COMPETITIVE parenting is a choice Manhattan pastime, as chi-chi Mommys wheel their $800 Bugaboo strollers into hip Manhattan playgrounds to discuss the latest property prices. They don't talk about The Yankees, they don't talk about the war, they don't talk about the mayoral race and they certainly don't talk about the weather. They talk about how much they're being screwed for rent.

How they're over-extended on that Park Slope brownstone they picked up for what seemed like a song a year back. About how they heard Jersey City is the new Brooklyn . . . but who wants to move to Jersey City?

Not that you'll come across an actual New York parent that easily, mind you. Above 14th Street, all you'll find is underpaid nannies glumly accompanying overprivileged toddlers through their pre-school rounds, doing their best to tire out the little beggars before Mom and Dad get home.

Being the parent of two little headcases, aged three and eight, you do get a unique insight into this most deeply strange and strangely beautiful of cities. This is a town, after all, where a 'young' parent is one under 45. Where putting your child in a public school is considered by many equivalent to sending them off to the front lines in Baghdad.

But back to those ubiquitous $800 strollers;

thanks to the renewed terrorist scares of recent weeks, baby buggies are now considered Level One security risks. The recent New York Post (Owner: R Murdoch) cover headline said it all - 'Baby Buggy Bombers!' How did they resist the temptation to go with 'Bugaboom'?

>> AS hit TV shows go, The West Wing has never been cool, sexy water-cooler topic material, but the White House drama has been the smartest, sharpest and most consistently entertaining network entertainment on US screens. Many predicted the show would go pearshaped when its brilliant, troubled creator Aaron Sorkin jumped ship;

instead, the show is enjoying a new lease of life under veteran ERproducer John Wells. Audiences have been gripped by the impending face-off between the presidential candidates played by TV veterans Jimmy (LA Law, NYPD Blue) Smits and Alan (MASH) Alda (above); now the characters will go head to head in an hour-long debate, to be screened live . . . in a special WWepisode featuring just Smits, Alda and a moderator . . . on 9 November.

In the meantime, audiences are going do-lally for TV's first female prez, Geena Davis, on West Wing rival (and surprise hit) Commander In Chief. Call it 'Anyone but Dubya' syndromef