Harvest time

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Today's SMBC:

"31 million seconds" is roughly one year: 31000000/(365*24*60*60) = 0.9830036. The four-year U.S. presidential election cycle would be about 126 million seconds: 4*365*24*60*60 = 126144000. And of course different countries have different cycle lengths and phases. So her theology gets complicated if you think about it seriously, but so do other useful theories like Santa Claus…


  1. Isoraķatheð Zorethan said,

    October 2, 2012 @ 6:14 am

    When it was initially published it read "125 million seconds" instead of "31 million seconds". I know not the reason behind the change.

  2. Pau Amma said,

    October 2, 2012 @ 6:51 am

    Hmm, the original comic says 125 million seconds for me, not 31 million. (Maybe it was changed since you posted?)

  3. Alon Lischinsky said,

    October 2, 2012 @ 7:03 am

    @Pau Amma: the version in my RSS feed says 31, just like the one Mark posted. It might have been corrected since.

  4. Faldone said,

    October 2, 2012 @ 7:31 am

    It's 31 million seconds in the latest version I got by just going to the SMBC page. There are other elections in the US, Congressional seats are voted on every two years and there's always some local election or other going on. What we lack in quality of shallow platitudes we make up in quantity.

    I am Faldone and I approve this message.

  5. Acilius said,

    October 2, 2012 @ 8:26 am

    There are elections somewhere or other in the USA every November, and there are also lots of other countries where the intervals between elections are denominated in years. So 31 million seconds makes sense to me.

  6. M (was L) said,

    October 2, 2012 @ 9:13 am

    Elections in the US are more than annual, if you count primaries. But the big harvest in the US is the quadrennial.

    The US presidential cycle may well be the largest single producer of political platitudes – there are many other democracies, but for size and media saturation we may well have the greatest peak production. India, being much larger (though less wealthy) is the other obvious candidate.

    In the US, being a fixed-term system, everybody can save up their platitudes for strategic deployment at a known and reliably predictable time. In a parliamentary system, planning is more difficult and platitude budgets are necessarily more fluid.

    In dictatorships, a relatively steady stream of routine platitudes are released fairly constantly, although any change in stance is often accompanied by a sudden flood of directed platitudes addressing a carefully selected vapid message in strident terms. Such organized mass platitudinizing may yield higher peaks, but are sufficiently irregular as to be unreliable to alien markets.

    And here we see the genius of the American system: scheduled production runs that produce reliable shipments of product.

  7. Pau Amma said,

    October 2, 2012 @ 9:17 am

    Interesting. Now it's 31 million for me too, except for the first reload after I clear my cache. Something is playing tricks on me, and since I don't think it's my brain, it's probably either my browser or the web server. *wanders off to install wireshark*

  8. GeorgeW said,

    October 2, 2012 @ 10:02 am

    It seems to me that a new election cycle begins a few days after an election.

  9. davep said,

    October 2, 2012 @ 10:59 am

    Isoraķatheð Zorethan said "When it was initially published it read "125 million seconds" instead of "31 million seconds". I know not the reason behind the change."

    The presidential elections occur every four years. I suppose SMBC realized later that there are annual elections too.

  10. Bobbie said,

    October 2, 2012 @ 2:54 pm

    Why does the Mom's statement end with a question mark?

  11. M (was L) said,

    October 2, 2012 @ 3:18 pm

    @Bobbie – She's being sarcastic?

  12. Gene Callahan said,

    October 2, 2012 @ 3:24 pm


  13. Steve said,

    October 2, 2012 @ 5:48 pm

    I don't think the question mark indicates sarcasm. My guess would be that the question mark indicates a rising intonation, which is sometimes used when one is not technically asking a question, in order to either express uncertainty about one's assertion or to invite further discussion about the topic. Example: Person A: Do you want to grab a bite to eat? (question). Person B: Sure: (assertion). What do you feel like? (question). A: I was thinking about pizza? (not really a question, but the use of a rising intonation invites further input from B (in case B is not thrilled with this suggestion, but might feel awkward about rejecting it if B believed A was invested in getting pizza.) By using a question-like intonation, A signals that he/she is not particularly attached to the idea and would be open to other suggestions. Of course, A could also say something like, I don't know – how about pizza?, which would clearly be a question and convey a similar, but not identical, idea.

    However, I think it is fairly common in casual speech to split the difference between asking a question and making a statement by using a rising intonation at the end of a comment that would otherwise be a declaration. Using a question mark to indicate that such an intonation was used seems a good a way of expressing that.

    Here, the question mark, presumably, indicates that a rising intonation is used to soften an expression of disagreement: I.e., to convey a sentiment along the lines of:I'm not adamantly opposed to trying to explain our political system to the alien, but maybe another topic would be better?

    Either that, or the cartoonist simply made a mistake? And I'm over-analyzing this?

  14. M (was L) said,

    October 2, 2012 @ 10:01 pm

    I think you've nailed it Steve – except I think they want to explain it to the child?

    Spot on.

  15. Margaret L said,

    October 2, 2012 @ 11:56 pm

    Steve — I think it's more specific than that. People sometimes use that question intonation when they are VERY sure of an answer, as in, "Why are you closing the window?" "Because I don't want to freeze to death?" The implication is, "Is that an acceptable answer to your question?" and yes, it's meant sarcastically.

    Also, I'm pretty sure we're looking at a two-mom household here.

  16. Terry Collmann said,

    October 3, 2012 @ 9:54 am

    Thank you, everybody: I finally understand the cartoon. The aliens' requirement for regular harvests of platitudes is Mom 2's explanation of the election cycle to the child. But surely inserting the word "presidential" before "election cycle" in Mom 1's request would have allowed the number of seconds to stay at 125 million?

  17. M (was L) said,

    October 3, 2012 @ 10:30 am

    A joke that needs explaining, isn't a very good joke.

    Inserting the words "US presidential" would allowed the number of seconds to remain there.

    Presidents of other countries (those which have one, whatever the powers of the office may be, including those using other languages which have an office conventionally translated as "president") may well have different numbers of seconds between choices.

    Now it's even less funny than before.

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