A moment of Zen for the World Bank’s stressed staffers

Al Kamen
Columnist September 24, 2013

We’re hearing that World Bank President Jim Yong Kim is shaking things up big time, axing some longtime senior staff members and pushing a thorough overhaul of how the 69-year-old bank operates.

Word is he’s even trying to change the internal evaluation system on bank development projects. Seems the old system mirrored the report cards of those Lake Wobegon students who are all above average.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

And he’s had a “Failure Fest,” in which employees gathered in the huge headquarters atrium to focus on projects that didn’t turn out very well — or maybe not at all.

All this, needless to say, has caused much stress, angst and confusion among employees about what’s going on and about their own futures. (It’s much easier to toss senior people than the grossly overpaid mid-level staff, we were told. Still, when longtime vice-presidential-level people are hit, everyone starts to worry.)

So it was welcome news when the staff got a recent internal ­
e-mail declaring Sept. 10 a “Day of Mindfulness Meditation.” It was a full-day program in the atrium to be led by Thich Nhat Hanh , “an internationally acclaimed Zen Buddhist monk, teacher and peace activist.”

It’s part of a bank effort to help staff “manage and balance the stresses of daily life,” the
e-mail said. Not a bad idea these days.

Hanh, an 87-year-old Vietnamese Zen master and Nobel Peace Prize nominee, has been invited to address, among others, Google employees and lawmakers in Congress, Britain’s House of Lords and India’s Parliament, the invite said.

An updated e-mail said that “space capacity was filled very quickly” and that “managers are encouraged to allow registered staff to attend for the entire day” to listen to Hanh — who brought along about 20 other brown-robed monks with shaved heads — talk about “mindfulness practices” and “being mindful.”

We’re told about 300 staffers attended. “It was all very Zen,” one source observed.

There was also a “walking meditation,” from the headquarters down 19th Street NW to the Constitution Gardens pond a few blocks away. (Never done this, but we’re told you can keep your eyes partially open and you walk very slowly.)

Apparently a police escort hadn’t arrived when the walk started, making for some disturbing, tension-producing honking from drivers as the group walked. (The police escort on the way back allowed for a more peaceful stroll.)

Probably best if folks can chill out amid the changes.

Ted Cruz, sole survivor

In our ongoing coverage of filibuster footwear, we’re curious to find out what shoes Sen. Ted Cruz was wearing as he took up residence Tuesday afternoon on the Senate floor, where he vowed to talk “until I am no longer able to stand.”

Chances are good the Texas Republican wore what he called in a recent dishy GQ profile “my argument boots,” a glossy black ostrich pair that he boasted wearing for every case he tried as Texas solicitor general. (John Roberts, chief justice of the United States, apparently gave them his special blessing, too.)

A Cruz spokeswoman did not immediately return our e-mail.

These are not just sartorial concerns. Recall the running shoes that helped Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis through her famous 11-hour filibuster of abortion restrictions. And as we’ve noted, uncomfortable footwear was a factor for Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) during his March filibuster in protest of the Obama administration’s use of drones.

Paul recounted in a Washington Post op-ed about his experience that a friend and colleague, Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-Tex.), offered to lend him the cowboy boots off his own feet to help him through the 13-hour session.

At least when it comes to filibusters, it seems cowboy boots are the new loafer.

Supremely sepia

The State Department this week debuted on Instagram, the social-media service that enables users to share artfully filtered pictures of their cats. Or if you’re Secretary of State John Kerry, spread diplomacy and build global goodwill for the United States, one retro-effect snapshot and video at a time.

Could it be that Foggy Bottom is already seeing the influence of Macon Phillips, the former White House digital guru, who’s taking over the State Department’s propaganda arm? As our colleague Philip Rucker reported last week, he’s tasked with using social media to win over hearts and minds around the globe — or at least garner a few more “likes” for the United States.

Though we should note that Kerry’s just a little late to the Instagram party than, say, that paragon of digital hipness, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Iran’s supreme leader has been Instagramming for months. According to the U.S. Institute of Peace, he’s got quite a social-media presence (he’s even on Google+).

Iran? He ran.

A highly anticipated lunch meeting Tuesday between President Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani didn’t end in a handshake — because it didn’t happen at all. Rouhani skipped the meal, it seems.

And not only did he miss out on the chance for historic flesh-pressing (some had likened a possible handshake between the two to the historic Nixon-and-Mao confab), he also turned down what sounds like a fabulous feast.

Other than world affairs, the menu at a lunch for world leaders Tuesday hosted by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon included a first course of tuna tartare, followed by an osso buco with a truffle-veal jus and a salted-caramel chocolate mousse for a sweet finish. An Albariño and a Malbec accompanied the dishes.

The press got cold sandwiches.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop
. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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