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Sure enough, that 2.4 Kernel (redhat 9) box now also doesn't like to fork. Rebooting doesn't fix the problem, I suspect something has been overwritten, but what system config stuff to look at? What variables would stop the system from forking?
Try to boot on a clean machine with the same settings and compare the strace output. Sorry I don't have any clue but that's what I would do.
By the way you you have to do:
strace -f to have all information (not sure you use it) and then well, -o /tmp/strace to make post analysis.