Saint Patrick Retold: The Legend and History of Ireland’s Patron Saint Roy Flechner
Princeton, pp.304, $25.16
St Patrick’s Day, on March 17, is now regarded as a prime opportunity for Irish politicians to travel abroad on a mission for ‘brand Ireland’. They fly off overseas, armed with the symbol of the shamrock, alerting their hosts to the shiny new liberal Ireland which is such a fabulous investment opportunity — and don’t forget the low corporation tax!
Few national saints have the global reach of Patrick: it has been calculated that church bells ring out in 800 worldwide locations to celebrate the feast day of this Roman Briton who brought Christianity to Ireland in the early 5th century. Jewish bakeries in New York sell green bagels and horses run at Cheltenham in his honor. And everyone knows the legend that he banished serpents, since no snakes exist in Ireland (the Ice Age may have helped the banishment).
Patrick is legendary but he was also a real historical figure, and Roy Flechner seeks to review Patrick’s story in the light of historical evidence — examining Patrick’s own autobiographical writings, as well as other sources from archaeology and Roman and medieval texts — to make ‘educated guesses’ about Patrick’s life.
He came from the west coast of Britain. His family owned a Roman villa, so they were well-to-do. At the age of 16 he was abducted and taken as a captive to Co. Mayo, where he tended sheep. The Irish (confusingly then called the Scotti) commonly raided Britain for slaves, since slavery was not only an accepted practice, but a vital part of the economy. Patrick’s family invested in slaves, as well as in that perennial source of wealth, land.
For six years he lived as a shepherd, learning the language and topography of Ireland, and observing its society, which was less influenced than Britain by Imperial Rome. He also prayed a great deal.
Eventually, he escaped his captors and made his way back to Britain. His father had been a deacon, and back in Britain, Patrick thus became a bishop. He then felt the call to return to Ireland as a Christian missionary. He believed he was directed by the Almighty, but it is suggested that he may have had trouble with his British taxes. He had also committed an offense as a youth — it is never disclosed what — which may have clouded his life. But he seems also to have seen Ireland as a challenge: it was, then, ‘the edge of the world’, the most westerly known part of Europe.
There were other missionaries already in Ireland — one Palladius had evangelized certain Irish communities — but Patrick emerges as the most historically vivid. The legend that he converted Ireland without spilling a drop of blood — the Irish became willing Christians — seems to be borne out by the author’s exacting standards of testing the evidence. Communities were ‘drawn effortlessly’ to his message.
The tradition that women were particularly keen to join Patrick’s mission also holds up — with daughters disobeying their parents to become nuns rather than marrying (which could upset the economics of dynastic marriage arrangements). Flechner says that we don’t know why Irishwomen flocked to Patrick. I would suggest it is part of a pattern: from Imperial Rome to modern-day Africa, women are often the first Christian converts.
Neither do we know, precisely, what religion the pre-Christian Irish practiced, and for lack of written evidence, the author is unwilling to speculate. I was taught that the ‘pagan’ Irish were nature-worshippers and that was why Patrick chose the shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity: people could identify with a natural plant. This still seems to me entirely plausible and, incidentally, a brilliant visual concept.
Flechner’s authorial aim is both academic and popular: his biography is certainly filled with densely sourced information about the Roman world, and early and middle medieval Christianity. Yet Patrick does come across as a genuinely interesting personality. He suffered many hardships, he was sincerely holy and he was very knowledgeable about Scripture. His understanding of the Hebrew Bible was such that one scholarly document has suggested he was Jewish — so maybe those green bagels are justified.
Patrick’s cult grew from the 7th century, and was well embedded by the Reformation among both Catholics and Protestants (who predictably had different interpretations). Yet the cult of Patrick has always been in tune with the times — a little more nationalist (though seldom extremist) as nationalism grew, and a little more internationalist as the Irish diaspora spread.
Patrick himself used his family’s wealth to support his evangelization of Ireland. He paid the Irish kings (there were many of them) to allow him to preach freely. So perhaps the contemporary marketization of Ireland on St Patrick’s Day is quite in harmony with what the Apostle to Ireland would have wanted.

Happy St. Patrick's Day

celebrated on March 17

What Is Stupidity?

What is stupidity? Surprisingly enough, it's a question few scientists have grappled with, perhaps out of a desire not to wade into a subject that could so easily offend. After all, the field of intelligence studies is rife with controversy. Still, some have tendered their thoughts.
Evolutionary biologist David Krakauer, President of the Santa Fe Institute, told Nautilus, “Stupidity is using a rule where adding more data doesn’t improve your chances of getting [a problem] right. In fact, it makes it more likely you’ll get it wrong.”
Carlo M. Cipolla, a professor of economic history at the University of California - Berkeley, argued that stupidity is characterized by causing losses to another person or group whilst deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses yourself.
In one of the few direct empirical studies on stupidity, researchers Balazs Aczel, Bence Palfi, and Zoltan Kekecs distilled a few traits that drive stupidity: overconfidence, ignorance, absentmindedness, impracticality, and an inability to control one's own actions.
Notice that none of these descriptions of stupidity simply refers to it as an absence of knowledge. Lacking information about a topic does not make one stupid, as one can always educate oneself. Rather, stupidity is more of a choice. If someone chooses to act without taking full measure of the available evidence, that is stupidity.
Since humans take countless actions that scythe across disciplines and scenarios, anyone – educated or not, wealthy or poor, politician or voter – can be stupid at one time or another. Although, it must be said, some tend to be stupid more often than others.
One area of research where we perhaps can see stupidity on paper is the Dunning-Kruger effect. As many studies have revealed, it seems surprisingly (and unfortunately) universal that people who lack correct information about a certain issue tend to think they are actually informed about it. Often, they even overestimate their knowledge by such a degree that they are more confident than people who actually know the correct information. These people, the ones who know little but profess to know a lot, can be said to be truly stupid.
Can stupidity be avoided or is it hard-wired? Perhaps writing tongue-in-cheek, Cipolla expressed the opinion that stupidity is genetically predetermined, an "indiscriminate privilege of all human groups... uniformly distributed according to a constant proportion."
I'll take the opposite stance. I believe that education can root out stupidity like a garden weed. The answer is not to merely teach facts, as is still all too common, but to teach people how to attain facts and how to discern a good source of information from a bad one. One must also learn to nurture a healthy degree of self-doubt. Essentially, the antidote to stupidity is a scientific way of thinking.
Next Sunday, March 10 will start the summer time in Baja California, so the population must advance its clock one hour, reported the Municipal Government.

Ensenada is part of the 33 municipalities of the northern border strip (except those of the State of Sonora), in which the clock must advance one hour on the second Sunday of March.

Information from the Fideicomiso para el Ahorro de Energía Eléctrica (FIDE) indicate that the main objective of the implementation of the Summer Time is to save electricity by making better use of natural light.

FIDE data indicate that in 2017 there was an economic saving of one thousand 311 million pesos and avoided emissions were 402 thousand tons of CO2 equivalent.

This is amazing