from arduino import *
That's pretty direct translation of C code (plus few idioms), and directly translatable back to C. And that's idea - you prototype and debug code in hosted environment, and then can easily translate it to native code (to keep debugging on, because latency of of hosted and native execution is quite different which hides/adds lots of timing issues).
Regarding the board communication protocol, I knew about BusPirate before that, and was really happy to find Joby Taffey's BusNinja implementation for Arduino. Even more, I found the implementation for TI Launchpad from the same author (Launchpad's version somehow named "SPI Explorer"). So, BusPirate's protocol with extensions is what I based on. Of course that doesn't too well, especially with TI Launchpad, which has particularly crippled UART support. Other issue is that BusPirate (even binary protocol version) supports working with only one bus at time. That's fine for BusPirate's original purpose, but limiting for a project like this (well, so far I didn't have to use I2C and SPI at the same time).
What about Firmata? First of all, it doesn't support SPI, and working with SPI devices was the immediate need behind implementing this module. Secondly... Well, there's a saying "If the only thing you know is a hammer, then any thing around looks like a nail." That's must have been the idea behind designing a MCU control protocol basing on MIDI protocol. NO WAI.