Who Told You It Was Round?

“Everyone’s gone to the moon,” lamented a pop song that the radio intruded into my household last week. I showed respectful interest, only to be rebuked for not spotting an oldie resuscitated in deference to the adult world’s current craze. The latter gave Mr. Nixon a few nifty thoughts for his inaugural address, clobbered a certain durable notion about green cheese, provided a new slogan for Protestant extremists anxious to “keep the Pope off the moon” (are they sure that’s what they really want?), and allowed a New Scientist editorial to thunder: “Is it altogether dignified to strut about in a technological Versailles while the vast hordes of the world’s deprived could make such vital use of all these brains and dollars?” Forgetting biblical rejoinders, I was taken in for a moment by that tirade till it struck me (and I owe the thought to Mae West) that dignity has nothing to do with it.

Impervious to such larger lunacies, however, is Samuel Shenton, the rightful recipient of communications addressed “Flat Earth, Dover, England.” According to information received, his reaction to Apollo was markedly chilly. Mr. Shenton, sixty-five and a retired signwriter (something symbolic there?), is secretary of the International Flat Earth Society. With typical English understatement he defines his ministry as “putting up a little squeak” at the way the cosmos has been conned.

You ask how. Mr. Shenton will tell you. The earth is flat like a plate. A compass (ha! thought you had him?) gives only the illusion of a true course—misguided mariners are really following the circumference of the plate. There is no space. Astronautical pictures? Faked or distorted. And let him tell us another thing: The earth is not ...

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