Category Archives: Culture

Transparency, International: Five Reasons Why Monocle’s Annual Soft Power Survey Needs Reexamining


Firmly entrenched as we now are in the era of emergent big data, barely a week seems to pass without some kind of new rankings list – in areas from academic attainment to public transportation system safety – being published. Many of these are indubitably worthy, but one of the great recent additions to this panoply is Monocle’s Soft Power Survey (‘MSPS’). The MSPS orders countries by their performance in the arena of soft power, a concept that encompasses fields such as culture, education and innovation, and which deserves far greater prominence, particularly when contrasted with its costly and increasingly insane military counterpart.

This being said, for any index to carry a high level of authority, its rankings have to be both comprehensible and justifiable; on reading its latest iteration (Power Play, 12/16-01/17), we at Mediolana – after some contemplation – think there are at least five reasons why Monocle’s Soft Power Survey desperately requires reexamination (and quite possibly recalibrating):

  1. We’re Number One. The United States (position: 1) has been placed at the pinnacle of the index after a year in which its political system has – after decades of decline – well-and-truly jumped the shark, with much of the rest of the world looking on in much the same way as observers to a car crash. This choice alone jeopardises the value of the entire index, and begs the question: what exactly would the US have to do to rank poorly? In truth, Brand America has arguably never quite recovered from the humanitarian and fiscal sinkhole of the present series of Middle Eastern conflicts; how Monocle can attribute more weight to a Beyoncé album than to (unmentioned) deep structural problems is a genuine mystery.
  2. Oh, Those Russians. Almost as baffling as America’s ascension to the top of the MSPS is Russia’s non-placement – it does not make the cut of 25 ranked nations. Again, this seems scarcely credible: the Russian Federation has won the hosting rights for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, arguably the most potent soft power event of all; moreover, the nation clearly punches above its weight in the news media sector, even if not all its organs are necessarily outlets of record. And in sectors as diverse as fashion (think: Irina Shayk) and education (where there is a serious, long-term plan to propel its HE sector into the elite category), Russia is enough of a player to make its exclusion from a soft power index difficult to understand.
  3. Blood on the Beachfront. Similar to the United States, Brazil (19) enjoys an augmented ranking in this year’s survey – and only Monocle knows why. 2016 saw its elected president removed from office in a manner which can charitably be described as eyebrow-raising; correspondingly massive and bitter protests; and no end in sight to the plague of senseless urban violence which casts a huge shadow over this undeniably beautiful country – and which means that Brazil at ‘peace’ rivals war-torn Syria when it comes to its annual tally of civilian murders. The ‘games’ element in the bread and games formula – soap operas, footballers and an invidious Summer Olympics – cannot paper over these these chasms.
  4. Soft Power ≠ Skiing. Austria (21) is many things – tidy, well-administered, efficient – but twenty-first century soft power giant it is not. A generally stable and functional political system aside, it is in fact a real struggle to think of any heavyweight soft power assets in this Alpine nation’s possession, so its inclusion in the MSPS – just behind China (20), but ahead of India (24) – does little to dispel the idea that this index is, at least in places, borderline arbitrary.
  5. Our Absent Friends. As well as Russia, there are other absentees from the Soft Power Survey which do not inspire confidence in the index’s criteria. Unlike Brazil (with which it shares a number of similarities), Mexico is a rapidly-developing culinary superpower; unlike Portugal (15), Turkey has both a twenty-four hour English-language international news network and a world-class airline; and unlike Poland (25), the United Arab Emirates is a country that connects the planet via Emirates and Etihad, and also contains no less than three global or regional hubs: Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah. Basic computational errors such as these must be remedied if the MSPS – which surely merits a much, much wider audience – is to reach its full potential.

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Making Relationships Great Again: From Disenchantment to Magic via Game Theory


Notwithstanding the tumultuous socio-psychological state of today’s world, there is actually surprisingly little which keeps our Creative Director & CSO awake at night. One of the exceptions to this rule is the seemingly relentless march – particularly, though by far from exclusively, in technology-defined cities such as London – towards a post-human society in which human beings are increasingly perceived as disposable. Within the job market, robots are unquestioningly viewed as superior replacements; within wider society, immigrants and other out-groups are libellously demonised in a way that even two years ago would have seemed almost unthinkable.

The dating scene is not immune to this logic. People – real people with feelings, emotions, sensibilities and fragilities – are now routinely dismissed with not so much as a left swipe on a screen. And for those people who do get dates, the shadow of ritual humiliation is rarely too far from the surface.

In recent years, much of the analysis of post-modern dating’s sub-optimal outcomes has focused on this topic from male perspectives; while this is in some ways entirely understandable, these narratives have tended to marginalise or even ignore a genuinely disturbing phenomenon: that of women in consenting relationships being starved of affection, used and then unceremoniously discarded by men who seem incapable of forming attachments – or beyond this, even basic empathy.

It was therefore with great relief that we at Mediolana came across a recent item at FASHIONARTISTA – a beauty industry/lifestyle blog with a burgeoning and richly-merited following – which addresses this issue head-on. In Why We Are Losing Our Charm And How To Get It Back, game theory is used to great effect in illustrating how the dynamics of male-female dating interactions can be tipped back towards sanity by the latter adopting a classic ‘less skin, more charm’ strategy.

By metaphorically augmenting one’s character with a layer of mystery (and perhaps literally adding a layer of clothing to the evening brand), the terrain of the dating game can be changed from one which is primarily about sex to one which is about the quality of the human being you are having dinner with; sex does not disappear, but instead has a chance to occur at such a time when it can possess some metaphysical significance – and with this, a corresponding leap in quality and connection.

So far, so logical – but what if adoption of this strategy still ends in rejection? After some contemplation, this is where – at least for us at Mediolana – ‘less skin, more charm’ comes into its own. If a young lady is following the rest of the advice given at FASHIONARTISTA’s blog – which can best be summarised as counsel on the art of being more graceful – and there are still no takers in her social circle or dating market, then the course of action is clear. Change your social circle, change your location, change the religion and/or weltanschauung of the people you date (or even your own). Refuse to be stuck in a cycle of second-rate relationships – go to where the great guys are and be appreciated for being you in all your glory. Numbering the days of the disposable society requires nothing less.


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Bloc Party: #ASEAN ‘Now Established #MissWorld Player’!

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Shanghai-Style #Mathematics: Essential Reform Or Irrelevant Fad?

The education system in England is undertaking one of its most dramatic reforms yet – transitioning to teaching mathematics according to East Asian methods – and readers of this company’s blog can check out our take on this momentous process at See you after the leap!

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Euro 2016: Four Reasons Why It Underwhelmed

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This summer, international football took one giant leap towards becoming that much more inclusive with the staging of the first 24-team UEFA European Championship (‘Euro 2016‘). The new format – essentially identical to that which produced four of the best-ever FIFA World Cups (1982-1994) – saw previously anonymous teams like Iceland and Wales create a profound impression on what is probably still solidly the number two international tournament in global soccer’s pantheon.

But fairytales aside, the general expert consensus is that Euro 2016 was a competition that failed to inspire. Most of the blame has been laid squarely at UEFA’s door, with critics citing the expansion of the finals to include nearly half the confederation’s total membership as chiefly responsible for engendering a mediocre standard of play. However, after some reflection, we at Mediolana think that there are in fact four other reasons which explain why this tournament will not live too long in the memory:

  1. A lopsided draw. The processes that UEFA chose to determine the Euro 2016 finals draw ended up producing too many four-team groups that were either ludicrously weak (England, Wales, Slovakia, Russia) or improbably strong (Croatia, Turkey, Spain, Czech Republic); moreover, this pattern was replicated in the knock-out stages. This resulted in too many average teams gaining easy passage to the competition’s latter stages, while an awful lot of talented sides fell at the first or second hurdle.
  2. Creative destruction. Following on from the first point, many of the most creative teams and players were prematurely banished from Euro 2016. Zlatan Ibrahimović’s Sweden could not get out of a Group E featuring Italy and Belgium; Turkey (Emre Mor, Hakan Calhanoğlu) faced a similarly difficult predicament in Group D; and Croatia (Luka Modrić, Ivan Rakitić) faced Portugal in a match-up befitting the final, rather than a round-of-sixteen tie. Stifling tactics also proved all too efficacious in eliminating stylish exponents of football, the standout case being the conquering of Xherdan Shaqiri’s Switzerland by a penalty shoot-out-happy Poland.
  3. Absent friends. Notwithstanding the tournament’s expansion, several of the better and/or more exciting teams still somehow managed to miss out on qualifying altogether. In particular, Holland, Bosnia and Herzegovina (who headed to Japan and won the Kirin Soccer Cup without many of their stars), Serbia and Denmark were all sorely missed. Additionally, the mystifying omission of FC Barcelona’s Alen Halilović from the Croatia squad robbed the watching public of the pleasure of witnessing one of football’s great emerging talents on a prominent international stage.
  4. Cancel the festival. With France still in lockdown following a succession of surreal and tragic terrorist events last year, Euro 2016 was in spirit a world away from the previous tournament held in the country, the 1998 FIFA World Cup: the panic-stricken restrictions on public screenings; the alarmingly regular clashes between regular fans (not just hooligans) and the police; and the general security-state atmosphere not only detracted from the overall value of the competition as a cultural phenomenon, but also set a horrible contemporary precedent for future sporting contests.

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Eurotrash No Longer: Top Two At #ESC2016 ‘Come From Another Continent’!

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All Played Out: Three Dating Questions for a Post-PUA Era

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One of the best things about being based in a truly global metropolis like London is the constant exposure to new ideas and concepts – no matter how counterintuitive – and meeting the people at their cutting edge. Recently, our Creative Director & CSO cast his mind back a decade to the emergence of the city’s pickup artist (‘PUA’) scene, a natural outgrowth of a curious American phenomenon which promised to turn wallflowers into casanovas through cultivation of ‘game’. Game – arguably one of the worst-defined terms in contemporary English – can perhaps best be understood as a sort of relationship psy-ops that purportedly enables full-spectrum romantic conquest.

Sympathetic to but not ultimately convinced by the underlying logic of the PUA movement, we at Mediolana had almost entirely forgotten about our brief encounter with the same. However, thanks to a chance, auto-generated Internet hyperlink, we have now become aware of what the rest of the world has known for some time: numerous key protagonists of the global PUA tendency have all but renounced their affiliation. The fate of Neil ‘Style’ Strauss is particularly instructive: the author of 2005’s seminal text The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists and former consort of Britney Spears, Strauss wound up in a sex addiction clinic and now swears by monogamy; having held a symbolic funeral for his alter-ego, he married the Mexico-born, California-based model Ingrid De La O in August 2013, and they welcomed their first child into this world in March 2015.

Prompted by these developments, we at Mediolana reflected on exactly why the PUA phenomenon failed to speak to us, and after some contemplation we concluded that it was principally because it had failed to ask the right questions. The movement’s stated aim – successful seduction of females by males culminating in zero-context sex, in a nutshell – means that it is almost always going to descend into statistical fixation (telephone numbers obtained per day, ‘notches’ racked up per month, etc.) with little or no risk of experiencing anything deeper.

Conversely, the post-PUA era demands a more profound line of questioning. While this blog is no dating column, men would do well to ask the following three questions of themselves:

  1. Are you virtuous enough to inspire loving behaviour? The PUA scene saw coupling as a product of things such as money, status, dress, conversational routines and crude emotional manipulation. This often resulted in the development of thinly-veiled abusive relationships, with dictatorial and paranoid ‘players’ wielding a command-and-control model to rule over ‘their’ women. Examining one’s own character through the lens of virtue is a much more intimidating course of action, but if you can audit yourself objectively then you may yet end up in the dream position of having a female do nice things for you not owing to external compulsion, but because she loves you.
  2. Are you capable of treating a beautiful woman as a gateway to Infinity? Throughout (and indeed beyond) the PUA movement, it was standard operating procedure to rank women on a numerical scale of 1-10 according to their physical beauty; men were also ordered on a similar scale, but using a more complicated mix of attributes aligning broadly with the ‘game’ concept. This generated an enormous amount of speculation. Could a 6 male go out with a 9.5 female? Were females valued at 8 too emotionally high maintenance for the return-on-investment? And what exactly is a 10? However, it is far more productive to ascertain if you are capable of relating to a beautiful woman as a gateway to Infinity. Paradoxically, this means developing an appreciation of beautiful women in ways that incorporate but transcend their physical appearance. If you can relate to them on a soul level having gone at least some way towards training your own soul (see numbered paragraph 1 above), then you can enter an entirely new dimension of spiritual experience.
  3. Are your expectations meaningful? Predominantly statistical approaches produce predominantly statistical results, and in an era of genuinely unprecedented superficiality, this can lead to perverse expectations: men who out of some firmly-held and logically indefensible principle will not date women with non-blonde hair; women below the height of 1.72m; women who telephone them more than once every three days; women who take selfies; women with the ‘wrong’ taste in music; women who wear jeans instead of dresses…vacuous criteria such as these kill serious relationships before they have a chance to begin. Instead, focus on the stuff that actually matters: the quality of the human being. Seeking out attributes which almost no one even considers – such as having a high capacity for love – can bulldoze shallow rules like practically nothing else.

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