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The western United States continues to battle a ferocious wildfire season that has seen record-breaking fires in several states. The worst of the blazes is the Waldo Canyon fire in Colorado, blamed for two deaths, for forcing 35,000 residents to evacuate, and for the destruction of at lest 346 homes. The area around Colorado Springs has been declared a federal disaster area after the most destructive fire in state history. Wildfires have also destroyed property and forced evacuations in California, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, and New Mexico. [Editors' note: There will be no Big Picture on the Wednesday, July 4 holiday.] -- Lane Turner (38 photos total)
The Waldo Canyon fire burns an entire neighborhood near the foothills of Colorado Springs, Colo. on June 26, 2012. Colorado endured nearly a week of 100-plus-degree days and low humidity, sapping moisture from timber and grass, creating a devastating formula for volatile wildfires across the state and punishing conditions for firefighters. (Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post/Associated Press)

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Events celebrating and protesting LGBT rights took place in many parts of the world in the last several months. Pride parades were met with violence or intimidation in Russia, Georgia, and Albania while other places saw wild street parties. Three million people celebrated on the streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil, often considered the biggest Pride event in the world. Activists in Uganda and Chile sought to change laws, while in the United States Barack Obama became the first American president to endorse same-sex marriage. Gathered here are pictures from events related to gay rights issues, LGBT Pride celebrations, and the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. -- Lane Turner (39 photos total)
Mark Wilson carries a rainbow flag during San Francisco's 42nd annual gay pride parade on June 24, 2012. Organizers said more than 200 floats, vehicles and groups of marchers took part in the parade. (Noah Berger/Associated Press)

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The 24th annual National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest is in full swing. The entry deadline has been extended until July 11. The four categories include: Travel Portraits; Outdoor Scenes; Sense of Place and Spontaneous Moments. Last year's contest drew nearly 13,000 images from all over the world. The pictures are as diverse as their authors, capturing an assortment of people, places and wildlife - everything that makes traveling so memorable, evoking a sense of delight and discovery. The following post includes a small sampling of the entrant's work, taken from the editor's picks in each of the categories. (The captions are written by the entrants, some slightly corrected for readability.) And for fun, take a look back at the winners from 2011 at National Geographic Traveler. -- Paula Nelson (54 photos total)
SPONTANEOUS MOMENTS - Marrakech Traveler: It was mid-morning and he must have wanted to ride into the light. I was shooting for the ABC TV show Born to Explore when I snapped this photo. (John Barnhardt/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest)

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Today marks World Refugee Day, which the United Nations uses to raise awareness of the plight of the estimated 42 million displaced people worldwide. A UN report released this week showed that 800,000 people were forced to flee across borders last year -- more than any time since 2000. In a message to mark the day, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said, "Refugees leave because they have no choice. We must choose to help." -- Lloyd Young (30 photos total)
A Myanmar ethnic Rohingya child preparing for a midday prayer on April 23 inside a community school in Klang, a port town 30 kilometres west of Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia is observing World Refugee Day along with other countries of the world, there are over 98,000 refugees and asylum-seekers registered with UNHCR in Malaysia. (Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images)

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The month of June sees LGBT Pride celebrations in cities in many parts of the world. Most are timed around the anniversary of the Stonewall riots in 1969, when patrons of the Stonewall Inn, a New York City gay bar, fought back against a police raid and ushered in the modern gay rights movement. But there are parts of the world in which it is still difficult or even dangerous to be openly anything but straight. The three people in this post have come out in societies where attitudes are becoming more tolerant, but where acceptance is minimal. Three photographers share the stories: Aly Song tells the story of Xiao Cao, a performer in Shanghai, Adnan Abidi tells the story of Seema, a prostitute in New Delhi, and Tobin Jones tells the story of Morine, a hairdresser in Nairobi. Next week, I'll look at LGBT Pride celebrations worldwide. -- Lane Turner (33 photos total)
Xiao Cao, a 57-year-old gay man, salutes as he performs as a Cultural Revolution Red Guard at a park in Shanghai on March 13, 2012. China's gay community has long been on the edges of society but it is gradually becoming more accepted. Unemployed Cao is one whose life lifts the curtain on a less romanticized view of Chinese homosexuals. Living in an eight-square-meter apartment behind a public toilet and with a monthly income of 500 yuan ($79) from social insurance, he passes his days dancing in public and spending time with friends at gay clubs. (Aly Song/Reuters)

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Mario Tama, a Getty Images staff photographer since 2001 and based in New York, has covered conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan - as well as numerous humanitarian crises and natural disasters in the US and around the world, including most recently the earthquake in Haiti and the tornadoes in Joplin, Missouri. He's also spent extensive time documenting Hurricane Katrina and it's aftermath. Mario will be working on several feature stories in Brazil, ahead of the Rio +20 UN Conference on Sustainable Energy, his first work featured in this post. The summit aims to overcome years of deadlock over environmental concerns and marks the 20th anniversary of the landmark Earth Summit in Rio in 1992. Brazil is now the world's sixth largest economy and is set to host the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. Mario’s' editor on the project describes him as passionate and enthusiastic about showing us pieces of a country in which he has traveled before, drawn by the people, the culture and the economics/development of the region. -- Paula Nelson (48 photos total)
Federal highway BR-222, June 9, 2012 in Para state, Brazil. Highway construction through Amazonian rainforest has led to accelerated rates of deforestation. Although deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is down 80 percent since 2004, environmentalists fear recent changes to the Forest Code will lead to further destruction. Around 20 percent of the rainforest has already been destroyed. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

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Some happy, some sad, at times cheering or even fighting, fans of soccer are absorbed in the European 2012 Soccer Championship. Sixteen nations made it to the final tournament being held in Poland and the Ukraine with the final match to be played on July 1 at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev. -- Lloyd Young(40 photos total)
A soccer fan soaks up the atmospshere ahead of the Euro 2012 soccer championship group D match between Ukraine and Sweden at The Olympic Stadium on June 11 in Kiev, Ukraine. (Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

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"So forward now, with spirit and ideals" reads a line in a poem by Hristo Botev, a Bulgarian poet and national hero. Nestled on the Black Sea between Greece and Romania, Bulgaria is a predominantly Christian country independent of the Soviet Union since the fall of the Iron Curtain over 20 years ago. Despite joining the European Union in 2007, the eastern Balkan nation suffers the same economic problems found elsewhere since the global downturn in 2008. Further complicating the country's economic outlook is endemic corruption and organized crime, which has led the EU to exclude Bulgaria from the Schengen passport-free zone. But the 'spirit and ideals' are still alive in these images from the past several months of Bulgaria, a country of over seven million, as it moves forward. -- Lane Turner (37 photos total)
A worshipper lights a candle as she attends Sunday Mass led by Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill and Bulgarian Patriarch Maxim in Alexander Nevski cathedral in Sofia on April 29, 2012. (Stoyan Nenov/Reuters)

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US and NATO forces continue to train the Afghan troops in advance of the handover of the country's security in 2014. The US-led war in Afghanistan has cost the lives of around 3,000 US and allied troops, seen thousands of Afghans killed and cost hundreds of billions of dollars. We check in on our soldiers for May (and a little bit of June 2012.) -- Paula Nelson (45 photos total)
A female US marine and members of USN Hospital Corpsman from the 1st battalion 7th Marines Regiment walk at FOB (Forward Operating Base) Jackson also known as Sabit Khadam in Sangin, Helmand Province, June 7, 2012. The US-led war in Afghanistan has cost the lives of around 3,000 U.S. and allied troops, seen thousands of Afghans killed and cost hundreds of billions of dollars. (Adek Berryakek Berry/AFP/GettyImages)

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For well over a hundred years, people have hopped on bicycles for transportation, recreation, competition, and more. In many parts of the world, spinning pedals moves goods and generates electricity. While usually attached to two wheels, pedal power takes many forms, adapting to a wide range of needs. Globally, over 100 million bicycles are produced every year - over 60% of them in China - easily doubling world production of automobiles. Efficient, clean, and cheap, pedal power in all its forms can solve modern problems with basic technology, and offers a health benefit to those cranking away. And it's hard to beat the simple joy of riding a bike. Gathered here are images of people around the world as we pedal for a reason, or just because. -- Lane Turner (49 photos total)
A boy rides his bicycle near rice fields in Bago, Myanmar on February 20, 2012. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

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