Parents of new babies know they get sick a lot. That may be because infants deliberately suppress their immune systems so that essential microbes have a chance to settle in. An immune suppression system in the blood of newborn babies could be key to building a healthy microbiome.
The Vatican is vowing to defeat the Church of England — not in the pews but on the cricket pitch. The Vatican has launched a cricket club, which draws from seminarians and priests of different nationalities who live and study in Rome. It's hoped the club will forge ties with teams of other faiths.
Maybe you've heard this one: Government attempts major upgrades to a service that people depend on -- and everyone's required to join. But the online sign-up process is buggy, and there are other rude surprises.
You haven't heard this particular one, unless you live in Chicago, where a public transportation mess has been on the front page.
About two weeks ago, Bob Fioretti got a "courtesy call" about his payment card for the Chicago Transit Authority's new farebox system. He hadn't activated it -- had he gotten an email with his temporary password?
No, he hadn't.
Fioretti knew his old card was going to expire in a few weeks.
"I said, 'I'd better get this card activated one way or another.'"
But that email never showed up, and the website for the new fare system, which is called "Ventra," was a mess. He called the help line.
"It ring ring rings, and then I was put on hold for about 45 minutes," he says.
Eventually he hung up. He called a couple more times over the next few days. Same result. Here's where some Chicagoans might call their alderman. Except, Fioretti is an alderman.
The Ventra system opened for business in early September, and the old payment system was scheduled to shut down starting in mid-November.
Two months in, the cards don't always work. When they do, riders complain they’re sometimes double-charged. And then there’s the help line.
Last week, the transit union head demanded that the CTA hold off on the transition, until the kinks got worked out. He said his members were already getting cussed out by enough angry riders.
Yesterday, CTA President Forrest Claypool issued a simple apology: "The bottom line is that too many of our customers are confused and frustrated, and that’s our fault."
He also said that, yes, they’ll wait to shut down the old payment system until the new one is fixed. Including the help line. And the contractor behind the system won’t get a nickel till it happens.
Did the city just pick the wrong contractor? Cubic Transportation Systems has some pretty good credits: New York City. Washington D.C. London.
Joseph Schwieterman, who teaches transit and urban policy at DePaul University in Chicago, thinks part of the problem may be Ventra’s all-or-nothing setup.
"In a lot of cities, the stakes are less," he says. "In D.C., you can always buy a paper card and the smart card's a bonus."
The bigger mistake may have been trying to go too fast.
"This could have been a year rollout," Schwieterman says. "'Everybody relax. You got time to hear from your friends how it works.'"
Instead, CTA tried to force everyone to be an early adopter. Which doesn’t describe your average Chicago strap-hanger.
"Their whole rhythm's thrown out of whack and they say "WHY?" Schweiterman says.
Plus, having a smartcard system isn’t new here.
"We’ve had a card for a while. It’s called the Chicago Card."
The new card will offer more features. But the old one actually works today.
Meanwhile, Bob Fioretti says he still hasn’t gotten an email with his password. But in Chicago fashion, he knows a guy: The chairman of the city council’s transportation committee. Fioretti expects to start holding hearings later this month.[&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;a href="//storify.com/danweissmann/ventra-vents-from-chicago" target="_blank"&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;View the story "Ventra Vents from Chicago" on Storify&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/a&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;]
Since the exchanges opened on October 1st, Toni Cohen has been in overdrive.
"It has been crazy here," says Cohen. "All the appointments we have. Our days are just packed running here, running there, seeing patients. It’s been nuts."
Cohen -- who works for the community health clinic Project H.O.P.E. -- is one of a handful of navigators in Camden trying to sign up people who are eligible for healthcare.
She has been to churches, farmer’s markets and housing projects. Tomorrow she'll start hitting local businesses and one of Camden’s tent cities of homeless people.
Because healthcare.gov isn’t working well enough to enroll people online, navigators around the country have been forced to switch gears.
In Camden, navigators are resorting to paper applications.
It’s straightforward, says Cohen. But she’s worried.
"The biggest concern I have of the last five weeks, is that the people who have filled out applications have not heard anything back yet," says Cohen.
One reason: paper applications must be run through the same web portal as the online ones.
One month in, less than 7 percent of the city’s residents who are eligible for Obamacare - have begun the enrollment process.
Maura Collinsgru with New Jersey Citizen Action says there’s a workaround.
Navigators are directing people eligible for Medicaid to the state’s Medicaid site, njfamilycare.org.
"Because we discovered it was a way for people to enroll now while we await the glitches being worked out with healthcare.gov," she says.
Collinsgru says more than a third of the state’s 900,000 uninsured citizens qualify for Medicaid now that the program is being expanded.
Whether they know about it is another story.
“America is not fully versed on the Affordable Care Act,” says Karen Pollitz, a health policy analyst with Kaiser Family Foundation.
She says as federal officials scramble to get healthcare.gov off the ground, navigators are doing some good old fashioned education.
"You know a lot of people who are uninsured have had years of really unhappy history and have given up on it. And it doesn’t even occur to them that maybe it will work completely differently now," she says.
Pollitz says all the technical problems with the website have depressed enrollment.
But she points to Kentucky -- whose exchange is working well – as proof that when things work, people are willing to sign up.
The Commodity Futures Trading Commission is one of a cornucopia of financial regulatory agencies in Washington. It's responsible for the safe and orderly operation of the market in derivatives -- bets, essentially, on what will happen in everything from interest rates to pork belly prices.
The CFTC isn't exactly a huge government operation, but it's responsible for an enormous market on the order of trillions of dollars, and its leadership ranks are about to shrink.
At a CFTC meeting yesterday, Commissioner Bart Chilton, a regulator with a penchant for peppering speeches and statements with all kinds of allusions, made an announcement.
"Some of you may recall the old Etta James song, 'At Last,'" he said. "Today, at last, I am pleased to say I will be saying, 'Vaya con Dios, my comrades.'"
The Commission is already down one member, and its chairman’s term is up at the end of the year.
Those challenges come on top of a drastically changed job for the regulator, says Jeffrey Manns, a law professor at George Washington University.
"One could say that the CFTC went from being a minnow into being a whale, in terms of regulation in the wake of the Dodd-Frank Act," he says.
Michael Barr helped write that law; now, he teaches at the University of Michigan. Barr says the CFTC’s new role is key. Derivatives used to be unregulated, and he says that led to the financial crisis -- and the need for the CFTC to step in. "It’s a huge undertaking," he said. "It’s absolutely core to reform. And it’s a fundamental shift, a transformation from the past."
And one that, according to Frank Edwards, a professor at Columbia Business School, is being done on a small budget. I asked him if the CFTC is equipped to handle its new role.
"No," he said, after a long pause. "Not really."
The administration has asked congress to give regulators more money; so far, that hasn’t happened. Now, it will have to do something that may be even harder: get lawmakers to approve three nominees to fill three CFTC vacancies.
Superheroes in comic books know no boundaries. They might fly into space or visit the bottom of the ocean. But one boundary they generally don’t cross is religion. Until now. Marvel Comics is coming out with a very different kind of superhero.
Ms. Marvel will be a rarity -- a female superhero who is Muslim.
The theme of identity is central to her character.
"'Ms. Marvel' is Kamala Khan -- a young, Pakistani-American teenager living in Jersey City, who literally wakes up with superpowers. And then has to figure out why she has them and how that fits in to her day-to-day life," says author G. Willow Wilson, who wrote the comic.
Ms. Marvel’s superpower is the ability to shape-shift -- even taking on different identities.
Marvel editor Sana Amanat didn’t read superhero comics growing up. So she wanted to create something that Muslim girls, like herself, could relate to.
"It’s for the little girls out there who feel like they’re outsiders. And they don’t feel like they fit in," says Amanat.
But the character and her superpowers were designed to appeal to a broader market too.
"All teenagers at some point or another wish that they could be someone else. Even if just for a day, to sort of get out of all of the drama and struggle that goes into being a teenager," says Wilson.
Reaching a broad audience is important for financial success. The industry mostly caters to young white boys. So there is a risk in diversifying.
But Marvel might just boost its audience and profits too.
Albert Ching is senior editor of ComicBookResources.com, which covers the comic book industry. He believes there is a market for Ms. Marvel.
"Already, it’s getting a lot of buzz. I mean, I’ve seen people sharing items about it on Facebook and Twitter who I wouldn’t normally expect to think about comic books at all," says Ching.
A successful comic book will sell between 80,000 and 100,000 copies per month. We’ll have to wait until the Ms. Marvel debut in February to say whether she’s got superpowers at the cash register.
When a company first starts selling stock, figuring out how to get the share price right can be tricky: Set the price too low and demand overheats and supply gets drained; set the price too high and demand falls off.
That’s where the designated market maker comes in.He or she gets busy before the bell, fielding calls from buyers and sellers about what the opening share price should be.
James Angel is a finance professor at Georgetown University, he watched designated market makers in action during the LinkedIn IPO.
"They would be calling out the various prices at which they thought it was going to open," he recalls. "Eventually, they figured out where the price was going to open and then they had the opening trade and then the computers took over."
Computers do largely dominate stock trades, but the role of human judgment is still crucial.
"The human element is there to backstop anything that may happen," says says Matthew Cheslock, a designated market maker for Virtu Financial.
"We trade in milliseconds now and it’s hard to believe that the human can react that fast, but we can do it because of our experiences down here. Most of the people who do it have been down here for many years."
Cheslock’s been on the floor for 20 years. Once the human has handed trading off to the machines, the designated market maker’s role isn’t over. Gary Shilling, an investment economist, compares the market maker to a traffic cop, who keeps trades running smoothly.
"If nobody else wants to buy, they’re supposed to be buying, if nobody else wants to sell, they’re supposed to be selling," says Shilling. "But they also were supposed to be, as they say, the last troops in times of real duress."
Things like buying during a big sell-off to help stabilize the price, or selling during a surge in demand, to make sure shares are available.