On the littoral uncertainty prevails.

Herewith a serf’s synthesis of previous editions of the Serf Under_ground Journal, expanded by a collection of serf poetry concerning living on the littoral.

If yer’ve read ‘The Black Swan’ by Nassim Taleb, regarding uncertainty and humanity’s poor record in prediction – demonstrating how prediction is influenced by confirmation bias and black swan events coming out of left field to surprise us – n yer don’t need a serf ter tell yer that we can’t be certain what the fuchure holds.

One of history’s early observers of confirmation bias, Michel de Montaigne, in his essay, ‘Of Custom and That We Should Not Easily Change a Law Received,’ recognized how easily we succumb to the tyranny of old tribal views, nothing so outlandish that cannot be demonstrated in public practice somewhere in the world.

So what of the predictions of doomsayers, Thomas Malthus, Paul Erlich et al?  Well, it’s all there on the record. We know how The Reverend Mister Pessimist, Thomas Malthus, argued in his ‘Essay on the Principle of Population’ in 1798, that a golden age in the future could never be attained because population had a tendency to increase more rapidly than food. In the interim it didn’t happen but that didn’t deter other predictors of catastrophe like Paul Erlich in ‘The Population Bomb,’ 1969, or members of The Club of Rome with their ‘Limits of Growth,’ 1972.  Despite the best seller status of the books, their predictions were a flop.

This from Max Anacker on Judith Curry’s blog, ‘Climate Etc,’ 20/06/13 @ 4.23am:

‘Population increased in a whopping 1.7x from 1970 to 2010 at a compounded rate of over 1.6% per year. But at the same time, agricultural output, i.e. crop yield of major crops, (rice, corn wheat,) increased by 2.4 x.’

Something the doomsayers did recognize, however, even though they were wrong about predictability, was that – naychur – is – dangerous.

And so another aspect of life on the littoral – Nature is dangerous and don’t you forget it.

Consider how precarious was life fer the average peasant living in Europe, Asia or Africa during the 40,000 years, prior to the Industrial Revolution. For all that time, daily life centered on gathering or producing enough food jest ter stay alive. In the West, as in Asia, whether in 1500 or 1800, yer typical family lived close to the bread-line. Grain provided more than 80% of the family diet, in Asia, rice, in the West, bread and porridge, soup or in hard times, thin gruel. Famine was a widespread and common occurrence. The great famines of India, 1022-1033-1052, wiped out entire provinces, the 1064 famine and out-break of the plague in France killed 100,000 people.

Seems climate has always been variable and unpredictable. The period of the 1600’s, was a bad time fer serfs. Advancing glaciers in Europe were an object of terror. Glaciers swallowed up French, Swiss, Italian and Austrian farms on the foothills of the Alps. Sometimes processions of villagers, led by a priest, would journey to the edge of a glacier to pray that it would halt.

Historian, Tony Brown’s research, ‘The Long Slow Thaw,’ documents events of this period, known as ‘The Little Ice Age,’ and evaluates and reconstructs the Central England Temperature record from its beginning in 1659. This highly scrutinized temperature record is the oldest instrumental record in the world today. In his study of CET, Tony Brown incorporates in his study the cooling of the LIA, and a prior Medieval Warming Period, both identified by Hubert Lamb, first director of the East Anglia Climate Research Unit. (CRU.)

The wealth of cross referenced historical data, temperature records, almanacs, diaries, that Tony Brown presents, support Lamb’s research and the European Chronicles of LIA periods of intense cold, of glacier advances and harvest failures.

Hmm … weather is variable, maybe that’s the only certainty in climate studies.

Living on the littoral as we do, better adapt and try our best to be anti-fragile.


Let’s begin with cheap energy, the back-bone of the anti-fragile economy, its contribution ter human welfare can hardly be exaggerated.

Once upon a time all work was done by humans using their own muscle power. Then came a time when some humans, pharaohs ‘n such got other people, the serfs, ter do the work for them, building pyramids, digging ditches, trampling grapes and so on.

With the Roman Empire came the age of oxen, then horse power, each a major step fer human kind. In turn, with the invention of the water mill, yer getting’ the introduction of inanimate power. Later, in the low countries, where water power was not an option, the invention of the windmill, along with the burning of peat, enabled Holland in the 1600’s to become the workshop of the world. But it was the invention of the steam engine, triggering the Industrial Revolution of the late 1800’s, and the use of stored fossil fuel energy in coal  keeping it going, that gave us economic lift off.

Fossil fuels were a game changer. For while renewable technologies are self replenishing, when they become exhausted overtime, their renewal is too slow ter meet demand. And while fossil fuels are not infinite, coal is sufficiently abundant ter allow an increase in both economic activity and population to a point where they generate sustainability without hitting a Malthusian ceiling.

Even today problems of storage and intermittency limit the efficiency of renewable energies. Peter Lang, a geologist and engineer with more than 40 years experience in energy projects throughout the world, including R&D and policy advice to governments, reviewed and costed a University of NSW study  ‘Simulations of  Scenarios with 100% Renewable  Electricity in the Australian National Electricity Market.’ (Elliston et al 2011a) While the NSW University study provides no costing of the renewable scenarios it did recognize that even with highly optimistic assumptions, renewable energy has insufficient capacity to meet peak winter demands, no capacity reserve and is dependent on a technology, gas turbines running on bio-fuels, that exist only at small scale and at a high cost,’

Peter Lang costs the four scenarios of the Elliston study and a fifth scenario, nuclear powering his paper, ‘Renewables or Nuclear Electricity for Australia – the Costs.’ Peter Lang  28th April 2012. ( Ref Serf Under_ground Journal, 3rd Edition. ‘Energy’s A Staff of Life.’)

Peter Lang’s costing is done on the basis of * CO2 emissions intensity, * Capital cost,
* Cost of electricity and * CO2 abatement costs. He finds compared to the four scenarios, nuclear is roughly ¼ the cost in relation to CO2 emissions intensity, 1/3 the Capital cost. 1/3 Cost of Electricity and 1/3 CO2 abatement costs. Of the four renewable scenarios the fourth has the lowest cost electricity but has CO2 emissions that are 2.8 x higher than nuclear.


Classical economists considered innovation belongs outside the system of economics like earthquakes, climate or war. Joseph A. Schumpeter argued, on the contrary, that innovation and entrepreneurship, moving resources from old and obsolete to new and more productive employments, is the very essence of economics. For Schumpeter the basic fallacy was an assumption by John Maynard Keynes and other economists that the healthy economy is an economy in static equilibrium whereas Schumpeterr argues that a modern economy is always in dynamic disequilibrium. Schumpeter’s economy is not a closed system, but is forever growing and changing.

As soon as one shifts from the axiom of an unchanging self contained economy to Schumpeter’s growing, changing economy, what is called profit becomes not something stolen from the workers, but the source of capital formation to defray the costs of the future, the costs of maintaining jobs and of creating new ones. Profit is the cost of staying in business, the cost of a future in which nothing is predictable except that today’s profitable business is tomorrow’s white elephant.  

Liberty of the Individual And Free Speech.

When the Athenians became a maritime society coming in contact with different laws and social customs, a strange thing happened. They began to recognize that laws and social customs were man-made and were therefore able to be criticized and changed.

In sixth century BC Athens, Pericles expressed this recognition in his great Funeral Oration delivered after the first battles of the Peloponnesian War, when he used the occasion to celebrate Athenian democracy:

‘We do not look upon discussion as a stumbling block in the way of political action, but as a preliminary to acting wisely.’ And ‘while only a few may originate policy, we are all able to judge it.’
In the Athenian society of Pericles Funeral Oration, justice is sounding particular to individuals and not simply for the good of the state. Must say serfs like the idea of individual freedom and democratic guvuhmint, not top-down authority with its siege mentality censorship laws and ‘we will tell you what you need ter know.’

And living on the littoral where uncertainty prevails, serfs also favour policies by guvuhmint that foster productivity and adaptability ter what ever tsunami comes ter land. Regarding uncertainties, this from Faustino, former economic and policy adviser to both the UK and Australian governments and also to the Queensland government:

‘As a policy economist, I’ve often said that we can’t sensibly make long-term economic forecasts or projections, and that it is not possible to base policy on them. …  I have seen, time and time again, the dangers of high spending, long-term government projects.  …  
A system which allows decentralized decision-making by those with skin in the game and relevant knowledge and expertise is likely to produce far better results and will be more adaptable when forecasts inevitably prove wrong.’

(Posted on Climate Etc 16/05/13 @11.45 a.m.)




‘They were never wrong,
the old masters,’ says
Auden, ‘about suffering,’
when someone, Icarus say,
is falling from the sky,
near-by revelers, heedless,
in their pleasure – boat,
just sail on by.

Then there’s the old masters
on survival, Shakespeare’s Lear,
out in all weathers,
Dostoevsky on tenement life
in the raw, and more,
Roethke on what goes on in
root cellars, all life’s rich variety
explored in the litera-chure.


Naychur is dangerous and don’t
you forgit it. That speckled thrush
that chortles so sweetly has
just devoured a worm. You yrself
might escape harm if you
remind yourself, often, that
‘Nay – chur – is – dangerous!’

Dangerous. as the tiger, burning
bright, that even in sleep is
likely to overlay its cubs, or
dangerous, as voracious fire,
devouring all before it, spitting
out the charred remains, oh so
contemptuously, as it leaps
upon a forest glade, gullies
and all that lie therein,
animal and vegetable, nothing
vegan about fire … or
in contrast, there’s ice, some say
it’s worse than fire. Remember
poor Otzi, Bronze Age traveller,
snap-frozen in the Tyrol
in a sudden storm, swallowed
by one of those hungry
glaciers that engulf whole
villages, churches where
praying congregations seek
insurance from the elements
to no avail. Nay-chur has its way.


At the ocean’s edge, glittering crustaceans
And shelly treasures mesh,
Like a Chanel garment that’s beaded at the hem.

Today she wears her palest satin robe
That dips and dimples as she moves,
Swishing like a Venetian princess
Who glides across the marble floor of her palazza
To the deep accompaniment of a muted cello.

Don’t be fooled. Beneath that civilized exterior
Lie Freudian depths, fathoms of instincts blind,
Kelp coiling, slithering serpent entwined.
And like Medusa she rises up,,
Naked save for a necklace of whale bones
And the smashed hulks of ships,
To glory in, recoil from, and glory in,
The savagery unleashed.


Splash! In he goes.
finesse there’s none
but in pelican measure –
meant success –


Plans go awry
the centre (usually)
does not hold.
Just when you
think you might
seize the day,
turns out something
(usually) gets in the way.
Oh well, keep saying
‘you live to fight
another day,’ whatever
catch phrase that
suffices to ward off
melancholy or
despair, don’t
go there.


Within the stone – walled hive
the rustling of cardinal silk,
while on the slopes outside,
peasants scrabble
for scraps from the priests’ table.


Newcomers have moved into
the tenement tree. Epigone,
lorikeet interlopers asserting
gangland claims on its clusters
of winter flowers. Upper story residents,
a pair of crested doves, are already
moving out, can’t stand the noise.
‘Ours!’ shriek the new tenants, ‘It’s ours!’
They’ll defend the tree, or even
one blossoming branch, if need be,
against all comers, as long as
the seasonal flowers hold out.
Then, like itinerant workers when
the seasons change, they’ll move on.


The rift valley changes in the fading light, and
In deep caverns the Prince of Darkness stirs.
Against the night, the small band make
A circle at the fire, its yellow flames
Reflected in their eyes. Night falls, beyond
The fire-lit circle the big cats prowl.

The tribe survive dark nights and living in
An arid land. A stray thunderstorm creates
A brief oasis – follow the lightning – on
To greener pastures – be always on the move,
What’s next? The shaman’s rain dance, then
After ancient wells and boat construction
–    aquaducts.


In ancient  Mediterranean ports
Phoenician trading craft, triremes, fishing boats,
Carrying exotic goods
And seditious thoughts.


O, we are creatures of the light, of enlightenment,
Drawn by the light flickering on the river,
The riffling silver threads disturbing its opacity,
Drawn to the litter of stars that spark
In the dark abyss of night, to the harvest moon,
Palpable as a globed fruit, forgetting that
Its light’s reflected from the sun,
Shine on, O shine, harvest moon.

Seeking through poetry and science to probe
The secrets of the heavens and deep abyss.
We yearn for honey from the golden hive,
Enlightenment – O.


Across the antique crowd at the antique fair
I see her face so vulnerable and young,
Enclosed in the antique silver frame
She seems to ask, “Why am I here?”

Cherished daughter held in the silver frame,
A whisp of Venetian lace caught at her throat
With real pearls, she seemed secure within
The family walls, but here she is, alone without a name.

What sad event has brought her here,
A childless marriage, perhaps her early death?
Uncaring grandchild? Relatives from overseas
Selling the estate, don’t know or care?

We all seek certainty but there’s none,
Except the certainty that things must change.
We collect antiques, shore up the family home,
But dynasties fall, plans soon come undone.


A nest has fallen to the ground.
Though so cunningly made it could not withstand
The sudden Spring storm that brought it down
From its niche in a tall pine.

See how meticulously its maker has woven
Each separate blade of grass in and out, each
Blade brought in by air and stitched together
With cob-web by the small beak, the nest
Then shaped by the bird’s round breast and
Inlaid with its feathered down. Already
Ants are investigating the broken
Egg-shells scattered on the ground.



Every year the forest creeps closer,
Small pines encroaching in the meadow,
Tiny outposts in enemy territory.

Seems to the aging couple, days and years
Are also changing, days seem shorter, nights darker,
Does the harvest moon wane faster than before?

Tonight there’s a frost. Against the cold he selects
Another pine log from the pile, lifts it firmly
With his strong forearm, throws it on the fire.

The fire crackles and sends out sparks. In its glow
His wife looks like the girl he married long ago, hair
Glinting, shadows concealing lines around the mouth.

Shadows too, hide his stooped shoulders,
Bowed by years of doing battle with
The elements. In the dark forest, the bark of a lone fox.

Early morning, sun’s already melting the frost.
The postman calls, bringing a letter, a rare event. Foreign
Postmark, the couples daughter arriving from France,
Grandchildren in tow, they’ll spend Easter on the farm.

Outside, the day grows warm,
In the budding plum tree
A thrush bursts forth in song.


Beside the highway
Stands the old tree.
Last of its line,
Rough monument to space and time,
Holding in its crown the sky’s light
And a few white birds,
Then a circlet of stars
As the Earth turns.


‘This rock I hold
in my hand,’ the
geologist said,
‘was here before
Columbus crossed
the Pacific,
even before
Gondwana Land
broke up, this rock
was here.’


You could say
That she was on a quest
Through forests miniature
And dense as any
Hidden valley of the Amazon.

You could say
That hers’ was not a test
Of courage but of skill,
Of learning patterns and
Particulars of living plants.

On her knees she peers
Into another world,
Where hurrying ants follow
Scented trails, and mantids
Lurk in thickets, like ancient beasts.

She has learned that in these forests,
Like Darwin’s archipelago
Where species are distinct,
The banded and the spotted
Clover do not mix.

Knees reddened on hard ground,
Fingers separating lolling plants,
She has found a patch
Of unmarked clover yielding
The mutant talisman.

Ah! She finds another four leaf clover,
Then two more. These
Will protect her family from
Chaotic forces that prevail
Beyond the ordered world of plants.


‘… and they lived happily ever after …’

In grim fairy tales – ‘Yes.’ Despite the harsh
realities of ogres ‘n similar malevolents
turning up in unexpected places, nevertheless
true romance exists, hero and princess get to meet
and all ends well.

… whereas, out on the littoral,
lasting romance is probably a fiction.
Look at all those true stories in the mags,

Likely it won’t last a hundred sleeps,
yet we keep hoping against hope.
Hope springs eternal, look at
the enduring popularity of
T-V soaps.


Rose, do not be destroyed in your heart by the worm
that flies in the night in the howling storm, for rose,
you are a symbol of hope eternal, more
permanent than a stone monument buried in
sand, you speak to us more compellingly than
the passion deferred of a Grecian urn – your
soft, unfolding, cusped perfume speaks to us of
human joy, of the one, the true, the everlasting love,
of the minstrel’s song, of Romeo and Juliet.


A flicker of embryonic dust
In the primordial void
And then …

Eons on from the singularity
An imploding core of
Gaseous cloud explodes, strafing
The fledgling universe with starlit galaxies ….

The wind from the steppes
Shakes the thorn bush in the cleft of stone,
Blowing away the footprints
Where homo habilis has trod,
Singing the stanzas of the world’s creation  ..

Lit by the rays
Of an electric globe,
Like a dusty opal the canvas glows.
The painter loads his brush
With cobalt, to create
A universe.


Across the great continents, drifting
Shadows brush the plains with
Fugitive mist. Distant
Mountains, ridges of lapis lazuli
Rim the sky that lifts
Across latitudes from somber
Indigo to brilliant azurite.

Earth is the water planet,

All its great continents shifting
In a world awash with seas,
Crested waves rifting its shores.
Noah’s flood is with us yet,
Its opal waters inundate the land
With mirrored pools,
Lakes that love the sky.

Water planet,

Viewed from space, like a snap shot
From the gods, a shimmering orb
Netted in a cloud haze.



The shining river mingles with the land
Where bees and trilling birds sound
The old harmonies. Echoing their song
In lifting arpeggios the river reeds respond.


  1. A fine Sug (that’s how I like to write it, okay?) this month. Never liked that vulgar Ehrlich character – common as muck, yet hates the common man.


    No poem in praise of black coal? I don’t mind nukes at all, and can’t imagine why a country that’s so geologically stable and uranium-rich isn’t dotted with reactors. I can also take a little gas and oil. Ah, but the true Sydney Basin Black…that’s the mineral of poets, surely.

  2. Thx Mosomoso. I thought there were rather too many poems
    already but since you graciously you request, herewith:

    Coal, fossil – stored – sunshine, you too had your
    moment in the sun, green coniferous forest
    growing on the edge of prehistoric time,
    metamorphing the rays of the yonge sonne, – you
    likewise yonge, growing, throwing out cones in some
    magical inter-active compact of earth and sky.

    Your season ended, returning to earth, to be
    for a hundred million years, seemingly inert,
    as pitiless alternations of seasons … periods
    of geological time … passed with all slowness.
    Slow also the forests’ mysterious transformation
    into lustrous coal and magical transformation also

    of human destiny, release of slaves from labor,
    release, historically, from diminishing returns,
    from famine and pestilence, coal throwing out,
    not cones, but human opportunity for innovation
    – electric railways by William Siemens – efficient
    light bulbs lighting up dark ages – Joseph Swan,
    (‘black swans?) and Thomas Edison, electrification
    of the world and human creativity … So come,
    let us hear it then for ol’ King Coal – transforming
    peoples’ lives and productivity,

  3. Beth, my apologies for arriving so late to take in the magic of your poetry. Your pithy (and/or poetic) posts are always a delight to read … particularly when you point to a post of mine – as you did today at Judith’s place [she says somewhat shamelessly] 😉

  4. Thank you for yr response, Hilary, and for yr informative
    posts @ ‘The View from Here.’ As a serf I luv ter point
    ter posts that exemplify, if that’s the word, the open society,
    and identify closed society assaults against it, like yr careful
    analysis of climate – sci consensus by the IPCC.


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