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To understand a group of bizarre brain diseases, think of the substance called Ice-9 that Kurt Vonnegut invented in his novel Cat’s Cradle. Everything it touches becomes a kind of ice. Through a ripple effect, it eventually freezes the world’s oceans and rivers.

Scientists say that’s a perfect analogy for normal proteins in the brain that go berserk and kill people like a local woman named Carol Baker, whom we profiled in a moving obituary earlier this week. These renegades spread havoc as they touch cells and turn them into clones with killer missions of their own.

In our new story, we talk to a journalist who’s written about the disease that took Baker’s life and related disorders that are as fascinating as they are deadly. One makes people lose the ability to sleep, essentially creating fatal insomnia. Another strikes cannibals. And the most famous of all makes cows go mad and created a panic across Great Britain.

In other news:

  • Our government reporter Liam Dillon takes a look ahead at what the new year offers in political news. There will be some major elections: at least one of the five county supervisors, who’ve been in office longer than today’s middle-school students have been alive, may face some serious competition to keep his seat.

    Big decisions are also pending on a new stadium, a new City Hall, a new downtown library/charter school, and a convention center expansion.

    And Dillon recaps his favorite stories of the year, including one about the local medical-marijuana business that began with these words: “Screwy Louie was on the phone.”

Elsewhere:

  • A small Virginia newspaper editorializes about how “the president and the attorney general — or at least their words — (are) being hauled to the dock in a drug case” in the San Diego area.

    What? It’s true: the editorial is referring to a medical-marijuana dispensary owner’s unusual defense: he believed what he was doing was legal because Barack Obama and Eric Holder said so. It remains to be seen whether a judge will respond with a curt “Nice try, buddy” or believe the man was, in fact, entrapped. (CityBeat)

  • UFO alert! Some East County residents caught glimpses of “small flickering red lights” in the sky on New Year’s Eve night.

    Uh-huh. And if I have enough champagne, I start seeing pink elephants singing tunes from “Sweeney Todd.”

    But these folks took photos, and they apparently did actually see something — floating Chinese lanterns, maybe. Or perhaps not.

    By the way, something similar happened here two years ago, as Fox 6 news reported. Am I the only one hearing scary music? Or maybe it’s just those elephants again.

The Coffee Collection: Stories to Read Over a Cup of Joe

Talk About a Bad Day: Everything was going wrong for a young man on an early Sunday morning, and that was before the tasering at the hands of a Coronado cop. Now, the man’s lawsuit is setting precedent about when police officers can use Tasers.

The Fish Abides: As we discover, the once-thriving local tuna-fishing industry lives on in Point Loma and among members of its Portuguese community.

Quote of the Week: “Sometimes strange lights in the sky are just that; strange lights in the sky.” — The U-T, helpfully providing perspective on those weird sightings in East County.

— RANDY DOTINGA

Dagny Salas

Dagny Salas was web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

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