Book Review: The Girl of the Sea of Cortez

peter benchley the girl of the sea of cortez 1983 cover

Peter Benchley, The Girl of the Sea of Cortez. This is the 1983 Berkley edition. It’s a little ragged, but the pages are clean and readable. I picked it up at a thrift store for 25 cents.

The Girl of the Sea of Cortez. Benchley, Peter. New York, Berkley Books, 1983. 229 pages.

Review by Paul George

Peter Benchley will go down in history as the author of Jaws, an entertaining book adapted into an excellent film. More than forty years later, only two of Benchley’s books remain in print, the aforementioned Jaws and one of his lesser known novels, The Girl of the Sea of Cortez. After three thrillers, Benchley wrote Cortez as something of an counterbalance to Jaws.

Paloma is a 16-year-old girl living with her family on the coast of Baja California. She lives with her mother, Miranda, who wishes her would behave more like a young woman, cooking, cleaning, sewing and hanging wet laundry. However, Paloma is much more like her deceased father, Jobim. Daily she takes her boat to a section of the sea that is full of life. There she dives, explores, and, occasionally, finds a pearl. One day, she spots an injured manta ray and saves its life. In contrast, her brother, Jo, only sees the sea as an opportunity to fish and make money.

Paloma is concerned about over fishing and, due to her father, believes in conservation. But Jo only sees the sea as an object of exploitation. Eventually these two ideologies come into conflict.

If this sounds a bit like John Steinbeck’s The Pearl, it is inspired by the same story Steinbeck heard when he was in Baja California.

After Jaws – both the novel and the film – a media-induced hysteria not only made people unreasonably afraid of sharks but led to the killing of many sharks. Benchley became an advocate of the sharks, educating people about the ancient fish. Cortez seems to be an attempt to show that, while the sea can be dangerous, it is also a place of beauty. Sharks appear in the story at least twice. In both cases, they are presented as a potential danger, but also as creatures that are not that interested in humans.

Through Paloma’s adventures, Benchley clearly shows his love for the sea. It is a breezy read, appropriate for a summer read. There are a number of flashback sequences as Paloma remembers her father and what he taught her about the sea. One sequence, however, seems out of place. It feels like Benchley had an idea for a short story and stuck in in the middle of this novel. That’s a small complaint in an otherwise enjoyable read.

peter benchley the girl of the sea of cortez modern trade paperback

This is the current trade paperback edition of the novel.

This book does not have the adult language and sexuality present in Jaws. I would consider it a very good, almost excellent, selection of young adult readers. My son has trouble picking out books for school assignments because any book that has been adapted into a movie or television show cannot be read for credit (I think this is a stupid rule).

Benchley’s first three novels were adapted into film. Cortez was the first to not be adapted. After moving away from the thriller for this novel, Benchley would go back to the basics with Beast, about a giant Humboldt squid tormenting a fishing town. Beast followed the Jaws formula exactly.

The Girl of the Sea of Cortez is one of Benchley’s best novels. Peter Benchley clearly wanted to move away from the sea-thrillers that he was known for and created a fine novel, possibly his best, that deserves to be reintroduced to readers.

©  Paul George and The Reno Signal, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Paul George and The Reno Signal with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.



The Myth of Race

Races, as natural divisions of the human species, are
rather like angles. Many people believe in them, devoutly.
They can even tell you what properties they have.
But the closer you try to examine them to discover their
real nature, the more elusive they become.
—Jonathan Marks, 2006

by Paul George

The issue of race* cannot be ignored, even though it is a term that only exists because society demands it. Many Americans were irritated when the 2010 United States census asked questions about race. Public school districts are required to collect data about the racial makeup of their student body. Employers report race-related data to the government to show compliance with Affirmative Action. Americans are constantly told they must identify themselves with a race.

Stereotypes abound when people discuss race. Some races are considered inherently lazy, dishonest, or greedy because the stereotypes continue to flourish. The concept that races are different genetically appears to be supported when diseases like sickle-cell anemia are labeled as a “black” disease**. Without defining what race is or is not, biologists have been quick to label diseases such as sickle-cell anemia as inherent in a race. In the past, they have been ready to define and label human beings as distinct biological races (Kaszycka 44).

A group of researches demonstrated that this view is still prevalent in Europe. They questioned members of the European Anthropological Association about the issue of race. Out of 125 respondents, 50 percent agreed that human races exist. Of those that agreed, 62 percent support the classification of race as a subset of Homo sapiens (Kaszycka 45).

The American Anthropological Association, however, issued an official statement in 1998 stating that race is not a biologically meaningful concept. According to their statement, race is simply a human cultural behavior and is learned, not inherited. Other research has shown that adopted children, whose adoptive parents are of another race, demonstrate intelligence similar to that of the adoptive parents (Sternberg).

According to anthropologist Audrey Smedley, race is “a recent concept in human history” and it “emerged as a dominant form of identity in those societies where it functions to stratify the social system” (Smedley 691).

Smedley argues that the modern concept of race is not found in most of human history. Race generally referred to where a person was from, not their skin color. Human history is full of tales of trading, travel, war, peace treaties, and inter-marriages between people of different nationalities. Yet the skin color of these people is never talked about. Alexander of Macedonia conquered from Afghanistan to India. He adopted many customs of these locations and told his men to marry Indian women (Smedley 690).

The Bible account of Moses*** states that he married a Cushite, or Ethiopian woman (New Rev. Stand. Ver., Nu 12:1). During the earliest days of Christianity, Philip converted the first non-Jew to Christianity. The convert was an Ethiopian who was a court official for the queen of Ethiopia (New Rev. Stand. Ver., Acts 8:26-39). In neither account is the modern concept of race an issue. Multi-ethnicity is not a new concept. In ages past, it was a normal part of life as travelers from different lands intermingled.  People were judged, not by skin color, but by genealogical identity and the work they performed (Smedley 691).

That viewpoint changed, however, in Europe in the 17th century. England began to view the Irish as savages and maintained the same view when they dealt with the indigenous people of the New World. Very quickly the modern concept of race emerged. English law protected white servants, but African servants had no rights. By viewing blacks as inferior and, therefore, unworthy of legal protection, the concept of race became a part of Anglo-American society. Within a century, citizens of the emerged United States of America were conditioned to this “arbitrary ranking” (Smedley 694,695). The general public in the United States were conditioned to accept race and racial superiority as natural part of human life.

Modern science, however, has developed a much different view of race: it does not exist.  Characteristics like skin color, hair color, and eye shape are all influenced by several alleles in the human genotype. If races were truly discrete species or subspecies of genus Homo, then many different genes should be similar among populations within a race than those of different races (Belk and Maier 298). Data collected, however, falsifies this concept. Various alleles are found throughout the gene pool of humankind and it would appear H. sapiens has never been truly isolated.

Sickle-cell anemia, the so-called “black” disease is a good example of an allele being found throughout the species. About 10 percent of African-Americans and 20 percent of Africans carry one copy of the sickle-cell alleles. However, many parts of northern and southern Africa have little or no sickle-cell alleles. Furthermore, the allele is found in populations of the Middle East (white) and Indian (Asian) (Belk and Maier 297). While the disease is more common in middle African populations, it is clearly misguided to call it a “black disease.” This represents a cline variation in the species. A cline is “a gradual change in the frequency of genotypes and phenotypes from one geographical region to another” (Jurmain 431). Natural selection is working with H. sapiens in various areas on a micro evolutionary level.  Humans in different regions adapted over time to their environment. However, none have made a genetic adaptation unique only to an isolated population. According to biology professors Belk and Maier, “scientists have not identified a single allele that is found in all (or even most) populations of a commonly described race but not found in other races” (Belk and Maier 297).

“Race” is a concept that humanity needs to evolve out of in order to progress. However, government and society are reluctant to accept the fact that “race” is simply a cultural myth that allows one class to lord over another. Too many interests are involved. On one side, there are those who believe that one race is superior and should, therefore, be considered privileged. On the other side, well-meaning advocates have encouraged the government to regulate hiring, making sure that all races are being treated fairly. While this may help some, it ignores the underlying problem, a three-hundred-year-old concept of race that is archaic and inhumane. Society needs to understand that skin color is simply the way light reflects off an individual and reveals nothing about the person. The concept of race is ignorant at best and, at worst, criminal.

This essay was originally titled: Cline Variation and the Myth of Race in Modern Homo sapiens and written in 2010.


The term “race,” unless noted otherwise in this essay, refers to skin color.

** This essay will use the commonly used terms “black” and “white” for people with dark skin (usually of African descent) and Caucasians (usually people of European descent).

*** The writer is using the Bible for its historic value (whether the stories are true or not, they do say a lot about social attitudes of the time) and references to the Bible are not intended to encourage or promote any theological views.



American Anthropological Association

“American Anthropological Association Statement on ‘Race’”, 17 May 1998.

Kaszycka, Katarzyna A., Strkalj, Goran, Strezalko, Jan.

“Current Views of European Anthropologists on Race: Influence of Educational and Ideological Background”, American Anthropologist, March 2009, Vol 111, Issue 1, pp. 43-56.

New Revised Standard Version. Grand Rapids : Zondervan, 1989.

Smedley, Audrey

“’Race’ and the Construction of Human Identity,” American Anthropologist, Sept 1998, Vol. 100, Issue 3, pp. 690-702.

Sternberg, Robert J., Grigorenko, Elena L., Kidd, Kenneth K.

“Intelligence, race, and genetics”, in AccessScience@McGraw-Hill,, DOI 10.1036/1097-8542.YB071440.

Belk, Colleen and Maier, Virginia

Biology: Science for Life, Third Edition. 2010. Pearson: San Francisco.

Jurmain, Robert, Kilgore, Lynn, Trevathan, Wenda, Ciochon, Russell L.

Introduction to Physical Anthropology, 2009 – 2010 Edition. 2010. Wadsworth: Belmont.

Film Review: Buffalo Girls (2013)

tear offs.psd

© Copyright 2012 Buffalo Girls Movie

Stam and Pet are two eight year old girls living in Thailand. Stam is a cute, normal-looking girl. She has stuffed animals and is a shy little girl. Pet has a shaved head, with a section of long hair in the back, and has a heart condition. This image of normalcy, however, is shattered when director Todd Kellstein shows the two girls fighting in an underground muay thai kickboxing match in Buffalo Girls, a 2013 documentary.

According to the documentary, there are 30,000 child boxers in Thailand. The fighting is real, and it’s for money.

She boxes for money to get an education, Stam says in the film.

Another boxer, age 10, says she boxes to take care of her mom and dad.

pet running after school buffalo girls mauy thai

Pet running after school. © Copyright 2012 Buffalo Girls Movie

The narrative of the film follows Stam and Pet as they train. Six days a week, the girls workout – running, weight lifting and working the heavy bag – in order to help support their families. The girls are very different in nature. Stam is shy, but smiles a lot. She appears to enjoy the training regimen. Pet has more of a laser focus, rarely smiling.

buffalo girls muay thai kickboxing

Stam (left) taking a right cross from Pet (right) © Copyright 2012 Buffalo Girls Movie

As a child of western culture, I found some of the fighting, and especially the way the girls are treated in the corner, to be shocking. But as the story unfolds, I realized that fighting is a way to get out of poverty. What impressed me was how serious the girls viewed their responsibility to the family. Also a career in kickboxing can mean these girls will be able to avoid the common career of many your Thai women, sex work.

It’s also important to understand that kickboxing is to Thailand what Baseball is to Americans, a culture-defining activity.

This is a good documentary with two likable characters in a difficult situation. There’s no narration in the film, Kellstein simply presents the situation. If I have one complaint about documentaries, it’s that they tend to run too long. Buffalo Girls is 66 minutes in length and moves quickly. My only complaint is the movie has a grainy look, possibly due to the low-lighting of the matches and the equipment used to document the story. The fights are brutal, but there’s no blood in the shots. The movie’s unrated, but I’d give it a PG for fighting.

If your kids complain about taking out the trash or doing homework, I suggest you have them watch Buffalo Girls. Taking out the trash isn’t fun, but it’s better than getting beat up by another kid while fighting in the middle of a brothel.

©  Paul George and The Reno Signal, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Paul George and The Reno Signal with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A few thoughts about David Bowie

david bowie

David Bowie, 1949-2016

The death of a celebrity is not something I would usually write about. However, David Bowie died today at age 69, and I’m deeply saddened by it.

As a child of the 70s and 80s, Bowie was an ever-present talent. From his starchild Ziggy Stardust persona to the Thin White Duke, he was ever changing in style. When New Wave hit the airwaves in the early 80s, he was already there with Scary Montsters.

He was one of the handful or artists that inspired me to learn to play guitar and try to write songs.

Bowie will live forever. He gave us decades of music, from folk to classic rock to avant garde.

Honestly, I have nothing poignant to say, no epiphany to share. I loved the man’s sense of style and his music. My favorite album by Bowie is Hunky Dory. If you’ve never listened to it, check it out.

And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware of what they’re going through – “Changes”

You will be missed starman …

Shawarmageddon: Meals and metal

“Have you ever tried shawarma? There’s a shawarma joint about two blocks from here. I don’t know what it is, but I want to try it.”  — Iron Man/Tony Stark

shawarma avengers

I admit, the only thing I knew about shawarma is that it was mentioned in Marvel’s The Avengers and a quick gag shown at the end of that movie’s credits.

Now, after visiting Shawarmageddon in Reno, Nevada, I find myself asking where have you been all my life?

Shawarma is not so much a type of food as a type of preparation. I spoke to one of the preparers at Shawarmageddon, and he explained that it is the roasting method, usually on a vertical spit, that makes it shawarma. However, based on my experience, and research, shawarma usually refers to this meat as it is used in a wrap, with spices and vegetables.

shawarmageddon door and window

Shawarmageddon is located at 501 W 1st St, with its entrance on Ralston.

Shawarmageddon is literally a hole-in-the-wall operation. Located downstairs of the now-closed Pneumatic Diner, it has a small seating area. There is a small window for ordering and paying for food.

The menu is small, with choices of lamb, chicken or vegetarian shawarma, served as a wrap or as a platter.  It also has spiced chick peas as an appetizer, and a variety of tea, soda, and craft beers. The menu is limited, and I think that’s a good thing.

The atmosphere is heavy metal. “Eat and destroy,” a play on the title of Metallica’s classic “Search and Destroy,” is the restaurant’s slogan. Its specials reflect the metal there. For example, it had a special, lamb and other toppings on french fries called “Fries of the Ancient Mariner,” a pun on “Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner” by Iron Maiden.

Did I mention Iron Maiden is my favorite heavy metal band ever? So Shawarmageddon gets a few brownie points for that one.

I have gone to Shwarmageddon twice. Both times I had the lamb shawarma ($8). The wrap includes the restaurant’s home-made flat bread, romaine, tomatoes, onions, mint, cucumber, french fried potatoes, ras al hanout vinegrettte, seasoned labneh, and chili oil.

lamb shawarma

One bite and I was sold! The flavor is a mix of sweet, sour and savory. The lamb was tasty, although a bit dry. The spices are clearly Mediterranean, with a finish that reminded me of cinnamon. Overall, however, the taste was very good, something I’d buy regularly and enjoy.

I’m not sure if the metal theme is something that will appeal to the masses. Honestly, Shawarmageddon’s first goal should be to make money (by selling us an excellent product). While I am perfectly happy ordering my food to the sound of Mastodon, not everyone finds metal appealing.

As a restaurant, its location is a bit of a problem. It is easy to get to, especially for visitors near the western end of downtown Reno. However, there is no signage to catch the attention of people passing the restaurant. I highly recommend some signage for the place.

Shawarmageddon also updated its menu in mid-November, raising prices and changing the make-up of its wraps. Now turkey is offered. I walked into the restaurant (I live in the apartment complex it’s attached to) the other day, and the lamb was $10. Economically, it was just a little too much for me.

The menu changes have also upset customers. Recently on Facebook, customers have complained about the updated menu with comments like:

I hate the new menu. The old one was crazy good. I was eating it like twice a week with my brother John Taglieber. I attempted the new turkey one today and didn’t even finish it. My little shawarma loving heart is broken. — Jessica Levity Daylover
I also am really disappointed with the new menu. The slaw is bland and bitter. The sauces are bland. I miss the yogurt and the tomatoes and the onion and the flavor! I miss the fries inside the wrap! I miss the spicy chick peas! — Brock Young

These are just the opinions of two customers, but it sounds like a bad move to me. However, I have not tried the updated menu. Based on what I had, Shawarmageddon has served one of the best items I have ever eaten. The staff was friendly, helpful and informative.

Reno continues to grow as a foodie town, and Shawarmageddon is a fine example of that spirit.

©  Paul George and The Reno Signal, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Paul George and The Reno Signal with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

New Batman v Superman Trailer is Basically the Entire Movie

Honestly, I thought about writing my thoughts about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but I think my fellow Reynolds School of Journalism classmate Kyle Wise echoed many of my thoughts. Like The Force Awakens, I want a good movie. If J.J. Abrams is keeping the secrets of Star Wars a little too close to the vest, Warner Brothers seems to be doing the opposite with Dawn of Justice.

Source: New Baman v Superman Trailer is Basically the Entire Movie

Will anticipation kill The Force Awakens?

Star Wars fans waited in anticipation. The trailer for the new Star Wars film, The Phantom Menace, was going to premiere in theaters. First, rumors spread that the trailer would be attached to Wing Commander, also a 20th Century Fox film. Then, the rumors, and later confirmed reports, placed it in front of Meet Joe Black.

The anticipation for this new trailer in November of 1998 was huge. I went to see Wing Commander hoping to see the trailer. Instead, I saw a bunch of trailers to movies I didn’t care about. And I had to watch Wing Commander.

Phantom Menace Darth Maul

In retrospect, Darth Maul was still a badass!

As a New York Times article reported at the time, people bought tickets to Meet Joe Black, watched The Phantom Menace trailer, and left before Brad Pitt ever walked on screen. Also, the response to the trailer was incredibly positive.

Now, of course, everyone says they knew The Phantom Menace would stink – a sentiment I still don’t exactly agree with. The Phantom Menace is a weak film, but still has a lot to offer. Roger Ebert wrote a very positive review of the film, stating:

What [George Lucas] does have, in abundance, is exhilaration. There is a sense of discovery in scene after scene of “The Phantom Menace,” as he tries out new effects and ideas, and seamlessly integrates real characters and digital ones, real landscapes and imaginary places. We are standing at the threshold of a new age of epic cinema, I think, in which digital techniques mean that budgets will no longer limit the scope of scenes; filmmakers will be able to show us just about anything they can imagine.

And while it’s easy to look at Rotten Tomatoes and see all the negative reviews, most of them are in hindsight. A review written a decade after The Phantom Menace has its value, but it fails to represent the zeitgeist of the era in which The Phantom Menace was released. Looking back at the reviews featured on Rotten Tomatoes, a pattern emerges, especially in reviews from the time the film was released, the mixed reviews included some that hated the film and others that loved the film.

Kylo Ren the force awakens star wars

You see Darth Maul had a double-edged light saber. Kylo Ren has a broad-sword-style light saber. Originality has no end!

Yet, here we are again, 16 years after The Phantom Menace. The Force Awakens, the first Star Wars film made without the input of George Lucas, is being released in a few weeks. Fans on YouTube and on online forums have praised the trailers. The anticipation grows. Many fans have said this will finally wash the bad taste of the prequels out humanity’s collective consciousness. However, I believe fan reaction will be similar to the prequels. At first, there will be excitement. Then, derision.

I worry that fan expectation will ruin the new Star Wars films.

Star Wars has become something bigger than a series of movies, with books, comics, toys, video games, and pajamas attached. It has become a religion for many. Fans have built an expectation of what they individually believe Star Wars should be. If Jesus came back today, would he be accepted by the gun-worshiping conservatives, who out of one side of their mouth worship him as the Prince of Peace, yet walk around fanning the flames of violence? Or would Jesus, who taught that the Jewish law would last forever, be accepted by liberal Christians who believe in multiple paths to God? The point is this – Star Wars cannot please all fans. Many, nearly all, fans I read on the Internet, say the new movies need to be more adult because Star Wars needs to mature with them as they get older.

Bullshit! Are fans who discovered Star Wars in the late 80s or early 90s really saying that Star Wars needs to mature at the rate they mature? I was there, May 1977, at my local theater. I was eight and wanted to see this new movie. It was like a born again experience when that little ship was chased by that gigantic triangular star ship. For me to say that Star Wars needs to be in line with my near-50 mentality and exclude everyone else is a sign of religious zeal and not a love of the films.

And for those who somehow think Rogue One is going to be the adult Star Wars film, I have one word: Disney.

I appreciate the anticipation for The Force Awakens. I’m not writing this to say that I think it will be bad. I like a lot of what I’ve seen in the trailers. I want it to be an amazing experience. However, it is being made by Disney, which is mainly in the business of branding. And the signs are there that this is a film made to meet “fan” expectation. Nearly every scene in the trailers mirrors something from the original trailer. Hell, the poster shows that we are getting a new, improved Death Star. It was good enough for two movies, why not three? Screw originality!

And I like J.J. Abrams, but his theatrical films have been derivative at best. Mission Impossible III was good, but it was a sequel. His Star Trek films run from the very entertaining, but stupid, first film and the atrocity that is Star Trek into Darkness. Neither film had much respect for the 40-plus years fans had invested in the characters. Elements like Khan and tribbles were thrown in, not to please fans, but because the general population knows those things, and not much else. As a matter of fact, both of Abrams’ Star Trek films demonstrate a clear disrespect for fans, who don’t represent enough money to cater to, and the general public, which the films seems to believe are too shallow to want any real emotions in their movies.

But, in his defense, Abrams had little to do with the writing on those films. In the special features for Star Trek into Darkness, he seems professional about the process of making the film, yet never shows a real enthusiasm toward the series. With the Star Wars series, he seems more involved, not just as a filmmaker, but as someone who loves the galaxy far, far away.

I sympathize with the anticipation fans are showing toward the new Star Wars films. As fans, we have been told almost nothing about the new film. I hope everyone involved knocks it out of the park, pleasing critics, fans, and kids.

And by the way, if you are not watching Star Wars Rebels, why not? The animated series is pure Star Wars, yet introduces new concepts and ideas. It’s geared toward a young audience, pre-teens and early teens, yet has compelling stories, great action, and wonderful characters. At 47, should I be embarrassed that I’m watching something on Disney XD? I don’t think so. It sucks me into the adventure every time. Hopefully The Force Awakens will do the same.

©  Paul George and The Reno Signal, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Paul George and The Reno Signal with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.