This one I blame on Netflix.

After a lifetime of loyally expounding the virtues of free-to-air television and tut-tutting those who chose to part with their hard-earned and PAY for viewing content, last week the streaming revolution finally landed at our place. Better late to the party then no party at all, I say.

One of the first things I hit play on was a documentary called BEHIND THE CURVE.

It’s about the idea – and people who believe with every breath of their body in the idea – that our planet is NOT ball-shaped, as we have all been brought up to believe, but flat.

That’s flat as in something that has edges. Flat as in something you can fall over the side of.

flat earth sour brite crawlers GIF by Trolli

Barely had the opening credits rolled when the admittedly underused rational side of my brain spoke up loud and clear, challenging “Do you really need to sit through the next 90 minutes of this tin-foil hat brigade lunacy?”

Incredibly, even… unimaginatively, the answer turned out to be “Yes”.

I say incredibly because, well… there’s this

That’s a curved Earth. Case closed.

And this…

On its way to the planet Mercury in 2005 – sixteen years ago – the Messenger Spacecraft took 358 images with its wide-angle camera over 24 hours, one Earth rotation. The images were brought together in this 13 second time lapse video. 

I did end up indulging my curiosity for the entire 90 minutes of this ‘show’.

I was interested to see what type of person chooses to deliberately go against the last two thousand years of empirical scientific fact.

In fact, what type of individual champions the sort of nutty idea with double whack that could only ever fly in our ‘anything goes’ internet age; an age where proven knowledge has little choice but to cozy-up alongside way-out theories, speculation and the dreaded ‘fake news’.

What type of person? Labeling the ‘flat Earthers‘ – as they like to be called – as typically age 30+ adults who still live in Mum’s basement might come across as a little harsh or sarcastic. Instead I’ll broadly categorize them as the type of person who could be inclined to believe other far-out conspiracy theories, like um… oh don’t know, maybe that one about the government being able to control the weather or that other dandy about chemicals in the water supply turning frogs gay.

For the record, the idea that the Earth is a sphere was all but settled by ancient Greek philosophers such as Aristotle (384โ€“322 BC), who obtained empirical evidence after travelling to Egypt and seeing new constellations of stars.

Eratosthenes, in the third century BC, became the first person to calculate the circumference of the Earth. Islamic scholars made further advanced measurements from about the 9th century AD onwards, while European navigators circled the Earth in the 16th century. Images from space were final proof, if any were needed.

It would be easy to dismiss flat-Earthers as simply being misguided due to a lack of education. While there are indications that those susceptible to such views have low levels of scientific literacy, there is most likely something else at play here, to account for such wayward views. Views that fly in the face of all generally accepted laws and principles of science.

That something is a conspiracy mentality. There are arguments to suggest that such conspirists view the world through a really quite dark filter, whereby it’s assumed all authorities, institutions, corporations and governments are there to simply exploit people and keep various truths from leaking out, thus maintaining the status quo.

You can keep up that degree of denial and fact-twisting for a while I guess, but in the long-term, reality and tested, proven science have to surface at some stage. Don’t they? Well, don’t they?

Conspiracy Theory Corona GIF by INTO ACT!ON

For some reason that saying about never arguing with a fool in case people may not be able to tell the difference is playing through my head like some kind of rabid earworm at this very moment. And yet... I now deliberately fly in the face of such wisdom and offer these two proofs of a round Earth...

Different locations on Earth experience seasons at different times. Ever notice how summer in the United States corresponds to winter in Australia? Or how winter in Italy lines up with summer in Argentina? If the Earth were flat, Australia, Italy, and Argentina would all experience the seasons the same exact way. The flat Earth idea can’t explain this.

The second proof can be done simply by watching a sunset. Pick a nice spot from which you can watch a sunset (Point A) Ideally, you’d have a clear horizon in front of you, and behind you would be some sort of elevated point that you can quickly access (a hill, a building with at least two floors, or perhaps a tree; this is your Point B).

Watch the sunset from Point A, and once the sun is out of sight, hurry on over to Point B. With the added elevation provided by Point B, you should be able to see the sun above the horizon. If Earth were flat, the sun would not be visible at any elevation once it had set.

If you don’t have a hill, you could even try lying on your stomach to watch the sunset and then standing up to get a higher line of sight.

I can scarcely believe SWS is inserting a video of this ilk, but if the two justifications above didn’t grab by the intellectual coin purse than maybe this slightly wordy two and a half minute video will…

PPS. Care to read what THE NEW YORKER thought of the documentary BEHIND THE CURVE ? Then go clickety click HERE.

Life with Charlie

Two years ago, a slew of books and movies, all focused on the same subject, were released.

That subject was Manson. Charles Manson.

2019 marked the 50th anniversary of the crimes the world would come to know as the Tate/LA Bianca murders. That year I read and reviewed a number of those newly published accounts of life with the hippie cult leader –HERE , HERE and HERE. And now comes another.

Author Edward George was Manson’s jailer for eight years of the career criminal’s incarceration. Beginning first at San Quentin Prison in 1975 and then following Manson when he was transferred to Corcoran Medical Facility, Edward George supervised Manson’s cellblock, read and censored Charlie’s mail and talked to him almost daily.

San Quentin Prison was most recently in the news last year when more than 1000 inmates and 100 staff tested positive to Covid 19.

At both locations, George, whose unique background includes having been both a navy fighter pilot and studying for six years as a seminary student, was in charge of the lockdown unit (what he refers to as the ‘cuckoo’s nest’) – the section that housed prisoners so crazed and violent they couldn’t even coexist in a society made up of their criminal peers.

Against his better judgment, the author describes developing a rapport with Manson to the extent he began to feel the self-proclaimed guru’s words and ideas flowing through his brain at night, even as he slept. George says he used Manson – who he describes as being animated and entertaining (when he was in a good mood) in a not dissimilar vein to Jack Nicholson’s ‘McMurphy’ character in the 1975 movie ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST – to get through his workday, perk him up, amuse him, make him laugh and make him angry.

“In retrospect, I needed a guy like Manson to keep me sane. Prison work is dull and boring. Charlie’s wit engendered a subtle excitement. Manson was the buzz of the day, my daily rush. Many afternoons I sprung him from his cage and escorted him free and unshackled into my office. We sat like boyhood friends and shot the breeze, sometimes for hours”.

George confesses that a prison unit psychiatrist was among a number of people who warned him to stay away from Manson and not get pulled into his mad charismatic aura. The author describes dancing around the fire of madness but not being singed by its flames was an exhilarating experience.

“Before Manson arrived at San Quentin, I found the prison routine stifling redundant. Of all the murderers, sociopaths, psychos and gangbangers I managed over the years, Manson was the one who always made my day.”

At one stage Manson had attempted to convince George he should quit his job and join Charlie’s ‘Family’. Amusingly he writes, ” Sometimes, absurd as that was, I have to admit it was tempting. Especially for a man going through “Middle Age Crazy”. I ended up buying a motorcycle instead. Whew!”

The book recalls in vivid detail the daily grind of Manson’s imprisonment; from endless tirades that saw him repeatedly set his cell bed on fire or attempt to clog the sink and flood the floor to him tending to and ‘raising’ a pair of cockroaches.

Manson seemed to take particular delight in toying with and confounding prison psychiatrists. Some of the recorded and transcribed conversations sound more like comedy routines than psychiatric evaluations.

DR H: “If you had only one wish, what would you wish for?”

MANSON: “More wishes.”

DR H: “How are your spirits?”

MANSON: “Right here.”

DR H: “How do you see your future?”

MANSON: “I don’t see any”.

DR H: “When was the last time you wished you were dead?”

MANSON: “I haven’t found out what life is yet.”

DR H: “When did you last think of suicide?”

MANSON: “When you mentioned it.”

In the book’s epilogue, George recounts this defining exchange with Manson –

“Why did you do it” I asked him a thousand times in a hundred different ways. “Why the celebrity slaughter that rocked the entire world?” He offered a dozen different answers, depending on his mood at the time.

By way of summary, the following passage is probably as good as any to capture the essence of the author’s Manson experience –

“For nearly a decade, Charlie entertained me and my staff. I visited him daily. I befriended him, knowing full well who he was and what he had done. He could be Saint Francis one minute and Satan the next. I experienced the bipolar mind control throughout my personal association with him. There was no doubting his powers.

Former Miami News reporter Dary Matera (1955 – ) is the ghost writer of CHARLES MANSON: CONVERSATIONS WITH A KILLER. He is the author of 14 books, including John Dillinger โ€“ The Life and Death of Americaโ€™s First Celebrity Criminal.