The well-aimed and well-deserved poke in the eye is a specialty of The Washington Monthly. A few months ago it picked the best and worst labor unions. This month, it commits comparable sacrilege by selecting a few of the best and worst "public interest groups," those beehives of purportedly good intentions that make Washington what it is today.

Having asked around and done a little investigation of her own, reporter Rita McWilliams finds much good to be said for the work of five groups in particular. Citizens for Tax Justice "helped create outrage that cut across ideological lines." The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities "raises an effective voice for the poor." The Natural Resources Defense Council's "scientific and legal expertise has put it at the center of every major environmental debate for two decades."

The Nature Conservancy "has preserved some 2.6 million acres of selected wetlands, deserts, forests, prairies, and islands." And the National Taxpayers Union, unlike most of its kin, "tries to get the government to stop doing something -- stop wasting money on boondoggles."

But let's face it. The real interest in an analysis like this one lies in the other list. Of her four "worst" choices, McWilliams is certain to get the most flak for one: the National Organization for Women. "While it's the group that boasts the largest constituency -- more than half of America -- it also happens to be among the most out of touch," she writes. "NOW avoids the trenchwork it takes to get women the economic opportunities they deserve. Instead, it opts for P.R. events and loud but empty rhetoric."

The other three that get The Washington Monthly's thumbs-down are the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare ("misleading fundraising techniques"), the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws ("willing to embrace whatever cause is necessary to survive") and Citizens for Sensible Control of Acid Rain: "Who wouldn't be for the sensible control of acid rain? The utilities, coal producers, and manufacturing companies who fund this falsely advertised group, that's who."

Pahlavi's Dossier

To unveil his plans in the style and company to which he is accustomed, Reza Cyrus Pahlavi II, the young heir of the late shah of Iran, has chosen Dossier's March issue as his stage. Pahlavi and his 19-year-old helpmeet, after all, are local now.

They reign provisionally in Northern Virginia, in a palace (with discothe`que) they built for $10 million. "I'm a television freak," quips the 27-year-old heir to the peacock throne, a Dallas Cowboys fan and graduate of Williams College.

Writer Janet Wallach opens her profile with a bizarre scene featuring Pahlavi ("even more handsome than his late father") at a Kalorama dinner party, explaining his plan to win the hearts and minds of his people back from the Ayatollah Khomeini. For the invasion of Iran, he jests to the guests, "I'll bring my Hertz card and get a 10 percent discount. Then maybe I can rent a tank."

All kidding aside, though, Wallach gives Pahlavi a chance to speculate about "the Iranian people's historical and religious commitment to monarchy" and to assess the prospects for its restoration. In the latter regard, she catches "one former White House Middle East aide" in the understatement of the month: "He's got to overcome the stigma of being part of the Pahlavi clique."

Dossier is unveiling another new look with this issue, and the effect is generally lively and often imaginative packaging of the Washington social-charity-fashion nexus.

Washington family photographer Shelley Langston's work gets a few pages of handsome display here, and Mark Frankel provides a thumbnail history of Marwood, the stately Potomac Xanadu where Roosevelts and Kennedys and Gores and other American royals have gamboled. Whoever owns Marwood next -- a Gore? a Trump? -- will want to own Stefano Vitale's accompanying illustrations of the place. They're a knockout.

Home From the War

If you didn't happen to know that the head of Vietnam Veterans of America is a woman, that's not all there is to know. In "Mary Comes Marching Home" (Savvy, March), Karen Cook tells the story of Mary Stout's battlefield conversion: how the Army field nurse in Vietnam came to channel her confusion and guilt about a painful war experience 21 years ago into leadership of a veterans organization with 35,000 members, only 300 of whom are women.

The explanation is highly personal, at times dramatic. It's admirable that Cook soft-pedals the issue of Stout's gender when you might expect a professional-women's magazine to belabor it. On the other hand, some readers might also like to know more than Cook tells us about how male Vietnam vets happen to have elected a woman as their president. Was it sheer gender-blind enlightenment?

How to Be Postliterate

E.D. Hirsch, in his bestselling book of last year, "Cultural Literacy," offered a list of 4,500 words and phrases that every literate American is supposed to know. Roy Harley, in the March Spy, has a parallel list of equivalent words and phrases that every postliterate American is supposed to know. A few comparative examples: Hirsch -- Don Juan ... Harley -- Don Pardo. Omar Khayya'm ... Victor Kiam. Golgotha ... Hoboken. Heisenberg uncertainty principle ... Heimlich maneuver.