Unless you are just back from a long stay aboard Russia’s rapidly disintegrating Mir space station, you have probably heard about Ted Turner’s plans to give a billion dollars to the United Nations—as if the world needed absolute proof that Atlanta’s Captain Outrageous is more than a few cards short of a full deck. Over the past quarter-century, Turner has built a lowly UHF television station into a global media colossus.

Over the same period, he has built a similarly colossal reputation as America’s most outspoken and, yes, craziest billionaire.

In the 1970’s, the captain was amusing-crazy. As a sailor, he won the America’s Cup. As owner of the Braves, he put people in the seats with outrageous stunts, like the time he pushed a ball along the base path with his nose. Turner once greeted a high-profile free agent with a new number, 17, and a new last name, Channel. (The free advertising for Channel 17 did not last long.)

In the 80’s, Turner was still nuts, but with a harder, meaner edge. When he was not launching CNN or dreaming up the Goodwill Games, he busied himself dismissing Christianity as a religion “for losers” and blaming the frosty relations between Castro’s Cuba and the United States on his own government rather than his dictator buddy’s lawlessness and brutality.

In 1987, I saw Turner give a rambling oration—clearly unscripted and unrehearsed—to a group at Georgia Tech. Just back from Cuba, he asked why the administration was giving Castro such a hard time. Reagan and his crowd, said the captain, were out of touch and too old to change. The time had come, he said, for fresh leadership and new ways of thinking—a curious prescription given Castro’s decades in power.

In the 90’s, Turner has been busy, marrying Jane Fonda, going toe-to-toe with Rupert Murdoch, being named Time’s “Man of the Year,” and selling his media empire to Time-Warner. Along the way, he has said a lot of outrageous things. For example, ready to do his bit for the planet, Turner announced in 1995 that he did not always flush. “Sometimes,” he explained, “I just go out on the front porch and take a whiz on the grass.” After the Heaven’s Gate suicides. Turner found a silver lining: “There are already too many people in this world. If a few crazy people want to get rid of themselves, it’s a good thing.” (Two decades ago, Turner was less concerned about population growth. In a 1978 Playboy interview, he said sexual frustration was a major force behind crime and violence: “Lots of sex for everybody, that’s a solution to the world’s problems.”)

Only once in recent years has anyone seriously challenged Turner for the title “America’s Craziest Billionaire.” That challenge, of course, came in 1992, when a little Texan with a big wallet decided to do all he could to run George Bush out of office. (Remember when Perot said a “Republican dirty trick brigade” was plotting to spoil his daughter’s wedding?)

With his latest move, however. Turner has seen Perot’s craziness and raised him a thousand million. In the Billionaire Boys Club Race to the Edge of Sanity, Turner has left Perot eating his dust. In the army of crazed gazillionaires, Perot must now play buck private to Turner’s five-star general.

Turner’s U.N. gift rockets him high above the merely eccentric craziness of Perot into an orbit occupied by billionaires who have gone nuts with that which defines them—their money. For all his paranoid delusions, Perot has yet to go crazy with his own cash. Sure, he threw away a few million on his campaigns, but that’s nothing. Turner is throwing away a thousand million.

Which brings us to a real conundrum. Which comes first, the money or the craziness? Is it the nuttiness of people like Turner and Perot that helps make them wildly successful, or does the sound of all those billions piling up just scramble their brains one day? We will probably never know.

Yet, there are people—think Bill Gates and Warren Buffett—at the other end of the Billionaire Sanity Continuum. I cannot help wondering if there is not some secret, some bit of wisdom they might offer that could help Turner and Perot find their way back from the brink.

Could Turner have possibly selected an organization less likely than the U.N. to give him his money’s worth? I suppose he could have gone one step further and sent his billion to the spendthrifts in Washington. For all its lofty intentions, the U.N. is not much better. It is a ponderously inefficient, stubbornly ineffectual organization, dedicated to a purpose that it cannot hope to achieve.

Why not a billion dollars for medical research, to fight cancer, heart disease, or AIDS? Why not Harvard scholarships for 10,000 of the ghetto’s best and brightest? Why not houses for 20,000 homeless families? Why not a nice decaf latte for every man, woman, and child in the country?

As we consider this grand gesture, doomed as it is to failure, remember that Ted Turner is first and foremost not a philanthropist but an entertainer. And it is as an entertainer that he shines brightest. So enjoy the laughs. That is all anyone is likely to get.