5th Edition PMBOK® Guide—Chapter 1: The Relationships Among Projects, Programs, and Portfolios

In this blog post, I discuss the topic of the relationships among projects, programs, and portfolios.

1. Definitions of a Project, Program, and a Portfolio

a. Project

We’ve dealt with the definition of a project in the blog post for January 9th. Let’s compare it in the chart below with the definitions according to the 5th edition of the PMBOK® Guide of a program and a portfolio, which are larger units of management within an organization.

Fig. 1. PMBOK® Guide Definitions of Project, Program, and Portfolio



Project A temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result.
Program A group of related projects, subprograms, and program activities managed in a coordinated way to obtain benefits not available from managing them individually.
Portfolio Projects, programs, subportfolios, and operations managed as a group to achieve strategic objectives.

b. Program

The key words in the definition of a program are “related” and “coordinated”. An example from the real world would be an aerospace company that makes different kinds of aircraft. The design of one particular type of aircraft would be handled as a program, and the design of parts of that aircraft, such as the engine, hydraulic system, electrical system, fuselage, etc., would each be a separate project. It should be clear that these projects are all related because they are all parts of the same aircraft, and they should be coordinated for that very reason.

For a visual explanation of the relationship between a project and a program, let’s take a look a conceptual scheme of a program that includes, let’s say, three projects and a subprogram that is outside of the scope of the discrete projects in the program.

Fig. 2. Conceptual diagram of a Program

c. Portfolio

The key words in the definition of a portfolio are “strategic objectives.” Elements of a program are related internally through their link to the same business objective, whereas elements of a portfolio are related externally through their link to the overall strategic objective. An example from the real world would be an aerospace company that makes different kinds of aircraft. The design of one particular type of aircraft would be handled as a program, and the design of aircraft in general would be handled as a portfolio. The elements of the portfolio may be independent of each other in terms of their design, but they will be related to the same strategic goal (gaining market share in the aerospace industry).

Let’s take a visual look a conceptual scheme of a portfolio made up of a project, two programs and a subportfolio.

Fig. 3. Conceptual diagram of a Portfolio

Hmm … looks very familiar, somewhat like the conceptual scheme of the Program, right? However, here’s the important difference between the two schemes. The projects and related work that are managed as a part of the program are thematically related, indicated in Fig. 2 by all boxes being a shade of blue. The projects and program under the portfolio, on the other hand, may be independent, as indicated in Fig. 3 by the boxes being different colors. But of course they COULD be interdependent or even directly related.

However, projects in a program CANNOT be independent in the same way. Here’s a summary of the possibilities based on the definitions.

Fig. 4. Summary: Relatedness of program/portfolio components


Directly related/









An example of a program would be the design of an aircraft, with the different projects being the design of the various systems within the aircraft. These would obviously have to be coordinated since they are all parts of the same aircraft, and changes in one system might have an impact on the other systems.

An example of a portfolio with interdependent or directly related components would be the design of a whole series of aircraft, with each program being one type of aircraft.  This would be especially true if the various aircraft shared components or even whole sub-systems.

An example of a portfolio with independent components would be an energy company that has facilities that produce energy from various sources including wind, solar, fossil fuels, and nuclear materials. Setting up production of these would be independent because the energy sources would require vastly different methods (or tactics) of production, but they would all be related strategically to company’s objective of profitable energy production.

This concludes the discussion of the difference between a project, program, and portfolio.

5th Edition PMBOK® Guide—Chapter 1: Project Constraints

In this blog post, I take a slight detour to expand on the subject of project constraints which is mentioned as one of the elements of Project Management, but which deserves a lot more attention for two reasons: it’s importance and the understated way it is presented in the PMBOK® Guide, which unfortunately belies that importance.

1. Definition of project management

First let’s take a recap of the elements of project management as listed in the PMBOK® Guide:

Fig. 1 Elements of Project Management

Category Element
1. Requirements Identifying requirements
2. Stakeholders Addressing needs, concerns, expectations of stakeholders during planning and executing of project
3. Setting up, maintaining, carrying out communications among stakeholders
4. Managing stakeholders towards meeting project requirements and creating project deliverables
5. Constraints Balancing competing project constraints, some of which are

  • Scope
  • Quality
  • Schedule
  • Budget
  • Resources, and
  • Risk

Managing the project constraints is one of the important elements of project management, and to understand its importance let us consider the history of the idea of “the iron triangle of constraints.”

2. The Iron Triangle of Constraints

Dr. Martin Barnes first described the iron triangle of constraints as far back as 1969 in terms of time, cost and output (what we today refer to scope).  These three constraints are strongly connected to each other, hence the name “the iron triangle.” To understand how this principle works, think of a water balloon in the shape of a triangle. One point of the triangle is the project’s time, the second point is the project’s cost, and the third point is the project’s scope, which can include such elements as level of quality on the project.

What happens if you squeeze one end of that water balloon? This creates increasing pressure on the other two ends. In a similar way if you constraint one of the three variables of time, cost, and scope, it will put pressure on the other two variables is why engineers have a popular saying “faster, cheaper, better—pick two”. This acknowledges that if you constrain one variable, one of the other two variables has to give.

What you cannot do is constrain all three variables at the same time. What happens if you squeeze a triangle water balloon on all three sides at the same time? A broken water balloon, or in terms of our analogy, a failed project.

The following then, is a diagram outlining the interaction between what I will call the “Traditional Project Constraints” of time, cost, and scope.

Fig. 2 Traditional Project Constraints

3. PMBOK® Guide Definition of Constraints

From the table of elements of Project Management listed above, the PMBOK® Guide gives the following as what I will call the “Modern Project Constraints”:

  • Scope
  • Quality
  • Schedule
  • Budget
  • Resources, and
  • Risk

However, if you look at other exam prep textbooks, you may see even MORE constraints added. For example, Rita Mulcahy’s PMP Exam Prep adds Customer Satisfaction as another constraint.

In reality, however, you could map most of the “Modern Project Constraints” on the same diagram as the “Traditional Project Constraints.” The only one that is not obvious is risk, but the reason why I put it under the same category as budget and resources is that managing risk involves putting a risk response strategy in place which itself involves additional resources, so it seemed the most logical category to include it in.

Fig. 3 Modern Project Constraints

The important thing to notice is that underlying the seemingly complicated laundry list of constraints is the simple triangular structure of the traditional “iron triangle of constraints.”

It is important to notice this because many project managers who learned project management a while ago still think of “project constraints” in these traditional terms, and some of them get frustrated that the newer generation of project managers are unaware of this “iron triangle”. I know of two people who were asked at their employment interviews “what are the triple constraints on a project?” One of them knew about the “iron triangle of constraints” and gave the response, “time, budget, and scope”. The other didn’t because she had thought in terms of the laundry list of constraints that the PMBOK® Guide now gives and she couldn’t think of which three constraints the hiring manager had in mind. The one who knew about the “iron triangle of constraints” could answer the question easily and she got the job; the one who didn’t know about it and therefore couldn’t answer the question did not get the job.

So don’t let the long “laundry list” of constraints fool you; there’s an underlying triangular structure there that you need to be aware of both in terms of understanding the basic interaction among the constraints and because of the history of the very notion itself.

The next topic is how project management in an organization relates to two hierarchies of management above it, that of program management and portfolio management.

5th Edition PMBOK® Guide—Chapter 1: What is Project Management?

In this blog post, I discuss the second of the topics that need to be paid particular attention to when studying the 5th Edition of the PMBOK® Guide, Chapter 1, namely section 1.3 called What is Project Management?

1. Definition of project management

First let’s look at the official definition of a “project management” according to the 5th edition of the PMBOK® Guide:

Project management: Project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements.”

2. Five Process Groups

The knowledge, skills, tools and techniques that you need to know to for effective project management are organized into 47 logically-grouped project management processes, which are categorized into the following five Process Groups.

The names of these 5 Process Groups and their order, going from Initiating to Closing, should be one of the first you things you memorize for the PMP or CAPM exam. There are several cute mnemonics or memory tricks for helping you with this, my favorite being:

In Projects, Every Monkey Counts Coconuts

You can feel free to share this with your project team members, as long as you make sure to let them know this is simply a mnemonic device and not an editorial comment about how you feel about them and their contribution to the project.

NOTE: In going from the 4th to the 5th Edition of the PMBOK® Guide, the Project Management Institute has increased the number of formally-recognized project management processes from 42 (in the 4th Edition) to 47 (in the 5th Edition).

3. Elements of Project Management

After stating that the knowledge base you need to apply to projects is contains in the 47 processes divided into 5 Process Groups, the PMBOK® Guide goes on to describe the major elements that typically make up project management:

Category Element
1. Requirements Identifying requirements
2. Stakeholders Addressing needs, concerns, expectations of stakeholders during planning and executing of project
3. Setting up, maintaining, carrying out communications among stakeholders
4. Managing stakeholders towards meeting project requirements and creating project deliverables
5. Constraints Balancing competing project constraints, some of which are
  • Scope
  • Quality
  • Schedule
  • Budget
  • Resources, and
  • Risk

The first element deals with the category of identifying requirements, which is the beginning of the process of Scope Management. The next three elements deal with aspects of Stakeholder Management, from a) addressing their needs, concerns, and expectations, to b) setting up, maintaining, and carrying out communications with them, and finally c) managing them towards creating project deliverables and finally meeting project requirements. The last element deals with balancing competing project constraints, six of which are listed in the PMBOK® Guide. The subject of project constraints is SO important that it deserves a blog post of its own, which I will include on this series about Chapter 1.

NOTE: In going from the 4th to the 5th Edition of the PMBOK® Guide, the Project Management Institute has expanded the number of elements organized around the category of “stakeholders” in the above chart from one (element #2) to three (elements #2, #3, and #4, of which #3 and #4 are new), which shows the increased focus by PMI on Stakeholder Management in the 5th edition, to the point that it has become its own knowledge area separate from Communications Management.

4. 10 Knowledge Areas

Buried in this list of 5 elements of Project Management is the core of the other dimension of the 47 project management processes besides the 5 Process Groups, and that is the 10 Knowledge Areas. Here is a chart of all 10 Knowledge Areas, giving the Chapter of the PMBOK® Guide which covers that Knowledge Area. The first element of project management given in the table above, that of identifying requirements, is the core of Scope Management, which is covered in Chapter 5, and is the first Knowledge Area going counterclockwise from the top. The second, third, and fourth elements given in the table above, are those devoted to Stakeholder Management, which is covered in Chapter 13, and is the first Knowledge Area going clockwise from the top. The last element in the table above, that of balancing project constraints, covers all of the other 7 Knowledge Areas from Chapter 6 through 12 between Scope and Stakeholder Management. The Knowledge Area at the top, Integration, pulls all of the other 9 Knowledge Areas all together.


NOTE: In going from the 4th Edition to the 5th Edition PMBOK® Guide, the Project Management Institute added Chapter 13: Stakeholder Management as the 10th Knowledge Area. In the 4th Edition, this was considered part of Chapter 10: Communications Management, and there were only 9 Knowledge Areas, but in the 5th Edition, Stakeholder Management has been broken out into its own Knowledge Area in consideration of the increasing importance the Institute places on this Area.

So in conclusion, the definition of Project Management contains within it the core of both the 5 Process Groups and the 10 Knowledge Areas in which each of the 47 Project Management processes belong.

The subject of project constraints, the fifth element of Project Management in the chart above, is so important in relationship to the amount of text it receives in the PMBOK® Guide that I am devoting the next blog post to it.

5th Edition PMBOK® Guide—Chapter 1 (Introduction): What is a Project?

In this blog post, I discuss the first of the topics that need to be paid particular attention to when studying the PMBOK® Guide Chapter 1—Introduction, namely, What is a Project?

1. Definition of a project

You wouldn’t think that something as simple as “what is a project?” would cause trouble. The problem, however, stems from the fact that what is sometimes called a “project” in the real world does not always fit the definition of a “project” according to the PMBOK® Guide, but is rather what would be referred to as “operational work” or “ongoing work”.

First let’s look at the official definition of a “project” according to the 5th edition of the PMBOK® Guide:

Project: A temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result.

Please note that in the 5th Edition of the PMBOK® Guide, that besides a project creating a unique product, service, or result, like it says in the above definition, it can also create an improvement in an existing product or service. It specifically gives as an example a Six Sigma project undertaken to reduce defects, so the Project Management Institute is consciously including Six Sigma projects as being subject to the rules of project management as set forth by the Institute.

NOTE: An important point to note is that a project may end in different ways:

  1. if the project’s objectives have been achieved;
  2. if the project’s objectives will not or cannot be met;
  3. the need for the project no longer exists;
  4. the client wishes to terminate the project.

Note these distinctions for later, because they may make sense of certain questions on the test that wouldn’t make sense otherwise.

With the above definition of a project in mind, let’s now contrast a project with operational work.

2. Project vs. Operational Work

A project and operational work are different in these two major respects:

Duration Creates
Project Temporary (starts and ends) Unique product, service, or result, or improvement in existing product or service
Operational Work Ongoing (repetitive) Repetitive product (mass production) or service

With that distinction in mind, we can turn our attention to the matter I posed at the beginning of this post, about companies that call things “projects” that really aren’t “projects” according to the PMBOK® Guide. Here’s a sample question that illustrates the matter.

Sample question:

Every year towards the end of the fiscal year, all of the outstanding claims of an insurance company have to have reserves that are not too small, and not too large, but just right. The purpose of confirming that the reserves are in this “Goldilocks zone” is to prepare for any potential audit and demonstrate that the company is not under-reserving (and thus going against insurance regulations) or over-reserving (and thus going against tax regulations). The company refers to this annual confirmation of the reserve calculations as the “reserve project”. It has a beginning and an end, and it produces a result (regulatory compliance and reduction of risk of an unsatisfactory audit). Is it a project according to the PMBOK® Guide?

Take a minute and look at the question, comparing it to the chart above comparing a “project” with “operational work”.

HINT: the key words are “every year”, “annual”, and a word that is missing from the question is the word “unique” before the word “result.” Note that there is a lot of unnecessary information about what the project actually does; this is a typical hallmark of PMP/CAPM questions which forces you to focus on what is important and skip what is not.


No, because it is not a “unique” product, but one that was repeated from year to year. Therefore, although some planning may be involved in doing the “project”, there is no need for a project charter or some of the other elements you would expect as proper project management, because it’s essentially the same “project” from year to year.

This question is an example of a general phenomenon you may find on the exam, which is that the “real world” terminology with respect to certain terms or definitions such as the word “project” may not be the same as PMBOK® standard terminology, and the test may try to test to see if you know the difference. Know it!

3. Similarities between project and operational work

The above being said about the differences between project and operational work, there are some similarities. The best way to see this is to look at the famous cycle of “plan, do, check, act”, which applies to BOTH project and operational work.

In the world of project management, “plan” is covered by the Planning process group, “do” by the Executing process Group, “check and act” are covered by the Monitoring & Controling process Group.

However, with a project as opposed to operational work, there are additional elements such as a “start” or Initiating Process Group, and an “end” or Closing Process Group.

The next post will cover the next topic in the chapter, What is Project Management?

5th Edition PMBOK® Guide—Chapter 1 (Introduction) overview

On January 1st, 2013, the Project Management Institute has made available the 5th Edition of its Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, known as the PMBOK® Guide for short. This new edition of the Guide is the result of a long review process at the Project Management Institute to make sure that the Guide is relevant to some of the new trends in project management, such as the growth of Agile methodology in IT projects, or the importance of Six Sigma projects for quality improvement.

IMPORTANT:    If you plan to take the Project Management Professional (PMP) or Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) certification test BEFORE July 31, 2013, you need to study for it using the 4th edition of the PMBOK® Guide.   If you plan to take the certification test ON OR AFTER July 31, 2013, you need to study for it using the 5th edition of the PMBOK® Guide.    You can download a copy from PMI if you are a member, or obtain one from a bookseller.  If you do order a copy of the PMBOK® Guide from Amazon.com or another bookseller, please make sure you order the right edition.   Also, if you order one of the popular exam study guides, like that by Andy Crowe or Rita Mulcahy, make sure your study guide is geared towards the correct version of the PMBOK® Guide.

For those wanting a review of the 4th Edition PMBOK® Guide, you will need to look at my tips on passing the PMP exam that were published on this blog last year.   This year I will be giving tips on passing the PMP and CAPM exam for those using the 5th Edition PMBOK® guide.

1. Introduction

For those wanting a quick overview of the basic facts about the 5th Edition, I review you to my post of October 25th, 2012:


I will be going through various topics in the 5th Edition PMBOK® Guide, chapter by chapter, in the same way I did last year with the 4th Edition PMBOK® Guide, with the goal of helping those prepare for the Project Management Professional (PMP) or the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) certification exam. Knowledge of the PMBOK® Guide is essential for passing either of these exams.

2. Topics in Chapter 1

The first chapter covers definitions that are basic to project management. Although often glossed over by those studying for the exam, there are some important concepts buried in the text which can, if either poorly understood or misunderstood entirely, lead one to lose precious points on the certification exam. For that reason, I will do a series of blog posts, each covering one major concept of Chapter 1. Here are the titles of the sections of Chapter 1:



1.1 Purpose of the PMBOK® Guide
1.2 What is a Project?
1.3 What is Project Management?
1.4 Relationships between Portfolio Management, Program Management, Project Management and Organizational Project Management
1.5 Relationship between Project Management, Operations Management, and Organizational Strategy
1.6 Business Value
1.7 Role of the Project Manager
1.8 Project Management Body of Knowledge

The first topic I will address tomorrow is that of “what is a project?”

Rant against the Cant: Prof. Harold Bloom’s Elegy for the Western Literary Canon

1. Introduction—Sympathetic viewpoint towards modern literary theory

Yesterday, I did a summary of the opening lectures to the Teaching Company Great Course called Great Authors of the Great Western Literary Tradition. In these lectures on the value and the interpretation of literature Prof. Arnold Weinstein of Brown University was sympathetic to some of the schools of interpretation such as psychoanalysis following Freud, Marxism, postmodernism, feminism, and New Historicism, among others. He shows giving examples of how each of these schools produces new insights that were not available before from more traditional forms of literary interpretation. To give an example, the character of Marsha Mason, the “madwoman in the attic” in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, is seen through the eyes of psychoanalytic theories of interpretation following Freud as the the repressed or unrecognized libidinal drives of Jane Eyre herself.

2. Counterpoint—Unsympathetic viewpoint towards modern literary theory

I wanted to do a post on the opposing viewpoint, that is, someone who is very much unsympathetic with the modern schools of literary interpretation. In 1994, Harold Bloom, the Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale University and Berg Professor of English at New York University, wrote The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages, in which he argued for the more conservative viewpoint that literature should follow the “art for art’s sake” ideal and not have it be subservient to some program of social engineering, however noble the ends may be.

Thus the first chapter of his book is called “An Elegy for the Canon,” in which he rants against the cant or jargon engaged in by the modern schools of interpretation (hence the title of this blog post). This purpose of this post is to outline his arguments, and then to make sense of them using the four quadrants from Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory.

3. Points of Agreement, Points of Departure

According to Harold Bloom, why have a canon in the first place? Let’s list the reasons that Prof. Weinstein used in his lecture. He said that literature can be used to

  • show that you are one of the elite,
  • help one how to think
  • improve one’s moral or ethical values
  • understand the culture in which it was written
  • transport you inside a time and place in a way no biography or history can

Prof. Weinstein was dubious about the first three, and posited the last two as better alternatives for the value of literature. How would Prof. Bloom come down on these points?

Regarding the first, Prof. Bloom would agree that it shows that you are one of the elite, but rather than seeing this is as a negative, as Prof. Weinstein implied, he unabashedly proclaims this is as a positive. Yes, literature is an aesthetic experience, both in the writing and in the reading of it. Reading a great piece of literature is more daunting and requires more from a reader than reading the average bestseller, and for this reason it is going to be elitist almost by definition. But along with Joseph Campbell, Prof. Bloom felt that this aesthetic elitism was a positive thing. People with the ambition to read the “literature of the ages” are naturally going to be drawn towards the classics of the Western Canon, because they were written by what has been judged to be the best writers from an aesthetic point of view.

However, the fact that great literature is written by the aesthetic elite gets conflated in the modern university system as being written by a product of the socioeconomic elite, and is, under Marxist interpretations of literature, just another tool of that socioeconomic repression of one class by another. This is where Prof. Bloom draws the line, and refuses to go along with this politicization of literature.

As far as helping one how to think, Prof. Bloom states that literature can act as the Art of Memory of one’s own cultural sources, so Prof. Bloom would partially agree with that.

On the third point, he is dubious along with Prof. Weinstein with the “moral improvement” theory of great literature and says that at the outset.

The fourth point is where Prof. Bloom and Prof. Weinstein part company the most, I believe. Reading literature may help you understand the culture in which it was created, but having that as a major value of literature is something I think Prof. Bloom would disagree with. In fact, many of the new theories of literature in trying to downplay the role of the individual author are making it sound as if the “culture” or society itself produced them. This view is something he is vehemently against, the idea that Paradise Lost, for example, can be reduced to an interplay of economic forces. To use the paired poems by William Blake on the chimney sweep that were quoted in the last post as an example, the economic relations of the various classes may be illustrated by the poems, but the originality and literary genius is took to create those poems are not illuminated at all by a knowledge of those relations.

I think the fifth point, that literature can take you inside a time and place and create an inner world that compels the reader, is probably the point where Prof. Weinstein and Prof. Bloom could most readily agree. In fact, it is that literary power of originality, to create an internal world so compelling that it changes the inner world of the reader, that is the source of where an author’s work stands in the Western Canon.

I can remember the exact bus stop I was sitting at as I finished reading the last canto of Dante’s Paradiso; that moment of wonderment will be forever etched in my memory.

4. Summing it Up with Integral Theory

To sum up, the reason why Prof. Bloom disagrees with the modern theories of literary interpretation can be shown in this diagram from Integral Theory:

Each quadrant holds a way of viewing the world. The top two quadrants are the viewpoints of an individual, the bottom two quadrants are the viewpoints of a group. The left two quadrants are the subjective viewpoints, and the right two quadrants are the objective viewpoints. So putting it all together:

  • The upper-left quadrant contains the “I” viewpoint and is the domain of aesthetics.
  • The upper-right quadrant contains the objective viewpoint of looking at “it” and is the domain of science.
  • The lower-left quadrant contains the values of the group and is the domain of culture or ethics.
  • The lower-right quadrant contains the structures of a group and is the domain of society or politics.

To sum up Prof. Bloom’s objections to the various modern interpretations of literature, he believes that interpretations should be centered in the realm of the aesthetic, the upper-left quadrant in the diagram above. However, modern literary theory interprets literature through the lens of the culture and the society, almost to the exclusion of the individual aesthetic. And in Integral Theory, assuming that you have “cornered the market” on truth because you insist it be seen from your particular perspective, is a fundamental error.

So in my own mind, whereas I grant that there may be insights derived about the culture and politics of the age in which a piece of literature is written, as Prof. Weinstein posits, I much prefer to center the experience of literature within the realm of the individual writer and reader, as Prof. Bloom does, and state that it this dialectic that is the crucial one in deciding whether a book will enter the Western Canon or not.

Prof. Bloom’s work on the Western Canon in fact rekindled my own love of literature which started back in the 1980s after I had finished my undergraduate degree as an engineer. His work remains for me a touchstone in deepening my appreciation for literature, modern literary theory notwithstanding.

Great Authors of the Great Western Literary Tradition—The Value and Interpretation of Literature

The Great Authors is one of the Great Courses offered by the Teaching Company. This first edition is out of print, but you can obtain the current edition of the course by going to www.thegreatcourses.com. I have decided to put some of summaries of these lectures on this blog because it was one of my favorite courses from the Teaching Company.

This is a summary of the first two lectures by Professor Arnold Weinstein, who is the Edna and Richard Salomon Distinguished Professor at Brown University, where he has been teaching courses in European, English and American literature at Brown University since 1968.

1. The Value of Literature

Prof. Weinstein talks about the definitions offered in the past for the value of literature, and some of the ironic arguments he poses against those definitions.


Argument Against

A. Literature is non-utilitarian. It often is very useful indeed—for displaying your educational and socioeconomic status.



B. Literature helps one
how to think.
If society actually valued “how to think” over “what to think”, this value would mean a lot more. However, the trend seems to be towards the latter.


C. Literature is a source of
ethical values
Often heroes in literature transcend or transgress moral boundaries, even in the Bible.
Moreover, there are examples of literature being a bad corrupting influence:

i. Tale of Paulo and Francesca in Canto 5 of the 2nd Circle of Hell in Dante’s Inferno where they are corrupted by reading.

ii. Cervantes, whose hero Don Quixote is addled by reading too many picaresque novels.

iii. Flaubert’s Emma Bovary is ill-equipped to deal with reality because of her reading of romantic fiction.

What Prof. Weinstein says is a more reliable value of literature, rather than the moral improvement it may or may not effect in the individual, is to give any individual who reads great literature a greater understanding of the concerns and crisis of a particular culture.

Also, it can chart the various cultural and scientific changes going on in the background in any particular age and can therefore be used to see a historical period not in terms of dry facts about events, but rather “from the inside” as it were.

2. The Interpretation of Literature

There is a crisis with the notion of theory with regards to literature, and in response to all of this political infighting, one might just ask the naïve question: “why can’t you simply read the books?” However, the human being as an individual is, to a certain extent, the problem of his or her own culture, and you cannot read a literary text in the past without understanding not just the author’s intent, but the cultural assumptions within which that author lived.

One example is when Voltaire read Shakespeare, and translated the famous “to be or not to be” soliloquy …

“To be, or not to be? that is the question!
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles…”

… into French as follows.

“Demeure, il faut choisir et passer à l’instant
De la vie, à la mort, ou de l’être au néant.
Dieux cruels, s’il en est, éclairez mon courage.
Faut-il vieillir courbé sous la main qui m’outrage…

This translates back into English as the following:

Yet stay, we must now choose as in the moment caught,
From life to death we pass, from being into naught,
Cruel gods, if such there be, pray guide me past my daring,
Must aging’s hand bear down and crush me all despairing…

Notice how the French version rhymes because that was the style, of rhyming Alexandrian couplets, rather than the free verse of the English. Also, notice that there is a reference to “cruel gods” in the French version, a cultural reference which is inserted there by Voltaire to make more sense to his French audience, but one that is totally absent in the original English.

3. Modern Interpretations of Literature

Prof. Weinstein cites Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud as the two greater influences in 20th century literary criticism. Karl Marx tried to show how literature could illuminate the socioeconomic forces at play within the society where that literature was created. For example, the boy in the Blake’s poem about the Chimney Sweeper in the Songs of Innocence talks about a tale which the chimney sweeper tells to comfort himself.

And yet, in the poem about a chimney sweeper in The Songs of Experience, this tale is exposed for the tool of exploitation that is actually is.

“The Chimney Sweeper,” from Songs of Innocence by William Blake

When my mother died I was very young,
And my father sold me while yet my tongue
Could scarcely cry ” ‘weep! ‘weep! ‘weep! ‘weep!’ ”
So your chimneys I sweep & in soot I sleep.

There’s little Tom Dacre, who cried when his head
That curled like a lamb’s back, was shaved: so I said,
“Hush, Tom! never mind it, for when your head’s bare
You know that the soot cannot spoil your white hair.”

And so he was quiet, & that very night,
As Tom was a-sleeping he had such a sight!
That thousands of sweepers, Dick, Joe, Ned & Jack,
Were all of them locked up in coffins of black.

And by came an Angel who had a bright key,
And he opened the coffins & set them all free;
Then down a green plain, leaping, laughing, they run,
And wash in a river and shine in the Sun.

Then naked & white, all their bags left behind,
They rise upon clouds and sport in the wind.
And the Angel told Tom, if he’d be a good boy,
He’d have God for his father & never want joy.

And so Tom awoke; and we rose in the dark,
And got with our bags & our brushes to work.
Though the morning was cold, Tom was happy & warm;
So if all do their duty, they need not fear harm.

The Chimney Sweeper,” from Songs of Experience

A little black thing among the snow,
Crying ” ‘weep! ‘weep!” in notes of woe!
“Where are thy father and mother? say?”—
“They are both gone up to the church to pray.

“Because I was happy upon the heath,
And smiled among the winter’s snow,
They clothed me in the clothes of death,
And taught me to sing the notes of woe.

“And because I am happy and dance and sing,
They think they have done me no injury,
And are gone to praise God and his Priest and King,
Who make up a heaven of our misery.”

And Freud knew what he was doing when he drew upon the plays of Sophocles for material to illustrate his theories of the Oedipus and Electra complex, in order to show why they have had some emotive power for generations of audiences, because they illustrate the primordial beginnings we all go through early in life.

I am appreciate of Prof. Weinstein’s efforts to talk about the importance of literary theory, but also understand his warning about its abuses, where we read into a particular piece of literature any pet theory that we happen to have, whether it reflects any actually intention on the part of the author or not.

With this survey of the importance of literature and the measured consideration of the value of literary theory to help interpret literature, the series now turns to Homer, the first author in the Western Literary Tradition who wrote The Iliad and The Odyssey. That will occupy the next six lectures (three for the Iliad and three for the Odyssey).

One Year after #Iraq Day—A Conversation between Ian Masters and Robert Dreyfuss (part 2)

This is the second half of a conversation between Ian Masters on his radio program Background Briefing and Robert Dreyfuss, an investigative journalist who has written extensively on Iraq, the War on Terrorism, and national security issues, and is a senior correspondent for the American Prospect. He is the author of “Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam. The conversation was held on December 31st, 2012, and aired on January 2nd, 2013 on KPFK in Los Angeles.  The subject of the conversation is Iraq, one year after the anniversary of the US exit from that country.

Ian Masters: But there are two questions which still remain. What is happening to the oil revenues which are coming in now? And even if the US makes a deal with Iran, Iraq still could start to unravel which it appears to be starting to do. If the Assads fall you have a Muslim Brotherhood government in Syria that it is fronted towards the Sunnis in Anbar province, which has oil potential, and you have to the Kurds wanting to go their own way, who seem to have sovereignty over the oil there, you have the potential for balkanization.

Richard Dreyfuss: That’s the worst-case scenario. The whole region could begin to be embroiled in a very complicated ethnic and sectarian conflict that would spill over into Lebanon, Turkey, Syria, and elsewhere. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.

As far as what happened to Iraq’s oil revenue, oil revenue for Iraq, and for many countries like that that are oil producers, is the prime underpinning of the entire economy. So what they are doing with their oil revenue is they are using it to pay for imports of everything that they need, from military supplies, basic foods and medicines, technology and infrastructure needs, especially for the oil industry. They needs tens of billions, perhaps one hundred billion dollars to expand their oil industry in terms of pipelines, refineries, new wells, shipping terminals, and everything else.

If they’re going to expand oil production, from whatever it is now, about two and a half million barrels a day, to up to ten million barrels, they could have a fourfold increase in oil exports over the next 10 to 15 years. Don’t forget that this is a very poor country whose economy has been shattered. So in answer to your question, what are they doing with their oil revenue, they’re trying to rebuild the country, which has been devastated and is beyond their capacity to repair.

Ian Masters: Presumably the country that devastated their economy, the United States, in a war that it looks like the Americans and Iraqis lost and the Iranians won, is it going to pony up and help rebuild this country?

Richard Dreyfuss: I don’t know if the United States is particularly wanted there, but there are a number of American companies that are involved. It’s just that, Iraq on its own, despite having oil revenues, is still a poor country. So unless it’s going to get aid and charity, which isn’t too likely, it’s likely to continue just limping by. It’s just not a great booming recovering economy. It’s going to take many, many years for Iraq to get to the point where its economy is back on track. Neither the United States nor any other country are going to come in and help. We’ve left and the rest of the coalition is gone; Iraq is now on its own. As a country trying to scramble by on its own, it’s having a great amount of difficulty.

Ian Masters: And it’s certainly forgotten by the United States and by the American people. There would be no way in the world in which anybody could go to the Hill and ask for money for Iraq at this moment or any moment in the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, it is a year since the United States withdrew, and that’s one of the reasons why I’m calling you today, Robert Dreyfuss, is to get a sense of where we are a year later. With these constant bombings and these demonstrations that seem to be getting more and more intense now in the Sunni areas against Maliki’s crude and clumsy use of power, Maliki is now threatening to use force against the demonstrators.

Richard Dreyfuss: It’s difficult to find a new political balance and it’s hard to see who might be an alternative to Maliki. They do have a parliamentary system and so it is not a dictatorship. It’s a fledgling democracy, let’s call it. If there were a majority in the parliament, that would comprise the Kurds, let’s say, and the Sunnis, and Muqtada al-Sadr’s forces, among them they have enough votes in parliament to have a vote of no confidence against Maliki and force him to resign. The problem is these various opponents of his can’t agree among themselves and would also have great difficulty finding somebody to replace him. In other words, if we get rid of Maliki, what then? There certainly couldn’t be a Kurdish prime minister, and it couldn’t be a Sunni, so it would have to be a Shiite prime minister because they represent two-thirds of the country.

Then you get down to people like Ayad Allawi who is a Shiite who has a lot of support among Sunnis but he is not too popular these days. There’s a former prime minister who came before Maliki who might be a candidate. You know, you couldn’t find somebody who would be anti-Iranian because the Iranians would probably act pretty forcibly to undermine that person. So it’s a very difficult political situation and that’s why Maliki has been able to survive for so long. He’s ironically had the support of both Iran and the United States for the past several years, and he knows how to play that game. He can keep both Washington and Teheran in his court, because there doesn’t seem to be an immediate alternative.

Ian Masters: The Kurdish leader is in Germany now with health problems. They are pretty much independent and they seem to have their own oil revenues as well. Without being apocalyptic, if these demonstrations continue, and if Maliki, who doesn’t appear to be very deft, comes down with a heavy hand, things are likely to become unhinged.

Let’s go forward and think about what’s Iran to do when they lose Syria, and the Anbar Sunnis are emboldened by their brethren who by then would be running Syria. That’s a different world we’re talking about.

Richard Dreyfuss: I’m not apocalyptic about it. Certainly there are very dangerous things that could happen here. I think the Iranians have figured out by now that Assad is gone. I think the Russians have concluded that as well. So it’s only a matter of time, and so the first thing that Iran and Russia would do would be to work to establish if not friendly, at least tolerable relations with the new coalition in Syria. They’re not all Islamists or Muslim Brotherhood, and so, who knows, maybe something will emerge out of the ashes in theory. Let’s hope it doesn’t go the other direction, towards a civil war.

The same thing holds with Iraq. I disagree with you; I think Maliki is quite deft; I think that’s why he’s been able to stay in power this long. He seems to know how to balance heavy-handed use of force with behind-the-scenes deal making, so my guess is that it’s more likely that Iraq will muddle along than it will dissolve into civil war. Let’s be hopeful for 2013 that Iran sees that its best interest lies in reaching an accord with the United States, that Obama feels the same way and that he keeps the lid on Israel, which he seems to have done effectively so far, so that the Israelis don’t attack Iran.

Certainly he’s freer now in his second term to make concessions to Iran, which he would not have been able to do so easily when he was preparing to run for reelection. Now that Obama is reelected, he has a lot more maneuverability in conceding to Iran to allow them to continue to enrich uranium under guidelines, inspections, and so forth, and the Iranians in turn have a reason to make that deal, especially if it can lead to the end of sanctions. Before we go all apocalyptic about the idea that the Middle East is falling apart, let’s remember that people who live in these countries have gigantic incentives to avoid going over the cliff, and I think they’ll all work very hard to make sure that doesn’t happen. Let’s just hope that the United States doesn’t do anything stupid to make it worse in the next year or two.

Ian Masters: Well, I thank you for joining me here today.

If the events play out in 2013 as one of the scenarios mentioned in the above conversation, where Syria falls to a Sunni Muslim Brotherhood-led coalition, and Anbar province in Iraq asserts its independence from the Iran-leaning Iraqi government, then Iran could face a shrunken sphere of influence as indicated in blue in the map below, which originally appeared in Prof. Juan Cole’s blog Informed Comment.


One Year after #Iraq Day—A Conversation between Ian Masters and Robert Dreyfuss (part 1)

This is a conversation between Ian Masters on his radio program Background Briefing and Robert Dreyfuss, an investigative journalist who has written extensively on Iraq, the War on Terrorism, and national security issues, and is a senior correspondent for the American Prospect.  He is the author of “Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam”.   The subject of the conversation is Iraq one year after the anniversary of the US exit from that country.  The conversation was held on December 31st, 2012, and aired on January 2nd, 2013 on KPFK in Los Angeles, and I am splitting it up into two posts because of its length.

Ian Masters: We’re speaking on the one-year anniversary of the day when Iraqis celebrated “Iraq Day” when the US troops departed on December 31st 31st, 2011, which the Iraqis celebrated as “Iraq Day.”  One year later it looks like Iraq is coming apart at the seams.

Richard Dreyfuss: The conservative argument during the late Bush years and the early Obama year was that the United States should stay around in Iraq or else it would come apart at the seams. In fact, Iraq has been coming apart ever since we removed the cornerstone of Iraq, which was Saddam Hussein’s government, back in 2003. Ever since then it has fractured along ethnic and sectarian lines, and a lot of its neighbors have intervened. It verged on civil war for several years in 2006 and 2007. It was a mess years ago and it’s a mess now, and it doesn’t look like it’s getting any better.

Ian Masters: President Bush was not given any dissenting opinions by anybody about his decision to invade Iraq and, for reasons I’m still mystified by, his own father did not weigh in on the decision. Brent Scowcroft, who was his father’s national security advisor, understood the mistake that the Neocons and most of the Bush administration, largely led by Dick Chaney, were about to make. Bush, however, got no counsel to warn him except what Colin Powell apparently said to him using the Pottery Barn analogy, “if you break it, you own it.” So we broke Iraq but we left it in pieces. So who owns the pieces now? As far as I can tell, Iran does.

Richard Dreyfuss: The problem is we don’t own it. By the way, the Pottery Barn doesn’t actually have that rule. If you go into a Pottery Barn and break something, they’ll say, “oh, I’m sorry that this happened,” and they’ll clean it up, but you don’t have to buy it. So even Colin Powell was wrong about the so-called Pottery Barn rule. Iraq is a fractured state; we broke all the institutions of power, we shattered the economy, we destroyed the Army, we destroyed the Baath party, we shut down all the ministries, and they really didn’t get rebuilt properly. So Iraq is a catastrophe. It will take a generation to recover from the damage of the almost 10-year-long war that happened there.

What we see happening now is the consolidation of power by a pro-Iranian government under Prime Minster Maliki, who spent years living in Iran, and whose party was supported by Iran for decades before the US invasion going back to the 1970s. Maliki is doing what most leaders in a vacuum do in a former authoritarian state; he’s aggregating power to himself. He is trying to systematically knock off his rivals one by one, but really not having that much success because the Kurdish parties to the North and East of Iraq are really armed and have their own military and paramilitary forces and are not submitting to rule by Baghdad. The Sunni powers, not quite warlords, in the Western part of Iraq are growing increasingly angry about Maliki’s efforts to imprison or accuse or repress their various leaders, including the Finance Minister, the Vice President, and others who are opponents of Maliki. And now the Sunnis of Iraq are emboldened by the fact that a religiously-based insurgency is gaining momentum next door in Syria. So there is a lot of cross-pollination between the Syrian revolt and the revolt of the Sunnis in Iraq. Both of them, in turn, draw strength from folks in the Arab Gulf states, like Saudi Arabia and others, that are funneling money and support and weapons to the Sunnis in both of these countries, so it’s a very dangerous situation.

Ian Masters: Your point is well taken, that we shouldn’t tie the withdrawal of the United States to the fact is falling point. We broke it, and if anybody ended up owning it, it’s Iran. Now Iran is watching as in Syria, in what had been Iran’s major foreign policy success to date, the Assad family seems to be losing their grip. As you mentioned, this is emboldening the Sunnis in the Western Anbar province of Iraq. There have been a series of demonstrations now in Anbar province by the Sunnis because of Maliki’s order to arrest the Finance Minister. Even the Shia leader, Muqtada al-Sadr, has held a press conference yesterday criticizing Maliki’s government for not responding to the people. He even said he would go to Anbar to join in the demonstrations. He’s not a trustworthy character, but surely this indicates that this government we’ve helped put in there is completely unresponsive to the public. He’s consolidating power, and what’s happening to all that oil revenue? There’s no evidence that the condition and the lives of the average Iraqis are going in any direction but downwards.

Richard Dreyfuss: There’s a whole bunch of interrelated issues here. Maliki has certainly in the last year or two taken a number of steps indicating that he is moving closer to Iran. He has integrated some fairly radical Shiite militia groups, really terrorist groups, into his political establishment. He has released a number of people from prison, including Ali Musa Daqduq, who was an outright terrorist and supporter of Hezbollah. He has allowed Iran to transit Iraq in bringing supplies to Assad, even though the United States put a lot of pressure on Iraq not to release Daqduq and not to allow the Iranians to use overflight of Iraq to resupply Assad.

All things being equal, I think Iran would find it difficult to control Iraq as it began to develop its own oil industry and its own independence, because Iraqi nationalism would start to assert itself. But the problem is Iraq is caught between all of these conflicting crises. In order to bolster his position, Maliki, rather than trying to act as a nationalist, which he flirted with a couple of years ago, is now moving closer to Iran. I think he’ll move even closer to Iran as the crisis in Syria moves into its endgame.

Iraq has the potential to be independent because of its oil, because it can produce a vast amount of oil exports, which can allow Iraq to develop ties to countries like India, China, and even others like Japan which might want to buy Iraqi oil independently of the United States. Iraq has a lot of potential, but it is not capitalizing on that potential because it is caught in between a lot of big powers that are trying to gain hegemony in the region. The biggest conflict of all is that between Iran and the United States.

We don’t know what’s going to happen in the next year or so. I’m quite sure President Obama does not want war with Iran, and I’m sure he will work fairly hard to reach an agreement with Iran, although it may take a year or two. That is something that alarms some of the other countries in the region like Saudi Arabia, so they’re angling to increase their leverage so that the United States doesn’t make a deal with Iran that would work against their influence. Iraq is caught in the middle of all that.

The same thing is true of Turkey, which is a very powerful country both economically and militarily in the region; it’s a NATO member. It has a great deal of concern about Iraq and the problem of the Kurds because the Kurds have a huge presence inside Turkey and the southeastern part of that country.

It’s a huge regional tangle and I think it would be enormously useful if the United States and Iran could come to some sort of agreement, because that would then ease a lot of the pressure and the motives for conflict in that whole part of the world.

The rest of the conversation is in the next post.  

#Toastmasters Leadership & Communication Education (LACE) Training

It’s the beginning of the year, and it’s time when the thoughts of all club officers in Toastmasters International turn to … LACE training! I hope to convince you in this post that it’s not just for club officers, though!

LACE stands for Leadership & Communication Education, and its main purpose is to train club officers in their respective roles for the club. The club officers are the following, from the highest ranking on downwards.

Officer Role


1. President Responsible for providing the supportive club environment members need to fulfill their self-development goals.
2. Vice President Education Responsible for providing and maintaining the positive environment and the educational programs through which members can learn and grow.
3. Vice President Membership Responsible for building membership and ensuring a strong membership base by satisfying the needs of all members.
4. Vice President Public Relations Responsible for coordinating an active public relations and publicity program.
5. Treasurer Responsible for keeping clear and accurate financial records of club business and for seeing that the club remains financially stable. 
6. Secretary Responsible for keeping clear and accurate records of club business, including membership records and correspondence with Toastmasters International’s World Headquarters and others.
7. Sergeant at Arms Responsible for maintaining club properties, arranging the meeting room and welcoming members and guests at each meeting.

The LACE training consists of a series of workshops put on during the course of a single day, where each club officer attends a session where they gain training on how to do their job more effectively. That in itself would make the training worthwhile attending.

But wait, there’s more! There are other workshops that you can attend that can help you learn about various aspects of speech craft, for example, how to use acting techniques or humor in your speech. There are workshops you can attend that help you on the creative process of speech writing, on doing better evaluations, or on becoming a more effective leader within your club whatever your role happens to be.    These workshops can be attended by anyone, whether you’re a club officer or not, and are what make LACE training special, in my opinion.

And of course by meeting together with fellow club members and officers from a wide variety of clubs in the District, you will have a chance to network and exchange ideas about what works for you in your club. I have learned so much from these “Toastmasters culture jam” sessions and picked up great ideas for our club to try out.

So it’s education, both practical and inspirational, it’s a chance to meet and exchange ideas with your peers, and all for a reasonable price ($12 for the entire day). I had a wonderful time and would talk about it afterwards in our club during our Educational Minute, so much so that some regular members ended up coming and joining the various sessions that were not for club officers.

So it’s really for anyone who wants to get further education on all aspects of public speaking and how you can use it to strengthen your role as a leader within Toastmasters and without. I hope to see many people there in the coming weekends when it takes place!