1. Archive

Opryland Hotel is the world's 14th largest

Question: Q&A recently printed a list of the 10 biggest hotels in the world, with the number of rooms in each. Where does the Opryland Hotel in Nashville rank?

Answer: With 2,884 rooms, Opryland Hotel Nashville is No. 14.

National debt facts

Question: What was the amount of the earliest recorded national debt? What is the most recent figure? And can you list some milestones between the two?

Answer: The Web site of the Bureau of Public Debt _ _ goes back as far as 1791, when the debt was $75.4-million. The debt peaked at $5.767-trillion in mid-April 2000, and as of Dec. 19 stood at $5.683-trillion.

The debt topped $1-trillion in 1982; $2-trillion in 1986; $3-trillion in 1990; $4-trillion in 1992; and $5-trillion in 1996.

Facts on Stephanopoulos

Question: What is George Stephanopoulos' background? Does he have a family?

Answer: Of Greek descent, Stephanopoulos was born on Feb. 10, 1961, in Fall River, Mass., the second of the four children of Greek Orthodox priest Robert Stephanopoulos and his wife, Nikki.

During George's childhood, the family moved first to Rye, N.Y., then to a suburb of Cleveland where he went to high school. He graduated from Columbia University in 1982 with a BA in political science, and in 1986 with a master's degree in theology from Balloil College at Oxford University.

In brief, he worked in the 1988 presidential campaign of Democratic Gov. Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts, then joined the staff of the New York City Public Library, then went back into politics as an aide to Rep. Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.), now the House minority leader.

He joined the staff of then-Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas, and, after Clinton became president, Stephanopoulos served in various roles, including director of communications and senior adviser for policy and strategy.

A TV fixture these days _ an analyst for ABC News, a member of the This Week With Sam Donaldson & Cokie Roberts round table and frequent guest on Good Morning America _ Stephanopoulos is single.

What's in plane de-icers?

Question: During the winter months, we often hear about planes being de-iced. How is that done? If just hot water is used, I would think it would refreeze quickly.

Answer: It's not simply hot water. Bill Gross, of the department of aviation technology at Kansas State University-Salina, explained that crews usually use high-pressure spraying equipment to spray hot ethylene glycol on the body and wings of the aircraft. It may have some water mixed with it, he said, but it's the hot liquid that melts the ice, and the alcohol content that keeps it from refreezing for a period of time.

Nothing bad about Xmas

Question: What is the origin of Xmas?

Answer: It's neither an abbreviation nor a vulgar commercial invention of recent vintage. The Greek word that gives us the English word Christ begins with the letter chi, or X, leading some writers to believe that the X in Xmas symbolized the cross.

Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins explains that X has been used to symbolize Christ in English since at least 1100, when it was recorded in Xianity, for Christianity.

The Old English word for Christian recorded in the 12th-century Anglo-Saxon Chronicle begins with an X, and the word Xmas itself was used as early as 1551.

Where Christmas began

Question: Why was Dec. 25 "appointed" as the date of the birth of Jesus? Nowhere in the Bible is this or any other date stated, and most Bible scholars say it is highly unlikely that Jesus was born in December.

Answer: Although the reason why Christmas came to be celebrated on Dec. 25 remains uncertain, most probably it's because early Christians wished the date to coincide with the pagan Roman festival marking natalis solis invicti ("birthday of the unconquered sun"), a festival celebrating the winter solstice. As you say, no one knows the exact date of Christ's birth.

World Book Encyclopedia explains that the first mention of Dec. 25 as the birth date of Jesus occurred in A.D. 336 in an early Roman calendar. By 1100, Christmas had become the most important religious festival in Europe, and St. Nicholas was a symbol of gift-giving in many European countries.

Most wines have sulfites

Question: Labels on wines sold in the United States often say "Contains Sulfites." But when I was on a recent trip to Europe, I saw no such information on labels. What are sulfites, and why are they added?

Answer: Virtually all wines contain the same levels of sulfites, whether they're sold in the United States or in Europe. It's just that FDA rules don't apply in Europe, so sulfite warnings aren't on labels there. Sulfites, food additives that act as antioxidants, are added to wine to slow the growth of bacteria, said Chris Rosenbloom, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. Some sulfites occur naturally in the wine too.

About 5 to 10 percent of the population has a sensitivity to sulfites, so in 1998 the Food and Drug Administration required that the presence of sulfites in foods be noted on the labels. People with asthma are more likely to be sensitive to sulfites, resulting in difficulty in breathing, stomach upset or development of hives. Foods or beverages that contain sulfites at 10 parts per million or more are required to disclose this information to consumers.

You can find some wines in this country without added sulfites, Rosenbloom added. Look for the ones labeled "organic," some of which are sulfite-free.

No info on Gore's retreat

Question: Vice President Al Gore recently spent a few days at a private residence on St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. Who owns that residence?

Answer: No information was forthcoming from the vice president's press office, although Q&A left two messages for his spokeswoman, Camille Johnston.

Several news organizations had reported only that Gore and his wife, Tipper, had spent the weekend "in a secluded residence," one of several "luxury homes" on a rugged outcrop on the northern side of St. Thomas.

Chris Larson of the Virgin Islands Daily News said the Gores' visit was arranged by the Secret Service, and they were in a different house from the one where they and Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton had stayed on previous visits. The newspaper staff didn't attempt any interviews with the Gores "because we wanted to respect their privacy," Larson said.

Who owns "Blue Marlin'?

Question: Isn't the Blue Marlin Heavy Transport Ship, referred to as a Norwegian ship, actually owned by Halliburton Co.? If so, how much did the U.S. government pay Halliburton to transport the USS Cole back from Yemen aboard the Blue Marlin?

Answer: The Blue Marlin is owned by Oslo-based Offshore Heavy Transport. Although some previously published reports said it was a "unit" of Halliburton, Wendy Hall of the Dallas-based oil services company said there's no connection.

As reported previously, the Navy signed a $4.5-million contract with Offshore Heavy Transport after the Oct. 12 terrorist attack on the Cole in Aden, Yemen, to bring the destroyer to Pascagoula, Miss., for repairs.

More on "Cole'

Question: With the USS Cole back in the news now that it's safely in the United States for repairs, I remember hearing something about a fund for public donations for the victims and their families. Do you have that information?

Answer: Yes. Donations by individuals, groups or corporations can be mailed to: Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, 801 N. Randolph St., Suite 1228, Arlington, VA 22203-1978. Checks should be made payable to Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, or simply NMCRS. Write "For USS COLE" in the lower left corner of the check.

What's a "red letter day'?

Question: I know what it means when someone says he is having a "red letter day," but what is the origin of the expression?

Answer: It comes from a custom dating to the 15th century of marking holidays, festivals and saints' days in red ink on calendars. These "red letter days" were memorable and usually happy ones, so the expression eventually came to mean, more broadly, any pleasantly memorable day more important than most days.

Have a question about the news? Colin Bessonette will try to help. Call (404) 222-2002 or write him at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, P.O. Box 4689, Atlanta, GA 30302; e-mail: q&