Deeper Context: Eating Bitterness

Have you noticed how far a newscast will go to slap a “local interest” angle on an otherwise perfectly newsworthy international story, as if we couldn’t possibly care about something happening on the other side of the globe without seeing another American somehow involved?
Take China, for instance. Every year over 200 million peasants flock to China’s urban centers, providing a profusion of cheap labor that helps fuel the country’s staggering economic growth. In her new book, Eating Bitterness: Stories from the Front Lines of China’s Great Urban Migration, award-winning journalist Michelle Dammon Loyalka follows the trials and triumphs of eight such migrants—including a vegetable vendor, an itinerant knife sharpener, a free-spirited recycler, and a cash-strapped mother—offering an inside look at the pain, self-sacrifice, and uncertainty underlying China’s dramatic national transformation. At the heart of the book lies each person’s ability to “eat bitterness”—a term that roughly means to endure hardships, overcome difficulties, and forge ahead. These stories illustrate why China continues to advance, even as the rest of the world remains embroiled in financial turmoil. At the same time, Eating Bitterness demonstrates how dealing with the issues facing this class of people constitutes China’s most pressing domestic challenge.

Beyond that, Michelle has created a great supplemental website to give much of the background and context to her book.

One would think that this alone would make for a compelling story, but say you also drop a common American object of desire into the mix, namely either an iPhone or an iPad,  and suddenly the issue is brought into sharp focus with an ABC “Nightline” feature and a front page New Times story. One of the other valuable voices in the Times was an op/ed by Michelle seeing the issue through the research she’d completed for the book. This, also, appeared in the Times, this time from their tech and gadget reporter, David Pogue.

The Occupy Movement as a Teachable Moment

As the Occupy movement continues to grow and influence the global economic debate, two of our editors came forward with what titles they would recommend people consider if they want to gain perspective on the issues behind the debate. If you have any UC Press titles you’d like to add to the list, please us know in the comments.

From Naomi Schneider, Executive Editor:

Rallying for Immigrant Rights: The Fight for Inclusion in 21st Century America edited by Kim Voss and Irene Bloemraad




Someplace Like America: Tales from the New Great Depression by Dale Maharidge and photographs by Michael S. Williamson, with a foreword by Bruce Springsteen




The Activist’s Handbook: A Primer, Updated Edition with a New Preface by Randy Shaw





Changing Inequality by Rebecca Blank





Taxing the Poor: Doing Damage to the Truly Disadvantaged by Katherine S. Newman and Rourke O’Brien





From Niels Hooper, History Editor-

The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century by Grace Lee Boggs and Scott Kurashige




The Magna Carta Manifesto: Liberties and Commons for All by Peter Linebaugh





Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice, A new direction for labor by two of its leading activist intellectuals by Bill Fletcher and Fernando Gapasin




Storming the Gates of Paradise: Landscapes for Politics by Rebecca Solnit





The Modern World-System IV: Centrist Liberalism Triumphant, 1789–1914 by Immanuel Wallerstein

London’s Riots and the Politics of Race: Guest Post by Natasha K. Warikoo

Balancing ActsOn August 4th, British police shot Mark Duggan, a black British criminal suspect, in Tottenham, London. A peaceful demonstration of Duggan’s supporters demanding to know just what happened and why policed fired at him quickly turned into violence and looting that spread to all major cities of England. Much of the media coverage of the events in Britain and abroad suggested that race was driving the malaise felt by looters and rioters across the country. However, soon writers could not ignore the diverse faces of rioters and looters on the streets of London and beyond, most obviously demonstrated by the London Metropolitan Police’s site devoted to identifying criminals caught on camera. In a twist on the recognition of the multiracial nature of the 2011 riots, British historian David Starkey, in an interview aired on BBC, suggested that “the whites have become black”, attributing a negative, anti-society culture to black Britons that is now spreading to the white working class. Although Starkey’s racist comments were simplistic and offensive, they demonstrate that those on the left and right in Britain now understand that conflicts between police and young men in Britain are not limited to or even preponderant among black young men.

Aside from socioeconomic conditions, repeated police encounters like Duggan’s anger young men. However, in contrast to the United States, young white working class men in Britain also frequently experience random “stop and searches”. In my research with teens attending diverse secondary schools I found that both Afro-Caribbean and white working class young men in London were frequently stopped by police. In Chapter 4 of Balancing Acts: Youth Culture in the Global City, I describe how these encounters usually happened on the student’s public housing complex, and students perceived that their style—especially hoodies—had something to do with police perceptions. This finding contrasted with what I heard in New York, where black young men were overwhelmingly more likely to have been stopped by the police than their white and Asian peers.

The politics of race in Britain and the United States differ sharply, and those differences come into sharp relief in Balancing Acts. I found that students at a New York high school were much more racially divided than Londoners. They identified their school’s social groups by race and ethnicity, they were more likely to share friendships and date in-group peers, and they identified who they were comfortable with and uncomfortable with in racial and ethnic terms. Londoners, in contrast, were more likely to think about race-based styles and tastes. For example, one young woman in London told me this about the social groups at her school:

It’s like, there is all black in my group…There is one mixed race person and there is one white person, but the white person…she is more, like, you know, black. The way she behaves is like a black person, and she likes black things….And then you have the all white girls group. It’s mixed—it’s got, oh you might get a one black girl in it. She behaves like more like a white girl….

Race absolutely matters in Britain, and has played a role in social exclusion, for sure. But, it doesn’t always explain social phenomena the way we think it would from the vantage point of the United States.


Natasha Kumar Warikoo is Assistant Professor at Harvard University Graduate School of Education.

What if There Were Nutrition Labels For Drugs?

drug fact box
An example of a drug fact box for Abilify from the New York Times

What if drug companies made simple, easy to understand labels for your prescription, the way food companies do with nutrition labels? According to Steven Woloshin and Lisa M. Schwartz, the authors of Know Your Chances: Understanding Health Statistics, consumers might make different choices about which medicines to take.

They advocate for drug fact boxes like the one pictured at left on all prescriptions in a recent op-ed for the New York Times. Woloshin and Schwartz write that “Federal regulations already require disclosure of important side effects. But there is no rule about how this data should be presented, and no requirement at all to provide data on how well drugs work compared with placebos or other drugs. Unlike the case with other products, consumers can’t learn how well many medications work just by trying them.”Know Your Chances

Unfortunately, the authors say, the Department of Health and Human Services was asked last year to investigate the drug fact boxes and provide a recommendation on whether or not to require them, but has declared it needs another three years to come to a decision.

For Woloshin and Schwartz, the evidence in favor of requiring the boxes is clear. They say “the only way [patients] can come to an informed decision is by seeing the data. Otherwise, they can only guess — and studies show that they usually guess wrong.”

Read the full op-ed at the New York Times’ website, and learn more about how to sort through the daily barrage of health warnings and interpret the numbers behind them in Know Your Chances.

What Passes for Victory in California

California CrackupMark Paul, one of the authors of California Crackup, addresses the state budget and the low, low bar for success in his recent blog post, “Defining Failure Down.”

Paul writes: “One of the consequences of having the least functional governing system in the world is that the bar for determining what constitutes success gets set very low. Even the most ordinary and trivial things in California get counted as a victory.

A case in point is George Skelton’s column in the Los Angeles Times, triumphantly announcing “that Proposition 25 [the majority-vote budget measure] worked. California’s Capitol has become less dysfunctional.”

Yes, the Legislature and governor have enacted a budget before the July 1 start of the fiscal year, a rare event in Sacramento over the last quarter of a century. It’s good to have a budget in place as the fiscal year begins. It lets the state borrow the operating cash it needs and avoids the messy business of delaying payments to vendors and local governments that happens when a budget isn’t enacted before the fiscal year begins. …”

Read the full post on Mark Paul and Joe Mathews’ website, The California Fix.

Frederick Lynch in the New York Times: How AARP Can Get Its Groove Back

One Nation under AARPUC Press author and associate professor of government at Claremont McKenna College Frederick Lynch published an op-ed in today’s New York Times about the AARP’s identity crisis and the actions the organization needs to take if it hopes to protect the interests of Americans over 50 in an era of retrenchment.

Lynch, whose book One Nation under AARP: The Fight over Medicare, Social Security, and America’s Future was released this month, writes, “If AARP’s leaders have already agreed to accept limited reductions in Social Security benefits as part of a strategic play to preserve a dominant role in the coming debate over entitlement reform, as has been reported, it is a grave error that will only encourage further concessions and demoralize activist members.”

Read the entire article in the New York Times.

UC Press Scholars Look at Implications of Bin Laden’s Death

The History of TerrorismIn the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death, many are seeking to put the event in context and determine what the loss of al Qaeda’s leader will mean for the organization. UC Press publishes some of the best available scholarship on the issue. The History of Terrorism: From Antiquity to al Qaeda is an authoritative work that examines terrorism’s long and complex history from antiquity to the present day. Apocalypse in Islam is an eye-opening exploration of a troubling phenomenon: the fast-growing belief in Muslim countries that the end of the world is at hand, which has seen an extraordinary resurgence in recent decades.

In recent media interviews, the authors and editors of these books examined the implications of bin Laden’s death for terrorist movements, cautioning that al Qaeda’s reign is far from over.

In an interview with The Hindu, Gérard Chaliand, Visiting Fellow at the Center for Conflict and Peace Studies in Afghanistan and one of the editors of The History of Terrorism, questioned the role of Pakistan in the search for bin Laden: “The fact that bin Laden was found not in some inaccessible cave but in the heart of Abbotabad, some 50 kilometres from the Pakistani capital, comfortably housed in a massive complex of buildings in an area peopled by well heeled retired army officers indicates that the Pakistani army and spy agencies knew of his whereabouts all along.”

Apocalypse in IslamRohan Gunaratna, head of the Singapore-based International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research and a contributor to The History of Terrorism, was quoted at length in The Washington Post, Bloomberg News, and elsewhere, on the next generation of leaders and operatives that will run al Qaeda. Bin Laden “has built a movement that will outlast him,” Gunaratna told The Washington Post. “He was more like a politician when it comes to collaborating with other groups. In doing so, bin Laden was able to replicate core Qaeda tactics and operations in other theaters, so that many new al Qaedas emerged.”

Jean-Pierre Filiu, author of Apocalypse in Islam, spoke to AFP on the implications of bin Laden’s death for the organization’s power structure. He said it “would accelerate the group’s existing division into separate fighting entities,” noting that bin Laden’s “number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is Egyptian and won’t be able to impose his will in a comparable way.” Filiu went on to explain the interests of al Qaeda’s various factions in Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, and North Africa.

Excerpts from both books are available on our website.

If We Could Turn Back Time… Things Would Still Be the Same

Boom: A Journal of California coverLast week, KPFA’s Against the Grain interviewed UC Press author Daniel Martinez HoSang about California’s fiscal crisis and the false narrative that economic hardship in the state is something new. In the KPFA interview, as well as in his article, “Race and the Mythology of California’s Lost Paradise,” published in the inaugural issue of Boom, HoSang challenges the notion of a lost Golden Age by examining the history of racialized ballot measures in California.

HoSang brings in the philosophies of Joan Didion and Roland Barthes to explain the state’s profound self-mythologization, and makes surprising connections between California and the American South.

To learn more about this controversial history and the longstanding practices that denied millions of residents access to public goods and services, pick up a copy of Boom: A Journal of California, or read HoSang’s book, Racial Propositions: Ballot Initiatives and the Making of Postwar California. An excerpt is available online.

Grace Lee Boggs Interviewed on Democracy Now!

Many people look at a vacant lot and see failure, destruction, or nothing at all. Grace Lee Boggs sees possibilities for a cultural revolution. Boggs, a 95-year-old Detroit-based activist and author of The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century spoke to Democracy Now! yesterday about Obama’s new budget plan and the state of the economy in Detroit.

Boggs reframes the issue of economic crisis, both in Detroit and the nation as a whole, urging us to look at the American way of life, and ask deeper questions like How shall we live? and How can we remake the American Dream anew?

In the vacant lots of Detroit, Boggs sees a way forward: “[I]nstead of seeing devastation,” she says, “see hope, see the opportunity to grow your own food, see an opportunity to give young people a sense of process …”

Watch both of Boggs’ segments below:

The Fog of War: Dan Smith on Intervention in Libya

UC Press author Dan Smith makes sense of the current conflict in Libya in his recent blog post, Libya and the Fog of Intervention. Smith, the Secretary General of International Alert and chair of the UN Peacebuilding Fund‘s Advisory Group, offers a comprehensive analysis of the situation, pointing out that the “three weeks of what has become NATO’s armed intervention in Libya have generated far more questions than anyone could hope to answer.”

Smith covers the lack of clarity and “largely deliberate confusion” over the goal of intervention, possible outcomes of NATO’s strikes, and challenges and dilemmas on both sides of the argument. Read an excerpt below, and visit Smith’s blog to view the full post.

The three weeks of what has become NATO’s armed intervention in Libya have generated far more questions than anyone could hope to answer. The uncertainties by no means overwhelm the case for intervention but they do add immediacy to the reservations expressed by the doubters and sceptics.

The Fog of Intervention

The 19th century Prussian military philosopher, Carl von Clausewitz, didn’t quite coin the term ‘the fog of war’. But credit for it is generally given to him because he did use a fog metaphor (as well as, in the same breath, metaphors of twilight and moonlight) to describe the effect of all the uncertainties that pile up in military operations. And in its fogginess, the Libya intervention is fast becoming a classic:

  • Uncertainty about what kind of operation it is (from day one it has gone far beyond what is normally understood by a no-fly zone but the logic of a full-blooded intervention seems to appeal to no-one);
  • Questions about who is in charge (with answers starting at not-NATO-under-any-circumstances and ending with yes-of-course-it’s NATO) (though not all NATO members – e.g., Germany and Turkey – are actually supportive);
  • Lack of clarity about who is taking the operational lead;
  • Obscurity about the depth, scale and durability of the US commitment;
  • Confusion about who supports (with the Arab League backing before back-tracking then going back to backing) and who tolerates (China and Russia swiftly lost their abstentionist spirit when they saw what the intervention entailed);
  • Largely deliberate confusion over what the goal is (humanitarian, or regime change, or evening the odds between rebels and regime);
  • The difficulty of getting reliable information about whether some air strikes have either missed their targets or been targeted wrongly.

Learn more about confrontation and instability in the region in Smith’s book, The State of the Middle East: An Atlas of Conflict and Resolution.