May 20 2012
I have a deep scientific and engineering background. I live and work on the front lines of both. In my job no truth is perfect, sacrosanct nor complete. It is simply a crude, current understanding of more to be discovered. When people establish their positions too early, glued together by supposition and assumptions, they are doomed to fail. In my business it is best not to establish immutable truths. They never survive.
NASA’s Challenger and Columbia accidents were partially due to a rush to consensus through mob-think. The few dissenting voices were drowned out by all those who had their minds made up. In both cases there was large amounts of contrary evidence around. But the ‘experts’ could not afford the publicity of being wrong, and went ahead with the mob. No one had time to stop and think.
My truths are shattered on a daily (if not hourly) basis. We do the best we can to aim true, but in science and engineering there are no bullet proof road maps, recipes, processes or known facts. In science, the only thing we know for sure is this: what we don’t know dwarfs what we have discovered to date. Science is the iterative process of establishing a new and better understanding of reality, only to replace it later with another one.
Examples of not being adaptable and open minded are:
- Truthers (yes, terrorists did attack us, it was not Vice President Cheney),
- AGW Alarmists (the Earth was warming from the Little Ice Age but now it has apparently stopped and might be cooling, all CO2 driven models have been proven wrong when compared to reality, hiding data that shows a recent cooling is not science nor fact, etc),
- Birthers (Obama is a US citizen because his mother was a US citizen, soil (i.e., location) does not play into the equation when your mother is a citizen. If she is, you are – even if born at sea or on the Moon).
- Rathergatists (George Bush was not a draft dodger like Bill Clinton, and was more a soldier than the easily injured Al Gore with his purple hearts).
- Creationists (yes, Darwin was right and evolution is a scientific process – but it is not the “strong shall survive” it is the “adaptable will survive”)
- Moon Landing Deniers (yes, humanity did walk on the Moon).
I could go on, but the point is simple. Some people are adaptable and can accept new information that alters their basic world views and tenants, and others cannot.
In the Trayvon Martin killing, too many people allowed their views to be tainted by those who cried out for the family – Al Sharpton, The New Black Panthers, etc. The fact is the police missed some key evidence and had to be brought back to the case by public outcry. The fact this required public outcry is disturbing. But given what the family drew to the attention of law enforcement in terms of new evidence, the case is now better off than it was.
Al Sharpton and the New Black Panthers are now irrelevant. Their attempt to co-opt justice will fail once We The People ensure justice is provided. Fair, balanced and open to public debate.
I had a long time reader call me a bigot and tell me I should not comment on the case anymore – he wants me to give up my 1st Amendment rights. Sadly for him I intend to do no such thing. His emotional and unbalanced outburst only bears on him. Apparently my arguments (its called a debate) were too much for his world view to take, so he lashed out at me and told me to shut up.
I do not bend to the mob. I do not allow non-facts (like Sharpton) to enter into my assessment. I am pro gun and demand those who handle guns to be responsible with them, under the penalty of law. And the killing of an unarmed child who is not committing a crime is a crime.
More details keep coming out in this case, which have proven those who ginned up details out of thin air on the Zimmerman side to be wrong. Zimmerman made claims on the spot after he hunted down Martin that are starting to fall apart. Up until his arraignment, I don’t think Zimmerman understood he killed a neighbor’s kid. That night I am certain the vigilante was positive he got his criminal. It fits his M.O. to a “T”.
He claimed he got out of the truck to read road signs or house numbers – none of which exist where he confronted Martin on the back side of the buildings of the housing complex.
Zimmerman claims he was jumped by Martin, but the person on the phone with Martin heard Martin trying to get away from Zimmerman – many times. She heard Zimmerman confront Martin. There was no ambush.
There are witnesses that claim Zimmerman was cold after the event. Matter of fact about the incident.
Some heard an argument and not the fight – again throwing out the ambush alibi.
Zimmerman lied in court when he said he thought Martin was older. He is on 911 tapes saying Martin looked to be in his late teens. Right there any sane person would realize they are more than likely dealing with a kid, and to adjust accordingly.
Zimmerman was play-acting cop. He did not calmly go up to Martin and quietly ask what he was doing. The right approach is “sorry to bother you, but we had some break ins recently and we are trying to make sure they do not happen again. Can you tell me if you are staying here?” That would be too smart for Zimmerman to pull off.
Even worse, Zimmerman broke every rule of neighborhood watch I was told when I did it. You watch in pairs (so there is no single person and no single story). You never leave the car, you never approach anyone. You never arm yourself. This is why I know Zimmerman was a vigilante – he even wore his gun to the HW store.
What a freak! You don’t need a gun to go to the store. You can’t use the gun unless someone is facing deadly harm. And the chances of that are slim because the violent criminal component of our society is still under 5%, which means the odds of encountering it are slim. Carrying a gun to the store says more about Zimmerman than most people understand. The guy felt empowered by the gun. He was a loaded weapon ready to cause trouble.
We now have competing views on the 911 calls and sounds in the background. The case against Zimmerman is strong, and the argument against is very weak. The analysis against Zimmerman is based on high tech tools and science:
In an effort to find out what might be discerned from the crucial 911 call, The Washington Post retained Reich, 67, a former University of Washington professor with a doctorate in speech science who has worked for prosecutors and defense attorneys in hundreds of criminal and civil cases over a period of more than 35 years.
Emphasis mine. This person is an expert, and moreover he still does his own work:
Reich also identified two distinct male voices outside, in the background of the recording — one younger, one older — that he concludes are those of Martin, 17, and Zimmerman, 28.
A friend of Martin’s who was on the phone with him at the time, said he told her that a man who looked “crazy and creepy” was following him, according to the friend’s interview with a prosecutor, released Thursday. In the interview, the friend said she heard the man say, “What are you doing around here?” And then, she said, just before the call cut off, she heard Martin say, “Get off. Get off.”
No ambush – clearly.
Using Sony Sound Forge Pro and KayPentax Multi-Speech software, he identified certain sound segments he wanted to examine more closely, such as the distant yell in the first second of the recording just as the 911 operator starts to speak.
The distant yell in the first second of the recording, Reich concluded, was actually a four-syllable phrase: “I’m begging you.” The yell in the very last second before the gunshot was a word that the spectrograph indicated began with an “st” sound, followed by an “ah” sound: “stop.”
Reich measured a particular frequency of the “ah” sound, which he said corresponds to certain anatomical factors in the speaker, such as the length and diameter of the vocal tract, as well as speaking style. This frequency, he said, was “highly appropriate for a 17-year-old male” who was still growing.
“The word was produced by the younger of the two male speakers, Trayvon Martin,” Reich said.
Now I understand why it is 2nd degree murder being charged. As noted many times, you cannot use deadly force if the opponent is asking to withdraw (in this case begging for his life). The only time force is allowed is if you or someone is in danger:
A person is justified in using force, except deadly force, against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or herself or another against the other’s imminent use of unlawful force. However, a person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if:
- (1)?He or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony; or
- (2)?Under those circumstances permitted pursuant to s. 776.013.
If Martin is pleading for mercy, which apparently this person has discovered on the 911 calls, then Zimmerman deserves the charge and a guilty verdict. This is new evidence. Some people are going to have a problem dealing with it (just like they have a problem dealing the with girlfriend’s statements).
There’s more to this analyst’s conclusions:
As he continued to listen, Reich discerned a second voice in the background, one that was much more difficult to tease out. He amplified those segments, analyzed them and compared the patterns with Zimmerman’s vocal patterns on his earlier call.
Reich concluded this voice was the older of the two speakers, Zimmerman.
What also struck Reich as he played and replayed the recording was what he did not hear: no sound of the older voice screaming, no obvious sounds of a physical struggle.
“Acoustical evidence of slapping, punching, shoving, wrestling, falling, throwing objects, was noticeably absent,” Reich said.
The analysis does not discount the possibility that there was a physical struggle between Martin, …
Rather, Reich’s analysis suggests that whatever physical struggle occurred was over by the time the recorded 911 call began.
From that point until the gunshot 45 seconds later, Reich said, it is Zimmerman who seems to have the upper hand, not Martin.
This too makes sense as a reasonable scenario. Once Zimmerman pulls the gun Martin backs off. If true, then Zimmerman was pissed about getting a whooping and shot Martin. This too is not far afield for Zimmerman:
“Usually he was just a cool guy. He liked to drink and hang with the women like the rest of us,” he said. “But it was like Jekyll and Hyde. When the dude snapped, he snapped.”
The source said Zimmerman, who made between $50 and $100 a night, was let go in 2005.
“He had a temper and he became a liability,” the man said. “One time this woman was acting a little out of control. She was drunk. George lost his cool and totally overreacted,” he said. “It was weird, because he was such a cool guy, but he got all nuts. He picked her up and threw her. It was pure rage. She twisted her ankle. Everyone was flipping out.”
Another eyewitness to Zimmerman’s behavior.
There is another view presented in the WaPo article, but it is very weak:
Another way to consider the 45-second recording is the way James J. Ryan considers it.
Ryan is the retired head of the FBI forensic audio, video and image analysis unit . He said even the best audio forensic expert in the world using the most sophisticated equipment available would have a difficult time  determining much at all from a recording of such degraded quality.
Stop a second and consider the source and statement.  tells me Ryan may not have been a hands on analyst for quite some time. People in the government who become ‘heads’ of units many times become managers. But he is also not drawing any conclusions accept in , where he says this is kind of analysis is hard. Well, duh. But that does not mean a compilation of data does not reveal actual results. If he has not been on the forefront of the technology for a few years (hands on), he may not be aware of what is now possible.
I see this everyday in my area of work. The managers lose their edge over time as management responsibilities pull them away from the front line work. I was especially dumbfounded by this statement:
When it comes to emotionally charged situations, especially a life-or death situation, the range of the human voice is simply too wide and varied to correlate it accurately to age, Ryan said.
A 28-year-old might scream like a 17-year old. A 17-year old might yell like a 28-year-old.
Generally, yes it would be hard to pick out the age simply from the scream. But that is not all that went into the identification. We have Zimmerman on tape. His voice pattern is established – and that includes pitch, frequency responses, etc. Martin’s is probably available also. So this is not trying to identify the age in isolation of one scream. It may not be the scream that IDs Martin, but the other voice that IDs Zimmerman (leaving Martin to be the ‘other’ voice). This is lazy commentary.
This is why I think this view is weak. The other analysis has error bars to be sure. The question is how big are they, and can the comparisons to other recordings of Zimmerman narrow them enough? Who knows, that is why we have trials.
The recordings look to be evidence that will be played in court. And if so they will be damning. Any indication the physical fight was over and Martin did plead for mercy and Zimmerman is toast. That will be powerful.
BTW, had to point out this bit at the end:
“Most trial lawyers believe, and most psychologists who study the way that people process information believe, that once people interpret something in a certain way, once they begin to believe something, they become committed to that,” he said. “And if they become committed, it’s hard to change their minds.”
Which is why you need to train yourself not to fall into this mental trap. A skill that is not easy to master.