feldman has a mild cognitive impairment that hinders his ability to read and write. But the university said because he was in a special program and not a full-time student, he couldn't live on campus. It took him two buses and two hours to get to campus from his parents' home. The judge ruled that Oakland University had discriminated against Fialka-Feldman, who says he will hang a poster in his room with quotes from civil rights leaders. One says: "A community that excludes one member is not a community at all."

NPR: Intellectually disabled student wins dorm suit

Detroit News: Student wins housing fight

William Koch
The Palm Beach, Florida, billionaire says that a 1787 Lafite Bordeaux with Thomas Jefferson's initials etched into the bottle is fake. "I thought that I had a piece of history, a piece of America's most important history," Koch told the Los Angeles Times. So Koch sued the seller and has filed four other lawsuits. He says there are more to come. His goal is to clean up an industry where a single bottle can go for more than $100,000. In 1989, Koch purchased the Lafite and three other bottles of Bordeaux, also purported to be Jefferson's, for about $500,000. In the federal lawsuit he filed in New York against the wine supplier, Koch claims Jefferson's "initials" were etched into the bottle with modern-day power tools.

Los Angeles Times: Wine collector sues over alleged fakery

Michael Landers
This 15-year-old 10th-grader from Old Westbury, New York, is the youngest player to win the men's national singles championship in table tennis, or pingpong. In a New York Times profile, Landers says his training can last 30 hours each week. For 14 months, Goran Milanovic, a former Serbian discuss thrower, has been putting him through 90-minute workouts two or three times a week.

NY Times: The ping-pong prodigy

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.