• Defense Décor: Staff writer Howard LaFranchi says the press outside Baghdad's Ministry of Defense compound has nothing to do with the media.
Among those trying to enter the perimeter are young people trying to join the military, old men inquiring about a pension, family members inquiring about a son or grandson billeted to a dangerous area. A few young men with missing limbs are there to inquire about benefits.
"Despite the known dangers of gathering in crowds on Baghdad streets, people have more pressing matters, it seems, than worrying about a suicide bombing or a pop from a jittery soldier," Howard says. "We found rifles pointed at us for stopping to jump out of our car as close to the entrance as possible."
It seemed like bedlam to Howard, but the guide he and his interpreter met inside, Basher, assured them that it was "actually a quiet day." After pat-downs and a maze of blast walls, Howard and his interpreter entered the ornate building at the center of the compound. That's when Howard noted an interesting contrast. "There must be more marble and crystal chandeliers here than at the Pentagon," he says.
• A Good Party: Correspondent Mark Rice-Oxley was of two minds when invited on a stag party weekend to Budapest, Hungary. After all, British bachelor parties are getting a bad reputation in eastern Europe, a region Mark loves. "Stag parties don't usually offer much of a cultural dimension," he notes. "I was unsure how much of this great city I would get to see." He needn't have worried. "Cities are just as much about their people as their historic places, and we got to meet many Hungarians. And we gave my future brother-in-law a pretty good send-off as well."
Deputy world editor