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The great conjunction
Written by Harriet Moll, creative director
21 November 2020
Astronomers reliably tell me this momentous year will come to a spectacular end when we officially begin the Age of Aquarius. That is, if we can agree to interpret the Age of Aquarius as beginning with the great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, which comes around every 400 years, aligning in the sign of Aquarius.
Remarkably, this time around the conjunction coincides with the winter solstice on 21 December. Jupiter and Saturn are the two largest planets in the solar system, known as the greater benefic and the greater malefic planets respectively, and will be just 0.1 degrees apart on our shortest day of the year.
Thinking about the solar system gives me perspective and reminds me that we have so much to be grateful for, those of us who sit here reading calmly on our devices this morning. And, as I recently heard Michael J Fox say when reflecting on his more than 30 years of living with Parkinson’s disease, “gratitude is what makes optimism sustainable”.
Have a great weekend and thank you for taking a look at our choice of interesting reads from around the world this week.
1. Gender-neutral emojis
What’s your favourite emoji? The face with tears of joy? The red love heart? Or my personal favourite, the smiling face with heart eyes? Whatever your emoji of choice, you likely use them often; they’ve evolved to become an essential aspect of modern communication. There’s one snag though – representation. Doctors, police officers and rock climbers were until recently all men, while emojis of people being sassy or getting a haircut were all women. Still, it turns out that designing more inclusive emojis is harder than you might think.
Read in Wired.
2. The healing power of art
The art installation In America, How could this happen… sees more than 248,000 white flags blanket a three-and-a-half-acre field outside of Robert F Kennedy Memorial Stadium in Washington DC – one for each person who has died from Covid-19 in America.
Since her exhibition opened on 23 October, artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg and a group of volunteers have planted roughly a thousand small flags daily to keep up with the rising number of deaths.
“Even in death, we need to be seen, because it suggests value – that the person is valued,” she says. It’s a compelling read.
Read in National Geographic.
3. Book club
England and Manchester United striker, Marcus Rashford, has been one of the unlikely heroes of 2020, leading in the fight against child poverty in the UK. His calls earlier this year for school children entitled to free meals to also get them during holidays were observed and implemented, perhaps reluctantly, by the prime minister. And now he’s onto the next: a book club to help children experience the escapism of reading. This year has been a weird, confusing, traumatic time to be a young person – if this gives just one child access to another world, then it is an entirely worthwhile pursuit.
Read at Sky News.
4. Italian grannies have discovered online shopping
While we’ve all been shut up at home, it feels strange to imagine we’ve also been part of an unexpectedly huge technological leap forward. This piece uses Italian grannies as a benchmark for the way people have adopted new tech, but the reality is that Covid-19 has accelerated the pace of behaviour change across the board. This means shifts that were expected to take years have now occurred in mere weeks, leaving everyone scrambling to keep up.
Read in The Economist.
5. The North Korean underground movement
This account of the underground movement trying to topple the North Korean regime – a story that largely focuses on Adrian Hong, co-founder of Liberty in North Korea (LiNK) and human rights activist – is equal parts mind-bending and heart-wrenching. The biggest takeaway? It is truly inspiring the lengths that some will go to secure the safety and freedom of others, even at personal expense.
Read in the New Yorker.
In a couple of weeks I will be talking to Lionel Barber about his fifteen years as editor of the Financial Times – five more years than he might have expected in that role and thank goodness because the notes from every moment of them make for the most enjoyable romp through recent political history that you could hope for. I hope you’ll join me to ask him all about it and in the meantime enjoy The Powerful and the Damned for yourself.
Register for our event here and buy the book at Penguin.