Reasonable doubt


Many New Yorkers in lower Manhattan are lucky this week. The odor from the World Trade Center site has been replaced, or at least augmented, by the sweet smells of palm, myrtle, river willow, and a lemon-like citrus known variously as esrog, etrog, or citron. Those are the “four species” that are used ritually in the Jewish holiday that started at sundown on Monday and lasts for eight days.

In the few days between the end of the Day of Atonement and this holiday, there is a frantic market in those products — especially the citrons — in Manhattan’s Lower East Side neighborhood. I refer to it as the New York Lemon Festival. It’s a sight to behold, a sea of yellow stretching for blocks. Stores that during the rest of the year sell religious books or pickles or even hardware concentrate on selling the citrons. It’s probably more lucrative.

I missed the Lemon Festival this year (I’ve missed it for about the past 20 years), but the last time I went, a single citron (perhaps four inches long) might have gone for upwards of $50. They are not in piles. Each is lovingly placed in its own nest. They are inspected for the slightest blemishes by buyers. Different buyers prefer different sizes, shapes, and colors, but all consider their criteria to reflect the beauty of the fruit.

As the holiday approaches, bargaining gets pretty intense. Buyers need the four species to fulfil a religious commandment. Sellers know that any fruits they don’t unload before the last sundown turn into lemons (in more than one sense of the word). It’s just one of New York’s events worth seeing.

Elsewhere in the world, people celebrate carnival around Mardi Gras; we do it on Labor Day. The biggest parade in most American towns is on Independence Day; ours is on Thanksgiving (with the Labor Day carnival a close contender).

Another New York institution, the Big Apple Circus, was getting ready to erect its tent next to the Metropolitan Opera House today. Other circuses, like birds, head south for the winter; ours has a snow-proof tent and likes to camp out at Lincoln Center (what I sometimes refer to as the culture factory).

It was nice to see the roustabouts getting their supplies ready — a sign of pre-attack life returning. Another is that I was able to make a long-distance ISDN call from the Met radio booth today. We now have one backup path (the fiber for another ran directly beneath the World Trade Center).

It’s nice to be in radio season again. I’m lucky to work in many different fields. I suppose I don’t spend enough time on any one of them to get ticked off about it.

Some of you may know that one of my fields is forensic analysis of recorded evidence. Sometimes I do the analysis; sometimes I teach people from law-enforcement agencies from around the world how to do it. In June, I had three students from the Saudi Arabia military.

Once I was contacted by someone who wanted me to analyze a police tape on behalf of a death-row inmate. I was told to look for certain anomalies, like the disappearance of bullet shells at one point and of a pipe at another.

I checked the tape. Neither the shells nor the pipe disappeared. When I reported my findings, I was told, “Oh, well. We had to try.”

I don’t know if that inmate was guilty or innocent. I know only that my analysis was not helpful to the cause. But there have been people who were convicted of murder who have been set free when other scientific analysis showed that they were not guilty.

Someone very close to me was once accused of murder, arrested, indicted, and brought to trial. The government said it had evidence of guilt. The jury found otherwise. The trial ended in acquittal.

There was also a parallel trial conducted by the news media in the court of public opinion. The outcome of that one was less certain.

When a murder is committed, the victim’s family and friends seek justice (and they may be forgiven for seeking vengeance). But an innocent person accused of a crime is a victim, too.

Remember Richard Jewel? For about three months, he was vilified as the prime suspect in the Centennial Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta in 1996. That was before the government said he was no longer being investigated. Two years later, someone else (who has yet to be found) was charged with the crime.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. wrote in 1918 that, “Certitude is not the test of certainty. We have been cocksure of many things that are not so.”

Today, I opened a fortune cookie and found this: “There is no wisdom greater than kindness.”

TTFN, Mark