Wednesday 24 July 2013


It starts with gold stars on the fridge – we are conditioned as children to expect a tangible reward for good performance.

Citizens of Dubai have now graduated from tinsel stars to real gold. Their government has started a programme, Your Weight in Gold, rewarding successful dieting ( This is to keep people from overindulging in the wake of the Ramadan fast.

The Catholic Church should learn from that, or from their own history. In the Middle Ages they sold indulgences -- time off, that is, for good behaviour. You paid your money, and you got a piece of paper with the exact number of years you didn’t have to languish in Purgatory. Now, the Church offers only vague promises of bliss in heaven and discreet reminders about the fires in hell. Listen up, Pope Francis, people want to know exactly what they’ll get for the money they put into the offertory basket. What’s the heat of the hell fires in degrees Fahrenheit? If we go to heaven, can we get a set of drums instead of harps and jet propulsion instead of wings if we pay a premium?

When I shop at VON’s with my rewards card, the receipt specifies how much I have saved on my grocery bill. Why can’t the Church tell me how many years of hell I've saved by going to confession?

I know all you atheists out there are yawning by now. Heaven and hell means nothing to you. You want your reward here on earth.

Okay, then quit smoking. Reward: higher wages, as Julie Hotchkiss writes in the Wall Street Journal:

Or be virtuous, and breastfeed your baby. What’s in it for you? Free pizza. That’s how waitress Bodi Kinney rewarded a mother breastfeeding in her restaurant (Globe,12 July).

I like that: a reward with a precise value attached. And so I’m asking nutrionists: What do I get when I’m virtuous and eat the greens that are good for me? How good are they, exactly? How many months and days did that salad add to my life?

No answer. It’s like playing a game of chance. The reward is uncertain. And speaking of games:

You’ve missed your chance betting and cashing in on the royal baby’s sex, but you can still go on and place a bet on who is going to publish the first photo of the prince entering or leaving a nightclub.

Yes, that means waiting a long time for your reward. But then you never know. If you had put your money on a new Anthony Weiner sex scandal last week, Ladbrokes would probably have offered you 500-1. But now you’d be hearing the sweet sound of CHING-CHING. ‘Cause Timothy Weiner has been showing off his private parts – again. And is apologizing – again. And promises never to do it – again. 

I wonder: is anyone taking bets on Eliot Spitzer? And what are the odds?


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