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John Lanchester rides the London Underground

2 March 2013 12:30 AM, PST

During rush hour, the London Underground is as populous as Glasgow. What happens to us when we travel on the tube, and how is this linked to its strange absence from film, TV and novels? John Lanchester investigates

The first District line train out of Upminster in the morning is the first train anywhere on the underground network. It leaves the depot at 4.53, the only train anywhere in the system to set out from its base before 5am. That's a kind of record: if you catch that train, you might be tempted to say ta-dah! – except you probably wouldn't, because nobody is thinking ta-dah! at seven minutes to five in the morning; certainly nobody on this train. People look barely awake, barely even alive. They feel the same way they look; I know because, this morning, I'm one of them.

I've lived in London for more than quarter of a century now, »

- John Lanchester

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Argo won the Oscar, but Zero Dark Thirty is a far more serious work of art | Deborah Orr

2 March 2013 12:00 AM, PST

In Argo, Ben Affleck doesn't offer the Us more truth about itself than it can bear. Kathryn Bigelow's film is much more complex and demanding

No big prizes for working out why Argo won the Oscar for best picture this week. It is a superb movie – clever, witty, beautifully paced, brilliantly acted, exciting, suspenseful, characterful etc, etc … And, of course, it's based on the true story of how CIA agent Tony Mendez (played by director Ben Affleck) put together the "Canadian Caper", in which he faked the production of a sci-fi movie in order to rescue six Us diplomats from Tehran during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis.

So, crucially, it tells Americans something great about themselves – about their courage, their ingenuity, their audacity and the lengths they will go to in saving the lives of other Americans. Just what the doctor ordered, at a time when the Us has cause »

- Deborah Orr

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This week's new DVD & Blu-ray

1 March 2013 10:00 PM, PST

Game Of Thrones: The Complete Second Season | Argo | Pan Am Season One | Dune Apocalypse | Willow

Game Of Thrones: The Complete Second Season

The first season of HBO's highly popular adaptation of George Rr Martin's fantasy opus (both seasons are available together) did a smart thing in giving lots of sword and very little sorcery. By the time people who don't normally like that sort of thing realised they were indeed watching that sort of thing it was too late: the story and acting had them hooked.

Season two ups the magical content, and what first appeared to be a gutsy fake-historic tale of feuding families is codpiece-deep in dragons, witches, warlocks and undead demonic soldiers. Centred on the struggle for the iron throne of Westeros, the series covers a lot of (mythological) ground. With an ever-changing title sequence mapping out key portions of the land, each episode seems »

- Phelim O'Neill

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This week's new film events

1 March 2013 10:00 PM, PST

Psych-Out: The Surreal Side Of Euro-Cult | Viva! Spanish And Latin American Film Festival | Kinoteka Polish Film Festival | Pan Asia Film Festival

Psych-Out: The Surreal Side Of Euro-Cult, Newcastle upon Tyne

If your definition of psychedelic cinema goes further than Peter Fonda saying "Far out", prepare to have your mind exploded. Psychedelia was always a better fit with Europe, where it found affinities with surrealism, horror and eroticism. The examples here are six of the most luridly extreme films from the 60s and 70s, with some of the grooviest soundtracks. There's high-end vampire trash such as Daughters Of Darkness and Vampyros Lesbos, but if that sounds a bit tame, try Fernando Arrabal's bizarre I Will Walk Like A Crazy Horse or Andrzej Zulawski's intense Possession.

Star And Shadow Cinema, Sat to 28 Mar

Viva! Spanish And Latin American Film Festival, Manchester

Between the economic crisis in Spain and the explosion »

- Steve Rose

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This week's new films

1 March 2013 10:00 PM, PST

Gangs Of Wasseypur Part 2 | Stoker | Arbitrage | Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters | Caesar Must Die | The Bay | Sleep Tight | Broken City | Trashed | Safe Haven | Hi-So | Michael H. Profession: Director | The Gospel According To Matthew | The Attacks Of 26/11 | Acoustic Routes

Gangs Of Wasseypur Part 2 (18)

(Anurag Kashyap, 2012, Ind) Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Zeishan Quadri, Aditya Kumar, Huma Qureshi. 160 mins

It's over five hours long in all, but there's barely a slack moment in this exhilarating Indian epic as it races through generations of smalltown criminal, industrial and political enmity. Yes, it's violent, but like all great crime stories it's also a vibrant tapestry of family life and modern history, closer to Leone, Coppola or Tarantino than Bollywood.

Stoker (18)

(Park Chan-wook, 2013, Us/UK) Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode. 99 mins

The Oldboy director gives us a sensual, tantalisingly ambiguous thriller, centred on Wasikowska and her shifty smalltown family.

Arbitrage (15)

(Nicholas Jarecki, 2012, Us) Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Brit Marling. »

- Steve Rose

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I've been guarded since I was three'

1 March 2013 10:00 PM, PST

The girl with the dragon tattoo has bagged roles working for Steven Soderbergh, Terrence Malick and Spike Jonze, but she won't be pushed into becoming Hollywood's 'next big thing'

Hollywood's female actors tend to fall into one of two categories when talking about themselves. The sexy starlet types will try effusively to convince you they were tomboys growing up, while the serious actors – irritated to be talking about anything but the art - will begrudgingly allow you to write that they were dark-minded toddlers or troubled teens. So, Rooney Mara: which were you?

"I like that. That's good." She smiles, and it takes her extraordinarily malleable face from blank to beautiful in an instant. "Well, Ok: when I was three or four, I decided to dress up for Halloween as Clara, the crippled girl in the Heidi books. I wanted to make it authentic so I insisted my mom »

- Andrea Hubert

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Disney shareholders threaten revolt over executive pay

1 March 2013 4:06 PM, PST

Us pension funds and UK fund manager raise concerns over rising rewards and concentration of power in hands of Bob Iger

A revolution is brewing in the tree-lined streets of Walt Disney's Magic Kingdom, as shareholders prepare to fight the creeping power and rising rewards of the chairman and chief executive, Bob Iger.

The second largest pension fund in the Us, the Californian teachers fund CalSTRS, which owns more than 5m Disney shares, or 0.3% of the company, said it would vote against Iger's re-election as chairman and Disney's executive pay packages at the company's annual meeting on Wednesday.

Iger took home more than $40.2m (£27m) in the year to September 2012, including a cash bonus of $16.5m.

CalSTRS has had support from the Californian public sector workers pension fund CalPERS, which owns another 0.3% of Disney, for its proposal to strip Iger of one of his roles.

In 2004 when Michael Eisner was in charge, »

- Josephine Moulds

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Detroit in 'financial emergency', declares governor Rick Snyder

1 March 2013 12:00 PM, PST

Emergency state 'not hard to justify' says Snyder when faced with recent damning report claiming Detroit close to collapse

The governor of Michigan declared the city of Detroit to be in a state of "financial emergency" Friday and said he would appoint an independent overseer in an attempt to save it from financial ruin.

A state report last week concluded the city was close to financial collapse and experts fear it could become the biggest municipal bankruptcy in Us history.

"I believe it's appropriate to declare the city of Detroit in financial emergency based on the review team report," governor Rick Snyder said during a town hall meeting at Detroit's Wayne State University. "It's not hard to justify that conclusion."

Under Michigan law, an outside manager could eventually lead the financially troubled city into bankruptcy, a proceeding that would make Detroit the most populous American city ever to do so. »

- Heidi Moore, Dominic Rushe

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Robert Welch obituary

1 March 2013 11:46 AM, PST

My friend and teacher Robert Welch, who has died of cancer aged 65, was a writer, critic and academic. Bob was an energetic and busy man who not only produced a wealth of diverse publications – poems, plays and novels, as well as critical works and essays – but was an effective administrator at the University of Ulster, serving for long periods as head of the English department and dean of arts.

He was educated in his native Cork and at Leeds University, where he first worked, before moving to Ulster as professor of English in 1984. He always had the ability to think big and was especially committed to the dissemination of Irish culture to a wider audience. His major advantage, one that he employed to great effect, was that he was a fluent Irish speaker who also had an abundant knowledge of literature in English.

In the 1980s and 90s, Bob was »

- Andrew Hadfield

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France must increase competitiveness, says Wto head

1 March 2013 11:42 AM, PST

Frenchman Pascal Lamy says France's 'Gps is a little wonky' and lambasts minister for industrial regeneration

The head of the World Trade Organisation has delivered a hard-hitting critique of France, saying the country has lost its bearings and needs profound reform to increase its competitiveness.

Pascal Lamy, a Frenchman, said his country needed to stop thinking it was "an island of temporary happiness in a world of catastrophes".

"This is not a good approach. We cannot deduce from it that if France has problems it's the world that must change."

Lamy, a former European commissioner and supporter of the Socialist president, François Hollande, saved his harshest criticism for Arnaud Montebourg, the minister for industrial regeneration, whom he lambasted for blaming the Chinese for France's economic woes.

"If there is an example of a Gps that has a few problems, in my opinion it's him," he said in an interview with French radio and television. »

- Kim Willsher

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Obama blames Republicans before signing 'arbitrary' sequester order

1 March 2013 11:40 AM, PST

President warns Us to prepare for drawn-out standoff after futile meeting with congressional leaders over scheduled cuts

Barack Obama is due to sign an order before midnight on Friday to implement $85bn in spending cuts, a move he described as "dumb" and "arbitrary" and that he blamed on the intransigence of Republicans in Congress.

Speaking at a White House press conference after a futile meeting with congressional leaders, Obama warned Americans to prepare for a drawn-out confrontation that could last for months and will be painful for working-class people.

"We will get through this. This is not going to be an apocalypse, I think as some people have said," Obama said. "It's just dumb. And it's going to hurt. It's going to hurt individual people and it's going to hurt the economy overall," he said.

Federal agencies will spend the weekend redrawing their budget plans and beginning the process of »

- Ewen MacAskill

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We cap benefits but not bonuses. How on earth are we 'all in this together'? | Giles Fraser

1 March 2013 11:29 AM, PST

The 'big society' has become rhetorical window-dressing for an massive and unprecedented assault on the most vulnerable

We are all in it together. This is the message the government wants to give about austerity. Everyone has to shoulder a part of the load. Each of us must do our bit. We are the "big society", knitted together by a common project of national togetherness in the face of adversity.

This has become the familiar rhetorical window-dressing of a massive and unprecedented assault upon the most vulnerable people in our society. The big society is a lie. From later on this year, the sum total of a family's benefit entitlement will be capped at £500 a week.

For those who have larger families and are living in places like London, where rents are ridiculously high and rising steeply, this is not nearly enough to get by. Even without the cap on benefits, »

- Giles Fraser

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Glencore supplied firm that provided aluminium to Iran nuclear programme

1 March 2013 11:17 AM, PST

Commodities trader says it immediately 'ceased transactions' with Iralco after learning of its deal with Iranian programme

The commodities trader Glencore supplied thousands of tonnes of alumina to an Iranian firm that has provided aluminium to Iran's nuclear programme, intelligence and diplomatic sources have told Reuters.

The previously undisclosed barter arrangement between Glencore, the world's biggest commodities trader, and the Iranian Aluminum Company (Iralco) illustrates how difficult it is for western powers to curb Iran's ability to trade with the rest of the world. Even as the west imposes stringent restrictions on banks that do business with Iran, United Nations diplomats say that Tehran keeps finding new ways to do business with willing partners.

Reuters first learned about Glencore's barter deal with Iralco, and an aluminium supply contract that Iralco had with Iran Centrifuge Technology Co (Tesa), from a western diplomatic source in early November. That was about six weeks »

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South African police van death: spotlight needed if change is to come | Justice Malala

1 March 2013 11:08 AM, PST

We all know that the culture of police brutality, of guns in the homes of some of us, diminishes all of us. Yet we kept quiet

South Africans are tired of being at the forefront of the global media. We have been there a lot lately – for all the wrong reasons.First it was the Marikana massacre, when the police gunned down 34 striking mineworkers within minutes last August. The Economist put us on its cover for that, saying we are in "sad decline". Then it was Oscar Pistorius shooting his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. Time magazine has put us on the cover for that, bemoaning our violent culture.

And much was made of the news that the investigating officer in the case, Hilton Botha, is up on charges of shooting at a taxi with seven passengers on board. Not long before that was the gang rape and murder of 17-year-old Anene Booysen. »

- Justice Malala

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100 million sharks killed each year, say scientists

1 March 2013 11:01 AM, PST

Protect sharks or they face possible extinction in a generation, scientists warn as they gather in Bangkok for Cites meeting

Almost 100 million sharks are being killed each year, with fishing rates outstripping the ability of populations to recover, scientists have estimated.

Sharks need better protection to prevent possible extinction of many species within coming decades, the researchers warned ahead of latest global meeting to discuss the trade in threatened species.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) meeting, starting on Monday in Bangkok, will consider greater protection of vulnerable sharks, including porbeagles, oceanic whitetip and three types of hammerhead to prevent unsustainable international trade in them.

Sharks are targeted for their fins for use in shark fin soup, a delicacy in Asia.

But as they are slow-growing and slow to reproduce, they are vulnerable to overfishing. The researchers estimated that global reported catches, unreported landings, discards and sharks »

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Europe is a ball and chain – we should unshackle ourselves | Terry Smith

1 March 2013 11:00 AM, PST

We have a negative balance of trade with the least competitive trading bloc in the world. Why would we want to stay part of it?

In deciding whether we want to be part of the EU we should ask ourselves whether or not it is advantageous to the UK to be part of that trading bloc. A trading bloc is advantageous if it enables us to access a larger free market for our goods and services. Economic theory from Adam Smith to David Ricardo shows that our prosperity is enhanced when we are able to focus on those goods and services that we are best at, and trade them with others who have different skills.

How is that going with our EU partners? Not very well judging by last year's Office for National Statistics figures. We have a negative balance of trade of £55.7bn with our EU partners: they sold »

- Terry Smith

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Britain's richest man Lakshmi Mittal faces court case over oil fields

1 March 2013 10:56 AM, PST

Steel magnate is being sued for allegedly reneging on agreement with former friend over Nigerian oil deal

Lakshmi Mittal, Britain's richest man, is expected to be cross-examined over his business practices and relationships with politicians in a court case that could offer a rare glimpse into his empire.

The steel magnate, worth an estimated £12.7bn, is being sued at the high court for allegedly reneging on an agreement to pay fees to a former friend for helping to secure an oil deal.

The case, which begins on Tuesday, is the culmination of a seven-year battle with the rice importer Moni Varma. Both men will be asked to discuss their relationships with Olusegun Obasanjo, the former Nigerian president who granted Mittal access to two unexplored oil fields in the Niger Delta.

Mittal, 63, has previously dismissed the claim, saying the case would be defended vigorously.

Since moving to Britain with his family »

- Rajeev Syal

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Tories fear Ukip could cause as much harm as Sdp did to Labour

1 March 2013 10:47 AM, PST

Cameron's nightmare is that Ukip now owns the potent cocktail of EU-related issues and could split the Eurosceptic right in 2015

Ukip's surge to 28% in Eastleigh, its best ever result in a byelection, leaves the Conservatives scrambling to assess the root causes of Ukip's popularity and whether its cheerful amateur leader Nigel Farage truly has the potential to deprive the oldest political machine in British politics of as many as 40 seats in a general election.

Cameron's nightmare is that Ukip now owns the potent cocktail of EU-related issues, including migration and wage squeeze, and so can split the Eurosceptic right in 2015 – just as the Sdp crippled Labour in the mid-80s. For the first time in a century the Conservative party has lost monopoly control of the right.

Farage is already promising to stand 2,000 candidates in the May county council elections and it is very plausible they will come first in »

- Patrick Wintour

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Bradley Manning prosecution to call full witness list despite guilty plea

1 March 2013 10:36 AM, PST

Supporters argue that the soldier has done enough and that plans for full-blown prosecution is a blatantly political act

The Us government is pressing ahead with a full-blown prosecution of Bradley Manning, the soldier who has admitted to being the source of the massive WikiLeaks disclosures, even though he has pleaded guilty to charges that carry a top sentence of 20 years.

Army prosecutors have indicated that they intend to proceed with a full court martial against the 25-year-old intelligence analyst in which he will face some of the most serious charges available in a leak case such as this. They include the charge under the Espionage Act that he "aided the enemy" – in practice al-Qaida – by leaking information that ended up on the internet, an accusation that carries possible life in military custody with no chance of parole.

It will be the sixth time the Espionage Act has been unleashed »

- Ed Pilkington

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Europe expected to start arming Syrian rebels

1 March 2013 10:35 AM, PST

Syrian opposition representative in UK says 'breakthrough' is expected after relaxation of EU rules

Some European countries are expected to break with Washington and start supplying the Syrian rebels with weapons in the next few months, the representative of the Syrian opposition in Britain has told the Guardian.

The National Coalition's London representative, Walid Saffour, predicted that by the next meeting of the western and Arab Friends of Syria group in Turkey, due in late spring or early summer, "there will be a breakthrough that will end the restrictions of the European countries".

"This would be for the ammunition we require, the quality weapons we need to deter the Syrian regime from using aeroplanes and Scud missiles to bomb villages and bakeries," Saffour said. "We on the ground are advancing steadily but we are suffering from a lack of ammunition. We expect that to change at the next Friends of Syria meeting in Istanbul. »

- Julian Borger

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