Even in a sluggish economy, special education remains a growth industry, reveals Lisa Snell in "Special Education Confidential" (page 40). Snell is the director of the Reason Public Policy Institute's education program, but her most dispiriting encounters with pedagogical bankruptcy have been personal. As a college instructor in public speaking, Snell found that "students didn't have the grammatical or rhetorical skills to write a speech, let alone give one." Her last feature for Reason was the August-September 2001 cover story, "Schoolhouse Crock," which related the dismal track record of her son Jacob's public elementary school. As of this fall, Jake is receiving exemplary instruction–from Snell and her husband, at home in Orange County, California.

Chris Mooney, who discusses high-tech Lord of the Rings paraphernalia ("Great Escapism," page 51), doesn't rank himself as a "serious" J.R.R. Tolkien buff. He does admit to dressing as a Ring Wraith once for Halloween, but insists it was only a half-hearted attempt. Besides, he says, "I've been told by serious fans that my views on Tolkien just aren't hardcore enough." Mooney is a contributing writer for The American Prospect. In a former incarnation as the magazine's Web editor, he created the popular weblog Tapped.

I love living back in the hills," says Contributing Editor John McClaughry, adding that "it's far from all the issues raised in my piece in this issue." He reviews Putting Faith in Neighborhoods, Stephen Goldsmith's account of his tenure as mayor of Indianapolis ("Mustering the Little Platoons," page 59). McClaughry, once a state senator, now lives in Kirby, Vermont, population 490. He also knows city life, having lived off and on in Washington, D.C., for two decades. There, he spearheaded federal efforts to increase inner-city home and business ownership, and later advised the Reagan White House. Today, McClaughry heads Vermont's Ethan Allen Institute (, the free-market think tank that he founded in 1993.