Jonathan Baker

News Curator

Jonathan Baker recently returned to the High Plains from New York City, where he was the assistant to the editor-in-chief at W. W. Norton & Co. At Norton, Baker worked with a wide variety of authors, including Neil deGrasse Tyson, Michael Lewis and Larry McMurtry. During his time in publishing, Baker worked on books that were shortlisted for a National Book Award and a Booker Prize, and Norton was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in History.

A former professional comedian, Baker has performed all over the United States and appeared on NBC’s Last Comic Standing. He holds an undergraduate degree in English with a History minor from West Texas A&M University and a master’s degree in the humanities from the University of Chicago. At UChicago, Baker focused on American literature but studied a wide range of topics, from architectural history to 19th-century landscape painting to the history of the natural sciences. His master’s thesis was on glaciers and ice age theory in the Victorian Era.

When not curating stories for High Plains Public Radio, Baker writes advertisements for publications like Esquire and Car & Driver. He also writes crime novels. Baker just finished his fourth book, a murder story set on the barren Texas plains.

Baker is the father of a 12-year-old boy, Inigo. They live in Canyon, Texas, in a tiny wooden house, where they watch a lot of cheesy old horror movies.   

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Wildfires erupted across Western Oklahoma again on Wednesday.

As The High Plains Journal reports, nearly 325,000 Acres had burned and were still burning as of Wednesday afternoon. This includes 68,000 acres in Woodward County and nearly a quarter of a million acres in Dewey County.

Texas has long been known as an economic powerhouse among states, but High Plains residents may not be aware of just how powerful the Lone Star State is on the world stage.

According to a new editorial in Forbes, the economy of Texas dwarfs that of Russia, which is by far the largest country in the world by area.

Jonathan Baker

Many folks in the Texas Panhandle experience cognitive dissonance when hearing our homeland referred to as “West Texas”—especially those of us who’ve ever seen a map. The Panhandle is most certainly not in the western part of the state. It could be called “Northwest Texas”—and it sometimes is—but truly, the Panhandle should be classified as North Texas.

Bas Silderhuis / The Texas Tribune

A new report says current and former Texas foster youth face greater pregnancy risks and calls on the state to provide health care and education to at-risk teens.

From The Texas Tribune:

After entering Texas’ foster care system in 2006, the day after her 14th birthday, Unisha Curry bounced around anywhere from nine to 11 foster homes. In one of her final homes, she had three foster sisters who were teen mothers.

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Texas is facing a major shortage of doctors, reports WFAA.

In fact, the Lone Star State ranks 47th among all states when it comes to having enough doctors to successfully treat its populace. The numbers come courtesy of a new report from the American Association of medical colleges.

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Wildfires ravaged much of Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle this weekend.

As KFOR reports, fire crews from neighboring states like Louisiana and Arkansas—and as far away as Florida—sped toward the Sooner State and the Lone Star State to try to quell the blazes. Hundreds of thousands of acres burned, including 7,000 acres in Wheeler County, and at least one life was lost in the Oklahoma fires.

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In recent years, the maternal death rate in the state of Texas has skyrocketed. Now, investigators have determined that the high rate of maternal deaths in the Lone Star State was actually due to inaccurate reporting on death certificates.

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A federal judge in Texas has ruled that workers in the Lone Star State cannot be discriminated against based on their gender identity or sexual orientation. As the online political journal The Hill reports, Houston-based judge Lee Rosenthal ruled that all workers in Texas are protected from such discrimination.

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Oklahoma schools are closed again today for an eighth straight school day, as teachers continue to protest low teacher pay and skimpy funding. CNN reported yesterday that the teacher movement is “gaining momentum.”

One group of teachers walked the 100 miles from Tulsa to the capitol in Oklahoma City, to draw attention to their plight.

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Mac Thornberry, the U.S. Congressman who represents most of the Texas Panhandle, came out this week in favor of a new round of airstrikes against Syria. Thornberry serves as the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

As POLITICO reports, Thornberry approved of the idea of sending missiles into Syria to punish President Bashar Assad for poison gas attacks the Syrian leader committed this weekend. Thornberry also encouraged U.S. allies to help with the retaliation.

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This weekend, Amarillo residents gathered to rally against child abuse and neglect. As The Amarillo Globe-News reports, last year Child Protective Services completed almost 7,000 cases in the Texas Panhandle.

Four out of five of those cases centered on children who were victims of neglectful supervision. To draw attention to the issue, dozens of child welfare advocates gathered at the Amarillo Activity Youth Center Saturday for the Amarillo Child Abuse Prevention Rally.

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The state of Oklahoma has had a crazy few days.

First, the most powerful Oklahoman in the Federal Government, EPA Secretary Scott Pruitt, faced mounting outrage over his use of taxpayer dollars to pay for first-class flights and a 24-hour security detail. The secretary also rented a private room from an energy lobbyist in the nation’s capital, for far below market value.

And then there were the state’s teachers, who walked out of schools across Oklahoma in protest of low pay and ten years’ worth of poor funding for education.

  

I’m Jonathan Baker, a writer in Canyon, Texas, and the task has fallen to me to wrap up this spring’s book club, in which we engaged with three books dedicated to various aspects of World War I. Let’s take a look back at the three books we read this spring, and see what kinds of connections and lessons we might take from them. All three books are of interest, as they manage to view the complications of the Great War from various unexpected distances and angles.

Amarillo Opera

Amarillo Opera will have one final showing this evening of its spring offering, Man of La Mancha. The opera company is thrilled to have Nacogdoches native Ron Raines in the title role. Raines has established himself as a force on Broadway, while also performing with such venerable institutions as San Francisco Opera, Dallas Opera, Houston Grand Opera, and Santa Fe Opera.

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Public schools across the state of Oklahoma shut down yesterday, as teachers protested years of spending cuts and low wages.

As The Washington Post reports, thousands of Educators gathered at the Oklahoma State Capitol and waved flags and Banners, while chanting and carrying signs that read: “Don’t make me use my TEACHER voice,” and “STRAIGHT OUTTA SUPPLIES.”

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West Texas A&M University will welcome Brandon Stanton tonight, as part of its distinguished lecture series.

Stanton is known as the founder of the "Humans of New York" photoblog, which tells the stories of everyday New Yorkers, and has now expanded into a worldwide phenomenon. Stanton has traveled the globe, telling the stories of everyday citizens.

In a phone interview last week, Stanton said that he isn't interested in the opinions of his subjects, political or otherwise, but rather the core humanity beneath those opinions.

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I’m Jonathan Baker, a writer in Canyon, Texas, and I’m the discussion leader for this month’s Radio Readers Book Club read: A Son at the Front by Edith Wharton. The novel concerns an upper-crust American portrait painter in Paris during World War I, who unexpectedly finds his son drafted and sent to the front.

As you might expect, this is not a happy novel. Yet, it is a quiet and contemplative one. Wharton wrote in a realistic style that has largely been lost in American literature, with an intense focus on observations and manners, and on the smallest mechanisms of thought and gesture. In this way, Wharton is like her friend Henry James, though she avoids the endlessly labyrinthine deep-dives into consciousness that can be found in James’s late novels.

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The City of Amarillo is following through on its threat to sue a local landowner for allowing a homeless encampment to reside on his property. As The Texas Observer reports, Amarillo officials announced last week that they would take Melvin McEwen to court over the homeless tent village.

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Deep inside a West Texas mountain lies a clock.

The mechanical timepiece, which rests inside a peak of the Sierra Diablo mountain range along the Texas-Mexico border, is 50 stories high. It ticks once per year.

The clock has a century hand that advances once every century, and every thousand years a cuckoo emerges from the clock to mark the passing of another millennium.

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Child Advocates are charging Texas public schools with punishing the state's youngest students too harshly.

As The Austin American-Statesman reports, last year Texas passed a law saying that students in Pre-K through second grade could only be suspended if they brought a gun to school, or committed drug offenses or acts of violence.

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A large crowd of marchers made their way through downtown Amarillo this weekend, in hopes of spurring action among lawmakers to tighten gun restrictions.

As KVII reports, Amarillo's March for our Lives protest was part of a larger worldwide movement, with the largest march happening on the mall in the nation's capital.

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A week ahead of their potential walk out, Oklahoma teachers have taken to posting pay stubs on the internet to show what they believed to be egregious financial treatment on behalf of the state.

As KFOR reports, the average starting salary for a teacher in Oklahoma is just over $31,000 a year, one of the lowest rates in the nation.

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Sitting outside a coffee shop on the town square in Canyon, Texas, I spent yesterday afternoon talking with someone who has a lot to say about the controversy over the DACA program. Julio Salazar was brought to Amarillo before he started pre-kindergarten, and he has attended Amarillo schools his whole life.

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Recent radar imagery shows a large portion of West Texas, near the New Mexico border, is sinking at alarming rates.

Two massive sinkholes are heaving and moving near Wink, Texas, according to a geophysical team from Southern Methodist University. The sinking is occurring across a 4000-square-mile region. Some areas have sunk as much as three and a half feet in a little over two years, reports phys.org.

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Credit rating agencies recently sent a warning to the Lone Star State: If Texas doesn’t get its spending under control, including its overstretched obligations in the areas of public education, pensions, transportation and health care, then the state’s credit rating will be downgraded.

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The arrival of spring break didn’t stop teachers in Oklahoma from pursuing their quest for higher pay.

As KFOR reports, this week many teachers traded in their vacations to instead visit the state capitol, in hopes of convincing Oklahoma lawmakers to raise their compensation and staving off a statewide walkout on April 2nd.

Jonathan Baker

Several fires burned throughout the Texas Panhandle this weekend, on a Sunday that was windy even by West Texas standards. One fire near the northwest loop of Amarillo ultimately burned 400 acres of grassland before being conquered by firefighters from Potter County Fire, the Texas A&M Forest Service, and the Amarillo Street Department.

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The Texas unemployment rate rose slightly in the most recent numbers, up 4.2% for January. As KFYO notes, the jobless rate in the Lone Star State is slightly higher than the national figure, which stands at 4.1%. Annual employment growth for January in Texas was 2%, marking 93 consecutive months of annual growth.

Amarillo’s unemployment rate, at 2.8%, is significantly lower than the statewide rate. Meanwhile, Oklahoma’s jobless rate held steady at 4.1%, a tenth of a point lower than Texas’s.

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A podcast about the Texas Panhandle has been gaining a good deal of attention in recent months.

Author Jason Boyett, who grew up in Amarillo, says he started the “Hey Amarillo” podcast for a couple of reasons. The project allows him to give back to his hometown, and it also provides panhandle residents with a chance to hear from people who live near them but aren’t necessarily like them.

Recent guests include Amarillo mayor Ginger Nelson, a DACA recipient, and an NAACP board member, and a young entrepreneur.

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The Oklahoma Senate has passed a law that would make it legal for adoption companies to refuse services to same-sex couples.

As The Tulsa World reports, the measure passed by a vote of 35-9 and now heads to the House for consideration. LGBTQ advocacy groups decried the Senate vote.

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