In the name of protecting users, I offer the following advice: the problem is that dvipdf needs to call metafont the first time you do this. Metafont needs to write to /var/spool/texmf. But in general, users are not afforded write access there. Warning! what I'm going to suggest is almost certainly a security violation. But it does work! I issued the command (as root) chmod -R a+rwx /var/spool/texmf which fixed the problem for good.