Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Mini University 2011: Day 3

On day three of Mini University, Jessica wins the prize for choosing the best session: An in-depth look at the political situation in Iraq and what role the U.S. continues to play there. We both feel woefully uninformed in this area, so I enjoyed hearing the summary during dinner.

I, meanwhile, was in a session about major Supreme Court decisions in the past 40 years, with an emphasis on how the court has balanced individual liberties and executive/legislative powers. I always attend this professor's lectures at Mini U, and she always shares solid information in an engaging way, but I still wish I'd gone to that Iraq class instead.

After a working lunch, I headed to my first afternoon session: "The Biology of Genetically Modified Organisms." In the past few years, I've accidentally become a composting/recycling/organic-buying/yoga-doing/meditating hippie, but I still feel ambivalent about GMOs, and I hoped this class would clear up my confusion.

I did learn a lot. For example, the vast majority of American corn and soybeans are genetically modified, and one company (Monsanto) has a monopoly on both the GMO seeds and the herbicide that is designed to work with those seeds. That concerns me, as does the fact that the genetic material in these plants can "drift" to native plants and organic farms. GMOs may also contribute to herbicide-resistant weeds and pesticide-resistant bugs, and when we transfer genetic material from one organism to another, we may also be transferring allergens or other potentially harmful materials.

On the flip side, GMOs are cheaper and easier to produce, requiring less herbicide and pesticide and using fewer fossil fuels in farm equipment. Because GMOs require less tilling, these farms have fewer erosion problems. Perhaps most important, GMOs lead to higher and more reliable yields -- a very good thing when we're struggling to feed the world's growing population.

The result: I know more about GMOs than I did before, but I still feel ambivalent. I think I'd prefer to keep them out of my own diet, but beyond that I'm not willing to pick sides (yet).

My final class of the day was "Shakespeare in Performance," taught by a seasoned Shakespearean actress rather than a scholar. It was interesting to think about the Bard's work from that perspective, especially to hear about the types of preparation that go into playing a Shakespearean role. She also encouraged the class to think of their Shakespearean education as a lifetime continuum. "If you are in love with Shakespeare, you'll be in love with him your whole life," she said. "The more you learn, the more there is to learn."

Here, I think, I found a kindred spirit.

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