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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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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A school district on the edge of Amarillo is now allowing certain teachers to carry concealed weapons, leaving some to wonder if the rest of Amarillo’s schools may be next.

As The Amarillo Globe-News reports, the 900-student Highland Park ISD on Amarillo’s eastern edge has posted signs reading that the district, “has adopted policies that allow certain employees to carry concealed weapons on school property for the protection of our students and staff.”

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I’m Jonathan Baker, a writer in Canyon, Texas, and I’m the discussion leader for this month’s book club read, A Son at the Front by Edith Wharton. The theme for the Radio Readers Book Club this spring is World War I—which means the theme is really war itself. Some military historians consider the American Civil War to be the first “modern war,” as many of the elements of post-Industrial Age warfare were in place during that event. Yet World War I was the first conflict to use mechanized weapons on such a massive scale that the earth itself seemed to shake from the trauma.

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Oklahoma’s state employees announced this weekend that they will join the state’s teachers in a walkout early next month if lawmakers do not meet the teachers’ demands for increased pay and school funding.

As The Oklahoman reports, the Oklahoma Public Employees Association board of directors met on Saturday and approved a work stoppage plan if the state legislature doesn’t agree to $213 million in state employee pay raises by April 2.

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During the primary elections in the Texas Panhandle this year much was heard about a heavily funded far-right group called Empower Texans, and how the group was trying to meddle in Panhandle elections. Republicans like State Congressman Four Price and State Senator Kel Seliger were targeted by the group, who funded primary challengers to try to torpedo these lawmakers’ re-election bids.

This wasn’t just happening in the Panhandle, either—Empower Texans employed their hardball tactics in races across the state. And they came up mostly empty-handed.

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West Virginia teachers had a big win this week after state legislators met demands for a 5% increase for all educators and school administrators statewide.

Now, the next battleground in the teacher pay debate looks to be the state of Oklahoma.

As The Oklahoman reports, state lawmakers have three weeks to approve $800 million in additional public school funding, including money for teacher pay raises, or educators across the state are going to walk off the job.

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The dust continues to settle from Tuesday night’s Texas primary elections, and there were some expected results as well as a few surprises, both regionally and statewide.

As The Amarillo Globe-News reports, State Senator Kel Seliger successfully fended off challenges from former Midland Mayor Mike Canon and Amarillo restaurateur Victor Leal. Seliger just barely squeaked over the 50% margin to avoid a runoff, winding up with 50.41% of the vote.

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