Reflections on Ferguson (and America)

In the wake of the announcement that a grand jury in St. Louis would not indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for shooting Michael Brown I have seen a huge outpouring of appalling commentary on social media. Ignorance of the law, insensitivity toward law enforcement, blatant racism, subtle racism, and on and on. I guess this is to be expected, since social media facilitates polarization of viewpoints and inhibits real dialogue. No situation as fraught as this one is amenable to simple analyses and conclusions, despite the impression that is frequently conveyed on-line.

My general take on the situation has been to try to think synthetically (both/and) rather than dichotomously (either/or). To wit: the criminal justice system can be very racist AND Officer Wilson can at the same time be totally justified in his actions.

It’s not easy to convey complexity in 140 characters, though, and to do justice to the situation in Ferguson (as a reflection of America) would take more time and energy than I have. Thankfully, in steps Benjamin Watson’s now viral Facebook wall post reflecting on Ferguson. As of Thursday afternoon, the Facebook post had 382,008 shares and 679,009 likes, and counting.

Benjamin Watson facebookI had never heard of Benjamin Watson before this week. Apparently he is a professional football player, which may mean something to some people out there (good or bad). To me, he is someone who did a great job of capturing the complexity of the situation (although I remain agnostic regarding his concluding paragraph). Here is Benjamin Watson’s reflections in their entirety, copied from his Facebook page:

“At some point while I was playing or preparing to play Monday Night Football, the news broke about the Ferguson Decision. After trying to figure out how I felt, I decided to write it down. Here are my thoughts:

I’M ANGRY because the stories of injustice that have been passed down for generations seem to be continuing before our very eyes.

I’M FRUSTRATED, because pop culture, music and movies glorify these types of police citizen altercations and promote an invincible attitude that continues to get young men killed in real life, away from safety movie sets and music studios.

I’M FEARFUL because in the back of my mind I know that although I’m a law abiding citizen I could still be looked upon as a “threat” to those who don’t know me. So I will continue to have to go the extra mile to earn the benefit of the doubt.

I’M EMBARRASSED because the looting, violent protests, and law breaking only confirm, and in the minds of many, validate, the stereotypes and thus the inferior treatment.

I’M SAD, because another young life was lost from his family, the racial divide has widened, a community is in shambles, accusations, insensitivity hurt and hatred are boiling over, and we may never know the truth about what happened that day.

I’M SYMPATHETIC, because I wasn’t there so I don’t know exactly what happened. Maybe Darren Wilson acted within his rights and duty as an officer of the law and killed Michael Brown in self defense like any of us would in the circumstance. Now he has to fear the backlash against himself and his loved ones when he was only doing his job. What a horrible thing to endure. OR maybe he provoked Michael and ignited the series of events that led to him eventually murdering the young man to prove a point.

I’M OFFENDED, because of the insulting comments I’ve seen that are not only insensitive but dismissive to the painful experiences of others.

I’M CONFUSED, because I don’t know why it’s so hard to obey a policeman. You will not win!!! And I don’t know why some policeman abuse their power. Power is a responsibility, not a weapon to brandish and lord over the populace.

I’M INTROSPECTIVE, because sometimes I want to take “our” side without looking at the facts in situations like these. Sometimes I feel like it’s us against them. Sometimes I’m just as prejudiced as people I point fingers at. And that’s not right. How can I look at white skin and make assumptions but not want assumptions made about me? That’s not right.

I’M HOPELESS, because I’ve lived long enough to expect things like this to continue to happen. I’m not surprised and at some point my little children are going to inherit the weight of being a minority and all that it entails.

I’M HOPEFUL, because I know that while we still have race issues in America, we enjoy a much different normal than those of our parents and grandparents. I see it in my personal relationships with teammates, friends and mentors. And it’s a beautiful thing.

I’M ENCOURAGED, because ultimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem. SIN is the reason we rebel against authority. SIN is the reason we abuse our authority. SIN is the reason we are racist, prejudiced and lie to cover for our own. SIN is the reason we riot, loot and burn. BUT I’M ENCOURAGED because God has provided a solution for sin through the his son Jesus and with it, a transformed heart and mind. One that’s capable of looking past the outward and seeing what’s truly important in every human being. The cure for the Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner tragedies is not education or exposure. It’s the Gospel. So, finally, I’M ENCOURAGED because the Gospel gives mankind hope.”

Faith and Firearms in the 2014 Baylor Religion Survey

Having begun my sojourn from the sociology of religion to the study of American gun culture a couple of years ago, I was excited to make a “homecoming” of sorts by attending the annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion in Indianapolis this past weekend.

I was there to present my first paper on guns in America, an analysis of the relationship between faith and firearms ownership based on the General Social Survey (about which, more later).

I was excited to find another group of scholars – from Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion – working on the issue as well. For the first time, the nationally representative Baylor Religion Survey (fielded previously in 2005, 2007, 2010) included questions about gun ownership and attitudes toward guns. (See end of post for methodological details.)

Baylor Religion Survey 2011

These questions go beyond what is typically found in national surveys like the General Social Survey, and in combination with extensive questions about religiosity, makes for a promising set of data.

Specifically, in the section on “Guns and Society,” five questions are posed (each with a number of sub-parts):

Q68. For each item, please tell us how much, if at all, each of the following contributes to gun violence in the country: (a) The availability of guns. (b) The absence of God from our public schools and places. (c) Irresponsible gun owners. (d) Media violence such as in movies and video games. (e) Inadequate treatment of mentally ill people. (f) Inadequate background checks on gun purchases. Response categories are: a great deal, not so much, not at all.

Comment: I always try to approach the issue of “gun violence” cautiously, because I am not yet convinced there is something distinct about “gun violence” that merits its designation as a single entity, as opposed to “violence that involves guns” or “violence and guns.” But violence that involves guns is a serious concern among a large part of the American population and so it is good to ask about what people think its causes are (and are not).

One oversight here, I think, is the most significant contributor to gun violence in American society: criminal activity, especially drugs dealing and use, and gang activity (including respect killings related to the “code of the street.” (I made a presentation on this issue recently, which I will blog about soon.)

If I were a respondent to this survey, I would not be able to express this view – unless I counted criminals as “irresponsible gun owners,” but I don’t think that is what the survey authors intended for that response. I know media violence is not a major cause, and more extensive background checks are not going to stop criminals from shooting people.

Q69. Have you, or anyone you are close with, ever been threatened with a gun or shot at? Response categories are: yes or no.

Comment: What is the extent of people’s direct experience of violence with guns, and how might this affect their outlooks? I believe this is what this question is trying to get at.

Obviously, it would be interesting to distinguish between the respondent herself vs. others, and also being threatened vs. being shot at. But there are limits on how many questions you can ask on a survey like this (there were 99 total questions on the survey already), so combining several questions into a single question like this is not uncommon.

It would also be interesting to know whether the respondent, or anyone the respondent is close with, had ever brandished or shot a gun in self-defense, or found themselves in a situation in which they wished they had a gun for self-defense.

Those on the pro-gun side of the great American gun debate often accuse those who focus on the harmful effects of guns of not giving due attention to the beneficial effects of guns. This type of question will certainly be seen as coming from a position that is less sympathetic toward guns in general.

Q70. Please tell us whether you oppose or favor the following: (a) A ban on semi-automatic weapons. (b) Expanded gun safety programs. (c) Putting armed security guards/police in more schools. (d) Better mental health screening of gun buyers. (e) A ban on high-capacity ammunition clips that hold more than 10 bullets. (f) More teachers and school officials having guns. (g) Banning the possession of hand guns except by law enforcement. (h) Laws that allow citizens to carry concealed guns. Response categories are: favor or oppose.

Comment: I hope my readers who are part of one of America’s gun cultures will overlook the use of the term “clip” and “bullets” in subpart “e.” The scholars who put this survey together are experts in religion, not guns. But if you can get past that terminological issue, here you find an interesting mix of questions about laws or policies that address guns and safety. Some represent what are conventionally understood as “gun control” (subparts a, e, and g), some are ideas that come more from the pro-gun side (subparts c, f, and h – and I’m especially happy to see the question on concealed carry), and some could be interpreted in different ways depending on where the respondent is coming from (subparts b and d).

It’s good to have some survey questions available that go beyond one side’s definition of “common sense” gun laws. And perhaps having these different questions asked at the same time will allow us to see for the first time the diversity and complexity of people’s views about the various roles that guns can and should play in our society.

Three handguns

Q71. Do you happen to have in your home (or garage) any of the following: (Please mark all that apply.)

(a) Hand gun/revolver.
(b) Long gun
(c) Automatic/Semi-Automatic weapon

Comment: Here is a conventional gun ownership question, with a bit of a twist. The main question is the same as the General Social Survey, but the follow-up options differ. The GSS asks whether the person who owns a gun owns a handgun/revolver, a shotgun, or a rifle. Here shotgun and rifle are combined, and an additional response of “automatic/semi-automatic weapon” is added. The potential benefit of this approach is the ability to distinguish those who do NOT own automatic/semi-automatic weapons from those who do. Perhaps these are collectors of historic arms or true “Fudds” who would never hunt with anything other than a bolt action rifle or sporting gentleman who only use side-by-side shotguns.

With due respect to my colleagues, though, someone with some firearms experience should have looked these categories in advance because the qualitative and quantitative difference between ownership of “automatic” and “semi-automatic” weapons is ENORMOUS. Consequently, to the extent this question is used, I think the assumption will have to be that respondents who say “yes” to this question basically own semi-automatic weapons (since it is hard to imagine someone who owns a fully automatic weapon who does not own a semi-auto).

I would have been much more interested in knowing how many people own AR-15 style “modern sporting rifles” (a.k.a., “assault weapons”). Combining long gun and automatic/semi-automatic ownership categories doesn’t get at this, though, since it would also include a semi-auto shotgun, a Ruger 10-22 rifle, a Tommy Gun, and an M2 Browning, to name just a few.

Dianne Feinstein Assault Weapon Ban 1994

Q72. If you own a gun, please indicate how strongly you agree or disagree with the following statement: Owning a gun makes me feel: (a) Safe. (b) Responsible. (c) Confident. (d) Patriotic. (e) In control of my fate. (f) More valuable to my family. (g) More valuable to my community. (h) Respected.

Comment: This promises to be some of the most interesting information that comes from the Baylor Religion Survey, because it goes beyond simply whether people own guns or not to get at some of the symbolic and affective meanings that people attach to gun ownership. We know something about this through qualitative studies like Abigail Kohn’s Shooters: Myths and Realities of America’s Gun Cultures, Jimmy Taylor’s American Gun Culture: Collectors, Shows, and the Story of the Gun, Joan Burbick’s Gun Show Nation: Gun Culture and American Democracy, Nancy Floyd’s She’s Got a Gun, and Jennifer Dawn Carlson’s forthcoming Citizen-Protectors: The Everyday Politics of Guns in an Age of Decline. But it will be nice to have nationally-representative data on some of the things that are cultural causes and consequences of gun ownership. I think it will be particularly interesting to see what gender differences emerge in responses to these questions.

I am also working up a separate blog post specifically on Baylor sociologists F. Carson Mencken and Paul Froese’s presentation of some early analyses of this last question at the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion meetings. Stay tuned for that.

In the end, the questions asked about guns on the Baylor Religion Survey are not perfect – which is to say, they are not what I would have asked. But some of them are quite ingenious – which is to say, they are smarter than what I would have asked. And they will contribute considerably to our understanding of American gun ownership and attitudes.

Unfortunately, the data will not be public for a year or two while the Baylor University researchers do their analyses. I for one will be anxiously awaiting their release, and looking forward to reports from Baylor in the meantime.

METHODOLOGICAL DETAILS: The 4th wave of the Baylor Religion Survey was fielded by mail (in English and Spanish) in collaboration with the Gallup Organization between January and March 2014. In the end, there were 1,572 respondents. The 15% response rate at first blush seems low, but comparisons with the General Social Survey show strong similarities on demographic characteristics (age, gender) and religious characteristics (religious attendance). Weights are also provided to correct for known differences between the survey sample and the American population. 40% of questions concern demographics and religious affiliation, beliefs, attitudes, behaviors. 60% topical modules, including 5 questions (with many subparts) on “guns and society.”


Scrutinizing Claims About Guns in Homes as a “Risk Factor” for Homicide in the Home

Getting into the sociology of guns has been both fascinating and frustrating. The fascination comes from deeply immersing myself in something entirely new to me. The frustration comes in attempting to understand the reality of guns in a scholarly – that is, objective and nuanced – manner. In the sociology of guns, the line demarcating science and advocacy is very blurry indeed.

I was thinking about this recently when Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America issued a “report” claiming that there had been 74 “school shootings” since the massacre at Sandy Hook. A map of the shootings went viral and President Obama picked up on this figure, giving it considerable political weight. But when gun advocates started to scrutinize the “data,” they found something quite interesting: Moms Demand defined “school shooting” as any shooting that took place on school property. This included events that took place after hours, events that did not involve students, suicides, etc. But clearly when people hear the phrase “school shootings” something else comes to mind. Soon, Pulitzer Prize-winning Tampa Bay Times Politifact declared the claim “mostly false.”

This incident reminded me of some of the other statistics frequently invoked in the debate over guns. Take a simple empirical statement, for example: “people who keep guns in homes are almost 3 times more likely to be murdered.” This seems fairly straightforward and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence invokes it on their website as evidence that “legislatures should adopt common sense gun laws that increase the safe and secure storage of firearms in the home.”

But the empirical reality underlying this claim is not as simple as the Brady Campaign suggests. The claim is based on a study by an influential/notorious (depending on where you stand) researcher, Arthur Kellerman and his colleagues: “Gun Ownership as a Risk Factor for Homicide in the Home,” published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1993. (I have written more about this on my Gun Culture 2.0 blog here and here.)

Kellerman and his colleagues studied Memphis and Shelby County (TN), Seattle and King County (WA), and Cleveland Cuyahoga County (OH). They identified 420 cases (subsequently reduced to 388 cases in the final analysis, of individuals who were firearm homicide victims in private homes between 1987 and 1992. Using a case-control design, they identified a sample of control subjects who were matched to case subjects (those who were killed) by sex, race, age group, and neighborhood of residence.

To determine what differences there were between those who were killed and the control subjects, control subjects and proxies for case subjects were interviewed and asked an identical set of questions to identify risk factors such as gun ownership, drug and alcohol use, previous violence in the home and so on. Proxies for case subjects were identified from police records, newspaper accounts, obituaries, and funeral homes.

Using this information, researchers can estimate how much more likely individuals exposed to a particular risk are to experience the outcome of interest (being killed) than those not exposed to the risk. These estimates are typically expressed in the form of crude/raw odds ratios (from univariate analyses) or adjusted odds ratios (from multivariate analyses). Simply put, “a person exposed to X, is Y times more likely to experience Z,” where X is the risk factor, Z is the outcome of interest, and Y is the odds ratio.

Kellerman’s study, picked up by the Brady Campaign and many other gun control advocates, reported adjusted odds ratios for homicide from multivariate logistic regression as follows:

  • Illicit drug use in household         5.7
  • Home rented                               4.4
  • Previous fight in home                4.4
  • Lived alone                                  3.7
  • Gun(s) kept in home                2.7
  • Previous arrest in household      2.5

Hence, the Brady Campaign’s claim that “people who keep guns in homes are almost 3 times more likely to be murdered.” From this, Kellerman and colleagues concluded, “In the light of these observations and our present findings, people should be strongly discouraged from keeping guns in their homes.”

But, as is the case with all research – but even more so with research that is taken up by political advocates – the devil is in the details. What is the mechanism by which keeping a gun in the home makes a person more likely to be killed in the home?

Thinking of the Moms Demand “school shooting” report, I asked my Facebook friends what they thought the most common scenario would be for these firearms homicides. The imagined scenarios varied widely, but included domestic violence, home invasions, and drug/gang related situations. A number of people also wanted to throw accidents and/or suicide into the mix, which is interesting but were excluded by definition. I think it is a fair conclusion to draw from this admitted unscientific poll that when people hear that “people who keep guns in homes are almost 3 times more likely to be murdered,” they imagine the gun in the home actually being involved somehow (whether it is used for the killing or somehow escalates the situation). (Here the accident and suicide responses are suggestive of what people are imagining.)

Looking at Kellerman’s study more closely, we actually find that of the original 420 homicides committed in the homes of victims, only 209 (49.8%) of them were by any firearm at all. 26.4% were by cutting instrument, 11.7% by blunt instrument, 6.4% by strangulation or suffocation, and 5.7% by other means.

Of those 49.8% of homicides by firearm, how many of them involved a firearm that was kept in the home? Kellerman does not say. Sociologist Gary Kleck, however, has used Kellermann’s data and some additional assumptions to try to determine what percentage of homicide victims were killed in their own home using a gun “kept in the home where the shooting occurred.” He concludes that as few as 9.7% and as many as 14.2% of gun homicides were committed in the victims’ home with a gun kept there (“Can Owning a Gun Really Triple the Owner’s Chances of Being Murdered?” published in Homicide Studies in 2001). So, 209 gun homicides x 0.142 (proportion own gun, own home) = 30 cases. This leads to two conclusions:

1. Of the total number of homicides committed in the homes of victims, only 7.1 percent (30 of 420) were committed using a gun kept in that home. 92.9 percent were committed using a gun brought into the home or another mechanism of death.

2. Of the total number of homicides committed in the study area, only 1.6 percent (30 of 1,860) were gun homicides committed in the victim’s home using a gun kept there. 98.4 percent we either outside the home, were not gun homicides, or did not use the victim’s gun. People in the case sample are 62 times more likely to be killed under these other circumstance than to be killed in their own home with a gun kept there.

In his effort to prove that guns are dangerous, Kellermann clearly overdraws his conclusions. He might have been better off focusing on the relative infrequency of justifiable homicides to argue that there is not a huge protective benefit from owning a firearm, rather than characterizing it as a risk factor for homicide in the home. But that claim is much weaker and doesn’t make for good anti-gun advocacy group talking points.

20 Reasons Nursing Deserves a Google Doodle

Much respect to the nurses. Doctors diagnose, nurses cure!

Sandra Yamane

Amanda Anderson, a blogger for HealthCetera, has started a campaign asking Google to devote a Google Doodle to honor National Nurses Day on May 6th. I personally enjoy the doodles. I have Google as my home page so I see them every day when I sign on to my computer. Some doodles are interactive such as the one for  Halloween 2012 and others celebrate innovators and various subjects including: birthdays (Dorothy Height’s 102nd), Ghana’s Independence Day, the 2014 Winter Olympics (complete with a hint of a political statement), and one of the best — a tribute to Freddie Mercury (it has an animated Freddie flying on a Tiger singing “Don’t Stop Me Now”) which is fabulous!


Amanda wants to bring attention to our profession and states, “Maybe, if the millions of Americans Googling something on May 6th saw a tribute to…

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Enter to Win a Free Copy of My Book “Becoming Catholic” from Goodreads

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Goodreads Book Giveaway

Becoming Catholic by David Yamane

Becoming Catholic

by David Yamane

Giveaway ends April 30, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Q&A With My Friend Black Hawk Hancock on His New Theory Book

My friend and I did an on-line Q&A about his new theory text, Social Theory: Continuity and Confrontation.

The University of Toronto Press put it on their blog last week. Check it out HERE.

I’m looking forward to using the text next spring in my theory classes.


What I’m Reading: Gabrielle Hamilton’s “Blood, Bones, and Butter”

I decided to “read” (i.e., listen to) Gabrielle Hamilton’s Blood, Bones, and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef solely based on the blurb written by Anthony Bourdain: “Magnificent. Simply the best memoir by a chef ever. Ever.” As the author of what many consider the best memoir ever — Kitchen Confidential — I took Bourdain’s endorsement seriously. Having now listened to the book, I have to disagree with his overall assessment — even if it was an enjoyable read.

Like many people who work in the food service industry — in my experience, at least — Hamilton came from a damaged background after her parent’s break-up. Who moves to Hell’s Kitchen at age 16 and waits tables? Much of her story is trying to come to terms with who she is and where she came from — though food.

It’s mostly a compelling and interesting story, especially the intricate details of getting her now famous restaurant Prune up and running. I was really rooting for her through this part. But there is also a couple of places where she is notably not forthcoming and here I begin to question her credibility as a memoirist. She was estranged from her mother, and we don’t really find out why. She had a relationship with a woman while doing a creative writing program in Michigan, then has two sons with a man seemingly out of convenience. Much of these stories are elided.

I’m not saying she needs to take us into her bedroom to be honest in her memoir, but she tells parts of these stories when it is convenient to her and so not having the whole story is frustrating.

Overall, a fun and interesting read, the frustration notwithstanding.



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Italy Day 8, Rome Day 4: Colosseum, Palatine, Roman Forum, Capitoline Museums

Thursday: I left my touring of Ancient Rome to the last day of my visit. Having had a VERY long day with my hike to the Vatican and back on Wednesday, I decided to sleep in and when I woke up at 8:30a it was raining. I had been very fortunate weather-wise in my week in Italy so I couldn’t complain. I spent some time organizing my stuff and writing a bit, as well as trying to figure out what to do in Rome on a rainy day (since I hit so many indoor sites the first three days). By the time I decided to head out at 11:30am, I saw blue sky out my hotel window! So, I took a roundabout walk to the Metro station, going through the Universita di Roma “La Sapienza,” which was a typical urban campus just blending into the surrounding city without anything really distinctive to demarcate it as a campus.

The Metro ride from the Policlinico station to the Colosseo stop was the only train ride I had in Rome that was jam packed. I literally had to push my way onto the train (aided greatly by the people pushing me from behind). Then I was worried that I would not be able to make it to the door at my stop because almost no one got off at the 3 stops in between, and somehow more people got on. But some hard work and a few “Scuzzis” got me to the door and out to see the Colosseum.

I’m not really “into” ancient history, don’t have a fascination with Gladiators or Russell Crowe, but you can’t help but be impressed by the idea and execution of such a structure — even though what went on inside was a bit suspect.
From there, I walked the Palatine Hill, amid the ruins, and made my way across to the Roman Forum.

Walking amid the ruins, I tried to imagine what life was like 2,500 years ago, or even a mere 2,000 years ago. I couldn’t do it, but was awed to be in the presence of the material remains of that civilization. At the same time, I found myself wondering from time to time, “How many slaves died to build that monument?”

At the end of the Roman Forum, I went up the Capitol and Capitoline Museum, designed by Michelangelo in the mid-16th century. The first thing you see when you enter the museum is a courtyard with fragments of an ENORMOUS statue of Constantine the Great, from the 4th century AD. I guess its technical name is the “Colossus of Constantine,” which I think means Enormous Constantine. In any event, I don’t know the woman in the picture, but I waited until she walked into the shot to give a sense of the size of the thing. You can also see the attention to detail — notice the veins in the arm to the left.

As at the Borghese and the Vatican, I was particularly struck by the statuary sculptures. There is the very famous bronze “She-Wolf” and also the “Capitoline Venus,” but I spent the most time looking at the “Capitoline Gaul” or “Dying Gaul” or “Dying Galatian.” They say it may have originally been intended to be a discus thrower — based on the body positioning — but I’d say it works well as a striken warrior.

On my way back to my hotel I passed by the Vittoriano — the memorial to King Victor Emmanuel II — which is a good reminder of Italy’s more recent history, especially that the country was not unified until the 19th century and then as a kingdom not a democracy, and the republican era in Italy only dates to 1945.

I walked slowly back to my hotel, along the Via Cavour which runs from the Roman Forum to the Termini, thinking about everything I was able to see and everything I have yet to see.

What’s wrong with Jay-Z?

I haven’t had alot of time to listen to Kanye West’s much anticipated sophomore album, Late Registration, but I have been intrigued by the remix of the song “Diamonds from Sierra Leone.” In the first half of the song, West makes very astute observations about the relationship between “bling” in America and the trade in “conflict diamonds” in parts of Africa, including Angola and Sierra Leone. Although it was five years ago that the U.N. adopted a resolution condemning the role of diamonds in fueling these brutal wars, it took West’s song to bring the issue to the attention of large segments of the American public.

My problem with the song is not West’s part but Jay-Z’s. The second half of the song is an extended cameo by Jay-Z, who raps about nothing relevant to the first part. Sample lyric:

Difficult takes a day, impossible takes a week
I do this in my sleep,
I sold kilos of coke, I’m guessin’ I can sell CDs
I’m not a businessman I’m a business, man
Let me handle my buisness, damn!

Jay-Z’s considerable talent is evident on the song. He can flow and he is funny, but why has he never said anything socially relevant in a song? Or maybe he has? Am I missing something here? I mean, he doesn’t have to be Chuck D, but it seems he has wasted his talent in part by not pushing himself more. “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” is a perfect case in point.