Tag Archives: drugs

Turns Out That Under-25s Are Smarter and Safer Than Ever

Turns Out That Under-25s Are Smarter and Safer Than Ever

Young adults today might not be able to find a job, but they’re better behaved than they have been in the past 20 years. Less badass or more mature? You decide

“It’s an old axiom that every generation is more rebellious than the one that came before it. Ask any member of Generation X (or “the Olds,” as we call them) and they might rip out the tired cliché that kids today—what with their sexting gadgets and twerking pop stars—are cause for moral panic.

The reality is that compared with the previous generation, a relatively large proportion of young people are unemployed, saddled with loan debt and still living with their parents. Millennials, it might seem, despite being better educated than their forebearers, are failing at life.

But not so fast. According to data Vocativ culled from sources ranging from the Economic Policy Institute to the U.S. Department of Justice to the Centers for Disease Control, young adults in the U.S. are actually far more straight-laced than they were 20 years ago. When it comes to general shenanigans—including alcohol and drug use, teen pregnancy, violent crimes and more—rates have declined across the board over the past 20 years, except when it comes to smoking weed (which has risen 38 percent).

We took 20 years of data, from 1993 to 2013, taking the midpoint (2003) as a baseline set at zero for all categories. Red lines on our charts denote that things got worse, while the blue lines indicate that things improved.

Click through the various tabs below to see how 15- to 25-year-olds have been keeping their act together over the past two decades.

Overview

THE DEEP DIVE

Shenanigans

This should be a comfort to any parents who worry about their kids: According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, today’s young adults are consuming less alcohol and illicit drugs (cocaine, MDMA, heroin, etc.) than ever before. This excludes marijuana use, which has shot up, in line with America’s liberalized stance on weed, including the recent wave of legalization in a handful of states. Also, more kids are graduating from high school and fewer are committing violent crimes or getting knocked up than they were 20 years ago. So maybe weed isn’t so much a bad thing?

Unemployment

Unemployment figures tell a different, depressing story. According to a 2014 report from the Economic Policy Institute, unemployment for college graduates is 8.5 percent, while the rate for all 15- to 24-year-olds is a whopping 16.5 percent—more than twice the national average.

Education

Regardless of the shitty job prospects for Americans under 25, young people today are staying in school longer than Gen Xers. Relative to 1993, more high school seniors are enrolling in higher education according to the report by the Economic Policy Institute, while the total undergraduate and graduate school enrollment continues to climb.

Sources:

Drug and Alcohol Use: The National Institute on Drug Abuse; Teen Pregnancy:Center for Disease Control and Prevention; Abortion Rate: The Guttmacher Institute; High School Dropout Rate: National Center for Education Statistics; Youth Crime Rate: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention; Youth Unemployment Rate: The Economic Policy Institute; Higher Education Enrollment: The Economic Policy Institute

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How Well Does A Drug Work? Look Beyond The Fine Print

July 25, 2014 4:35 PM ET
 
 
Traditional warning labels on medicine boxes tend to be long on confusing language, critics say, but short on helpful numbers.

Traditional warning labels on medicine boxes tend to be long on confusing language, critics say, but short on helpful numbers.

iStockphoto

 

“Anybody who has ever seen a drug advertisement or talked over the pros and cons of a medicine with a doctor can be forgiven for being confused.

Sorting out the risks and benefits of taking a medicine can be complicated even for professionals.

This 2007 ad for the sleeping pill Lunesta stresses insomnia relief — not the relative usefulness of the drug.This 2007 ad for the sleeping pill Lunesta stresses insomnia relief — not the relative usefulness of the drug.

Lunesta

This spring, the Institute of Medicine convened a workshop with the Food and Drug Administration. The topic: How best to communicate to doctors and patients the uncertainty in the assessment of benefits and risks of pharmaceuticals.

The FDA not only approves drugs, it also approves the prescribing instructions that come along with them. For some drugs, the wad of paper filled with fine print about the risks and benefits of using the drug is accompanied by a medication guide that is supposed to summarize the main points.

During one question-and-answer session, Dr. Robert Temple of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, acknowledged that those guides are full of information. “But it’s remarkably nonquantitative for the most part,” he said. “And I think we should try to think about whether there are quantitative ways of presenting that stuff.”

He then referred to Drs. Steven Woloshin and Lisa Schwartz, two of his fellow panelists, who have said it’s possible to pull that off.

The husband-and-wife team from Dartmouth are on a decade-long mission. They have been pushing the FDA to get useful and readable quantitative data about drugs to doctors and their patients.

Schwartz and Woloshin have designed a format they call a drug facts box. It shows the gist of what they say is buried in all the fine print: How does the drug compare to a placebo?

Drs. Lisa Schwartz and Steven Woloshin designed this "fact box" as a prototype to show how package inserts for medicines could be more helpful.

Drs. Lisa Schwartz and Steven Woloshin designed this “fact box” as a prototype to show how package inserts for medicines could be more helpful.

Courtesy of Dr. Steven Woloshin

That’s in contrast to what usually happens, Schwartz says. “The prescribing info is written by industry, and then negotiated with FDA, and then FDA ultimately approves it. And we have documented examples where important info — like how well the drug works — is not in the label.”

This drives Schwartz and Woloshin crazy.

Better Than A Sugar Pill

So, here’s their experiment: They showed people ads for two competing heartburn drugs, one plainly more effective than the other.

They also showed people two of their drug facts boxes, one for each of those two heartburn drugs, showing how each drug fared against a placebo (a sugar pill) in testing.

“When the people are presented with the standard information they see — like a drug ad — about 30 percent of people chose the better drug,” Woloshin says. “But when we showed them information in the drug facts box form, 68 percent of people were able to choose the objectively better drug. So that’s a really dramatic improvement. It just shows you that if you show people information in a way that’s understandable, they can use it, and it can improve their decision.”

Using FDA data, Woloshin and Schwartz developed a drug facts box for the sleep aid Lunesta.

Two columns compare people with insomnia who took Lunesta and people with insomnia who, unknowingly, took a sugar pill.

The results? Those who used Lunesta took 30 minutes to fall asleep. Those who got a sugar pill took 45 minutes — a difference of 15 minutes. Those who took Lunesta stayed asleep 37 minutes longer than those who took a sugar pill.

Woloshin and Schwartz say some people might consider those benefits worth taking the drug, and some might not.

“That’s the whole point of the drugs facts box,” Woloshin says, “to let people look at the evidence and come to their own judgments. But you can’t make those judgments without the facts.

He and Schwartz believe passionately in the numeracy of patients. They say we can handle numbers, like percents. It’s just that too often we’re given incomplete or misleading information.

How Good A Deal Is That Sale?

For example, a claim that some drug reduces the likelihood of a particular disease by 50 percent can be misleading.

Woloshin explains why. “If you heard about a sale, and it said 50 percent off, would you travel a great distance to go to the sale? Well, you might if it was on things that are really expensive, like a flat-screen TV or something,” he says. “But what if the thing that was on sale was gum, and you save only a couple of cents? So when you hear 50 percent reduction, you have to ask 50 percent of what?”

The doctors’ dream is to get those drug facts boxes into health systems and electronic medical records, so that doctors and patients can study the information and decide what’s best before the drug is prescribed.

“What we hope is that the box will encourage people to take drugs that are effective and that work, and discourage people from taking drugs that don’t work or are just harmful,” Woloshin says. “And also that just having this information in front of people will stimulate better drug research, because drug companies realize people are paying attention and looking at these numbers — and then we’d have a better quality of drug trials.”

Woloshin and Schwartz say medical information should be as quantitative as other information. And we digest quantitative data all the time.

“If you were reporting on an election, you wouldn’t say Obama won by a little,” he says. “You’d give the numbers. If you were reporting sports scores, you wouldn’t say the Celtics, won, hopefully won, by a bit. You’d give the score.”

Why should health care be different?

He and Schwartz are convinced that we can understand risk described by numbers, provided the numbers are clearly and honestly presented.

They have been lobbying the FDA to develop drug facts boxes, but say that seems unlikely. So they started their own company to do it — Informulary. It’s funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which also supports NPR.

This is the final part of an All Things Considered series on Risk and Reason.”

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A Beginner’s Guide to Ingesting Marijuana

A Beginner’s Guide to Ingesting Marijuana

How many high school and college students end up in the emergency room because they didn’t know their drinking limits? How many minors raid their parent’s medicine cabinets for prescription drugs? How many parents limit the amount of sugar their kids eat? Moderation is not a novel concept.

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There’s an Alarming Epidemic Stretching From Louisiana to Michigan

There’s an Alarming Epidemic Stretching From Louisiana to Michigan

“The news: Americans are hooked on pain killers.

The U.S. consumes far more opioid pain relievers, like Percocet and Vicodin, than any other nation. But the problem is far worse in some states than in others. In a strip stretching from Louisiana to Michigan, doctors write between 96 and 143 prescriptions for every 100 people, averaging more than one prescription per person. There’s no national policy to govern how doctors should prescribe the drugs, from when to give them out to how many pills to provide and how long the treatment should last.

 

Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published an early edition of their comprehensive study of the problem on Tuesday. Southern states ranked highest for all individual opioids except hydromorphone, fentanyl and methadone. For those drugs, Vermont, North Dakota and Oregon led the pack.

Why it matters: Drug overdose deaths in the U.S. — 75% of which are the result of prescription painkillers — have been on the rise since 1990, with three times more people dying in 2008 than just two decades earlier. In 2011, nearly 17,000 people died after popping too many highly addictive pills.

Soldiers returning home from war take even more painkillers than civilians. A study released on Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association estimates that 1 in 6 American veterans regularly takes opioids after returning from the battlefield.

The problem might have a simple fix: When doctors in New York and Tennessee were mandated to record all the prescriptions they wrote for highly abused drugs, prescriptions for those drugs plummeted. In New York, they fell 75% and in Tennessee they dropped by more than a third: Seems like an easy solution to a deadly problem.”

 

I will continue saying this until it’s no longer a problem:
100,000 Americans die every year from KNOWN side effects of prescription drugs. Furthermore, the use of opiod pain killers in the leading cause of heroin use.

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America Probably Uses Way More Drugs Than We Previously Thought

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June 24, 2014 · 5:31 pm

‘Crack baby’ study ends with unexpected but clear result

By Susan FitzGerald, For The Inquirer

POSTED: July 22, 2013

“Jaimee Drakewood hurried in from the rain, eager to get to her final appointment at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Ever since her birth 23 years ago, a team of researchers has been tracking every aspect of her development – gauging her progress as an infant, measuring her IQ as a preschooler, even peering into her adolescent brain using an MRI machine.

Now, after nearly a quarter century, the federally funded study was ending, and the question the researchers had been asking was answered.

Did cocaine harm the long-term development of children like Jaimee, who were exposed to the drug in their mother’s womb?

The researchers had expected the answer would be a resounding yes. But it wasn’t. Another factor would prove far more critical.

 

A crack epidemic was raging in Philadelphia in 1989 when Hallam Hurt, then chair of neonatology at Albert Einstein Medical Center on North Broad Street, began a study to evaluate the effects of in-utero cocaine exposure on babies. In maternity wards in Philadelphia and elsewhere, caregivers were seeing more mothers hooked on cheap, smokable crack cocaine. A 1989 study in Philadelphia found that nearly one in six newborns at city hospitals had mothers who tested positive for cocaine.

Troubling stories were circulating about the so-called crack babies. They had small heads and were easily agitated and prone to tremors and bad muscle tone, according to reports, many of which were anecdotal. Worse, the babies seemed aloof and avoided eye contact. Some social workers predicted a lost generation – kids with a host of learning and emotional deficits who would overwhelm school systems and not be able to hold a job or form meaningful relationships. The “crack baby” image became symbolic of bad mothering, and some cocaine-using mothers had their babies taken from them or, in a few cases, were arrested.

It was amid that climate that Hurt organized a study of 224 near-term or full-term babies born at Einstein between 1989 and 1992 – half with mothers who used cocaine during pregnancy and half who were not exposed to the drug in utero. All the babies came from low-income families, and nearly all were African Americans.

Hurt hoped the study would inform doctors and nurses caring for cocaine-exposed babies and even guide policies for drug prevention, treatment, and follow-up interventions. But she never anticipated that the study, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, would become one of the largest and longest-running studies of in-utero cocaine exposure.

One mother who signed up was Jaimee’s mom, Karen Drakewood. She was on an all-night crack binge in a drug house near her home in the city’s West Oak Lane section when she went into labor. Jaimee was born Jan. 13, 1990, weighing an even 7 pounds.

“Jaimee was beautiful when she was born. A head full of hair. She looked like a porcelain doll,” Karen Drakewood, now 51, said recently in her Overbrook kitchen. “She was perfect.”

But Drakewood knew looks could be deceiving.

“My worst fear was that Jaimee would be slow, mentally retarded, or something like that because of me doing drugs,” she said. She agreed to enroll her baby in the cocaine study at Einstein. Drakewood promised herself that she would turn her life around for the sake of Jaimee and her older daughter, but she soon went back to smoking crack.

 

Hurt arrived early at Children’s Hospital one morning in June to give a talk on her team’s findings to coworkers. After nearly 25 years of studying the effects of cocaine and publishing or presenting dozens of findings, it wasn’t easy to summarize it in a PowerPoint presentation. The study received nearly $7.9 million in federal funding over the years, as well as $130,000 from the Einstein Society.

Hurt, who had taken her team from Einstein to Children’s in 2003, began her lecture with quotations from the media around the time the study began. A social worker on TV predicted that a crack baby would grow up to “have an IQ of perhaps 50.” A print article quoted a psychologist as saying “crack was interfering with the central core of what it is to be human,” and yet another article predicted that crack babies were “doomed to a life of uncertain suffering, of probable deviance, of permanent inferiority.”

Hurt, who is also a professor of pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania, is always quick to point out that cocaine can have devastating effects on pregnancy. The drug can cause a problematic rise in a pregnant woman’s blood pressure, trigger premature labor, and may be linked to a dangerous condition in which the placenta tears away from the uterine wall. Babies born prematurely, no matter the cause, are at risk for a host of medical and developmental problems. On top of that, a parent’s drug use can create a chaotic home life for a child.

Hurt’s study enrolled only full-term babies so the possible effects of prematurity did not skew the results. The babies were then evaluated periodically, beginning at six months and then every six or 12 months on through young adulthood. Their mothers agreed to be tested for drug use throughout the study.

The researchers consistently found no significant differences between the cocaine-exposed children and the controls. At age 4, for instance, the average IQ of the cocaine-exposed children was 79.0 and the average IQ for the nonexposed children was 81.9. Both numbers are well below the average of 90 to 109 for U.S. children in the same age group. When it came to school readiness at age 6, about 25 percent of children in each group scored in the abnormal range on tests for math and letter and word recognition.

“We went looking for the effects of cocaine,” Hurt said. But after a time “we began to ask, ‘Was there something else going on?’ “

While the cocaine-exposed children and a group of nonexposed controls performed about the same on tests, both groups lagged on developmental and intellectual measures compared to the norm. Hurt and her team began to think the “something else” was poverty.

As the children grew, the researchers did many evaluations to tease out environmental factors that could be affecting their development. On the upside, they found that children being raised in a nurturing home – measured by such factors as caregiver warmth and affection and language stimulation – were doing better than kids in a less nurturing home. On the downside, they found that 81 percent of the children had seen someone arrested; 74 percent had heard gunshots; 35 percent had seen someone get shot; and 19 percent had seen a dead body outside – and the kids were only 7 years old at the time. Those children who reported a high exposure to violence were likelier to show signs of depression and anxiety and to have lower self-esteem.

More recently, the team did MRI scans on the participants’ brains. Some research has suggested that gestational cocaine exposure can affect brain development, especially the dopamine system, which in turn can harm cognitive function. An area of concern is “executive functioning,” a set of skills involved in planning, problem-solving, and working memory.

The investigators found one brain area linked to attention skills that differed between exposed and nonexposed children, but they could not find any clinically significant effect on behavioral tests of attention skills.

Drug use did not differ between the exposed and nonexposed participants as young adults. About 42 percent used marijuana and three tested positive for cocaine one time each.

The team has kept tabs on 110 of the 224 children originally in the study. Of the 110, two are dead – one shot in a bar and another in a drive-by shooting – three are in prison, six graduated from college, and six more are on track to graduate. There have been 60 children born to the 110 participants.

The years of tracking kids have led Hurt to a conclusion she didn’t see coming.

“Poverty is a more powerful influence on the outcome of inner-city children than gestational exposure to cocaine,” Hurt said at her May lecture.

Other researchers also couldn’t find any devastating effects from cocaine exposure in the womb. Claire Coles, a psychiatry professor at Emory University, has been tracking a group of low-income Atlanta children. Her work has found that cocaine exposure does not seem to affect children’s overall cognition and school performance, but some evidence suggests that these children are less able to regulate their reactions to stressful stimuli, which could affect learning and emotional health.

Coles said her research had found nothing to back up predictions that cocaine-exposed babies were doomed for life. “As a society we say, ‘Cocaine is bad and therefore it must cause damage to babies,’ ” Coles said. “When you have a myth, it tends to linger for a long time.”

Deborah A. Frank, a pediatrics professor at Boston University who has tracked a similar group of children, said the “crack baby” label led to erroneous stereotyping. “You can’t walk into a classroom and tell this kid was exposed and this kid was not,” Frank said. “Unfortunately, there are so many factors that affect poor kids. They have to deal with so much stress and deprivation. We have also found that exposure to violence is a huge factor.”

Frank said that cocaine – along with other illicit drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes – “isn’t good for babies,” but the belief that they would “grow up to be addicts and criminals is not true. Some kids have stunned us with how well they’ve done.”

 

Jaimee Drakewood came to her last visit at Children’s with her 16-month-old son KyMani in tow. It was the 31st time she had met with the researchers.

“We do appreciate everything you’ve done, because it’s not easy to get to all these appointments,” said team member Kathleen Dooley, as she handed Drakewood a framed certificate of appreciation. “We are proud of you and we feel you are family, because you are.”

The team plans to stay in touch with study participants each year. They have started a new study that uses MRI and other tools to explore the neural and cognitive effects of poverty on infant development.

“Given what we learned,” Hurt said, “we are invested in better understanding the effects of poverty. How can early effects be detected? Which developing systems are affected? And most important, how can findings inform interventions for our children?”

The team considers Jaimee and her mother, Karen, among their best success stories. Jaimee is heading into her senior year at Tuskegee University in Alabama and hopes to become a food inspector. She is home for the summer with her son and working as a lifeguard at a city pool.

After a few starts and stops, including a year in jail, Karen Drakewood is off drugs and works as a residential adviser at Gaudenzia House. Her older daughter just received a master’s degree at Drexel University; her son is a student at Florida Atlantic University. Even in the worst moments, Karen Drakewood said she tried to show her kids “what their future could hold.” “If a child sees the light, they will follow it.”

Jaimee Drakewood credits her big sister and mother for keeping her on track. “I’ve seen my mom at her lowest point and I’ve seen her at her highest. That hasn’t stopped me from seeing the superwoman in her regardless of where she was at,” Jaimee said.

Despite her family’s history, Jaimee believes she and her siblings are “destined to have accomplishments, to be greater than our parents.”

 


Susan FitzGerald, a former Inquirer reporter, has written periodically about the cocaine study. Now an independent journalist, she is coathor of a parenting book, Letting Go With Love and Confidence and can be reached at sfitzgerald610@msn.com .”

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July 23, 2013 · 11:12 pm

Debauchery and the American Experience (Woo-Hoo!)

Image: www.fanpop.com

 

 

By 
Published: March 14, 2013

“Just before the candy-colored apocalypse comes to Harmony Korine’s “Spring Breakers” you hear the peaceable murmurings of a beach, of lapping water, calling gulls and playing children. They’re nice, these sounds of summer, promises of carefree, youthful pursuits like building sand castles and shrieking at waves. The first image of what looks like a beach party keeps the happy vibe going. Dozens, hundreds of gyrating, dancing young women and men are basking in the honeyed light — as the beat goes on and the smiles sour into sneers — though it becomes evident that they’re also marinating in a tsunami of beer.

The beer doesn’t flow, it floods: over heads, writhing torsos and the bared breasts that wiggle like puppies and wag at the camera like the middle fingers that more and more revelers raise. Welcome to the party, dude, Mr. Korine seems to be saying (or is he snickering?), now sit back, relax and enjoy the show. He proves an excellent ringmaster and a crafty one too. In “Spring Breakers” he bores into a contested, deeply American topic — the pursuit of happiness taken to nihilistic extremes — but turns his exploration into such a gonzo, outrageously funny party that it takes a while to appreciate that this is more of a horror film than a comedy.

If the laughter at times catches in your throat, well, that’s part of the queasy, transfixing experience that is “Spring Breakers,” which plays with some of the same ideas in Mr. Korine’s last feature, “Trash Humpers.” In that movie, shot on VHS tape, four characters in rubber masks run amok, getting down and dirty as they compulsively, even ritualistically grind their pelvises against anything — garbage, of course, included — in a creepy, joyless yet also amusing burlesque. In “Spring Breakers” Mr. Korine has traded in his plug-uglies for a far more seductive and commercially viable female quartet that includes two former Disney teen queens, Selena Gomez (as Faith) andVanessa Hudgens (Candy), along with Ashley Benson (Brit) and his wife, Rachel Korine (Cotty).

Introduced shortly after the opening bacchanal, the four play students at a nondescript school somewhere warm that’s ornamented with palm trees and bored young people smoking weed, hanging out, sometimes reading and even attending classes. Over a number of dreamy, elliptical scenes that slide from day to night and back, it emerges that the four friends want to go on spring break but don’t have enough cash. While Faith prays on her problems — “Are you crazy for Jesus?” her church leader calls out — the other three opt for a more direct approach: armed with squirt guns and a lady-sized sledgehammer, they go full-on gangsta and rob a restaurant. “Pretend it’s a video game,” one giggles. “Act like it’s a movie.” So they do.

There are consequences of a kind, but first: paaarty! The four later take off for spring break in St. Petersburg, Fla. There they join an invading army that has seemingly commandeered every inch of sand, surf and hotel. From rooms and halls these tanned, groomed, white-teethed paragons of American youth and orthodontics spill onto balconies and into pools, laughing and yelling as they drink, snort, dance, grind, thrash and jump jump jump up, moving together like a single pulsing organism. They’re beautiful and monstrous, enthralling and repellent. For those who don’t belong to their tribe (never wanted to, never did), they may be exotic, worrisome, frightening or representatives of the decline of the West in hot-pink bikinis.

Just kids or children of the damned? Take your pick. Mr. Korine, a pasticheur and cultural vulgarian (part Dada, part European art cinema, part MTV’s “Jackass”), isn’t interested in making up your mind for you. Instead he tosses out his ideas like puzzle pieces and lets you see how or if they fit. The women want to go on spring break and want to have fun, and he seems to want the same. He splashes on the gorgeous, gaudy color and bends the story line, adding brief flash-forwards and flashbacks that make it seem as if time were incessantly skipping forward and backward, almost swirling. Gestures, bits of dialogue and moody moments are repeated like old songs, like dreams, rituals and highlight reels.

Mr. Korine clearly digs frolicking with his visiting celebrities, and the actresses seem happy to do things that would make Uncle Walt spin in his grave. They’re almost giddy, at least at first, and given that both Ms. Gomez and Ms. Hudgens have put in time working for Disney it’s no wonder that they cut loose. In “Spring Breakers” they have the chance to simulate the behavior that feeds the tabloids without the humiliations and career-crushing price paid by the likes of Lindsay Lohan. For his recent, putatively adult role in “The Paperboy” Zac Efron (Ms. Hudgens’s co-star in Disney’s “High School Musical” series) played a scene in which Nicole Kidman urinated on him. The female stars of “Spring Breakers” get to shoot guns and hang out with James Franco.

The fantastic Mr. Franco, wearing grillz and long cornrows, rolls up with guns and a white Camaro convertible with red rims. His character, a rapper from “St. Pete” called Alien, is a hustler, dealer and self-anointed gangsta. He walks the bad-boy walk and talks the talk, but he’s strictly thug lite, a white caricature in a cartoonish masquerade of black masculinity. For the women he becomes something of a sleazy Prince Charming — not all the princesses are equally charmed — in a story that has metamorphosed into a feverish fairy tale. “Look at all my” stuff, he boasts, almost self-amazed, in a startling, deliriously funny riff on “The Great Gatsby” — except that instead of throwing shirts in the air he’s brandishing machine guns, bricks of dope, wads of cash, animal-print shorts.

Alien’s masquerade as well as his feud with a black gangster bring the film back to an earlier scene that indicates Mr. Korine has more on his mind than surface shocks. Brit and Candy are sitting in a class in which a professor is murmuring words like Reconstruction, war and African-Americans. One of them draws a heart and the words “I want penis” on some paper. They laugh and, as the professor keeps talking, one pantomimes giving oral sex. It doesn’t matter that they’re not paying attention to their history lesson. Because, at that point, they haven’t yet pretended to be gangstas and robbed the restaurant, giggling as they held a squirt gun to a black man’s head — playing thugs without the burden, without the history, without the cost.

Mr. Korine originally shows the robbery from the exterior and through the restaurant’s windows so that the assault, the women’s movements and violence, are seen inside a frame as if you were watching a film within a film. The whole episode looks preposterous, like a bad music video, and the women in their black ski masks just seem silly. Much later, when Mr. Korine loops back to the crime, he takes you inside so you can see the terrified customers cowering as Brit and Candy smash up the place, waving their “weapons.” The squirt guns are fakes, but both the women’s pleasure and the rage that pumps through the scene and increasingly through the film — feeding the excesses, the posturing and escalating violence like a poisoned river — feel eerily real, familiar and very American.

At once blunt and oblique, “Spring Breakers” looks different depending on how you hold it up to the light. From one angle it comes across as a savage social commentary that skitters from one idea to another — white faces, black masks, celebrity, the American dream, the limits of self-interest, the search for an authentic self — without stitching those ideas together. From another it comes off as the apotheosis of the excesses it so spectacularly displays. That Mr. Korine appears to be having it both (or many) ways may seem like a cop-out, but only if you believe that the role of the artist is to be a didact or a scold. Mr. Korine, on the other hand, embraces the role of court jester, the fool whose transgressive laughter carries corrosive truth. He laughs, you howl.

“Spring Breakers” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). Gun violence and enough naked breasts to supply material for a second Seth MacFarlane song.

Spring Breakers

Opens on Friday in New York and Los Angeles.

Written and directed by Harmony Korine; director of photography, Benoît Debie; edited by Douglas Crise; music by Cliff Martinez and Skrillex; production design by Elliott Hostetter: costumes by Heidi Bivens; produced by Chris Hanley, Jordan Gertner, David Zander and Charles-Marie Anthonioz; released by A24. Running time: 1 hour 34 minutes.

WITH: Vanessa Hudgens (Candy), Selena Gomez (Faith), Ashley Benson (Brit), Rachel Korine (Cotty), James Franco (Alien) and Gucci Mane (Archie).”

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March 17, 2013 · 4:20 pm

The Professor, the Bikini Model and the Suitcase Full of Trouble

By MAXINE SWANN

Published: March 8, 2013

“In November 2011, Paul Frampton, a theoretical particle physicist, met Denise Milani, a Czech bikini model, on the online dating site Mate1.com. She was gorgeous — dark-haired and dark-eyed, with a supposedly natural DDD breast size. In some photos, she looked tauntingly steamy; in others, she offered a warm smile. Soon, Frampton and Milani were chatting online nearly every day. Frampton would return home from campus — he’d been a professor in the physics and astronomy department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for 30 years — and his computer would buzz. “Are you there, honey?” They’d chat on Yahoo Messenger for a while, and then he’d go into the other room to take care of something. A half-hour later, there was the familiar buzz. It was always Milani. “What are you doing now?”

Frampton had been very lonely since his divorce three years earlier; now it seemed those days were over. Milani told him she was longing to change her life. She was tired, she said, of being a “glamour model,” of posing in her bikini on the beach while men ogled her. She wanted to settle down, have children. But she worried what he thought of her. “Do you think you could ever be proud of someone like me?” Of course he could, he assured her.

Frampton tried to get Milani to talk on the phone, but she always demurred. When she finally agreed to meet him in person, she asked him to come to La Paz, Bolivia, where she was doing a photo shoot. On Jan. 7, 2012, Frampton set out for Bolivia via Toronto and Santiago, Chile. At 68, he dreamed of finding a wife to bear him children — and what a wife. He pictured introducing her to his colleagues. One thing worried him, though. She had told him that men hit on her all the time. How did that acclaim affect her? Did it go to her head? But he remembered how comforting it felt to be chatting with her, like having a companion in the next room. And he knew she loved him. She’d said so many times.

Frampton didn’t plan on a long trip. He needed to be back to teach. So he left his car at the airport. Soon, he hoped, he’d be returning with Milani on his arm. The first thing that went wrong was that the e-ticket Milani sent Frampton for the Toronto-Santiago leg of his journey turned out to be invalid, leaving him stranded in the Toronto airport for a full day. Frampton finally arrived in La Paz four days after he set out. He hoped to meet Milani the next morning, but by then she had been called away to another photo shoot in Brussels. She promised to send him a ticket to join her there, so Frampton, who had checked into the Eva Palace Hotel, worked on a physics paper while he waited for it to arrive. He and Milani kept in regular contact. A ticket to Buenos Aires eventually came, with the promise that another ticket to Brussels was on the way. All Milani asked was that Frampton do her a favor: bring her a bag that she had left in La Paz.

While in Bolivia, Frampton corresponded with an old friend, John Dixon, a physicist and lawyer who lives in Ontario. When Frampton explained what he was up to, Dixon became alarmed. His warnings to Frampton were unequivocal, Dixon told me not long ago, still clearly upset: “I said: ‘Well, inside that suitcase sewn into the lining will be cocaine. You’re in big trouble.’ Paul said, ‘I’ll be careful, I’ll make sure there isn’t cocaine in there and if there is, I’ll ask them to remove it.’ I thought they were probably going to kidnap him and torture him to get his money. I didn’t know he didn’t have money. I said, ‘Well, you’re going to be killed, Paul, so whom should I contact when you disappear?’ And he said, ‘You can contact my brother and my former wife.’ ” Frampton later told me that he shrugged off Dixon’s warnings about drugs as melodramatic, adding that he rarely pays attention to the opinions of others.

On the evening of Jan. 20, nine days after he arrived in Bolivia, a man Frampton describes as Hispanic but whom he didn’t get a good look at handed him a bag out on the dark street in front of his hotel. Frampton was expecting to be given an Hermès or a Louis Vuitton, but the bag was an utterly commonplace black cloth suitcase with wheels. Once he was back in his room, he opened it. It was empty. He wrote to Milani, asking why this particular suitcase was so important. She told him it had “sentimental value.” The next morning, he filled it with his dirty laundry and headed to the airport.

Frampton flew from La Paz to Buenos Aires, crossing the border without incident. He says that he spent the next 40 hours in Ezeiza airport, without sleeping, mainly “doing physics” and checking his e-mail regularly in hopes that an e-ticket to Brussels would arrive. But by the time the ticket materialized, Frampton had gotten a friend to send him a ticket to Raleigh. He had been gone for 15 days and was ready to go home. Because there was always the chance that Milani would come to North Carolina and want her bag, he checked two bags, his and hers, and went to the gate. Soon he heard his name called over the loudspeaker. He thought it must be for an upgrade to first class, but when he arrived at the airline counter, he was greeted by several policemen. Asked to identify his luggage — “That’s my bag,” he said, “the other one’s not my bag, but I checked it in” — he waited while the police tested the contents of a package found in the “Milani” suitcase. Within hours, he was under arrest.

 

Illustration by Wesley Allsbrook for The New York Times

Illustration by Wesley Allsbrook

Frampton was arrested at the Buenos Aires airport and 
spent time in jail in Argentina awaiting trial.

 

 

I first met Frampton this past fall in the prison warden’s office in Devoto, one of the few remaining old-style jails in Buenos Aires, so dilapidated that its windows stick open and rain leaks through the roof. It was September, the beginning of spring in the Southern Hemisphere, but there was still a chill in the air, and the prison heating system was down as usual.

“Hey Professor, have you won the Nobel yet?” a guard shouted as Frampton walked by. He was wearing a red Adidas tracksuit (“Adidas seems to have a franchise in Devoto,” he said), running shoes and a tattered Barbour coat to keep warm. “This is the coat the royal family wears, it’s for hunting,” Frampton, who grew up in Britain, pointed out. “See, it has this pocket in the back where you can put a dead bird.” Frampton had been in Devoto for eight months, awaiting trial on charges of transporting two kilos of cocaine into the country. He was housed not in a single cell but in a group pavilion with 80 men accused of drug dealing or smuggling, most of them from other Latin American countries. Frampton had had almost no experience with drugs in his life, apart from the occasional drink and a nicotine addiction (he’d given up smoking two years before). Now he was living with people who were not only well versed in the intricacies of the drug trade but regular users of marijuana and cocaine. The pavilion was often illuminated at night by little flames held under spoons, as inmates cooked paco, a cocaine paste similar to crack that is often made with kerosene and sulfuric acid. But there were good things about not being in a private cell, too. A number of the prisoners on the pavilion had their own TVs. On Sunday mornings, Frampton would turn on the classical-music station, Arpeggio, so he could listen for a few hours before others got up and switched the channel back to music videos. Whenever his case was reported on local news channels, pictures of Denise Milani would flash across the TV screen, eliciting catcalls and applause from the other prisoners.

“I’m a bit of a celebrity in here,” Frampton said. From the moment of his arrest he had maintained that he was the victim of a scam — even if it didn’t occur to him right away that the Milani with whom he was corresponding was not the real Milani — and he projected a sense that all that had happened to him was a mistake that would soon be resolved. Perfectly congenial, he kept punctuating my questions about his present predicament with “And after this, we’ll get to physics, right?”

Finally, eyes burning with schoolboy enthusiasm, interrupted now and then by a spasmodic cough — he has a lung condition, which the smoke-filled prison air worsened — he talked me through what he called his “14 groundbreaking discoveries,” which he had written out for me on a piece of notepaper. Frampton closed our interview half-seriously, half-impishly, with another kind of calculation: “I’ve co-authored with three Nobel laureates. Only 11 theoretical physicists have done that. Six out of those 11 have wonNobel Prizes themselves. Following this logic, I have a 55 percent chance of getting the Nobel.”

 

Illustration by Wesley Allsbrook for The New York Times

Illustration by Wesley Allsbrook

 

 

 

How Frampton, who holds an endowed chair at the University of North Carolinaand has been an adviser to the Department of Energy, ended up in Devoto appears at first to be a classic tale: a brilliant man of science gets into trouble as soon as he tries to navigate the real world. Since his arrest, he has certainly cultivated this notion, burnishing his wacky-scientist profile with lines like “That’s my naïveté” and “My mind works in a strange way.”

Those who know him well also portray him as a kind of idiot savant, someone who could have been easily duped by whoever was posing as Milani. “Women came later in Paul’s life,” says Richard Czerniawski, a chemist who was a student with Frampton at Oxford University and now lives in Buenos Aires. Frampton was married for the first time at age 50, to Anne-Marie Frampton, then 52, a Frenchwoman living in the United States, who calls herself a physics groupie: “I couldn’t completely follow everything Paul said, because of the mathematics, of course, but either I could understand the words, or I could just listen to the music, the music of physics.” The pair divorced in 2008 but are still on good terms. Anne-Marie describes her ex-husband as a very good scientist with the emotional age of a 3-year-old. “I was flabbergasted, flabbergasted but not surprised,” she said, referring to the call she received from Frampton from Devoto prison. “Paul is a very experienced traveler, but that sentence, ‘Don’t take any luggage that doesn’t belong to you,’ he doesn’t even hear that. He’s in another world, an alternate universe.”

One story about his search for a new wife certainly bolstered this view. Shortly after his divorce, Frampton, then 64, expressed concern about finding a wife between the ages of 18 and 35, which Frampton understood to be the period when women are most fertile. One particularly promising candidate was a young Chinese woman. After an extended e-mail correspond­ence, Frampton arranged to see her during a trip to China to visit another eminent scientist, but they met for only an hour, and “it didn’t go anywhere.” The next important contender appears to have been Milani. “He told me to look her up on the Internet,” Dixon recalled. “I thought he was out of his mind, and I told him that. ‘You’re not talking to the real girl. Why would a young woman like that be interested in an old guy like you?’ But he really believed that he had a pretty young woman who wanted to marry him.” When I later asked Frampton what made him think that Milani was interested, he replied, “Well, I have been accused of having a huge ego.”

Over the course of three and a half months, Frampton called my house 42 times from jail. He’d call to report the latest news. A “brilliant” op-ed he published in a Raleigh newspaperabout the U.N.C. provost’s “illegal” action — cutting off his salary without any due process — had succeeded in getting the provost fired. (The provost had granted Frampton 60 days of paid leave, then suspended his salary until he could resume his duties as a faculty member. Frampton sued the university, unsuccessfully, for his wages.) He was particularly pleased about the provost’s dismissal, because the severance of his salary had had real repercussions. Apparently without savings, he was unable to afford a private lawyer and had to rely on an overburdened Argentine public defender. He’d given up his health insurance and risked losing his car and apartment in Chapel Hill. In Argentina, he scrambled to get the money he needed to buy himself decent food in prison and telephone cards, of which he might have as many as 30 in his pocket.

It turned out that the provost was stepping down voluntarily in June 2013 and would remain as a faculty member. Frampton didn’t seem sheepish about having linked the provost’s fate to his own. He was excited about something else now. The president of Harvard, he’d heard, had been given a memo about his case in hopes that she’d mention it to Argentina’s president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, during Kirchner’s visit to the university. “I think I’ve never been discussed by two such important people in my life,” Frampton reflected. (Harvard’s president never received any memo about Frampton, and she and Kirchner never did discuss his case.) Or he’d report, ever hopefully, that he’d be out on house arrest any day. (His Argentine public attorney, Ignacio Anitua, had requested that his client be placed on house arrest, given his age and his pulmonary ailment, but the request was still wending its way through official channels.) He asked me to bring him Gruyère, blue cheese, curry powder, chili pepper, notebooks, reading glasses and telephone cards, and he expressed frustration about the slow progress of his case. He was especially exasperated that the text messages on his confiscated cellphone from Jan. 20, the day of the bag exchange, had still not been handed over to his defense lawyer by the police, despite repeated requests. “It’s clear from those messages that it was not my bag,” he said. “That should be sufficient to exonerate me.” (His public defender told me that the text messages were actually in his file but would never be enough to prove his innocence.)

One Monday, Frampton called three times. The first time was at 3 p.m. He was animated and talked at length about the “volatile situation” at the university, which had yet to reinstate his salary, despite letters of support from the Nobel laureate Sheldon Lee Glashow and from John C. Taylor, emeritus professor of physics at the University of Cambridge, among others. “Research institutions throughout the country are in jeopardy if a tenured professor of 30 years has his salary suddenly revoked without any due process,” Frampton said. “This means that the jobs of tens of thousands of tenured professors are at risk.”

Second call, 6 p.m.: Frampton reported that he was a month into his prison stay before his fellow prisoners managed to convince him that the woman he thought he’d been in touch with all this time had probably been a man impersonating her. The real Denise Milani was never accused of having a role in the drug smuggling and has no connection to Frampton. “The only real connection we have is through the international media,” Frampton admitted. Milani, who was interviewed for The Daily Mail, expressed alarm about having her name associated with drug smugglers, fear for herself, her 12-year-old son and “sympathy” for the professor. “I feel sympathy for her, too,” Frampton said. (Despite repeated attempts, Milani could not be reached for comment.)

Third call, 8 p.m.: “There could be retribution. I could be assassinated.” He spoke about how he had overheard the dealers and smugglers he was now living with talking about what happens to drug mules who lose the stash. He said people had told him someone must have been watching him move around at the airport, so they knew what he looked like. “These thoughts keep me up at night.”

Frampton is prone to seeing himself as the center of the action whatever the milieu. When he was growing up in Worcestershire, England, in what he describes as a “lower-middle-class family,” his mother encouraged him to report his stellar grades to all the neighbors, a practice that may have led the young Frampton to confuse worldly laurels with love. At 18, he enrolled at Brasenose College, Oxford, obtaining his Ph.D. in 1968. He received a number of offers for postdocs, including one at Princeton and another at the University of Chicago. His advisers suggested he go to Chicago to work with the Japanese physicist Yoichiro Nambu. Nambu was an intellectual giant in the field, but Frampton’s advisers may have had other reasons for steering Frampton his way. Nambu, who would go on to win the Nobel Prize in 2008, has, Frampton told me, “astonishingly no ego.”

As Frampton tells it, his life is one unbroken line of impressive grades, advanced degrees and innumerable citations of his work in cosmology and physics. There is certainly much truth to this. “He has always been very inventive in thinking of new ideas extending and going beyond the standard model of particle physics,” says Prof. Edward Witten of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. But then there is Frampton’s tendency to transfer his professional accomplishments to his personal life. In what a fellow physicist described as a “very vain, very inappropriate” talk delivered on the 80th birthday of Murray Gell-Mann, a Nobel laureate in physics, Frampton veered into autobiography, recounting how his ability to multiply numbers in his head at 4 led him to see himself as “cleverer than Newton.” This line became a refrain throughout the talk. Interspersed with the calculations and hypotheses were his Oxford grades, which, he said, showed that he, like Newton, was in the top 1 percentile for intelligence. Frampton insists that he was merely joking and that his sense of humor was misinterpreted as self-regard. Yet in many of my conversations with him, he seemed to cling to the idea of his own exceptionalism. During our first meeting, when I asked him what attracted him to Milani, he said, “Not to offend present company,” referring to me and the representative from the penitentiary service, “but, to start with, she’s in the top 1 percentile of how women look.” And in an e-mail to Milani — or, rather, the fake Milani — Frampton wrote, “As these days tick by, and I think about it a lot, the more I realize that we are the perfect couple in all respects.”

The strategy of Frampton’s defense team was to present Frampton as a brilliant man out of touch with day-to-day life. They called in a psychologist, who pronounced him unusually gullible without, however, diagnosing a mental illness. The judges sent their own doctor, who declared Frampton normal. A total of three psychological evaluations were presented at the trial, and two agreed that he had the traits of a narcissistic personality — an overblown and unrealistic image of himself. One concluded that it did not constitute a pathology, while the other suggested that there were pathological aspects to his narcissism that led to gaps in his understanding of reality.

Fidel Schaposnik, a physics professor at the National University of La Plata, which, along with the University of Buenos Aires, had offered Frampton a visiting professorship to help get him released from Devoto while he awaited trial, said of Frampton: “He’s a typical person trained at Oxford. He knows he’s part of an elite and can’t imagine such things would happen to him.” Indeed, Frampton sees academia’s denizens as creative misfits who deserve special protection. “People who are socially inept can nevertheless be the most creative people,” he told me one afternoon on the telephone. “It’s very important that they can’t be fired. This is the genius of tenure.”

There had been a case similar to Frampton’s in the past year, that of a New Zealander named Sharon Armstrong. Like Frampton, Armstrong, a former executive at the Maori Language Commission, said she met her lover on an Internet dating site and, after months of online contact, made a plan to meet him abroad, passing through Buenos Aires on her way to London to pick up some important paper contracts for him. She was caught carrying a bag with five kilos of cocaine. After the two were mentioned together in a number of articles, Armstrong contacted Frampton. The judges in her case — she received a sentence of 4 years 10 months — were also going to be the judges in his.

According to Rusty Payne, a spokesman for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, if Frampton and Armstrong were unaware of their involvement, they would be the exception. He had never heard of a case in which a virtual “honey trap” had been used to dupe someone into being an unwitting drug mule. “When it comes to drug trafficking, we rarely see someone duped or used as part of a ruse,” he said. “It is very typical for those arrested to claim no knowledge or involvement.” The prosecutor in Frampton’s case, Mario Villar — 80 percent of his cases involve drug smuggling — concurred. It is highly improbable, he said, that a person is unaware that he or she is carrying drugs. Frampton acknowledged that this was undoubtedly true — most of the time. Of the other 79 prisoners on his pavilion, he thought none were innocent. “Some people will say they’re innocent, but when I talk to them further, it becomes clear that they were somehow involved. I think people like me are less than 1 percent.”

Three weeks before his trial, Frampton hired private lawyers. When I asked how he was able to afford them, he first said he’d rather not tell me, then claimed that friends in Argentina were footing the bill. The new lawyers picked up where his public defenders left off, yet at a significantly accelerated pace. On Oct. 30, I spoke to Frampton as he was driving away from Devoto, accompanied by his friend, Czerniawski, who had agreed to take Frampton in on house arrest. Giddily, he said that the first thing he wanted to do was to sleep in, impossible in prison because every morning at 7:30 they do the roll call.

The following day at midday, I met Frampton at the Czerniawskis’ three-bedroom apartment, just blocks away from the Argentine Parliament. Dressed in a dark blue pinstriped suit and a tie covered with tiny red-beaked penguins, Frampton was finishing lunch with Czerniawski’s wife, Silvia, and their two daughters. “See,” he said, “I’m Paul Frampton again.” Czerniawski was at work. When I asked Frampton if he had slept in, he said he spent half the night on the Internet, reading through all the latest discoveries in his field, checking to see what his “competitors” had been working on, and beginning to answer the thousands of e-mails he received. He reported that he had more citations than ever. The conversation turned to his long-awaited release to house arrest. How had the new lawyers achieved so quickly what his public attorney had been requesting for more than four months? “They say they drink maté with the judges,” Frampton answered cryptically. Later he added, “A little bird told me that if I get off, I’ll never know why.”

He showed me his latest calculations, pages of beautifully rendered symbols with not a word in sight except for “Nestor Kirchner,” the former president and deceased husband of current president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, written in the margin. “I’m trying to connect the God particle, the Higgs boson, with dark energy — you know, the thing that makes the universe accelerate. This sounds a bit egomaniacal, but to understand dark energy, I think we have to be open-minded about Einstein’s general relativity.”

This time, he was the one who brought the conversation back around to drug smuggling, showing palpable anxiety about the outcome of his trial. He told me uneasily that his lawyers had reported that nearly all drug-smuggling cases that came to trial ended in guilty verdicts.

As I was leaving, he stepped out with me into the hallway. “Can I do this?” he asked, wondering if he was violating his house arrest. He got into the elevator, a wrought-iron cage that offered a view of the stairs as it descended, and repeated, “Can I do this?” He accompanied me down another long hall to the entrance and gave me a kiss on the cheek goodbye, peering out at the street as the door closed.

Two weeks later, on Nov. 12, Frampton’s trial began in a small wood-paneled courtroom, where he sat before three judges. On exhibit in front of the judges was a collapsed black cloth suitcase with wheels wrapped in yellow cellophane.

Frampton’s long-held defense — that he was duped because he had a childlike understanding of the ways of the world — began to unravel. The prosecutor opened his cross-examination of Frampton by citing a text message retrieved from Frampton’s confiscated cellphone. “On Jan. 22 at 9:46 a.m.,” he said, “you wrote from Ezeiza airport to the person you understood to be Denise Milani: ‘Was worried only about sniffer dogs but more.’ ” As his interrogation of Frampton continued, he read other text messages sent from Frampton’s phone. One at 9:52 a.m.: “Need to know if your loyalty is with the bad guy-agent & bolivian friends — or good guy, your husband?” And another at 9:56 a.m.: “SIRU” — the Hotel Siru, where they were planning to meet in Brussels — “IS AMBUSH.” 10:14 a.m.: “Your naivety is bad for me, us. This is millions. NO SIRU, OK?” At 11:19 a.m., Frampton sent Milani an e-mail: “This stuff is worth nothing in Bolivia, but $Ms in Europe. You meet me at the airport and we do not go near the hotel the ‘agent’ suggested. Stay at another hotel.” At 11:47 a.m., there was another text message: “Monday arrival changed. You must not tell the coca-goons.” At 12:16 p.m., he wrote: “WHY ARE YOU IGNORING ME? AT THIS LAST MOMENT. WE DID NOT DECIDE HOW TO MEET TOMORROW IN BRUSSELS AND KEEP COCA & LIVES. AT SIRU WE MAY LOSE BOTH!!” At 1:06: “We may do cool 1,000,000.”

Frampton explained to the judges that these messages were jokes. He’d made them up because of Dixon’s earlier warnings about drugs. “I was trying to keep Denise amused. I had already decided to fly back to North Carolina.” But even taking Frampton’s peculiar brand of humor into account, it was hard to understand why he would have taken the joke so far. He sent 30 messages like this, with specific details that made it seem as if he were referring to a real situation, a considered plan, not fabricating a story on the spot. Or did he think that whoever was behind the man who came to the hotel with the suitcase might hurt Milani if he didn’t agree to take the bag? While for much of his life Frampton seems to have had little interest in money, he may well have seen his actions as a strategy to prove to Milani once and for all that he was indeed the husband of her dreams — a knight slaying dragons.

The defense worked to show that far from hatching some elaborate plot, Frampton was unconcerned about the contents of the bag. Footage from airport security cameras showed him getting up from a cafe table and wandering off, leaving his open laptop and his two bags — his own white one and Milani’s black one — unattended for up to 25 minutes at a time, gazing in shop windows, talking to security personnel, standing at an airline counter, returning to his abandoned luggage and then, an hour or so later, repeating the operation. Would anyone, even a wacky scientist, behave this way if he knew he was transporting two kilos of cocaine?

And if Frampton’s behavior was innocent, it still called for an explanation. Who leaves his bags unattended in an airport? Frampton, apparently. “I’ve seen him in airports,” his ex-wife said, “He leaves all his bags and goes for half an hour somewhere else.”

The prosecution continued to press its case, producing a piece of paper on which Frampton had written:

“1 gram 200 dollars

2,000 grams 400,000 dollars.”

The amount of cocaine found in the bag Frampton was carrying was 1,980 grams. When asked why he’d been making this calculation, Frampton said: “My mind works in a strange way.” That evening, Frampton told me on the telephone, “I made those calculations in the airport office after having been arrested,” a fact that his defense team stressed the following day, noting Frampton’s tendency to make random calculations. They asked him to explain another notation on the same piece of paper that read “5 standard deviations 99.99994%.” “The criterion for the discovery of the Higgs boson had to be 5 standard deviations, which means it’s extremely unlikely to be a statistical fluctuation,” Frampton explained. He was “calculating the probability that Denise Milani would become my second wife, which was almost a certainty.” Pursuing this line of questioning, his lawyer asked whether Frampton was also calculating the weight of one of the judges.

“I’m embarrassed to admit it, but yes,” Frampton answered. “I calculated that he must weigh 100 kilos.”

“You calculated badly, as badly as you did about your second marriage,” the judge responded. “I’m 124 kilos.”

On the third and last day of the trial, the defense exhibited love letters Frampton had written to Denise Milani that they recovered from his Gmail account. They were full of tenderness, vividly imagining their life together in Chapel Hill. She wouldn’t need to work at first; she could accompany him to the office, make friends at the gym, the cafeteria and the supermarket; they’d take walks on the beach, and soon their little baby would arrive. Eventually she could get a contract with Victoria’s Secret. A response from Milani exhibited matching tenderness: “You’re the best thing that’s happened in my cursed life.” But the judges were apparently unmoved by these declarations of love. As Frampton’s former defense lawyer said, “The only thing that matters as far as the law is concerned is whether Frampton knew there were drugs in the bag. Whether he did it for money or a woman doesn’t matter.”

On Nov. 19, Frampton was sentenced to 4 years 8 months for drug smuggling.

After the trial, Frampton said his lawyers had forbidden him to speak to me, fearing that he might say something “stupid.” But three weeks later, this injunction was lifted, and I went to visit him again at the Czerniawskis’, where he remains under house arrest. With credit for the time he has already spent in custody, Frampton is expected to be released in May 2014. (Under Argentine law, a foreigner must serve half his sentence but can then be expelled from the country, and the penalty is then considered discharged.) It was a hot summer day, and he was dressed casually this time, in a light blue polo shirt, white shorts, black socks and black sneakers. He was still insisting on his innocence, but a new wariness had crept into his manner. He asked me several questions about myself, as if trying to gauge with each word which version of Paul Frampton I believed. He reported that U.N.C. would not make any decisions about his position on the faculty until it heard the results of his appeal, which could be months away. (U.N.C. confirmed that Frampton still has his position but that his current salary is $0.) His lawyers were using the same strategy they had previously, but introducing further evidence, like the complete record of his Yahoo Messenger chats with Milani, which he felt sure would exonerate him. “It shows unambiguously,” he said later, “that the only reason I went to South America was to meet Denise Milani.” For his part, Frampton had been working on two papers simultaneously. “So I can rest assured that I’m not like Oscar Wilde,” he said. While in Devoto, he checked out a copy of Oscar Wilde’s “Picture of Dorian Gray,” destined for English-language learners, from the prison library. He read in the preface that after Wilde’s stay in prison, he gave up writing. “That really affected me. He lost his confidence.”

The night before, Frampton told me, he watched the Nobel Prize ceremony live in Stockholm. He described to me how the king of Sweden presented the prizes in a concert hall, adding that he had been there once himself. His greatest dream was “to have a prediction verified by experimentation.” This, he explained, was how you win the Nobel as a theoretical particle physicist. “That would bring an enormous sense of fulfillment, quite apart from the Nobel Prize,” he said. “ ‘I predicted a particle that’s actually in the universe.’ Wouldn’t that be a rush? Much better than other ways of getting a lot of dopamine.” Later in the conversation, he reflected: “I’ve written 450 papers, an absurd number. A typical professor writes 100 in his career. I don’t regret my work in physics, but I have made sacrifices.” When asked what kind of sacrifices, he responded as if the answer were obvious, “Well, I don’t have a family.”

One of Frampton’s last e-mails to Denise Milani was written on a pirated cellphone a month into his stay inside Devoto prison: “I only think of cuddling all day and having sex all night with Denise Milani. How can you prove that you are Denise Milani?”

<nyt_author_id>

Maxine Swann is the author of the novels ‘‘The Foreigners’’ and ‘‘Flower Children.’’

swannmaxine10@gmail.com

Editor: Sheila Glaser

sfglaser@nytimes.com

<nyt_correction_bottom>

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: March 8, 2013

 

An earlier version of this article misidentified the location of the Institute for Advanced Study, a theoretical research center. It is a private, independent academic institute located in Princeton, N.J. It is not part of Princeton University. The article also misstated part of the name of the federal agency for which Rusty Payne works as a spokesman. It is the Drug Enforcement Administration, not the Drug Enforcement Agency.”

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March 11, 2013 · 6:35 pm