It's time to recap the year's moronic, wacky and ironic enroute to bestowing our 1997 Turkey Award. Shine up that fork and let's get to probing these birds for doneness. Our finalists:

The "Gee, Ivan, I Guess Beef IS Dangerous" award goes to a Russian crew that stole a cow wandering a remote airfield in Siberia and loaded her on their military jet. In the air, the unrestrained cow went ape. The frantic crew opened the cargo ramp and the cow jumped out of the plane at 30,000 feet over open sea. The cow landed on a trawler, penetrated its hull and sank it. - Flying magazine.

Greenpeace gets the "Mmm, Boy, That's Some Mighty Good-Tastin' Crow" award. Greenpeace activists in England collected sand near a nuclear power plant to demonstrate nuclear power's dangers. They stored it in oil drums in their London offices. When this was discovered, Greenpeace quickly downplayed the environmental risk. "There is absolutely no health risk or danger to the public," a spokesman said. - Competitive Enterprise Institute.

The "Just Like Home, But Worse" award goes to local officials in Washington who forbade Czech immigrant Jaro Baranek from building a home because his property was on an "alluvial fan hazard section." Not only were there other homes in the same area, but Baranek was still required to pay taxes on his worthless property. "The communists used to take land without compensation," Baranek lamented. "Here, they take your land and you have to pay for it." - Land Rights Letter.

The "Fixing The Constitution" award goes to Jack Nordby, a Minnesota district court judge who struck a blow against the mischief created by those folks who penned the Bill of Rights. In a real headscratcher, Nordby ruled that the Mall of America, the largest shopping mall in the U.S., must permit free-speech protests in its building. He said the mall is not actually private property because government had heavily subsidized its initial development. So, the building lacks full property rights protection and must permit the exercise of free speech.

Under this lucid argument, if you buy your home or ranch with the assistance of some type of government program, watch out for sign-toting yahoos in furry costumes picketing your kitchen as you eat your steak and eggs.

The "Dirty Dollars" award goes to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS). A favorite fundraising hook for PETA and HSUS has been animals in underfunded local humane shelters. PETA, however, gave less than $5,000 of its $13.4 million budget to shelter or spay and neuter programs in the U.S., but did give $42,000 to defend convicted fire bomber Rodney Coronado. HSUS raises $50 million annually but gives shelters zip. - Americans For Medical Progress.

The "Science Vs. Popular Perception" award goes to researchers Christopher Murray and Alan Lopez. Their article in the May issue of Lancet, a British medical magazine, reported that their study of the causes of 50.4 million deaths worldwide in 1990 found that while heart disease was the leading cause of death, most people killed by heart attacks lived in the Third World. The report was prepared with help from the World Health Organization.

The "We Need Somebody, Anybody" award goes to the Des Moines Register. The Iowa newspaper continues to rely on Neal Barnard as a credible spokesman for the anti-meat side. Barnard is a psychiatrist who heads up the pseudo-science group, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Interestingly, in1991 the Register ran a story that called Barnard a fraud.

The "I Think Maybe Ken Missed The Point" award goes to Kenneth May, a spokesman for the National Broiler Council. Among other things, inequities in federal meat inspection allow the U.S. poultry industry to add as much as 9% water to its products. Red meat products, on the other hand, are allowed no water retention. In 1994 alone, poultry's water break allowed that industry to sell 2 billion lbs. of added water to consumers at poultry prices. When a group of beef producers and consumers sued USDA over the unfairness of the water retention issue, May called it "whining."

Now, it's time for our jury's decision. And, the 1997 Turkey Award goes to Š Judge Nordby Š for chucking out troublesome Constitutional guarantees that don't fit his personal agenda. Congratulations, Judge Nordby. l