Not content with being literally richer than the Queen, author J.K. Rowling has returned for another dip in the Harry Potter well whence came her incredible fortune, with a stage play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
Sad to say, it's only a fraction as good as her original works, though, on the plus side, it's only a fraction as hefty as her thousand-page backbreakers. The new story centers on a middle-aged Harry Potter's teenage son, Albus.
In an attempt to emerge from the shadow of his famous father, Albus uses magic to go back in time to rescue a legendarily beloved casualty of the Voldemort era. It's pretty much Back to the Future without the stylish DeLorean.
Obviously neither Potter junior or senior are much on movies because the foray into adventure results in predictable disaster: Albus manages not only to cause himself never to have been born, but to resurrect Voldemort and grant him the victory denied him in the original series. It's left to Albus' best friend to free the magical world from fascist tyranny and set things right.
Which is an interesting premise, if you think about it: We really don't know how things "would have" turned out if something changed in history. You'd suppose that saving the life of a good-hearted, innocent character would result in a general increase of good, but very much the opposite happens in the story.
This ground has been trod in the world of sci-fi so often it's become a time-travel catchphrase: "Everyone kills Hitler on their first trip!" Surely that would only lead to good?
Those of a more scientific bent will detect the flapping wings of the "butterfly effect" found in chaos theory: when a butterfly flaps his wings in New Mexico it causes a hurricane in China. Our world is so complex that it's impossible for any mere mortal to predict the dire effects from any one change or from not making a proposed change no matter how well-intentioned.
Consider killing Hitler. Without Hitler, Germany presumably wouldn't have started World War II, but that's because it would have remained governed by the famously-weak Weimar Republic.
Throughout the 1930s, Hitler would not have been supporting Gen. Francisco Franco of Nationalist Spain in the Spanish Civil War. This would most likely result in victory for the "Republicans" who were Soviet-funded Communists. Real history tells us that Stalin happily invaded Poland in 1939; there's every reason to think he'd have done the same in the absence of Hitler.
And not stopped there; could Stalin have resisted the tempting prize of a weak Germany? What's more, as the real Hitler demonstrated in 1940, France's military might wasn't anything like as good as they assumed. In our alternate Hitler-free world, Stalin and Communist Spain could have pincered France from both sides.
It's easy to imagine a Europe entirely occupied by Soviet Russia, with Britain as a nervously semi-free almost-satellite like unto cold-war Finland. With the captured wealth of Western Europe, there's no way Communism would have fallen in 1989. We'd probably be trapped in the Cold War to this day, or worse.
It wouldn't even necessarily save lives in a "Better Red than Dead" sense: the real Stalin murdered at least four times more people than Hitler. How many Europeans would have ended up six feet under all the same? Different ones, perhaps - Stalin wasn't too fond of Jews but he didn't feel the need for wholesale slaughter of them - but the sheer numbers probably speak relatively favorably of Hitler.
Here's another example: What about preventing the American Civil War, say, by disposing of John C. Breckinridge? The votes he got, combined with those of Stephen Douglas, would be more than ample to make Lincoln a footnote to history. Douglas, of course, would have cut a deal with the South and slavery would have continued. No hundreds of thousands dead, no destroyed South, no Reconstruction, no KKK! Without doubt there'd be far fewer deaths and slavery would have become uneconomic by the 1960s anyway if not sooner.
The trouble is, while saving lives in the numerical sense, that would have doomed the slaves and their descendants to an extra century of involuntary servitude. The Jim Crow South may have been no picnic but surely it was an improvement on chattel slavery. Who has the right to make that sort of decision?
Which presumably is why time machines are found only in works of fiction and almost certainly will never actually exist. Yet, in a sense, we're making the same sorts of decisions every day; we just don't have the ability to foresee the consequences or go back to make alterations no matter how badly our plans turn out.
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.
― Omar Khayyám
Which brings us to this much-debated election. As imperfect as both candidates are, it seems to your humble correspondent that an unpredictable Donald Trump is vastly preferable to an entirely too predictably corrupt far-leftist Hillary.
But who really knows? Perhaps Hillary's Supreme Court appointments would scrap major Constitutional rights, as she's promised repeatedly, and America might finally wake up like the legendary frog in boiling water.
Well, we've been hoping for a Great Awakening for a long time and it still hasn't happened.
There's many far more likely scenarios: half the time, Hillary looks like she's about to keel over. A President Kaine might be about the same as a President Bill Clinton, which was not entirely awful, and perhaps even survivable except for Mr. Kane's promise to legalize all the illegals within his first 100 days.
Then there's The Donald. Nobody including Mr. Trump knows exactly what a President Trump might do. He could be great, or he could turn around and follow his Manhattan insider friends.
Or he could kick the bucket and deliver us a President Pence, who on past performance would be the most conservative chief executive since Calvin Coolidge.
Maybe the election will be such a squeaker that the losers flatly reject the winner, the military refuses to take sides, and Ted Cruz ends up as President of the Republic of Texas plus a few more ex-states. That doesn't sound ideal, but it's better than the "Liberal Fascist" soft tyranny that quite a few conservatives fear from a President Hillary.
Then there's the black swans. Here's a scenario where President Hillary's health problems catch up with her at just the wrong time and Russia cleanly takes over Eastern Europe. We could imagine an angry President Trump being goaded into pushing the nuclear button on a deserving customer - North Korea, say, or Iran - with the result that America gets blasted back to the mid-1800s by a nuclear EMP.
The fact is, we don't know and can't know the future. We hardly even know the past. And we don't really know other people, particularly ones we've only seen on TV. We just have to make our best guess, do our best, and hope for the best.
Maybe taking refuge in escapist fiction is the most sensible choice? Keep calm and read books?
The problem with that approach, of course, is that no mater how hard you try to stay uninterested in politics, politics is always interested in you, or at least in taking your money and freedom.
Over the past five years, the editors have been secretly working on a book that summarizes the fundamental viewpoints of Scragged.