Jack Bogle, RIP

Jack Bogle, founder of Vanguard, has died. Art Carey and Erin Arvedlund report:

John C. Bogle, 89, who revolutionized the way Americans save for the future, championed the interests of the small investor, and railed against corporate greed and the excesses of Wall Street, died of cancer Wednesday at his home in Bryn Mawr, his family confirmed.

Mr. Bogle, a chipper and unpretentious man who invited everyone to call him “Jack,” was founder and for many years chairman of the Vanguard Group, the Malvern-based mutual-fund company, where he pioneered low-cost, low-fee investing and mutual funds tied to stock-market indexes. These innovations, reviled and ridiculed at first, enabled millions of ordinary Americans to build wealth to buy a home, pay for college, and retire comfortably.

Along the way, Vanguard, which Mr. Bogle launched in 1974, became a titan in the financial-services industry, with 16,600 employees and over $5 trillion in assets by the end of 2018, and Mr. Bogle earned a reputation as not only an investing sage but a maverick whose integrity and old-fashioned values set an example that many admired and few could match.

“Jack could have been a multibillionaire on a par with Gates and Buffett,” said William Bernstein, an Oregon investment manager and author of 12 books on finance and economic history. Instead, he turned his company into one owned by its mutual funds, and in turn their investors, “that exists to provide its customers the lowest price. He basically chose to forgo an enormous fortune to do something right for millions of people. I don’t know any other story like it in American business history.” …

While Mr. Bogle was facile with numbers, he was much less interested in counting than in what counts, and his intellectual range was broad. He revered language, history, poetry, and classical wisdom, and frequently amazed and delighted people by reciting long passages of verse. …

Mr. Bogle had hoped that the Vanguard model — “structurally correct, mathematically correct, and ethically correct” — would goad other investment firms to give customers a fairer shake. While index funds have become widely popular, Vanguard’s competitors often have been less than keen about following the company’s penny-pinching lead. …

When he was not touting the advantages of the Vanguard mode of investing, Mr. Bogle, a self-proclaimed “battler by nature,” was lambasting his professional brethren for “rank speculation,” reckless assumption of debt, “obscene” multimillion-dollar paychecks, and golden parachutes, and saying they had abdicated their duty as stewards in favor of self-interested salesmanship. …

Along the way, Mr. Bogle attracted his share of critics. He was called a communist, a Marxist, a Bolshevik, a Calvinist scold and zealot, a holier-than-thou traitor and subversive who was undermining the pillars of capitalism with un-American rants. Mr. Bogle characterized his pugnacious relationship with the financial industry as “a lover’s quarrel.” His mission, he said, was simple: to return capitalism, finance, and fund management to their roots in stewardship. …

A man who believed in the value of introspection and who was always questioning his own motives and behavior, Mr. Bogle sought to define what it means to lead a good life. It was not about wealth, power, fame and other conventional notions of success, he concluded.

“It’s about being a good husband, a good father, a good colleague, a good member of the community. Everything else pales by comparison. The accumulation of material goods is a waste — you can’t take them with you, anyway — and the waste is typified by our financial system. The essential message is, stop focusing on self and start thinking about service to others.”

When I was in Philadelphia this past weekend I happened at one point to be speaking with a Vanguard person, and asked about Jack Bogle. “He still comes into the office, still eats in the cafeteria with everyone else. He’s the most down-to-earth man.”

Jack Bogle forged Vanguard’s incredible reputation, and through index funds provided generations of average Americans the means to save and invest. My grandmother was one of those Vanguard disciples, and her frugality and farsightedness helped make possible a comfortable retirement for my grandparents and helped provide for the family over the years.

Antonio García Martinez reflected in light of Bogle’s death: “One of the key emptinesses at the core of modern secular liberalism is a convincing answer to the question: what is a good life? The ability to attain a felt (or acknowledged) dignity, irrespective of high or low material attainments, is an essential component of a sane society. The Greeks of course had their best minds wrestle with the question. We don’t dare even ask it anymore.”

RIP.

‘Architecture is the only truly public form of art’

In Philadelphia this weekend, and stopped in the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul briefly this morning. Pairing views from that visit with Jake Scott’s writing on beauty in architecture:

Architecture is the only truly public form of art. All other styles of art exist in a dedicated space. Paintings adorn walls within galleries that we may choose to enter, just as we may choose to take replicas home with us; music is not constant, it must be played in order to be appreciated and, out of respect for one another, we confine our enjoyment of our music to our spaces, be it in communion in a concert, or alone in our bedrooms; television and film are much the same, and theatre performances even more so.

But architecture exists all around us all the time. When we walk down the street, we are surrounded by architecture—in the fact, the very existence of a street is a creation of architecture. Consequently, when we are forced to interact with art in our every day life, it is only necessary that we ask that art to be good; when we look at buildings, we want them to look back, to make us feel welcome, and not be faced with an impersonal, expressionless façade. Even the term façade is misleading, since a façade contains an expression within it.

The consequence of bad architecture, therefore, is to make us feel less at home, as if the buildings glare at us as we go about our business, making an urban space into a place where no one feels welcome. Even in these spaces, our eyes are not drawn up to marvel at the wonder around us, but instead forced down to stare at the pavement, or off into the distance. …

Each building has a voice, and each city, town, or village is merely a collection of those voices. The more poetic among us might compare it to a choir; each voice has its own note, yet the harmony of the whole takes precedence; and so, when a new voice is added to the choir, it must remember this, and do its best to respect that harmony rather than disrupt it.

30th Street Station and its Solari board

When I passed through 30th Street Station last week, I shot this short clip of the Amtrak “Solari” board. I had read in Billy Penn that it is set to be replaced in January:

The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission expects to take ownership of the world-famous Solari board as soon as January 2019. The model, which flips individual panels each time a train’s status is updated, providing that classic “clicking” sound familiar to travelers around the globe, is considered an antique. …

At that point, the sign will move 60 miles to its new home: The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg. …

Amtrak officials confirmed the expected January move date to the Inquirer and Daily News on Thursday. The installation of digital signage will begin in December, per that report, with displays installed above the stairways that lead to platforms. …

Display panels of this type are named for the manufacturer Solari di Udine, of Udine, Italy. They grew in popularity in the 1950s, and were installed en masse in airports and train stations worldwide. Even early seasons of game shows like Family Feud used them.

Now, they’re nearly extinct in the United States. To mixed emotions, New York Penn Station got rid of its Solari board two years ago. The entire Metro-North transit system replaced its network of Solari boards by 2014.

That Philadelphia’s is still around could stem from the fact that the city got into the game a little late: 30th Street Station didn’t install its flippy board until the 1970s.

“It’s an amazing time capsule,” Morrison told Billy Penn. “The sounds of a board like this one have been the soundtrack of the daily life of many Philadelphia commuters and travelers for more than three decades.”

I’m not particularly nostalgic about this, but it is the end of one technological era and the beginning of another. Better things to be appreciative about at 30th Street Station, in both the Spirit of Transportation and Angel of the Resurrection. 30th Street is a great Philadelphia public space that’s always open, that elevates those who pass through it, and that has something of the feel of a sacred place, a public place that’s still quiet in the middle of the day where it’s possible to be more or less alone with your thoughts even while you’re waiting to head someplace. It’s the sort of place that feels confident, and where the architecture and atmosphere encourage something from those who pass through in a way that many other public spaces do not.

‘A principle of periodic reduction of bureaucracy’

I caught the 5:05pm Amtrak from Washington to Philadelphia this evening, and am heading to Bismarck early in the morning for a bioethics seminar at the University of Mary the rest of this week. The flags outside of Union Station were at half mast in honor of President George H.W. Bush.

As I walked through Old City later in the night I took this photo of Independence Hall. I think it pairs well with Camille Paglia’s commentary on the illiberal nature of bureaucracy:

As government programs have incrementally multiplied, so has their regulatory apparatus, with its intrusive byzantine minutiae. Recently tagged as a source of anti-Trump conspiracy among embedded Democrats, the deep state is probably equally populated by Republicans and apolitical functionaries of Bartleby the Scrivener blandness. Its spreading sclerotic mass is wasteful, redundant, and ultimately tyrannical.

I have been trying for decades to get my fellow Democrats to realize how unchecked bureaucracy, in government or academe, is inherently authoritarian and illiberal. A persistent characteristic of civilizations in decline throughout history has been their self-strangling by slow, swollen, and stupid bureaucracies. The current atrocity of crippling student debt in the US is a direct product of an unholy alliance between college administrations and federal bureaucrats — a scandal that ballooned over two decades with barely a word of protest from our putative academic leftists, lost in their post-structuralist fantasies. Political correctness was not created by administrators, but it is ever-expanding campus bureaucracies that have constructed and currently enforce the oppressively rule-ridden regime of college life.

In the modern world, so wondrously but perilously interconnected, a principle of periodic reduction of bureaucracy should be built into every social organism. Freedom cannot survive otherwise.

Thanksgiving scenes

Happy Thanksgiving. I arrived in Philadelphia from Washington yesterday in the mid-afternoon, and spent this Thanksgiving morning enjoying a solitary walk around a mostly deserted Center City, Philadelphia, before heading across the Delaware to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner in New Jersey with family.

Richard Samuelson reflects on the establishment of a “National Thanksgiving,” and how it is that such a thing exists in a nation where we often pretend that our disinterest in establishing a national religion necessarily means that no theological imperatives are to be allowed in public life:

Consider President Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation.  He begins with the universal “duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.”  But then he stops, as if he knew some might ask why the President is involved. Washington goes on, “Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me ‘to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a a form of government for their safety and happiness.’”  Congress asked Washington to proclaim the day.  An interesting request.  Congress did not pass a law proclaiming a day of Thanksgiving.  Such an act may, according to some constructions of the Constitution, have crossed over into an establishment of religion.  Instead, they have merely asked the President to “recommend” such an observance to the people.

It was a beautiful morning walk, but downright wintry in temperature—the most frigid Thanksgiving I can remember.

Mirra Mitta and the occult

Happy Halloween. Ryan Briggs shares an incredible account of the Victorian-era cult of “Mirra Mitta” in South Philadelphia:

The stench of death hung heavy along South 11th Street in 1905. The smell had grown so bad that neighbors had gone to the local police district to complain. They claimed that a crazed man and woman were guarding a dead body inside a row house near Washington Avenue. They had been barring the door for weeks and, judging by the smell, the corpse had entered a state of advanced decay. There were flies covering the shutters of a rear bedroom of the building.

But they also recounted unbelievable details. Strange rituals went on inside and the residents of the home, which they had for years referred to as “House of Mystery,” worshipped a woman who they said could grant eternal life. …

On South 11th Street, they would find two gaunt and aged guardians barring the entrance to a row house that reeked of death. Even from the doorway it was clear the brick home had been transformed into a temple, replete with an alter and portraits of a woman called “Mirra Mitta” stationed astride Jesus Christ.

The elderly pair, Caroline Lang and John Rapp, said they were the last two followers of this woman, who they described as the manifestation of the biblical Holy Spirit made real on Earth. Although Mirra Mitta had died nearly two decades earlier, they had been here ever since, fasting, praying, and awaiting their goddess’ return, awaiting eternal life. For years, Lang, who called herself a high priestess, had barely left the house. …

Ryan Susurrus, an expert and lecturer on cults in Philadelphia, says that Meister was in many ways a product of her time. In the mid-19th century, interest in the occult, seances, and esoteric religion was sweeping across Europe and North America. The spread of Enlightenment ideas, the introduction of new belief systems through the spread of colonialism, and the prevalence of death in new, industrialized urban centers all contributed to this new interest in the unknown.

“A lot of people aren’t aware that spiritualism and seances were once commonplace here. This was a cottage industry. And there was a lot of focus on immortality and of one person being the conduit to mastering death and what’s beyond, very much like a medium,” Susurrus says. “People saw so much death in their lives, then. Someone who says, ‘I’m the mainline to immortality and conquering death and its only through me that you’ll access that,’ that was so appealing.” …

If Meister learned anything from these embarrassing public ordeals it was only the necessity of discretion. At this point, Anna Meister disappears from public record, never to be seen again.

Her birth name would not be mentioned in newsprint again until after her death nearly three decades later, the head of a powerful cult that had been operating in secret, known as the “Holy Ghost Society.”

By then she would only be known as “Jehovah Elimar Mirra Mitta”–“The Daughter of Jehovah, Mirra Mitta”–a name she had taken to her grave.

I’m in transit to Chicago and then South Bend today for Notre Dame’s “Higher Powers” fall conference, well-timed for the start of November and a month traditionally focused on remembrance of the dead and prayer for their souls. I think at least part of the problem with the occult, and a reason for prayer for Mirra Mitta and those like her, is the problem we have of confusing an awareness of the transcendent with being ourselves the cause of or pathway to transcendence.

(An endearing little moment in the airport, heard over the speaker at one of the gates: “As your unofficial sponsor of Halloween, JetBlue is now welcoming priority passengers including ghosts, goblins, ghouls, and zombies to board at this time.”)

Rittenhouse Square, early autumn

As I was walking along Walnut Street to the Collegium Institute’s symposium earlier this week, it was nearing 6pm and families and folks were out and about, walking home from work, walking to dinner, biking wherever, and still-green Rittenhouse Square was accompanied by two young musicians:

I stopped to admire the scene, experience the moment, and appreciate the whole thing. These are the little sort of moments we miss all too often in the rush to experience something else.

L e t ‘ s  s l o w  d o w n . . .

‘Strangers’ in Philadelphia

It was really great, late-summer-feeling weather in Center City Philadelphia yesterday. I’m in town wrapping up odds and ends, and as evening came on walked over to the Catholic Philopatrian Literary Institute at 19th and Walnut for the Collegium Institute‘s “Strangers in a Strange Land” talk/symposium.

Fran Maier led a fruitful conversation on the topic of Archbishop Charles J. Chaput’s book of the same name, released last year. While the role and place of Christianity in American life is increasingly in doubt, there’s no doubt about the necessity of the theological virtue of Christian hope.

I think the last Collegium event I attended was Roger Scruton’s talk at Penn.

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An evening conversation about Archbishop Chaput’s recent book and the future of American Catholicism.

Fran Maier: Senior Advisor to the Archbishop of Philadelphia and former editor of the National Catholic Register.

Michael P. Moreland: University Professor of Law and Religion, and Director of the Eleanor H. McCullen Center for Law, Religion and Public Policy at Villanova University.

Jessica Murdoch: Associate Professor of Fundamental and Dogmatic Theology at Villanova University, and member of the National Advisory Council of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

30th Street at night

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Here’s 30th Street Station in Philadelphia late on September 11th. I had just arrived back in town from Washington, and it was a warm and fittingly summerlike night.

Drexel Square is in progress just to the left of this view if you were to stand where I was standing. That’ll be a public park soon, on what has been a surface parking lot for as long as I can remember. Good for Philadelphia. And Schyulkill Yards, the larger redevelopment vision for this part of the city, will be underway in earnest before much longer.

I’m excited for these projects, for The Laurel’s recent groundbreaking on Rittenhouse Square (replacing what has been a rocky patch of grass), and a number of other projects. Philadelphia continues to redevelop and to grow, and it’s a great thing worth taking a moment to celebrate.