He's a self-styled throwback, what with all the dot-dot-dotting, but Corkery writes about San Francisco without any of the noxious wistfulness you find in the city's many nostalgia fiends (and without the awful smirk you find on Herb Caen's kid's face). Sure, the city might be a better place if no one wrote another word about its horrible demimonde -- the balls, the galas, the premieres -- but if we must read about who was air-kissing whom on the steps of the War Memorial Opera House, we'd rather read it in Corkery's column than anywhere else. At his best, he writes as if he's in on a joke his subjects don't get. And then there's his always-gentle tut-tutting: "Hmmm," he wrote recently, "was it right for the mayor to ride the route of the St. Patrick's Day Parade in a Jaguar, a British motor car? Details, Gavin, mind the details."