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.   

Okahoma Lottery

Oklahoma school districts are being forced to slash their budgets in the middle of the school year, reports KFOR. It’s a seemingly impossible task to adjust budgets at this point in the year. And many Oklahomans are wondering, where is the lottery money that was supposed to help the schools?

Star of the Republic Museum via Portal to Texas History

In light of the standoff in Oregon, KUT has published a reminder that Texas has seen its own share of standoffs. In fact, the state’s most famous battle spawned yet another siege of its own 70 years later. In 1908 a Daughter of the Texas Republic barricaded herself in a decrepit building that had once served as the Alamo’s convent.

Center for Rural Affairs

As the holiday season ends and many of us settle back into our routines, we often take a collective sigh of relief. Christmas can be a stressful time for so many of us. It means hectic travel, crowded stores, family squabbles. But John Crabtree at The Center for Rural Affairs recently received a reminder of the importance of the season. Kolt Smith, the six-year-old son of one of John’s colleagues at the Center for Rural Affairs, wrote John an essay.

CPR / Hart Van Denburg

Colorado’s construction industry continues to thrive, reports Colorado Public Radio. Four out of five construction firms in the state expect to hire more workers this year, according to a new survey by the Associated General Contractors of America. Colorado construction is at higher levels than the national average. 81% of all firms surveyed plan to add workers.

StateImpact Oklahoma

Oklahoma oil and gas authorities are finalizing legal action against an oil company in the state. The “financially strapped” Oklahoma energy company has refused to abandon disposal wells suspected of contributing to earthquakes, reports StateImpact. The company, Sandridge Energy, has been ignoring directives from the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to shut down six of its disposal wells.

Kansas Historical Society / kansasmemory.org

Fans of High Plains history might be interested in a major new biography of George Armstrong Custer, entitled Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of New America. Author T.J. Stiles takes a different approach with his book. He tells Custer’s story up to—but not including—the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

www.kansas.com

The Kansas Highway Patrol has 82 fewer troopers than it did 10 years ago. And Southwest Kansas is suffering the most from a lack of troopers, reports The Wichita Eagle. 20 counties in Western Kansas have no troopers assigned to them. And 16 of those counties are in the southwest part of the state. Kansas is now seeking an increase in vehicle title fees to reverse that trend.

Colorado Public Radio

Consumers are expected to have a great month at the pump, according to Colorado Public Radio. That’s because gas prices are expected to keep falling in January. A report released Wednesday showed a sharp increase in gasoline inventories. Early this year companies added another eleven million barrels of gasoline. That created the biggest surge in supply since 1993.

Matthew Rutledge / Flickr Creative Commons

In the past, hormone therapy was only available to Texas transgender prisoners who were already undergoing it before they were incarcerated. But now, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice is making it easier for these prisoners to access hormone therapy. The updated policy took effect in August, reports The Texas Observer. Prisoners diagnosed with gender dysphoria while in custody are now eligible to receive treatment.

USDA

Rural High Plains students have a higher chance of graduating these days, reports The Rural Blog. That’s according to new data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2015 Rural America at a Glance report. The number of rural adults with a four-year college degree has increased by 4 percent since 2000. And the number of rural residents without a high school diploma or GED has decreased by nine percent in the same period.

Billy Hathorn / Texas Tribune

Texas’s new open carry law is making headlines and causing controversy. But there’s one place you might not expect the battle to play out: at your local zoo. According to The Texas Tribune, that’s because zoos are funded through private foundations but located on public property. That means the laws are hazy for zoos if they want to keep firearms off their property.

zippia.com

When it comes to a healthy work-life balance, Garden City, Kansas, has it pretty good. Zippia.com recently ranked the cities in Kansas with the best work-life balance, and Garden City tops the list. Rounding out the top five were Hillsboro, Hesston, Olathe, and Derby.

Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno / Getty Images

With all the turmoil surrounding abortion rights in this country, sometimes it’s helpful to take a global view of things. The Guardian reports that, when it comes to accessibility of abortions, the U.S. falls somewhere in the middle. For example, it’s easier for a woman to get an abortion in Texas than it is in Northern Ireland. In Greece, however, abortions can be carried out on demand up to a limit of 12 weeks. 

Anthony Inswasty / Wikimedia Commons

Gas prices are expected to remain low this year, according to Colorado Public Radio. The average price at the pump is expected to range from $2.25 to $2.45 a gallon.

In 2015, crude oil prices fell by more than a third. The going rate for a barrel of crude currently sits at around $38. The continuing low gas prices are a result of the persistent low cost of oil.

Crude prices, too, are expected to remain low for much of the year.

KFOR.com

Last week’s cluster of earthquakes in Edmond, Oklahoma, have revealed a previously unknown fault line, according to NewsOK. This new information could mean more earthquakes in the future, says seismologist Daniel McNamara. Researchers have been using oil and gas industry data to identify previously undocumented fault lines in the state. But sometimes faults are revealed when a series of earthquakes fire off with epicenters in a linear pattern. This is what happened last week in Edmond.

KanCare.ks.gov

Three years ago the administration of Gov. Sam Brownback privatized Kansas’s $3 billion Medicaid system and named it KanCare. Since then, the program has been the subject of a great deal of criticism. Last week a number of individuals testified before the joint House and Senate oversight committee, reports The Topeka Capital-Journal. Those who spoke before the committee provided “unvarnished critiques” of the program.

ApartmentList.com

According to the new rental report on ApartmentList.com, Texas rental growth is still on par with the nation overall. In Texas, apartment rental rates are now up over the last year by around 3 percent. The average price of a one bedroom in Texas is $1000. For a two bedroom, it’s $1070.

Addison is Texas’s most expensive city, with a median two bedroom price of $1740. Dallas is second.

Public Domain

This year marks the 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service. In celebration, Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site in southeastern Colorado is waiving its admission fees for all of 2016. Starting last week, the national park will be free to all visitors. “We think of this as a gift to both the traveling public and local folks,” said Park Superintendent Alexa Roberts. She added, “It seems like a great way [for] those from the local area who have not visited recently to reconnect with the national park here in their own backyard.”

John Hanna / AP photo

Unemployment is down and wages are up in Kansas. But one sector is struggling. Corrections officers are leaving the state in large numbers because of low pay, reports The Topeka Capital-Journal. The exodus has triggered a public safety crisis. Legislators are grappling with the issue on top of trying to fix the state’s budget crisis. Starting pay for Kansas corrections officers is 33 percent lower than the state’s average hourly wage of just over $20.

Kansas City Star

Kansas hepatitis C patients who drink alcohol or stop using their medications could be in trouble, reports The Kansas City Star. A Kansas legislative panel recommended last week that these Hep C patients should lose their Medicaid coverage. The KanCare Oversight Committee also recommended that the state health department use “step therapy.” This is a process that requires Medicaid patients to try cheaper treatments first and receive more expensive treatments only if the other medicines fail.

Joe Amon / The Denver Post

A couple of weeks ago more than 200 Muslim workers walked off their jobs at a Cargill meat plant in eastern Colorado. Now the vast majority of those workers have been fired, reports The Denver Post.

Penn State/pennstatenews / Flickr Creative Commons

Oklahoma women working full time in 2014 earned about 78 percent of their male counterparts, reports NewsOK. The data comes from estimates by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. There was no improvement from last year’s ratio, which was also 78 percent. Oklahoma has a worse percentage than the nation overall. In the U.S., women's median weekly pay was about 82 percent of the pay for men.

Joe Raedle / Newsmakers

Last Thursday marked a historic day for the Texas oil and gas industry, reports Bloomberg. The first U.S. shipment of crude oil to an overseas buyer departed Corpus Christi last week.

Cyrus McCrimmon / The Denver Post

In the past year Colorado’s child abuse hotline received over 200,000 calls. That’s a large number, considering this was the hotline’s first year of existence. But the number is deceiving, reports The Denver Post. Almost 80 percent of those calls came from law enforcement, school officials, and others required by law to report suspected abuse or neglect. That means everyday people, neighbors and community members, simply aren’t picking up the phone.

RENEE JONES SCHNEIDER / Minneapolis Star Tribune

When dating, we often look for that perfect combination of good looks, ambition, and a sense of humor. But according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, there’s another factor you may be considering without realizing it. That extra element is kindness. Researchers have found that benevolence is one of the most important qualities in a romantic partner. 

Texas Tribune

New abortion laws went into effect in Texas on the New Year. Texas Public Radio has published an overview of the way the legislature has tightened restrictions for underage Texas women. State law already required those under 18 to get a sign-off from a parent before receiving an abortion. But a judge can circumvent the requirement if they think the parent will harm the young woman.

Jim Bickel / The Oklahoman

Oklahoma had more earthquakes in 2015 than every continental state combined, reports Oklahoma City station KOCO. 49 U.S. states—excluding the massive Alaska—recorded a total of almost 1,600 earthquakes of magnitude 3 or greater last year. Of those, almost 900 were in Oklahoma. The other states had a combined total of 729.

mcdarius / Flickr Creative Commons

Beginning early next month Kansas Geological Survey crews will begin studying almost 600 Kansas wells. The research is part of an effort to measure changes in groundwater levels, reports KAKE.

Tanya Spillane / Flickr Creative Commons

A raft of new laws went into effect in Colorado last week, reports Fox 31 Denver.

One major law will mean money in the pockets of the state’s lowest-paid workers. The minimum wage jumped eight cents, to $8.31. The minimum for tipped workers is now up from $5.21 to $5.29. However, this is a small raise compared to the $15 wage some workers had asked for. The new rate is merely part of a state mandate that the minimum wage be adjusted for inflation each year.

R0Ng / Creative Commons

Texas’s new open carry legislation took effect last week, and the Austin American-Statesman has published a list of everything you need to know about the new law. There are almost a million Texans with concealed handgun licenses, and these citizens are all now allowed to carry their handguns openly in public. Handguns must be kept in a belt or shoulder holster.

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