Two years ago, when it was discovered that a U.S. intelligence agency was pouring millions of dollars into a research project on "metaphor," some people thought it was a delayed April Fool's joke. This columnist begged to differ, on the grounds that metaphors are the way that most of us make sense of the world, and if you want to monitor what people are thinking (or plotting), then understanding how metaphorical language works in different cultures might be really useful.

What brings this to mind is a fascinating blogpost by Perry Link on the New York Review of Books site. It's headlined "Censoring the News Before It Happens" and it's about how the Chinese government "manages" the Internet.

"Every day in China," writes Link, "hundreds of messages are sent from government offices to website editors around the country that say things like, 'Report on the new provincial budget tomorrow, but do not feature it on the front page, make no comparisons to earlier budgets, list no links, and say nothing that might raise questions'; 'Downplay stories on Kim Jong-un's facelift'; and 'Allow stories on deputy mayor Zhang's embezzlement but omit the comment boxes.' "