Bones to Pick

Never mind President Bush's cowboy boots and Texas twang. This 1968 Yale graduate is such a creature of the Establishment, says author Alexandra Robbins, that he hires from a talent pool supplied by Skull and Bones -- the secret society to which Dubya and his dad, the first president George Bush, remain fiercely loyal.

Robbins -- whose new book is titled "Secrets of the Tomb," a reference to the mausoleum-like building that houses the club on Yale's campus in New Haven, Conn. -- told us that William H. Donaldson, the new nominee to chair the Securities and Exchange Commission, is merely the latest in a long line of Bush administration Bonesmen. They include Assistant Attorney General Robert McCallum and Ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago Roy Austin -- both classmates of Bush as well as Bones brothers -- and Edward McNally, general counsel to the Office of Homeland Security.

Robbins adds that Bonesman Fred Smith, CEO of Federal Express, was on Bush's shortlist to be secretary of defense, while former ambassador to France Evan Galbraith, another Bones type, is the defense secretary's official representative in Europe. The president also appointed Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe -- who was among the previous year's Bonesmen who "tapped" him -- to the board of Fannie Mae.

"President Bush likes to feign detachment from Yale and the Northeastern Establishment, but they really did shape his life," explained Robbins, herself a 1998 Yale graduate and a member of a rival senior society, Scroll and Key. "And he's actually following one of the key tenets of Skull and Bones -- which is that once you get into a position of power, you bring other members up with you. The whole purpose of Skull and Bones is to elevate its members to power and wealth. I think if people across the country were to read my book, they'd be quite dismayed that their president is a member of a secret society and that he has some sort of allegiance to this secret group."

Trilateral Commission, anyone?

The Golf War

* Yesterday's item about Oklahoma Republican Sen. Don Nickles' membership in the men-only Burning Tree golf club provoked a firestorm of flaming e-mails.

"Maybe you've been neutered or you just haven't gotten the mailgram: Men can and do have a 'constitutional right' to assemble," wrote New York City reader Brian Picardi. Mooresville, N.C., reader Bill Cassidy wrote: "So what if Nickles belongs to a men's only club! It's not illegal, immoral, unethical or unpatriotic. In fact, it sounds boring. Take a deep breath and 'lighten up' -- you'll hopefully live longer."

Seattle reader Lloyd Croskey, a rare dissenter from our critics, wrote: "What is Nickles thinking? He has virtually the same voting record as Trent Lott. He is like a kettle calling the coal black! What an idiot!"

But an anonymous reader scolded: "You newspaper types are turning into little gossiping ninnies." Another vented: "Who the hell cares if Don Nickles belongs to an all-boys club? You are nuts!" And another wrote: "This is still America the last time I looked. We can belong to any club we wish. . . . I am a 67-year-old lady that doesn't belong to any clubs, but I think it is okay if other people do." And yet another mused: "Have you ever tried to join a health club lately? At least half of them are 'women only,' why don't you attack them? You Communist subversive jackass!!"

Reader Megan Brown called our characterization of Burning Tree's "Saudi-like" rules "absurd hyperbole. . . . To compare Burning Tree's male-only policy, however silly it may be, to the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia demonstrates a shocking lack of judgment or perspective on your part. . . . Your 'gossip' column is beginning to look more and more like a policy crusade."

San Francisco reader Robert Exton demanded: "Since when is it a crime to be a man? Since when is it a crime to belong to an all-male club? Why does no one make a big deal about all-female clubs? Your article is the equivalent of McCarthyism." Winter Park, Fla., reader Scott Christensen wrote: "Huh? You Washington people really need a brain scan. Membership at a private golf club is a disqualification to public office? It's golf. It's legal. Get over it."

We're trying.

THIS JUST IN...

* Former Democratic pooh-bah Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and author of "The Last Full Measure," the 1993 book about the courageous role of the Minnesota Volunteers at the Battle of Gettysburg, was hoping for a movie deal. "Instead I got a symphony," he told us yesterday. Moe's book has inspired "We Are Met at Gettysburg," a collaborative effort by Pennsylvania composer Amy Scurria and Minnesotan Steve Heitzeg. Jointly commissioned by the Philadelphia and Minnesota orchestras, the work will receive its world premiere Jan. 4 in Philadelphia.