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Politics

The magic in Myanmar's numbers

When dealing with Naypyitaw, ignore numerology at your peril

DAVID I. STEINBERG | Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos

Societies often treat numbers with care, even reverence. They may be mystical, magical, symbolic or simply a mnemonic tool. During World War II, the combination of the safe in the German Embassy in Turkey was Hitler's birthday. Many years ago, the combination code of the door to a USAID mission in Asia was 1776, the year of the Declaration of Independence. In the West, perhaps the best-known number of significance is 13, a supposed harbinger of bad luck based, some say, on the number of people at Christ's Last Supper.

Myanmar may be the quintessential state where numbers have religious, political and magical meaning. Closely bound with astrology, they have affected key decisions throughout the country's turbulent history. Little is done without careful consideration of such factors. After all, the founding of independent Burma on Jan. 4, 1948, took place at 4:20 a.m., a time clearly chosen by an astrologer.

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