Letters: Signs And Sighs For M. Night Shyamalan

Everyone's a critic, as we discovered when readers responded to our Aug. 5 cover story on director M. Night Shyamalan. "You wrote the article of the year. Funny. Insightful. Heartfelt. Sensitive. And not a clunky sentence in seven pages," one glowed. "Shyamalan has a vision that is refreshing to see," said another. "He goes for original and intelligent filmmaking." But some grumbled that they would have preferred a story on the rescued Pennsylvania miners--which broke too late in the week to make the cover. And other readers didn't give the young moviemaker a thumbs-up. "Anyone whose taste in movies is as bad as M. Night Shyamalan's isn't going to be the next anything," declared one reader. "I honestly had never heard of 'The Next Spielberg'," another cracked. "So after I'd been absently listening to weeks of TV ads for a Mel Gibson movie whose name I thought was 'Midnight Shaman's Signs,' your cover story cleared things up a bit."

Night Makes It Eerie

I bought a copy of NEWSWEEK because M. Night Shyamalan was on the cover ("The Next Spielberg," Aug. 5). "The Sixth Sense" proved that he is a moviemaking master. "Unbreakable," though it was panned by some, exemplified his superior storytelling skills. After reading your insightful article, in which Shyamalan reveals his vaunted perception of himself and his work, one would think he has just made a film that tops his first two. Well, I just saw it, and my verdict is that I'll be thinking twice before I see his next movie. M. Night Shyamalan is a long way from becoming Steven Spielberg. And while he's working on his next script, perhaps he should order in some humble pie.
Brian D. Siewart
Nashville, Tenn.

I am appalled by the notion that M. Night Shyamalan is on the same playing field with Steven Spielberg. In my opinion, "The Sixth Sense" was actually "Jacob's Ladder" in disguise and, going back further, a blatant thievery of Ambrose Bierce's "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge." Shyamalan's "Unbreakable" could have lifted scenes straight from Stephen King's "The Dead Zone," about a man who could predict an individual's future by simple physical contact. Ironically, his latest installment seems a close cousin to Spielberg's "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." Spielberg is lauded for making unique films with memorable scenes and lively characters. Shyamalan has built his reputation around morose, often depressed protagonists, salvaged only by a surprise ending. When it comes to film direction, the comparison between Shyamalan and Spielberg is truly night and day.
Adam S. Rowe
Short Hills, N.J.

I wholeheartedly agree that M. Night Shyamalan not only will be the next Spielberg, but will also deliver more quality films like "The Sixth Sense," "Unbreakable" and now "Signs." The cover story by Jeff Giles was undoubtedly a treat for readers like me (a huge fan of Shyamalan's), and it lets readers know there is a place where movies can be made truly for the purpose of entertaining all audience groups. Kudos to Giles for a splendid story, and to Shyamalan, who shows promising "Signs" of becoming a film legend.
Maria Ashna
Albuquerque, N.M.

M. Night Shyamalan has directed exactly five movies to date. Spielberg has directed at least 20 feature films and has been a producer on more than 50. As for Shyamalan's films, "Unbreakable" was so excruciatingly boring that I literally curled up into a fetal ball on my living-room floor, moaning in agony as I watched it. Perhaps Steven Soderbergh could someday fill Spielberg's shoes, but Shyamalan? Don't believe the hype.
David Zartman
los Angeles, calif.

Talk About My Generation

What sadness I have knowing that my five children cannot have an uninhibited childhood, as I did ("The Last Generation to Live on the Edge," My Turn, Aug. 5). Sure, my friends and I had Little League, Boy Scouts and the community pool. But the hours we spent bike-riding all over town, playing Saturday pickup sports and walking through the graveyard after a Friday-night football game without worrying about some pervert following us were the best--and all without our parents. Today those experiences are artificially created for kids because parents have to be close at hand. The cost, however, has been the creation of overly programmed families and, to a large extent, an absence of self-discovery and independent problem-solving.
John J. Middleton
Valier, Mont.

As a 19-year-old who grew up drinking skim milk and wearing bicycle helmets and seat belts, I can't relate to Robb Moretti's childhood "on the edge." But I can assure him that knee pads, car seats and plastic jungle gyms never sucked any fun out of my childhood. In fact, the least fun moments of my youth were spent mourning the deaths of friends and classmates whom seat belts and helmets failed to save. Living my childhood in a sterile plastic bubble would have been more fun than that.
Elizabeth Griffin
Chevy Chase, MD.

The People vs. Fast Food

Give me a break. This blame game--pointing the finger at fast-food chains for our overweight population--makes as much sense as blaming the sun for global warming ("Fighting 'Big Fat'," Aug. 5). We are a nation in which excess is the rule and self-control is a lost art. Why not try taking on responsibility for our own behavior?
Fredrick Ford
Walnut Creek, Calif.

Instead of admitting to personal weaknesses, the gluttons of our nation are exercising what should perhaps be added to the Bill of Rights: the right to wage frivolous lawsuits.
Stephanie Zindren
Jeannette, PA.

It's good to insist that nutritious food be served in school cafeterias, but unless parents have any regard for good nutrition, it's a losing battle. As an elementary-school principal, I am witness to numerous parents' providing high-fat fast food to their children, thereby allowing them to escape the more nutritious school lunch. We know that many of these children often have their breakfast and dinner at the local fast-food establishments as well. When are we going to learn that we can't expect the schools to remedy every problem that pervades our entire culture?
Michael D. Stanton
Flushing, Mich.

Speaking of stupid, that's the only way to describe Ellen Ruppel Shell's article, "It's Not the Carbs, Stupid" (Aug. 5). Shell states that the Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution's claim "is that carbohydrates, not fat, are to blame for the ballooning of Americans. But this theory loses credibility when one considers that while Atkins's book was selling 10 million copies, obesity blossomed into a full-blown epidemic." This is not a failure of the Atkins Diet. Americans started getting fat with the increase of processed grains and sugar: i.e., the extra carbohydrates.
Frank Miceli
San Leandro, Calif.

Spousal Murder in the Military

Your Aug. 5 article "Death in the Ranks at Fort Bragg" was right on target. As a former military wife, I have experienced the extreme emotional stress and know firsthand just how important it is for the wife to prepare her family for the return of the "warrior." My ex-husband is an F-16 pilot, and much of our married life was spent apart. Training missions or assignments like the gulf war would last from one to 18 months. Military wives continuously cope with survival on both the home front and the war front. This is one group of unsung heroes.
Chris Avella
Cumberland, R.I.

Having been privileged to serve with Special Forces in Southeast Asia 35 years ago, I can tell you that these four wife-killers in no way represent the mission and character of our Special Forces. Millions of American men have endured far greater challenges in combat over 226 years than these four ever did, and weren't driven to spousal murder. They taint the honored tradition and proud heritage of Fort Bragg.
C. Richard Bowers, M.D.
Frederick, MD.

Miners Deserve More

I am the wife of a southeastern Kentucky coal miner and the daughter of a coal miner as well. We watched the recent rescue of the nine men from the Pennsylvania mine and believe it was nothing but a miracle that they made it out alive ("Miraculously, 'All Nine Are Alive'," Aug. 5). Coal mining is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, but most miners do not get paid more than $40,000 a year unless they are foremen or superintendents. They deserve much more. There is no price on life, but unfortunately in coal-mining regions there isn't much of a choice but to work in the mine or to move away.
Missy Jones
Whitesburg, KY.

Should the Pope Retire?

For someone who claims to be a Roman Catholic, Andrew Nagorski has little understanding of the pope's role ("A Great Pope's Final Gift to His People," Aug. 5). The church is not a democracy, no matter how much Nagorski may wish it to be, and the role of supreme pastor is not shaped by lay members who are uncomfortable with infirmity or old age. Pope John Paul II recognizes that he has been called by God and will remain as a servant and father to all until his time is up. Let God decide when it is time for the pope to receive his rest.
Robert Overkamp
Lincoln, Neb.

I wholeheartedly agree with Andrew Nagorski that the ailing and aged pope should consider resigning. Like Nagorski, I mean no disrespect to the pope, but most people his age have already enjoyed one or two decades of retirement. Let's hope the next pope will convene Vatican Council III, where the ordination of women and optional celibacy for priests will be fully discussed and voted upon.
Jean Kenny
Chicago, Ill.

The WTC Insurance War

Steven Brill's column on the insurance dispute involving Larry Silverstein and the Port Authority against the insurers of the Twin Towers reads like a press release for the insurer with the most to lose, Swiss Re International, and is replete with factual inaccuracies ("Building Castles in the Clouds," July 29). The central issue in the case is whether the crashes of two planes into two buildings at two separate times that started two fires constitute two separate occurrences for purposes of the $3.546 billion "per occurrence" insurance policy on the World Trade Center. The answer is clear: there were two occurrences, not one, as the insurers and Mr. Brill assert, and the Silverstein parties and the Port Authority are entitled to recover the full extent of their loss, which is estimated to exceed $7 billion. New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer has filed an amicus in the case supporting the claim, and Gov. George Pataki and Sen. Charles Schumer have publicly endorsed this position. Recognizing that under controlling New York law the undefined term "occurrence" inevitably results in two occurrences here--a position concurred to by the attorney general of New York--Swiss Re and other insurers are trying desperately to pay only half of what they owe by attempting to redefine the word "occurrence." The greatest distortion in Mr. Brill's column, however, is his speculation that Mr. Silverstein and the Port Authority will not use their insurance recovery to rebuild the World Trade Center. There is not a shred of truth to this claim. Mr. Silverstein has made clear from the outset that he intends to devote the insurance proceeds to rebuilding. He has also made clear that any rebuilding plan must include a significant memorial. We remain confident that the jury will reject the insurers' attempts to pay only one half of what they owe.
Howard J. Rubenstein, President
Rubenstein Associates, Inc.
New York, N.Y.

This letter is like all of Mr. Rubenstein's energetic public-relations efforts on Larry Silverstein's behalf: it presents no evidence (nor does it dispute any of the evidence going the other way) and tries to cast the one-occurrence/two-occurrence issue as a fanciful brain teaser by ignoring the insurance policy that Mr. Silverstein's own broker wrote on his behalf that defined "occurrence" in a specific way that clearly makes the attack on the Trade Center one occurrence. Thus, he cites Attorney General Spitzer's amicus brief--without noting that Spitzer's brief specifically states at the outset that Spitzer's view on whether the event is one or two occurrences would be relevant only in a situation where the policy does not define occurrence, which, again, is just not the case here.


In our Aug. 12 article "The Mothers' Crusade," we said that Murray Pace was stabbed to death in her campus apartment at Louisiana State University. She was, in fact, murdered a few blocks from the campus.