Friday Free-for-All #67: Free jet, evil, relaxing, famous

Friday Free for All

Here’s the next in an ongoing series in which I answer random questions generated by a website. Here are this week’s questions. Feel free to give your own answers or ask your own questions in the comments.

If you inherited a private jet from a stranger, what would you do with it?

Well, the first big problem with this is the “Oprah Effect.” Remember that time that she gave everyone in her audience a brand new car for free? You may have even seen the footage online, the famous, “You get a car. And you get a car. Everybody gets a car!” moment.

This was in 2004 and the cars in question were brand new Pontiac G-6 sedans with an MSRP of $28,500. Only everything was not what it seemed. For one thing, it was not like Oprah bought the cars for everyone. Rather, they were donated by Pontiac as part of their marketing budget. But it gets worse.

The people who received those cars because they couldn’t afford to buy one of their own were hit with a gift tax bill of over $6,000. So it was the gift that kept on taking. A lot of people reportedly had to sell the cars in order to pay the tax.

So… if that private jet comes with a hefty gift tax bill, no thanks. I’m going to sell it off to cover the taxes and make whatever profit I can. However, if this is a fantasyland with no tax — and if someone is giving me a private jet — then that changes.

It all depends on how big the jet is. There’s no way I’m going to pay the operating costs for the thing and don’t feel like contributing to ruining the environment by leasing it to a charter flight company. Nope. I’m going to buy some land, plant that plane on it and convert it into a home.

Now, depending on size, it could be anything from a glorified studio with a really neat basement to a luxury home with its own kitchens and screening room.

Hey, planes have been converted to homes before, and there could be worse places to live.

What is your definition of evil?

To me, evil is when somebody intentionally causes harm, distress, pain, loss, or other physical or emotional trauma to another person for the benefit of the person inflicting those things. Now that benefit can simply be to get their jollies — this covers serial killers and the like — or it can be for financial gain — this covers most billionaires and politicians.

Obviously, this makes a wide range of acts evil. Jeffrey Dahmer and John Wayne Gacy were evil because they killed people for fun. But so is a multi-billionaire who owns a gigantic company but refuses to pay the employees enough money so that they don’t have to rely on public assistance to eat and won’t allow them to unionize or give them retirement benefits.

It happens when an international fast food company ignore real physical harm one of its products does to people because it’s cheaper to buy them off at $40,000 per incident, or when a major manufacturer discovers a flaw in their product that can kill people but decides to do nothing because it would be “too expensive.”

And then there’s that special kind of evil: Anyone who takes advantage of any kind of power relationship in which they have the superior position and all the control — and then uses that in order to sexually harass or assault the other person. This is what the MeToo movement has been fighting against.

Where is the most relaxing place you have been?

Okay, I need a palate-cleanser after that one — mind’s-eye bleach, as it were. The most relaxing places I’ve been tend to be rural and forested. I’ve written before about visits to my grandparents’ farm on the central California coast, and I found it very relaxing because it was quiet and slow-paced.

Of course, I was also a kid — the last time I was ever up there, I was eighteen — although maybe that’s a measure of its power. Any place that can calm down an angsty, angry teen is magical.

But as an adult, I’ve gotten to know a place up near Big Bear in California. Most of the year, it’s actually a Christian camp/retreat for school kids, although it doesn’t really have any blatantly Christian symbology, and the one spot that was clearly intended as a church is just benches made out of half logs and arranged outside with a lectern in front but nothing resembling an altar.

Anyway, before COVID, a group geared toward Southern California GBTQ+ men and their allies used to go up there for camps twice a year, once in the winter and the other near Labor Day. I was fortunate enough to go a few times, and even though it would only be for a long weekend, it would be an amazing battery recharge.

Here’s the way I can tell that a place is relaxing me: I fall asleep within minutes at night and wake up with the sunrise, ready to go. That doesn’t happen in the city, where I tend to lie awake for what seems like hours, then find it damn near impossible to wake up in the morning.

I also have this bad habit of actually being asleep and dreaming, but what I’m dreaming is that I’m awake and thinking about the things I’m dreaming. And I know that this is true for a few reasons. One is that I’ve had SOs and roommates tell me that I was happily snoring away the entire time I thought I was awake, and they had no reason to lie.

The other is that the “thought” that appeared to be just things I was musing would actually take on all of the hallmarks of dreams, with the visuals and so forth, but it would still feel like I was intentionally imagining them while still lying in bed, awake.

That doesn’t happen up at the camp near Big Bear, and the best parts, really, would be when I’d hop out of bed at dawn, be the only one up yet to head over to the shower cabin, then quietly get dressed, grab the tiny notebook I’d brought with me, and stroll out into the woods alone.

That was a magical place. Quite often, there would mist among the tall trees dancing in the shafts of sunlight peeking through, and on more than one occasion I would suddenly see a deer stop and see me, and then pronk off at high speed.

There were sounds and life everywhere, although most of it not visible. Birds sang in the canopy above. Sometimes, the trees made their own rain, which would plop audibly onto the ground. The distant roar that at first seemed like it might be freeway traffic was actually a river flowing downhill in the far distance. The forest smelled of the new life of pine needles combined with the musty, earthy smell of the dead leaves and needles underfoot — all of which were giving life to the forest at the same time.

There were always plenty of woodpeckers and ground squirrels flitting about, and the human constructions, which consisted of maybe a dozen cabins, the director’s house, the main meeting/dining hall, a small lodge, the zip-line, and a swimming pool all seemed to be a part of the landscape rather than an intrusion.

It was also during this camp that we visited a nearby lake and I went canoeing for the first time. We were in a three-person boat and I was in front, meaning that I was in control of steering. I was surprised at how intuitively I picked it up, how fast we were actually able to go, and how calming it was to be gliding smoothly across the water.

I don’t know when we’ll be going back. Maybe September, maybe not. What I do know is that the group has regularly had a pool party in L.A. every year for the 4th of July, but for the second year running, none has been planned. So I don’t know when I’ll get my little shot in the arm of relaxation again, but I can’t wait.

Oh, one other thing. I actually started this site the weekend after I came back from my first time at the camp — which was the same week the company I’d been working for made me a victim of their next round of downsizing layoffs.

Who is the most impressive famous person alive today?

He was a former world leader who is still alive and, despite his advanced age, just doing what he does, working with his hands, and helping people. At heart, he was always just a simple farmer who wound up going into public service and rising to the position of governor.

Then, he was inaugurated as 39th President of the United States in 1977. His name is James Earl Carter, but the world will forever know him as just Jimmy.

Sadly, he didn’t have much success as a president, but he came into office at a really bad time for the country. His predecessor, Gerald R. Ford, was the only person to become president without ever being elected (with two arguable exception) when Richard Nixon resigned.

It was probably a done deal going into the election in the Bicentennial year of 1976 that Ford was going to lose, and he probably could have lost to a lawn chair. But that was more because of the taint of Nixon, and it didn’t help that Ford pardoned him for his crimes.

It also didn’t help that he presided over the continuing energy crisis and crippling inflation. The economy went in the tank on his watch, and Presidents get blamed for that constantly.

Ford was actually one of those rare moderate Republicans who isn’t all that bad. The other examples I can think of having been a President of the U.S., Governor of California, and Mayor of Los Angeles — Eisenhower, Schwarzenegger, and Richard Riordan.

Although they were in favor of small government, they applied that in both directions, so while they don’t get brownie points on how they handled business and regulation, they did also make it a point to try to keep the government out of women’s wombs, gay people’s bedrooms, and elsewhere. Hell, Riordan even took part in the Gay Pride parade in L.A. in 1993 as Mayor-elect at a time when that was still a big deal.

But, getting back to Jimmy Carter. He had been the mayor of Georgia, but was so unknown during his time in office that he appeared on the game show What’s My Line? in 1973. Although Gene Shalit did correctly identify him as a governor after seven questions, nobody had any idea what state he governed or what his name was.

By the way, you know the whole current trend of moving film and TV production to Georgia? Well, Jimmy Carter started that back in the early 70s.

Now, in retrospect, one of the obvious purposes of the TV gig was to put out there that Carter was going to be chairman of the National Democratic Campaign Committee (NDCC) for the 1974 mid-term election, so it was clearly an early move with the 1976 presidential election in mind.

Still… none of this should in anyway denigrate what Jimmy Carter achieved, which was going from relatively unknown southern governor to President in just a few years. Yes, Ford was probably doomed from the beginning, but Carter was the dose of likable Everyman that America seemed to need at the time.

And then circumstances and history came along to fuck him up the ass and prove that Nice Guys Finish Last. Leading into the 1980 election, his administration was rocked by the 1979 Oil Crisis, which saw prices soar along with something the U.S. hadn’t seen since World War II — rationing.

The Iran-Iraq War began in late 1980, making things worse. But the really big thing that totally screwed Jimmy over was the Iran Hostage Crisis, which began on November 4, 1979, when 52 American diplomats and citizens were seized at the embassy by students and held for 444 days.

They were released just after noon EST on January 20, 1981. Put a pin in that date.

Carter authorized a rescue attempt that began on April 24, 1980, but the helicopters involved were ill-equipped to deal with the sandstorms, which not only damaged or grounded the ships, but led to an accident in which a copter crashed into a C‑130 tanker aircraft during refueling, killing all eight people on the chopper.

This did not go over well with the American people. Imagine the reaction, for example, if during Obama’s raid to kill Osama bin Laden, instead of succeeding, a helicopter had crashed into the complex and killed eight people. He never would have been re-elected in 2012.

Now combine that with Carter’s inability to get the hostages released, and he was doomed in the election of 1980. But… there’s a gigantic catch. Ronald Reagan and his campaign were directly responsible for urging the Iranians to not release the hostages before the election.

Or, in other words, those bastards cheated. What a surprise. And that’s why Iran did not release the hostages until right after Reagan (ptui! cursed be his name) was sworn in.

And then Jimmy Carter faded out of the public eye for a while, but not for long. I would say “also, not for good,” but it’s exactly the opposite. Everything the man has done since leaving office has been for good.

In 1982, he and his wife started The Carter Center, a non-profit NGO dedicated to human rights and the alleviation of human suffering. They seek “to prevent and resolve conflicts, enhance freedom and democracy, and improve health.”

He also did a hell of a lot of diplomacy from the end of his tenure through the early 2000s, but what he’s most known for now is Habitat for Humanity. You know — the volunteers who swoop in and build affordable homes for people.

And, despite bouts with cancer, some falls and bruises, and being generally, oh, I don’t know, fucking 96 years old, he’s still going. And that is why I think he is the most impressive famous person around today.

Bonus points: He’s famous for all the right reasons, and I hope that he’s an impressive famous living person for many, many years to come.

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