Do you have a question about the news? Then send a letter to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Betty Parham, Q & A on the News, Box 4689, Atlanta, GA 30302. She will try to find the answer for publication in this weekly column.
Q: Whatever happened to the Iraqi air force planes that Saddam Hussein's pilots flew to Iran to escape U.S. bombing during the Persian Gulf War? Did the Tehran government just keep them?
A: Goodbye, Iraq. Hello, Iran. "The planes were repainted and are proudly sitting on runways in various places in Iran," says Dan Papp, professor of international affairs at Georgia Tech. "They're Iranian property now."
Q: Can you tell me about the great Casey Jones, the railroad man? Where and when was he born and where did he die?
A: John Luther Jones was born in 1863 in southeastern Missouri. He was nicknamed Casey for Cayce, Ky., where he grew up. The railroad engineer became a legend after he gave his life in a train crash to save his passengers and crew. It happened when he replaced a sick engineer on the Cannonball Express's run April 30, 1900, from Memphis to Canton, Miss. At Vaughn, Miss., the main track was blocked by two freight trains that extended from a siding. Jones' train smashed into the rear of the two freights. His body was found in the wreckage with one hand on the brake lever. If he had not jammed on the brakes, the wreck would have been much worse. As it was, he was the only one killed.
And thus began the ballads making him a folk hero.
Q: Are any space launches planned from Cape Canaveral? We would like to schedule our vacation so we could see one.
A: The Atlantis, carrying electronic instruments for environmental studies of Earth's middle atmosphere, is the next scheduled space shuttle launch at the Kennedy Space Center. Blastoff is scheduled for 11:56 a.m. Thursday. Six astronauts will be on board for an 11-day mission. It will be the last space shuttle launch for 1994.
The next unmanned launch from Cape Canaveral will be NASA's Wind spacecraft, designed to study solar wind and magnetic fields. It will be launched between 4:31 a.m. and 4:36 a.m. Tuesday. The Orion 1 communications satellite is scheduled for launch at 5:44 p.m. Nov. 18. The first space shuttle launch for 1995 will be Feb. 2, when Discovery will perform a close-proximity rendezvous with the Russian Mir space station and will study the sun's solar magnetic fields.
On Feb. 23, the space shuttle Endeavour will be launched with the Astronomy 2 payload. The Atlantis is scheduled to be launched during the fourth week in May as the first U.S. flight to dock with Mir. The shuttle Discovery will be launched during the fourth week of June, with the Endeavour following in the third week of July and the Columbia in the fourth week of September.
To obtain a car pass for viewing the launches, write at least 30 days in advance to: NASA Visitors Services, Mail Code NASA PA-PASS, Kennedy Space Center, FL 32899. For updated launch information, call (407) 867-4636.
Q: Some products, like milk, have the words "sell by" and list a date. Does that mean such items should not be consumed after that date as well?
A: It depends on the product. Charles Murphy, director of the dairy division of the Georgia Department of Agriculture, says it's probably best to consume a product such as milk within four or five days of the sell-by date stamped on the container.
"But it's possible you could go 15 or 16 days or even longer on some products," he says. "Cultured dairy products like cottage cheese and yogurt have longer sell-by periods than fluid milk, and ice cream has no sell-by date. It can be kept frozen for years and will still be good."
If milk is your primary concern, Murphy says how you handle it is just as important as watching the sell-by date. "It's best to take it home immediately in a brown bag, which will keep it cooler and protect it from light. If you put it in the trunk of your car and drive a long way home in the summer, it certainly won't be good as long, and the sell-by date becomes less useful."
Q: Whatever became of free elections in Kuwait?
A: In October 1992, Kuwaitis voting for the first time since the Persian Gulf war chose a National Assembly whose largest bloc is fundamentalist. Liberal Kuwaitis had hoped that the new National Assembly would speed the process of extending the franchise to women, previously prohibited from voting or running for office. But that effort continues to be stymied.
Progress is relative, however. In the eyes of Westerners, the situation regarding women's issues in Kuwait _ including the right to vote _ isn't at all progressive. But compared with any of the other gulf states, attitudes toward women there are indeed liberal.
To look at it another way, the Kuwaitis have had more democratic elections than anyone else among the gulf states. Still, it's rather much an experiment. The sheik and his family, who consider the parliament an advisory body, still run things.
Q: How long will the Olympic Games last in 1996, and is there a specific timetable for individual events?
A: The opening ceremonies will be July 19 at Olympic Stadium; the closing ceremonies will be Aug. 4, same location. A spokeswoman for the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games says the schedule for individual events is still being worked out, but it's expected to be announced by the end of the year.
If you're trying to plan your ticket purchases, you'll want to know that about 8-million tickets are expected to go on sale in mid-1995 for 436 events in 25 sports. Average ticket price for opening ceremonies: $125. Average ticket price for all events: $25. The committee welcomes inquiries: (404) 224-1996.
Q: How many students and teachers have been wounded or killed nationwide with guns brought into schools? There's a big discussion going on in my son's school.
A: It's hard to get a handle on the exact numbers, for two reasons: There's no mandatory recording of such incidents, by governments or law enforcement agencies, and schools don't want to call undue attention to them. But the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence, in Washington, has documented evidence that provides some clues.
The agency compiled a study, "Caught in the Crossfire: A Report on Gun Violence in Our Nation's Schools," over a four-year period beginning in September 1986. But it has not been updated, spokeswoman Gwen Fitzgerald said. The study showed that "at least" 71 people _ 65 students and six school employees _ were killed with guns at schools nationwide during those four academic years. Another 201 were severely wounded, and 242 individuals were held hostage at gunpoint.
Other findings: Shootings or hostage situations in schools have occurred in at least 35 states and the District of Columbia; males were the offenders in 93 percent of the incidents and the victims in 76 percent; children between 14 and 17 are most at risk of gun violence at school; and gun violence occurs most often in hallways (25 percent) and classrooms (19 percent).
The Center to Prevent Handgun Violence offers a program it calls STAR (Straight Talk About Risks) for students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. STAR programs are being conducted in 29 municipal school districts nationwide. Teachers or parents interested in the program may contact the center's education department at (202) 289-7319.
Q: Everybody seems to want my Social Security number, ostensibly for identification purposes. I've been refused credit when I didn't want to provide it, and now I'm told I need to list it for a driver's license. I feel like a branded cow. What are my rights?
A: It's a muddy situation. "There's no law requiring an individual to provide his or her Social Security number when asked, but there's also no law requiring anyone to provide credit to an applicant who refuses to give it," said Darryl Mull, Social Security public affairs officer in Atlanta. "It's an issue between the two parties." At one time, Social Security numbers were used only to report wages for posting to Social Security accounts, Mull said. "But in the '70s, Congress allowed the states to use Social Security numbers for driver's licenses and things like that. Now it's an almost universal identification technique."
_ Cox News Service