Looking ahead to nothing

Nothing says “Happy New Year!” like the sound of hundreds of new state laws taking effect all at once, which, in the case of 2010, might have sounded something like the laments of fast-food restaurateurs, the moos of happy cows, the rapid flight of birds away from all airports and the cheers of college students who, for whatever reason, need to get their hands on a restraining order fast.

This fresh batch of new rules and regulations, cooked up by our friends over in Sacramento for the supposed betterment of our collective well-being, seem well-intentioned in the main, even if their impact mostly won’t be felt by we the people. Here, for casual use only, is a mostly arbitrary guide to some of those laws, chosen either for relevance to college students, Californians or sheer comedy.

But first, a warning to human traffickers, nitrous oxide dealers and paparazzi who reside within state boundaries: Your lives will be incrementally tougher in the new year.

As for the rest of us, we are now one step closer to actually fulfilling our annual weight-loss resolutions, thanks perhaps to the most far-reaching of the new rules: essentially a statewide ban on trans fats in all restaurant food.

The passage of the ban has stirred some minor controversy. Obviously, trans fats are bad, and no one can credibly say otherwise. We might recall from health class that they clog arteries and increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. They are also right at the fatty center of this country’s obesity epidemic.

Some say Sacramento is overstepping its bounds with this ban; choices are being made for us by people who think they know best. Well, they are, but, in this case, its fat-free heart is in the right place. Trans fats are cheaper to cook with, and prices could potentially increase as a result of the ban. But, if it means Californians will be a few pounds lighter, mm, mm good.

(There is a minor scandal, however, that must be mentioned: The ban applies to all food facilities in California except school cafeterias — where we cultivate a palate for fatty foods. This seems entirely backwards. Children, be vigilant and boycott.)

For college students specifically, two new measures stand out. Universities can now obtain restraining orders on behalf of students against someone who has threatened them with violence. This is a serious new measure, and should be treated as such. No one wants college officials handing out restraining orders willy-nilly, but if a student needs one, it should be easier now to obtain it.

In other college-related news, companies that sell textbooks in California will have to make them available electronically by 2020. Why this is necessary, one cannot be entirely sure, but, if it reduces costs, who’s to say no? At the same time, the notion of online textbooks makes one wonder: Are “physical” books becoming obsolete? The people at Amazon think so; their Kindle is slowly taking over. But much of the learning process takes place on the physical page — underlining, circling, highlighting. Electronic books sound convenient, but may distance us even further from the material.

Now for a few fun animal-related rules of no immediate consequence. California cows, no doubt happier now than ever, are henceforth safe from tail-docking, a cruel practice whereby dairy farmers cut off part of their tails (think Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh, except he’s a donkey). Also, birds that pose a danger to aircraft can now be killed, state fish and game laws notwithstanding.  Finally, spectators at dogfights will now face harsher penalties.

Other new laws involve very small, but nonetheless welcome, victories for gay rights; the recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states prior to the passage of Proposition 8, and the commemoration of Harvey Milk’s May 22 birthday as a day of recognition.

There we have it — one more year, hundreds of new laws. Most are fairly hard to care about, but we owe it not only to ourselves but also to our statesmen to at least try. These are rules intended to improve society, and even if that improvement is incremental, it is improvement nonetheless. We must constantly be wary, however, of bureaucracy, and, with each new batch of rules, bureaucracy inevitably expands. Although praiseworthy, the ban on trans fats essentially puts our dietary choices into the hands of bureaucrats — a scary notion, indeed.

But at the end of the day, there really isn’t much the vast majority of us will have to do differently in 2010, except wait around for 2011, where we can ignore the indefatigable efforts of our state legislature all over again.

Jason Kehe is a sophomore majoring in print journalism.