Saturday, June 15, 2013

Not Everything Can Be Owned

This week the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that genes can’t be patented. This was the best news out of Washington DC I’ve heard in a long time, because it appears to me we’re living in an era when everything is for sale.

Did you know that someone owns “The Happy Birthday Song,” that little ditty we all sing many times a year? The song is copyrighted, and if you want to include it in a movie you’re going to have to pay a fee to Warner Music Group. How do the lyrics go? “Happy birthday to you, Happy birthday to you, Happy birthday dear ____, Happy birthday to you.” Wow. That’s really profound original material there!

A filmmaker, Jennifer Nelson, is making a documentary about the origins of the song, and has taken Warner Music Group to court in an attempt to have the song placed in the public domain. Warner makes about $2 million a year in licensing fees—the company probably thinks every birthday party in the world should be assessed a fee to be allowed to sing the song.

The Supreme Court case, Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, No. 12-398, concerned whether Myriad Genetics could obtain a patent on genes the company had identified as being correlated with higher risk of breast and ovarian cancer. The New York Times reported:
The central question for the justices in the case was whether isolated genes are “products of nature” that may not be patented or “human-made inventions” eligible for patent protection. 
Myriad’s discovery of the precise location and sequence of the genes at issue, BRCA1 and BRCA2, did not qualify, Justice Thomas wrote. “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.” 
“Myriad did not create anything,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the court. “To be sure, it found an important and useful gene, but separating that gene from its surrounding genetic material is not an act of invention.”
So even Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia believe some things cannot be owned. This is good news indeed.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Value of Fathers

Yesterday I listened to a friend sing “Cat’s in the Cradle,” by Harry Chapin, a song about a father and son. When the boy was young the father was too busy to spend any time with his son, and when the father was old the son was too busy.
That was the cultural norm for fathers when I was growing up; dad worked so was always too busy to spend much time with his kids. That’s what moms were for.
But things have changed; now I see fathers carrying their infants on their chests in slings and taking their kids to the park. It’s okay for a man to say, “I love you” to his child. Fathers are much more involved with their kid’s lives and I am very optimistic about what this means for the future. I think this will bring stronger women and more peaceful men.
So I was shocked this week to see a “Room for Debate” on the New York Times, in response to the news that women are the breadwinner in forty percent of U.S. households, asking “What are Fathers For?”
In almost half the American households with children, mothers are the sole or primary breadwinners…So what is the purpose of men in modern families? We’re approaching the holiday that celebrates dads, but do fathers bring anything unique to the table?
How could anyone even question the value of a man’s contribution to the psychological health of his children? In my opinion this is a sign our culture has taken a strange turn in the attempt to bring equality between the sexes.
One of the debaters brought in a few statistics for the value of men in children’s lives, Fathers are Not Fungible, by W. Bradford Wilcox:
Boys are more likely to steer clear of trouble with the law when they grow up with their father in the home. One Princeton study found that boys raised apart from their fathers were two to three times more likely to end up in jail before they turned 30. 
Dads matter for daughters as well. Another study found that girls whose fathers disappeared before the girls turned 6 were about five times more likely to end up pregnant as teenagers than were their peers raised with their fathers in the home. 
And we know that kids — especially boys — are more likely to excel in school, and to steer clear of the principal’s office, when they are raised in a home with a father who takes their homework and school conduct seriously.
My parents divorced when I was 14. My dad really loved his kids, but I didn’t see him much after the divorce. As I've gotten older I have realized how much I missed by not having his input in those formative years. I love watching President Obama with his daughters, because it gives me a glimpse of what I lost.