Sunday, April 30, 2023

Perhaps Absolutely

I'd enjoyed reading Roadside Picnic and was looking for more work from the Strugatsky Brothers. The next book I picked up was "Definitely Maybe." Slightly more slender at around 150 pages, this work is less obviously science fiction, but does ultimately inhabit that space.




The book focuses on a scientist named Malyanov, working at home alone on a research project. As the story continues more and more interruptions come into his life: incessant phone calls, mysterious deliveries, his wife's old friend. He gets increasingly agitated at the situation, eventually drawing into his orbit a cluster of other scientist friends who it turns out are going through their own, not necessarily similar, struggles.

There's a pretty delicious feeling of unease and uncertainty that seeps into the book as it continues. It felt a bit familiar and I've been trying to think of what it reminds me of: maybe the paranoia of Robert Anton Wilson's Illuminatus Trilogy or Thomas Pynchon's Crying of Lot 49. In these works, there's a lot of compelling circumstantial evidence that piles up, and the protagonists are struggling to try and understand how to make sense of it all. These could all just be coincidences, but the odds of it happening strain credulity. Perhaps there is a sinister conspiracy operating behind the curtain, orchestrating these events for some nefarious purpose. Or it could all be a put-on, someone playing a practical joke to make the victims believe in a conspiracy. Or maybe there's some metaphysical dimension to these events that transcend our limited comprehension. The characters variously consider these theories, unable to definitively prove just what the reality is, and the books themselves let the ambiguity extend through to the end.


Something kind of shocking happens about halfway through the novella, not with the book's plot but with its structure: it abruptly shifts from third person into first person. Malyanov had just been the most prominent character, but then he suddenly becomes the narrator, continuing the story as if nothing had changed. Everything else stays the same, including the chapter and section intros. I'm honestly not sure what to make of this, but it's an arresting change.

Near the end of the book, it seems like the hypotheses narrow down to two main possibilities. One kind of reminds me of the Dark Forest hypothesis from Three Body Problem: some intelligent civilization is out there in the universe, and sees humanity as a threat, so it uses its advanced capabilities to block us from crossing the threshold to become a supercivilization. The other is the "homeostatic universe" hypothesis: this is a bit harder to follow, and Malyanov himself admits not completely understanding it, but the idea seems to be that the natural laws of the universe seek to maintain an equilibrium between the forces of entropy (another great Pynchon analogue!) and the forces of creativity, so when something moves too far in one direction, it inevitably returns to the other: not through any guiding intelligence, but because of the universe's fundamental laws.

The edition I read included two afterwords, one from an author and the other from the translator, giving some context to the book's creation. The Strugatsky Brothers wrote in the Soviet Union and always had to deal with censors and government interference in their book; the translator notes that their work was intensely political, but they had to smuggle in their political messages to be able to publish their work while staying out of jail. In a separate afterword, an author notes that the censors' biggest objection was to the concept of the "homeostatic universe", which I found really interesting. I wonder if it's a coded reference to the rigidity of the Soviet Union as a whole: anything that got too far out of line would need to be hammered back into place in order to maintain social order.


This was a much faster and easier read than I was expecting, and I liked it a lot. I do think that the original title of the book, "One Billion Years Before The End Of The World" is more compelling, but on closer reflection, "Definitely Maybe" probably gets more at the feel of the book: uncertain and uneasy, balanced between possibilities and unable to commit to a single view of the world.

Monday, April 17, 2023

And I Told You

It's felt nice to build up more of a reading habit again. For a while I was spending most of my commuting time playing crossword puzzles and word games on my phone, which is nice and all (especially when I only have a couple of minutes to kill between transfers), but I realized felt a lot less satisfying than getting through a book.

I recently picked up "Let Me Tell You," a collection of writing from Shirley Jackson. I mostly know her through her fairly Gothic chilling stories like The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived In The Castle: novels set in modern times that are invaded by more magical, unsettling forces. Jackson was a very versatile writer, though, and this collection was a great chance to get acquainted with other tones of her voice. There are a handful of similarly unsettling stories, but also a nice collection of her very early writing from the 1940s, revolving around the experience of young men going overseas and then returning home to anxious young wives.


It's probably the nonfiction that I responded to the most, though. Jackson was the mother of four children, and wrote a lot of really funny articles about her experience overseeing a very bustling household. In her own writing she comes off as somewhat frazzled, doing her best to maintain some level of order while being badly outnumbered.

The book ends with some thoughtful essays and lectures on the craft of writing. In one essay she seems to be arguing against the sparse voice of Hemingway-inspired writers, and makes an argument for the (limited and intentional) use of embellishment and symbols in a short story. She has a funny perspective of seeing the author and the reader as mortal enemies, with authors needing to take advantage of any dirty trick they can find to seize the reader's attention away from the television set and the dozens of other books at their fingertips. Other essays provide really intriguing glimpses into her in-progress work on her famous novels, and how she and readers interacted with one another.

Let Me Tell You wasn't exactly what I was expecting, but I'm glad that it is what it is. I liked seeing more of her range, enough so that I'm tempted to check out 

Sunday, April 09, 2023

Age of Absolutism?! More Like Age of Revolution!!

My run of EU4 has ended much like my run of EU3: With me astonished at just how long it took. It's been a lot of fun! Way too much has happened for me to properly recap events, systems or my opinions of things, but I'd like to have some closure at least on this blog.

The balance of powers on the world stage were very dynamic throughout the game. For the early years I maintained a strong alliance with Spain and England/Britain, and built Power Projection through a meaningless rivalry with France. After the shattering of World War 0, I kept hostile relations with Spain for the rest of the game, and entered close partnership with France, which made England mad at me. I also flipped the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth from a rivalry to an alliance; for whatever reason a lot of nations rivaled the PLC, but they were very geopolitically useful to me, blocking extension from Russia and the Ottomans into Europe.

I fought a series of successful wars against Spain. Early on I focused on taking provinces like Granada, Seville and Madrid to get advantage of powerful Monuments and trade nodes. France helped in this war, keeping Spain's huge Italian-based army busy while I cleaned up the peninsula. Subsequent wars were conducted solo to avoid French claims on Iberian provinces. By the end of the game Spain had a major New World presence: a giant Florida owned most of eastern North America, while the Spanish Indies controlled several Caribbean islands and a chunk of the South American coast; but Spain's continental holdings consisted just of southern Italy and Sicily. Oh, and they had permanent rebels in enclaves surrounded by me, which was pretty fun.

Africa was initially just a skipping stone on the way to Asia, but after I won the race to control the Spice Islands, I doubled back to strengthening my position there. My primary goal was to control the flow of trade through the Ivory Coast: I had already blocked out other European powers, but the African nations were locally skimming a small portion of the huge wealth flowing through. The big powers I faced were Kongo and Mali, along with some smaller satellite states. When the dust had settled, I had created a land bridge extending from Lisboa through Morocco, down through West Africa and through the Kongo interior into Somalia. From here, I launched another war against Hormuz to expand that land bridge through the Arabian peninsula to join up with my existing foothold on the island of Ormuz, gaining a new beachhead into Asia Minor. Future wars would eventually allow me to connect up with my subcontinental holdings in India. It's a long walk from India back to Portugal, but one I can do without needing any military access!

My economy and force limit has expanded to the level where there's no real limit on the armies I can field. As I headed into the second half of the game, I came to understand why many veteran players prefer to quit around 1650 or so. In early wars, you probably have a single stack of forces that you're strategically moving to attack and block. Later in the game, though, you'll have many larger stacks operating across a wide area. For optimal play, you also need to pay attention to the Supply Limit in their theaters, splitting armies to safely cross a desert and then re-combining on the other side, for example. Forts become increasingly annoying to crack. On the plus side, though, you can afford to constantly drill all of your armies in peacetime, which makes the wars faster and easier. I didn't really drill anyone until about 1600 and now wish that I had done so from the start: the Professionalism gain is based on the fraction of your army that is drilling, so even a couple of regiments could push your Professionalism high when done early.

In the second half of the game, the New World has been a lot quieter. Whenever I went to war with Spain it would drag in their colonies, and often Newfoundland as well; but by this point my own colonies were powerful enough that they could fight in this hemisphere on their own without a lot of support from me. Native tribes mostly stopped declaring on my colonies, but I did get a couple of attempts late in the game, which were always really fun: as soon as I try to Enforce Peace on the conflict, not only I will enter the war, but so will all of my subjects as well. Just imagine being a little 1-province North American tribe trying to take on Cascadia, and then suddenly facing the combined might of Portugal, California, Louisiana, Mexico, Cuba, Columbia, Brazil, Peru, and Rio del Prata. If the war goes on for long enough, even Australia will sail over and get in on the action!

As I continued to expand in the Old World, I continued my general strategy of personally claiming the most crucial provinces (those with monuments, centers of trade or estuaries). Other provinces would be given to vassals, who would take care of coring and converting the new territory. Once the vassal got up to around 300 dev or so I would annex them. I started annexing Demak and Ogadeen this way, trying to time it so they would finish around the same time and I could minimize the reputational penalty for annexation. It's really hard to time right because discounts (like a Cortes resolution and the Papal Legate curia power) will affect the cost of diplomatic power spent, but for long annexations you might need to start more than 10 years out, before you can get the Cortes issue. When I was ready for the Cortes proposal, it never appeared, even after waiting for a year, until I finally released a fourth vassal. Also, it turns out that if you're the Papal Controller then you can't take the Papal Legate ability, so I frustratingly had to wait for my pope to die before I could take it. It all worked out in terms of the cost of annexation, but the timeline was rougher than I'd hoped.

After Demak and Ogadeen were integrated, I created a new African vassal Dagbon and a new Indonesian vassal Aceh. I didn't let those grow quite as big before integrating them, since my previous vassals were starting to flirt with 50% Liberty Desire while being integrated.

Once I started having a dominant position in the game, one of my priorities was trying to spawn all of the remaining Institutions. I had pretty high hopes for starting Manufactories: it requires high dev on a province with an industrial Manufactory, but most of my actual Portuguese land was agricultural, so for nearly 100 years I had been developing the Maghreb. Most of northern Africa is hilly or mountainous or desert, so it was extra expensive to dev. I had high hopes for spawning the institution, and was frustrated to see that I didn't get it. I read more closely online about the requirements, and saw that each province has only a 10% chance of spawning, so there's a chance that my provinces weren't even considered as candidates. Also, one of the requirements is that the province is "connected to the capital". I'd fought wars against Spain specifically to a crossing between Gibraltar and Ceuta, linking my homeland to Africa. After investigating some Reddit threads, though, it sounds like "connected to the capital" also requires them being on the same continent. Boo!! So, most likely none of those Maghreb provinces were even eligible. I really wish I'd used all those monarch points somewhere else!

Late in the game, coalitions finally started to become a real problem. For most of the game it didn't matter at all: by the time I'd racked up enough Aggressive Expansion for it to be a possibility, I was also so strong that nobody dared join one. Then, when I would go to war against huge powers like Ming or Spain they would be brave and form up; and as soon as I signed a peace treaty they would dismantle. Eventually, though, I got enough people mad enough at me that the coalitions would stick around even when I wasn't at war and had no overextension. I had to tread carefully with Spain for a while: since they are a global power, my wars everywhere in the world tend to trigger their AE even if I'm, say, taking provinces in Indonesia. I had to be more cautious during this phase, but never really stopped expanding: I'd find a group that I hadn't picked on much yet, like Totemists in Africa or Shintos in Japan, and go to war with them; occasionally this would pull in a coalition member as a non-co-belligerant, which would remove them from the actual coalition. At some point I got strong enough to declare myself a Military Hegemon, and after that I went back to nobody daring to join a coalition against me regardless of how much AE I'd racked up.

Let's see, what else interesting happened...

One general game design observation I want to make is that, while it's true that micromanagement (in my wide game) became more annoying later on, I am pretty impressed by how the game changes to keep some tension and engagement in the later sections. The Revolution mechanic in particular was really effective. I chose to stay a Monarchy, so I was pretty invested in trying to curb revolutionary fervor. Spain eventually became the Revolutionary Target, which caused some massive unrest penalties in my provinces (coupled with ones where the Revolution was present). Dealing with rebellions is a pain, and you're incentivized to take action to prevent them. Going to war against the Revolutionary Target switches those penalties to bonuses, improving social cohesion. I think I fought this war with France and the PLC as my allies, Spain was allied with Britain, we wiped the floor with them and I took a juicy bite out of Italy while curbing the revolutionary threat.

There was a decade or so of peace, and then: France became revolutionary! Once again the world order went through upheaval. France's revolutionary fervor burned bright and they rapidly expanded eastward, often issuing calls to arms to me. I was typically a passive participant in these battles: on paper I massively ballooned the belligerant side, which led to favorable war calculations, but I rarely committed armies to the struggle, at most blockading some ports. This continued for some time until France declared on the Papal States. Nope. The one constant throughout my whole game has been remaining resolutely Catholic, and that was one straw too many. I rejected the Call and ended our alliance, setting up a tense standoff with my rival-turned-ally-turned-rival-again.

I was planning to play all the way through to the end of the game in 1821, but decided to finish early when I reached an unexpected milestone: being crowned the Holy Roman Emperor. This is very funny! I'm waaaay on the far end of Europe and don't have any HRE provinces. I have a stupid amount of Diplomats and had been idly improving relations with the Electors, not really expecting to be elected. I guess it does make sense: at the end of World War Zero I'd enforced Catholicism as the official faith of the HRE, but most of the Empire was still Protestant or Reformed. The only somewhat-powerful Catholic entity left had been Brandenburg, but they were swallowed up by the PLC a decade or so earlier, so all that was left inside the Empire were some one-or-two-province minors.


I started to read up on what I should do as the Emperor, dreaming of improbably restoring its greatness (declare religious wars to convert the heretic princes back to Catholicism! Go to war against France to return the unlawful territory)!, all of which sounds fun, but honestly way too much for the far end of the game.

On the one hand, I'm filled with good feelings for this game, impressed at the incredible depth of simulation and the intricate interconnection of its various systems. On the other hand, I feel very done with it and ready to move on to something else. It says something that I now think of Stellaris as being a simple, streamlined game! BUT I can't help thinking of all the other things I'd like to try in EU4, like properly playing in the HRE, or trying to survive as Byzantium, or unifying Japan, or restoring Ruthenia.

Some final stats:


Friday, April 07, 2023

Vasco da Gama on Mars

(This has been sitting in my drafts since October 2022. Time to publish it and move on!)

As usual, my playing of Europa Universalis has outstripped my blogging and I should just accept it. Here we go:

World War Zero was probably the most fun, intense part of the game so far: a hugely complex war across several major theaters spread across the globe and fought by dozens of belligerent nations. Each participant has a +50 bonus to War Enthusiasm, so in practice nations won't accept peace offers until they are 100% occupied. Fortunately, many of the combatants are tiny one-province minors in Germany, so after a few years of successful campaigning the Emperor began knocking out opponents.

In the first year or so of the war I played very micro-manage-y, pausing every couple of days and checking in on each individual army and fleet of mine. Many of these were little 2k stacks of infantry, but doing important work like invading Spanish islands in the Pacific to cut down on their naval range. I was also carefully playing hide-and-seek with the Ottomans around the Arabian Peninsula, and more forcefully (but still slowly) occupying the Iberian Peninsula. I was able to drive the Spanish armies out of here, but they remained very powerful in Italy, which is mostly owned by Spain.

One exception is the Papal States, which hold the center of Italy. They were doing poorly for a while, fully occupied except for Rome proper, which was under siege. This led to one of the more exciting campaigns of the war: I drove the Spanish fleet back into their North African ports, then had galleons stand guard against Turkish galleys while I inserted infantry into Rome. We broke the siege, then managed to escape back to our transports just before the huge 60k Spanish stack made its way back down. This kept the Papal States and their sizable army in the war for several more years, and incidentally gave me some very valuable reputation with the Papal States to further boost my papal influence.

After most of the OPMs were knocked out, we moved on to mid-sized kingdoms and duchies like the Three Leagues and Munich, while trying to protect allies like Genoa from being fully occupied. I noticed that Bohemia was granting territory to war allies from defeated opponents. Which was a little funny, since those allies tended to be Protestant or Reformed, but whatever. This did give me some hope that I'd be able to get actual territory from Spain out of the war, but I also knew there was no way we'd be able to 100% occupy Spain. By this point in the war, though, I had fully occupied and destroyed the armies of Spanish Louisiana, Spanish Caribbean, Spanish Florida and British Newfoundland, as well as occupied the Iberian homeland, Spanish South Africa and all of their Pacific holdings, leaving them with very valuable Italian land and islands in the Atlantic.

As the war progressed, it began to seem feasible that we could 100% occupy Austria, the war leader: all of its smaller allies had surrendered, and France, Holland, the Commonwealth and myself were successfully holding the larger armies of Britain, Sweden, Hungary and the Ottomans out of central Europe. This phase took a lot of careful maneuvering, as Austria had a lot of Level 4 Mountain Forts, and both they and Spain had huge armies that could crush our sieging forces. That said, those huge armies had been pummeled by attrition for years and years, and around this point the manpower reserves had dropped to 0 and they were running on fumes.

From some light online Googling, I had learned that a war leader will unconditionally surrender if all of the following criteria are true:

  1. At least 5 years have passed since the start of the war.
  2. All of the war leader's provinces are occupied. (Which can include occupation from a separate war or by rebels.)
  3. The war leader does not control any provinces. (Which includes provinces that allies captured and then transferred control of.)

I focused my armies on retaking a couple of Venetian provinces that had been conquered by Albania and given to Austria before Albania surrendered. Around this time the Papal States finally gave in, which was slightly disappointing, but meant that we didn't need to recapture those provinces too.

Just a few days after Austria was fully occupied, Bohemia accepted the call for peace. I was delighted to see that I did receive some provinces in the deal (and rightfully so, as I had put up something like 45% of the War Contribution, while my vassals and colonies provided another 15% or so). The gains weren't huge; I got three provinces northeast of Portugal proper, and five South African provinces. But I wasn't really expecting anything at all, so I was pleased. There was a fair amount of other realignment as well, with France expanding east, the Commonwealth taking some of Hungary and so on. All this was the cherry on the top; my main goal had been to get the Age Objective and the Catholic buff, both of which were satisfied.

And, I had severely weakened Spain, eating up all of their Manpower, sinking 3/4 of their ships and probably driving them into debt. While I'd been happily allied with them so far, I was now starting to view them as an expansion target. If I could take Sevilla and a few other provinces, I could fully own the vast trade income flowing in from the Americas, Africa, India and Oceania. Spain also has several Great Projects with awesome benefits, including Admin Efficiency and lowering Liberty Desire. Finally, if I could own a "land bridge" to Gibraltar, all of my North African provinces would be considered connected to my capital, which in turn would put me in a good position for spawning the Manufactories Institution. I already had Global Trade in Beja, but the Portuguese home provinces are very agriculture-oriented and so not eligible to spawn Manufactories. But my African provinces had a lot of different types of Manufactories, and I'd been devving them with surplus monarch power for several decades, putting them in a good position for spawning if they could satisfy the connected requirement.

My immediate goal, though, was to focus on Absolutism. The timing of the League War had messed with my initial plans, as you can't lower autonomy or take many other actions while at war. I'd watched several videos and read guides about Absolutism; there are some well-documented strategies like allowing Particularists to enforce their demands, but more recent patches have decreased the effectiveness of this approach. A more recent guide suggested a semi-exploit-y strategy where you take a territory, raise the autonomy, turn it into a state and then back into a territory, and then lower the autonomy again, which bypasses the typical cooldown period for adjusting autonomy. You gain 1 point of Absolutism for every 20 dev you lower autonomy on.

I tried this out and, honestly, it was pretty underwhelming. Even though I had a huge empire with a ton of territories, I think I only got like maybe 10 or so points of absolutism. It might have been more effective if I'd been able to do it at the very start of the age, but because I had been accruing some ticking yearly Absolutism during the League War, I lost all of those points when raising Autonomy, then get a few more back when lowering it again, but still not a ton.

But, there is the "benefit" of increasing unrest when you lower Autonomy. I took the Splendor ability for half-price Harsh Treatment, which let me crush rebellions for as little as 20 Military Power. This proved a more reliable way to boost Absolutism.

(Why Absolutism? Based on what I've read, the main benefit is increasing your Administrative Efficiency, which in turn lets you take provinces for less War Score cost or more provinces for the same War Score, as well as lowering the impact of Overextension and Aggressive Expansion. Overall, it lets you grow more for any given war.)

I'd been planning to hold off on any wars until after finishing the "Court & Country" disaster and boosting my Absolutism, mostly so I could keep crownland high. However, my two remaining estates' Influence was really low by this point (just over 10% for Clergy and around 30% for the Burghers), and my Crownland was over 95% thanks to all the devving I was doing in North Africa, so I had some to play around with.

The Ottomans had been expanding into Arabia, and I was a bit concerned that they would cut off my African holdings from Asia, so I launched a war against Hormuz to link up the Horn of Africa with Ormuz. This was an easier war than my earlier conflict with Yemen and its allies. I destroyed the Hormuz navy and worked with my Oghadeen vassal to siege down Hormuz territory; their own vassals didn't contribute much to the war. I wasn't able to fully annex Hormuz, and in the end I opted to take western land to block Ottoman expansion instead of eastern land that would connect my holdings. That would ordinarily be risky, but since nobody else borders Hormuz now I don't need to worry about anyone "stealing" those provinces from me.

A much bigger conflict loomed in India. For nearly a century I'd had some available Missions around owning Ceylon and some provinces on the east coast of India. I'd been hesitant to launch this war, since Gujarat and Kotte were allied, Gujarat owned the subcontinental provinces and was allied with Bengal, a massive military force and recent Great Power. Unlike Bahmanis, these nations were doing a good job at keeping up-to-date in military and other tech. Still, I was pretty confident that I could at least take those provinces I needed for the mission.

By now I've gotten much better at selecting a primary target for a war. When dealing with an alliance network where you want to take provinces from multiple foes, I think you're usually better off declaring war on the biggest opponent. First of all, you're less likely to fully occupy them, so you're less likely to get unwanted Calls For Peace and/or unconditional surrender. Secondly, any War Score you get from battles, blockades, etc. only apply to the war leader and not to co-belligerants. If you can fully occupy a smaller nation, you'll automatically get 99-100% war score, so those extra values are wasted. For the bigger nation, you can use them to squeeze out a few more concessions.

My vassal Kothamud was actually doing pretty well by now and could hold its own in the war. I was surprised and happy to see Demak show up as well with a nice-sized stack that played aggressively in attacking armies and sieging provinces.

These regional wars are pretty interesting to play as. On paper, I vastly outnumber my opponents; but that includes allied armies that are hanging out in the Americas and home armies in Europe and elsewhere. So in practice we tend to be pretty evenly matched, at least when it comes to land forces (I always easily dominate the seas). I'll usually have a big stack of artillery with a high-siege General focusing on taking forts, while a stack of infantry and cavalry with high-shock-and-or-fire General lurks nearby to protect them and engage any enemy forces. The AI tends to be very cautious and spends a lot of time running away, occasionally looping back if it can get to a small stack or some undefended troops. The best opportunity, which rarely comes up, is to wait for an enemy to siege one of your forts; they're usually reluctant to abandon an in-progress siege, and you can easily beat them with an equally-sized army, especially if the fort is on favorable terrain.

My goals for the war kept expanding as it progressed. Kotte fell surprisingly easily, and I was able to move those troops back to the mainland before Bengal fully engaged. By this time Demak and Kotalund were active, giving us a slight numerical advantage. That said, we were squeezed between two large foes, and had a lot of territory to defend and long snaking routes connecting them.

For my War Goal I'd selected one of the provinces I needed for the mission, and I started getting ticking score relatively early. I soon reached the point where Gujarat would surrender those provinces to me, but by now we had that advantage and I decided to keep pressing, following my standard strategy of prioritizing the enemy capital and Centers Of Trade. I discovered that Gujarat also owned a Gold Province, and added that to my shopping list.

I hadn't co-belligerant-ed Bengal, since they were a much stronger force and would have brought in many more allies of their own. By the end I started to wish that I had, though: I had exceeded my expectations and was on track to 100% occupy Gujarat. (In a small, funny note: Gujarat was allied with the dessicated remnants of the once-grand Timurid Empire, which by now owned a since province and a whopping 1 infantry regiment. While I was fighting mighty battles against Bengal and Gujarat to the east, Timur waltzed across the border and recaptured several occupied Gujarat provinces, requiring me to send a whopping 2 regiments back to chase them away and reclaim them.) I hadn't planned on Bengal taking any part in the peace deal, but now I wanted to see what I could squeeze out of them.

You can take provinces from a non-co-belligerant, it's just very expensive. After taking nearly all of the Indian Ocean coast and getting up to something like 40% individual warscore against Bengal, I ended up settling for three non-contiguous provinces; but those three provinces were all high-trade-power CoTs in the Bengal node, which made them incredibly valuable to me. After that I settled up with Gujarat; having fully occupied them, it turns out I didn't really need warscore from battles or the war goal after all, and might have been better off to have declared on Bengal in the first place. Oh, well. I was able to pillage the capital and get a little more dev in Lisboa, take the provinces for my mission, take the Centers of Trade and the gold provinces, and then grab a few more minor provinces for myself and Kolamud to make our territory contiguous or (more amusingly) split Gujarat into non-contiguous chunks.

Oh! I forgot to mention revanchism. While World War Zero was a fun and successful conflict, one thing that surprised me was that all of the remaining Protestant League members got a large amount of Revanchism at the end of the war. The idea behind Revanchism is that if a nation loses provinces, they get 10 years of bonuses, including a significant boost to Manpower generation, lowered Unrest, and higher Tax revenues; the intent is to make them less of an easy target to "kick them while they're down". But it looks like, due to a bug or unusual design, all members will get revanchism, even if they personally didn't lose any provinces. So in this case, the Ottoman Empire ended up with a lot of Revanchism, despite not losing any significant territory.

Knowing this, I was extra-incentivized to make a separate peace with Bengal before wrapping up the main Gujarat part of the war: since I was going to be taking up to 100 War Score of provinces, I wanted to make sure Bengal didn't get the Revanchism. And in fact, I don't think they got any at all; I believe (but am not completely sure) that Revanchism isn't granted in separate peaces, only from the primary treaty.

I used this war to help trigger "Court And Country", a disaster that can be used to boost your maximum Absolutism. I don't think I really needed it in my campaign; due to a variety of bonuses I had (including Empire status, Great Power status, high Religious Unity, Legitimacy and Crown Land), my maximum was already around 100, even with two Estate Privileges granted for more Monarch Power. There isn't much benefit to raising Absolutism over 100; but doing so would increase my Crown Land Equilibrium, which would help me maintain high crownland while continuing military expansion; and going over 100 would also insulate me from temporary drops in Legitimacy or other modifiers I depended on.

Court & Country proved to be really hard to trigger. It starts when you have high National Unrest, non-maximum Stability, high Absolutism and are at war. My Unrest was high thanks to my long wars and nearly-crippling Overextension, but keeping it high proved difficult, and ironically I needed to save-scum after getting some beneficial events and ruler traits that lowered it. (Having an Unrest lower than 1 gives you -1 progress per month, which I thought I could overcome with the +2 progress from high Absolutism, but it turns out that having low Unrest for more than 1 month entirely cancels the disaster instead of just progressing more slowly.)

The disaster eventually fired. It proved to be pretty bursty: I had no events at all for the first year or so, then several months of back-to-back revolts from particularists, separatists and nobles. I'd planned to strategically give in to some of the demands, but ended up challenging all of them, mostly because of the higher Local Autonomy most of them give.

Beyond the event-based uprisings, I also had my hands full with regular old uprisings, due to my previous shenanigans with lowering autonomy: I think I had over a dozen revolts in the years leading up to and early in Court And Country. Fortunately my armies were well-positioned to respond, and I had Forts extending zones of control into most of my provinces, neutralizing the worst effects of rebels seizing provinces. By this point I was getting nervous about my near-zero Military Power, and started fighting rebels instead of using Harsh Treatment so I could get it high enough to take the next technology.

While it might be a bad idea, I also decided to start integrating my vassals. I'd lead them for over a century, and they had grown huge; Liberty Desire was still manageable, but I could see it getting out of hand if I continued feeding them. I'd initially planned to do it after finishing Court & Country, but since my Absolutism was already getting up near 80 or so this seemed to be as good a time as any. I intentionally lost a papal election so I could take the Papal Legate decision for cheaper annexation, and plan to start a Cortes debate for further reduction. I'm integrating Demak and Oghadeen at the same time, which costs a whopping 20 Diplomatic Power per month. I built my stockpile up to nearly 1000 before triggering the annexation; thanks to my advisors and all my other sources of mana, I'm only running a deficit of 4 per month, so I should be able to complete the annexation before running out. Kothamud is a bit smaller than Demak and Oghadeen, so my tentative plan is to keep them around for a bit longer, maybe using them to expand into Sindh and/or connect my Bengal holdings before annexation. I'll likely pick up another vassal in central or western Africa and probably another in Asia, either an Indonesian one to take Ternate's colonial empire or in Thailand or Vietnam to take more of the mainland.

Diplomatically, I replaced my old Spanish alliance with a French one, and my British alliance with the Commonwealth. It took a lot of trust-building to get the Commonwealth on board, but they're really good allies now, and I think I'm very well-positioned if Russia or the Ottomans ever try to start something. (I don't have much desire to expand into those lands, but if they're feeling bold they could try to go after mine.) Those allies are each weaker than the old one (Spain is #2, France #5, Britain #9 and the Commonwealth is no longer ranked), but more useful: Britain never wanted to join my wars, and I didn't usually want to involve Spain in my overseas adventures.

I am generating a ridiculous amount of Papal Influence. I have 4 missionaries, thanks to my Religious Idea and activities in the Counter-Reformation. For a while I was converting my vassals' lands, reasoning that doing so now would save me the hassle of converting after annexation; but Demak and Kothamud then granted Dhimi Autonomy, rendering provinces non-convertible. But I then realized that many New World colonial provinces were still heathen, including some very high-dev ones, so that's where I've been keeping busy. As a result I've been the Pope for a while, I keep the Papal abilities up, and have lately started dumping the surplus into Mercantilism.

More to come in the next post!

(Probably no images, though. I've lately been doing most of my EU4 play on a MacBook, and the screenshot key is just awkward enough there that I haven't been taking many shots at all. Not that the text is very readable on the web anyways!)

Sunday, April 02, 2023

Send Luxemburg On Over

I don't remember now where I first heard of Rosa Luxemburg. It might have been from one of China Mieville's lists, or a reference from Jeremy Brecher or one of my other readings on labor movements. The specific book I've been trying to track down is "The Mass Strike, the Political Party and Trade Unions", but I haven't had luck securing a copy yet. I did, however, find a cool graphic novel biography appropriately titled Red Rosa. Since I don't know much about her life, I thought it would be worth picking up.


The book reminds me a lot of "Eugene V. Debs". Both are graphic novel biographies of prominent leftist figures who were active from the late 19th to the early 20th centuries. They both give pretty comprehensive overviews of their subjects' entire lives, include significant excerpts from their writings and speeches, and give brief introductions to the many other figures in their orbits. There are some strong parallels between their lives, despite living in separate hemispheres and having pretty different backgrounds. Both were active in starting socialist parties, both were deeply committed to grass-roots democracy, both were passionate pacifists who were imprisoned during World War I for speaking out against the senseless conflict. And both had nice moments of grace, like Debs' love of flowers and Luxemburg's rapturous appreciation of birdsong.


Rosa lives a pretty remarkable life. Born into a Polish Jewish family, she has early experiences with ostracism; while her family isn't severely poor (and does well enough to keep a servant), she sees and experiences a lot of suffering in her early years. This sparks an early passion for economic justice, which leads her to discovering the writings of Karl Marx and a local community of socialists. 

One little thing I appreciated was how the artist showed Rosa's relative comfort. She's fiery and eloquent about the damage done by inequality; but she holds forth while being waited on by a maid, who you occasionally see rolling her eyes. The artist doesn't dwell on the contradiction, but I appreciated that she doesn't cover it up either. We see Rosa teaching the people around her, using examples and metaphors and logic, describing the difference between the use-value and the monetary-value, how economic relationships supplant human relationships, and the systemic effects of the accumulation of capital.

Rosa's strongest qualities may be her ambition and her fearlessness. She's determined to go to Switzerland to study, at the only university that admits women. While there she has the first of what will be several passionate love affairs. Rosa doesn't seem to have a particular "type", and her lovers are very different from one another. Each one seems deeply meaningful to her, but she also fiercely remains her own woman, not letting herself be defined by her relationships.

She eventually gets married, but not to someone she loves: it's a friendly understanding with a German comrade, using the marriage to secure German citizenship. Most of Rosa's life takes place in Germany. Building on earlier research she did on the economic and historical development of Poland, she shifts towards building and expanding the German Socialist Party. Under the Kaiser there aren't any meaningful powers given to the assembly, and in any case the structure of the Bundesrat significantly curtails the representation of smaller parties. But Rosa firmly believes that change is only possible at the individual, ground level, and the work done reaching and teaching small groups of laborers, soldiers and commoners is more important than any political maneuverings.

Besides teaching and inspiring the masses, Rosa also continues her research and theoretical work, eventually developing a thesis that critiques and corrects one specific aspect of Marx: the problem of surplus value. Marx describes a cycle where the small group of capitalists extracts more and more labor for less and less pay from the working class. The question is, who buys all the stuff that they make? The poor can't afford to buy it all, and there aren't enough rich to consume it all. Rosa's thesis is that capitalist economies can only continue to function by offloading their externalities onto non-capitalist countries, taking raw materials from them and forcing goods onto their markets. This ends up elegantly tying together critiques of capitalism with critiques of imperialism, seeing these as two intrinsically related phenomena. It's a critique that rings true, particularly in a setting that includes the Opium Wars of China, the U.S.'s various "gunboat diplomacy" incidents in the Americas and the Pacific, and really all sorts of colonial initiatives and foreign wars.

Rosa seems to be very extroverted and social, making a lot of friends in Germany and abroad, mostly people at various points on the leftist spectrum. She also bumps up against quite a few people who are unhappy with her: some of this is driven by misogyny or xenophobia, and some from ideological disagreements: a few people are aghast that she would dare to question Marx.

Thanks in part to Rosa's tireless advocacy, the ranks of socialists swell, and they are increasingly influential in the German government. Rosa remains ambivalent about this, unsure whether it's valuable for socialists to participate in what she sees as a corrupt system. This comes to a painful head when World War I breaks out, and the socialist deputies unanimously vote to support the war, their patriotism overcoming any connection to the international solidarity socialist movement. She feels personally betrayed by this turn of events and eloquently speaks out against the war.

She's thrown into prison for her "sedition". Her friends try to get her out, but she sees this as an opportunity: since she's charged with a crime, she can defend herself in a court of law, and her bright young lawyer (and most recent lover) will be able to call evidence and put on a show for the public, highlighting the cruelty in the ranks and the horrific cost of war. She is eventually released from prison, and rather than lying low she immediately resumes her work.

After the war ends, the Socialist party comes to power, but once again Rosa feels betrayed: the new head of government, a former pupil of hers, won't undertake any revolutionary actions, and instead perpetuates the status quo. Rosa and a core of committed leftists start the "Spartacus League", a forerunner to the German Communist Party, advocating for more revolutionary action. This leads to a heartbreaking sequence of events that ends with with Rosa being assassinated by the Freikorps, paramilitaries acting with the tacit support of her own former party.

Throughout the book, we can see the heartache Luxemburg endures, from the horror of war to despair at the actions of her former comrades. But we also see her love of beauty, her connection to nature, her deep affection for the men in her life. Even when things seem really bleak and she's isolated in a prison, she feels connected to the world around her. After the comic ends, a nice afterword describes her legacy: how Lenin and Trotsky saw her and the various places she's held in the esteem of leftist groups around the world.

This was a cool book, and on the whole I think I like it a bit more than the Debs book, partly because of a stronger focus on the main character. I learned a lot, not just about Rosa's life but about that whole period of time in that part of the world; this felt like a nice counterpart to October, a broader and more distant perspective on that era, the left struggles and the process of revolution. More specifically, after reading this book I have a much better understanding of why the Socialist and Communist parties of Germany failed to join in coalition after the 1932 elections: if one party assassinated another party's leadership, you could hardly blame them for holding a grudge!


Rosa lived a remarkable life, and both reacting to and participating in many of the momentous changes during this time. I still want to track down one of her actual publications; there are a lot of excerpts from her work in here, and she has a really strong, clear voice, both direct and thoughtful. The world has evolved in many ways since her life and some of her concerns may seem less relevant today, but the big picture is still very much with us, especially in this era of drastically rising inequality and nationalism. There's an evergreen debate about top-down leadership versus bottom-up organizing, and a lot of Rosa's writings on the topic really resonate with me.