dvduval - 10:30 pm on Sep 1, 2010 (gmt 0)
I still believe they are freezing people on medium to high competition keywords until other ranking factors improve your score. Those other factors most likely relate to what you do over a period of time (ex. don't link to bad neighborhoods, add fresh content, etc.).
Now ranking for long tails I find still quite easy to do. I can write an article today and be in the top 20 later today, but I probably can't be in the top 3. Those are more frozen.
Google seems to have evoked a powerful penalty on everybody that puts a damper on things for a period of time, and puts limits on success based on pie size they feel you are entitled to. You can still grow your pie, but there will forever be a mystery and wait time.
This bodes especially bad for young people just starting their web business who have high hopes, and are quickly introduced to the damper mechanism. It boded especially well for the "good old boys" that already have a big presence.
I would hope that google will continue to revise and improve and not stray from their company mantra that made them so successful.