In Memory Of David Blair Drumm, 1948-2013

Last available picture of David from 2012
Last available picture of David from 2012
It is with the greatest personal sadness that I have to report the death of a cherished member of our blog family. David Blair Drumm passed away on December 18, 2013 in Austin, Texas. David was there at the very beginning of this blog and remained one of its staunchest supporters. Through the years, David was a rock who not only brought reasoned and calm analysis to posts but also to the management of the blog. He started as a regular commentator under the name “Nal” and I then invited him to write on the weekends. He played the role of editor as well as writer. (Indeed, I am worried about this memorial since David often caught the many typos that I would leave in early morning postings). I came to trust him absolutely in his judgment and analysis. I considered him a good friend and one of the most important influences on this blog. David wrote as a Weekend Blogger for years, sharing his insights into religion, politics, and his always popular “Find the Kitteh” contest. Our success is due in no small part to David Drumm and this blog, I hope, will remain a testament to his work and his memory. To that end, we are dedicating the entire blog today to David and his work. He was a brilliant electrical engineer, a profound writer, a passionate civil libertarian, and most importantly a fierce and loyal friend to our blogging community.

This news will no doubt come as a shock for the thousands of people who followed David’s writings every weekend. Indeed, it was a shock for the blog team. I became concerned at the end of December that we had not heard from David. His last email to the contributing writers was that his two planned topics for the weekend had already been covered on the blog. That was December 13th. I was not surprised therefore when he did not post that weekend and, with the holidays, I assumed that he had taken a weekend off (though that was rare since David was one of our most consistent and regular writers). At the beginning of January, I started to send messages to make sure that David was all right and received no reply. A week ago, I alerted the Weekend Bloggers that I was very concerned about David. Our team then kicked into high gear and searched for contacts for David. particularly Charlton Stanley and Darren Smith. In the midst of the search, one of our team members found a death notice for a David Blair Drumm in Austin. It was a chilling find since (while never using “Blair” in his byline, I knew he lived in Austin and went by David. B. Drumm). The team reached out to the funeral home and others in the hopes that this was not our David. A couple days ago, we received the confirmation that we were dreading. I was able to reach David’s brother, Richard Drumm, in Virginia and he confirmed that David had died between December 16th and 18th. David’s co-workers became concerned when he missed a second day at work and called police. His condo manager opened up his apartment and he was found dead. The suspicion is a heart attack. He was only 65 years old.

Picture from 1992
Picture from 1992
Since most people knew David exclusively from his Internet persona and columns, David’s life and background was largely a mystery. His family has shared details with me over the last few days. We all knew some of David’s passions like his love for 60s tunes (that I share) and often posted Golden Oldies and interesting videos. However, some details might surprise you. David held two black belts in two different martial arts. He was also an avid biker — conquering what he called “The Hill of Death” in Austin as an athletic goal.

Daid making a "sister sandwich"with his nieces in 1998
David making a “sister sandwich” with his nieces in 1998
David was born on June 30, 1948. He graduated high school in 1965 and joined the Navy — serving in anti-submarine warfare in a variety of capacities (Lockheed P-2 Neptune, Lockheed P-3 Orion, NAS Patuxent River, Rota, Spain). He then received in BS from the University of Miami around 1973 and received a master’s degree in 1978 from Georgia Tech. He would later work for E-Systems in Texas from 1982 to 1990. He then went to Southern Methodist University and earned his Ph.D in electric engineering on May 18, 1996.He then worked for Enterprise Electronics Corporation on doppler radar and moved to various cities from Alabama to Pennsylvania to Texas. He was working as senior system
architect with Coherent Logix in Austin when he died. He held various patents for devices with such daunting titles as “Parallel Execution of Trellis-Based Methods.” His book, Entropy-coded Quantization, was published in 1996 and runs 568 pages.

David’s background shows a life lived to its hilt. David loved to try new things and take on new challenges both academic and recreational. He lived his life with a quiet creativity and gusto. That love for life came out in his writings. He loved to mix the playful with the profound as subjects from optical illusions to the intolerance shown atheists in our society. He often wrote of social inequalities like a professor who lived in poverty due to the lack of basic support from her university. He often explored the use of language as he did with the use of analogies by those seeking to take the nation to war. He often called on the United States to stop propping up corrupt and abusive regimes and stand proudly with secular values of equality and civil liberties as with this criticism of the Karzai regime:

Any idea that the US will leave behind a Afghan security force and army that will thwart the Taliban is a fantasy to soothe US political opinion. The Taliban are vicious immoral thugs whose religion allows them to morally justify their actions. That the Afghanistan people will be brutalized by the inevitable Taliban theocracy is a certainty. However abhorrent, it is up to the Afghans to remedy that situation. The US does not have the resources to save Muslims from Islam. The US can show the way by our exemplification of the rights of conscience found in our secular society.

David was particularly passionate about the separation of church and state, as was evident in this criticism of Vladimir Putin: “Crazy beliefs are not exclusive to religion and are of little consequence until they have the authority of the state behind them. Vladimir Putin seems hell-bent on helping Russian Orthodox Christians turn Russia into a Christian version of Saudi Arabia.”

David last posted comments on December 15, 2013 with a comments and a video links to share with people. In his final comments, David was doing what he often did in helping people understand filter and posting mechanics on the blog.

David in third grade
David in third grade
For me, David personified this blog. He was civil but passionate in discussing a wide range of issues. David believed deeply in the first amendment and shared a strong resistance to banning writers. He also believed strongly in our anonymity rule and, most importantly, our civility rule. He had a hand in all of those policies. He was totally committed to this blog. I remember years ago that the ABA competition with another site had turned a bit ugly with allegations that people associated with the other site had published false information about us and engaged in multiple voting schemes (before new security measures were put into place). David went on the ABA site and voted. He then had the opportunity to vote again from another device and immediately felt guilty. He notified us that he felt that he had yielded to his anger and he went back on and cast additional votes for the other blog to wipe out any impact. It was quintessentially David. He was intensely loyal and fatally honest. Through the years, David would privately offer counsel on controversies on the blog. I cannot remember a single suggestion of David that I did not agree with.

David on a motorcycle in 1994
David on a motorcycle in 1994
One of the most curious aspects of blogging is that we create not simply a community but a type of family among the regulars who come daily to this site. We often never meet face-to-face but share dreams and losses within this virtual family. In a strange way, our physical remoteness brings us closer – a sense that, unlike some many mandatory relationships or associations, this is a place of our choosing or our creation. We choose each other on a daily basis. In that unique relationship, we can develop relationships that are closer precisely because they are uncluttered by physical meetings or expectations. We come to this place in search of community and conversation. It is on our own terms. No one forces us to come back or to stay. David chose to stay and we would find him here everyday with a new thought or witty aside. We would find his signature cat avatar in the comments and know that “Nal” had returned to the fold.

David playing hockey with NHL players in 1979
David playing hockey with NHL players in 1979
My Italian grandfather once warned me that the world has two types of people: people who cannot avoid doing evil and those who cannot avoid doing good. It is in their nature. David was a force for good. While some disagreed with his views, David embraced the world for all of its beauty and diversity. He despised orthodoxy and intolerance. His writing was simple and powerful and, most importantly, honest. I will miss him and his presence deeply and daily. There is of course nothing virtual about our sense of loss. It is real and personal. Yet, I have learned from the loss of family that a loss like this does not simply fade away. It remains but I have found that the pain transforms into a more positive sense of meaning from the memories of our lost friends. David left us with a host of such memories in his many posts on this blog. This cyber memorial can hardly repay him for what he gave to us but it can remind us of what he left in his passing.

Rest in peace, my friend. And thank you.

Jonathan Turley

P.S.: I want to thank David’s brother, Richard, for the pictures and background information. Rich says that memorial contributions in David’s name can be sent to http://cosmoquest.org/Donate

56 thoughts on “In Memory Of David Blair Drumm, 1948-2013”

  1. OS,
    A great song choice.
    Professor it is great hearing Louis Armstrong again.
    Mespo,
    That was an amazing response from Nal. Thanks for reminding me of it.

  2. A good man, indeed Barkin’. I recall writing a fairly controversial piece on the blog comparing the furor over the drone policy to the bombings in Dresden in WW2. Here’s an exchange between Nal and me that displays the morality of the man. I asked the first question and Nal replied:

    Mark: Shall we handicap ourselves with our morality in the fight even as they recognize no such constraints?

    Nal: Shall we handicap ourselves with our civil liberties in the fight even as they recognize no such constraints?

    Morality is not a handicap, it is a strength. We fight to preserve our sense of morality.

    That was David — clear, moral, and sincere.

  3. The quote from Nal about Afghanistan above sums things up precisely:

    The US does not have the resources to save Muslims from Islam. The US can show the way by our exemplification of the rights of conscience found in our secular society.”

    Some folks would posit the problem in reverse. That Islam was at risk from Muslims of different stripes. But it is the tenets of Islam that are employed by various tenants of the so called faith that kill. Karzai is trying to control mobs of rats. We are supporting him with guns and money. Afghanistan can listen or learn as a whole. A secular society which shows rights of conscience could show them the way. I might add that he Bhuddists try to show “The Way”, but Islamic extremists hate them more than they had other Islamic sects or jews or xtians. Nal went on to say that we are not showing anyone a way out of this muslim folly by our example in Afghanistan.

    I hope that his family reads this blog today and our comments. He was a good man.

  4. S.I.P NAL i for one am going to miss reading his blog postings and the kitteh contest. he found the cutest ones

  5. David and I shared (with others on this blog) a love for Golden Oldies. There is only one song that I can think would fit David life and personality:

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A3yCcXgbKrE]

  6. Speaking of music, he was not happy at all when the Copyright Kops stopped his ability to embed music clips on weekends.

    Next Saturday is Robert Burns’ birthday. He too was a man of and for the people. I am working on a Burns Night story at the moment which I will post a week from today. In the meantime, one of Burns’ most iconic poems he set to music. Seems appropriate in a memorial for Nal.

    This singer is someone I am sure Nal either knew personally or certainly would know of. I know Ed from having a number of conversations with him at various highland games. Ed’s interests and values would certainly mesh with those of David. Ed Miller is originally from Edinburgh, Scotland, but came to the University of Texas to get a PhD in music. Ed Miller stayed in Austin and is the host of “Across the Water” on Austin’s NPR station, KUT-FM.

    A Man’s A Man For ‘A That, by Robert Burns:

  7. Thanks Otteray Scribe. We are still getting information on David and I will add this title to the main memorial to be sure that people see it. Thanks for the added research. He was clearly a genius in his field but he would never even give a hint of his success. He was incredibly modest and never boosted himself on the blog. However, that will not stop his friends from recognizing his extraordinary life. Thanks again for the added factoid.

  8. You know one thing he didn’t like suck ups…. He’d answer your question and then be civil the remainder of the thread…. He treated everyone with respect….

  9. Great song choice Mike. I have not heard that one in a long, long time. David would have loved it.

  10. Although Nal was not an lawyer, he had familiarized himself with the writings of some of the best law professors in the country and shared all of that knowledge on this blog. When I met balkanization blogger ,Joey Fishkin, at graduation, I shared with him that I read his blog. He was impressed, but that encounter would not have happened, if it had not been for nal.

  11. Swarthmore mom,
    A class act is a spot on description of David.
    OS,
    I could understand David’s articles here, but I am know I couldn’t get passed the introduction in his book!

  12. David was the best by far of all the “weekend” bloggers here. I don’t mean that in a competitive sense because from what I knew of David he didn’t operate that way. David was the most civil of us all and he certainly was the most consistently productive. When he dropped from view in mid-December his absence was so unlike him that it caused Chuck and Darren to investigate. Unfortunately, the news was not good. For a blogger “Nal” was somewhat of an anomaly because we all knew so little about him. I thought he was a much younger man for instance and thought that he lived in Virginia.

    His range as a blogger was quite broad when it came to subject matter and while David wasn’t a blog writer who let his annoyance show through, he was a skilled enough writer to clearly express his outrage at unfair activities. His presence on the Internet will be sorely missed.

    Lest we not forget all of David’s contributions to this blog.Early on, prior to the “find the kitteh” contests, David would share with us his widely eclectic musical tastes. With that in mind let me present a musical number that came to mind when I learned David was gone. Though some might relate it as a song of religious or spiritual meaning, for me personally it is a song that expresses the “twists and turns” our lives take and our need to find our way through on our own.

  13. Nal was the voice of reason on this blog, and nothing got past him. He was a self proclaimed democrat living in a red state who was a strong voice for gay rights, women’s rights, and voting rights. I envied the fact that he lived in the “bubble”, Austin, and he truly loved the “fun” city as he referred to it. For those that were not around in the earlier years, he played a lot of very early “rhythm and blues” music and vintage british rock. He was a true class act, and he certainly cannot be replaced.

  14. His book, Entropy-coded Quantization, was published in 1996. Not a lightweight tome, it runs 568 pages.

  15. My thoughts are with David’s biological family and, also, with you all, David’s blog family. This comes as an absolute shock to me and I’m deeply saddened by the loss.

    RIP DBD

  16. I’m stumped, I can’t find the kitteh in that photo of Nal? Humor is also important in dealing w/ death.

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