Spider News Digest: 12/5/2017


Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh dominated the political life of his country for close to four decades. He was president for 33 years and survived the 2011 upheavals that rocked the Arab world, stepping down after political negotiations while autocrats elsewhere were cast out or killed. He later resurfaced, allying himself to a rebellion that unseated the weak Saudi-backed government that had replaced him, and became a key player in the civil war that has ravaged Yemen for the past three years.

Saleh, a Machiavellian political operator who held sway by manipulating Yemen’s mess of tribal and political divisions, infamously referred to his task as “dancing on the heads of snakes.” The snakes, critics contend, were of his own creation. In their view, Yemen was a country consumed by Saleh’s short-term alliances and cynical power plays. Whatever the case, Saleh’s dance has finally come to an end.

The 75-year-old former president was apparently killed on Monday by Houthi rebels. Though the circumstances of his death were not clear, some reports suggested he attempted to flee the capital, Sanaa, but was stopped and killed at a Houthi checkpoint. It is an astonishing development given that Saleh had been allied with the Iran-backed group as recently as last week.

It was Saleh’s tacit support that enabled the Houthis to seize the Yemeni capital in late 2014, driving out the internationally recognized government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. And it was his designs on power that saw him maintain his pact with the Houthis — a faction linked to a Shiite sect that Saleh had repressed in the past — after the Saudi-led coalition began bombing and blockading the country in March 2015.

That same thirst for power, however, was likely what drove Saleh to turn his back on the Houthis, possibly in the hope that his Abu Dhabi-based son could ultimately return home and take control. “Yemeni citizens have tried to tolerate the recklessness of the Houthis over the last two and half years but cannot anymore,” Saleh said on Saturday, in a gesture of conciliation with the Saudi-led coalition.

By the time he announced the break, forces loyal to him were already engaged in running battles in Sanaa with their new adversaries, with myriad civilians caught in the crossfire. “I call on our brothers in neighboring countries … to stop their aggression and lift the blockade … and we will turn the page,” Saleh said.

A page was indeed turned, but one written in Saleh’s blood and that of countless more of his compatriots.

In a televised speech on Monday after Saleh’s death, Houthi Abdulmalik al-Houthi said his group had defeated a “large-scale conspiracy that posed a threat to the security and stability of the country, aimed at supporting the forces of aggression” — a jab at Saleh’s volte-face and apparent collusion with the Saudis.

According to some reports, Houthi fighters were heard declaring his assassination revenge for the 2004 death of their movement’s founder, who was killed in a cave on Saleh’s orders. Houthi fighters also seem to be carrying out reprisal attacks and arrests on Saleh loyalists in Sanaa.

The chaos underscores the fundamental awfulness of the situation in Yemen. A hodgepodge of factions are at war inside the country, while foreign powers have meddled in its affairs (read: Iran) or pulverized its cities with months of airstrikes, allegedly killing hundreds of civilians (read: Saudi Arabia), perhaps even with munitions supplied by the West (read: the United States and Britain).

Saleh made a career of playing various sides against each other, including the United States, which directed large sums of money to Saleh’s government as part of a wider effort to combat al-Qaeda’s powerful, entrenched Yemeni branch. Al-Qaeda remains in operation in Yemen, as does a covert U.S. drone program that targets suspected extremists but has also been implicated in the deaths of many Yemeni civilians.

More than 10,000 Yemenis have died since March 2015, when the Saudi-led coalition began its campaign against Saleh’s forces and his Houthi allies. About 7 million Yemenis are on the brink of famine. But with Saleh dead, there are fears that things may get even worse.

“Having attempted to pull the carpet out from under the Houthis’ feet, the Saudis must now decide whether to engage in mediation efforts in a climate of zero trust, or to push on with a military campaign that has had few notable successes over the past two and a half years,” wrote Peter Salisbury, a Yemen expert at Chatham House. “Saleh was a divisive figure, but he was also the person most likely to be able to broker some kind of settlement. His death will only lead to deeper polarization in the conflict.”

Saleh’s death “will only aggravate fragmentation and conflict by adding layers of revenge,” tweeted Joost Hilterman, a Middle East expert at the International Crisis Group. “Expect more fighting. Terrible for civilians in Sanaa and the north, who will bear the brunt. Yemen already a humanitarian catastrophe.”

In the current environment, Hilterman concluded, “no one wins.”

  • In two years of living and working in Malaysia, no one ever told me ‘no’ — and it took me months to understand why (Business Insider): 

One of the most challenging aspects of moving to a new country is adapting to a new style of communicating.

In many cases, some of the nuances of a culture’s communication style aren’t immediately apparent, and often take months or even years to fully appreciate.

That’s what I learned in Malaysia during my two-year stint there as an English teacher in a public school. My days consisted of dozens of interactions with students, teachers, administrators, and government officials, all of whom communicated in a way that was completely foreign to me as an American.

For example, whenever I would submit proposals for school-wide English programs, I was surprised that there was one word I almost never heard in response: “No.”

That doesn’t mean that all my ideas were approved, or were even good. But months into my stay there, practically all of my proposals were met with a “We can try that,” or at least a “maybe.”

As I discovered, communication in Malaysia is much less direct than in the US. Expressing negative feedback in Malaysia, even when speaking to a subordinate, can be perceived as shaming the person you’re speaking to, and would reflect poorly on both parties involved.

Instead, Malaysian culture requires you to read between the lines and infer that a lack of outright-positive feedback is effectively a rejection of your idea. I eventually learned that when my ideas were welcomed with a “We can try that,” it meant I needed to go back to the drawing board.

That contrasts with office culture in the US, where people generally expect their superiors to verbalize their concerns, as cultural communication expert Craig Storti told Business Insider.

“For Americans, it’s not enough to not say anything positive,” Storti said. “You have to say something negative for your disapproval to be understood.”

I learned that I needed to approach my interactions with my superiors the same way we tend to approach invitations to a Facebook event: No means no, maybe means no, yes means maybe, and only an enthusiastic yes can safely be counted on.

The same went for any time I asked students directly to participate in one of my programs or activities. They virtually all would say yes to my face the first time I would ask, even if they already had plans. It was up to me to follow up multiple times to ensure that the “yes” wasn’t just a polite formality.

It’s not a concept they teach you in language class, but understanding the nuances of cultural communication is critical to adapting to life in a foreign country.

  • Businesses with Fewer Than 50 Employees Worry Most About Healthcare, Study Finds (Small Business Trends): 

2017 Principal Financial Well-Being Index

The Principal Financial Well-Being Index is an online survey of more than 600 business owners with between 10 and 500 employees. The report dives into a number of different issues, from healthcare costs to general business growth and even work-life balance issues.

However, in the current business climate, healthcare is definitely a prominent issue. In fact, more business owners ranked healthcare costs as their largest concern in 2017 than they have in past years. This growing concern, according to some experts at Principal Financial Group, is due to the actual costs growing along with uncertainty about the healthcare market as a whole. These concerns can be especially pronounced for businesses with small teams without staff members wholly dedicated to benefits and other HR issues.

Amy C. Friedrich, President of U.S. Insurance Solutions for Principal Financial Group said in an email to Small Business Trends, “Small businesses are concerned about healthcare costs since it’s often the largest benefit expense they have. Many of these growing businesses don’t have HR teams to handle their benefits needs, and fighting for top talent is a constant challenge. We’ll see in the coming months and years if these concerns level out or escalate, and if healthcare uncertainty impacts how they feel about the economy as a whole.”

Despite those concerns, the report did find small business optimism as a whole is up. In fact, 92 percent of business owner feel that their company’s financial health is either growing or stable. So despite concerns about healthcare costs and similar factors, businesses are feeling pretty good about their finances and the economy as a whole.

  • Facebook ‘Messenger Kids’ lets under-13s chat with whom parents approve (Tech Crunch): 

For the first time, Facebook is opening up to children under age 13 with a privacy-focused app designed to neutralize child predator threats that plague youth-focused competitors like Snapchat. Rolling out today on iOS in the U.S., “Messenger Kids” lets parents download the app on their child’s phone or tablet, create a profile for them and approve friends and family with whom they can text and video chat from the main Messenger app.

Tweens don’t sign up for a Facebook account and don’t need a phone number, but can communicate with other Messenger and Messenger Kids users parents sign-off on, so younger siblings don’t get left out of the family group chat. “We’ve been working closely with the FTC so we’re lockstep with them. ‘This works’, they said,” Facebook product management director Loren Cheng tells me. “In other apps, they can contact anyone they want or be contacted by anyone,” Facebook’s head of Messenger David Marcus notes.

Special proactive detection safety filters prevent children from sharing nudity, sexual content or violence, while a dedicated support team will respond quickly to reported or flagged content. Facebook even manually sifted Giphy to build a kid-friendly version of the GIF-sharing engine. And with childish augmented reality masks and stickers, video calls with grandma could be a lot more fun and a lot less silent or awkward.

Facebook won’t be directly monetizing Messenger Kids, automatically migrating kids to real accounts when they turn 13 or collecting data so that it complies with Children’s Online Privacy Protections Act (COPPA) law. But the app could prime kids to become lifelong Facebook users, and lock their families deeply into the platform where they’ll see ads.

“When you think about things at scale that we do to get people to care more about Messenger, this is one that addresses a real need for parents,” say Facebook’s head of Messenger David Marcus. “But the side effect will be that they use Messenger more and create family groups.” Marcus tells me he’s excited about getting his 8-year-old into the family chat alongside his 14- and 17-year-old children.
How Messenger Kids works

It’s important to understand that kids under 13 still can’t sign up for a Facebook account. Instead, parents download the Messenger Kids app to a child’s iPhone or iPad (Android coming soon). Once the parent has authenticated it with their own account, they set up a mini-profile with their kid’s name and photo. Then, using the Messenger Kids bookmark in the main Facebook app, parents can approve anyone who is friends with them as a contact for their kid, like aunts and uncles or godparents. Messenger Kids is interoperable with the main Messenger app, so adults don’t actually have to download the Kids app.

Kids still can’t be found through Facebook search, which protects their privacy. So if a child wants to be able to chat with one of their classmates, their parent must first friend that kid’s parent, and then will see the option to approve that adult’s child as a contact for their own kid. This is by far the most clumsy part of Messenger Kids, and something Facebook might be able to improve with a way for Messenger Kids to let children perhaps photograph a QR code on their playmate’s app to request that their parents connect.

When children open the Messenger Kids app, they’ll see a color-customizable home screen with big tiles representing their existing chat threads and approved contacts, with their last message and the last time they were online. From there, kids can dive instantly into a video chat or text thread with their contacts. No message content is collected for ad targeting (same as Messenger), and there’s no in-app purchases to worry about. Kids can block and unblock their parent-approved contacts.

Facebook hired a special team to develop kid-friendly creative tools, from fidget spinner and dinosaur AR masks to crayon-style stickers. “Video calls become so much more playful with AR,” says Marcus. Sometimes after 5 or 10 minutes it’s really hard to have a sustained conversation with a 7-year-old,” but kids can joke around with Grampa using the selfie filters when they run out of run-on stories to tell them.

Messenger features like location sharing and payments have been stripped out, while the Kids version of Giphy won’t let you search for things like “sex.” Facebook actually manually selected a set of GIFs that kids can use rather than relying on a third-party startup to tag things well enough. Still, a reporting interface written specifically for kids lets them flag anything sketchy to a dedicated support team working 24/7.

One thing that might surprise some people is that there’s no way for parents to secretly spy on what their kids are saying in their chats. Instead, parents have to ask to look at their kids’ screen, which Chung says is a more common behavior pattern. The exception is that if kids report a piece of objectionable content, their parents will be notified but still not shown the content in their own app.

In June, The Information reported Facebook was working on an app for teens called Talk, though that’s a bit different than this pre-teen Messenger Kids app.

While Facebook said in the briefing that the app was designed for kids age 6 to 12, younger kids are allowed on, too. When children turn 13, they won’t instantly have their Messenger Kids profiles turned into real Facebook profiles, nor will they get kicked off Messenger Kids. They’ll still have to build a traditional Facebook account from scratch when they’re ready.
Move slow and research things

Before Facebook wrote any code or drew any designs for the app, it says it started research 18 months ago to find out what kids and parents wanted out of a potential product. It also worked with the National Parent Teacher Association for safety insights and Blue Star Families from the military who have to stay in touch during long deployments.

It found that kids had the right hardware but the wrong software; 93 percent of 6-12-year-olds in the U.S. have access to tablets or smartphones, while 66 percent have their own device, and three out of every five parents surveyed said their kids under 13 use messaging apps, social media or both. But these apps weren’t built for children’s privacy, and instead allow adult strangers to contact or follow kids. Youth favorite Snapchat has reportedly been used by predators to groom kids for sexual exploitation, with authorities saying it’s tough to track perverts because messages disappear.

Most apps say that kids have to be at least 13, but there’s nothing to stop younger children from signing up. That’s true on Facebook too, and it could do more to prevent tweens from signing up. But at least parents have grown to understand Facebook. On Snapchat, where ephemerality can cover evidence of inappropriate contact, or Musical.ly, where kids dance provocatively in front of huge audiences, dangers mount and parents are often clueless.

That’s why it was smart that Facebook tasked Cheng with leading the project. He’d spent the past few years on the “tough experiences” team that handles fake accounts, violent content, sexual exploitation, self-harm and counter-terrorism. He’s used to thinking about worst-case scenarios. Facebook built a whole portal at MessengerKids.com with more information for parents.

Facebook is trying to cross every T and dot every I when it comes to safety with this new product. It would be reckless to invite kids onto a chat app otherwise. Still, it doesn’t have the best track record on unintended consequences, and if it screws this up, the damage and backlash will be massive.

The launch could be a sign that Facebook is growing up. With Facebook almost 14 years old itself, children not yet born when it launched are now allowed on its main app. CEO Mark Zuckerberg just had two kids. So did his lieutenants Chris Cox, CPO, and Andrew Bosworth, head of hardware. It’s hard to think about connecting the world if your products can’t connect your own family.

“When I was in my mid-twenties, you never think you’re going to be gone, ever,” Marcus admits. Now 33, “[Zuckerberg] has been thinking a lot about the future he wants to leave behind for his kids.” Today his company is laying the foundation for an ageless social network.

  • Why successful hospitality leaders showcase habitual kindness (Hotel Management):

Leaders in any industry admit to having anxieties associated with making tough choices, especially choices that affect their employees’ lives. The level of accountability and responsibility implicit in serving in a CEO role isn’t for everyone. Mythology refers to the Titan Atlas who carried something very heavy, possibly the weight of the world, on his shoulders. It is typically assumed that this was a punishment that came down from Zeus, king of the gods, after Atlas sided against Zeus in the war of the Titans vs. the Olympians. But the famous Roman author Vitruvius claimed this “burden” was actually a reward, for “through his vigorous intelligence and ingenuity, he was the first to cause men to be taught about the courses of the sun and moon, and the laws governing the revolutions of all the constellations.” Indeed, we have likewise consistently found that modern leaders view their power, influence and responsibility as a great privilege.

In a Harvard Business Review article, author Michael Mannor found that anxious leaders took fewer strategic risks, finding big bets less appealing despite the potential for big gains. His study of 84 CEOs demonstrates that anxiety plays a sizeable role in strategic decision-making, both good and bad. The best leaders have a “short memory” and a willingness to fight for their beliefs in the face of strong opposition. In fact, aspiring leaders find situations of crisis or change or situations in need of innovation when seeking leadership roles – is where the opportunities are for greatness.

Such dynamic and tenuous scenarios can also be fraught with pitfalls, so it is a constant balancing act between walking the high-wire and falling. Then again, it is important and comforting to remember that walking is simply the process of controlled falling. Leaders also state that most great ideas never get realized due to a lack of proper execution. Once you are convinced of your idea (strategy), it becomes a daily focus on the details and execution. This is where the great leaders distinguish themselves. Think of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots; talent only takes you so far. Organizations’ commitment, adaptability and an unrelenting focus on excellence is the only way to win over the long haul. Keeping your eye on the proverbial ball leaves little time for focusing on anxieties.

Course corrections and calibrations are inherent parts of leadership, as opposed to fretting over every consequence – foreseen or not. It is a privilege to sit on the throne, and any worry that comes a leader’s way should be used constructively as energy and impetus to challenge assumptions, improve ideas and motivate unrelenting commitment to your team, who ultimately carries out the execution of a vision.

Viewed through the prism of leadership maturity, there’s a difference among the terms: accessible, approachable and relatable. Accessible is merely being responsive or reactive to others; approachable advances this idea and entails being welcoming to others; and relatable is being proactively supportive to others.

It’s not about having close proximity to your team, but rather exhibiting a sincere attitude of support and kindness to the team. Building rapport with your teams is the goal of leadership. Rapport is the foundation for the building of trust, respect and inspiration, all of which culminates in having influence with others.

Leadership is a difficult role that involves conflict, chaos, tensions and sometimes very awkward, heartbreaking and mind-numbing situations. This means that leaders must be willing and able to be bold, challenging, authoritative and even forceful at times. Indeed, our psychometric research reveals that instances of political incorrectness and candid, direct language are hallmarks of effective leaders. But the “tough love” and “bold words and deeds” shown by leaders are motivated by a passionate drive for alignment, development and excellence.

Passionate is the key word here. The leaders we studied as part of the research for our book did not exhibit kindness only when it suited their interests. Rather, kindness was and is the currency of choice for interpersonal exchanges, because true leaders understand that servant leadership is judged by one’s effectiveness in serving others and bringing them up personally and professionally. And really when you think about it, this sentiment of daily service and kindness is the essence of hospitality itself.

The physical tangible “product” elements of hotels, casinos, restaurants, cruise ships and entertainment venues can be physically beautiful, emotionally comfortable and intellectually captivating, but in the hospitality industry people are ultimately the product. Kindness, relatability and hospitality will only be given to guests if leaders first hold it as a core value and show it on a daily basis to the service providers themselves.

  • The 5 Books Bill Gates Thinks You Must Read Right Now (Fortune):

As 2017 comes to a close, Bill Gates, the world’s second wealthiest person alive is reflecting on the year by pointing to five favorite books he found “amazing.”

“Although I’m lucky that I get to meet with a lot of interesting people and visit fascinating places through my work, I still think books are the best way to explore new topics that interest you,” Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates wrote Monday.

Gates suggested a variety of books, including memoirs and novels.

Here are the best of the books Bill Gates read this year:

  1. The Best We Could Do, by Thi Bui
  2. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, by Matthew Desmond
  3. Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens, by Eddie Izzard
  4. The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen
  5. Energy and Civilization, A History, by Vaclav Smil

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