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The order of layers in the Advanced Drawing Options (ADO) dialog box may unexpectedly change. If you apply these changes to the map your symbology will change to reflect these settings.
This is a known issue with ArcGIS versions 8.1 and 8.1 Service Pack 1. The ADO order may change upon reopening the ADO dialog box if Merge is set to Yes for one or more of the layers.
First adjust the order of your symbols in the ADO dialog. Only after this is finalized, adjust the merge settings for all your symbols and apply.