Thursday, January 30, 2003

Bye-Bye, Kimono

Next to the loss by AOL of $98.7 billion (that’s $98,700,000,000.00, by the way), the closing of Berkeley’s Kasuri Dyeworks is an elephant and flea comparison. But although I continue to lose from my AOL investments and remain financially kimono-uninvolved, the closing of the little store at 1951 Shattuck strikes me as terribly sad. The reason storeowner Koji Wada is going under? The Japanese aren’t making kimono cloth in sufficient quantity anymore to keep the price of the merchandise affordable.

Ancient crafts are not being passed on. Remember how the sushi chef had to start by scrubbing the floors for a year before he was allowed to learn how to boil rice? No more. Same goes for kimono-making. Nobody can afford to apprentice 20 or 30 years to learn how to weave cloth that nobody will buy. Nobody but the rich can afford it. Besides the fact you have to hire somebody to dress you, since grandma no longer lives with you, you then need a car to get anywhere, since you can’t ride the trains. Kimonos don’t fit in the new Japan.

Or so says Patricia Yollin of the Chronicle. I have my doubts. I see kimonos all the time in Japan, even on the trains. Come the big holidays, they’re all over the place. And why can’t machines make the cloth? Can’t you program in stitches that look like human glitches? But the closing of this little shop in Berkeley is no doubt a more accurate indicator of the loss of a Japanese cultural treasure than my anecdotal evidence and uninformed questions.

I don’t think a whole lot about Japan when I am in California. I miss my friends, but I am not one who went to Japan for the culture. I remain pretty much a dunce when it comes to textiles and pottery, although I love what I find in front of me most of the time. I take the feminist line that hobbling girls and women in those explosively colorful to breathtakingly elegant (depending whether you’re 16 or 60) straightjacket outfits in a Japanese analogue to barefoot and pregnant.

But then I wander down Shattuck Avenue, past Walgreen’s and Ross “Dress for Less” and all those other slap-it-together-cheap places, and my eye catches this little kimono shop and I have a quiet moment of mentally stroking my Japanese permanent visa.

But then there are always the museums of cultural history.

January 30, 2003

Thursday, January 23, 2003

Letter to Debra Saunders

(in response to her article in the San Francisco Chronicle, January 23, 2003)


Dear Ms. Saunders:

Your column appeared this morning next to John Arquilla’s argument that our focus in the "war on terrorism" ought to be on arms control, not on war as a solution to problems. I read him first, and possibly that’s why your article came across as badly as it did. The two together ought to go into a textbook as an example of the difference between good journalism and bad. You have the disadvantage, as a journalist, of being a generalist while he, as a professor of defense analysis at one of our prestige military institutions, has more substantial content to work with, but you might have done your readers a service anyway, if you had taken the high road.

Instead you presented yourself as a petty no-nothing whose chief means of communication at her disposal is name-calling and derision. "…de Villepin looked down his nez…;" " ‘Let us not be diverted from our objective,’ de Villepin sniffed;" "Saddam-ites such as de Villepin..and Blix;" "…France’s idea of serious consequences for Hussein? Not being invited to Maxim’s for dinner?"

All very cute, this derision, but it hardly contributes to the need for clarity and depth in this life-and-death question of whether to unleash the fury of a rich angry nation on people under Hussein’s thumb and unable to get out of the way. Your points are there – de Villepin makes war more likely, Iraq will not disarm as long as Hussein is in power, Hussein thumbs his nose at Resolution 1441– but you just lay them out as if your readers didn’t know them already; you don’t argue, you simply declare.

You also counter de Villepin’s appeal to justice, solidarity, morality and the law with the made-for-sophomores argument that Hussein is a bad man who has "killed his own people." If justice demands that be be driven from office for doing this, what of the question the world is asking about why justice should be applied to people sitting on oil but not elsewhere?

You have the floor, Ms. Saunders. Could you not take your responsibility a bit more seriously? Is anything at all accomplished by lashing out at the French for not eliminating their Foreign Ministry and tying their foreign policy to ours for time and all eternity because we "saved their bacon" a half century ago?

After being an embarrassment for so many years, the Chronicle is now providing its readers with very high quality news and analysis. I know the pressure of deadlines means sometimes you have to write something without giving it much thought, but lashing out at France for doing what virtually all of Europe is doing makes you look punchdrunk. The Chronicle's quality depends on people like you to offset its liberal bias. I hope find your way back to playing that role responsibly.


Alan J. McCornick