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(1999-2002: Pre-Retirement Years)

Horses, ranch in McGregor, Texas

10/1/01-Mon.-Proving that not everything here in "Steps" has to be so darned serious, I note today the unusual occurrence of a palindrome, in the present date. Another will occur in just ten more days.

Had an unpleasant time at work. Will not bother you with the gory details, just to mention that a fellow employee is acting like a jerk and the boss says, despite my 138% of production requirement performance this last fiscal year that, my "problem," in his view, is that I am not "self-motivated," because I failed to measure up on one of thirteen statistical criteria, even after working nine hours a day for eight hours' pay for the last ten months. Must keep my mouth shut about what I think of Mr. Hemorrhoid Head for a few more weeks.

This evening, discovered a new cancer lesion on my nose. Will likely require new "procedures." Should make my grinning face more Halloween-like, just in time for the new season!

Had a nice chat tonight, though, with my brother Ron.

Also mowed the back yard. It looks nice.

Fran and Pepper are doing fine. But nothing special to report. The lass and I did have a cozy snuggle last night. Cooler weather makes for a more amorous Phil!

10/2/01-Tues.-Another hectic but productive workday, despite too little slumber last night.

Awoke this AM to an autumn or harvest moon, exquisitely beautiful and seeming huge and almost orange on the horizon.

This evening was marked by the arrival in our lives of Hobo, an albino hamster that Pepper found and was playing with in our back yard. For some reason the creatures did not attack each other. Fran rescued it and brought it in. I went about the neighborhood and discovered its owners had been the kids right across our back fence. Turned out they were told by a grandmother to just release it, saying they did not have room for it anymore! Fran and I got it some special food and bedding tonight and set it up for housekeeping using an otherwise empty 10-gallon aquarium. It seems tame and happy enough, quickly settling in and beginning its nightly sleep. But its home with us is also just temporary. Hobo and Pepper really are not a good mix; and we have all the animal husbandry we can handle with the mutt. We're looking to find a good home for Hobo!

10/3/01-Wed.-Not everything in the public arena is monopolized by the 9/11 terrorist events and their aftermath. Yesterday and today has seen the 2001 Nobel Conference, celebrating 100 years since the origin of the Nobel Foundation! A review of the entire span of Nobel winners is instructive and very interesting. A lot of note has happened in that century. As part of the conference, and performed on 10/2/01 and 10/3/01, a stunning new composition has been debuted, "Nobel Symphony," an exceptionally lovely and very moving work, to judge by the preview broadcast on National Public Radio.

Read Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole.

10/4/01-Thurs.-How 'bout those writers for The West Wing!? In their interim episode last night, 10/3, on terrorism, they managed to hit all the points I have been trying to nail for a few weeks now, and did it much more eloquently. My hat's off to 'em! Great job.

Today I made official an event toward which I have been aspiring for years, my retirement from the ranks of government bureaucracy, effective 12/31/01. All the yearning, tension, long hours, etc., was climaxed with the submission of one single-sheet form. (Now have about 42 workdays left.)

I've also arranged to take off the three days from 10/22-10/24.

Then, on 10/26, I'll be fifty-eight. This final coast into a permanent departure from my best of all possible jobs is one of the nicest birthday presents I've ever received.

10/7/01-Sun.-And so it begins. This afternoon we learned that the U.S. is in the process of launching attacks on Afghan terrorists.

Meanwhile, that country's ruling party has apparently been somewhat successful with propaganda depicting our campaign as a strike at all Islam. Besides this, moderate Moslems, even if they are not convinced by that argument, are likely to resent the inevitable loss of innocent lives that result from any such major military operation, just as we naturally take a dim view of the killing of our civilians. We are informed that Osama bin Laden had earlier called for the equivalent of a global Islamic Jihad to destroy our country, if the U.S. would retaliate against Afghanistan, as, of course, is now occurring.

Our own leaders have warned that we now have a 100% chance of new terrorist attacks, such as we had in New York, Virginia, and Pennsylvania last month. (When I hear there's a 50% chance of rain, I take an umbrella. I am at a loss to know what to take given this forecast.)

Many countries with a predominantly Moslem population but moderate regimes, such as Egypt, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, are susceptible to civil unrest, as significant segments of the populace react to our struggle against the groups and individuals of their faith who have attacked us and who continue to threaten us with further mayhem. Indeed, it is almost certain that the Islamic world will be substantially changed by this war. A destabilizing and radicalizing of some parts of the Moslem world seems probable. Egypt's leadership, officially neutral in this conflict, has warned us that we should now be prepared for a very long war, with significant and unforeseeable consequences.

I believe we are seeing the opening phase of a struggle that may extend through my lifetime, one that will transform the existing geopolitical balance in as many ways and for as long as did the Cold War.

Meanwhile, our much more prosaic day-to-day lives go on. Friday evening, my wife went to another Baltic Buzzards rehearsal while I did a new analysis of our retirement portfolio. Later, as usual at the end of the workweek, I enjoyed the public radio broadcast of "Film Score Focus."

It was heartening to see that our financial assets have rallied substantially and are now down only 4½% from their level before the 9/11/01 events. I'm not sanguine, however, about how they'll perform in the war and retaliation days ahead, and so am managing the holdings very conservatively.

Fran has had a bit of frustration and aggravation with her photo and illustration sites. It seems someone is doing internet theft of her images, resulting in disruption of at least one of her online sites. She is not sure how to combat this problem.

We have a minor aggravation too in our best of all possible neighborhoods. Kids have been again aggressively destroying some of our succulents, out near the road, while we are away.

The list of hassles ends with a little problem with an unreasonable sister-in-law. Leila has gladly agreed to giving Hobo a new home, saying he will be under the care of my nephew, Charley, her next to youngest child. She said, though, that he needed a cage for the rodent, one which she apparently was unwilling to provide. So, I volunteered to give Hobo to him as an early Christmas gift, with the 10-gallon aquarium we are using for his abode, plus packages of hamster food and bedding material.

While welcoming this suggestion, she has now indicated her view that I must also give her youngest, Keith, a guinea pig and cage for Christmas, to keep him from feeling badly about the nice boon for Charley. I feel the monetary value of what we're giving to Charley is about $20, and that my usual $20 Christmas gift to each of our nieces and nephews is still appropriate. If she and her husband want to give a large pet rodent to Keith, that is their business. She could just as well have said that the rescued hamster was a gift to both Charley and Keith, if she were truly concerned about the youngster's feelings. As usual, though, Leila, who, as Fran puts it "has a lot of gall," likes to manipulate folks and situations to give herself and her offspring unfair advantages at others' expense, using emotional blackmail and any other clever trick she can toward this end. I now regret having even mentioned Hobo to her. Things would have been so much simpler had I just given him away to someone at work! (Thus be it ever in a dysfunctional extended family.)

Fran, Pepper, and I are due up in Waco to visit with Mom and transfer Hobo just next weekend. Hopefully the matter will be quickly resolved then. I plan to give Leila $20, to use however she and my brother wish for Keith's Christmas presents, and, whether she likes it or not, leave it at that.

On a happier note, today Fran and I celebrated my turning in the paperwork for retirement by going for a very satisfactory Chinese lunch at Buffet Palace. This afternoon and evening, we did some shopping for my mom's upcoming birthday and took naps. I also got a haircut and gave Fran a massage.

We've had a couple good walks this weekend, including one in which we saw many deer. The temperatures have remained nicely cool. Last night, they got down into the forties. Yes!

10/9/01-Tues.-Is it appropriate in time of war, or at any time, to censor a free press? Does it make any difference if the publication or broadcast is overseas, in a tiny country where Uncle Sam can wield significant pressure? These issues were highlighted in the U.S. government's attempts in the last few days to have Al-Jazeera, a widely respected television channel (offering arguably the most comprehensive and even-handed coverage of views and events relevant to the Middle East) tone down its allegedly "anti-American" presentations. Ironically, this channel has also been strongly attacked by Islamic extremists for being too pro-American. Perhaps it would be best to let good journalists simply do their jobs. Everyone except the dogmatic may gain from a free expression of diverse views. To the extent the West (which is most unlike the terrorists of all persuasions precisely in its tolerance of an open, unfettered exchange of many ideas) is involved in attempts to quash journalistic integrity, it becomes more like those it seeks to vanquish in the current "war." If we cannot bear that others will speak of things against our liking we may, in censoring them, curtail truth itself or at least our potential access to it.

Similarly, one wonders if, with the George W. administration's current efforts to expand its powers of surveillance, through greater wiretap, bugging, search, and internet monitoring authority, we may be throwing out the baby of basic freedoms for everyone, in an overly enthusiastic concern over how terrorists (the bath water?), otherwise, might use our rights against us.

This morning I began my vocational period of "Lent," my last forty shifts at the best of all possible jobs. (I'm giving up in this time the joys of already being retired.) The final regular earnings check (for December) will be electronically transmitted to my bank on 1/2/02, after which I'll consider myself well and truly "a retired person." I'm already, since 1993, a member of A.A.R.P.!

Survival there till it's official must be fairly certain now. My supervisor asked Sandy, one of my friends (who promptly told me) to coordinate some kind of "secret," final, celebratory wing-ding for me.

On returning home from work today, we found that the little, neighborhood urchin caca-for-brains had in our absence once again been decimating our spineless prickly-pear cacti, this time with even more gusto than before. In the past, after such incidents, we have tried confronting the kids or their parents, but, unfortunately, often with repercussions even worse than the initial incidents. It makes for somewhat less than unconditional love for one's fellow man.

It's mid-week and a difficult time for both Fran and myself, as we are usually tired and feeling harassed, under extra strain till the weekend finally arrives. (Being "I" or introvert types, we do not derive more but less energy from plenty of association with others. See Please Understand Me, by David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates!)

Nonetheless, we took Pepper for a walk, over near the Barnes and Noble shopping center, and were rewarded with mild breezes, a splendid red and gray sunset, and the uplifting sight of a herd of deer.

10/12/01-Fri.-Yesterday marked the one-month memorial since "everything changed," as, on the morning of 9/11, our generation and those to follow lost a lot of innocence in just a few minutes.

More was lost, in fact, than our relatively carefree, optimistic outlook. There were, of course, the horribly tragic deaths of many thousands and the immediate destruction of buildings and planes. Beyond these costs, analysts have now estimated that, for the first fiscal year alone, the events of last month will have cost all of us about half a trillion dollars in business and government moneys.

This assessment does not even count the military buildup, increased defense industry spending, local precautions against terrorism of all kinds, bail-outs for distressed economic sectors, and a deepened recession, with unemployment now likely to soar from its lowest to its highest level in several decades. All in all, as the effects weave their way through the world's history in the next few years, multiple trillions of dollars of total residual loss will likely have been felt.

We are still waiting too for "the other shoe to drop." A few anthrax scares do not seem to count. We now know, despite an irate George W.'s wanting to keep this from us (Why? Do we not have a right to such information? Must we be protected like children from these harsh realities?), that our country's best experts on such matters place the chances of new, significant terrorist incidents extremely high. Just as at the beginning of World War II, after Pearl Harbor, when Germany and Japan were winning almost every encounter and there was a deep gloom and pessimism in the land, so now, as it sinks in that we are much more vulnerable than we'd thought and that we are likely to have more tragedies before a long, complicated war might finally have some resolution, our spirits feel wounded.

Fran and I are not immune from our own skirmishes and misunderstandings. Last night we seemed for awhile seriously at loggerheads over a few words. If even we, who have so many interests and concerns in common, cannot remain free of conflict, how much more likely that in this vast pearly world of immense cultural and financial gulfs there may at times be conflagrations? While billions are merely existing, even on the verge of starving, individual billionaires have more power and wealth than entire nations. Such disparity invites natural consequences, whether they occur through terrorism or otherwise.

An interesting, alternative set of viewpoints on national and international issues is available at the daily publication, Undernews.

We've come gratefully to the end of another workweek. Yea!

My prostate difficulties are becoming quite a nuisance. Last night I had to get up twice. At work today I had to "go" at least a dozen times, despite taking medication for BPH (benign prostatic hypertrophy). Although there are daunting risks, it may be imperative before long to have some type of corrective procedure.

I did a final cleanup of the hamster's abode, in anticipation of giving him away (in it) tomorrow or the next day. We're heading north to Waco to visit my mom, celebrate her birthday (she'll be 79), and transfer the rodent.

I had a strange dream the other night. In it I am missing one finger on my right hand. Another is severely atrophied, down to about one tenth normal size. Who knows what that means!?

We have a major thunderstorm on the outskirts of town. I'd better shut the computer down. (Fortunately, we've had plenty of rain lately.)

10/16/01-Tues.- As I write, I'm enjoying a habit I picked up on one of my visits to Houston, with Mary and Jim (before he went off to college in OK), sipping instant International House coffee (nicely flavored, decaff., no sugar, no fat), a pleasant, restful addition to a cool evening, just back from a walk with Pepper.

Considering my upcoming birthday (10/26) one trouble I've had with getting older is that, as the mind and body have slowed some, the pace of living, especially at work, seems to have picked up toward frenetic. So, I enjoy these meditative interludes. Hopefully one of the benefits of retirement, even if our budget necessitates frugal habits for a few years - especially after recent market downturns - is that there will, for a change, be ample time for the things that matter. Now, I just have to make sure I give first priority to those things!

I also thought of my sister-in-law, Mary (whose mother has Alzheimer's disease), this afternoon. I was talking with my best friend at work, Larry, though even a few minutes out for a chat is a luxury at that place. He is highly intelligent; and his dad apparently was brilliant and a bundle of energy and lively ideas as well. He and Larry had been good buds as he grew up and, later, after Larry had married and had children of his own. Quite unexpectedly, a few years ago his father began to seem confused about things that earlier would have been clear. Eventually early Alzheimer's disease was diagnosed. I asked my friend today how the old man (in his seventies) was doing. Larry said he'd gone home over the weekend and helped look after his dad while his mom went shopping. His father had always loved kids and animals. So, one of the things he enjoys doing is looking at albums that include pictures of both. Larry said they were looking through one old set of pictures. His dad became briefly animated on "recognizing" one boy (himself as a youth), saying that seemed like a nice fellow (not realizing it was of him). Some pages later, he saw a number of pictures of another youngster, but seemed ill at ease, as if distressed over this stranger's appearance in the album. He demanded to know who that was. They were pictures of Larry. My friend is emotionally strong, often lifting others up when things get rough. He now had tears in his eyes though. He said that he recently saw a program (put out by an Alzheimer's support group, he thinks) in which they commented that the disease is not just one affecting individuals, that it really is a family disease. We serve each other as mirrors. The interaction with friends and family members reflects and reconfirms us to one another and ourselves. When one of our main mirrors grows gradually opaque, it is disorienting for us as well.

Larry said his father still has surprising, brief, isolated moments of clarity. In one of these, over this past weekend, he asked his wife for a loaded gun, saying he did not want to live this way anymore.

We must hold this life lightly.

Today is my mom's birthday. We had a little party over the weekend; and I called her tonight to wish her "Happy birthday!" as well.

Last night was my second in a row of too little slumber. Unable to get the temperature and sound levels right.

It is very nicely cooled off here generally. Fran, Pepper, and I went for a walk yesterday evening. (The mutt and I went on another tonight, but without my better half.) We enjoyed the blustery blow through of a cool front. Pepper was extremely energetic and frisky, particularly considering that she has twelve years of age! We saw deer fairly close up. I saw a raccoon even nearer; but it raced off into the shrubs before Fran and the dog could spot it.

Today was Boss' Day. All across the U.S.A., managers and employees, at least this once a year time, were on their best behavior. Fran fixed a big fruit salad for me to take for a breakfast we had in my unit. It drew many favorable comments. In partial compensation, I took us out for vast quantities at Golden Corral last night (a favorite buffet place of Fran's); and tonight I gave her a mini-massage.

10/17/01-Wed.-Our Last Millennium? With a recent expression of views on the hazards and prospects for humanity, in the wake of the 9/11 terrorism, famed physicist Stephen Hawking, per an article yesterday in the "Undernews," has presented some interesting ideas about our future. First, although the popular investor, Warren Buffett, thinks we'll end in a nuclear Armageddon (as in The Money Masters, by John Train), Mr. Hawking believes that the events of 9/11/01, horrible as they were, are as nothing to our species' destiny, and that more than likely in this thousand-year epoch we shall cease to exist on planet earth due to an accidental or deliberate introduction of a new, awesomely lethal virus, against which we shall have no defense in time. (As T. S. Eliot said in "The Wasteland," our end may come "not with a bang but a whimper.") Hawking thinks we would have a chance, however, if we begin colonizing other planets and moons of the solar system before such a viral outbreak, and presumably maintain a truly exceptional quarantine of the home world. He believes space travel could become practical if we use bioengineering to permit stasis and extended life during the terribly long voyages. He suggests if we do not find a way to merge with computers, cyborg fashion, they shall take over from us once having become super-intelligent. All in all, he paints a drastically different picture of our DNA successors, whether living or dead. As for Terra, he projects no human survivors at all, in less than an eye-blink of geological time. By implication, those he hopes may expand beyond our orb would be as little like us as we are similar to prehistoric hominids of a million or more years ago.

Meanwhile, though, for yet a little while, ordinary life goes on. Fran's on the phone now with Trudy and Scott, at the hospital in WI. We have a brand new niece, a big girl, at eight and a half pounds! Everybody's healthy.

Had a typically outrageous, frustrating day at work. My boss is making things as difficult as possible, down to the wire. Why should he stop being a jerk now?

We arrived home to find vast new destruction of our succulents by neighbor children, but did not catch any of the roving, unsupervised urchins at the deed, though a half-dozen looked and acted awfully guilty. They're not at the organized gang-violence stage yet, but working up to it. Wonderful.

Am very much enjoying the latest episode of "The West Wing."

We took another walk tonight and saw several deer. The temperature was perfect for our exercise. This constitutional helped relieve some of the stresses of "normal" existence.

10/22/01-Mon.-We got the newsletter out over the weekend, using mainly a Halloween theme this time.

An e-mail came from a representative for a regular family magazine, wanting to do an interview for an article about online family sites. Fran, with some enthusiasm, replied for us. So, we're eager to see if anything comes of this. To maintain the requisite privacy, she'll use her maiden name, if they follow through.

This was the first of three vacation days for me, and the last planned leave time before I depart state employment for good. So, it is like a trial or preview retirement. Already evident is that I'll need to be more disciplined and structured with myself. It is too tempting to just take it easy most of the time.

We have an appointment for Pepper, at 8:00 in the morning. She broke a back tooth badly; and something must be done to prevent abscess. Kind of anxious about it. I don't think, given her advanced years (twelve), she can be safely given general anesthesia.

10/23/01-Tues.-Today is the 45th anniversary of the beginning of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, an ill-fated revolt that lasted but a few weeks and is estimated to have cost 28,000 killed, many more wounded, hundreds of thousands of refugees, and the end of the then embryonic efforts at détente between The West and the Soviet Union. Some believe it was the first serious demonstration that the Communist empire was relatively weak, unpopular, and vulnerable, leading, ultimately, to the breakup of the Soviet Union several decades later.

In light of the huge alarm that has naturally occurred over the events of 9/11, in which about 6000 were killed, I was very surprised, in researching the above paragraph, that, despite the much greater extent of violence in 1956, very few pictures or very detailed accounts of the tragedy were available on the web. Perhaps it is due to the long distance from us in time of that event, though so crucial in the lives of many Hungarians. (Indeed, for awhile in our family we were very indirectly affected, as, in 1957, we hired a refugee maid from Hungary, when we lived on the outskirts of Tacoma, WA. Another, more successful Hungarian refugee couple bought and moved into a house adjoining ours there and hired me, then about eleven, part-time to help them clear the many glacier-borne rocks from their yard, before they completed their landscaping and gardening.)

Another reason for the difficulties now in obtaining much online info. of that time is that the information technology then was so different: generally black-and-white news footage and text in newspapers and magazines, which are only laboriously translated into a form useful on the web. One wonders if, forty-five years from now, the advances in technology will have similarly made the events of today, so vital, fresh, and important to us, relatively remote and inaccessible to folks of the future.

Chances are, however, the September terrorism will have been documented as nothing ever has been before and that much will still remain for later researchers, even if they must use then antiquated means to access it.

One project likely to help guarantee this is the September 11 Web Archive, that is collating multiple internet pages from 9/11/01, giving an online historical record, from abundant perspectives, of the state of things immediately before, during, and after the terrorist tragedies of that date.

Our current total assets now stand at $565,000. Our year-end target for equities by themselves is $412,000. To help assure this is achieved, despite the downturn in most stocks, this AM, before Fran was up, I used reserves in a tax-deferred account to buy $25,500 more shares of Weitz Partners Value Fund. While this technically leaves our non-equities allocation a little light, both Berkshire Hathaway and Weitz Partners Value Fund have significantly beaten the market averages despite having 25-33% of their assets in cash reserves and/or bond assets during market peaks, while they await real bargains. Since we have combined investments of approximately $80,000 in these two assets; and they are themselves well allocated until cheap stocks appear, it really is like having an extra $25,000-$26,000 in our own bond and reserves portfolios.

The visit with Pepper's vet. today did not go as expected. We had hoped to get the dog's broken tooth repaired or pulled this morning. Instead, she got another expensive exam, about her third or fourth in as many months, and a new blood test. We received an elaborate explanation of costs and options and another appointment for her (10/31), when the procedure will actually be done.

On the one hand, everything is likely to cost about fifty percent more than I had anticipated, even after we talked the doctor out of some not really necessary extras, and Fran still does not feel comfortable about and certain of the requirement to do anything, thinking that the tooth may have already sealed itself off naturally so that an abscess is unlikely. On the other, I was reassured that, with the pulling of the tooth under general anesthesia (but with Pepper receiving fluids during the time she's under, so that the chance of fatal loss of blood pressure or kidney damage can be minimized), suturing the wound, and giving her antibiotics, we seem to be doing the right thing and eliminating any potential problem, while keeping the risks to Pepper low.

Dr. Richardson was most impressed with the excellent care we have been giving our mutt, commenting that, instead of twelve, her clinical age seems more that of an eight year old dog.

Of most interest to me in the news on this date is the imminent arrival of NASA's latest mission to the Red Planet, a satellite called Odyssey, after the (book and) movie, "2001 - A Space Odyssey." Although Odyssey's radiation research function ceased before it had even arrived, NASA is still quite hopeful of its other operations. It is due to go into a very elliptical orbit later this evening and, if all now goes well, to provide great amounts of new info. on the geology of that sister world.

10/24/01-Wed.-Up about 5, after a dream (as in the Phil's Place entry, this date). Too short a nap afterward before we needed to be getting ready and taking care of a month's load of laundry.

As if in sympathy with Pepper's dental difficulties, I now have a very sore place under one of my molars. Must either cure it with salt water gargles and good vibes or I too shall soon need to have a major tooth-pulling. Bother!

Although there are several minor chores that need doing, am concentrating on meditation, a focus that is expected to be more paramount after 12/7, my last full shift at work. Today, this is occupying several hours.

I am managing it despite several challenges, such as initially great fatigue and a bladder that lately has me often running to the WC. Ah, the joys of getting older.

10/25/01-Thurs.-As is too common lately, I was awake about as much as asleep last night, with the usual extreme fatigue throughout my first shift following the few vacation days. Things at work were not in too bad shape. The unit also sprang for cake and ice cream for my birthday, a little early (as it's tomorrow). On my way home, I stopped at a supermarket and picked up several goodies for them, for in the morning, my traditional and now expected method of saying "thank you" for their efforts at backing up my caseload while I was off. Just 29 full shifts are left for me there.

This evening, did misc. little chores, took a bath, had a meditation session, finished preparations for work tomorrow (do my shaving, setting clothes out, getting a fruit snack ready, etc., the night before, so as not to delay a speedy rush to get started each morning on another wonderful day of casework), got caught up on mail, watched some TV, and had some mild interactions with Fran and Pepper, before (hopefully) retiring a little early, yearning, as ever, for a good rest this time.

The bruised gum area under or around one molar is still quite sore, so that brushing or eating with it are painful. However, I am encouraged that the degree of tenderness has modestly decreased since yesterday.

I am very much enjoying reading an article on William Faulkner, in the October, 2001, issue of "Smithsonian" magazine. Quite interesting.

10/26/01-Fri.-My 58th birthday anniversary. After work, went over to Bombay Grill with Fran, and there we were joined by Glenda and Matt. I was wined and dined for a couple fun hours while we chatted away about any number of interesting topics.

Now that the Anti-Terrorism Bill has been passed by Congress, almost but not quite as a rubber stamp for what the hawkish-toward-our-freedoms George W. Bush administration wanted, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has decried several aspects of the new law, which has the potential to have a chilling or even devastating effect on dissent and privacy in our country. I predict that in the years ahead many will deeply regret this short-sighted additional weapon in our government's arsenal of powers over those whom it ostensibly represents.

10/27/01-Sat.-I'm at Jim's for breakfast. A lady just passed with a completely flaccid left arm, hanging and swinging as she walked. It was extremely bizarre looking, so unusual that, like a head turning 360 degrees around, it seemed at first alarming.

Fran has a rehearsal this morning, for a church gig tomorrow. So we got a relatively early start and went for exercise over to a favorite deer-spotting area, sighting several.

We also saw a large hawk. She noticed it while the splendid fowl was still diving into a flock of grackles. Though its prey escaped this time, that was cool.

Last night, after the get-together at Bombay Grill, Fran gave me a card and gift of several books, Tom Clancy's latest paperback, The Bear and the Dragon, and two more in the Patrick O'Brian excellent twenty-volume series of historical seafaring novels. Am looking forward to many hours of reading pleasure with these fine works!

Yesterday I had my last face-to-face evaluation for my state job. My supervisor had the expected quibbles about my case processing time, which, for the most recently completed fiscal year, averaged about 5% over the standard. Surprisingly, though, he was laudatory about several things, including exceptionally high overall work quality, production well above the requirement, maintenance of excellent control over aged claims, and having good social skills and attitude (this last proving, I suppose, either that he's clueless or that I'm also a decent actor).

Am hoping now to apply professional level analytical abilities successfully to picking value stocks, a field of endeavor likely to be more financially and personally rewarding than was ever possible in government work.

This is a gorgeous day. The temperature is perfect. The sunrise was spectacular. These are the times we yearn for through the long, hot, Texas summers.

10/30/01-Tues.-Got a phone call at work from one of the vets at the animal hospital, to which we're taking Pepper tomorrow for her dental surgery, etc. Said the blood tests show she also has some problem with her liver. They recommend further diagnostics, for a lot more money. I'm hoping it's just a reaction to one of her medications, the removal of which will restore her to full health. Still, am aware it could betoken something more serious.

Continuing my efforts to get a broad spectrum of the news about the battle against terrorism, tonight I checked out the coverage online by the Canadian Broadcast Corporation. It seems pretty good and definitely gives info. not generally available from sources in the U.S. of A. It is also relatively free of the jingoistic slant predominant now on our own networks.

Fran and I have both been especially hard hit lately by a feeling of extreme fatigue. It may be due to the time change. Hopefully we are not coming down with mono or something equally insidious and devastating. More likely, we would both be full of vim and vinegar again if we had three or four days with nothing in particular to do and lots of opportunity to rest.

Our neighborhood having significantly gone downhill, we are now thinking it possible we might trade properties, if we can find something better a little farther from Austin, perhaps a fixer-upper, that does not involve proximity to such a bunch of losers as is the case here. Do not know if this will be feasible. But we plan to keep our eyes and minds open in the months ahead.

10/31/01-Wed.-A very strange day. Worried about Pepper, neither Fran nor I slept too well last night. She took her in and left her at the animal hospital before 8 AM. In her anxiety, Fran got a little testy with the staff.

I headed off to work on time and quickly ran into a fog bank, then a brief break in it, then another closing off of vision, so intense I could barely go half the normal commuting speed. Amazingly, cars were rushing past me left and right. I'm certain they could not have seen any better than I. They would briefly appear and as quickly be enveloped, as if they had never been. I turned on my emergency flashers and just kept on truckin', proverbially "onward through the fog."

Then the sun shone through, a surreal image, an orange disk in a sea of gray air, but with no radiance outward. Above and behind this reflective ocean, which was like a light-blanket on the land, the sky was still dark.

Got through another work shift, but was preoccupied, distracted, my mind too still in a fog, wondering about our mutt. A little before Noon, the vet who did the surgery called and said she was OK, just coming out of the anesthesia, doing fine. Sentimental old fool that I am, I had to choke down a sob of relief to get out a reply.

Picked her up about 5 PM. She seemed so glad to leave that place. Also ravenously hungry. Fixed her some milk and a couple soft-boiled eggs. Fran got home, ventilating about her 1 3/4 hours in traffic, but calmed down while calming our dog, then turned right around and headed out into the madness again, for an opera rehearsal tonight, "Faust."

There had been another orange disk at dusk and yet another, at twilight, as the blue moon rose over the opposite horizon. I just kept thinking the day seemed perfect for Halloween. Sure enough, right on cue, the weirdly dressed, mostly cute and refreshing, urchins began arriving, setting Pepper off into berserk frenzies, trying with her last strength and emotion to protect our little bit of otherwise safe territory. It became too much for her, and she went off to try to hide behind and beneath chairs or my toilet. I called the evening's frivolity off early and just sat with her awhile, till she'd relaxed some, and was just whimpering or growling softly every now and then.

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