House Arrest: An American Story


In House Arrest, by K. A. Holt, twelve-year-old Timothy Davidson faces the consequences of stealing a wallet to pay for his baby brother’s medicine, which costs $1,445.32 for one month. Whatever insurance Timothy’s family has — there are references to “the state” paying for some medical services  — it does not cover all of this child’s serious medical needs. The family is desperate, not that Timothy’s mother wants to admit it. “She never wants to ask for help,” Timothy explains.

Written in verse, the novel consists of Timothy’s entries into a journal the juvenile court requires him to keep during his house arrest. It’s a middle grade book, ideal for children around Timothy’s age, but its content also appeals to adults. The anguish Timothy’s family feels over Levi’s medical challenges is vivid and relatable, probably because the novel is drawn at least in part from the author’s experience.

I read the novel in one sitting with a lump in my throat and tears stinging at the corners of my eyes because this story stirred memories of my twins’ fragile beginnings. My daughters did not have Levi’s diagnosis, but they received expensive medical care and faced heart-wrenching mortality and morbidity odds.

“So many things for such a little baby,” Timothy recalls a nurse saying about the child’s medical supplies. I remember hearing similar words when my tiny former-26 weekers came home after 78 days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit with oxygen tanks as big as I am and apnea monitors that had a tendency to go off whenever we were in elevators.

One of my former 26-weekers, who is now 9-years-old, read House Arrest after I did. She teared up too, but for different reasons. She couldn’t understand why Timothy’s family couldn’t afford the medical care Levi needed. There’s no good explanation for why anyone in the United States, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, should struggle to pay for medically necessary care (or forgo it altogether).

Our system of private and public insurance leaves too many families without the coverage they need — a reality that may get far worse thanks to Congress. In many cases, families have to rely on the kindness of acquaintances to survive.

These days, in a time of rising medical costs and inadequate government support, there is nothing more American than asking for help to pay for medical expenses on crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe. Sadly, though, research has shown that the majority of these campaigns do not reach their financial targets. People with greater means, such as having extensive social networks, technological skills, and higher education levels, are more likely to succeed, and these are not necessarily the people with the greatest needs.

Rest assured, though, House Arrest portrays a more optimistic outcome for Timothy’s family. That’s part of what makes it such a satisfying novel.

The Importance of a Well-Packed Knapsack #KidLit #Traveling

If there’s one thing we learn from Elmer Elevator in My Father’s Dragon (1948), a children’s novel by Ruth Stiles Gannett, it’s the importance of a well-packed knapsack. In fact, for a recent trip, my youngest daughter advised me to take what Elmer packed for his travels, including:

  • Chewing gum
  • Two dozen pink lollipops
  • A package of rubber bands
  • Black rubber boots
  • A compass
  • A toothbrush
  • A tube of toothpaste
  • Six magnifying glasses
  • A very sharp jackknife
  • A comb and a hairbrush
  • Seven hair ribbons of different colors
  • An empty grain bag with a label saying “Cranberry”
  • Some clean clothes; and
  • Food

It’s not a bad list, I guess, except for the jackknife, which I have no reason to carry and could result in an enormous headache for me if I tried to get it through airport security. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, prohibits a long list of items in carry-on luggage, including knives. The prohibition on sharp knives in carry-on luggage may seem obvious, but it’s a relatively new ban. Before the September 11, 2001 attacks, private companies were responsible for airport screening, and the Federal Aviation Administration and the airlines permitted passengers to carry blades up to four inches long onto planes (See the 9/11 Commission Report, page 84; PDF).

Since 9/11, for many of us, airport screening has become increasingly inconvenient and invasive. When I was regularly traveling between Philadelphia and Boston for law school, I was singled out for pat-down searches almost every time I flew. I switched to traveling by train, where I’ve also been searched, but not as invasively. More recently, my experiences with airport security haven’t been too bad, but that could be because I pack very lightly. I pay close attention to the TSA list of prohibited items, and I try not to fill my carry-on bag, if I take one at all.

Does it help? I have no idea, but perhaps it makes it easier for screeners to identify items by X-ray without having to search my bag manually, exposing my personal belongings to the world. The increased density of carry-on luggage–a byproduct of the imposition of higher fees for checked luggage–is an issue DHS Secretary John Kelly raised in an interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News while discussing potential TSA policy changes.

One of those changes would target a demographic to which most, if not all, of us belong (if you’re reading this blog): Readers.

In May, the TSA required passengers at a small number of airports to remove books from their carry-on luggage to be X-rayed, apparently to find thin, flat explosives hidden between the pages. This search might not seem like a big deal if you’re reading the newest James Patterson available at every airport or a classic Jane Austen, whose books I often carry with me. But what if you’re reading books about sensitive topics, such as books about surviving sexual abuse? What if you’re reading books in Arabic or books that oppose Donald Trump? Considering the TSA has previously detained a student (who was then arrested) because he had English-Arabic flashcards, I wouldn’t want to encourage them to routinely assess passengers’ reading material.

Thankfully, the TSA has decided against implementing this policy nationwide at this time (see the ACLU’s update here). I hope it stays that way.


*Thanks to @MyBookStrings for recommending Three Tales of My Father’s Dragon, the first of which is My Father’s Dragon. We really enjoyed this book.

*The image is a portion of the cover of the 50th Anniversary edition of Three Tales of My Father’s Dragon (Random House).

We March(ed)

A recent addition to my children’s bookshelves is Shane W. Evans’s We March, a sparsely worded but powerful picture book about the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. On August 28, 1963, more than a quarter of a million people marched from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. implored the American people to allow freedom to ring throughout the country. (For the full text of Dr. King’s speech, see here – PDF).

The 1963 March on Washington was an important moment of the Civil Rights Movement that ushered in major legislation, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. These laws have indelibly improved our country for millions of Americans, despite the backlash that continues to hamper its enforcement today, more than half a century later. (See my comments on Lillian’s Right to Vote, a picture book by Jonah Winter & Shane W. Evans).

We March is an ideal book for early readers like my six-year-old daughter, who proudly reads the handful of words on each page and then focuses on the bold illustrations. The book reminds her of when she marched in our local Women’s March on January 21, 2017, the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration.

Since then, we’ve participated in a handful of public demonstrations, but not many, and not in a while. I still make phone calls to my elected representatives, but not as many as I did in the early days of Trump’s Administration. It’s difficult to maintain the stamina I had in the first few weeks—it’s emotionally and physically exhausting—but that doesn’t mean I’ve started to accept this man as President or that I’ve started to tolerate the modern Republican Party’s heartless agenda on the state or national levels.

With every attempt to suppress voters (such as Ohio’s effort before the U.S. Supreme Court), every reiteration of Trump’s unconstitutional Muslim Travel Ban, every mean-spirited version of TrumpCare (the ACHA or the BCRA), every attempt to strip our right to enforce civil rights laws through litigation (Rep. Bob Goodlatte’s HR 985), and every roll back of our environmental protection policies, my disdain for Donald Trump and the GOP at every level of government intensifies. With every acquittal or mistrial of police officers who kill men for being black and mistrial of men who drug women to sexually assault them, my disillusionment with our system deepens.

These are the issues I think about when I vote for lawmakers or judges. These are the issues I think about every day, whenever I have a moment free of life’s obligations, such as when I’m writing or gardening.

Gardening is not a distraction from the news. It’s a reaction to it. It’s an act of resistance my daughters dreamed up in the dark days after Trump’s electoral victory, when they wanted to know what two third graders and a kindergartener could do in response to Trump’s unconscionable win. One of their fears was about Trump’s impact on the environment, so we planned a butterfly garden, expanding upon two beds we started in 2015 by focusing on planting pollinator-friendly flowers.

The garden is rejuvenating and exciting, but it’s a work-in-progress, as all gardens are. We have some annuals, like zinnias, but most of our plants are young perennials that need a few more years to reach their full potential. Our monardas, for example, are still small and lonely, “bee balms” that bees don’t seem to like as much as I thought they would. But we’ll see what happens as the plants grow.

Gardens are a practice in patience. Change takes time, a lesson I need to remember when I look at our bleak political landscape.


*Top to Bottom: Lavender & sedum, Monarda, Agastache/Hyssop, Zinnia, & Milkweed



#SaveTheirStories: Preserving Holocaust Diaries & Putting Them Online

Last fall, when we were planning our family trip to Washington, D.C., I asked each of my daughters to pick a museum we had to make sure we visited during our short stay. Samira, then eight-years-old, chose the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM).

Samira has wanted to learn as much as she can about the Holocaust ever since she was in Kindergarten, when she and I read Patricia Polaco’s The Butterfly, a children’s book about the Nazi occupation of France (see How Do You Talk To A Child About The Holocaust?). Two years later, in second grade, Samira chose to study Anne Frank for her “famous historical figure” project. She has read Anne Frank’s diary several times.

Anne Frank is one of many people who recorded their experiences during the Holocaust in a diary.  In addition to published first person accounts of the Holocaust, there are also over 200 unpublished diaries in the USHMM’s collection that need to be catalogued, translated, and made available to the public.

To preserve and make these diaries publicly available, the USHMM has started a Kickstarter Campaign to raise $250,000 by July 13, 2017. The USHMM explains: “As the survivor generation passes, it is our responsibility to make sure their voices live on so that their experiences will not be forgotten. You can be a part of preserving history: Back this project and Save Their Stories.”

My family supported this campaign at Samira’s request. We hope you’ll consider supporting it too.


Dr. Seuss Enterprises v. ComicMix: The Copyright Infringement Case Continues


[And another update: On June 22, 2017, Dr. Seuss Enterprises filed its first amended complaint, which is available here. There’s nothing surprising in it. The case continues.]

Here’s an update to Dr. Seuss Enterprises v. ComicMix, a copyright and trademark infringement case I wrote about in Oh, The People You’ll Sue (When You’re Dr. Seuss Enterprises):

On June 9th, the District Court for the Southern District of California dismissed Dr. Seuss Enterprises’s trademark and state law claims (with leave to amend their complaint), but allowed the copyright infringement claim to continue against ComicMix, albeit with hints that the Court will eventually dismiss the case.

Basically, the company (Enterprise) that owns the rights to Dr. Seuss’s work filed this lawsuit because it does not want ComicMix to publish a work that borrows elements from Dr. Seuss’s children’s books without paying a licensing fee first.

Though the Court did not dismiss Enterprise’s complaint entirely–a typical outcome at this early stage of litigation (merely a 12(b)(6) motion, which assumes all of the facts alleged by the plaintiff are true)–the opinion includes several helpful conclusions for ComicMix.

For example, the Court concludes :

  • ComicMix’s derivative work, Oh, The Places You’ll Boldly Go!, is transformative: “Although Boldly fails to qualify as a parody it is no doubt transformative [as a “mash-up”]. In particular, it combines into a completely unique work the two disparate worlds of Dr. Seuss and Star Trek.”
  • The nature of the copyrighted work weighs in favor of ComicMix; and
  • Boldly does not borrow too much from Seuss: “There is no dispute that Boldly copies many aspects of [Seuss’s] illustrations. However Boldly does not copy them in their entirety; each is infused with new meaning and additional illustrations that reframe the Seuss images from a unique Star Trek viewpoint. Nor does Boldly copy more than is necessary to accomplish its transformative purpose.”

So, ComicMix’s transformative work meets most of the factors of Fair Use–which is a complete defense against copyright infringement claims–without needing any additional evidence. However, what the Court will need more evidence and argument on is the fourth factor of the Fair Use defense: the effect of ComicMix’s transformative work on the potential market for or value of Dr. Seuss’s copyrighted work. The Court writes:

In the current procedural posture [ComicMix is] at a clear disadvantage under this factor’s required analysis… [at this stage] a potential harm to [Enterprises’s] licensing opportunities is presumed. However, this presumed harm is neutralized somewhat by the fact that Boldly does not substitute for the original and serves a different market function than [Suess’s work]… Indeed, Boldly’s market relies on consumers who have already read and greatly appreciated [Suess’s work]…

Well, sure, all copyright cases are based on the fact that the defendant did not pay the licensing fee to borrow elements of a copyrighted work, so all cases would have this presumed harm.

Importantly, though, the Court notes factors that neutralize this harm to Enterprises’s licensing opportunities: (1) Boldy is not a substitute for the original book (Oh, The Places You’ll Go!) and (2) Boldly serves a different market function. In addition to those factors, as I wrote in my previous post on this lawsuit:

[Derivative works] increase the marketability of the original stories because they encourage people to revisit them. In this case, it’s hard to see how Oh, The Places You’ll Boldly Go! harms Dr. Seuss Enterprises. They assert that they’re missing out on a licensing fee opportunity, but a derivative project might not happen at all if the authors have to pay a toll for the privilege of borrowing elements from a previous work for the purpose of parody.

Basically, I see ComicMix’s transformative work as free advertising for Dr. Seuss’s books. You may think Seuss doesn’t need such advertising, but that isn’t necessarily so in a publishing world saturated by new children’s books each year. ComicMix’s work is for adults and could spark nostalgia buying, which is what happens when something reminds us of our childhood and encourages us to share it with our own children (instead of buying them something else from the bookstore).

I hope the Court will finally dispose of Enterprise’s lawsuit at the next stage of this case, which will probably be summary judgement. If this case continues beyond summary judgment and is allowed to go to trial, then the Court risks encouraging literary estate bullies to threaten lawsuits against creators of derivative works, even when those works are transformative and thus quite different from the original. That speech-chilling outcome would not serve the purpose of copyright law, which the Court states is to “promote the progress of science and art by protecting artistic and scientific works while encouraging the development and evolution of new works.” (citing Leadsinger, Inc. v. BMG Music Pub., 512 F.3d 522, 529 (9th Cir. 2008).”

We will see what happens.


*Here’s ComicMix’s Press Release.

**The image above is an excerpt from the Complaint (I added “allegedly”), available here.

***Here’s the District Court’s June 9th order on the Motion to Dismiss: 38 – Order on MTD.

Will The Supreme Court Allow States To Penalize Americans Who Don’t Vote?

About 100 million eligible voters chose not to vote — or were unable to — in the November 2016 presidential election. That’s more individuals than the number of people who cast their ballot for Hillary Clinton, the winner of the popular vote, or for Donald Trump, the winner of the White House.

As Donald Trump reminds us daily (usually through Twitter), we are all punished when such a substantial portion of the population does not participate in voting, the corner-stone of our democracy.

A good portion of these non-voters have never been registered, while others managed to register but have become inactive voters. For those in the latter category living in Ohio (and states with similar laws), the state removes them from the roll entirely if they are inactive for two years, then fail to respond to a letter, and then don’t vote within the next four years.

This purging process is the focus of a voting rights case called Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute, et al, which the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear. They will address whether federal law prohibits Ohio from penalizing its citizens for not voting over a six-year-period by removing them from the voter rolls.

The Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit sided with the voting rights advocates who sued Ohio over this process. Will the Supreme Court come to a different conclusion? I hope not.

I do not see how the federal laws at issue in this case — the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA) and the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) — permit states to remove infrequent voters from the voting roll without a better indication that they are ineligible, such as change of address information from the postal service. Section 20507(b)(2) of the NVRA states:

Any State program or activity to protect the integrity of the electoral process by ensuring the maintenance of an accurate and current voter registration roll… shall not result in the removal of any person from the official list of voters in an election for Federal office by reason of the person’s failure to vote.

If there’s evidence the person has moved, then the state may send that person a letter, and finally remove them from the rolls if they don’t respond to the letter and don’t vote within the next four years. Section 20507(c)-(d). HAVA did not alter this process, saying, “nothing in [HAVA] may be construed to authorize or require conduct prohibited under [the NVRA], or to supersede, restrict, or limit the application of [the NVRA.].” 52 U.S.C. 21145(a).

So, based on my reading of these laws, the state needs more than the mere fact that someone didn’t take an affirmative step to maintain their right to vote either by responding to a letter (how many letters have you forgotten to reply to?) or voting within a certain period of time (four years after the letter, six years total).

Six years of non-voting may seem like a long time, but not to me, not when I look at my six-year-old daughter and think about how fast she’s growing up. It also doesn’t seem like a long time when I think about how life’s disturbances can be a challenge to voting for many people, especially when they either don’t know much or don’t care for the candidates running in any particular race.

Importantly, the right to vote encompasses the right not to vote. So, then, why would we penalize Americans who didn’t do it by making it harder for them to ever do it? Taking a person off the roll, forcing them to re-register, is a barrier to voting.

Ohio claims that it must have a way of removing infrequent voters from the rolls to maintain the “integrity of the electoral process,” which is often code for rooting out theoretical voter fraud in a way that benefits a particular party. As I wrote in my comments on this blog about Ari Berman’s book, Give Us the Ballot:

Berman notes that when the Bush Administration made voter fraud the focus of a Justice Department initiative, the probe ‘resulted in only eighty-six convictions out of three hundred million votes cast’ between 2002 and 2007.

Meanwhile, to reduce the virtually non-existent problem of voter fraud, the state of Ohio is willing to take away the voting rights of thousands of its citizens. In the 2016 Presidential election alone — a single election — 7,515 people voted (because of a court order in this case) who would not have been permitted to vote at all under Ohio’s purging process.

My state, Pennsylvania, may employ a similar process targeting infrequent voters. In my precinct, where I am the Judge of Elections, it’s my job to tell hopeful voters that their names do not appear on our rolls. On November 8, 2016, based on my phone records, I spent more than three hours of my time trying to track down where people were registered. Sometimes, it’s another precinct, another ward, or another county; other times, they are registered nowhere at all, despite their clear memory of having voted before. They can file a provisional ballot, which may or may not be counted, but they cannot go into the booth. They walk away with a voter registration application (to get the chance to vote in the future) and the feeling that the state took away their right to vote.

Ohio wants as many people as possible to feel that way. The process they are fighting for in the Husted case is a voter suppression scheme.

In Ohio’s brief to the Supreme Court, on pages 5-6, state Attorney General Michael Dewine and his colleagues said:

It is a tragic fact of history that, before 1965, some States enacted registration rules to “deny registration” to African Americans rather than ensure fair elections. Congress passed the Voting Rights Act to remedy this “extraordinary’ problem.”

Those quotes around “deny registration” and “extraordinary” in Ohio’s brief may as well be sneer quotes considering how disingenuous the state’s position is. It is not merely a tragic fact of history that some states enact rules to deny registration to individuals they believe will not vote for the party in control of those rules. Ohio is fighting for the ability to do that right now.

Lillian’s Right to Vote, a children’s book authored by Jonah Winter and illustrated by Shane W. Evans, poignantly displays the history of the voting rights struggle for racial minorities and women in the United States. It ends with a sobering note that discusses the Supreme Court’s evisceration of the Voting Rights Act and leaves readers with a call to action: “The right to vote still needs protection. Will a new generation rise and continue this fight?”

The answer must be yes.

I am thankful for organizations like the ACLU and Demos, which together filed the lawsuit against Ohio. I hope the Supreme Court does not undo their hard work.


*To read the briefs submitted to the Supreme Court in this case, go to SCOTUSblog.