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Variable is undefined but interpolates to a value

Whlie tracing a problem (http://pastie.org/10108429) I observed the following root cause:

notice("$::lsbdistid")
notice(defined('$::lsbdistid'))

on the master produces the output:

Apr 23 01:15:32 puppetmaster puppet-master[10104]: (Scope(Class[main])) Ubuntu
Apr 23 01:15:32 puppetmaster puppet-master[10104]: (Scope(Class[main])) false

How is that even possible? What could be going on here?