resolved. newer glibc
it was glibc.
I installed glibc-2.3.2-90 from the x86-64 Suse 9.0 distro, and it works now.
glxinfo reports direct rendering, the whole shebang. neato.
best guess is that the libraries installed with the driver are compiled against glibc 2.3, which i beleive both supported distros (Suse and RH) use.