Vintage Photos of Veterans of the Napoleonic Wars, Taken Circa 1858

Monsieur Moret of the 2nd Regiment 1814/15

Historians have debated for centuries how Napoleon Bonaparte managed to turn the same men who once overthrew a king in the name of liberté, égalité  and fraternité into a formidable fighting force devoted to an emperor. But that’s precisely what he did. As he swept through Italy, Spain and Egypt, his army grew rapidly and not just with French troops. Polish, German, Dutch and Italian soldiers took up arms under Napoleon’s banner. In 1805, in a French village facing the English Channel, Napoleon christened his massive multinational army the Grande Armée.

Monsieur Ducel Mameluke de la Garde  1813-1815.

Originally, the diminutive despot from Corsica planned to use the force to invade Britain but that ultimately never happened. Instead, he directed his force to take out some of his continental rivals. The Grande Armée destroyed the Holy Roman Empire at Austerlitz. After it forced the Austrians into submission following the Battle of Wagram in 1809, the Grande Armée set out for Napoleon’s disastrous campaign in Russia. As it marched towards Moscow in 1812, its ranks swelled to over a half million troops. As it retreated, it was reduced to less than 120,000.

Monsieur Vitry Departmental Guard

Napoleon and the Grande Armée were finally defeated in 1815 during the Battle of Waterloo. And though Napoleon was ignominiously exiled to Elba, he, and his army, continued to be revered by the French. On the anniversary of his death, May 5th, veterans of the Napoleonic wars would pay homage to the Emperor by marching in full uniform through Paris’ Place Vendôme.

Quartermaster Fabry 1st Hussars

In 1858, someone took portraits of the veterans using that newfangled technology called photography. The men were well into old age when the pictures were taken, and some were clearly struggling to stay still for the length of the camera’s exposure. But they all look impressive in their uniforms complete with epaulettes, medals, sashes and plumes. You can see some of the images above. Click on each to enlarge them.

The photographs, highlighted this week on Mashable, come from a website hosted by Brown University. There you can see more images from the collection.

via Mashable

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring lots of pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.

Charles & Ray Eames’ Short Film on the Mexican Day of the Dead (1957)

As much fun as Americans have on Halloween, we could learn a thing or two from the Mexicans. Their Día de los Muertos, the celebration of which spans October 31 to November 2, gets more elaborate, more serious, and somehow more jovial at the same time. The robust Mexican culture of Los Angeles, where I live, assures us a range of Día de los Muertos festivities each and every year, most impressively the well-known cross-cultural blow-out at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. But I passed my most memorable Día de los Muertos on the campus of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México where, the year I went, they’d put together an entire field of shrines to the dead, normal enough for the holiday, but that time around they’d decided to theme them all after Jorge Luis Borges stories. (An Argentine, yes, but this has become a Latin American holiday.) Every so often, the power went out — Mexico City, remember — plunging the thousands of us there amid the hundreds of representations of  “The Aleph,” “Funes the Memorious,” and, appropriately, “The Garden of Forking Paths,” into periodic darkness.

As much as I would recommend such an experience, maybe you wouldn’t want to make it your introduction to the Mexican Day of the Dead. Maybe you’d prefer this short film from famed designers (and, perhaps not coincidentally, Angelenos) Charles and Ray Eames, a film that paints a portrait of Día de los Muertos through its icons and artifacts just as their acclaimed Powers of Ten painted a portrait of Earth at every scale. “In Mexico,” explains its narrator, “an intimate acceptance of death extends far back into pre-Hispanic times. In the Aztec culture which preceded the coming of the Spaniards, death shows itself again and again — a familiar image. These ancient things of this land were joined over the centuries with the Spanish celebration of All Souls. Together they form a universal festival of many facets and many dimensions — the Day of the Dead.” Through its cempasúchitl flowers, its sugar skulls, and, yes, its angel-guiding rockets, The Day of the Dead examines just what this endlessly fascinating holiday has, over the centuries, come to mean.

The Day of the Dead  (1957) will be added to our big collection, 700 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

44 Essential Movies for the Student of Philosophy

What comes to mind when you hear the phrase “philosophical film”? The Matrix, most likely, an obvious example of a movie—or franchise—that explores timeless questions: Who are we? What is reality? Are our lives nothing more than elaborate simulations programmed by hyperintelligent supercomputers? Okay, that last one may be of more recent vintage, but it’s closely related to that ancient cave allegory of Plato’s that asks us to consider whether our experiences of the world are nothing more than illusions emanating from a “real” world that lies hidden from view. Another influence on The Matrix is Rene Descartes, whose dualistic separation of consciousness and body receives the maximum of dramatic treatment.

But The Matrix is only one film among a great many that concern themselves with classic problems of philosophy. In a 2010 post for Mubi, Matt Whitlock compiled a list of 44 “Essential Movies for a Student of Philosophy.” Along with The Matrix, other films of the past couple decades get mentions—The Truman Show (“the true home of Plato’s Cave in modern movies”), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I Heart Huckabees, Being John Malkovich, Inception. Also appearing on the list are classics like Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon and Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal—which illustrates, Whitlock writes, “The Angst of The Absurd.” All of these films appear under the subheading “Famous thought experiments or discussion of a famous philosophical problem.”

Another category on the list is “Movies featuring a philosopher.” The media-savvy Slavoj Žižek gets two mentions, for 2006’s The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema and 2005’s Žižek! (excerpt above). Since Whitlock compiled the list, Žižek has received yet another feature-length treatment—2012’s The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology. Astra Taylor, director of Žižek!, also included him in 2009’s The Examined Life, alongside Peter Singer, Michael Hardt, Judith Butler, Sunaura Taylor, and Cornel West. After the documentaries, we have “Movies with philosopher as a character,” including Derek Jarman’s Wittgenstein, with Clancy Chassay as the irascible logician (at the top of the post), Roberto Rossellini’s 1958 Socrates, starring Jean Sylvere in the title role, and, of course, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, with Tony Steedman as “So-Crates” (below).

The final three subcategories in Whitlock’s list are “Movies featuring the ideas of particular philosophers,” “Movies based on Novels written by famous philosophers,” and “Other.” In the last basket, Whitlock places the PBS string-theory documentary The Elegant Universe and Finnish performance artist M.A. Numminen’s bizarre adaptation of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus. Whitlock narrows the field by ruling out “movies that make you think deep crazy stuff” or those with “some new ‘existential twist’ on common topics.” Instead, he sticks to those films “that (seem to be) incarnations of classic philosophical thought experiments or movies that have a major philosophical problem as a main theme… that include topics that a serious student of philosophy needs to understand.”

Like most such lists, this one doesn’t claim to be definitive, and the four years since its compilation have produced several films that might warrant inclusion. Yet another reference from 2010—William G. Smith’s Socrates and Subtitles: A Philosopher’s Guide to 95 Thought-Provoking Movies from Around the World—casts a wider net. But Whitlock’s list seems to me a very useful starting point for thinking about the relationship between philosophy and film. Below, see the first ten films on the list:

Zizek! (2005)
Examined Life (2008)
Derrida (2002)
The Ister (2004)
The Pervert’s Guide To Cinema (2009)
Being In The World (2010)
Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure (2001)
When Nietzsche Wept (2007)
The Last Days Of Immanuel Kant (1994)
The Alchemist Of Happiness (2004)

Take a look at his full list here, and by all means, offer your own suggestions for films that fit the criteria in the comments section below.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness


Did Bach’s Wife Compose Some of “His” Masterpieces? A New Documentary Says Yes

You may have heard of, or indeed read, Australian conductor Martin Jarvis’ 2011 book Written By Mrs. Bach, which investigates the question of whether Johann Sebastian Bach‘s “cello suites were composed by the German musician’s second wife, Anna Magdalena Bach.” Now, the book has become a documentary — adding the no doubt enriching element of sound to the proceedings — whose trailer you can watch above. In it, according to the Washington Post, “a professor of music, a composer and an American expert in document forensics advance the case.”

“Prof Jarvis said he aims to overturn the ‘sexist’ convention that recognised composers were always a ‘sole male creator,’ to finally reinstate Mrs Bach into the history books,” writes the Telegraph‘s Hannah Furness. “While Anna is known to have transcribed for Bach in his later years, researchers found the handwriting did not have the ‘slowness or heaviness’ usually attributed to someone who is merely copying, but was likely to have flowed from her own mind,” bolstered by “numerous corrections to scores written in her hand, signalling she is likely to have been composing it as she went along.” A terribly intriguing question, but as with the question of Shakespearean authorship, who held the pen now matters less than what came out of it.

The works under scrutiny here include “Bach’s unaccompanied cello suites, of which there are six — the first of them popularized as the theme of the film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World“; “the aria that begins and ends perhaps the most famous keyboard work of all time, The Goldberg Variations“; and “a portion of the two-book masterwork originally composed for the harpsichord known as the The Well-Tempered Clavier.” That information comes from the Post, who also offer clips of these pieces. We’ve embedded them here for you to enjoy — and, no matter who wrote them, you certainly will. How often in history, after all, do you encounter both man and wife who can compose for the ages?

via The Washington Post

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Man Hauls a Piano Up a Mountain in Thailand and Plays Beethoven for Injured Elephants

If we’ve featured Jazz for Cows on Open Culture, then why not Classical Music for Elephants? Actually, they’re not just any elephants featured above. They’re old, injured, handicapped, sometimes blind elephants who live in the mountains of Thailand. And the gentleman playing a slow movement from Beethoven’s “Pathétique Sonata” is Paul Barton. On his Youtube channel, Barton mentions that he hauled his piano into the mountains, to Elephantstay – a refuge for the animals. And, emphatically, he tells us that the piano’s keys are made of plastic, not of ivory, seeing that the trade of ivory has caused elephants so much misery.

Barton has a playlist of 23 videos of elephants and his piano playing, the most viral of which was another clip where Barton plays a 12 bar blues on the piano with Peter the Elephant. Peter’s participation was entirely impromptu and completely of his own accord. You can see a photo gallery of Paul and the elephants here, and catch a radio interview with him here.

via Twisted Sifter

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Charlie Chaplin Does Cocaine and Saves the Day in Modern Times (1936)

When you think of drug movies, flicks like Easy Rider, Drugstore Cowboy and pretty much everything by Cheech and Chong might spring to mind. Add to this list Charlie Chaplin’s masterpiece Modern Times. In the movie, Chaplin’s iconic Little Tramp character does a whole lot of blow and ends up a better man for it. You can see a clip above.

After getting mistaken for a Communist demonstrator, the Tramp is thrown in the clink. In the prison mess hall, a hulking prisoner sitting next to him refuses to let him have any of the communal bread. Meanwhile, the shifty looking guy on the other side of him dumps a bunch of “nose powder” into a saltshaker before getting hauled away by the prison guards. Chaplin sprinkles liberal amounts of this “salt” on his meal and soon he starts showing all of the telltale symptoms of cocaine use – bugged out eyes, excessive energy and unshakeable self-confidence. He also shows some less common side effects like compulsive twirling and a propensity to jam food in his ear.

With his newfound chemical courage, Chaplin not only faces down this thuggish neighbor but he also single-handedly thwarts a prison break. The authorities are so pleased with Chaplin’s coke-addled heroics that they release him. So remember, kids, drugs can get you out of (and more likely back into) jail.

Of course, this wasn’t the first time that Chaplin depicted drug use in his movies. In his classic short Easy Street, Chaplin’s love interest, a virginal pastor’s daughter, gets locked in a basement with a remarkably energetic heroin addict. You can watch it below. And if you’re jonesing for some more Chaplin, there are 65 Free Chaplin Movies you can watch right here.

Modern Art Was Used As a Torture Technique in Prison Cells During the Spanish Civil War

We’ve all got those friends or family members who consider “modern art” a form of torture. Next time they complain about an exhibition you bring them to, just tell them how relieved they should feel that they didn’t fight in the Spanish Civil War — not just for the obvious reasons; they could have found themselves subject not just to actual torture, but torture directly inspired by modernist aesthetic principles. “A Spanish art historian has found evidence that suggests some Civil War jail cells were built like 3-D modern art paintings in order to torture prisoners,” reports BBC News. “The cells were built in 1938 for the republican forces fighting General Franco’s Fascist Nationalist army, who eventually won power.” The finding comes from historian Jose Milicua, who discovered references to these modern-art cells among court papers from “the 1939 trial of French anarchist Alphonse Laurencic, a republican, by a Franco-ist military court.”



“During the trial,” the BBC article continues, “Laurencic revealed he was inspired by modern artists, such as surrealist Salvador Dali and Bauhaus artist Wassily Kandinsky” to create the six-foot-by-four-foot cells placed secretly in Barcelona (see a re-creation above), which featured “sloping beds at a 20-degree angle that were almost impossible to sleep on,” “irregularly shaped bricks on the floor that prevented prisoners from walking backwards or forwards,” walls “covered in surrealist patterns designed to make prisoners distressed and confused,” and lighting effects “to make the artwork even more dizzying.” Evidence also indicates that, elsewhere in Spain, Nationalist prisoners “were forced to watch Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel’s film Un Chien Andalou,” especially an endless loop of its “graphic sequence of an eyeball being cut open” (at the top of the post).

Ironically, those imprisoned in such cells would have wound up there in the name of their fascist cause, which like the Franco-backing Nazi regime in Germany, considered modernism “degenerative.” Presumably, they didn’t leave their imprisonment with any more sympathetic idea of modern art than the one they’d gone in with. “A subcurrent of shock and provocation has always lurked within avant-garde art, which deliberately sets out to challenge bourgeois convention and to elicit a strong response” writes the New York Times‘ John Rockwell. “My own experience has been that opponents of new art are much too quick to presume provocation, let alone provocation intended literally to torture. Still, there can be no doubt that outrage was and is a goal of some artists, even if they rarely pushed it to the logical extreme that Laurencic took it.” You can learn more about this unusually artistic form of warfare in this All Things Considered interview with art historian Victoria Combalia. (Listen below.) And do try to suppress those fantasies of throwing your more Philistine acquaintances in there for an hour or two.

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

H.P. Lovecraft Gives Five Tips for Writing a Horror Story, or Any Piece of “Weird Fiction”

lovecraft tips

Though the term “weird fiction” came into being in the 19th century—originally used by Irish gothic writer Sheridan Le Fanu—it was picked up by H.P. Lovecraft in the 20th century as a way, primarily, of describing his own work. Lovecraft produced copious amounts of the stuff, as you can see from our post highlighting online collections of nearly his entire corpus. He also wrote in depth about writing itself. He did so in generally prescriptive ways, as in his 1920 essay “Literary Composition,” and in ways specific to his chosen mode—as in the 1927 “Supernatural Horror in Literature,” in which he defined weird fiction very differently than Le Fanu or modern authors like China Miéville. For Lovecraft,

The true weird tale has something more than secret murder, bloody bones, or a sheeted form clanking chains according to rule. A certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present; and there must be a hint, expressed with a seriousness and portentousness becoming its subject, of that most terrible conception of the human brain–a malign and particular suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of Nature which are our only safeguard against the assaults of chaos and the daemons of unplumbed space.

Here we have, broadly, the template for a very Lovecraftian tale indeed. Ten years later, in a 1937 essay titled “Notes on Writing Weird Fiction,” Lovecraft would return to the theme and elaborate more fully on how to produce such an artifact.

Weird Fiction, wrote Lovecraft in that later essay, is “obviously a special and perhaps a narrow” kind of “story-writing,” a form in which “horror and the unknown or the strange are always closely connected,” and one that “frequently emphasize[s] the element of horror because fear is our deepest and strongest emotion.” Although Lovecraft self-deprecatingly calls himself an “insignificant amateur,” he nonetheless situates himself in the company of “great authors” who mastered horror writing of one kind or another: “[Lord] Dunsany, Poe, Arthur Machen, M.R. James, Algernon Blackwood, and Walter de la Mare.” Even if you only know the name of Poe, it’s weighty company indeed.

But be not intimidated—Lovecraft wasn’t. As our traditional holiday celebration of fear approaches, perhaps you’d be so inclined to try your hand at a little weird fiction of your own. You should certainly, Lovecraft would stress, spend some time reading these writers’ works. But he goes further, and offers us a very concise, five point “set of rules” for writing a weird fiction story that he says might be “deduced… if the history of all my tales were analyzed.” See an abridged version below:

  1. Prepare a synopsis or scenario of events in the order of their absolute occurrence—not the order of their narrations.

This is a practice adhered to by writers from J.K. Rowling and William Faulkner to Norman Mailer. It seems a an excellent general piece of advice for any kind of fiction.

  1. Prepare a second synopsis or scenario of events—this one in order of narration (not actual occurrence), with ample fullness and detail, and with notes as to changing perspective, stresses, and climax.
  1. Write out the story—rapidly, fluently, and not too critically—following the second or narrative-order synopsis. Change incidents and plot whenever the developing process seems to suggest such change, never being bound by any previous design.

It may be that the second rule is made just to be broken, but it provides the weird fiction practitioner with a beginning. The third stage here brings us back to a process every writer on writing, such as Stephen King, will highlight as key—free, unfettered drafting, followed by…

  1. Revise the entire text, paying attention to vocabulary, syntax, rhythm of prose, proportioning of parts, niceties of tone, grace and convincingness of transitions…

And finally….

  1. Prepare a neatly typed copy—not hesitating to add final revisory touches where they seem in order.

You will notice right away that these five “rules” tell us nothing about what to put in our weird fiction, and could apply to any sort of fiction at all, really. This part of the admirably comprehensive quality of the otherwise succinct essay. Lovecraft tells us why he writes, why he writes what he writes, and how he goes about it. The content of his fictional universe is entirely his own, a method of visualizing “vague, elusive, fragmentary impressions.” Your mileage, and your method, will indeed vary.

Lovecraft goes on to describe “four distinct types of weird story” that fit “into two rough categories—those in which the marvel or horror concerns some condition or phenomenon, and those in which it concerns some action of persons in connection with a bizarre condition or phenonmenon.” If this doesn’t clear things up for you, then perhaps a careful reading of Lovecraft’s complete “Notes on Writing Weird Fiction” will. Ultimately, however, “there is no one way” to write a story. But with some practice—and no small amount of imagination—you may find yourself joining the company of Poe, Lovecraft, and a host of contemporary writers who continue to push the boundaries of weird fiction past the sometimes parochial, often profoundly bigoted, limits that Lovecraft  set out.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Maya Angelou Tells Studs Terkel How She Learned to Count Cards & Hustle in a New Animated Video

Blank on Blank returns with another one of their visually-distinctive animated videos. This one lets us time travel back to 1970 when Studs Terkel, the great American author, historian, and radio broadcaster, sat down with acclaimed poet Maya Angelou. The interview took place shortly after Angelou published her 1969 autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and the conversation turns, amusingly, to her childhood years, when she learned how to hustle and count cards from her step father, Daddy Clidell. I bet Bukowski is applauding wherever he is. Blank on Blank made this video in partnership with the Studs Terkel Radio Archive, which we featured on our site late last year.

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Watch Luis Buñuel’s Surreal Travel Documentary A Land Without Bread (1933)

You don’t get the warm fuzzies from a Luis Buñuel movie. The most famous moment from his first film — Un Chien andalou, co-directed with Salvador Dalí — is a woman getting her eye slashed with a straight razor. While on closer inspection the gutted eye is from a dead donkey, the image still has the power to shock 85 years later. Though the movie was a collaboration, you can discern Buñuel’s vision in this early work — shots of ants coming out of bodily orifices is pure Dalí; the caustic satire against the clergy is pure Buñuel. Dalí’s images are strange and beautiful. Buñuel’s are subversive.

Though Dalí and Buñuel worked together again on the scorchingly anti-Catholic L’Age d’or, their collaboration fell apart in pre-production. Dalí just wanted to tweak those in power. Buñuel, a committed leftist, wanted to undermine the whole bourgeoisie.

Land Without Bread (Las Hurdes: Tierra Sin Pan) is Buñuel’s first movie without Dalí. Though lacking many of the overt surrealist flourishes of his earlier movies – no ocular mutilation here – this 1933 film is much more unsettling. Ostensibly a documentary about the Las Hurdes region located in a remote corner of Spain, the film is in fact a lacerating parody of travel documentaries. Novelist Graham Greene, in a review of the movie for Night and Day magazine, called it “an honest and hideous picture.” You can watch it above.

Las Hurdes is poor but not as comically awful as Buñuel depicts it. He paints the picture of unleavened wretchedness. Disease, deprivation and grinding despair are in just about every frame of the movie. And if the images weren’t miserable enough, Buñuel had no problem with creating a little of his own misery. In one notorious scene, a donkey is stung to death by a swarm of angry bees. Buñuel accomplished this by having the doomed beast slathered with honey and placed next to a couple of downed hives. Another scene sought to illustrate that the mountain passes in Las Hurdes were treacherous by showing a mountain goat tumbling off a craggy slope to certain death. Only the goat wasn’t clumsy, it was wounded. If you look closely at the lower right of the frame in that scene, you can see a puff of smoke from a crewmember’s gun. Buñuel, obviously, was not a member of PETA.

He juxtaposes these grim images with a monotone voice over that heaps disdain and condescension onto its subject. Yet the narration is so heightened, so preposterous, so cruel that you find yourself questioning its veracity. Below is a particularly infamous passage of the movie’s narration.

Dwarfs and morons are very common in the upper Hurdanos mountains. Their families employ them as goat herders if they’re not too dangerous. The terrible impoverishment of this race is due to the lack of hygiene, under nourishment and constant intermarriage. The smallest one of these creatures is 28 years old. Words cannot express the horror of their mirthless grins as they play a sort of hide and go seek.

All this places the viewer into a very uncomfortable position. Buñuel’s portrayal of the locals makes them seem so alien that empathy is all but impossible. All that you are left with is, aside from revulsion, an abstracted form of pity. It’s not all that different from the Oh Dearism you get from watching a news report on a particularly blighted corner of the Third World. The difference is that Buñuel, unlike the news, makes you acutely, uncomfortably aware of your privileged position in relation to the movie’s subject.

Land Without Bread will be added to our collection 700 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring lots of pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.