Contrary to what Cecil says in this column, the Equator is frequently placed two-thirds down the page on Mercator maps. However, he’s still right; the distortion isn’t because of this. The placement of the Equator is simply the result of chopping off the bottom part of the map in order to remove Antarctica, which otherwise would be a gigantic white rectangle along the entire bottom of the map.
For more information on the controversy described in Cecil’s column, and about how various projections distort the globe, see the first chapter of this book, which may be short of greatness but is still a worthwhile read.
First thing I thought of when I read this column was this episode of The West Wing, from Season 2 (aka “the good old days”):Somebody’s Going to Emergency, Somebody’s Going to Jail.
The scene where the cartographers flip the Mercator map around, etc., and C.J. Cregg’s reaction: priceless!