Thanks to thedward, I also ran across Qemu. Now I can run i386 binaries.binaries on my PPc Debian box. Admittedly it has some issues, especially in the mode where it just emulates a single binary rather than an entire OS session. Apparently it is good enough to run Putty in Wine, or has been at some points in the past. Probably still a year away from prime time, but neat project anyway.
The thing that amazes me about all this is that people find the time to work on all this free software. I can understand lots of random projects that really don't have much functionality or don't seem to work. But the projects I've cited here all seem to have significant effort going into them--enough I'd consider using them in a production environment. I guess the main conclusion I draw from this is that market forces really aren't sufficient to explain how resources actually get allocated.