The road trip is over and now we can return to our standard midday format, a roundup of the latest buzz, particularly the BREAKING buzz, the buzz so new and fresh it's still a faint humming sound, a murmur, possibly nothing more than the sound of a nearby refrigerator, or that creepy man over there coming slowly our way and muttering as he brandishes what appears to be a stalk of celery. Our job is to make sense of all this.

There are tentative signals that there may actually be a contest for the Republican nomination for president. This has alarmed the party Establishment. The GOP bosses didn't want to see this thing get so out of hand that the voters themselves start to factor into the equation.

The latest poll in New Hampshire shows Arizona Sen. John McCain having overtaken Gov. George W. Bush. The pundits caution that this may not mean much. As Mary Matalin put it yesterday on a talking-head program, McCain has been living in New Hampshire for months, and doesn't have the organization to run a national campaign like Bush.

Let us raise a thought that may show a startling naivete: Elections are not decided by campaigns, or by organizations, or by TV ads, but rather by voters, by citizens, by human beings who have to march into a polling booth and throw a lever or punch a card in favor of a specific person. At some point Bush will have to make the case that he is, personally, the best candidate, and not merely the one with the most massive campaign organization.

Please write and tell us if this is some kind of delusion.

This morning in Toledo, Ohio, a radio talk show host began his weeklong suspension for his nitwitted comments regarding the Rev. Jesse Jackson. The Associated Press reports that WSPD-AM radio host Scott Sloan said recently on the air that Jackson wanted to be a martyr. Sloan located a motel in Miami with the same name as the motel where THE Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot in 1968, and said, "All we need now is a shooter." The situation raises for us the question of what it takes to get a TWO-week suspension. As you know, Hsing-Hsing has gone to that giant bamboo grove in the sky. He is believed to have been the last sitting political appointee from the Nixon administration. (For a live look at a baby panda, check out the little critter at the San Diego Zoo. We will note that he has spent the entire morning sleeping. What a cushy job.)

Today's Post said there were about 1,000 pandas still alive in the wild, but given that these creatures are extremely solitary and live in the most remote forests of western China, one might question the accuracy of that number. Our policy is to never trust numbers that are nicely rounded off. If they said 937 pandas, we'd believe that.

In football news, my friend Gene kicked a surprise field goal on fourth-and-one in the annual backyard Thanksgiving game, and should consider trying out for a job with the Redskins, where kicking a field goal is approximately as difficult as achieving a soft-landing with a robotic spacecraft on Mars. The Redskins won the game despite receiving scores of 8.3 or worse from eight of the nine judges, including 4.1 from the Russian judge and a catastrophic 1.2 from the Ukranian judge.

Here's some scorching hot news, embargoed until late this morning: Astronomers have found six new planets. They orbit distant suns. This brings to 28 the number of "extrasolar" planets. They are sadly burdened with horrible names: "HD192263," for example, and "HD10697." We predict that in less than a year they all have corporate sponsors ("the CompUSA Red Giant in the Constellation Taurus," for example).

In such astronomy stories, there is a reflexive itch to relate the news to the search for life in the universe (known to be a topic of slight interest to the Rough Draft team). Just once we'd love someone to admit up front that their finding tells us nothing even remotely definitive about life in the universe. "Beats me!" they should say. It'll never happen.

The buzz today was that these new planets, though too large and gaseous to be good candidates for life-as-we-know-it, might have moons that are habitable. But as always you can spin the whole argument on its head, with the opposite conclusion.

Because our current class of instruments can't find small, Earthlike planets, we only find these oversized, hulking, Jupiter-class behemoths. They tend to be in strange orbits, either highly elliptical (oval instead of circular) or very close to the parent star. Some of them may have spiraled toward the parent star and wiped out any Earths in their path. The emerging picture is that many solar systems (what percentage is unclear) have freaky dynamics that would be unfriendly to "terrestrial" planets.

The more we look, the more our own solar system looks incredibly stable, magisterial, an example of constancy and timelessness, structurally serene. Outside the Gore campaign headquarters, that is.

Oh, this just in: It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. We will update that story as it develops.

(Rough Draft will once again try to regain its momentum and appear three times a week -- Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 1 p.m. -- serving as a digestive aid after lunch.)