"Kook Mail" database for fun and profit.
By Brian Siano
Until I began my Kook Mail project, I was hardly aware of how much the 8-bit Atari computer could do in terms of a personal business. I'd used AtariWriter for freelance word processing (always a money maker when you live near a university), my own writing--and games, of course. But the Kook Mail project illustrated just what I could do with an Atari.
I have always been fascinated with pseudo-science-perpetual motion machines, flat-Earth theories, myths about Atlantis and the Bermuda Triangle, quack medicine and UFO stories. Whenever I came across a really good piece of strangeness-- something that was detailed, funny and highly original-I kept it. Sometimes this made my housemates nervous, but I had a good time.
So I had a small, disorganized collection when the Fall '86 issue of the Whole Earth Review came out. It was dedicated to "Strange Myths and Eccentric Science," and the funniest article was an account of collecting Kook Mail by Ivan Stang.
Stang, a co-founder of the parody cult, Church of the SubGenius, had collected this stuff for years, culling it from ads in the National Enquirer, Fate, Soldier of Fortune and the Weekly World News. Stang included a lengthy list of recommended addresses, with hilarious descriptions of what they had to offer. All you needed to do was write for information. I decided to put my Atari to work on my own collection, so I set up a SynFile + database, adding Stang's list to my own.
The file contained the name, address and brief description of each organization. I also included a set of evaluations ranging from "Dull and Boring" to "Truly Strange Minds" and "Top Of the Heap." My classification system included Weird Science, UFO Contactees, Lone Eccentrics and New Age. I also kept records of the assumed names I'd used--no, I didn't want these people to know my real name.
I found a novel use for SynFile's mail-merge capabilities as well. Each record has a long section of text marked Insert. This could contain a sentence designed for a given group. For stample, "I am interested in the truths that the scientific establishment won't tell us about." This way, my requests for information don't look like a form letter. And it's a nice way to exercise the database.
In the book, "Give Me that Prime Time Religion" (Oklahoma Book Publishing, 1979), author Jerry Sholes describes how a prominent evangelist uses a sophisticated mail-merge database to help him read, answer and pray over the 20,000 letters he receives daily. The letters are first categorized by problem type--marital problems, physical problems, political fears, etc. Each letter goes into the database and computer-generated replies are sent out with stock paragraphs regarding specific problems. Then the evangelist actually prays over computer-generated lists of addresses.
Granted, in SynFile+ the Inserts would be limited to 255 characters (though you can get around that). But I was doing something roughly comparable to a multi-million dollar direct-mail system on an Atari 130XE system that cost less than $400.
The project has gone well. My database has nearly 140 addresses, and I have a substantial file of mystical pronouncements, flying saucer blueprints and sure-fire methods for contacting the Advanced Guardian Veknors from Venus Etheria.
Some Antic readers might resent seeing ideas they believe in categorized with others they find irrational. For example, I don't believe in UFOs, - so my database has plenty of UFO-oriented groups. The phrase "Kook Mail" is perhaps a bit misleading. Many organizations on my list can best be described as creative eccentrics and are not crazy--not by a long shot. I can't help feeling a kind of respectful affection for the creativity involved.
I surprised at the project popularity in my neighborhood. Friends and acquaintances wanted copies of my address list, and suddenly I was in the self-publishing business. ,SynFile+ generated the initial lists with its Labels function and I expanded the descriptions with AtariWriter.
With a short introduction and a cover made with Print Shop sofeware, the whole 15-page booklet sold pretty well at $4 a copy. And many of my customers have material from other sources, so my list just keeps growing. Here are some original entries-- including mistakes in grammar, spelling and punctuation accurately quoted from the sources:
ESP Lab of Texas
219 Southridge Drive
Edgewood, TX 75117
Truly Strange Minds
FUN approach to Magick. NO HOGWASH. Robust, folksy and intentionally funny mailings for "Astral Al" G. Manning's ESP course tell of correspondence courses, teaching tapes, and magickal supplies. Lots of jokes--this is more like David Letterman than Edgar Cayce.
Flat Earth Research Society
Covenant People's Church
Lancaster, CA 93539
Flat Earth News, $10 per year.
Truly Strange Minds
"We have proved earth flat, by experment and can be demonstrated, most is water. . . Gods Law still stands. . . water seeks its won LEVEL.. and lays flat." Extremely poor typists are the last bastions of true rationality, fighting the false religion of Science. "We DO NOT SAY FALL OFF FLAT WORLD, WE SAY YOU WOULD ALL OFF THE GREASE BALL WORLD."
RELIGIONS & CULTS
Pyramid of One
251 NW Bailey
Hillsboro, OR 97123
Top Of the Heap
"Heavenly Emergence of Supreme Being. Highest awareness/grace/healing. Wonderful life transformations. Dynamic activities transcending body/ego/drugs. Unlock gateway to miracles."
POLITICS & CONSPIRACIES
Monster Raving Loony Party
13 Chippenham Mews
London W9, England
Write for info
Remember that Monty Python routine about the election returns, featuring the Silly Party and Tarquin Fintimlinbinwhinbimlin Bus Stop F'tang F'tang Ole Biscuit Barrel? That really happens. Screaming Lord Sutch has been doing this stunt, running for Parliament, for the past several years. His platform is that he would do absolutely nothing, thus following precedent. Dignified British election officials end up having to read the rosters of such groups as the New Year's Eve party and the Bring Your Own Party.
American Imperial Party
P.O. Box 65085
St. Paul, MN 55165
Free 1-page party platform.
"Had enough of western decline? WE STAND FOR CONQUEST. For men who are ready to own the world." Balance the budget by cancelling 60% of the national debt. Ensure justice by allowing "Star Chamber" courts and holding public executions of existing prisoners. Restore military prestige by assassinating vocal enemies. Restore personal honor by allowing prostitution and open vengeance, and disallowing women drivers. Cure world poverty by allowing slavery, and silencing the journalists who cover it. How serious these guys are is anybody's guess.
P.O. Box 28
Escondido CA, 92025
Scrolls, $2 each
Top Of the Heap
You may have seen Dr. Bronner's castile soaps in your local health food store. "Teach the moral ABC that unites mankind free, lightning-like, 5-billion strong and we're all-One." Bronner's densely printed labels are PACKED with this stuff. It's good soap too, with a cooling peppermint feel. But "DILUTE. DILUTE."