Weekend Reading

The biggest source of lead in the postwar era, it turns out, wasn’t paint. It was leaded gasoline. And if you chart the rise and fall of atmospheric lead caused by the rise and fall of leaded gasoline consumption, you get a pretty simple upside-down U: Lead emissions from tailpipes rose steadily from the early ’40s through the early ’70s, nearly quadrupling over that period. Then, as unleaded gasoline began to replace leaded gasoline, emissions plummeted.

Intriguingly, violent crime rates followed the same upside-down U pattern. The only thing different was the time period: Crime rates rose dramatically in the ’60s through the ’80s, and then began dropping steadily starting in the early ’90s. The two curves looked eerily identical, but were offset by about 20 years.

So Nevin dove in further, digging up detailed data on lead emissions and crime rates to see if the similarity of the curves was as good as it seemed. It turned out to be even better: In a 2000 paper (PDF) he concluded that if you add a lag time of 23 years, lead emissions from automobiles explain 90 percent of the variation in violent crime in America. Toddlers who ingested high levels of lead in the ’40s and ’50s really were more likely to become violent criminals in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s.

Within 24 hours, 5.2 million people had read the Reddit interview. It was the most-trafficked post in Reddit’s history. Just before signing off, Obama mentioned GottaRegister.com, the campaign’s official voter registration site, and 30,000 people registered to vote from that link. “And he didn’t even hyperlink the fucking thing, so they, like, actually copy-and-pasted it, and opened up a new tab, and put it in,” said a senior official. On Election Day, 82,670 Redditors would connect again with the campaign, giving “upvotes” to a message posted by Obama in the afternoon, with tens of thousands more likely seeing the post. A massive hit—and strategically successful. The Reddit chat occurred in the middle of the Republican National Convention, and the Democrats, through a guerilla-like tactic, had seized control of the Internet for the day. They’d do it again that week, too.

The next night, Clint Eastwood opened up for Mitt Romney at the RNC. He talked to an empty chair. Elizabeth Jarvis-Shean ran into Jim Messina’s office: You’ve got to see this. Stop. What. You. Are. Doing. Two other Obama digital staffers—Jessi Langsen and Alex Wall—who were watching the feed came up to Goff and Joe Rospars within minutes. Another staffer had found a picture of the president pointing at a chair and asked, “Can we post this picture of the president?”

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