05/20/2007 10:34 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Release 0.9 : The Official Story

"It turned out to be necessary to check the authenticity of their airline tickets," Colonel Volodin said in a telephone interview reported in the New York Times. He was talking about why Garry Kasparov and some 17 other people had been coincidentally detained in Moscow, and thus unable to make it down to Friday's protest in Samara.

This reminds me of one of my favorite jokes, informally called "the official story." I happened to hear it in Poland, but it could just as easily be (and probably was) a Soviet joke, a North Korean joke, whatever...

It concerns a military policeman during the times before Solidarity, when the official story was all that could be told. Jacek, a military policeman, was not a particularly nice guy, but he had the Polish love of the outdoors, and regularly spent Sundays walking through the countryside. One Sunday in May, as he left for his walk, his wife ran after him with a little sack, reminding him to pick some mushrooms for a soup that evening. Grudgingly, he took the sack and strode off. By afternoon Jacek was in a pretty good mood, roaming around in the still-raw Polish springtime. Clouds raced by; birds warbled... until he set off for home and remembered the mushrooms. Annoyed with himself and perhaps reluctant to go home, he finally found some under some trees; he poked at them with a stick to loosen them and shoved them into his bag.

When he got home and emptied the sack onto the kitchen table, the mushrooms were crumbled and slimy. "What happened to the mushrooms!?" his wife exclaimed.

Jacek answered regretfully: "They fell down the stairs."