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Title Aesthetic Realism - Brooklyn Assemblyman's Earmarks Are Political Surrealism

Aesthetic Realism - Brooklyn Assemblyman's Earmarks Are Political Surrealism May 8th, 2008 - For a politician, sponsoring a pork-barrel item to fund seniors' classes should be a simple, feel-good, voter-friendly action, as easy as shaking a hand or kissing a baby. What could go wrong? Brooklyn assemblyman Felix Ortiz is finding out. He sponsored a $4,000 earmark in the state budget for a Soho nonprofit called the Aesthetic Realism Foundation, which has the incredibly bland-sounding goal of assisting people throughout America and the world to see each other and reality fairly.

The Aesthetic Realism Foundation was founded by poet Eli Siegel in 1941 to educate the public about his philosophy, which includes such radical ideas as that "all beauty is a making one of opposites" and that humankind's "largest desire is to like the world on an honest or accurate basis." Today, the organization promotes his philosophy through dramatic presentations and classes on art, poetry, music, and marriage. The foundation also offers "consultations" a kind of personal therapy in which students are individually counseled by a group of Aesthetic Realism teachers.

In a statement released on April 23, Ortiz said that the foundation "was well-regarded in my community for the services it provided to senior citizens," which is why he carved off a chunk of the state budget to fund some additional workshops at a Brooklyn senior center. And who could possibly criticize him for helping the elderly through such an innocuous-sounding nonprofit? Turns out that several ex-students are happy to do just that. "It sounds to me like the assemblyman got duped. I don't think the taxpayers should be paying for their enterprise," says Michael Bluejay, who was born to devotees of Aesthetic Realism and attended consultations as a child and teen. "They determine who you marry, whether or not you can go to school. It's definitely mind control."

Bluejay believes the workshops would be used to recruit seniors into the group's controlling grip. Adam Mali, who was also raised by devotees of Aesthetic Realism, calls the funding "baffling." [...] Both Mali and Bluejay admit they don't know much about how the foundation is run these days, but say they doubt that things are much different. Bluejay now runs a website tracking the foundation's activities and posting narratives from other ex-students.

Steve Hassan, a former Moonie and the author of two books on controversial religious groups, describes Aesthetic Realism as a "psychotherapy cult." He has counseled eight former Aesthetic Realism students over the last two decades and says the foundation employs all the typical methods of undue influence: "The group was cutting people off from loved ones, regulating all aspects of behavior - their thoughts and feelings, and encouraging the idolization of Eli Siegel." [...]

Had Assemblyman Ortiz or his staff investigated the group, they might have discovered that from the 1960s through the 80s, the Aesthetic Realism Foundation ran a program intended to turn gay people straight, and claimed to have successfully "changed" 150 people. (The foundation ended that program in 1990, and today insists that "Aesthetic Realism is for full, equal civil rights for everyone.") Later, its members held regular silent vigils in front of the New York Times building, claiming they were "victims of the press" because no one would write about their philosophy. [...] This is a summary extract from the full article as it appeared on Village Voice, May 6, 2008 Full Article