Last fall, urged by the administration to get some fast cash to Baghdad, Congress approved a quick infusion of $18.4 billion. But as reported earlier this month, only 2 percent of the money had been spent.

The data came from an unclassified weekly Pentagon report called "Iraq Status." The reports show how reconstruction efforts are going and how the money was flowing. A page for the Pentagon project and contracting office had columns listing how much money had been "apportioned," "committed," "obligated" and spent in various aid categories.

The Washington Post article noted that, as of June 22, nothing had been spent on construction, health care, sanitation or water projects, and that more money had been spent on administration costs than education, human rights and governance.

Some folks on the Hill were most unhappy with this.

Subsequent reports showed improvement, with a total of $458 million spent as of the July 20 report, though nothing had been spent on roads, bridges, construction, health care, water resources or sanitation. The Hill was still grumpy.

Finally, this silliness has stopped. Someone at the Pentagon appears to have hit on a simple yet elegant solution to the problem. The latest (July 27) report has taken care of any concerns. The column listing expenditures has disappeared.

Perfect. But a Pentagon spokesman says there are no secrets, and if you ask for the amount spent they'll be happy to tell you. It's now $668 million.

Fashion Advice With a Grain of Salt

Women at the State Department have been up in arms about an article in the latest issue of the monthly State Magazine that bemoans the lack of "beautiful women" in the Green Zone in Baghdad.

There were rumors about a soldier being stabbed in the ultra-protected area, foreign service officer Mark Schapiro wrote in his "Baghdad Diary" page, but "we don't know which rumor is correct -- the one about an Iraqi insurgent knifing Americans or two soldiers fighting over a girl."

"Desperation and depravity are not in short supply here nor are knives and guns," Schapiro wrote in the July-August issue. "What's in short supply, however, are women. Beautiful women in the palace definitely turn heads. They inspire soldiers to smile and extend all kinds of courtesies. They definitely improve the place."

Schapiro was looking forward to a visit from Miss New York, betting she would attract a good crowd. Then he wrote, "It's conceivable the scant supply of attractive women generated last night's assault in the shadows."

There is, Schapiro observes, a "Green Zone fashion code." Dark blue or black body armor "over your beige military uniform says civilian geek. Walking around in full military uniform with a belly straining to break free says civilian contractor. I opt for 'Bremer Chic' -- the beige khaki pants, light blue shirt (tie optional) dark sports coat and beige combat boots. Practical and handsome, it says, 'I'm ready to nation-build.' " But then we get to this: "The must-have accessory here is the black Velcro thigh holster," writes Schapiro, who lives in a "6-by-15-foot metal and plastic box I share with a guy named Ed."

"I can't overestimate the appeal of turning a corner in the palace to see a beautiful girl in tight jeans with a pistol strapped to her thigh. It adds an Angelina Jolie touch to palace life -- the pinch of salt your senses need for their daily feast."

Last week, a "Department Notice" was posted entitled "Message from Editorial Staff of State Magazine." The magazine's four staffers are male, but the employee relations office that puts out the magazine is headed by two women.

"The Department profoundly regrets any offense caused by the article," said the notice, which will be in the next edition as an editorial reply to angry letters sparked by Schapiro's piece. ". . . This article does not reflect the views of the Department of State. The Department reaffirms its commitment to furthering gender equality in the workplace and opposing sexism in any form. Publication of these remarks was an error of judgment."

Can the "pinch of salt" make you senseless?

Does He Autograph Punch Cards, Too?

Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Robert "Buzz" Patterson's book signing the other day at the Pentagon raised a few eyebrows. Patterson, a former Clinton White House military aide, wrote one book called "Dereliction of Duty: The Eyewitness Account of How Bill Clinton Jeopardized America's Long-Term National Security."

Patterson was at the Pentagon last week with that book and his latest: "Reckless Disregard: How Liberal Democrats Undercut Our Military, Endanger Our Soldiers, and Jeopardize Our Security."

"This can't be legal," a Pentagon worker e-mailed a source as Patterson was signing away. Actually, it is. Book signings are routinely approved by the concessions office as long as they have a military tie and are not obscene and such.

Besides, it's clear that neither the book nor the timing of its publication has anything to do with politics. It's too thoughtful and nuanced for that.

For example, there's this passage: "Political expediency is politics as usual for the Democratic Party." During this election, "every terrorist cell, every terrorist hiding in a spider hole or cave complex, every phony business front used to launder terrorist money and every rogue state willing to sponsor terrorism will be watching the results, hoping for the party of political expediency to win again."