• SPY TALE: Though he reports that espionage is alive and well in Russia (this page), Fred Weir says that in his 16 years living there he has had only one known encounter with a state security agent. "There have been times, of course, when I suspected I was being canvassed or sounded out," Fred says. But the only certain contact came when officers of the FSB, the successor to the KGB, detained him three years ago while he was reporting for the Monitor on the conflict in Chechnya.
"They grabbed me in Vladikavkaz, a city in North Ossetia [a republic next door to Chechnya] and held me and a colleague for three hours," Fred recalls. A three-hour "interrogation" turned into a debate between the journalists and the FSB colonel over whether the reporters had the right to ask questions about Chechnya on the street. "It was one of those typical Catch-22 situations over here," Fred says. "The colonel maintained that we couldn't ask the questions because we didn't have the right accreditation from the military for covering Chechnya. But of course, that accreditation was virtually impossible to get - and besides, we weren't actually in Chechnya anyway." Fred and his colleague were released, and went on to another republic, Ingushetia, where they started asking questions again.
• BRAZIL'S UPBEAT: In reporting on Brazil's new president (page 7), Andrew Downie has been struck by the surge in optimism accompanying his election. "You can feel it everywhere you go," Andrew says. "So many really seem to feel that he is the man to change Brazil. Even his opponents are cautiously optimistic." Andrew says he has never seen such excitement as an inauguration day approached. "You've got guys cycling for thousands of kilometers to see him take office in Brasilia, and buses packed with people traveling a long way, just to be part of it."