2023.05 : Pray For Rain. Why?

Central California, USA CIrca 2021

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.

— Richard Feynman

Richard Feynman was, and his legacy still is, peak American. A life-loving, Nobel Prize-winning physicist and legendary teacher, Feynman’s work spanned from the Manhattan Project to the investigation of the Space Shuttle Challenger tragedy, which was traumatic the country, no, for the world. A civilian teacher died before her students’ eyes after all. The public pleaded for Feynman to come out of retirement. The public recognized his towering ethics, patriotism, intellect, and devotion to truth and needed to ensure there would be no cover-up. Feynman obliged, and there was none.

In the companion video, you will see Richard Feynman turn the simplest of questions into a riveting learning lesson. The interviewer asks, “Why do we feel magnets attract and repel?” Feynman replies, “How does someone answer why something happens? You’ll notice the more I ask why the more interesting it becomes after awhile. The deeper a thing is, the more interests in it.”

Let’s try an exercise in the same spirit with this week’s photograph. We are forced by a lack of insider knowledge to speculate as to why someone would take so much time, effort, and money to convert a 40-foot trailer into an illuminated billboard, pleading with the millions of passing drivers to pray for rain.


Why Here?

The billboard is located in California’s agricultural heartland, the nation’s largest, which employs 420,000 people and generates $50 billion in annual revenue. It produces more than one-third of the US’s vegetables, three-quarters of its fruits and nuts, and a significant portion of its dairy and beef cattle.


Why Does The Location Matter?

The state and much of the West are in a megadrought. Over the past 128 years, the 9th-driest year to date was in 2022. Fifty-eight California counties have USDA drought disaster designations. In 2001, the drought was estimated to have cost $1.7 billion and resulted in the loss of nearly 14,000 jobs.


Why Not Get More Water from the Colorado River?

Overpumping of groundwater has led other states to demand that California should bear more of the burden of Colorado River water cutbacks. Thus, the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) was inspired in 2014.


Why Is There Panic Among Farmers?

Surely they are accustomed to drought by now? In 2021, California began prohibiting thousands of farmers from drawing water.


Why Not Curtail Water Usage to Be in Sync with Nature and Avoid the Annual Crisis?

Moving along, it seems that all that is left is praying for rain.


Why a Billboard for Strangers and Not at Church?

Is divine intervention decided by popular demand? I hope not. Maybe since the drought affects people of all faiths, if they all prayed, then whomever worships the true God would bring the rains. With so many praying, each claiming credit, there is no embarrassed risk for the billboard creator. With so much money and so many jobs on the line, and with no chance of voluntarily scaling back the global demands on the valley, it’s the last resort.


So Why Are Rain Dances by Indigenous Peoples Mocked?

Next question.


Did the Rains Come?

Yes, they did. Starting on December 26, 2022, a series of 9 atmospheric rivers brought significant amounts of rain, snow, and wind to California and other parts of the western United States over a 3-week period. Eighty percent of a full seasonal snowpack was deposited in California during these storms. The state was crushed by 32 trillion gallons of water over 3 weeks. Oakland received a year’s worth of rain. Mount Solomons, at 13,040 feet elevation, received an estimated 33 feet of snow. Tahoe City received 88 inches, and Truckee had over 60 inches. Even without another drop in 2023, Bishop, California, has reached its annual average. San Francisco, Oakland, Santa Barbara, Sacramento, Modesto, and Stockton have had their wettest meteorological winter on record to date.


Why Not Celebrate?

The California governor said that at least 22 people died in the storms, adding that the toll was higher than the number of deaths caused by “wildfires in the past two years combined.” The Department of Conservation’s California Geological Survey and the U.S. Geological Survey have mapped more than 500 landslides, causing damage and disruptions across the state. A 5-year-old boy was swept away from the car, his helpless mother watching in horror. The child remains missing as the police search was paused due to “extreme weather conditions.” The total loss of life and property damage won’t be known for months.

The following headlines accurately sum up the “insult to injury” and “salt in the wound.”

“Despite Rain Storms, California Is Still in Drought”

“Floods, Rain Have Plagued California—What Happened to the Drought? It’s Still a Problem, New Data Says.”


Why Did He Do It?

Whichever God answered the prayers for rain, why over do it? Pernicious? Sadistic? Criminally negligent? Scornful? He works in mysterious ways? Collateral damage? Acceptable risk? Cost of doing business? Distracted?


What Comes After Sorry?

Will the creator of the “Pray for Rain” billboard replace the message with “Sorry”?

Will all those who prayed deeply reflect on whether it was their God who answered the prayer, and if so, will they re-evaluate their relationship?



The terror of the unknown after death and the uncertainty of existence drive many to find solace in faith.


And now … know the photograph.

Richard Feynman : Magnets

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