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I built a --with-pydebug version of Python. That showed
me some memory was getting stomped on. I narrowed it
down to the memory being valid before the call to mysql_init()
and trash afterwards. I couldn't find a later version of
MySQL as part of fink, so I went to the MySQL website and
found a Mac binary installer of 4.1.8. I installed that,
rebuilt MySQLdb against it and all seems fine now.

Accordingly, I'm closing this report.