So, after having been burned and burned again by ubuntu/canonical, I got fed up enough to ditch ubuntu and go back to debian.
I figured I'd use the opportunity to switch to 64bit userland and start clean (everyone says I'm insane for never re-installing linux and keeping year old installs, like my debian servers that I've been upgrading for the last 10 years with no re-installs).
I made a debian bootable USB key with debian testing, and apart from a small UI bug in package selection, the install was pretty effortless.
In a nutshell:
hibernate broke because it silently switched to uswsusp which didn't come configured properly and does not log to syslog. For some insane reason, uswsusp uses a totally different config file from normal hibernate and did not work in initramfs without that special config file (really guys? that's lame).
Maybe I shouldn't have installed uswsusp, but it kind of just came with the system and I didn't know it would break hibernation. Did I even mention that there was a 3rd option: tuxonice?
Xorg had started crashing with recent ubuntus, which did put me in a bad mood, and switching distros and to 64bit made that go away. That's good news.
As I expected, it took weeks to get all my customizations work again (and I'm not done still :-/). That's a bit disheartening, but at the same time re-inforces why I don't do wipe re-installs.
fresh-reinstall didn't really make anything work better, it just cost me a *lot* of time to get all my stuff working again.
and to make things fun, I upgraded to an SSD for my boot drive, with btrfs on top of dmcrypt, which just became safe/stable as of 3.2 kernels which had just come out at that time. I ended up not using DISCARD/TRIM, since I read that it. See this thread I started on SSDs and dmcrypt with btrfs (edit: turns out it's not actually a great idea, the security risk is limited, and making SSDs work without trim is sending them running with their arms tied behind the back).
Added 5 months later, SSDs are complicated, I had multiple failures.
My impressions so far?
It feels good to be with a system that I know will not randomly force crap I don't want, and that I can upgrade piecemeal. That doesn't make gnome less crappy, or network manager less unreliable, but it's debian, I've had 10 years with it, and I know they're the least likely to screw me in the future like canonical effectively has. Oh, the best part is that some of the package maintainers actually look at and respond to their bugs. How about that! :)
Here's to the next 10 years, debian! :)
(one year later: after the initial setup, debian has as expected worked quite well for me. I've been able to upgrade just what I needed when I needed it, and otherwise breakage was pretty much non existent).