Thomas Wm. Hamilton

Life as it shouldn't be

Looked at by most observers, people would probably expect my background to assure profoundly conservative values and opinions. I attended a military school before Columbia, winding up as editor of the school newspaper, editor of the school yearbook, valedictorian, and with the rank of Sergeant/Major. But as an undergraduate I picketed the bookstore for price rigging and trying to shut down a co-op bookstore run by two graduate students, and am probably unfondly remembered by those I was hard to work with at WKCR.

Another indicator may date from 1963, when I was hired to work on the Apollo Project, as one of the few with a badly needed astronomy background. The job required security clearance, and I was presented with an idiotic list of organizations, quite a few pre- dating my birth, and most of which I had never heard of, that I had to deny ever being a member of. The problem caqme with the final disclaimer–“Have you or any member of your family ever been a member of an organization not listed which taught or advocated the violent overthrow of the government?”

Being a more or less truthful sort, I checked off yes, and then filled out the explanation–my five times great grandfather fired a musket out his window at troops marching from Boston to suppress some trouble-making radicals ensconced on Bunker Hill. His son loaned his second best horse to notorious subversive Paul Revere. And another four times great grandfather a few years later was shot on the personal orders of Napoleon for being a pain in the butt.

The head of security got very distressed, and wanted me to re- write the form, but I pointed out he wouldn’t be involved in any trouble. It went through and I heard no further.

Still, when all the problems at Columbia came to a head on April 23, I was having lunch at the decidedly non-PC Playboy Club. At this point, my role in Apollo being long done, I was working at Liberation News Service, but still had my old CUID. With a thumb conveniently placed over the date, I had no trouble getting into the campus, and visited three of the occupied buildings (Kent, Fayerweather and Math) during the week of occupation. I was present when the cops brutalized Prof. Greeman. I didn’t know him, and when faculty at other buildings asked who had been assaulted all I could say was he didn’t teach astronomy or German.

I was off campus when it was sealed prior to the big bust on April 30, but managed to observe what I could from Amsterdam, then wrote up a report for LNS.

On May 17-18 the apartment building at 618 West 114 Street, owned by Columbia, was occupied. I lived in the adjacent, non-CU building, at 622, and observed what I could. Out on the street I ran into William S. Bloor, then the Treasurer of the University. I introduced myself by name as an alumnus, and begged him to use his influence to prevent the police from creating further bloodshed, and perhaps doing something to end the crisis. He publicly insulted me, and as a result, I have to this day never considered donating a penny to Columbia, since the Treasurer thinks it is okay to abuse well-meaning alumni in public (and saw nothing wrong with police mauling faculty and students).

When the police cleared 114 Street, I retreated into the lobby of my building with about thirty other people. A police sergeant came into the lobby, and screamed at us, “Stay inside!” I pointed out we were inside, and he and three other cops grabbed me, a friend, my downstairs neighbor, and her boyfriend, and charged all four of us with trespassing in 618. This was ultimately thrown out, but not before I had some fun in court with some fool from CU’s housing office.

Not long afterwards I went to work for a planetarium manufacturer on Long Island, and moved to Flushing. Two years later I was hired to teach astronomy at Wagner College on Staten Island, and to run that school’s planetarium. Although I formally retired in 2003, I am still active in the field, and in October attended a convention of planetarium professionals also attended by three of my former students, and, I was delighted to learn, the former student of one of my former students.

I took a break from politics until 1976 when a friend recruited me for a reform club to provide him with a vote. He lost, but I wound up serving eight terms as secretary. Then the Navy announced plans to build a base for nuclear-armed ships less than a mile from my home. I was elected Chair of the group formed to oppose this, and had a lot of fun ridiculing the Navy’s Environmental Impact Statements for all the errors, absurdities and self-contradictions they contained. The best was when we found one of the co-authors claimed a PhD from the University of Illinois, but I brought the EIS hearing to a halt with a letter from UI’s Registrar saying they had never heard of him.

Pointing out that the Constitution specifically authorizes private navies (“letters of marque and reprisal”), and that the Navy meets the non-Marxist definition of socialism (“and surely you don’t buy the Marxist definition?”) always seemed to upset the local Republican supporters of the base.

- by Thomas Wm. Hamilton
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