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skade88 writes "This story should remind us all that air pollution controls are not just about addressing global warming. They also help us have cleaner air and fewer health problems resulting from smog and haze. Starting earlier this month, Beijing, China started having worse than normal air pollution issues. On January 14, 2013 the U.S. embassy's air pollution sensors in Beijing found the density of the most dangerous small air particles, PM 2.5, at 291 micrograms per cubic meter of air. The World Health Organization's guidelines for air pollution state that PM 2.5 above 25 micrograms per cubic meter of air is dangerous to a person's health. To put the problem into perspective, NASA has released two orbital photos of Beijing showing before-and-during images of the air pollution. The photo from January 4 shows parts of Beijing still visible from space. The photo from January 14 shows nothing but a huge, thick cloud of haze with no buildings visible."

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Twenty-three years ago today, Jeff Widener ran out of film during the most important assignment of his life.

The brutal crackdown at Tiananmen Square was underway and Widener, a photographer for the Associated Press, was sent to the square to capture the scene. “I rode a bicycle to the Beijing Hotel,” Widener says. “Upon my arrival, I had to get past several Chinese security police in the lobby. If they stopped and searched me, they would have found all my gear and film hidden in my clothes.” But there, in the shadows of the hotel entrance, he saw a long-haired college kid wearing a dirty Rambo t-shirt, shorts and sandals. “I yelled out, ‘Hi Joe! Where you been?’ and then whispered that I was from AP.” Widener remembers. He asked to go to the young man’s room. “He picked up on it,” says Widener, “and out of the corner of my eye I could see the approaching security men turn away, thinking I was a hotel guest.”

The young man was an American. His name was Kirk Martsen.

Martsen told Widener that he was lucky to arrive when he did. Just a few minutes earlier, some hotel guests had been shot by a passing military truck full of Chinese soldiers. Martsen said hotel staff members had dragged the bodies back in the hotel and that he had barely escaped with his life. From a hotel balcony, Widener was able to take pictures with a long lens—but then he ran out of film. So he sent Martsen on a desperate hunt for more, and Martsen returned with one single roll of Fuji color negative. It was on this film that Widener captured one of the most iconic images in history, the lone protester facing down a row of Chinese tanks.

“After I made the image, I asked Kirk if he could smuggle my film out of the hotel on his bicycle to the AP office at the Diplomatic Compound,” Widener says. “He agreed to do this for me as I had to stay in the hotel and wait for more supplies and could not risk being found out. I watched Kirk from my balcony, which was right over the area where the security was. In what seemed to be an eternity, Kirk unlocked his bike and started to pedal off, although a bit awkwardly because all my film was stashed in his underwear. Five hours later, a call to Mark Avery at the AP office in Beijing confirmed that the film had arrived and been transmitted world-wide. What I did not know until 20 years later was what actually transpired after Kirk pedaled the bicycle away.”

On the 20th anniversary of Tiananmen Square, I wrote an article detailing each story behind the four different versions of the iconic scene on the Lens blog of the New York Times. At the time of publication, Widener wasn’t sure if the young man’s name was Kirk or Kurt. Soon after, Widener says, that changed: “I was on the computer and that familiar ‘You’ve Got Mail’ rang out on AOL. I could not believe who it was from. After 20 years, Kirk had found me because of the article in the New York Times.”

Widener discovered that Martsen encountered gunfire and more soldiers after he left with the precious film and that he became lost trying to navigate back streets to find the Associated Press office. Martsen went to the U.S. embassy and handed over the film to a U.S. Marine at the entrance, and told the embassy to forward the film to the AP office.

“Kirk risked his life,” Widener says. “If not for all of his efforts, my pictures may never have been seen.”

The next day, the image appeared on the front pages of newspapers around the world.

Courtesy Jeff Widener

Jeff Widener and his wife Corinna, whom he met while revisiting Tiananmen 20 years after he made the now-iconic photograph.

Years later, the BBC flew Widener back to China to revisit the Square where he made the iconic photo. While walking down Changan Avenue toward the square, Widener met a German teacher sitting on the sidewalk smoking. Widener introduced himself and they had lunch. They were married in July 2010. “If anyone had told me that I would return from that bullet-riddled street 20 years later to meet my future wife, I would have thought them nuts,” Widener says. “Fate has a strange sense of humor.”

Jeff Widener is an award-winning American photographer. See more of his work here.

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April 22 will mark Earth Day worldwide, an event now in its 42nd year and observed in 175 countries. The original grass-roots environmental action helped spur the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act in the United States. Gathered here are images of our planet's environment, efforts to utilize renewable alternative sources of energy, and the effects of different forms of pollution. -- Lane Turner and Leanne Burden Seidel (35 photos total)
A ladybug in flight spreads its wings as it flutters from grass blade to grass blade at Rooks Park in Walla Walla, Wash. on April 2, 2012. (Jeff Horner/Walla Walla Union-Bulletin/Associated Press)

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The best photos of 2011 from around the globe. Warning: All images in this entry are shown in full, not screened out for graphic content. Some images contain dead bodies, graphic content and tragic events. We consider these images an important part of human history.

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With one month left until American troops are scheduled to completely withdraw from Iraq, the draw-down process is in full gear, but the future for a still-recovering, still-violent Iraq remains uncertain. Since coalition forces first invaded Iraq in March 2003, more than 4,400 Americans have lost their lives and some 32,000 have been wounded. Estimates of violent civilian deaths -- caused by warfare, insurgent attacks, inter-tribal conflict and more -- range into the hundreds of thousands. As the new Iraqi government still struggles to meet the needs of its citizens, it now faces the challenge of defending its borders in a very volatile region. Although all American troops are scheduled to leave by the end of 2011, the U.S. military will continue limited counterterrorism training with Iraqi forces beyond the end of the year, and about 16,000 U.S. embassy personnel will remain in Iraq -- many of them civilian contractors handling security. Collected here are recent images of Iraq -- its people, the U.S. draw-down, and some of the continuing aftermath of the war. [41 photos]

Sgt. 1st Class Justin Hathaway braves a sandstorm after leaving the 9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force-Iraq and U.S. Forces-Iraq Provost Marshal Office at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, on September 27, 2011. (Master Sgt. Cecilio Ricardo/USAF)

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The Occupy Wall Street movement continues to grow and has now spread across the world, motivating thousands to voice their anger at financial and social inequality, and in some places merging with existing anti-government protests. On Saturday, a global "Day of Rage" was observed, and demonstrations took place in more than 80 countries around the world. Protesters took their messages and anger to the streets from Hong Kong to Fairbanks, from Miami to London, from Berlin to Sydney, and hundreds more cities large and small. The demonstrations were largely peaceful -- with the exception of some violent clashes in Rome. Collected here are some images from the past several days as the Occupy Wall Street message continues to resonate and grow. [50 photos]

A participant protests with a mock 500 euro bill during a demonstration to support the "Occupy Wall Street" movement in Munich southern Germany, on October 15, 2011. Protestors gathered at many major European cities Saturday to join in demonstrations against corporate greed and inequality.(AP Photo/Joerg Koch)

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Tribal elders say the Taliban are far from defeated.  The Taliban continue to wage a brutal war, taking a toll on Afghan citizens and American forces.  The Department of Defense has identified 1,761 American service members who have died in the Afghan war and related operations as of Sept. 21, about 10 years since the start of the war. In visiting Afghanistan monthly in The Big Picture, we try to reflect our troops presence in the country as well as their interaction with the Afghan people.  -- Paula Nelson (54 photos total)
US soldiers from the 27th Infantry Regiment fire 120-mm mortar rounds toward insurgent positions at Outpost Monti in Kunar province on Sept. 17. After a decade of fighting in Afghanistan, 130,000 troops from dozens of countries continue to battle resilient Taliban, who use homemade bombs and guerrilla tactics in a bid to undermine the Afghan government and the NATO mission. (Tauseef Mustafa/AFP/Getty Images)

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