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And now, a break from the political news for some fun facts to enjoy during your post-Thanksgiving turkey stupor…

There is a Thanksgiving tradition that has been going strong in Maryland for nearly a century, and it has nothing to do with an added day off for “service reduction.” It’s called the “Blessing of the Hounds,” in which two churches in Maryland bestow their blessings upon a group of fox hunters, their horses and their dogs.

St. John’s Church in Reisterstown has been blessing pooches since around 1932, said Sue Housel, the parish administrator. Each year, anywhere from five to 75 riders show up with their hunting dogs. “We get a huge crowd,” Housel said. “People come from all over the place.”

A prayer is said, and they’re off to hunt some foxes, those sly foxes.

Asked how the foxes feel about the whole thing, what with the dogs having the heavenly blessing in addition to sheer numbers and the riders goading them on, Housel said, “I don’t think there is any desecration of a fox that day. I think they [meaning the sainted hounds] just tire them out.”

— Holly Nunn

The nanny state

The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene announced last Friday that, effective June 21, crib bumper pads — those big cotton pads that tie onto the inside of cribs and are basically just another thing for the baby-industrial complex to sell worried parents — no longer will be sold in Maryland. In a statement released Friday, the department announced that it had taken 18 months to conclude that the pads could cause suffocation or strangulation and offer no meaningful benefit.

“Our safety message is that babies sleep best alone, on their back, and in a crib,” said department Secretary Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein in a statement.

If parents still are worried about their child suddenly smashing his or her head against the crib rails, mesh crib liners or pads that wrap around each individual rail are allowed.

The department will issue warnings to any person who ships or sells bumper pads to customers in Maryland. If there continue to be violations, the penalty is dea —, er, $500.

— Holly Nunn

Off to an early lead?

Two years before the next gubernatorial election, Anthony Brown is emerging as a clear front-runner, according to polling data from — Anthony Brown.

Maryland Juice reported this week that an internal poll, conducted by Gary-Hart-Yang at the request of the Guv Lite, puts Brown ahead of fellow likely candidates Peter Franchot, Ken Ulman and Doug Gansler.

Brown has 63 percent name recognition and 41 percent “positive feelings”— higher than the other three.

The wild card? As Juice points out, the September 2012 poll didn’t ask voters about Heather Mizeur, who also is exploring a run, and was done well before the key issues in the race have become clear. And the polling memo notes that one-third of voters haven’t made up their minds.

So, the bottom line is that Brown is well-positioned, but anything still could happen. Shocker.

— Daniel Leaderman

Now entering the 21st century …

Tired of the same old General Assembly website? Longing for something a bit more user-friendly? Hoping for a more stylish way to peruse the legislative schedule?

So, too, it appears, are the good people at the Department of Legislative Services, who have unveiled a test version of their new website, which they plan to have fully up and running by the start of the 2013 session.

The new site features easily accessible House and Senate agendas, committee schedules, links to webcasts and bill data, as well as a system that automatically will track the progress of bills of your choosing.

There’s also a glossary that will tell you the official bill numbers of legislation nicknames, i.e., “same-sex marriage,” “gas tax” and “honey,” so you won’t have to worry about figuring out which one is the “Civil Marriage Protection Act” or the “Transportation and Infrastructure Financing Investment Act of 2012.”

It’s a welcome change from the old site, which still looks a bit like the amateur webpages people were making in 1995 to talk about how much they liked “The X-Files.”

One suggestion? On the hearing schedule page — which lists the bills that each committee will consider, provide links to the bills themselves. It’ll make things easier for reporters … er, we mean, it will better serve the citizens of Maryland …

— Daniel Leaderman

Breaking bread — almost

Spotted on Capitol Hill last week was newly elected Rep. John Delaney, with the eager and slightly lost look of an incoming freshman.

Delaney was in Washington, D.C., for orientation programs for incoming congressional representatives , said Delaney spokesman Will McDonald.

The Capitol Hill offices were a beehive of activity with Congress back in session after the election, retiring and defeated representatives and senators cleaning out their offices, and newly elected officials arriving to find out where their offices will be located, obtain identification badges and learn about their new jobs.

The important thing for Delaney and other first-time officials to absorb is the best lunch spot secret near their new offices. Hint: It’s the nearby Museum of the American Indian cafeteria.

— C. Benjamin Ford

Driving home to a point

Speaking of dining on native American food, AAA Mid-Atlantic predicted travel would be flat this Thanksgiving weekend, with just a slight uptick in the number of people going over the river and through the woods to visit family for the holiday.

The motorist advocacy organization predicted travel would be up one-half of 1 percent over last year’s forecast due, in part, to people remaining cautious with household and discretionary spending due to the sluggish economy.

However, the slight uptick marked the fourth year of more people hitting the roads to spend the holiday with family and friends elsewhere — following the decade low of 2008.

An estimated 883,000 Marylanders were expected to travel this weekend some 50 miles or more. Thanksgiving travel time is from the Wednesday before the holiday to Sunday evening.

Gas prices in Maryland have dropped 38 cents per gallon on average since they peaked in mid-September, said AAA Mid-Atlantic spokeswoman Ragina Averella.

— C. Benjamin Ford

Joy to the flash mob

This holiday season, The Gazette of Politics and Business has a lot to be thankful for. Like what? The story-rich election season from which we just emerged? The promising General Assembly session into which we shall bravely march, our pens and recording devices gleaming in the morning sun?

Yes, these are things for which we are grateful, but something else tops our list of blessings heading into this festive time of year; namely, an email dated Monday from one Sen. Jamie Raskin.

You see, the constitutional law scholar, Harvard graduate, author and 2012 Maryland Access to Justice Commission Legislator of the Year is turning 50 on Dec. 13. To celebrate, he plans to hold a … wait for it … Rock & Roll Flash Mob Birthday Dance Eruption. Yes, a dancing flash mob on Ellsworth Avenue in downtown Silver Spring at precisely 4:36 p.m. Dec. 1. There are no words for how glorious this is.

The whole thing has been choreographed by Alyce Jenkins, executive director of the Maryland Youth Ballet, and will be led by her and her students. It also is in celebration of Raskin neighbor and family friend Alexander Thompson’s bar mitzvah.

If you wish to partake, you can watch the choreography on YouTube — just search Jamies Flash Mob Maryland Youth Ballet — and learn it yourself. That means you, too, Senate Prez Mike Miller.

— Holly Nunn