I'd definitely agree that certification depends on the person. I knew way too many paper MCSE's a while back. It was just easy to grab a book, study, pass an exam, repeat. If you had money, you could go to a boot camp to pass all required exams within a week. Personally, I never went that route - partly due to lack of money, but mainly because I wanted to understand the technology I was using so that the MCSE wasn't just a logo on my business cards. Sadly, that meant that way back when I first started I put myself into a non-upgradeable cert because I chose to grab NT Server and Windows 98 instead of NT Workstation (dating myself). There was no appreciable difference between workstation and server to me so I figured I'd learn about a very common OS at the time.
The time I spent studying has been worth it to me, though I stopped taking exams for a long time after that. I still studied, but my experience in working with the technology was more important than the new or upgraded certifications. I still think that what you can do is more important than the certification and we'll test around that rather than assume the cert means you know your stuff.
Having started taking exams again, I think that there's a gap as well. The MCTS seemed a little too basic. (I'll speak more for the MCITP path shortly after I've taken that test.) It made sure that I knew about various things in SQL Server, but I didn't feel that it tested whether I really knew them or how to use them. I seem to remember one of my colleagues saying that SQL 4.21 exams required actually writing code to pass, though I could have remembered that wrong and the exam was already retiring when I started. Something like that might be valuable - a measure of how well you can do various tasks, including being able to track down the knowledge you need to verify something or fill a gap quickly.
Perhaps there could be something between MCITP and MCM. Reading through what the current crop of MCM candidates are going through, it's a pretty heavy set of training and exams even without knowing all of the details. Add in the three week requirement, and that's a lot to ask. However, something local that asked for a day or two to test and verify skills might be worth it. It would be even better if they could give you meaningful feedback on strengths and weaknesses to target real gaps in knowledge.
Only thing that might be missing is the whole GUI vs non-GUI skill assessment. If you've spent most of your life working completely with T-SQL, trying to use the GUI could throw you. Ditto if you're asked for a command that you rarely use in real life, but could script out through the GUI in short order if needed. I remember a "where would you start" GUI option that asked you to click which menu/area you would use and that's not really useful because in real life you get to look at everything and can start over if you choose incorrectly. Perhaps a test of just getting the task done within graded time frames might work there.
Some good thoughts to start the day, Steve. I appreciate you bringing this up.