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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Many Texans may not know that their state has a part-time legislature. State lawmakers only gather once every two years to conduct the business of the Lone Star State. By contrast, the Legislatures of all of the other HPPR states—Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska—meet on a yearly basis.

What’s more: Legislators in Texas only earn a little over $7,000 a year.

You may be wondering, why does the second largest economy in the U.S.—and the 10th largest in the world—only require its lawmakers to meet on a biennial basis?

Harry Wood / Flickr Creative Commons

Texas politicians are leaning on the Trump administration to ease up on a Federal mandate encouraging ethanol use in American automobiles, reports The Houston Chronicle.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was among a group of GOP lawmakers who met with Trump this week to ask the President to change the mandate.

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Mac Thornberry, the Congressman who represents the Texas Panhandle region, cosponsored a bill this week in the House of Representatives intended to loosen gun laws in the United States.

As The Amarillo Globe-News reports, the legislation would make it easier for gun owners to carry their weapons across state lines.

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Lawmakers in Washington may end net neutrality next week, and that could be bad for small businesses on the High Plains.

As The Texas Tribune reports, net neutrality is an Obama-era regulation that requires internet companies to treat all customers the same. If the rule is repealed, internet service providers like AT&T and Suddenlink could prioritize access to some websites over others.

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Oklahoma schools are still using a controversial punishment technique for special needs children, and the method has caused some parents to pull their kids out of school. Many of these same parents have been led to call the police or take legal action.

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The Texas Department of Child Protective Services continues to fall short when it comes to responding to investigations in a timely manner, reports The Austin American-Stateman.

However, things have improved somewhat at the embattled agency. Since CPS was ordered to clean up its operation by lawmakers, employee workloads have diminished, and the agency has hired more caseworkers. But when it comes to responding to calls regarding children in potential danger, the organization is still lagging behind.

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Texans are letting sexual taboos get in the way of preventing cancer, according to a recent editorial in The Dallas Morning News.

When it comes to vaccinating kids against the human papillomavirus, better known as HPV, Texas ranks near the bottom. The shot has been around for a decade now, and it prevents a virus that 90% of men and 85% of women will otherwise contract in their lifetimes. In a small percentage of cases, HPV can lead to cancer.

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When it comes to charitable giving, Oklahoma ranks in the top 10 among all states, according to a new study by the personal finance website Wallethub.

Oklahoma was the only state in the HPPR listening area to make the top 10, though Kansas was close behind at number 12. 

Nebraska landed at number 20, and Colorado just missed making the top half of states, with an appearance at number 26 on the list.

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Solar power continues to expand across the Sooner State.

As The Tulsa World reports, in this state that has long been a bastion for proponents of fossil fuel, photovoltaic panels can be seen glittering beneath the Oklahoma sky more and more frequently these days.

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Concerns over wildfires are growing in the Texas Panhandle, as the state moves deeper into an unusually dry winter.

As The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports, meteorologists are warning that conditions are once again unusually ripe for fires across the region. The La Nina weather phenomenon is leading forecasters to predict dry, unusually warm weather in Texas—perfect conditions for grass fires.

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Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick wants more Texas churches to welcome guns into their sanctuaries, The Texas Tribune reports.

In the wake of a mass shooting in central Texas last month that left 26 people dead, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said he believed that arming worshipers would help prevent similar tragedies.

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The executive chairman of BNSF railroad recently penned an editorial in the San Antonio Express-News pleading with lawmakers, including Texas Sen. John Cornyn, not to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Leaving NAFTA, wrote Matt Rose, would end the one million jobs in Texas that rely on the trade deal. Rose noted that, in 2015, the Lone Star State exported over $125 million worth of goods to Mexico and Canada.

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A statue of Quanah Parker, the legendary Comanche chief, has been dedicated in Snyder, Texas, reports The Abilene Reporter-News.

The bronze statue was crafted by Abilene sculptor Terry Gilbreth, and it shows Parker looking out over the open prairie with a spear in his hand. The statue stands in front of the Scurry County Museum on the campus of Western Texas College. From the tip of the spear, the statue stands almost 20 feet high.

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Immigrants in Texas who are part of the beleaguered DACA program are seeing their prospects dwindle as Democratic discussions with the Trump administration fell apart this week.

As The Texas Tribune reports, each day that passes without a fix means hundreds more undocumented immigrants are put at risk of deportation.

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Oklahoma has once again been ranked first in the nation when it comes to slashing funding for education.

As KOSU reports, over the past decade Oklahoma has cut school funding more per-pupil than any other state. According to a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, since 2008, the amount of funding available per pupil in Oklahoma has dropped by almost 30 percent.

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T. Boone Pickens is selling his ranch, according to The Dallas Morning News.

The 89-year-old energy magnate, a graduate of Amarillo High School, values his Mesa Verde ranch at $250 million dollars. The ranch stretches across 65,000 acres in the northeastern Panhandle.

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An artifact from the birth of Texas has made its way back into official hands after 173 years.

As The Austin Chronicle reports, a map of the Republic of Texas that was purchased by a Kerrville couple at a Dallas liquidation sale has been handed over to Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush.

The map depicts Texas in 1844, one year before the independent nation was granted statehood.

Public Domain

The State of Texas is scrambling to find a way to avoid telling nearly half a million Texas kids that they’ve lost health coverage this holiday season.

As things currently stand, hundreds of thousands of children in Texas will be informed of their lost coverage three days before Christmas.

oklegislature.gov / Public Domain

The recent Oklahoma special legislative session ended with a shocking turn of events earlier this month, when Governor Mary Fallin vetoed much of the budget bill the state legislature had devised.

Fallin herself had called the special session. The two-month long convening of lawmakers looked to be on the path to success when Fallin took out her red pen.

The move dismayed GOP leaders, who said Fallin had indicated to them that she would support the proposal. So now, what’s next for Oklahoma? 

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Potter County, Texas, which encompasses part of Amarillo, is considering launching a lawsuit against major drug companies.

As The Amarillo Globe-News reports, the county hopes to win back some of the money spent in the battle against the opioid scourge. Attorney Jack Walker has asked Potter County to join in the lawsuit being filed by his Dallas firm.

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Texans only have a few weeks to wait until medical marijuana becomes legal in the state. But, as The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports, only Texans with the most tenacious forms of epilepsy will be allowed to purchase the drug.

Marijuana plants are currently being grown in South-Central Texas. The active ingredients in the plants will be converted to liquids and sold in droppers to epileptics before the end of this year.

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Texans went to the polls earlier this month to approve seven different constitutional amendments, many of which might have seemed to the casual voter like something that could easily have been dealt with by the State Legislature.

If you were wondering why you needed to go vote on whether sports teams should be allowed to hold charitable raffles, you weren’t alone.

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The Texas Department of Public Transportation is once again considering whether to extend Interstate 27 northward from Amarillo and southward from Lubbock down to the Mexican border.

I-27 currently stretches 117 miles from Amarillo to Lubbock.

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Fracking operations in Texas have awakened sleeping fault lines, leading to a spate of unprecedented earthquakes across the northern part of the state, reports Scientific American.

The appearance of the quakes echoes recent history in Oklahoma. As with its neighbor to the north, the frequency of earthquakes in Texas has grown year by year since the introduction of wastewater injection from hydraulic fracturing operations.

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The special session of the Oklahoma Legislature ended 10 days ago, and Oklahoma Watch has published a look at some of the session’s statistics.

The session lasted 54 days, during which 194 measures were proposed. Out of those 194 bills, a total of four became law—though one of those four successful measures—the budget bill—was line-item vetoed by Governor Mary Fallin.

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The two largest universities in Texas own hundreds of thousands of acres across West Texas—and the University of Texas and Texas A&M are increasingly leasing that land to solar and wind operations.

As The Daily Texan reports, the two universities combined control over 2.1 million acres of land statewide. The universities have often fueled their growth in the past by leasing acreage to oil and natural gas producers.

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Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin recently signed an executive order declaring that all school districts that spend less than 60% of their budgets on instruction should be consolidated, reports The Oklahoman.

Put more simply, a school district must be spending six out of every ten dollars to pay teachers. If not, the district will be forced to combine with a nearby district, or share budgets, maintenance, equipment, and other employees like janitors and counselors.

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West Texas oil producers are running out of places to send the growing glut of natural gas that is a byproduct of the recent oil boom in the region.

As Fox Business reports, all of the natural gas pipelines that stretch from West Texas to the gulf are basically full. And the gas can’t be sent north, because northern natural gas markets are already supplied by producers in Canada and the Rockies.

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Earlier this year, Texas Agriculture Secretary Sid Miller unveiled a wide-reaching plan to deal with the feral hog problem in the Lone Star State. He called the scheme the “hog apocalypse,” and the plan involved scattering the state with deadly hog poison.

But the plan was scuttled when nature advocates expressed concerns about the effects the poison would have on the food chain. In the meantime, rural Texas continue to battle the hog hordes.

Public Domain

The Pumpkin
By John Greenleaf Whittier
 

Oh, greenly and fair in the lands of the sun,
The vines of the gourd and the rich melon run,
And the rock and the tree and the cottage enfold,
With broad leaves all greenness and blossoms all gold,
Like that which o'er Nineveh's prophet once grew,
While he waited to know that his warning was true,
And longed for the storm-cloud, and listened in vain
For the rush of the whirlwind and red fire-rain.

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