YET another classic American tradition, the senior high school prom, appears to be tumbling amid the wasteland of the MTV generation. The prom has been a yearly ritual in which senior-year girls - kitted out in evening gowns as expensive as they can induce their parents to buy - are escorted to a dance by the spotty youth of (they hope) their dreams. Proms, of course, have never really been all youthful innocence, but have always been complicated by emotional and sexual sub-plots. In all its cheesy glitz and glamour, prom night can also be a perfect stage for playing out weird teenage dramas. In one of the most bizarre cases of the past year, a respectable middle-class New Jersey girl, who hid her pregnancy from everyone for the full nine months, had her baby in the toilet during the prom, then left it for dead in the rubbish bin. Her classmates, drunk on cheap white wine and deafened by 90-decibel blasts of Mariah Carey, apparently never heard a thing. But amid all the teenage chaos, one tradition has seemed to endure: that the teens go to the prom in pairs, one's date for the evening on one's arm. However, it seems today's adolescents are no longer prepared to deal with the hang-ups that come with this ancient ritual. What if no one asks me? What if the person who asks me is the nerd from geography class? What if the girl I ask tells me to get lost? A new survey from the bible of female acne sufferers - Teen Magazine - revealed that half the girls polled said they intended to go to the prom not with a boyfriend but with a female pal or as part of a group. 'Ten years ago, if you didn't have a date a month before the prom, you probably weren't going to go,' according to Cynthia Bell, an executive editor of Teen. 'It's a little bit more casual today. Even if at the last moment you just decide to go with a friend, that's OK.' All across Washington DC, talk is of but one thing: will he or won't he? This is nothing to do with whether Monica Lewinsky's lawyer Bill Ginsburg will break the record of 1,000 talkshow appearances in a month, but whether crack-addict-turned-comeback kid Marion Barry is going to run again for mayor of the nation's capital. Having sown the seeds for the city's calamitous financial collapse during his corruption and cronyism-plagued tenure in the 1980s, Mr Barry, it will be recalled, had a brief period of R and R from the job in a federal prison. But to the astonishment of every white person in the District of Columbia, the 70 per cent majority black population voted overwhelmingly to return him to office in 1994. The white establishment had its revenge when Congress, exasperated by his continued failure to rectify the city's problems, exercised its power to take over the running of virtually every aspect of the DC government, leaving the mayor with only some ceremonial power and a nice expense account to keep him occupied. Most people assumed Mr Barry would therefore call it quits when his term expires at the end of the year. Newspapers have been rife with speculation about what he would do in semi-retirement. But not so fast. Even though prominent local politicians have been queueing up to compete for the chance to fill his shoes, Mr Barry has begun to make ominous noises about running for the job one more time. Like the Suharto of the Beltway, Mr Barry appears unable to envisage a DC without him at the helm. He has started refusing to rule out standing for re-election, and has scheduled a meeting with friends and supporters this weekend to help him decide what to do. Despite his truly appalling record at the helm of what - largely due to infusions of federal government cash - manages to cling to life as one of the country's great cities, there is more than a chance that enough of DC's residents will vote for him yet again. He has done little to improve the quality of life in the south-east ghettos that are his power base, yet he has derived enough mileage complaining about the 'rape of democracy' following the congressional takeover of the city to keep his prospects high. If Mayor Barry's friends are also friends of Washington DC, they will surely advise him to step down. The reporter who wrote a 'cancer cure' story for The New York Times and sent the share price of a small biotech company soaring has turned down the chance of a book deal worth US$2 million (HK$15.5 million). Gina Kolata, a science reporter on the paper for the past 10 years, pulled out after an outcry about the story, which has been criticised by cancer specialists as exaggerating the potential of a technique which treats cancer by cutting off the blood supply to the tumour. On May 3, the day her story appeared on the front page of the paper, she was rung by John Brockman, an agent famous for securing huge advances for science books. He represents 175 scientists and science writers. 'I can get you $2 million,' he promised. Although initially reluctant, she e-mailed him an outline the same day and he sent it on to publishers. By 9.30 the next morning he had the first offer from a major New York publisher. The next day she withdrew, after discussing the proposal with editors at the paper. Her story, which quoted Nobel Prize-winner James Watson as saying the new technique would cure cancer 'in two years', created a storm. The technique has so far been applied only to mice, and no drug actually exists. 'You have to think twice before you put a story above the fold on the front page about a drug and use the word cure when it really doesn't exist in drug form today,' said David Kessler, a former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration.