amd_tiffany-sheppardThe economy may be turning around, health care reform may yet happen, but will America recover its dignity?  In Montgomery, Ala., this week members of Lilly Baptist Church held a prayer vigil for the safety of President Barack Obama and his family because of death threats against the president and because people have shown up outside his speeches toting guns. In Virginia, members of the Powhatan County school board voted not to show next week’s webcast of the president’s back-to-school message after parents complained.  Meanwhile, fired Port St. Lucie, Fla., school teacher Tiffany Shepherd says her inability to find another conventional job has forced her to become a porn star.

And it’s not just humans acting wacky.  Poisonous snakes have bitten five people in Virginia Beach this summer, prompting the city to issue official “Snake Bite Prevention Safety Tips.”  In Hope Mills, N.C., a pit bull chomped into the tires on a deputy’s parked car, deflating all four.

Here are some other stories from around the South that grabbed our attention:

Home is where you land: A man fell backward 26 feet off the Gap Road overpass onto I-640 in Knoxville, Tenn., after pointing to the sky and declaring that he wanted to “go home” — and survived.  Knoxnews.com reported that the man is likely to recover, but the two police officers who tried to talk him down were sent to counseling.

1090686783_mYes, there will be no Y.A.S. concert: Iran revoked the visa for its only state-tolerated rapper to appear at the University of North Carolina on Sept. 17.  Given Tehran’s fire in the streets since the corrupt June elections, Y.A.S. is probably lucky to be alive.  Shooting, clubbing goon squads have been especially tough on the hip-hop generation of protesters.  Y.A.S. will miss an opportunity to set the record straight on what happened at Thermopylae  2,489 years ago. The News & Observer noted that his “Hoviate Man” (“My Identity”) celebrates his Persian heritage and criticizes how Persians were portrayed as barbaric in the film “300” about the Spartan-Persian face-off … Ever wonder what rap in Farsi sounds like?

Wake me when they graduate: A phys ed teacher in Mobile County, Ala., was placed on administrative leave after she was arrested for DUI on her way to school, according to Al.com.

Speaking of guns: Carrying guns is now legal in dozens of Shelby County, Tenn., municipal parks. Coaches using the parks for children’s games, however, will not be allowed to carry guns. According to the Memphis Commercial Appeal, the city of Memphis and suburban Germantown voted earlier to opt out of the new state law.

Chickens, on the other hand … The Nashville Metro Council voted to continue its ban on chickens, denying a woman’s claim that her chickens are pets.  According to Tennessean.com, opponents argued that chickens are a health risk and a noisy nuisance.

large_hezekiah_watkinsRemembering the Riders: U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) is putting together a national advisory committee to plan a reunion of Freedom Riders in 2011 and says he hopes he can get President Obama to join in, according to NOLA.com.

A matter of Pride: The city of Birmingham and a gay pride group have settled a lawsuit over Mayor Larry Langford’s refusal to let city workers hang banners for last year’s Gay Pride parade. The city agreed to pay $40,350 to Central Alabama Pride’s attorneys for legal fees and the lawsuit filing fee, according to The Birmingham News.

Would she still write The Optimist’s Daughter? After an electrical fire forced the Eudora Welty Library in Jackson, Miss., to close for 11 months, it’s temporarily shut down again because of a broken sewage pump, which knocked out the toilets..  The Clarion-Ledger reports that administrative employees who work in the building have been using bathrooms at a nearby church.

Antioch, Calif., can’t hold ’em all:  The Miami Herald reported that a slice of $7.5 million in federal stimulus money is being offered to help homeless sex offenders and predators living under the Julia Tuttle Causeway in Miami to cover rent, housing and utilities.

In other hip-hop news:  R&B singer and convicted girlfriend beater Chris Brown will be “performing manual-labor tasks, such as graffiti removal, trash pickup, washing cars, cleaning, maintaining grounds, etc.,” according to a memo released by Richmond, Va., Police Chief Bryan T. Norwood to the Richmond Times-Dispatch and other Richmond media outlets.  The community service is part of Brown’s probation for what he did to Rihanna.

348411Dog days, dog years: HamptonRoad.com points with pride to the little-noticed fact that the world’s oldest dog, who died recently in New York at the age of 21, had Virginia roots.  The dog’s owner adopted the dachshund from a Virginia shelter when she was 6 weeks old.  Meanwhile, a Louisiana dog is vying for the title.  Owner Janelle Derouen says her Max turned 26 on Aug. 9 and that the Guinness Book of World Record is reviewing the claim.

Joe Camel takes a walk: Chatham County, Ga., is about to light up its non-smoking policy requiring county employees who smoke to pay an extra $20 per paycheck for health insurance.  According to the Savannah Morning News, 115 of the county’s 139 admitted smokers signed up for quit-smoking sessions, but the remaining 24 are hanging tough and plan to pay extra.  Even in the heart of tobacco country, smoking is taking a hit.  The Charlotte Observer reports that Central Piedmont College will ban all smoking at its six North Carolina campuses on Jan. 2.

Good smoke: Dolly Parton sang and politicians speechified at what was billled as the “rededication” of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  The park was originally dedicated on Sept. 2, 1940 by President Franklin Roosevelt.

Dew Droplets: New Orleans officials have named political odd couple James Carville and Mary Matalin as  co-chairpersons for Super Bowl XLVI at the Superdome in 2013 … The University of North Carolina system is cutting 900 administrative jobs … Twenty-six students were arrested in a cafeteria melee at North Charleston High in South Carolina … The Dalai Lama and Natalie Cole are sharing the billing at the “Developing Peace and Harmony” conference in Memphis Sept. 23 … LeAnn Rimes is getting divorced.

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Ron Taylor

Ron Taylor

Ron Taylor was born and raised in Georgia and worked more than 40 years at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution as a reporter and editor and as an online producer for ajc.com and AccessAtlanta. He served for a time as the newspaper's regional editor, overseeing coverage of the South. He is co-author, with Dr. Leonard Ray Teel, of Into the Newsroom:  An Introduction to Journalism and has conducted workshops in the Middle East on feature writing.