Quarks With Charm

Back in 1964, the quark model was independently proposed by physicists Murray Gell-Mann and George Zweig. They proposed that hundreds of the particles could be explained as combinations of just 3 fundamental particles. Gell-Mann assigned the name “quark” to the fundamental constituents of the nucleon. Quarks are any of a number of subatomic particles carrying a fractional electric charge, postulated as building blocks of the hadrons. Quarks have not been directly observed but theoretical predictions based on their existence have been confirmed experimentally.

What is interesting is that “quarks” was a nonsense word used by James Joyce in the novel Finnegans Wake

Three quarks for Muster Mark!
Sure he has not got much of a bark
And sure any he has it’s all beside the mark.

“Quark” (which means several things to Joyce including the cry of a gull) rhymes with “Mark”, but Gell-Mann wanted it pronounced as “kwork.” He thought that since there are other phrases in the book that are used to call for drinks at the bar, so perhaps “Three quarks for Muster Mark” might mean “Three quarts for Mister Mark”, which gives him the pronunciation he wanted. The number three also fits the way quarks occur in nature. (Zweig actually wanted the name “ace” for the particle he had theorized.)

There are six different types of quarks, known as flavors: up (symbol: u), down (d), charm (c), strange (s), top (t) and bottom (b). Up and down quarks are generally stable and very common in the universe. The other quarks can only be produced in high-energy collisions, such as in particle accelerators and cosmic rays.

I’m rather fond of those charm quarks. The particle was named J by one group and ψ by another group, and, since a decision couldn’t be made (What’s with these physicists?) the compromise J/ψ was adopted. This particle has a “charmed” life – a half-life a thousand times longer than had been predicted theoretically. A charmed life sounds pretty good.

My Bloomsday

Today is Bloomsday, a day to celebrate James Joyce’s novel Ulysses, whose action takes place on June 16th, 1904. It’s Bloomsday because the main character of the novel is Leopold Bloom who lives in Dublin. On June 16, 1924, the 20th anniversary of Bloomsday, Joyce wrote in his notebook, “Twenty years after. Will anyone remember this date?”  Well, now Bloomsday is a national holiday in Ireland.

The novel is certainly in the top 10 of famous novels that people know but have never read. Bloom shows up in chapter 4 of Ulysses, so some readers may not have made it that far and never met him.

Bloom doesn’t do much that day. He wanders Dublin doing errands, crossing the River Liffey, and attends the funeral of a man he didn’t know very well. Some people actually try to emulate Bloom’s day. In that case, you should have eaten a cheese sandwich for lunch and fed some gulls in the Liffey, and certainly visit a couple of pubs.

This morning I took my wife to the hospital for her cancer treatment. I had to wait in the parking lot, so I walked for a few hours and poked around in the small woods at the back of the lot. I saw a family of deer who stared at me as I stared at them.

deer family

For lunch, I did have a cheese sandwich. Well, it was melted muenster cheese on a bagel.

When we got home, I worked in the garden a bit doing some weeding. The most “bloomy” part of the day was in the garden, though not very literary.  Thankfully, there were no gulls and no funerals.


Leo Bloom thinks about his job, his wife, his daughter, his stillborn son. I thought about retirement, my wife, my sons, and my new granddaughter.

Bloom doesn’t have a great day. He thinks about life, death, reincarnation, and how his wife is planning to cheat on him that afternoon at his house. I thought about what gift I should buy my wife for our 41st anniversary next month.

I won’t be doing any Blooming tonight that follows his night. I won’t be going to a red-light district. I won’t meet Stephen Dedalus and I wouldn’t have invited that drunk to stay at our house for the night. But I will definitely stand outside tonight and look at the stars for a bit and I will end the night in bed with my wife.

James Joyce made June 16 the day of the book because on that day in 1904.  he went on his first date with Nora, his love, muse, and wife. That’s sweet. He gave her the first printed copy of Ulysses but she only read 27 pages of the book and asked him “Why don’t you write sensible books that people can understand?”


16Today, June 16, is Bloomsday. At least it is celebrated as such by fans of James Joyce’s novel Ulysses. It is the day that Leopold Bloom walks around Dublin for the 732 pages of that radical and now classic novel.

It is a novel that changed literature. I tried to read it. Several times. As an English major in college, I had to say I had read it. I had to say that it was extraordinary. But I just found it frustrating to read.

But that’s me. I did attend a Bloomsday celebration a few times that was held at the Old York Books (long gone) on Easton Ave. in New Brunswick near my Rutgers campus.

People will go to Sweny’s Pharmacy to buy lemon soap, like Bloom did in the novel. Fans will be making many stops in Dublin, some in period costume. They will do public readings. They will definitely be going to the pubs.


Some Bloomsday readings focus on the “easy” parts, some do the tougher sections and certainly some readings include the dirtiest parts. After all, the dirty/profane/obscene parts are what made it subject of a landmark American obscenity case.

In a letter written in 1924 by James Joyce, he acknowledged that even then “There is a group of people who observe what they call Bloom’s day – 16 June.”

The Bailey pub in Dublin has the door from No. 7 Eccles Street that was Leopold Bloom’s front door.

Now, there are celebrations all over the world.

You might have picked up on allusions to the day in pop culture. The Mel Brooks’ play/film featured the character Leo Bloom, and in the play Leo asks, “When will it be Bloom’s day?”  When Leo and Max meet, the office’s calendar shows the date as June 16.

Irish rockers, U2, have a song “Breathe” which refers to events taking place on a modern-day 16 June Bloomsday. It’s not a tale from the novel, but on the album where it first appeared (No Line on the Horizon) Bono uses several characters in the songs and the narrator within “Breathe” is one who is able to find redemption – something Mr. Bloom is concerned with in the novel.

I still have my copy of Ulysses. Maybe, like Marilyn,  I’ll take another shot at the novel this summer.