Archive for June 2013

Old Folks Boogie

June 30, 2013

Most folks realize that we are all heading for our second taste of non-existence at a constant rate of one day per day (don’t give me none of those event horizon/Protoss portal/twins paradoxical time bending maundering, either  you denizens of  ‘con and SciFi channel) .


What’s more — and I’ll admit this may be the fifty-something me talking, so feel free to challenge this presumption in the comments — I’m guessing that most of us recognize certain rewards that accrue as we successfully complete each circuit ’round the sun.  Losses too, of course, and more of them as the decades past (I’d love to reacquaint myself with my knees of twenty years ago, and certain summers, and the people now gone always and most of all).

But I wouldn’t want to give up what I’ve learned, the stuff I now know how to do, the way I come at the world with enough understanding to help me act each day with at least a bit more capacity than I had in my happy, high energy, dumb 20s (or 40s).  What’s more I value evidence of that kind of accumulated judgment in folks who seek to lead me and my country (and world).  I don’t think I’m entirely alone in this.*

Which is why I read this in today’s NYT with such…well…


Jonathan Martin’s piece on the GOP’s emerging strategy for dealing with the presumptive Hilary Clinton juggernaut is in fact a masterpiece of subtle knife work.  I join with many here in frustration with the Grey Lady’s op-ed page, and its lean towards unexamined establishment assumptions in some of its journalism, and the Style page and all the “trends” crap that shows up there, in the magazine and elsewhere can go DIAF. But the paper still boasts the deepest bench of journalists and some very smart observer/analysts (to compensate for the BoBos and the MoS’s), and Martin here shows what can be done with artfully presented absolutely straight reporting.

The shorter: Clinton is old. She’s oldy-oldy-sere-ancient-and-by-the-way-did-I-mention-she’s-an-antique?-old is the new line of attack that that the usual-suspects GOP choir seem to think will propel one of their new, fresh faces to the top prize.

Apparently those new faces are Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Bobbie Jindal (no, really! Don’t laugh) and Chris Christie.  And the case being made for these stalwarts (in order: Mr. bring back apartheid lunch counters, bundle o’nerves reaching for his water bottle, Kenneth the Page, and the fanboi of that Demo-Socialist Bruce Springsteen and unofficial 2012 Kenyan Usurper running mate) is that such youth and vigor will so contrast with Hilary Clinton’s wrinkles and general decreptitude so as to sweep away any niggling doubts on substance.

It’s the branding problem again, of course:  if you believe that, then there’s no need to attend to any doubts about what the party would sell with any of these pitchmen — and here’s where Martin’s piece turns into such a nicely thrust stiletto.  He mentions in passing the fact that if anyone views Obama’s relative youth and lack of experience as a negative, that won’t enhance the chances of  anyone less seasoned still, and I think that’s fair enough.  But the real wounds come from simply his straight reporting: these guys ain’t got nothing.  Those that aren’t already roadkill (Bobbie Jindal? Aqua Buddha, please) have no more than Rand Paul’s claim that he’ll ride to victory powered by marijuana farmers and those for whom electoral politics begin and end with the NSA.  That’s some folks, I’ll grant you…but I don’t think they’re enough to withstand that portion of the electorate mobilized by the quote with which Martin ends his article:

The radio host Rush Limbaugh, echoing his commentary from her first presidential run, asked his audience in April whether the American people “want to vote for somebody, a woman, and actually watch a woman get older before their eyes on a daily basis?”

Yup, says Rush. American ain’t gonna vote for a non-hawt female.  Just can’t happen. Nope, no way, no how.

Did I mention how happy I am that the Republicans are already letting their freak flag fly on this one?

Just to recap:  The current Republican party’s strongest demographic is older white folks.  Some of those will be pissed off at the dismissiveness of age, experience, accumulated knowledge and competence acquired over a long haul.  Younger people too, I’d guess; the idea of letting someone four years into playing senator on C-span after a career as a self-accredited eye doctor anywhere near the launch codes is, frankly, pretty scary to a lot of folks up and down the demographic ladder.

Now add this thought:  the Republican party is desperate to overcome its gender gap.  And here it seems to be making  its case by asserting that the presidency shouldn’t go to a women it views as getting less attractive by the day — because she grows older one day per day.


What can I say?

Proceed gentlemen.*

*What about Obama v. McCain, then?  Well, just to get this out of the way…(a) actual policy choices are what I look at first, and if one soundly beats another there, that’s the game, for my vote at least.  And (b) to paraphrase a quote from James Michener’s DFH novel, The Driftersthere’s a subset of old farts who may say they’ve got fifty years of experience when what they really have is one year, repeated fifty times.  McCain in a nutshell, IMHO.

Image: Titian, St. Jerome, betw. 1570 and 1575.




Because It’s The First Friday Of The We Must All Gay Marry Now Epoch

June 28, 2013

Waaaay down at the near-death end of the man-on-grasshopper thread cross-posted at Balloon Juice, someone asked where all the Sesame Street love might be.

Answer:  Onto the cover of The New Yorker.

Someone else in that thread (Different Church Lady, I believe) noted that the art in that post was not exactly the kind of old-mastery stuff y’all have come to expect from round here, so here’s are a couple of possibly appropriately themed pic for those of you hooked on oil paints:





Last, a lagniappe:

Just in case you haven’t exhausted your fowl jokes, here’s perhaps the definitive celebration of duck (and drake!) love:


Yup.  It’s Friday.  And did I mention that it is my son’s last day of school (finally!).  Hence these posts.

You’re welcome.

What the Duck?

June 28, 2013

Following the various links and threads evoked by Anne Laurie’s awesome bit of cultural anthropology over at Balloon Juice, I stumbled on the LGM comment party that ultimately led to…

Wait for it…



I mean…


I have no words.*

The LGM swarm has already had its way with this image.  Your turn.

*Just kidding. It’s me, remember.

Two thoughts:

1: I’m really not sure that these shut-ins fully grasp the concept of the carnivore.**  Or maybe mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Whatever…if whoever drew that sees the kiss that way, I pity his/her partner(s).

2: Speaking of drawing.  As one of the commenters over at LGM pointed out, that ain’t no photoshop. Someone carefully took implement in hand and chose every line and shade.  I admire that.

Update: As many suspected, this is hoch-snark. The original images come from a 2010 series of drawings called “Summer of Love” by Saiman Chow.  The fox-on-man image has had a prior moment in the sun as cover art for Ariel Pink’s single, Round and Round.

I don’t know if Chow put this panel together — if he did, kudos!  If not — props to the so-far anonymous ridicule-meister.

**obviously, given the provenance, can’t blame the shut-ins here. Apologies to anyone for whom that particular offense rises above all the ridicule embodied in that image.

Even The Conservative Richard Posner…

June 27, 2013

…thinks Roberts’ voting rights decision sucked [redacted; this is a family blog].  In this Tammy Duckworth thread over at Balloon-Juice, my BJ colleague, Soonergrunt sends us to conservative jurist Richard Posner’s post at Slate that basically eviscerates the VRA opinion in terms that I’m pretty sure appelate judges do not often direct at the Chief Justice of the United States.


Seriously, from the very beginning of the piece, it’s no-prisoners-time:

Shelby County v. Holder, decided Tuesday, struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act (the part requiring certain states with a history of racial discrimination in voting to obtain federal permission in advance to change their voting procedures—called “preclearance”) as violating the “fundamental principle of equal sovereignty” of the states. This is a principle of constitutional law of which I had never heard—for the excellent reason that, as Eric points out and I will elaborate upon briefly, there is no such principle.

Begin as you mean to go on, your honor:

… Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s very impressive opinion (in part because of its even tone), at a length (37 pages) that, remarkably, one would not like to see shortened—marshals convincing evidence that the reasons Congress has for treating some states differently for purposes of the Voting Rights Act are not arbitrary, though they are less needful than they were in 1965, when the law was first enacted.

That evidence—the record before Congress—should have been the end of this case.

It was not.  Why?  Because, says Judge Posner — a Reagan appointee to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals — Chief Justice Roberts is a “crafty” incrementalist, which, translated out of collegial speech, I think means that Roberts is a slick ratf**ker:

….the real key to “stealth” jurisprudence is patient, crafty incrementalism (no conservative monopoly on that strategy, of course). It’s a strategy illustrated by Shelby’s predecessor, the 2009 decision in Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Holder, heavily cited in Shelby. That was a case in which Chief Justice Roberts, again writing for the majority, criticized the same part of the Voting Rights Act, and invoked the same imaginary doctrine of “equal sovereignty,” yet without actually invalidating anything, and so avoiding a dissent by the liberal justices. So now in Shelby he could quote extensively from his opinion in Northwest Austin as if to imply that really there was nothing new here—just a small and logical next step.

Posner saves the last, best bit of rhetorical disdain for his closing:

Was that a disreputable tactic, or merely a clever one?

As intended by its writer (I’m sure), that question answers itself.

Image:  William Hogarth, The Polling, from The Humours of an Election series, 1754-1755.

The Fugue Playing Behind Obama’s Climate Speech — Or Swampland in Florida…

June 25, 2013

…is looking to be an even worse investment than legend would have it.

The Republican Party may not believe in global warming, but those realists with money on the line clearly do.  As reported by Alistair Gray and Pilita Clark in the Financial Times blog, Alphaville, it’s getting harder — and may soon become impossible — to insure areas vulnerable to sea level rise:

Parts of the UK and the US state of Florida were already facing “a risk environment that is uninsurable”, said the global insurance industry trade body, the Geneva Association.

That’s close to all I can quote from the piece under the FT’s copyright/use policies, but you get the idea.  This is at least part of the backdrop to President Obama’s (to me) very significant speech today.  Digging a little deeper into the report the FT cites [PDF], you can see why:

Recently, improved observational records and the increased length of reliable time series have provided new evidence of the degree of global ocean warming and the distribution of energy within the ocean (e.g. Levitus et al., 2012). A positive temperature trend in the ocean is now detectable and has already changed selected but relevant metrics for extreme events away from what we have observed in the past (e.g. Elsner, 2008)…

There is a significant upward trend in the insured losses caused by the extreme weather events discussed in Chapter 2. [Tropical cylones.; extra-tropical cyclones; convective storms]…This is true for primary insurance, which is impacted by an increasing attritional loss burden caused by severe local weather events, as well as for reinsurance losses caused by large scale catastrophic extreme events.*


And the money quote:

The interplay between the potential of rising risk levels and insurance demand, but decreasing self-protection, could create a risk environment that is uninsurable in some regions (Herweijer et al., 2009). Examples for markets with this potential are U.K. flood or Florida wind storm insurance.

So, to sum up:  those with actual money on the line agree that (a) global warming is real; (b) that significant human and environmental  consequences are already in train; and that the way we live now — especially on the coasts — is not sustainable.

The report goes on to advocate coupling the ongoing provision of insurance to climate-risk-prone property be conditional on real climate-change mitigation efforts, which is to say, building the new infrastructure needed to protect coasts from the new normal.  In that vein. check out this look at what that might entail in a short film made by three of my students a little over a year ago:

So, GOP, et al.  Here’s the deal:  Don’t ask if you believe in climate change.  Wonder instead, does climate change believe in you?
*This passage in the report goes on to say that “There is broad agreement among experts that this global trend in economic as well as insured losses from natural disasters is primarily driven by socio-economic factors…”  Translated, that seems to be making the argument I’ve heard (and advanced) since working on my book on climate change way back in the late 1980s.  That is:  there are natural events (like a hurricane) and human disasters, the losses incurred by what natural events do to the physical infrastructure and populations we’ve built up in the path of extreme natural processes.  Simpler: the cost and risk of climate change comes not simply from stronger or more frequent storms (or whatever) but because we’ve got so much more to lose along, say, the Florida coast than we did 50 or even 10 years ago.
Image:  J. W. M. Turner, Snowstorm off the Harbor Entrance, 1842.

Senator Patrick Leahy Does Not Love The Smell Of Bacon In The Morning

June 21, 2013

The Vermonter doesn’t miss much (via TPM):

Senators have been negotiating for days and late into the night trying to gain more Republican support for this important immigration reform legislation.  Senators Hoeven and Corker have put together an aggressive package that will add new Republican support to our bipartisan effort and for that progress, I am grateful.

However, it is an understatement to say that this is not the amendment I would have drafted.  It is a disappointment to me and to many.  The modification to my amendment reads like a Christmas wish list for Halliburton.  I am sure there are federal contracting firms high-fiving at the prospect of all of the spending demanded by Senate Republicans in this amendment.  The litany of expensive services, technology, and hardware mandated by this package is combined with an inexplicable waiver of many normal contracting rules.  This is a potential recipe for waste, fraud and abuse.

Just in case anyone had forgotten how the “party of fiscal responsibility” handles the cookie jar whenever it gets its grasping, grubby paws on it, Sen. Leahy is here to remind us:

It is astounding to me how far in the past the hard lessons we learned in Iraq appear to be.  All of us should remember the disgraceful conduct demonstrated by some private companies in Iraq which was uncovered by the work of the Special Inspector General for Iraq.

Oh, and about that compassionate conservatism thing (or whatever they’re rebranding it as now)?  Senator Leahy has been around that block once or twice before, and along with the pork, he smells the horseshit:

It is a cruel irony that when my friends on the other side of the aisle talk about border security, the high cost of implementing their favorite projects are absent from their discussion.  Yet, when we are talking about programs that help children who live near the poverty line, then suddenly, fiscal concerns are paramount.

Yup. That’s your modern Republican Party in a nutshell.  Millions for the defense of the comfortable.  Not one penny that could be seen as honoring the legacy of the man who talked of camels and needles’ eyes.


Leahy’s still voting in favor, because he’s a Democrat, which means he’s actually got an interest in governing, and serving the interests of this country.  He concludes his statement thusly:

One of the reasons I decided to continue chairing the Senate Judiciary Committee is because of this once-in-a-generation chance for us to truly reform our broken immigration system.  It is a tragic problem that calls out for a comprehensive solution.  There are too many families kept apart because of our broken immigration system, and there are too many people living in the shadows who should be allowed to earn their citizenship for us to fail them now.  We owe it to them, to people like Jose and Gaby and so many others, to get legislation passed.  So while I do not agree with the Republicans’ border demands, I will support this modification of my amendment because it is one of many tough choices necessary to continue making progress toward passage of this crucial bill.

That’s a good man, and a realistic one.  Be nice to have a few of those on the far side of the aisle.

Image:  Jacob Jordaens, Flight of the Holy Family into Egypt, 1647

Outreach Update: Credit (not much, but still) Where Credit is Due Dept.

June 21, 2013

Yesterday I brought to your attention the dulcet stylings of one Jim Allen, Montgomery County (IL) GOP chair, who slimed a fellow Republican primary challenger (Erika Harold)  to the fellow (Rodney Davis) he supports thusly:

Rodney Davis will win and the love child of the D.N.C. will be back in (expletive)-cago by May of 2014 working for some law firm that needs to meet their quota for minority hires….Now, miss queen is being used like a street walker and her pimps are the DEMOCRAT PARTY and RINO REPUBLICANS…”

In my post on this, I wrote that the significance isn’t so much that one guy from downstate is a hateful moron, but that the real issue is that he is part of an institution with a culture and a leadership that permits, some would say even nurtures, such utterances (and beliefs):

 …I’m not suggesting, for example, that John McCain or Mitt Romney or Mitch McConnell or John Boehner or whoever are sitting behind their desks saying to themselves daily that Barack Obama as a N*clang!, or Nancy Pelosi as a pimp or whatever.

But they and others are leaders of a party that — with seemingly growing intensity since 2008 — has tolerated within its ranks the use of grotesque racial and sexist crap that garners, most often, only the weakest of pro-forma rebuke coming from the actual voices that could shape the culture of the party.  If party NCOs (and Allen’s hardly the first) feel comfortable enough to spout as above, it’s in large measure because the Republican party — their own tribe — hasn’t made it clear that there is no place for such words and such beliefs in the party of Lincoln.

Shorter:  if you want people who don’t look exactly like you to think that you don’t hate them, you have to make sure your folks don’t say out loud how much they, in fact, do despise the other.

Today we learn two things. First, that someone managed to get it through Allen’s impressiveJim Allen has been well and thoroughly taken to the woodshed, and he got the message:

Allen didn’t return calls seeking comment Wednesday or Thursday, but he issued an apology via the Springfield (Ill.) State Journal-Register.

“My comments are very inappropriate and wrong, and I apologize to Miss Harold and her campaign and her supporters,” Allen told the newspaper.

Second, some of the leadership of the Republican Party I called out yesterday responded with the kind of condemnation words like Allen’s should earn:

As national media picked up on the comments, Davis and other Republicans — including [Reince] Priebus, the GOP national chairman — called for Allen’s resignation from his county GOP chairmanship.

“Chairman Allen’s astonishingly offensive views have no place in politics. He should apologize & resign immediately,” wrote Priebus, who has launched a $10 million minority outreach project for the national party.


Allen followed that diktat, resigning yesterday.

So — I’m glad I was at least partly wrong in what I wrote yesterday.  Public condemnation does not eradicate racism, sexism or any other hateful diminishments of “the other” — certainly not from any individual already mired in such wretchedness.  But it does assert a cultural claim, especially on those who affiliate with or feel tied to leading figures who express such condemnation.  We need more Republicans to be willing to speak as bluntly as Priebus did in this instance.

Given that why do I suggest I was only partly wrong?

Because the last several years have seen too much filth fly by, too much dog-whistling (Newt Gingrich, anyone?  Mitt Romney joking about his birth certificate?  All the sh*t Nancy Pelosi ignores every damn day…and so on).  Allen makes the current marketing push by our friends on the far side of the aisle less effective.  He’s one of 102 county chairmen in a red district of a reliably blue state.  He’s expendable.  When Preibus and other national figures anathematize a sitting member of Congress or a candidate in the GOP 2016 primary for saying stuff that passed as perfectly acceptable in their circles, then I’ll believe that the Republican Party actually means it when they say race-signalling and sexist crap have no place in their politics.

Still, complaining about reactions to provocations yet to come shouldn’t obscure the credit due here. Allen’s email was the outrage in front of them, and a major Republican figure has responded appropriately.


Image:  Masaccio, The Banishment, before 1428


June 20, 2013

Via TPM…I guess the Reagan Rule doesn’t apply if you are Republicaning while Black*:

From: Jim Allen <>
Sent: 06/18/13 10:59 PM
To: [Doug Ibendahl]
Subject: 13th Congressional District reply

Rodney Davis will win and the love child of the D.N.C. will be back in Shitcago by May of 2014 working for some law firm that needs to meet their quota for minority hires.

Yup, that’s the actual first line of an email about Erika Harold, a Republican mounting a primary challenge — from the Montgomery County’s Republican party chairman, Jim Allen.  You can find the complete text here. PSA:  it doesn’t get any better from its opening.  One more choice little number — it seems that Ms. Harold is not just someone born out of wedlock and all that, she is, to Mr. Allen, something else:

Now, miss queen is being used like a street walker and her pimps are the DEMOCRAT PARTY and RINO REPUBLICANS…These pimps want something they can’t get,,, the seat held by a conservative REPUBLICAN


Ladies and Gentlemen: your modern GOP. Treasure it.

I got just two thoughts to add to a message that I think speaks just fine for itself.

First, there is one detail you should know: Allen actually sent his email to a journalist, Doug Ibendahl, the editor of Republican News Watch, the site linked above.

Now, in general (and even before the NSA revelations) it’s a good idea to assume any message on which you press “send” is essentially a public utterance.  But to write to a ink-stained wretch?


Even if, to steal Molly Ivins’ immortal phrase, you are in fact so dumb they have to water you twice a day, c’mon!  You have to know you’ve just shouted whatever it is from the rooftops.  If Allen represents the best Montgomery County Republicans have to offer, then…

…hell, fill in your own disaster du jour.

The only other thing I have to say follows from the above.  I’m guessing that in fact Mr. Allen can tie his own shoes, navigate a knife and fork and all that.  He’s stupid — mind numbingly, catastrophically moronic — but only in a narrow way.  Whatever internal circuit that might have suggested to him that the message above might not be a wise thing to say has been deactivated.  And that’s really the issue, at least in a political sense.

Here’s the thing:  obviously what Allen wrote is hateful, racist, scummy, craptastic…I’m wishing now I knew one of those languages whose vocabulary of invective was much richer than my own.  (Yiddish!  I wish I really had Yiddish in my bones.  See, e.g. this one — relevant to the need to vet those who may speak for your team: Dos hitl iz gut nor der kop iz tsu kleyn — The hat is fine but the head is too small.) But the truly amazing thing to me is not that he thought such vile thoughts, but that he was willing to say so in a very public way.

This is what makes this little glimpse of nastiness something more than just an insight into one crappy excuse for a human being.  That Allen didn’t have enough sense to realize that what he was saying should have been un-sayable tells you that the environment in which he lives and breathes does not view such sentiments as out of bounds.  Calling a young African American woman taking part in the political process a bastard and a whore is OK where Allen lives…

…and, of course, his home is inside the Republican party.

Now, disclaimer:  I’m not suggesting, for example, that John McCain or Mitt Romney or Mitch McConnell or John Boehner or whoever are sitting behind their desks saying to themselves daily that Barack Obama as a N*clang!, or Nancy Pelosi as a pimp or whatever.

But they and others are leaders of a party that — with seemingly growing intensity since 2008 — has tolerated within its ranks the use of grotesque racial and sexist crap that garners, most often, only the weakest of pro-forma rebuke coming from the actual voices that could shape the culture of the party.  If party NCOs (and Allen’s hardly the first) feel comfortable enough to spout as above, it’s in large measure because the Republican party — their own tribe — hasn’t made it clear that there is no place for such words and such beliefs in the party of Lincoln.

Shorter:  if you want people who don’t look exactly like you to think that you don’t hate them, you have to make sure your folks don’t say out loud how much they, in fact, do despise the other.

Hence how much this one, brief email tells you why the current incarnation of the Republican Party must, and likely will, immolate itself.  For the rest of the country?  We just have to hope is that the GOP does not manage its exit by murder-suicide.

Factio Grandaeva Delenda Est.

*It’s important to note one more thing:  for all of Allen’s racial code-talking, Erika Harold is, as reported here, about as 21st century American as it’s possible to imagine: “Harold’s heritage is complex—her mother is African American and Native American while her father is Greek, German, and English.”

That comprehensively rich heritage — to me, at least — makes Allen’s zeroing in on Harold value as quota-bait for “minority hires” even more grotesque, if that were possible.  I’m betting I’m not the only one hearing the “one drop” dog whistle.

Image:  Lavinia Fontana, Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene, 1581.

Put Bloomberg View on the Publication Suicide Watch List

June 18, 2013

Presented (almost) without comment:

Washington, D.C.-based writer for Newsweek/Daily Beast and blogger Megan McArdle is joining the ranks of Bloomberg View, where she will be a columnist covering the economy, business, politics and national affairs.


I’m beginning to wonder if Bloomberg View is an experiment in machine-editing, ’cause I just can’t believe a sentient being would make the decision justified by this quote:

“Megan is an extraordinary writer and thinker,” said David Shipley, Executive Editor of Bloomberg View in a morning statement. “Few people have done a better job chronicling the economic, corporate and technological disruptions of the last decade. She’s going to make a lot of readers — those who have followed her for years and those who will discover her at Bloomberg — smarter and happier. We’re thrilled that she’s joining the team.”

Good luck with that.  If Bloomberg readers can count, I just don’t think “happineness” will be the correct emotional descriptor.

I did have another thought:  I’m wondering if McArdle’s finely honed survival skills are in play, in which case we may be getting a leading indicator on the prospects for our Beastly friends.

Reference your favorite McArdle howlers below.  Mine is this one ,brought into new relief by too many tragic events over the intervening years.

Image:  Guido Reni, Cleopatra with the Asp, c. 1630

We All Know (Own) Our ACGTs

June 13, 2013

This is more a “hey, look at this” post than any considered analysis, but the Supremes just handed down what will probably be the biggest non-politics-centered decision of this or many sessions: you can’t patent genes.


Interestingly, this result was apparently not even close as a matter of law, as the decision, written by Clarence Thomas, was unanimous:

“A naturally occurring DNA segment is a product of nature and not patent eligible merely because it has been isolated,” he said. “It is undisputed that Myriad did not create or alter any of the genetic information encoded in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.”

The case concerned Myriad Genetics which holds (held!) the patents on the BRCA 1 and 2 genes hat — as the Angelina Jolie story recently made famous — are in some variant (mutant) forms highly correlated with very nasty strains of breast and ovarian cancer.  The life and death stakes involved in access to the genetic diagnostics that could run $3,000 per test that Myriad controlled through its patents certainly frame this case — but the implications of this ruling are, simply, huge, as much biotech investment has chased sequences in a strategy that bears some resemblance to classic patent trolling.

The ruling did preserve what seems to me to be the original intent of patent law (see Lewis Hyde’s excellent Common as Air for an account of the origins of intellectual property ideas in the thinking of the American founding fathers).  You can still patent modifications and applications of technology to the raw material of nature that a mere sequence represents.

I really am just digesting this.  I’ve talked to people over the years who have been mournfully horrified by the constraints on research and the discovery of real public goods imposed by a too permissive patent regime — Jim Watson told me the same story that he’s repeated in public many times of being asked by Leo Szilard if he and Crick thought about patenting the double helix.  When Watson replied that he didn’t think it was (or should be) patentable, Szilard then said (Watson recalls) that maybe he could copyright it.  Watson and Crick’s incredulity at thought was typical for the time, but we’ve drifted far, far away from that now…and it’s good to see the pendulum swinging back.

But as I say, first, fast reactions here. This is a decisions that’s going to ring out for a while, and it will be fascinating to see what comes.

Image: John Everett Millais, Twins, 1876.