The bottom line though is that AWD is no substitute for caution and engaging your brain in the winter.
Couldn't agree more - BUT...we're not talking about avoiding getting "stuck" as the sole benefit of AWD (and Subies in general). My corolla with snow tires tracks quite well, hasn't ever been stuck, but does not stay nearly as stable while driving.
AWD is not absolutely mandatory to drive - I learned to drive in a 1992 Toyota Previa (RWD, offset mid-engine, regular all-seasons) that was just horrid in the winter (snow or otherwise). Never had any accidents with it, but that doesn't mean that I always had control of it despite what I deem to be defensive driving.
With my Forester, good snow tires, and early braking techniques that controls traffic behind me, I can focus more on knowing what's around me, and I can avoid getting into situations where I need to make emergency manoeuvres.
Hence, AWD + Snowies may not be absolutely necessary, but they sure do make winter driving a LOT safer and more predictable.
And as for people having a false sense of security with AWD and/or Snow tires, those d-bags wouldn't drive any better without winter aides.
As far as 'increased fuel consumption' goes with AWD, look no further than the upcoming 2014 Forester (yes, I'm obsessed) - gets better fuel economy than the new FWD Rav4 and even the new Forester XT gets similar economy (better in the city) than the AWD, significantly less powerful Rav4.
Point - stop making excuses and thinking AWD isn't useful. It's not mandatory, but it certainly has its uses.