Becher’s Brook – an Answer for James

James Higham has asked a question in his post earlier today and I was goign to respond in some detail –  but doing it on a phone is too bloody awkward and by the time I got to a computer, the thoughts in my head had become a post in their own right. Not least because James has a habit of asking what are probably fairly simple questions in a deep and complex manner –  we often get a long screed that requires a great deal of thought to absorb.

This tendency is in contrast to my somewhat brusque approach whereby I will often distill my argument to pithy one-liners. This is no bad thing. One of the delights of a multi-author blog is the variation of voices and ideas –  not to mention the occasional heated exchange.

However, to the questions –  and I say questions because it has two distinct contexts. Firstly, he asks why the Grand National cannot be amended to make it safer for the competitors without there being entrenched views on both sides.

Personally, I am indifferent to horse racing. It doesn’t float my boat, but I don’t like the Grand National because the casualty rate is so high. From a layman’s point of view, I see the question as a legitimate one. If the event is to survive, then some adjustment is necessary to reduce not only the physical risks, but the reputation of the sport itself –  a sport that has some pretty virulent detractors due to the inclusion of animals.

It must be about twenty years ago now since I watched the 1300cc bikes race on the Isle of Man TT course. That was the last year they did. Several riders were killed in quick succession. This was the collision of ever more powerful machines clashing with a combination of the physical limitations of the riders, the bike’s handling capabilities and the proximity of dry stone walls and narrow curves on a road race circuit. They decided to stop racing the big machines. The TT survives, but in a changed format. If the event is to continue, it cannot remain the same. The Grand National, I feel, is at a similar crossroads.

The second part of the question relates to the quality of debate generally –  why do people take entrenched positions? Well, partly this is because people do not like their cherished beliefs challenged, but it is also because all too often they do not listen properly (or, in the case of this medium, read properly). They shoot from the hip, having taken in only a part of what has been said; assuming the rest. Watch any current affairs programme where they have talking heads and you will see this happen time and time again. One speaks, the others rush to condemn –  especially if the speaker is saying something unpopular. All too often they will try to shout the speaker down, not allowing him to finish. They aren’t interested in what he has to say, merely in their own condemnation of the position they have decided that he is taking. This is the classic strawman fallacy. And, if you want the mother lode, watch BBC Parliament where our finest mass debators indulge in the fallacy daily. Frankly, given the student union politics level of debate on display from people responsible for legislation that affects our daily lives, I am appalled. That I despise them utterly goes without saying.

I have long since rejected any attempts to deal with logical fallacies. On my own blog, I have a clause in my comments policy that simply says that if you use them, I will point them out and make no further attempt to debate the point. What I will not do is defend a position or argument that I have not taken –  it would be silly to do so anyway. Some people find this frustrating. Well, frankly, that’s too bad. Respond politely to the point I am making, as opposed to the point you think I am making, and we will get along just fine.

There, James, does that answer your question?

32 comments for “Becher’s Brook – an Answer for James

  1. April 15, 2012 at 1:47 pm

    Some random points offered for your consideration.

    Firstly why does the grand national casualty rate increase after the course has already been made “safer” according to the objections of people with no understanding of it.
    Secondly where does the pressure for these changes come from – people involved in the sports (both horse racing and bike racing and any other sport which has been changed in this way) or people who observe it once in a blue moon? If the pressure comes from people who watch once in a blue moon why are those who are involved and know what they are doing forced to change?
    Thirdly if change is deemed necessary why is it not done in a scientifically investigated way that will actually do what people think they are complaining about.

    • April 15, 2012 at 1:51 pm

      As I’ve said, I know nothing about horse racing, so if you are looking for an expert answer, you ain’t going to get one.

      However, the sport is in danger of experiencing public outrage risk. The problem with this is that all too often, it is about perception rather than reality.

      The reality, though, is that a vast amount of people do not like to see horses die on their television screens. This is a perception the sport has no option but to deal with – whether that is fair or not is neither here nor there.

      • April 15, 2012 at 2:13 pm

        “However, the sport is in danger of experiencing public outrage risk. The problem with this is that all too often, it is about perception rather than reality.”

        And from people who, quite frankly, don’t know what they are talking about, often. It’s the ‘Dianafication’ of modern life again – a whipped-up outrage driven by people who we’d be wise NOT to listen to…

        • April 15, 2012 at 3:11 pm

          Indeed. However, having worked in an industry that was on the receiving end of this, I can assure you that reason and logic are markedly absent.

        • Edgar
          April 16, 2012 at 12:34 am

          This is precisely the strawman fallacy mentioned in the post. Where is your evidence that reactions are thus driven?

          • April 16, 2012 at 9:41 am

            Brent Spar, SN109, I could go on. What is read in the news and what is put out on the television does not necessarily reflect the truth – if you have ever seen an area of your own expertise reported upon, you will have seen this first hand as I have.

            I am not an expert in this field, so would bow to the expertise of those who are – and that is not journalists. I am, however, something of an expert (unwillingly) on public outrage and how it is whipped up by vested interests.

            I would also point out that not providing evidence to support a statement is not the same thing as, or even close to, a strawman fallacy.

      • April 15, 2012 at 2:15 pm

        “The reality, though, is that a vast amount of people do not like to see horses die on their television screens. “

        If those so outraged at the GN knew how many horses died in an average year of racing anyway, leaving aside that one race, perhaps they could put it into perspective?

        • April 15, 2012 at 2:42 pm

          Perhaps if those figures were compared to horses dying nothing to do with racing, including the ones who suffer fatal injuries in their fields running just because they want to run.

        • April 15, 2012 at 3:14 pm

          More likely they would call for a ban on all racing. Where have you been lately? Your sense of cynicism has markedly deteriorated 😈

          • April 15, 2012 at 4:31 pm

            Oh. Yeah. You’re right… 😳

      • April 15, 2012 at 2:39 pm

        Accepted – what I am trying to express – probably badly – is that all too often it doesn’t matter what the sport or activity is the direction it goes in is controlled by people who do not have anything to do with it. Be it bike racing where the riders know what they are risking but are happy to do it anyway, horse racing, or some of the others such as removing styles because overweight people who don’t use them couldn’t get over them if they did use them, firemen not being allowed to wade into 3ft of water to rescue a bird and all the myriads of other examples.

        As far as the grand national goes the obvious response is to just not show it on tele – or stick big warnings all over it that if you only watch one horse race a year then please don’t presume to complain about what you see as you don’t have the full knowledge.

        Incidentally – Synchronised was not injured in the racing fall. He got up uninjured at beachers where he came down and carried on riderless to jump another 5 fences before coming down a second time. Nobody was making him. Nobody was making him jump. The jumps all have escape exits now so horse can go around them. I think this is one piece of information people should have when forming opinions.

        • April 16, 2012 at 5:38 am

          Sadly, estelle, you cannot reason someone out of a position if reason didn’t get them there in the first place!

          • April 16, 2012 at 11:29 am

            dont i know it lol

  2. Ashtrayhead
    April 15, 2012 at 4:30 pm

    There was a good interview on Sky this morning with Bob Champion, the 1981 winning jockey. He reckons that the safety features that have been introduced on the National course have actually made things worse because the horses now go faster and don’t jump properly.

    • April 15, 2012 at 4:31 pm

      That road to hell. We all know what it’s paved with, don’t we?

      • Edgar
        April 16, 2012 at 12:39 am

        And all your intentions? Bad, are they?

        • April 16, 2012 at 5:37 am

          Do you know what my intentions are, then?

    • April 15, 2012 at 4:39 pm

      This might be a valid point. It is in part what led to the problems with the IOMTT. The bikes were more powerful and handled better than their predecessors, so everything was happening at much, much faster speed. The inevitable happened when it all became too much to handle.

      Reducing the maximum size of machine brought it back within the realms of what the riders could handle.

    • April 15, 2012 at 10:26 pm

      I have been trying to explain this ad infinitum – without luck

      • April 16, 2012 at 8:42 am

        I understood your point just fine. I just couldn’t see anything more that I could add, that I had not already said. In your comments you did not explicitly make the same point that Bob Champion did, even if that is what you intended.

        • April 16, 2012 at 11:32 am

          sorry my fault again – I wasn’t referring to on on here I meant in everyday life in general I have told more people than I can count that the safety changes all too often make it worse

          • April 16, 2012 at 12:23 pm

            Not least that we appear to be in broad agreement.

      • April 16, 2012 at 9:32 am

        Ruminating a little more over breakfast – as you do – I would come back to the matter of public outrage.

        When the Brent Spar incident was all over the news, Shell found themselves in a very difficult position despite doing nothing wrong. The environmental lobby had hijacked the news agenda, so Shell were in the wrong, no matter what they did or did not do. Managing public outrage in such a situation becomes an impossible task – not least because it is all too frequently irrational; based as it is on a combination of feelings, half-truths and in some cases, downright lies. You can argue facts and figures till the cows come home – it won’t do you any good, because facts and figures are irrelevant to the outraged.

        The governing body of horse racing is in a similar position now. If they do nothing – which may well be the right thing to do – they will be perceived as callous and cruel. If they do something then they are playing to the gallery , but may actually be making matters worse (see Bob Champion’s comment above).

        They are in a classic no-win situation. They have to manage that somehow and I don’t envy them the task. Likely as not, their solution will be to be seen to be doing something, just you wait and see.

  3. April 15, 2012 at 6:05 pm

    I had a visitor today [I’ll try not to be too wordy about this 😉 ]. I made the point from my post that it didn’t need hysterical overreaction from either side – “ban all horse racing” or “let the buggers die – horses die everyday”.

    It was a request to adjust Becher’s Brook on the grounds that a] the big field is too bunched up at the start b] there’s obviously something wrong with this particular jump. Forgive me but I thought that was just common sense.

    My visitor conceded that point but also made the point that in all the analogies – motorcycling, sailing, hurdling, the contestant has a choice. In the GN, the horses have no choice and are reliant on the officials and jockeys getting it right.

    As a libertarian, he asked the further question – if libertarianism is about free choice for people to decide what they do, is there an equivalent for horses [or any other animals for that matter]? He wasn’t including food in that, i.e. we kill cows for food but in the context of sport.

    Just thought I’d put that in.

    • April 15, 2012 at 6:36 pm

      I don’t think you can differentiate sport from any other use of horses – I don’t suppose pulling carriages or carts is a whole bundle of fun…

      Following that logic, we shouldn’t use any animal for labour.

    • April 15, 2012 at 10:34 pm

      synchronized – the gold cup winner, fell at beachers but had to be destroyed after getting up and continuing to jump when he did not have to – there are exits offered at every fence so horses can run around them. The horse got up after his fall and chose to jump another five fences before coming to grief – doesn’t that demonstrate free choice for horses? Even when they do not have to jump (every race now – they can run around the outside of jumps) they choose to jump. No jockey controlling him but still he jumped – he would have stayed closer to the group by not jumping but still he jumped -he did have the choice but still he jumped – is that enough to convince a libertarian than when offered the choice horses will choose to run and more essentially some will choose to jump – even when it destroys them.

      • Edgar
        April 16, 2012 at 12:38 am

        Indeed. And the horse got to the race-track all by himself? Put himself under starter’s orders, and ran himself to death? You do read some nonsense when you find people trying to justify the unjustifiable.

        • April 16, 2012 at 5:35 am

          You do read some sentimental, reality-defying tosh when you find people trying to justify the removal of a centuries-old sport, and another notch on totalitarianism’s belt, simply because they don’t like it themselves, too…

        • April 16, 2012 at 11:39 am

          Had he been released into a field on his own there is good chance he would do the exact same thing – run by himself and attempt to jump obstacles – it is what horses – especially thoroughbreds do. Every year there are uncounted injuries and deaths from horses who have been in fields and decided to run because they wanted to.

  4. Ashtrayhead
    April 15, 2012 at 11:51 pm

    By the way, did I mention that I backed the winner at 40/1?

    • April 16, 2012 at 5:36 am


    • April 16, 2012 at 11:41 am

      I had him at starting price – and also got forth so nice little win there. Got a couple to watch out for next year as well.

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