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WALK, THEY SAID: After my flight from Newark to Miami, I picked up my luggage and set off for the rental-car center, using elevators, ...

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

NYC Restaurant Week menus allowing you to avoid high-calorie, sugar-filled desserts

BOWLED OVER: My first course at Esca was this Zuppa di Pesce Amalfitana, a delicious broth with two kinds of fish and a tomato chili bruschetta. Other first-course choices included crudo or raw fish, a blood orange salad, rainbow smelts and fried squid.
ADDICTED TO PASTA: My second course was Conchiglie, chewy house-made shells with local clams and mussels in a ragu of fava and other heirloom beans. Other choices included ravioli with sheep's milk ricotta, grilled whole porgy and a thick red snapper fillet.

I was stuffed after a 2-course lunch
for only $26, plus tax and tip


NEW YORK, N.Y. -- My idea of dessert is fresh fruit or a great piece of cheese, so for more than 20 years the bargain 3-course lunches during Restaurant Week always posed a problem.

The dessert course at fine-dining restaurants in Manhattan almost always include high-calorie, sugar- or cream-filled desserts, and getting sorbet as a substitute isn't always possible.

Fresh fruit? Fuhgeddaboudit.

Now, probably for economic reasons, hundreds of restaurants in the 5 boroughs are offering 2-course lunches for $26 -- $3 less than the 3-course meals with dessert served during NYC Restaurant Week a year ago.

That's perfect for someone like me who is watching his weight and cholesterol.

On Monday, I took the bus into the city from Hackensack, and enjoyed a belly busting lunch of soup, seafood, pasta, bread, olives and extra-virgin olive oil at Esca, a southern Italian trattoria that's always the first restaurant I go to during the semi-annual promotion.

I didn't miss a dessert course; in fact, I couldn't possibly eat more, and at home, skipped dinner in favor of tea, fruit and nuts.

The Restaurant Week  promotion -- 2-course lunches for $26 and 3-course dinners for $42 -- runs through Feb. 8.

PRESERVED MACKEREL: A gift from the chef was toasted bread topped with small white beans and preserved mackerel.
TOO MANY TO FINISH: House-cured Gaeta olives were complimentary.
BREAD SERVICE: One benefit of being seated at noon, when lunch service starts, is getting the large end or heel of the crusty loaf of bread served at Esca, and being able to enjoy it with extra-virgin olive oil, below.
THE LURE: Esca (the Italian word for "bait") is at 402 W. 43rd St., less than three blocks from the Port Authority Bus Terminal.

A BARGAIN: With a 20% tip, my total was $33.51 for a great lunch.

A REFUGE FROM BITTER COLD: After lunch, I walked past a homeless person sleeping on a fold-down seat on the platform at the midtown bus terminal for the No. 165 and No. 166 NJ Transit buses. My bus, the 1:20 p.m. 165 to Hackensack, was about 40 minutes late.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Hackensack officials hoping April vote will give them control of school board, budget

Jason Nunnermacker, a lawyer who ran unsuccessfully for City Council, was president of the Hackensack Board of Education until he was defeated in the April 2018 school board and budget election.
The seat held by Lara L. Rodriguez, who is now Board of Education president, is one of three that will be open in the April 16 school and budget election (photo from Hackensack Public Schools website).

Editor's note: Now that the special school election in Hackensack is behind us, residents have another election coming up in April, when they can vote for three members of the Board of Education and say "yes" or "no" to a proposed budget for the 2019-20 school year.


HACKENSACK, N.J. -- Mayor John Labrosse and other members of the City Council hope to build on their victory in Tuesday's special balloting and take control of the Board of Education after the April school election.

If three council-backed candidates are successful in defeating incumbents on April 16, they would join three elected in 2018 to form a 6-3 majority on the school board.

City officials also are hoping the many older homeowners who voted against the $170 million school construction and renovation proposal on Tuesday will also reject the proposed tax levy to support the 2019-20 school budget that will appear on the April ballot.

About 45% of the property taxes paid by every home, condo and small business owner goes to support the city's schools.

Last April, voters approved a tax levy of about $82.9 million to support a 2018-19 school budget of about $117.2 million.

School officials haven't made public the proposed tax levy or budget for the 2019-20 school year.

On Tuesday, 2,917 ballots were cast, with 2,265 against the proposed $170 million bond issue and 30-year tax hike, and 652 in favor.

The results from the Bergen County clerk's Election Division included 499 mail-in ballots (305 against, 194 in favor) and 51 provisional ballots (38 against, 13 in favor).

School budget

On April 16, rejection of the proposed tax levy would allow the City Council to trim the budget and recommend reductions in expenditures or leave it as it is.

The school board is obligated only to follow the dollar amount of the cuts, not any specific recommendations.

But if council allies win and flip control of the board, any recommended cuts likely would be adopted.

Then, the council would perform a forensic audit of the budget, which has soared above $100 million in recent years, exceeding the city's own budget.

And they'd also work quickly to determine how many students from out of the district are attending city schools at taxpayers' expense.

As many as 200 students from Paterson, Newark and New York City may be illegally attending school in Hackensack, one council member said.

School renovations

If school officials hope to salvage their plan to renovate existing schools at a cost of about $68.3 million, they would have to give two months' notice for it to appear on the April ballot.

The rest of the plan rejected by voters on Tuesday -- $101.5 million to build a new junior high school and parking garage on the high school campus -- appears dead for the foreseeable future.

Zisas or Democrats?

In the school election last April, the three open seats being contested were held by Mark A. Stein, Jason Nunnermacker and Daniel F. Carola, portrayed by critics as stooges of the Zisa family political machine.

They were defeated by three council-backed candidates, Frances Gogelja, Lancelot Powell and Carlos Velez.

Starting in 2013 and with the Zisas' backing, Nunnermacker, a lawyer, had tried but failed repeatedly to get elected to the City Council.

Still, other city residents believe Stein and others on the school board were loyal to local Democratic Party officials.

Team Hackensack

Bu that ignores Team Hackensack, described by former four-term Mayor Jack Zisa in March 2016 as a new "community organization" formed to back candidates in municipal and school board elections.

To kick off the effort, the former mayor, disgraced former Police Chief Ken Zisa and cousin Joseph Zisa greeted an overflow crowd of loyalists at the Crow's Nest Restaurant & Pub.

The seats of  board Vice President Timothy J. Hoffman, above, and board member Modesto Romero, below, also are open in the non-partisan election on April 16 (photos from website of Hackensack Public Schools).

Friday, January 25, 2019

Hackensack taxpayers soundly defeat plan to borrow $170M for school construction

Members of the Board of Education proposing the bond referendum are allies of the greedy Zisa family, whose onetime control of city government cursed us with the nickname of "Zisaville."

Voters reject borrowing that would have triggered a 30-year tax hike

Editor's note: The Bergen County Clerk's Election Division updated unofficial results this afternoon, including 499 mail-in and 51 provisional ballots.


HACKENSACK, N.J. -- In unofficial results, voters on Tuesday rejected a $170 million school construction and renovation proposal and the 30-year tax hike needed to pay for it.

Homeowners weren't fooled by a misleading ballot proposal and other inaccurate messages that appeared designed to hoodwink voters.

This afternoon, the Bergen County Clerk's Election Division posted unofficial results online, showing a total of 2,917 votes were cast -- 2,265 against the plan and 652 in favor, including mail-in and provisional ballots.

The turnout was 13.18% of 22,126 registered voters -- unusually high when compared to April school and budget election in past years.

Mayor John Labrosse and other members of the City Council had joined a large number of homeowners in urging a "no" vote on proposal in a special election.

Polls were open from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. 

Before the vote

The school construction and renovation proposal grew from $165.1 million when first reported by NorthJersey.com on June 30 to the $169.9 million that appeared on the ballot.

Most of that -- $101.5 million -- would have been used to build a junior high school and parking garage on the high school campus, with the balance devoted to renovating school buildings that average 100 years old, school officials say.

All the work would have been completed to allow the schools to reopen in September 2021, Board of Education President Lara L. Rodriguez told NorthJersey.com.

But the property tax hikes needed to pay off the borrowing assumed school officials would receive more than $41.3 million in state aid, which wasn't guaranteed.

Misleading ballot

The original ballot proposal submitted by school officials tried to fool residents by claiming the average property tax impact would be "$308.66 over 30 years, based on the average assessed home" -- or only about $10 a year.

But last week, after a homeowners group sued school officials, a state Superior Court judge in Hackensack ordered county election officials to print new ballots that state approval "would cost the average homeowner '$308.66 per year, for 30 years.'"

"It is an extraordinarily expensive commitment that the citizens of Hackensack would be approving," said Judge Estela M. De La Cruz, explaining why she ordered a change in the language to reflect the potential true cost.

Many homeowners would have paid far more. My exposure would have been about $650 a year for 30 years or a total of $19,500, but others would have paid even more every year.

And everyone's annual payment would increase, if their assessment or the city tax rate, or both, go up in the three decades after schools reopen.

Unfortunately, the court ruling didn't change the original misleading language in mail-in ballots that were sent out to voters on Dec. 21 or on sample ballots that all voters received last week.

More deception

And messages from school officials continued to mislead voters by dramatically downplaying the potential property tax hikes.

A postcard about the bond referendum in both English and Spanish -- sent to homes by Hackensack Public Schools -- claimed the cost would be "less than $1 a day [menos de $1 por dia] for homes assessed at the city average." 

An open letter from Rosemary Marks, acting superintendent of schools, also falsely claimed "the tax impact...would be an average of $308.66 per year or less than $1.00 per day."

The letter, which made no mention of a potential 30-year tax hike, was dated Dec. 31, 2018, and written in response to one from Mayor Labrosse, who opposes the plan.

'Higher rents,' too

A condo owners group calling themselves Hackensack Smart Schools Inc. also sent postcards to every city resident, warning:

"Tenants can also expect to pay higher rents if it [the bond proposal] passes."

"Join Mayor Labrosse and vote no on the $170 million school bond and big tax increase this Tuesday!"

The $169.9 million proposal had been put together in the past 5 years, Deputy Mayor Kathleen Canestrino said at a City Council work session on Jan. 8, but school officials refused to divulge any details until recently.

"What's the rush?" Canestrino said in a phone interview on Monday, noting school officials haven't completed a re-registration to make sure only students from Hackensack and sending districts reap the benefits of taxpayer-supported schools.

City officials support a plan to alter and renovate existing schools, and upgrade heating and air conditioning at a total cost of $68.3 million, with a potential average property tax hike of $108 a year for 30 years.

But school officials refused to split that part of the proposal from the $101.5 million in new construction, leaving voters no choice but to reject the entire plan.

Apathetic voters?

As of last April, Hackensack had 23,401 registered voters, according to the Bergen County Board of Elections (the county clerk put the number of voters at 21,303).

In the April 2018 school election, three challengers backed by the City Council defeated school board President Jason Nunnermacker, a lawyer, and two other incumbents.

But the nine-member Board of Education remains in control of the Zisa family political dynasty. And Anthony C. Zisa is an English teacher at Hackensack High School.

In recent years, Zisa loyalists on the board have driven the annual school budget over $100 million -- exceeding the municipal budget -- boosted fees to the board's lawyer, raised administrative salaries and postponed renovation of old schools.

695 OK'd budget

In unofficial results last April, only 1,629 voters or 7.65% of those registered cast ballots -- more than twice as many as in previous school board elections.

Only 1,142 of those voters voted "yes" or "no" on the tax-levy proposition, which was approved 695-447.

That means only 695 out of 44,000 residents approved the use of $82.8 million in property taxes to support the $117 million school budget.

About 45% of your property tax bill goes to support the city's schools, and that percentage would go higher with approval of the irresponsible $170 million school construction and renovation plan.

A Superior Court judge's ruling last Wednesday left uncorrected the tax impact as stated on mail-in and sample ballots for the special school election on Tuesday.
On Thursday, I hand-delivered three mail-in ballots with "no" votes (from my wife and I and our college-age son) to the Board of Elections in Room 310 of the county Administration Building in Hackensack. If you mail your ballot, make sure to use two stamps.
An official in the county Election Division said she didn't know how many words are in the $170 million ballot proposal, but that the actual ballot voters will see in the voting booth is not much bigger than the sample ballot shown here. If you haven't seen it before you go to vote, good luck trying to read the hundreds of words, dollar amounts, percentages and so forth in the small print necessitated by duplicating the proposal in both Spanish, center, and Korean, right.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

News media finally admit role as Trump's accomplice before and after 2016 election

Freelancer Milt Priggee of PoliticalCartoons.com and other editorial cartoonists have treated Donald J. Trump far more harshly than newspaper, TV and radio reporters. Here, Priggee shows two migrant children impaled on Trump's Statue of Liberty crown, basically calling the president a murderer.
Cartoonist Bill Day labels Trump's claim of a crisis or emergency at our southern border just another lie.


HACKENSACK, N.J. -- The New York Times is the first major news organization to concede the media acted as Donald J. Trump's willing accomplice during the 2016 presidential campaign.

On the cover of last Sunday's Opinion section, Frank Bruni's byline appears over these headlines:

Will the Media
Be Trump's

We have a second chance in 2020.
Let's not blow it.

Bruni questions the degree to which the media will "let him [President Trump] set the terms of the 2020 presidential campaign, about our appetite for antics [such as Trump's frequent insults] versus substance, and whether we'll repeat the mistakes that we made in 2016 and continued to make during the first stages of presidency. There were plenty."

2015 and 2016

In 2015, when the New York developer declared his candidacy, "the number of stories about Trump in the country's most influential newspapers and on its principal newscasts significantly exceeded what his support in the polls at the time justified," said Bruni, quoting Harvard's Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.

"The volume and tone of the coverage helped propel Trump to the top of Republican polls," wrote the center's Thomas Patterson.

"In stark contrast," Bruni said, "stories about Hillary Clinton in 2015 were mostly negative."

In the first half of 2016, Trump commanded much more coverage that any other candidate from either party, and it was evenly balanced between positive and negative appraisals -- "unlike the coverage of Clinton, which remained mostly negative," Bruni said.

Only during their general election face-off, "on topics relating to the candidates' fitness for office, Clinton and Trump's coverage were virtually identical in terms of its negative tone," Patterson wrote.

"'Regarding their fitness for office, they were treated identically?' In retrospect, that's madness. It should have been in real time, too," Bruni concludes.

And at another point, he notes "The president doesn't hate journalists, not at all. He uses us."

Endless lies

Although The Times and the Washington Posts have led the media in fact-checking every Trump statement and claim, both have been reluctant to label them as lies, preferring "false and misleading claims" and similarly weak language.

And no White House reporter has told Trump to his face, "Please stop lying to the American people."

Instead, most have knocked themselves out to be first to send his endless lies around the nation and world in yet another one of those maddening sound bites.

Bruni's opinion piece in The Times followed by one week "The People vs. Donald Trump," David Leonhardt's argument that "the United States has never had a president as demonstrably unfit for office as Trump," and he should be removed from office.

Jimmy Margulies, former editorial cartoonist for The Record of Woodland Park, notes furloughed government workers support the wall, "if it keeps out bill collectors."
Cartoonist Christopher Weyant of the Boston Globe also invokes the con job of a crisis on our southern border. Here, Trump is nothing less than a con artist.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

'You're retired, now what?" is a question that is as relevant now as it was in 2008

FILLING MY TIME: One way I've tried to fill my time is to continue writing about food and cars -- two areas I covered at The Record of Hackensack in the years before I was forced to retire in 2008. I devoted a third Google blog, Eye on The Record, to the steady decline of the local daily newspaper where I had worked for nearly 30 years. The photos, above and below, are from 99 Ranch Market, a Chinese supermarket that opened in Hackensack in June 2018.
READ: Just when you thought Bergen County had too many Asian markets


HACKENSACK, N.J. -- In May 2008, I suddenly found myself out of a job after nearly 30 years as a reporter, copy editor and food writer at The Record.

Filling my time now remains as much of a challenge as it was then.

Then, at 63, I started taking classes at Bergen County Community College's Institute for Learning in Retirement, and got the chance to speak to a classroom full of retirees like me:

"You're retired, now what?" was the first of a dozen questions I asked to start what turned out to be a lively discussion.

Bored yet?

Another was, "How would you describe retirement in one word?"

At the time, my one-word answer was, "Boring." 

And in the years since I've also weathered bouts of boredom, despite:

  1. Becoming a certified paralegal.
  2. Preparing for the trial of an age-discrimination suit against The Record.
  3. Starting blogs to continue writing about cars, food and other subjects I explored as a reporter and food writer.
  4. Becoming active on Twitter and other social media to remain relevant amid the rise of white nationalism.
  5. Running for City Council and Board of Education in Hackensack, where I live, and blogging about the impact on property taxes of  Hackensack University Medical Center and other non-profits, and other local issues.
  6. Having open-heart surgery and getting a new valve (from a cow).
  7. Holding part-time driving jobs for what basically was chump change.
  8. Volunteering as many as 3 days a week at a hospital or day care program for people with Alzheimer's disease or dementia. (The definition of a volunteer: An older American who has nothing better to do).
  9. Giving up meat and poultry in favor of eating only seafood, spending a good deal of my time food shopping and preparing meals at home, and emphasizing organics and wild-caught fish. 
  10. Starting a cooking channel on YouTube.

Age discrimination

Rosy views of retirement, such as the article that appears this month in Costco Connection magazine, don't help (see more below).

Call us senior citizens, retirees, older Americans or what you will.

But leaving the work world can expose you to mistreatment or discrimination whether you seek part-time employment or volunteer.

Of course, holding a job doesn't make you immune to mistreatment because of your age, especially if you are 50 and older, according to a new data analysis by ProPublica and the Urban Institute:

"More than half of older U.S. workers are pushed out of longtime jobs, suffering financial damage that is often irreversible."

ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest, and the Urban Institute, a think tank, analyzed data from a study that followed a nationally representative sample of about 20,000 people from the time they turned 50 through the rest of their lives.

More questions

Here are some other question we discussed back then at the Institute for Learning in Retirement:

  • "Besides attending classes here, how do you fill up your time?
  • "What takes up most of your time -- hobbies, grandchildren, travel, volunteering or something else?
  • "Do you feel The Record and other media are paying attention to your concerns as a senior citizen?
  • "Have you seen any articles on staying busy during retirement?
  • "Would you describe yourself as affluent, well off or financially stable?"


Luckily, finances have never been a concern since I was forced to leave The Record in 2008. My wife and I, and our college-age son live comfortably.

I own my home free and clear, and in 2015, I used $30,000 from my retirement fund for a down payment on an all-electric Tesla Model S, which I charge with the 60-plus solar panels on our roof. 

When I took part-time jobs, my goal was to fill my time and earn a little pocket money.

One job I didn't get was as a part-time product specialist in Tesla's Paramus showroom, where I venture to guess no worker is over 35 years old.

For all his accomplishments, Elon Musk, the genius behind Tesla and SpaceX, appears to discriminate against older Americans like me. 

Social Security

Another question I asked then to fellow retirees at Bergen Community College, but one that remains relevant today:

  • "Are you concerned about talk in Congress on cutting Social Security and Medicare?
  • "Do you want more opportunity to interact with younger people -- in this [college] setting or elsewhere?
  • "Do you feel isolated or do you feel you are a valued member of society?"

5 STEPS: The cover of Costco Connection, a magazine for members of Costco Wholesale.

'Life after work'

The cover story in the January 2019 Costco Connection, a magazine for members of Costco Wholesale, quotes "several experts to provide tips and advice for the road ahead," according to the table of contents.

Editorial Director Tim Talevich says, "The common theme among the experts ... is that your retirement can be truly special, if you prepare as much as possible.

"Find out about Medicare, Social Security and those other essentials. Spend some time examining your values and strengths. Then go out and create the best life for yourself, your family and your community."

But I rolled my eyes when I saw the story's headline on Page 30:

"5 steps
 to an awesome

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Hackensack officials, homeowners urging 'no' vote on $170M school bond, tax hike

HARD SELL: At a City Council work session on Tuesday night, Leila T. Amirhamzeh, a member of the Hackensack Board of Education, and former Superintendent Joseph Cicchelli (not shown) outlined the ambitious $170 million plan to build a junior high school and parking garage, and upgrade six existing city schools.
VOTE 'NO': Mayor John P. Labrosse Jr. left the dais and put on his "taxpayer and citizen" cap to speak against the plan. He charged school officials with trying to trick voters by claiming on the Jan. 22 ballot that the "average tax impact [would be] $308.66 over 30 years," when, in fact, the tax hike would be $308.66 every year for 30 years.


HACKENSACK -- The real cost of the $170 million school construction referendum on the ballot in 12 days would be $318 million when 30 years of interest are included, critics said Tuesday night.

At a noisy City Council work session, school officials outlined the ambitious building plan and answered questions from members of the public, but most of the city officials and residents who spoke said they will vote 'no' at the special election on Jan. 22.

'YOUR VOTE COUNTS!' The two sides of a large postcard sent to every Hackensack resident by a group of condo owners led by Martin J. Cramer, an attorney who lives on Overlook Avenue. Polls will be open from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Jan. 22.

Hackensack Smart Schools Inc.

Martin J. Cramer, a former Teaneck councilman and township attorney who now lives in a Hackensack condo, is organizing opposition to the $170 million school bond.

"Our tax rate in killing us," said Cramer, who is calling his group, Hackensack Smart Schools Inc.

On Tuesday night, Cramer said he met with school officials to discuss the plan, but noted it is illegal for the Board of Education "to advocate" in favor of the referendum.

Cramer and others objected to the size of the proposal -- $169,904,226 -- which they said was far larger than referendums put forward by other school districts.

And they also dislike the board's single, take-it-or-leave it ballot question lumping $101.5 million in new construction with alterations, repairs and upgrades to six existing schools.

Deputy Mayor Kathleen Canestrino said the proposal could be divided into as many as four questions.

And she added that she and most other residents would support renovations and upgrades to the city's existing schools, which are said to average 100 years old.

Canestrino said those repairs and upgrades, including air conditioning, could be paid for by an average tax hike of  about $108 a year for 30 years.  

Residents who spoke, including a woman who identified herself as a former educator, also said it would be wrong to mix younger and older students by building a new junior high school on the Hackensack High School campus.

Higher tax impacts

On the ballot, school officials estimate the average assessed home at $245,431 and the average tax impact as $308.66 each year for 30 years, but if your home's assessment is double the average, you'll pay double the average tax hike.

My home is assessed at $561,000, so I would have to fork over roughly $650 a year or $19,500 over 30 years.

In an open letter, Mayor John P. Labrosse Jr. said:

"There is no question that our schools are in a state of serious disrepair, largely due to years of neglect and lack of proper maintenance. Everyone knows our children deserve better. But is this the best plan for the city?
"We believe a more phased-in approach that lessens the immediate impact on taxpayers would be a better plan. Let's take care of those long-ignored maintenance issues and make the required upgrades to modernize our schools."

The Fanny Meyer Hillers Elementary School in Hackensack in an April 2016 photo. The school is under the flight path of business jets that use Teterboro Airport.

Monday, January 7, 2019

A powerful indictment of President Trump as a liar who has violated his oath of office

Cartoonist Rick McKee of The Augusta Chronicle in Georgia laying out the agenda of the Democratic majority in the House of Representative.


HACKENSACK, N.J. -- The New York Times Opinion section doesn't carry the force of law, but Columnist David Leonhardt is as close as we'll get until the Mueller report is issued.

"The People vs. Donald J. Trump" is the headline over Leonhardt's column on the cover of The Times' Sunday Review.

"He is demonstrably unfit for office. What are we waiting for?" is the sub-headline.

The columnist lays out the case against President Trump in the first three paragraphs and fleshes out his argument over an entire newspaper page that follows.

Here are the introductory paragraphs:

"The presidential oath of office contains 35 words and one core promise; 'to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.' Since virtually the moment Donald J. Trump took that oath two years ago, he has been violating it.

"He has repeatedly put his own interest above those of the country. He has used the presidency to promote his businesses. He has accepted financial gifts from foreign countries. He has lied to the American people about his relationship with a hostile foreign government. He has tolerated cabinet officials who use their power to enrich themselves.

"To shield himself  from accountability from all of this -- and for his unscrupulous presidential campaign -- he has set out to undermine the American system of checks and balances. He has called for the prosecution of his political enemies and the protection of his allies. He has attempted to obstruct justice. He has tried to shake the confidence in one democratic institution after another, including the press, federal law enforcement and the judiciary."

To read the full opinion column-cum-indictment, see: