So after all this research, here is the final recommendation at least this week:
# If you just want a point and shoot, get the Fujifilm F10 or buy the F11 from Japanese export sites if you want the full manual. This is a very nice 6 megapixel camera and it shoots very well to ISO 400 and noting the above, it can handle most prints up to 8×10. It looks like the higher resolution war of compact cameras is coming to an end, so the main issue is higher sensitivity and low noise. The Fuji uses a unique sensor that has low noise and also high ISOs. I’m sure it will eventually go out of production (like my favorite very sharp Yashica T4 which was tack sharp but had a fixed lense so got cancelled). So for $300 or so, get yourself one.
# If you are just starting and have no lenses, then the Canon Digital Rebel XT plus the Canon 28-105 F/4 L USM IS lense is the kit to get. Yes, it is expensive at $650 plus $1200 for the lense, but the performance is out of this world.
# If you have the bucks to burn, then a Canon EOS-5D is the way to go. It’s a cool $2700 (with a $300 rebate right now!), but it is the best price/performance for a full frame and at 12MP it will be a long while before its resolution is significantly exceeded (you’d have to get to 16MP which isn’t happening soon). Get the really premium lenses with it, a complete kit would be the 16-35 F/2.8 L, 28-105 F/4 L and the 70-200 F/2.8 L IS. These are more than most cars, but the kit will last a lifetime.
# If you already have invested in Nikon lenses (like me!), then the tradeoffs get hard. Either sell your lenses (or write them off to another era) and go with the two recommendations above depending on what you have to spend, or if you simply can’t part with the dough, the Nikon D200 is a pretty compromise, at $1700, it is about $800 cheaper than the 5D, but you can reuse lenses. If you are doing this and want a small kit then get the 18-200 F3.5-5.6 VR2 superzoom and this will be a very small kit. This lense is just OK at each end, but it is very compact and you get up to three stops of advantage with it which helps with the relatively high noise issue (you can shoot at a lower ISO and still get a clear picture).