Tuesday, November 17, 2015

After the Paris terror attacks, what next?

Image from StateofMind13.
On November 13, Paris was the scene of a brutal coordinated attack, with bombings and six mass shootings at restaurants, bars, the Bataclan concert hall, and the Stade de France stadium where a France-Germany football match was taking place.

Scenes of Paris post-attack were chaotic, with the wounded and traumatised covered in thermal blankets, ambulances, medics and emergency police at every corner. The attack was the deadliest on French soil since World War II. 129 victims have been confirmed dead.

After declaring a state of emergency and closing the nation's borders, President Francois Hollande declared the attacks an act of war, and that in response France would "lead a war which will be pitiless." Two days later, Al-Raqqah in Syria, the Syrian headquarters of Daesh (also known as IS, ISIS, and ISIL) was bombed in retaliation, in an escalation of the ongoing Opération Chammal.

As politicians put out their prepared statements expressing grief and solidarity with the French people, one particular United States presidential wannabe made the show all about him, hijacking the conversation to turn it to gun control.

More guns, more vows to end terrorists, more calls to war against Daesh and religious extremism.

It's almost as if we believe that the combined efforts of the United States, Britain, and France since 2001 have been effective at all. Almost as if we believe that the only way to stop the escalating violence and wars is to, well, fight back with more violence and wars.

Almost as if we believe that each time fighting hatred with hatred has not resulted in the creation of even more radicals and terrorists.

In many parts of Europe, xenophobia is rampant, and there is a steadily escalating atmosphere of fear. Everywhere there is an increasing guardedness of anyone who associates themselves with Islam, even though numbers tell us that the estimated 80,000 Daesh militants constitute only 0.00005% of the world's 1.6 billion Muslims.

France has always had a complicated relationship with its Muslim population. Some of France's imams were already being expelled, and the backlash to the Muslim community was immediate after the November 13 attacks. These attacks will do nothing to quell rising fear and suspicion. Muslims in headscarves praying for victims at Parisian shrines find themselves the subject of insult.

Paris is only one symptom of a larger problem, the one most familiar and therefore the one we pay the most attention to. But what happened in Paris has happened - and is still happening - to so many countries and so many people who are unfortunate enough to be born and live in the wrong place.

Syrian refugees to Europe are fleeing from the very people who perpetrated the Paris attacks. To them, attacks like those in Paris are a common occurrence. Western media reports the "latest" attack in Beirut as though they have become the norm. Just another Middle Eastern attack claimed by Daesh, unnamed victims, buried in the centrefold of the World News section.

The unfortunate fact: No one pays attention until it happens to you.

On 31 October 2015, Metrojet Flight 9268 crashed in northern Sinai after departing from Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt en route to Saint Petersburg, Russia. It was carrying 217 passengers and seven crew members, and the crash killed all on board. It is thought that the cause of the crash was a planted explosive device, with baggage handlers suspected of being involved. Daesh claimed responsibility.

Islamophobic sentiment in Paris will only rise in the wake of these terror attacks, which follow the January attacks to Charlie Hebdo. They are not likely to be any more welcoming to the influx of Syrian refugees, especially now that fears about Daesh militants and sleeping agents travelling into Europe alongside refugees can be confirmed.

And yet, recall that this is the organisation that al-Qaeda kicked out for "notorious intransigence."

What happens now that the Daesh fight has been brought to Western soil? A few things, to start off with: anger, solidarity, upcoming analyses, stories of narrowly escaping survivors, claims of unfair media attention, promises of more action.

And then there are these guys, who sum up all our thoughts and feelings better than the New York Times ever will.

Praise be, John Oliver. Praise be.

Just like Waleed Aly says, Daesh (or ISIL, or ISIS, whatever your chosen name is) is trying to start World War 3. What is frustrating is that it seems almost they're succeeding - there isn't simply global condemnation, but there are outright declarations of war. And indeed, war in the Middle East has been going on for a long time now.

Or does this not count because this time the enemy is not a western power?

When I asked this question on Facebook, someone responded no:
States aren't in a state of total war. In ww2 multiple states were in total war. In other words, all of its economy and production are optimised for the war effort.
And while I agree that there has been no outright declaration of total war, we cannot deny that Daesh is trying to steer things that way. Frighteningly, Daesh is winning the war of fear - the suspicion of Muslims from non-Muslims, the increasing alienation of Islamic communities.

What do you think happens to people who feel alone? They go to find places where they feel understood, places they think they belong. Somehow they stumble upon Daesh, and before you know it there has been another unwitting subversive radicalisation.

It may not be anything new, but it needs to be said all the same. Hatred begets hatred.

Unless we learn to accept people for who they are, groups like Daesh will keep growing in strength, promising refuge and family and a place the misunderstood can call home. So yes, this is a war - not World War 3 perhaps, not total war, but a war of ideologies.

Samuel P. Huntington was right all along.

We can say what we want, we can display all the solidarity we want, and yet, the world will go on. Barack Obama said that people have become 'numb' to America's 'routine' gun attacks, just as the rest of us have done to terrorist attacks in the Middle East, events to which we pay little attention.

We will talk about this for a little while, put on our little mourning show, and then live life as usual. We will go about our days, have toast and orange juice at breakfast, and watch the latest episode of Breaking Bad.

Change is uncomfortable - change is hard. Changing the way we see friends and neighbours is especially difficult, if we try to shift our view from one of fear to one of love. But change is necessary, for it is the only way that we can get ourselves out of this mess of extremism and hatred.

In war, everyone has their part to play. It is the part of the military to seek and destroy Daesh strongholds and weaken their operations. It is the part of the people to tend to our own communities and avoid alienating those already weak or scared. When there is family to be had among their own communities, there is neither need nor desire to seek out radical alternatives.

The only way forward is one of acceptance, of trust and of welcome.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

IKEA Hack: Stolmen cat tree

Small space living with pets ain't easy. I know, because I'm doing it. Kincaid, magnificent beast that he is, loves nothing more than to get in your way (he is a cat, after all) at all hours of the day - whether it be in the middle of the night or while you're trying to do something on your computer. At night he walks on you, and in the day he falls asleep on top of the keyboard.

So when I came across this IKEA Stolmen cat tree hack, I knew I needed it - partially because I really needed to get Kincaid in a space where he could chill out and do his thing, but mostly because it looked pretty, design-conscious, minimalistic, and catified af.

Here's what you'll need to make your own:
Wood planks
Dinner plate, or similar (for templates)
Bandsaw or jigsaw
Hole saw
1x IKEA Stolmen pole
4x IKEA Stolmen suspension fitting with 2 holders
8x bolts and nuts
Supervisor Cat

Since I'd been decluttering, I was left with two perfectly empty, perfectly good, usable IKEA Ivar shelves. These shelves are solid pine and well strong enough to hold up the weight of a cat, so I decided to reuse them.

First step was to use the dinner plates and bowls to trace out a template. This left me with four shapes of platforms.

Then I borrowed a friend's wood shop, and use bandsaws to start cutting the large planks into more manageable pieces, as well as start roughly cutting them down to the size of the template, taking straight edges off sides wherever I could. Since I didn't have a jigsaw, I couldn't be as precise as I'd have liked to be, but I like to think that the rough knobbly-ness of the finished product adds to its charm.

Be careful not to get overconfident and winding up getting too close and chopping bits off.
Next, use a more flexible bandsaw (or jigsaw, or whatever tools you might have at your fancy) to cut finer details into the platform - any more intricate curves that you might not have been able to do with the first straight-cutting bandsaw. At this point the rough template of the platform is done!

Now the pretty-making part. Since up to this point all the platforms were cut roughly with bandsaws, I used a belt sander to take the edges down and smooth out the curves. This was by far the most time-consuming part of the project, since it took a lot of sanding and checking to make sure that I didn't have any bits that could stick out and injure someone (or some-cat!)

Sanding down the edges so that at least the platform looks finished.

Not bad for my first real woodworking project, I'd say - I haven't been even remotely close to a wood shop since D&T in secondary school, so I consider this a success.

The next bit is drilling holes so the main part of the Stolmen pole fits through the platform. I got a friend with a hole saw to do this for me. The Stolmen pole measures 4.6cm in diameter, so we used the closest option we had available: 5cm. A couple of wood clamps, a decent hole saw, a centering marking and we were all good to go!

The result - a perfectly circular 5cm hole.
The next holes to drill are the screw holes for the Stolmen fittings. This was pretty easy - no specialist equipment here, just a regular old drill through marked-out either sides of where the suspension fitting was going to go.

... And drilled. Done!
Then it's a simple matter of assembly. The Stolmen pole is just a tension rod between the floor and the ceiling that's surprisingly sturdy for how simple of an idea it is! I slid the platforms through, and then placed the platforms at the heights I wanted. Make sure each platform is rotated at a 120-degree angle from the next platform so that your cat can move from one to the next.

I used bolts, nuts and washers to fit it all together, using washers to fill the space between the platform and fitting so that it would stay sturdy. Make sure you tighten everything nice and snug!

The final, and most important step of all, is for you to have gone through all this effort and be proud of what you've done, creating your wonderful cat tree only to realise that your cat is deathly afraid of heights and won't go anywhere near it.

In Jackson Galaxy's terms, after you've built and designed your wonderful cat tree, you realise that you don't have a Tree Dweller cat but a Bush Dweller. He would much rather hang out on your floor and in low spaces and doesn't really have a need for your magnificent cat tower, thank you very much.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Announcement: Photography Portfolio Update!

Hi everyone! Here's a quick announcement - from today, my photography portfolio will now be hosted at cherylkphoto.com! This is where you'll find the best of my photography of the most recent years - travel, landscape, and some portraits. My photographic style has been evolving in the past few years and I expect it will for some time to come, and this is where you'll be able to keep up to date with what's new and changing.

For personal reasons, I haven't been as active here on the main site as I should. I'm gonna try my best to fix that - my life's all sorts of upside down right now, and because I try to write quality rather than quantity I don't always have the space to sit down for hours and write new posts every week. Blogging is fun, but the world of post-graduation is chaotic and filled with questions of what to do with my life. So far, what I've done with my life has been a whole ton of figuring out what to do.

I've also managed to get in a bit of time to write some music for a couple of projects I was attached to, both mastered and aided in no small part by the wonderful Iliya Zaki:

Have a look/listen and let me know what you think? Music, as some of you might know, is what I've been working towards for a very long time in my life, and I'd love to keep being a part of it. I'm starting to properly explore the creative side of myself for the first time in forever (!) and would love your feedback on both my music and photography.

Help me make myself better!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Taylor Swift and the idolising of the BFF

I didn't always like Taylor Swift. When she first made it big with Love Story, I thought it was a decent song - memorable, catchy, but over-the-top cheesy. (Disclaimer: In 2008 when Love Story was first released, I was a cynical 17-year-old who thought she knew better than everyone else in music.)

While Taylor and I had a relationship of hits and misses for a while, it wasn't until the release of Red that I solidly decided that I liked her as an artist. She writes good songs - her collaborations with Ed Sheeran (Everything Has Changed) and The Civil Wars (Safe and Sound) in particular were the songs that made me come around. The 1989 album, already so talked-about, and its ongoing world tour firmly put Taylor at the top of the pop music world. I love 1989, I love the music video for Blank Space, I love a lot of things about Taylor Swift.

But there's one thing I don't like, and that's how Taylor has turned the BFF into a status symbol - an idol to be adored, a girl gang to aspire to.

Let me get this out of the way - I think Taylor is a good person. She donated $50,000 to a fan who was struggling with cancer; $15,000 to a family in hospital after a car accident (anyone else think the cost of healthcare in the U.S. is beyond ridiculous?! But that's a topic for another time); she bakes cookies and surprises fans with hand-picked presents at Christmas. Really, there's no reason for anyone to criticise anything about Taylor, right?

Taylor's girl-gang is not new; she's been collecting girlfriends from Karlie Kloss to Lorde and proudly sharing her #squadgoals on Instagram. Who can forget this now-famous photo of Taylor and HAIM on a vacation boat?

A photo posted by Taylor Swift (@taylorswift) on

In theory, it's brilliant. Feminism has been ruling, women are empowered, and we want to show that we are every bit as brilliant as men. We want to show that we are united. Having BFFs surely must be the perfect solution, to show that we are equally friends with each other, and that we've got each other's backs.

Except that having BFFs is just the new, politically-correct way to talk about being popular.

In reality, Taylor's role-modelling is just another picture-perfect image telling women what they should aim to become. The squad is overwhelmingly made up of tall, willowy, white women, and unsurprisingly, girls want to be like her. "If I'm like Taylor, I can have BFFs too!"

There is no doubt that Taylor Swift's immaculately manicured image is a huge contributor to how popular she is - she's the perfect not-a-girl, not-yet-a-woman who takes on large corporations and wins, yet has time to care for her fans. Another caveat: I'm not saying that this is entirely Taylor's fault. Taylor is tall, willowy, and white; people overwhelmingly have friends who are like themselves; therefore Taylor's friends are also tall, willowy and white.

Makes sense.

But the culture that has emerged around Taylor's collection of friends is frightening. Everyone wants to be Taylor's BFF, and if you're not one of her BFFs, well you're not part of the squad. Taylor Swift's brand has taken the image of friendship and turned it into some sort of club, some sort of status symbol: that's the real message that the Taylor Swift brand is sending.

Taylor Swift is not your friend, and unless your name is Karlie Kloss or Lorde, Taylor Swift is most certainly not your BFF. Even if she were, BFFs shouldn't have a leader of the pack, the role that Taylor undoubtedly claims.

There shouldn't be a hierarchy of BFFs, or a war to claim the coolest kids for your squad. BFFs are not a collection of the who's who in feminist pop - they are the people you get along with, who you share secrets with, who come over at 2am in the morning with a tub of Ben & Jerry's because you watched Ross and Rachel break up on Friends again.

A healthy friendship is based on equal standing and respect, not one with a queen idol at the head of the gang. It's just as important to value yourself as it is to value your friends, and one's self-worth shouldn't be determined by the people they choose or don't choose to surround themselves by.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Jökulsárlón, Iceland, July 2015

Recently, Magnús and I took a trip to Skaftafell National Park in south-east Iceland. Skaftafell is a popular tourist destination, right by Europe's largest glacier Vatnajökull, which covers a whopping 8% of Iceland's total land area. (It's huge.)

Vatnajökull is also the glacier responsible for Jökulsárlón (literally: glacier lagoon), which is famous for its massive floating icebergs on a saltwater lake. The saltwater lake flows out into the ocean, while the iceberg chunks are pieces that have fallen off the massive glacier behind it.

While there are several glacier lagoons in Iceland, Jökulsárlón is by far the most picturesque and most photographed of them all; this is my take on the icebergs at Jökulsárlón.

Please click on the photos to view them at better resolution!

Friday, February 27, 2015

Malaga's Top 5

Editor's note: This is a guest contribution from Millie Spencer, a model and blogger currently based in Spain. Images used are by Elliot BrownFran Villena and Mark Koester under the Creative Commons licenses.

Malaga is a city often overlooked by those visiting Spain, mainly because Malaga flights tend to be cheap within Europe and tourists tend to fly here merely as a stop off on their way to the Costa del Sol. Malaga is a beautiful city offering plenty of culture and history, here are five places worth a visit:

Museo Picasso

The people of Malaga are understandably proud that Pablo Picasso was born in their city and the Museo Picasso, opened in 2003, is dedicated to him and situated in the heart of the city. A two minute walk from Malaga Cathedral, the museum is housed in a restored Renaissance building with the dramatic backdrop of Gibralfaro Castle and Alcazaba Castle nearby. Museo Picasso is an unmissable attraction where you get a great insight into how Picasso developed as an artist. There are 12 halls of permanent exhibition gallery, not limited to just his works in the Cubist style, this large collection of his work includes his early academic studies, his re-workings of old masters, sketches and ceramics.


The Alcazaba is the best preserved fortress-palace in Spain. Home to a number of Moorish rulers over the centuries, each left their mark on the Alcazabra’s architecture. Starting your visit at the Puerta de la Bóveda, you follow the walls through a succession of Moorish gates. At the Puerta de la Columnas (Gate of the Columns) you can see where Roman columns were repurposed by the Moors to reinforce it. You can then admire the beautiful patio gardens and fountains en-route to the palaces. Many visitors continue on to walk up the hill to Gibralfaro Castle - remember to bring water as it is a long hot walk in the sunshine!

Gibralfaro Castle

For spectacular views of the city, a visit to this 10thcentury castle is essential. Situated a hillside walk away from the Alcazaba, you can take a scenic stroll along the ramparts which have been well restored and inside the fortress itself you will find some buildings and courtyards. Some visitors like to pause on the ramparts for a free view, albeit from a distance, of bullfights in the La Malagueta bullring.

The Manquita - Malaga’s cathedral

Locals call the cathedral La Manquita, meaning ‘one armed woman’ because the south tower was never completed. Legend has it that lack of funds, due to monies being donated to colonists during the American War of Independence, meant that they couldn’t afford to build the planned second tower. The interior is Renaissance and baroque in style and most notable are the 40 finely carved statues of the saints by Pedro de Mena.

La Concepción Botanic Garden

If you are looking for a calm and relaxing space to take a break from the bustle of the city, La Concepción Botanic Garden is the perfect place to visit. It is rated as one of the best botanic gardens in Europe combining formal gardens with a lush forest. You can wander around at your own pace or take a guided tour to hear the history of the gardens.

Monday, February 23, 2015


I've been away for a while, and to be honest I'm not sure if I'll really ever get back into a regular blogging schedule again for a long while. It pains me to think that I may one day leave this platform, but my life has moved in a lot of different directions. While I haven't stopped travelling (far from it!), I just don't have time to sit down and write for hours on top of editing photos and curating galleries and albums. But here's what I can do: I can give you snapshots of what my life has looked like of late.

In November, I took a month-long trip around Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, where I managed to get some really nice, really pretty shots of people and life there. These are some of my favourites.

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