Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0002439, Mon, 6 Oct 1997 10:39:48 -0700

*Dark Ice* Notes lines 194-217 [Notes #4] (fwd)

Lines 194-195

Refuseniks were Soviet citizens who were
forbidden to emigrate or to travel outside
the country.
On February 1, 1960, Ezell Blair, Jr.,
Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, and
David Richmond, African-Americans, all
freshman students from the North
Carolina Agricultural and Technical
College (A&T) in Greensboro, North
Carolina, bought a few trifling items in
the Woolworth's downtown and then sat
down at its "whites only" counter; they
ordered coffee.
They were politely refused service
("I'm sorry, but we don't serve colored
here"). Student sit-ins spread across the
south. I had an excellent lunch at that
same lunchcounter with my cousin, my
wife, and a number of "white" and "black"
strangers of various bloodtypes, all
placidly eating side by side, 96 years after
*Plessy v. Fergusen*. (I recommend the
chocolate milkshake, an American
specialty made with vanilla ice cream,
milk, and chocolate syrup: served very
cold in a tall, stainless steel mixing
container; then poured slowly--always
with some left over--into a tall glass.)
Greensboro was also the site of the
November 3, 1979 massacre--by 40
heavily-armed members of the North
Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan
and their allies, the National Socialist
Party of America--of five unarmed
members of the Communist Workers
Party, during a Workers Party rally
against the Klan. Among those slain
were black and white, Jewish and
Gentile, Spanish-speaking and non-
Spanish-speaking, male and female,
American citizens; two were doctors.
Of sixteen Klansmen and neo-Nazis
arrested for murder, six were brought
to trial; all pleaded self-defense. They
were acquitted. ("The only thing the
Klan is guilty of is poor shooting,"
commented one prospective juror.)
In a subsequent trial, on federal civil
rights charges, five of the defendants
were acquitted; one was sentenced to
six months in a work-release program.
(See *Ku Klux Klan: An Encyclopedia*,
Michael Newton and Judy Newton,
A bronze plaque outside of the
Greensboro Woolworth's
commemorates the famous 1960
sit-in; it does not appear to have
been provided by an official agency
of the state.

Lines 196-197
*Chernobyl, Pennsylvania...disavow*

Chernobyl conflated with Three
Mile Island. The Chernobyl disaster
of April 25-26, 1986 is (as of 1997)
the worst accident at a nuclear power
plant; one explosion threw radio
active debris a mile into the
atmosphere. (For an idea of the
incredible extent of this disaster,
see John May, *The Greenpeace
Book of the Nuclear Age*.)
The Three Mile Island accident
of March 28, 1979, was found in
1982 to have been a much more
precarious escape from catastrophe
than scientists had at first realized:
a remote-control camera sent to
investigate the reactor discovered
a meltdown of more than half of
the core--which had almost burned
through the steel reactor vessel.
The damage was so bad that one
engineer wondered "Why wasn't
there core on the floor?"
Soviet authorities were first silent,
then evasive, then downplayed the
extent of the accident.
U.S. Government, Pennsylvania,
MetEd, and General Public Utilities
Company authorities were first silent,
then evasive, then downplayed the
extent of the accident.

Line 198

On March 28, 1922, at a speech on
"America and the Restoration of Russia"
in Berlin, exiled Russian statesman
Vladimir Dmitrievich Nabokov, born
July 20, 1870, former Duma member,
jurist, and chancellor of the first
Provisional Government after the
February 1917 Revolution, attempted
to disarm an assassin who had fired
on the speaker (a political adversary
of V.D. Nabokov's); whereupon a
second assassin leapt onstage and
fired three times at Nabokov. This
pair of murderers, later identified
as rightwing fanatics, attempted to
flee; after more gunfire, wounding
more people, they were arrested.
V.D. Nabokov died on the spot.

Line 205

See note to line 188.

Line 206

Russian: the opposite of glasnost;

Line 207
Berlin Wall

Opened November 9, 1989. No
connection with Irving Berlin (Israel
Baline), 1888-1989, born in Temum,
Russia, American songwriter, author
of (among many, many other songs
in English) "The Russian Lullaby,"
which is neither Russian nor a lullaby,
but a fast-paced song--existing in an
especially wonderful version sung by
Jimmy Rushing, 1903-1972, famous
African-American jazz and blues singer,
in New York City on June 19, 1959 (with
Buddy Tate on tenor saxophone, Sir
Charles Thompson on organ, Skeeter
Best on guitar, Gene Ramey on string
bass, and Jo Jones on drums)--which
includes the poignant lyric:

Rock-a-bye, my baby;
Somewhere there may be
A land that's free for you and me
And a Russian lullaby.


Line 208

*Boris Godunov*, Pushkin's play of 1831, on
which Musorgski's opera was based.
Boris Godunov was Tsar of Russia from
1598 to 1605, elected by a national assembly
(he had served as regent). There was famine
during his reign. His legitimacy as Tsar was
assaulted by a pretender in the last years of
Godunov's reign; the "time of troubles"
followed his death.
Boris Yeltsin was elected Chairman of
the ruling presidium of the Supreme
Soviet of the Russian Republic, May 29,
1990. On Dec. 25, 1991, Mikhail
Gorbachev resigned as President of the
Union of Soviet Socialist Republics,
which ceased to exist on January 1, 1992.

Line 213
*What is this, Russia, or America?*

A question once beloved of U.S. civil
libertarians. See note to line 238.

Line 217

According to a somewhat folkloristic
e-mail (origin unknown; forwarded by a
friend), the Interstate Highway System--a
cold war artifact more formally known as
the Dwight D. Eisenhower System of
Interstate and Defense Highways--is
designed so that one mile in every five is
"straight and flat enough to land a B-52
on." Not long ago, visions of United
States federal highways being used as
airstrips in times of National
Emergency did not seem so strange.
Between 29 November 1960 and 4
December 1961, for instance, work was
progressing on the MK 53, a class "C"
aerial bomb with a nine-megaton yield
(equivalent of 9,000,000 tons of TNT,
or the weapon detonated over
Hiroshima--which yielded 15,000 tons--
multiplied by 600). The same warhead
was later fixed (until late 1987) atop the
Titan II intercontinental ballistic missiles
kept alert in silos around the United
States, pointed at targets--cities, other
weapons, industries--in the Soviet Union.
According to Chuck Hansen's excellent
*US Nuclear Weapons: The Secret
History* (Aerofax, Arlington Texas,
1988), "The bomb is characterized as
having 'a fragile skin and an unusual
center of gravity'...[and] features a
'false nose'...of frangible aluminum
honeycomb for impact absorption
and shock mitigation." Hansen goes
on to note: "When the MK 53s are
finally disassembled (and with the
corresponding retirement of the last
W-53 Titan II ICBM missile warheads)
an era will pass: the time of the
heavy multimegaton U.S.
thermonuclear warhead, an age
that started more than thirty years
ago, will finally be at an end."
The MK 53 was proof-fired during
1962's Operation Dominic. Two
Operation Dominic nuclear weapons
tests happened to frame an
extraordinary publishing event at
the end of April, 1962: Adobe, a
free-fall airburst detonated at 2,725
feet above the Pacific, near
Christmas Island; and Aztec,
detonated at 2,820 feet. Each
predawn explosion produced a
60,000-foot mushroom cloud:

One observer stated that the
"entire Pacific, as far as one
could see, (became)brighter
than daylight...The entire
sky would remain illuminated
for... more than a minute, then
the light would collapse...like
a deflating balloon, coming
back in from the horizon until
it was (dark) again."

Collapsing light.